Richard Wilkinson on Inequality

Richard WilkinsonHere is a great video about income inequality that you really must watch. I’ll have more to say about it tomorrow and on into the future. This is because I’m getting less and less interested in the news of the day and more and more interested in talking about those few things that really matter to me in terms of politics. I even have a few ideas of how some of these problems can be addressed. Of course, the number one issue that will stop us from solving any problems is if the poorer classes continue to vote so infrequently. But apart from that the most important issue is income inequality.

This video is from a TED Talk, which is interesting because in general, the TED folk don’t like to talk about things that make rich people uncomfortable. This talk is by Richard G Wilkinson. The only thing I have to add to what he has to say is just that you should notice that no matter what he talks about the United States is always the worst. According to conservatives, this is the best country in the world. What they mean is that this is the best country in the world if you are rich. And I don’t doubt that for a minute. But I’m not rich. And if you’re reading this, you’re not rich. So this is not the best country in the world. In the most important ways, this is the worst country of the advanced world. That’s something to think about very carefully, especially if you are a liberal. How did we allow this?

H/T: Kathleen Geier

How to Not Become a Neo-Nazi

Neo-Nazi Bill WhiteI have to admit to a certain fascination with neo-Nazis and the like. A lot of them are just angry men who find comradery in their shared anger and hatred. But where does that come from? I mean, I’ve known a lot of violent assholes. And every couple of days some guy goes on a shooting spree. What would make someone grab onto what is about the purest example of evil we have and say, “I’m for that!” I mean, I’ve known young people who dabbled in what they thought was Satanism by reading old books on witchcraft. They just thought they were being naughty. If any adult identifies as a witch, what she means is that she thinks trees and herbal remedies are cool—it is nothing dark, much less evil.

Certainly, the neo-Nazis and the Klansmen depend upon racism. But the whole society is racist in its own way and most people at least try to hide their racism if not actively fight it. So again, we are back to the fundamental question: why do people want to be public assholes? Is it as simple as them wanting attention? I tend to think so. But that isn’t to say that they don’t completely accept all the vile thinking that goes along with the persona.

Bill White

Yesterday, the Southern Policy Law Center reported, Neo-Nazi Bill White Indicted for Internet Threats—Again! Mr. White has been indicted so many times, it is hard to keep track. And to me, he seems just like any number of other loud-mouths. But that’s what these people always seem like until they start acting on their rhetoric. There is, after all, a process. Unless one is actually dealing with arguments, rhetoric just has to get more and more extreme. But there is an end to that. Eventually, that rhetoric must lead to action. Or the people must just drop the whole matter, as I suspect is the more common path.

White’s path is, shall we say, unusual. Wikipedia reports his various political moves over the years:

From 1997 to 1998, White claimed involvement with the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party’s Refuse and Resist, Coalition against Police Brutality, and the Trotskyist International Socialist Organization (ISO). White worked as a columnist for the Russian website Pravda Online, which took its name from the now-defunct newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party. In 2000, White joined Ross Perot’s Reform Party and the campaign to elect Pat Buchanan, then running for President of the United States on a Reform Party ticket.

It does have a certain consistency: authoritarianism. And once you reach Pat Buchanan, a neo-Nazism we will go! But it is interesting that it wasn’t until he got in with the “white power” crowd that he started making threats and generally being a real concern to the peace of our society.

Now let me just make a comment about leftist movements in the United States. It isn’t like they are lily white. In the 1960s, there were certainly leftists who wanted to start a revolution. Bombs were made; people died. And there will always be people on the extremes doing crazy things for their own crazy reasons. But the left learned valuable lessons from the 1960s that it has never forgotten. You just don’t get the kind of violent rhetoric from the left that you get from the right. The left seems to understand that violent rhetoric leads to violence while the right continues to pretend there is no connection.

