Happy labor day, comrades! Do you know why labor day is today and not on May Day — International Workers’ Day? Well, it’s because of the commies and anarchists. President Grover Cleveland was afraid of associating the international worker movements with the American movements. Of course, Cleveland wasn’t all that keen on the labor movement. But he made Labor Day a national holiday! Why? Because he was trying to make nice after totally screwing up in the government’s response to the Pullman Strike.
Pullman Company Screws Workers
This is an interesting but totally typical story. The Pullman Company made railroad cars. Following the Panic of 1893, Pullman lowered worker wages. There is nothing especially wrong with this. It can be much better than laying workers off. Of course, Pullman did lay off workers. It probably only lowered wages because it had an excuse. But all that was probably okay.
The problem was that the workers lived in a company town. They paid the company for rent and food and more. But when the company lowered wages, it did not lower the cost it was charging workers for their necessities. The workers were, not surprisingly, unhappy about this situation. But George Pullman refused to lower his company town prices and refused to even arbitrate the matter.
The Rich Are Never Allowed to Suffer
Notice the situation here: Pullman thought that his workers should suffer because of the bad economic conditions. But he didn’t think he should suffer at all.
During the first years following our financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, there was endless repetition that what the country needed was “shared sacrifice.” Obama loved the idea. But if you dug down even a little into these pleas, you saw that it was all sacrifice by the lower classes — none by the upper. For example: we heard constantly that we had to cut Social Security, but we couldn’t even mention raising the payroll tax cap. (That would be class warfare!) The bankers were bailed out without much fuss but homeowners were just left to their foreclosures.
And there were large cuts to social programs but only a tiny increase in the very top marginal tax rate and only because it was going up anyway. Then the Republicans took over Washington in 2017 and again lowered taxes on the wealthy. Shared sacrifice!
Pullman Workers Strike
More desperate than we are today, many of the workers joined Eugene Debs’ American Railway Union (ARU). And they went on strike. It got ugly. Union members eventually stopped railroad service in a number of places. Then Grover Cleveland used the interruption of mail delivery to justify sending in federal troops. This did eventually end the strike — at a loss of 30 striker lives and almost twice as many wounded. This is generally the way it goes.
The government does not like organized labor. It is too much of a threat to the status quo and the wealth of the elites. When organized, workers have enormous power. That was why, in 1947, we got the Taft–Hartley Act, which outlawed “jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns.” That basically neutered unions — it was just a matter of time. Then, Reagan savaged unions and basically made the remaining union rights void through lack of enforcement.
Grover Cleveland Tries to Mollify Workers
In 1894, of course, the government was scared. Grover Cleveland and the rest of the government wanted to make nice with organized labor. They probably had Louis XVI of France in mind and were trying to hedge their bets. So only six days after the strike ended, Cleveland signed the legislation making Labor Day a federal holiday.
As for old George Pullman, well, a national commission was appointed to look into the causes of the strike. It found Pullman culpable and said his company town was “un-American.” In 1898, the company was forced to sell off the land, which became part of Chicago. It didn’t matter to George Pullman, however; he died the year before.
Debs Is Held Accountable
After the strike, Debs was arrested and charged with conspiracy to obstruct the mail. You know: it wasn’t enough to have your strike crushed; Debs was a little man and so the government needed to crush him too. But Debs was represented by one of the great heroes of that period: Clarence Darrow. Darrow argued that Debs didn’t conspire to do anything and that it was the railroad that conspired against the workers.
(This is something that doesn’t seem to be understood by my libertarian enemies who almost to a man hate unions: if workers aren’t able to organize, it isn’t fair; the company management is very organized.)
The prosecutors knew they were going to lose the case, so they dropped the conspiracy charge. Debs was later convicted on the lesser charge of violating a Supreme Court injunction and was given six months in jail. (This too is always what happens; if the government wants to get you, it will.)
Debs Becomes a Socialist
Although he entered jail what we might call a liberal, Debs left a socialist. While in prison he read a whole bunch of Marx and that changed his outlook. He was also influenced by visits from Victor L Berger. Along with him and others, Debs founded the Social Democratic Party of America. He went on to run for president as a socialist five times — the last time in 1920, he did from prison. He was serving a ten-year sentence for violating the government’s new favorite bullshit law to attack anyone they don’t like, the Espionage Act of 1917. He violated it by giving a speech that “obstructed recruiting” for World War I.
Do I need to note that what he was doing is the very definition of free speech?
Labor Day evolved from the aspiration of the labor movement; it was not handed down as a present. Its recognition as a legal holiday was won by labor: it was not given as a present.
So enjoy your Labor Day. But don’t forget the suffering and loss that it represents. And don’t stand for people showing such great disrespect to it. We know conservatives hate the labor movement. We know that many so called liberals are at best apathetic towards the labor movement. But the least we can demand is that they all show a modicum of respect one day of the year. Now go enjoy your barbecue or whatever.
