Thursday, October 13, 2011

Redistrubution of Wealth

Once more into the breeches, dear friends! Remember, if their hands are deep in your pockets, they may be going for something besides your money . . . hey, that sounds like the TSA (Thugs and Sexual Assaulters). Drolleries aside, my friend Todd commented on a tidbit I forwarded to him recently: a chilling excercise in arithmetic which pointed out that the present administration's doling out of trillions of dollars to their banking and corporate cronies amounts to $50,000 for every citizen (and probably most of the illegal aliens) in this republic. If my wife and I had received such checks, we would have four times my present pension and meager social security payments. We would be able to pay off most of our house and the usurers at VISA. We could relax and enjoy retirement; we could . . . who knows what.

A trillion is a very large number. One can almost imagine a million ( especially with the prices at the supermarket lately). If you put a thousand by a thousand dollar bills in a large square, you have a million dollars. Now, if you take that square and put a thousand by a thousand of them in a very large square, you have a trillion dollars. I saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh recently: "Don't tell him what comes after a trillion". I don't know if the world domestic product stretches to a quadrillion dollars (or urals or whatever you call them).

Now, economics, like higher mathematics, is one of my weak areas. I have little interest--and less intention--in plumbing the depths of the economy, domestic or foreign, free-market or Marxist. Blindworm that I am, I am more concerned about the depressing fact that our monthly balance sheet is written in red ink every month. This upsets my comptroller to no end. I am concerned with the economy of the small town I live in. When the transnational owners of the mine near us locked out the wage earners a while back, I was angry on the workers' behalf. The blunt and inescapable truth is that a small group of people who run the great mining cartel that owns the local mine make an enormous amount of money from their operations. Do they deserve their profit? Perhaps. Do they deserve to have much of their profit taken from them and given to people who have done nothing to earn it? I think not.

Redistribution of wealth is an idea with two different roots: Christian and Marxist. This holds true at least in our country. India or China might have diferent perspectives. Like it or not, our economic roots are Judeo-Christian and free-market in the USA. Most of our Founders were Christians (yes, even Jefferson) and, to a man, free-market capitalists. They were not without venality and other sins, of course. But their rebellion against the English king, as shown at Boston Harbor (making it the world's largest tea pot), demonstrated their beliefs. Socialism as an ideology had not really come to public attention yet.

The early Christian church was the first modern example of the collective sharing of wealth. In the first century, many Christians pooled their resources so that no-one went without the necessities of life. The negative example of Ananias and Saphira is instructive. They did not survive their agenda. Jesus was the inspiration and model of sharing and sacrifice. As Paul said, without His atonement for our sins, nothing of what Christians did made sense. It took the French Revolution and Marx' and Engel's Communist Manifesto to remove God from the collective ideal. Unfortunately, without Jesus to inspire charity, socialism has nothing but force to compel the sharing of wealth. Many millions of lost lives have demonstrated this in the last century. In the last analysis, wealth equals power. One can only spend so much on himself or his family. Money=leverage. Remember Obrien's dictum in 1984: The object of power is power.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reality Shows and Other Abominations

I have been struck by two phenomena lately, which taken together I find ominous. *Spoiler alert! This is going to be one of those "Things were different when I was young!" essays.* Both trends indicate a dissociation from reality, a distancing. The first is the plethora of "reality shows" on television, especially on the old-line networks. TV is rife with them. The other indicator I see is the increasing use of electronic communication devices and the concomitant use of "social networking". Taken together, these demonstrate a lack of consensual relationships, a fading of the face-to-face interaction which I believe we are designed to experience. Some people think this substitution is inevitable, given the Malthusian pressure we are being forced to cope with. There are just too many people around. That may be a factor, but I don't think it's the only one. Quite a few people are concerned with merely staying alive and eking out a tolerable existence for their families. I'm not talking about them. I'm concerned about the people with discretionary time or money (which, in the end, are the same) who seem to be receding into the background.