I wouldn’t call Bill White a member of the political right in this country, although that is most certainly where he came from. I don’t think people like him have real political agendas anyway. “The Jews are greedy and lie” is not really a political statement. But clearly, he’s a searcher. And as such, he’s an example of our society not providing people with constructive ways of finding meaning. Regardless of whether White makes good on his threats and spends the rest of his life in prison, or reforms and becomes an advocate against racism, he has become “someone” in our society.

Finding Positive Meaning

Most of the people in the United States are “nobody.” In the old days of unions, people had that to identify themselves: they were members of a collection of workers who were making the country a better place. Remember “Union Strong”? There are lots of ways for people to feel valued, but work is one of the most important. But for most people, work has become nothing more than a paycheck. Being part of a union was being part of something. Despite the “We Are Walmart” ads, the workers there know that they are not Walmart. And the moment Walmart gives them their most recent paycheck, their connection with the company is over until their next hour of work.

Increasingly, I see the decline of unionization as a much bigger problem than just economics. The decline of unions in America is part of a larger problem where people don’t see where they fit into society and they certainly don’t see how it is they matter. So it is not a surprise that a man like Bill White, who has clearly spent much of his life looking for his place, has turned from one radical group to another, only to land in a world where his most vile and hateful tendencies have made him a star of sorts.

Our Cultural Cancer

As a society, we can deal with the Bill Whites of the world. We can put them in prison. Or we can at least keep tabs on them enough to stop them from physically hurting anyone. But he’s symptomatic of a larger and more difficult problem. How will our people find their places in our society where they can make things better? Part of that answer is increasing unionization and decreasing income inequality. But fundamentally, it is about our society abandoning its obsession with wealth as the ultimate gauge of a person’s value. I don’t think this problem can be cured. But it can be treated; it can be less harmful. Currently, it is metastasizing and will destroy our society if we don’t treat it.

The Bill Whites of the nation are just the most obvious symptoms.

Spike Jones and Der Fuehrer’s Face

Spike JonesOn this day in 1546, the great observational astronomer Tycho Brahe was born. In fact, before the advent of the telescope, he was certainly the greatest. That’s pretty amazing: doing observations of the stars and the planets without the help of any optical instruments except, you know, the two we are born with. He is most known for two things. First, while in college, he had part of his nose cut off in a duel. This duel was over the solution to a mathematical problem. Yep, that was the way in the 16th century: my equation is right because I’m better with a sword. The two duelers made up, but the nose did not. So Brahe wore a false nose made of silver and gold for the rest of his life.

The other important thing about Brahe is that Johannes Kepler came to work as his assistant the last couple of years of his life. Apparently, Brahe didn’t really trust Kepler though. So it wasn’t until Brahe died that Kepler got his grubby little hands on all the observational data. And this resulted in one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time: Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion. Basically, Kepler found that planets did not move in circles but in ellipses. What’s more, the closer they got to the sun, the faster they moved. It’s all basic conservation of energy that any high school physics student can explain. But it was a huge breakthrough! And beautiful mathematics.

The English writer Aphra Behn was born in 1640. Like Cervantes, she was one of those people who were perfecting what would become the modern novel. In her case, you might say she invented the romance novel. She was actually more of a playwright, however—and quite a successful one. Unfortunately, Shakespeare sucks just about all the oxygen out of English language plays until the 19th century.

I only know the names of two porn stars. One of them is that girl who caused the freak out when it turned out that she had been making porn films when she was 16 or something. And even now, I can’t remember her name. The other is Ginger Lynn who is 51 today. Now, I haven’t seen either of these women performing. And I have no idea why the name “Ginger Lynn” has stuck in my mind all these years. Anyway, I’m not very much into video pornography. It strikes me as too much like gynecological exams—with all the sexiness that goes along with them. I’d much rather read porn where I can picture sex the way it ought to be rather than the way it is. But I think that’s why there is this trend in video porn to have all gentles shaved. I used to think it was trying to turn adults into children—which is extremely creepy. But now I think it is trying to turn humans into simple functional devices. This too is creepy, but not nearly so much so. I’m glad I came up with that theory; it makes me feel a lot better. Eventually, it will get to the point of having me just “hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick.” That’s right, folks! Only at Frankly Curious do we start with porn star Ginger Lynn and end with Shakespeare! (Extra points for naming the play!)