This article is an edited and updated version of the Labor Day 2015 post. Rosie the Riveter by Kelly Garbato, licensed under CC BY 2.0. Many changes made. Eugene Debs and Grover Cleveland images are in the public domain.
Valentine’s Day is an old holiday but that doesn’t make its modern incarnation any more profound. It is now just a coercive exercise in gift giving. And the business community has really stepped up. Everything is more expensive and every place is more crowded. Valentine’s Day is, above all, a pain for all of us who are not interested in celebrating it.
But I understand the argument in favor of it. “While Valentine’s Day may have the philosophical depth of the greeting cards people buy in its honor, it’s great for the economy!” I used to go along with this reasoning for all holidays. But in the modern world, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Dictated gift-giving usually represents the purchasing of garbage. Most people know the experience of getting useless gifts on Christmas. That’s even more true of Valentine’s Day except that the expectations are more rigid. But that only means that people know they will get things they don’t want ahead of time.
Among the people who involve themselves in Valentine’s Day, there just isn’t much need. By and large, people have what they want — at least that’s true of the people who find themselves going to expensive restaurants today. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day of the year at restaurants — only Mother’s Day is busier.
Capitalism and Forced Consumption
This is a problem with capitalism. It doesn’t matter how much people consume, the nature of capitalism is to always push people to consume more. There is no end. People are never sated because consuming does not fulfill any need.
And we are well past the point where we should know that our consuming habits are hurting us. Whether it is global warming or global trash, capitalism does us no favor in pushing us to consume in the name of profits for people who don’t need them.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against gift giving and restaurant going. Indeed, there are few things as wonderful as coming upon some little item and thinking, “My friend would love that!” I had that experience once with the complete New Yorker on disc for a friend of mine who loved the magazine. Delighting the people you love is great.
But these opportunities are rare and never come about in the brief period of time you are looking to fulfill some obligation for Valentine’s Day or Christmas. And so people get boring or awful gifts.
What people really want is some acknowledgment of their importance in our lives. And a quick trip to the store doesn’t really indicate that.
I remember a scene in The Four Seasons (1981) where Carol Burnett complains that Alan Alda doesn’t bring her flowers when she’s feeling down. He responds that he does bring her flowers. But she says he only does it when it makes him feel better — it is never done for her.
What We Get for Valentine’s Day
I suppose that some people take events like Valentine’s Day as a reminder to show their love. But in the vast majority of cases, people participate to avoid pain. They know that they are supposed to celebrate it, so they do. Even if their romantic partners don’t care about it, they look bad to others.
Romantic love is a myth anyway. It’s just infatuation and it dies quickly. So Valentine’s Day perpetuates a childish myth.
And what do we get in return? Overcrowded restaurants with harried servers and subpar food. Unwanted candy, flowers, and jewelry for her; unwanted candy, wallets, and aftershave for him. Environmental degradation. And disappointment all around.
Ah, Christmas! There are many things I like about it. Well, two: giving presents and cooking. Really: if you are past the age of 30, Christmas really ought to be about giving. And for women, it mostly is. For men, well. You know men.
I just want to explain what my Christmases are like. I always go to my sister’s house. And the two of us cook and otherwise wait on all the men who sit on the couch and watch sports and other “reality” shows.
(Yes, I do know that I’m a man. But socially, I’m not. It’s strange that supposed alpha men who supposedly love women so much don’t want to spend time around them. But maybe it is just that they want them for sex and otherwise, they prefer to be around each other because they are culturally stunted and the source of 90 percent of all the pain in the world.)
But in our coming and going, it might be nice to see, I don’t know, some Christmas shows. Maybe hear some Christmas music? I’m not that fond of either. But it is certainly better than yet another football game — yet another episode of Pawn Stars (AKA: the show where bottom feeders make money off desperate people).
The truth is, I don’t much care. What does matter is that there is no compromise. It is just assumed by the men that whatever they want to watch is what will be watched. And it is just assumed that they will be waited on.
Truly, I’m thinking that next year, my sister and I will get a hotel room. We’ll allow the the kids to come by and let the “alpha” males conquer Christmas. If pizza parlors are open on Christmas, they should have no problem. And it will give them more man time.
Anyway, Merry Christmas! Remember the reason for the season: learning extreme tolerance.
Later, when everything calmed down, I went into the back bedroom and watched Family Feud with my great-nephew, Hector. He apparently enjoys it and I don’t mind watching it. Steve Harvey is genuinely funny and manages to mock the contestants in a way that doesn’t embarrass me. (I suffer greatly from pena ajena.)
Hector quickly fell asleep and I continued to read and watch the show. It was very peaceful — the way Christmas should be. In addition to this very pleasant time, I got to observe something very disturbing on Family Feud.