Reality shows on TV serve at least two functions. They show us ourselves in situations we wouldn't normally be involved with; and they entertain and titillate by putting Everyman and Everywoman in improbable straits and making us laugh or be horrified. Fictional shows and films do this, of course, but their protagonists are often so idealized that disbelief must be heavily suspended. Reality shows give us our neighbors, warts and all. Our reactions are usually twofold: "Thank God I'm not doing that!" followed by "I wonder how much money they're making?" The movies that show people you might know doing things you might do are called cult classics and are seldom viewed (almost never on television). It wouldn't be so bad if reality shows were real; a few of them seem to be close to everyday life. Taking a bunch of fat people and having them compete to lose weight (I can identify with this!) is not too improbable, though few of us could afford the regimens they undergo. You notice they are carefully screened for orthopedic and medical problems and are usually not sprung chickens. My other pet peeve is the "Survivor" shows. They usually seem to take place in areas where the contestants don't have to wear much clothing. Having one in Finland isn't going to happen. A base part of me wants to see the rejects dumped on a deserted island and hunted by the "survivors"--with spears and knives! Probably a good thing I'm not a producer.

What bothers me about these shows is the "bread and circuses" atmosphere of many of them. You can almost picture Nero giving some poor sweaty fatso the thumbs down--and hear the crowds roaring as motorcyclists whip him with old chains. What really pulls my chain are the sadists who pose as judges and ringmasters. Since we are not in England, I will challenge the libel laws and mention two of my least favorites: Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay. Both delight in savaging and humiliating contestants on their reality (talent?) shows. They are certainly not aglow with encouragement. Cowell is debuting a new show. I have never heard him sing; I don't know if he can. Ramsay is a master chef with Michelin stars. He seems to enjoy using verbal cleavers on hapless would-be chefs. What bothers me about these men and their shows is that people watch them. Why? Jesus told us that vicarious (and imagined) sin is the same as the real thing.

You cannot go anywhere these days without seeing people talking on cell phones or texting. They hardly seem to know where they are. My wife complains about my talking to people when I'm out of the house. I can't seem to go far without stopping to talk to someone. Sometimes I know the person; sometimes not. It doesn't matter to me. The interaction matters. I've gotten to the point that I can enjoy a phone conversation--I didn't always. If I'm watching television and someone comes to visit, I will turn the TV off. People are always more important than the idiot box. (Besides, I can catch my shows later on the computer.) I will admit to a mild addiction to surfing the Internet. As with television, I pick what I want to watch or read. I am an information junkie. Mea maxima culpa! My wife sometimes spends considerable time on Facebook. The so-called "social networks" are developing into substitutes for physical proximity to other human beings. A friend or ours was actually ready to move to another state because of an Internet friendship. Having five-hundred "friends" online doesn't substitute for one real person sitting near you, drinking coffee. "Tweeting" your every move to an adoring public is, perhaps, the ultimate narcissism. God help us!

Every other commercial on TV seems to be a sales-pitch for "smart" phones or tablets (those diabolical shrunken computers). Remember, though, the NSA (or Whoever) can probably track you and what you're doing easily. Walk down the street. Turn your gizmos off. Look people in the eye. Smile. Talk. Rejoin the human race.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

R & R

My title doesn't refer to "Rest and Recreation"--a topic for another time. I'm referring here to what mechanics and engineers call "Remove and Replace". This is what might be called the "module" concept of constructing and servicing various devices. I'll use my late freezer as an example. I say "late" because it died last summer, in the middle of a heat wave, presenting us with us with seven or eight cubic feet of defrosting food. My mechanical intuition (which often exceeds my mechanical ability) told me the motor had burned out. The freezer, a small reach-in, was venerable; we were its third owner. I called my father for information. He has forgotten more about mechanical and electrical things than I'll ever know. He told me the motor was part of the compressor unit. In other words, the whole unit had to be replaced; this would cost more than a new freezer. So, in this case, "R & R" meant remove the freezer and get another one.