Other birthdays: French painter who I really don’t like Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824); Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853); English painter I really like Roger Fry (1866); comedian Morey Amsterdam (1908); choreographer June Taylor (1917); 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt (1922); actor Patty Duke (57); and chess grandmaster Jan Timman (62).

The day, however, belongs to the great comedic bandleader Spike Jones who was born on this day in 1911. He did some very funny things. Let me just share a few with you. First there is “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which caused the American Federation of Musicians to ban him from making commercial recordings for two years. I don’t actually see the problem. It is a very silly song that seems to be saying that we fart in Hitler’s face. But maybe in 1942, it was too silly.

The whole band was made up of a bunch of nutcases. Here is “Cocktails for Two”:

And here is “My Old Flame,” the second part of it sung by “Peter Lorre”:

And finally, here is a song that is not by Spike Jones’ band, because Spike Jones died the year before. But it’s his gang, primarily Doodles Weaver, doing a very confused version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”:

Happy birthday Spike Jones!

One Year After Sandy Hook Little Changed

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting aftermathIt is that day. One year ago today, a disturbed young man, woke up, killed his mother, shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed almost thirty people. Then, he got down to what was probably his main purpose, he killed himself. These things always make me think of the film Fargo, at the end where Marge Gunderson is bringing in Gaear. She says, “So that was Mrs Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.” We never understand it.

We also never do anything about it. There was outrage. How could this happen? Everyone had a theory. I think it’s all bullshit myself. Sometimes brains just don’t work the way they ought to. Some attempts were made to tighten restrictions on gun purchases. That was a noble effort, but as the gun lobby correctly pointed out, it had nothing to do with the Sandy Hook massacre. As I noted the day after, its easier to get a gun than mental health treatment, Guns Cheap, Mental Health Expensive. But let’s be honest, America Doesn’t Care About Shooting Sprees. Sure, they make great television. But otherwise, kids get murdered. They weren’t celebrities were they?!

No new federal gun legislation was passed. In Colorado they did something. Very little, but still. They put a “ban on magazines holding more than fifteen rounds of ammunition, a universal background check, and a requirement that buyers pay a fee for the background check.” Oh my God! You’d think the black helicopters had arrived and were taking everyone’s guns. For the gun “rights” crowd the slippery slope is an ice cube you dropped on your kitchen floor. You slip on it and suddenly you’re in Nazi Germany.

So Colorado has some very minor gun control legislation that is hugely popular. Yet two state legislators were recalled. And one more faces recall. And why? Because liberals can’t bother to get off their asses and vote. And most conservatives even agree with the laws but if the NRA tells them they need to vote someone out, they follow in line just like the Brownshirts of old. What I’m saying is that Americans are a bunch of assholes but for different reasons.

Remember two days ago when I wrote, An American Political Allegory. It was the story about a father squirrel who hated his neighbor squirrel more than he hated the cat that killed and ate his son. I’m afraid I was being a bit too subtle. We Americans are big at following right along with whatever the corporations tell us to do. The NRA? That’s not a group that represents gun owners; it’s a group that represents gun manufacturers. It’s members (the people) have pretty reasonable opinions about guns. But it’s like those proposed laws that mandated the labeling of GMOs. They were all hugely popular until Monsanto and its corporate allies got done convincing the people that it would destroy farming as we know it.

I know it sounds like I’m preaching to the choir here. But I’m not. Most Americans agree with me about most political issues. The problem is that a very large fraction of those people can’t be bothered to vote. There are two brave legislators who were thrown out of office (and one that just resigned) not because they did something unpopular, but because the people couldn’t be bothered to support them.

It doesn’t matter how good your politics are, if you don’t vote, it doesn’t matter. And one year on from Sandy Hook, the murder sprees continue. Frequently.

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