The question was, “Name something the same size as Steve Harvey’s head.” Bear in mind that Harvey is an African American. And the white contestant buzzed-in and answered, “Watermelon.”
I’m not saying that the contestant was actively racist. But such things are the result of living in a racist society. This is the main reason that I say everyone is racist. It is the same reason that everyone knew Reagan’s “welfare queen” was black (even though she wasn’t). But the contestant’s answer wasn’t far from saying, “Friday chicken!”
Steve Harvey, of course, ignored the racial aspect of it and made a big deal out of the fact that his head — No one’s head! — is as big as a watermelon. It was very funny.
Indication of Broader Racism
But the amazing thing is “watermelon” was the #2 answer with one-quarter of respondents saying it. I had originally thought that the contestant was idiosyncratic. But no. People really do associate African Americans with watermelons.
That’s not a problem, of course. But it is indicative of the subconscious racism that people hold. And it does matter when employers choose whites with felony convictions over blacks with no criminal background.
Steve Harvey: Soother of White Fragility
As a result of this, I find it outrageous that the producers of Family Feud allowed that question through. It obviously required that Harvey do a 21st century minstrel act. The fact that he is a pro that handles casual racism in a way that doesn’t upset whites doesn’t really help matters.
So my first reaction was shock and horror. But Steve Harvey’s handling of it amused and calmed me (as it was meant to). But more reflection makes it even worse.
It was still better than dealing with my alpha family members. And Hector is very sweet — especially when he’s asleep!
 Giving Linda Taylor the moniker “welfare queen” (which Reagan popularized but didn’t invent) was not right. And it was even worse for Reagan to use her as an excuse to cut welfare. Taylor was simply a criminal. Using her as an example of a welfare recipient is like using a human trafficker who launders money through a credit union as an example of a bank customer.
Image taken from Bodybuilding forum. Used under fair use until some bodybuilder comes along and beats me up.
So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Yeah, we’re all thinking it so let’s just come out and say it: John Lennon was a dick.
I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but I never visited people way poorer than myself to hector them about how they’ve lived their lives.
As I recall, at the time of his death, he was worth roughly a hundred million dollars — enough money that he could have used $20 bills to wipe his ass for the rest of his life, even if he had lived to be old. But this is not what I want to talk about.
I want to apologize for being a dick myself. A lot of people have supported this website for a long time. And I’ve really let it go. I don’t post much and I take forever to answer comments. But I’m trying to change that.
An Excuse or Explanation Depending on Whether You Like Me
This neglect is not due to any animus against the site or its readers. The truth is that for the last year and a half, I haven’t been doing well. I’ve never been suicidal, but if I had had the ability to simply not exist, I would have taken it.
Brain chemistry is a strange thing. It’s weird how the whole universe changes based on your brain chemistry.
“Suddenly Everything Seems So Easy”
I keep thinking about the film As Good as it Gets. In it, Greg Kinnear’s character was a successful artist who has been violently robbed. His whole life has fallen apart. And he is going to see his estranged parents to ask for money to get back on his feet. But he has a magical evening during which he begins to draw again. So he decides not to ask for money from his parents.
Jack Nicholson thinks this is crazy, “What are you talking about? You got real problems.”
And Kinnear replies, “I know. I’m a little bit nervous. Suddenly everything seems so easy.”
Universes of the Mind
This goes along with Ken Baldwin’s experience jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, “I saw my hands leave the bridge. I knew at that moment, that I really, really messed up. Everything could have been better, I could change things. And I was falling. I couldn’t change that.”
There are lots of cheap responses to this. “Wisdom comes to some suddenly.” Or: “Suicide is a long-term solution to a short-term problem.” But for Baldwin and Kevin Hines and countless others, it isn’t necessarily an irrational choice to take their lives.
It’s just that there are two universes that they are living in. One is filled with pain. The other hope. In general, I believe the universe of hope is the more objective one — at least for the vast majority of people.
By “hope” I’m not talking about the hope that your material situation will improve. I’m talking about the hope that continuing on is worth doing at all.
For the month of September, I billed less than a thousand dollars. That’s not sustainable. But I just couldn’t face work — not even my own work. That was a very bad month, but it’s been this way for roughly a year and a half.
November and December have been better financially. I’ve been working more here and on Psychotronic Review. And I’ve even had a major breakthrough on a play that has been stalled for the last year and a half.
I’m hoping to do a better job around here. The days of having things to say but just not being able to sit down and write them seem to have passed — at least for now.
Merry Evil Christmas
So after this depressing and self-indulgent post, let me wish you a happy whatever. Now go and watch Christmas Evil (AKA: You Better Watch Out). Christmas, art, slasher film. By today’s standards, it’s hardly violent at all. But it’s fascinating. John Waters says he always played it at his Christmas parties. You’ll see why: it’s also kind of a fetish film.