I find this to be a sign for much of our culture. I knew something was up when I was was twelve. My friend David and I were busy buying our weekly supply of candy from Sav-On in Lancaster. It was about 1960. I saw a new display above the candy: Bic disposable lighters. My father was a Zippo man, involved in rituals of fluid, wick, and flint. As I eyed the colorful plastic lighters, I felt a deep premonition, somewhere in my bowels, that all was not well. I told David that nothing good would come of this. The disposable culture had begun.

I am not against "progress"--far from it. (Though I am not a "progressive"--another column.) What I am against is modularizing our lives and quashing ingenuity and practicality. This mouthful simply means that everything in life cannot be reduced to parts or units that can only be replaced when they fail, never repaired or rebuilt. Thus, curiosity and tinkering can't fix what can't be taken apart. We still triumph sometimes. Two examples: One of my cars had rear wheel bearings that were "sealed". You were supposed to buy new bearings (for a lot of money) and throw the old ones away. I forced the bearing shells apart, found the bearings to be okay, greased them, and put them back together. They worked fine. The oven in our stove was refusing to light. It was nearing Thanksgiving, and my wife was quite upset. I went online and found schematics for the "igniter" circuit (no pilot). I bought a new igniter and got a young friend to help me install it. Gloria was happy; the turkey got roasted. Cost: $90.

The throw-away culture and the R & R principle are one and the same. Progress is like a drug. It should be used when necessary. Drugs, however, often have side-effects; some are addictive, and require ever-larger doses for diminishing returns. For two final examples, I will return first to the automobile. I was taught by my father to do as much of my own maintenance and repair as I could. This way you saved money and knew what you were driving. You can still work on your car, a little, but much of the engine is beyond the abilities and equipment of the average shade-tree mechanic. Modern cars contain increasing amounts of gadgets and electronic devices. Whether we need these things or not, we can't work on them. R & R.

My final example is computers. I use them; I like them. I have assembled my own (with a little help from my son, Thomas). Mine is a desktop. I have tried a laptop--my hands are too big. I haven't tried one of the tablets. We are being told desktops are obsolete. I can't work on a laptop, let alone a tablet. Parts are much more expensive than the ones I have put in my desktop. Perhaps there is no solution or alternative to the throwaway culture. We can't turn the clock back . . . too many people. At some point, the clock will stop working. Then the craftsmanship of its Maker will come back. A quote from T. S. Eliot: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"

Monday, May 23, 2011


No, class, I'm not talking about sex, though that could be subsumed by my general topic. To adulterate means to dilute something or substitute inferior ingredients or components. My launching pad today is soap. Hence, blather about lather. My wife recently bought me a bar of Pears soap, which she knew to be one of my favorites. Since she only buys such things at bargain prices, I hadn't had any for a year or more. Now, Pears is a venerable soap, having first been made in England over two-hundred years ago. It was touted as the first "transparent" soap, though the correct word would be "translucent". This is fairly common today and is really just a novelty. I could care less whether one could read text through a bar; for me the unique scent of the soap was pleasing. Pears contained rosin, as well as thyme and several other herbs. In addition, it worked well. It was basically a natural product.

By now you're thinking, A fetish for soap, ehhh . . . Perhaps . . . but I like natural products, with as few unnecessary ingredients as possible. Also, I have made soap several times. The basic ingredients were tallow, olive and cocoanut oil, and lye. The lye saponifies the fats and oils, and this produces the soap. Any other additions are for color, scent, or healing properties. The process is laborious and smelly and is best done outdoors. After the soap is poured into molds, it must age for several weeks. It is then cut into bars.

When I eagerly unwrapped my new bar of Pears, I found it didn't smell quite the same. It had a perfumy note, like some chi-chi ladies' soap. I looked at the ingredients list on the box. To my horror, it listed 24 ingredients! The leading ingredient was sorbitol. This is a sugar alcohol used as an artificial sweetener. Why it was listed as the leading ingredient of a bar of soap is not known to me, unless the bar was intended to be eaten. My favorite soap had been reduced to a chemical stew. I noted on the box that the soap was produced in India under license from England. My first outraged question was, Why? Was the motive economic? Did it cost less to make this faux Pears? Perhaps. . . .