Ho ho ho! And now a song that would offend most people:
We’re not doing much for Thanksgiving this year. I simply cooked two side-dishes yesterday. And most of today, I will be working. So I thought I would present a few interesting holiday things:
Woody Allen Jesus
I haven’t checked in recently with Tim Minchin. Truthfully, a little of him goes a long way. But he’s still good. Derren Brown is a mentalist/magician. I figured you would want to know. I figure you know who Simon Pegg is.
The Komodo Dragon
Almost no one finds Bob & Ray as funny as I do. But they are wrong.
The Lost Plague
This is a good video by CGP Grey. I can’t help but think of all the deadly diseases that the Europeans brought to America when the subject of Thanksgiving comes up. When I was a kid, in as much as it was talked about, the destruction of native peoples was always told as one of differing technologies. Of course, that was always nonsense. Guns at that time were not that useful. But given that Europeans had become used to living in filth, they could blithely wage germ warfare and convince themselves they were really badasses.
I have to get back to work. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving. If you want, you can read my 3,700-word Thanksgiving Round-Up. I’m not recommending.
“Squantohowwellthecornprospered” by The German Kali Works, New York – Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911. Page 112. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
When I was a kid, I loved the Fourth of July: Independence Day! Admittedly, part of it was because they showed 1776 on television that day every year and I loved musicals. But I was also super patriotic because I totally bought all the lies my teachers had told me about this great nation.
Now it is just a night filled with loud noises and ignorant people.
I really should have known, of course. Historians have been writing for a long time about the fact that the primary push for the southern colonies to enter the Revolutionary War was their fear that England was going to take their slaves away.
Now I understand: for about 30 percent of the modern US population, that sounds like a damned good reason to start a war. In fact, all those people clamoring about “states’ rights” only really care about them in so far as it will allow them to bring back Jim Crow if not outright slavery. It certainly isn’t a concept they believe in when California wants to maintain high pollution-control standards.
Yes, I’m calling 30 percent of the nation bigots.
And the Racists…
The rest of us are just racists — regardless of color. That’s just what happens when you grow up in a racist society. The best of us fight it, but it’s still there — poisoning us.
As Jesse Jackson said, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps… then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”
I feel the same way when I involuntarily tense up when a young black man gets on the bus. I disgust myself.
And the Liars…
There are, of course, people who claim not to have a racist bone in their bodies. They were wonderfully satirized by Stephen Colbert. I suppose some of them are just clueless racists. But mostly, I think they are lying bigots.
If you can’t admit to your faults, you have no hope of fixing them — or even becoming slightly less vile.
Revolution: What Is It Good For?!
Ultimately, the American Revolution was good for the white men that were already doing well. For everyone else — and that includes poor white men — the war didn’t improve their lives. And made the lives of millions to come far worse.
In the article, he also addresses the treatment of the first Americans. They would have been treated badly regardless — as they were in Canada. But it’s most likely that there wouldn’t have been a genocide committed against them over decades.
If you want to get a good idea of how badly we treated the first Americans, you should check out the ignorant and racist comments to my article Ayn Rand and Indians. I don’t want to get into it here. I’ve written a lot about this subject in the past.
Matthews third reason for why we would have been better off not separating from England is that we would now have a much more stable system of government: a parliamentary system. I’ve also written a lot about this, so I’m not going to dive into it.
You should really just go read Matthews’ fine article. I agree with it point by point.
The Bottom Line
Tomorrow, when I wake up, I will put the flag out. I don’t especially like to because I don’t like the way that people see the flag. I have traditionally seen it as aspirational. Right now, I see it as pictured above: the zombie apocalypse has happened; they’ve destroyed what’s good about us and now they’re hungry for our best aspirations.
One can’t exactly celebrate this day, 50 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. But it brings up a lot of thoughts.
The first is how much I hate the deification of King. When he was alive, he was hated by northerners and southerners alike. And if he hadn’t been assassinated, he would still be hated by those on the right in this country. If he were alive today, he’d be treated the same way as Jesse Jackson. And do you remember the way he was treated by the Democrats in 1988?
But what really bugs me is the way that conservatives try to take Martin Luther King Jr for their own. They know next to nothing about King. They certainly don’t know about his still radical ideas of economic equality. Yet at least once a year, we have to hear a bunch of Republicans claim that we live in the Promised Land and so King would side with them now. What a joke!
When he was younger, my father was a member of the John Birch Society. And to this day, you cannot convince my father that King did not, in fact, visit the Soviet Union. I believe that was propaganda the FBI spread.
My father is also convinced that Martin Luther King Jr was a communist. Now you have to start with the fact that my father has no idea what a communist is. But it’s clear that King wasn’t too fond of capitalism. Neither is my father’s son. The truth is that in this country, “communist” is the same as “boogeyman.” It doesn’t mean anything. It was just the totalitarian system used by the Soviet Union. And I’m not at all certain that the people of Russia today are better off. Oh, Putin is elected, but he gets to choose who he runs against.
But speaking of embarrassing family members, there was an interesting discussion about Martin Luther King Jr over at New York, What Do We Forget About MLK? It’s short and worth reading, but here is quote from Ed Kilgore, who grew up in the south in the 1960s:
I happened to be visiting some of my rural relatives right after the assassination. The “nicer” among them were unhappy that so many Yankee politicians attended MLK’s funeral. But I mostly remember my sweet “old maid” great aunt saying that if she could find the assassin, she’d take him in and hide him and feed him and care for him the rest of his life.
Martin Luther King Jr Is No Threat Now
I really don’t think we’ve changed much. We just know what not to say publicly. I’ve seen it in more distant parts of my family. When they think they are safe (and why they think they are safe around me is anyone’s guess), they will say the most racist things. I see our society as being very much like it was in 1968, but with a patina of respectability covering over it.
And you don’t have to look hard. There have been numerous studies that show that identical resumes get interviews more often if they have a white sounding name than if they have a black sounding name. And the people making these hiring decisions aren’t illiterate southern bigots. They are people with college educations who doubtless see themselves as being color blind. But the truth is there in their subconsciouses.
The New Racism
Frankly, I would prefer if people would just be more honest. It seems like what we’ve done over the last fifty years has been to bury our racism. There are no longer laws keeping black people from moving into your neighborhood. But economic inequality does the job just as well. As The Conversation put it:
While racial segregation in US schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since — to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.
I think what I want to say on this anniversary is that at the time, most whites didn’t have a problem with Martin Luther King Jr being assassinated. They do now because he is no longer a threat to their lives. That’s what it all comes down to.
Afterword: Noor Salman Found Not Guilty
It’s been a few days, the jury in the Noor Salman case took only 12 hours to find her not guilty. It’s not surprising. The case against her was terrible. Basically, all the prosecution had against her was an initialed confession after 11 hours of interrogation. The defense was able to show that over half of it wasn’t true. So clearly, the FBI created the statement and pressured this poor woman to accept it. If I know anything about cops, it is this: they promised her if she initialed it, they would let her go home with her son.
I may write more about this later. But for the moment, I’m very pleased.
As you may have noticed, I’m consolidating articles. A big part of this is Google. They will give me a lot more credit for one 10,000 word article than 20 500 word articles. That’s what I did for my Christmas posts. I will create a whole new post on Christmas that includes the old posts and then I won’t have any old articles on the subject of Christmas itself. (I’ll still have articles about specific issues that relate to Christmas, however.)
I’m doing the same thing for Thanksgiving. This is really hard, because work is a nightmare around Thanksgiving because of Black Friday and something you may not even know exists, Cyber Monday. So this Monday I worked 11 hours. Tuesday, I worked only 9 hours — but just because I was too exhausted to go on.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the few times of the year that I get to cook for a large collection of people.
This year, we are having a ham and tri-tip. That’s all very easy. I’m responsible for the tri-tip as well as pretty much all the side dishes: green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, and strawberry cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I was going to make a cheesecake, but I decided that I was going to make something for myself instead. So cupcakes it is! Also: cheesecake takes a long time to make. The truth is that nothing on my list is all that time-consuming.
The Serious Business of Thanksgiving
Most of my writing about Thanksgiving is historical, however. I’m very interested in the European invasion of America. Mostly, the Europeans acted very badly. But even when they didn’t, they brought so many diseases that it didn’t matter.
So much of what follows will be along these lines.
–FM (23 November 2017)
Thanksgiving Without Cynicism
Well folks, I’m pushing today. There is so much to do. First, I have to write my normal stuff for today. And then I have to write at least my morning stuff for tomorrow. And, I have all this cooking today. As usual, I’m going to my older sister’s place for Thanksgiving. I’m not in charge of cooking. But I’m still bringing: my au gratin potatoes, which are now kind of a staple that no family gathering can be without; my absolutely great macaroni and cheese; the great mushroom quiche from The New Moosewood Cookbook; and a pumpkin pie, which I have never made before and I don’t vouch for. All of this is a good deal more complicated than you might imagine. The macaroni and cheese in particular, takes a long time; it is very complex. Really, I can’t stress this enough: it is fantastic.
But here’s the thing that I think you can probably tell from that last paragraph. I am really looking forward to this holiday. In fact, I keep thinking that it is Christmas. And in fact, it pretty much is for me. The only difference is that I give the kids money and try to lobby everyone beforehand to not buy presents. Otherwise, it is an opportunity to cook for a bunch of very grateful people. And it is an opportunity to hang out with my family.