This adulteration, this substitution, this cheapening is happening to many things around the world. Often the motive is economic. Profit margins are shrinking. Without going "green" on my readers (God forbid!), I would guess that increasing population, conglomeration of businesses, and centralization of production would have something to do with this trend. But I don't think this explains everything. There is a strange, underlying sense that "they" want us to be aware that nothing stays the same, that change is the only constant. At various levels, choices are being made for us, and many of them seem arbitrary. As to who "they" are, I have my suspicions; readers of my older posts will know who I mean. Terms such as Illuminati or Bilderbergers have no real meaning. The powers behind the thrones will use whomever they need to do as they wish.

Tradition is now a dirty word in some circles. Since the past cannot be changed, some people feel it must be ignored. There has always been rebellion by the young against the established. That goes without saying, and cannot be stopped. The dialectic of thesis vs. antithesis equals synthesis is as old as humanity. Unfortunately youth lacks one vital quality: perspective. But it comes at a price: inflexibility. Wisdom is the accretion of perspective modified by experience. Some wisdom, at least, must be passed on as tradition. Destroying a good soap simply because you can is at least foolish; doing it to make more money is wicked. I am a poet. One of my influences was T. S. Eliot. In his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" he advised us to know and understand what past poets had done, before we did something different. You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Founts of Misinformation

Well, fans (all five of you), here I am again--having taken off time for bad behavior. I have decided to return to my outrageous haunts: mini-essays either irrelevant or irreverant, sometimes both. I am, as always, a poet, so concision and compression are my fortes. I propose to stick a few barbs into a sacred cow or two, from my aging, hidebound, reactionary point of view. The old bull(shitter) fixes his nearsighted eyes on a sacred cow, paws the ground, and lumbers into action.

I wish to gore thatInternet ox of information, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, with a few stabs at and other arbiters of correctness. I will be the first to admit to consulting Wikipedia (or, as I sometimes call it, Wickedpedia), and I do so fairly frequently. On simple matters of fact, I have found it to be both concise and accurate. I have no quarrel with most entries I have read. Wikipedia claims that almost anyone can post and edit its contents. It was created by a small group, however, and continues to be governed from behind the public purview. Reader participation is invited; given the scope of information covered, it is necessary. Thus the revolutionary nature of the work. What bothers me, from my perspective of general conservatism and evangelical Christianity, is its growing bias in favor of a liberal, humanist worldview.

I am not going to cite examples of what I consider to be bias or misinformation. That's not my point. I feel there is is a filter in place that slants what we read on Wikipedia in a particular direction. There have been instances of the deletion of all or part of certain "controversial" articles, and these are often ones written from a conservative direction. As I said above, I appreciate the breadth and scope of Wikipedia and frequently use it, but I don't trust it very far. Editors can and do remain anonymous. Some have gone through the site and scrubbed references to certain topics. For instance, one altered many posts regarding Islam, changing things he perceived as antagonistic. Pseudonymity can enable vandalism as well as courage.

Your picador is now going to brandish a sword or two at and , two sites that claim to be reliable, if not final, sources of information. The first is run by a husband and wife who are admittedly liberal supporters of President Obama; the second is run by the Annenberg Foundation. At the instigation of terrorist/scholar Bill Ayers, this foundation was instrumental in backing Obama's rise to power. Now, if you are a left-wing "Democrat", this is all well and good. If, however, you are conservative, this makes some things learned from these two sites suspect.

Dear readers, I take anything these three sites put out with a heap of seasalt. The primary goal of education should be the ability to think for oneself. Facts are good, especially if proven to be true. Propaganda and indoctrination are not, no matter which direction one is pointed in. Read a book!