Everyone in my family is about as annoying as I am. We are imperfect people. Yet on holidays, it all seems very much like a game to me. Mostly it is just one long tease, but very good natured. And we laugh a lot because it just doesn’t take much to get us to laugh. We are the sort of people who laugh at stand-up comedians performing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night with a blizzard outside. And the only one who has strong opinions about things is me. I, of course, have strong opinions on everything. But I keep them to myself.
Speaking of lobbying, I successfully lobbied against turkey this year. Other than on sandwiches, I don’t see the point of eating turkey. Ever. But on special occasions, I really don’t understand. What is special about turkey? It’s just a really big chicken with less tasty meat. My preference is to have prime rib. And the cost is basically the same! We aren’t having it tomorrow, however. For one thing, it is a pain to cook. I’m willing to do it, but I’m not cooking. So we are having tri-tip. Why? I don’t know. It just is the case that my brother-in-law likes to cook it and he does a good job of it. So I’m sure it will be delicious — especially with my side dishes!
Does this mean that tomorrow there will not be the usual “Frank tries to destroy your holiday” post? Not at all, although I have to admit that I don’t have any idea what I’m going to write. But holidays are very disruptive of my work. This week has been really difficult. And then Friday, the libraries are closed. There is no national political news except the turkey pardon. (That give me an idea for an anti-Thanksgiving post!) But overall: family, food, and some excellent alcohol (I’m still deciding). It really doesn’t get much better.
And before someone says something: yes, my expectations have gone down over the years…
–FM (27 November 2013)
The Myths of Thanksgiving
John Green is an internet phenom. He and his brother Hank make highly produced videos that seem that be educational while being very entertaining. But if you watch them enough, you’ll come to see that they are neither. Or maybe it’s just me. If I already understand the subject, then I can follow along and see that they are in fact hitting the high points. If I don’t already understand, I might pick up one or two things, but I end up wishing that I had spent the time reading Wikipedia. As for entertainment value, let’s just say that John Green is a one trick pony who gets old fast. (In fairness, I can put up with Hank a lot longer.)
But now and then, a John Green video is just what the doctor ordered. And I’m desperately looking for things to post on this Thanksgiving Day. I figured that he would have something interesting to say about the history of the day. Surprisingly, he didn’t. But he did make the following hodgepodge video about the European colonization of America. It all goes by rather fast and I can’t help but think that at this point he isn’t trying very hard. It is more schtick than anything else. Still, it’s kind of fun and interesting in as much as it make sense:
The most interesting thing about the whole Thanksgiving story is the ex-slave Squanto, who is probably the only reason any of the Plymouth colonists survived. Something that I don’t think is highlighted enough is that only half of the people who came over were Pilgrims. Included in their cargo was beer and opium. And most of all: the Pilgrims weren’t searching for religious freedom. They had religious freedom in Holland, but it wasn’t going well. Many of the older members of the congregation were going back to England and the children were leaving to start new lives. Moving to the new world was their way of surviving as a going concern. That’s fine, but I get really tired of the happy horseshit about the brave Pilgrims coming to America in search of religious freedom.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christians trying to claim Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. Where does that come from? Even the standard story they tell to children doesn’t indicate that. The Native Americans saved the colonists from all starving to death. So to pay them back, they had a big old party with turkey. To me this says that the colonists were gracious, but clearly the natives are the heroes — you know, the pagan natives. In retrospect, they’ve got to have regretted that.
I like to think of it happening like this:
–FM (28 November 2013)
Capitalism, Productivity, and Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It is actually a holiday that I kind of like. That’s because it is just about eating. I think we could use more holidays like this. In fact, as time has gone on, I’ve become more fond of holidays. The reason is simple: the oligarchs are trying to destroy the very idea of holidays. Americans work far too much. We need to take more time off. Part of our economic problems come from the fact that those who do have jobs work a lot, leaving an unreasonable number of people with no work at all.
In other countries, the people have chosen to exchange increasing productivity for more leisure time. This makes sense. But Americans have not in general made that decision. They’ve taken all of the increased productivity in a higher standard of living. I think that is likely not an actual choice. In the United States, not “living to work” is seen as a moral failing. But at some point, the “family values” crowd might consider what is better: being able to afford a better television and iPhone or being able to spend more time with their kids?
Of course, for the last four decades, American workers haven’t traded their productivity gains for either more leisure or a higher standard of living. All those productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital. The whole social contract in America has broken down. And I’ve been waiting for decades for the people to do something about it. But they seem too busy just trying to make ends meet to do anything else.
In addition to this, conservatives have gotten really good at defining as “normal” and “moral” the current system that enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak. It reminds me of Newspeak in 1984. The idea of the language was to make it so that people weren’t even able to think heretical thoughts. The very idea of freedom would be gone from people’s minds. I run into people all the time who are poor but somehow think that the capitalist system is God given. We have embraced capitalism in the past because it worked — for both owners and workers. Now it has stopped working for the vast majority of people. But capitalism is embraced for ideological reasons rather than practical ones. And that is evident in the fact that most workers don’t think that capitalism has to prove itself. Capitalism never fails — it is only failed.
So on this Thanksgiving, I hope that you did not have to work. What’s more, I hope that you took care of all your shopping before today so that you don’t have to go down to Safeway to pick something up. All that does is convince our corporate masters that everything must be open on Thanksgiving. But most of all, I hope you don’t sneak down to one of those horrible pre-Black-Friday sales. Trust me: you don’t need all that crap anyway.
Enjoy Thanksgiving! We may not have it much longer.
I figured there must be some fun Thanksgiving poetry out in the big world. And I was sadly disappointed. That’s not to say there isn’t such poetry. It is just that the vast majority of what I found was pretty lame. But I did find a decent amount of stuff that tickled me — at least a little.
One website, You Can Be Funny, had Funny Thanksgiving Poems. There are basically just two things that the poems discuss. One is the fact that people eat a lot on Thanksgiving. The other — and main — category consists of those that discuss the fate of the turkey. Here is a typical, but better than average, example:
Turkey, Turkey, look at you
Please be careful what you do.
Thanksgiving day is almost here.
We eat turkey every year.
Go and hide out in the woods.
We’ll eat pizza like we should.
Better is a poem by Jane-Ann Heitmueller, “Reprieve.” It is the turkey equivalent of Poe’s “The Raven.” It is a little funny, but mostly it is profound. Thanksgiving is always a good time to think about death:
While sauntering down an oak filled lane one bright, crisp autumn day,
I sensed a quiet, hidden gaze directed in my way.
With searching eyes I scanned the limbs to find the Peeping Tom,
And sure enough, though well concealed, the turkey sat… so calm.
Apparently, ’twas in his heart approaching Turkey Day,
So he was hidden with the hope to be nobody’s prey.
I couldn’t help but sympathize, as I went strolling by,
And know I too would be in fear thinking I soon might die!
Striking a pose of nonchalance, my pace, I kept it steady,
Deciding this Thanksgiving Day—
My meal would be spaghetti.
Will and Guy’s Humor (“Funny Clean Jokes”!) provides some very sentimental poems, but we must have one poem about food in general:
May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
Let’s end with a couple of more sophisticated poems from MadKane. This first one is from one of her limerick competitions. She asked people to write one about eating. And as always, she provided her own example:
A man was attempting to eat
When he spotted a mouse near his seat.
So he smashed down his foot,
And the mouse went kaput,
As his kid cried, “You killed little Pete!”
And then there is this Thanksgiving limerick from 2012 when Washington was approaching the “Fiscal Cliff”:
It’s time for some serious talk.
Please don’t bitch or complain, and don’t balk.
Our issues are great—
Act before it’s too late.
So kindly talk turkey. Don’t squawk.
Just to show you how beneficent I am, I have decided to not leave you with a poem. But I could totally create a poem using turkey, perky, quirky, murky, and beef jerky.
–FM (27 November 2014)
Morning Comedy: Thanksgiving
This week is Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of it as a holiday. Now, it is one of my favorites because it is an excuse to cook in a very ostentatious manner. Of course, I’m spending this Thanksgiving with my younger sister who is kind of a vegetarian, so I won’t be doing a prime rib. Instead, it will be a couple of very nicely treated chickens. So I thought that we would do a week of Thanksgiving songs.
But given that at the moment I don’t know how many Thanksgiving songs there are, I figured I would hedge and start the week out with this sketch from Portlandia. I’m pretty sure someone mentioned this to me recently in the comments. And frankly, I’m very pleased whenever I’m able to rip off one of my readers for an article.
This is a very funny sketch that speaks both to the over-concern of many people about animals and also my odd love of chickens. Because, frankly, I’d love to see one chicken with its wing around another chicken.
–FM (22 November 2015)
It is Thanksgiving. And given that this post will go up at 11:05 am local time, I should already be cooking and, more important, drinking. But as I write this, it is days earlier and I am sober. So let me tell you a little about the Thanksgiving celebration. Don’t get me wrong: any excuse for a party. And our society is sorely lacking in rituals that bring people together. So that’s great. You should enjoy this day. And you should give thanks, because if you are able to read this, it probably means that your life isn’t too bad. But that doesn’t give an excuse to the bastards who run the world.
Anyway, I came upon an interesting article at Indian Country Today Media Network, Six Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know. It wasn’t like I was shocked or anything. But I did learn a great deal. One thing I did not learn, but that is very important is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims were not all that friendly. In fact, the Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages. Of course, it wasn’t just the plague; traders also kidnapped tribesmen and sold them into slavery.
What I did not know is that the Indians and the Pilgrims seem to have gotten together because the latter group were acting like typical American idiots. They were happy about harvest, so they were shooting off guns and cannons. “The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode — in response to the gunfire.” Since the Pilgims were vastly outnumbered, I guess they figured they should invite the concerned warriors to hang out and eat.
But the most interesting thing is that this didn’t become a regular event. The original meal took place in 1621. But there were no similar celebrations for more than a decade. In 1636, a white man was murdered. Now, usually, that means he was murdered by another white man. That’s the kind of thing that happens. If you look at the statistics in modern America: whites kill whites and blacks kill blacks and so on. But the Pilgims blamed another local tribe, the Pequot people. So in retaliation, the good Christian Pilgrims massacred them — burning many of them alive and killing many others by different methods. It is this massacre that the Pilgrims started celebrating each year:
The day after the massacre, William Bradford who was also the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote that from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”
Apparently, Thanksgiving didn’t become the G-rated celebration of how super-keen things were between the Pilgrims and the Indians until the Civil War, when Lincoln used it to try to united the nation. And it is a nice story! But it should be treated like Santa Claus: a nice story, but not the truth. This nation has never come to terms with its treatment of the hundreds of native tribes. Maybe we should rename this holiday AskForgiveness Day.
–FM (26 November 2015)
I do like Thanksgiving in the sense that I like cooking and I like eating. But it’s hard to get past the mythology of the holiday. You know what I’m talking about: the Wampanoag and Pilgrims getting along and singing Kumbaya. One day out of hundreds of years and we pick up on it. The reason is clear enough: our European ancestors were awful. And the room that I write this in — much less the house that I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in — is the result of straight-up theft, combined with unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder.
That’s not to say that the hundreds of American tribes were perfect people. I don’t buy into the noble savage myth either. Humans are, all things considered, pretty awful. But when the first Americans came here, they weren’t invading; they were settling. And they ended up with a diverse system of cultures. Most important, they interacted very much like the countries of Europe: sometimes they got along and sometimes they didn’t. It’s sad to say that today, most people just assume it was one or the other. Either these original Americans were peace-loving peyote eaters. Or they were constantly at war with each other.
The truth is that the first Americans were just people — like any others. When Europeans invaded, they won because they had more firepower. And by “firepower,” I’m talking more about disease than guns. Cortés didn’t manage to destroy the Aztec empire by his brilliance. It’s just that all his men, coming from disease infested Europe managed to wipe out 90 percent of Moctezuma’s troops by breathing on them. This, of course, was typical of meetings between Europeans and Americans.
I’ll discussed this below, AskForgiveness Day. I note that, “The Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages.” But don’t get the wrong idea; it wasn’t just inadvertent death and destruction. Those earlier Europeans kidnapped many Wampanoag people and sold them into slavery. You should read the whole thing; it’s got some other nice tidbits of information that are worth thinking about today.
It isn’t my intent to beat up on the Europeans. As I said: humans are awful. But the whole European invasion of America always makes me think of a platitude from my youth, “Might doesn’t make right.” But unlike most platitudes, this one is so obviously wrong. Might indeed makes right. If it didn’t, certainly all our presidents going back to at least Ronald Reagan would have been hanged for war crimes. And does anyone think but that Churchill would have been tried and hanged if the Nazis had won World War II?
We humans try to avoid hard truths. So we come up with fairy tales to justify why we are rich and others are dead. But fairy tales are for children. After a while, we tell children that Santa Claus is a fable. But we never get around to admitting that the Thanksgiving story is equally one.
–FM (24 November 2016)
“Squantohowwellthecornprospered” by The German Kali Works, New York – Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911. Page 112. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. The other images are licensed under Fair Use.
What most annoys me about Libertarians — and free market purist of all varieties — is that they see the only potential liberty killing force as being the government. Or if they don’t believe that they believe that it is only the government that we should be fighting against.
This seems to come from the idea that they can’t stop businesses from doing what they want because that would limit the individual liberty of the business owner. And they are unwilling to make any judgments to maximize liberty. Even if a law would greatly increase the liberty of workers and only decrease the liberty of employers by a tiny amount, it can’t be done. This is largely because libertarians don’t see in terms of trade-offs, and they don’t even know they are making a trade-off.
The result of this is that their philosophy comes down to support for oligarchy. Since they start with business owners’ rights as undeniable, workers always get screwed. And this is why for example Libertarians almost to a person are in favor of Right to Work laws, even though they are clearly liberty killing on the part of the workers and employers. Libertarians just don’t like workers. It is simple as that.
What Limits Your Liberty?
If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.
But think about your life. Do you find it is the government that destroys your liberty? Unless you have spent a lot of time in jail, the answer is almost certainly no. The single biggest thing that gets in the way of your liberty is your boss.
Libertarianism might not be so bad if we still had a rural economy where almost everyone was a self-employed farmer. But today almost no one has any choice but to get a job working for someone else. And depending upon their boss, they are living in tyranny.
I stress the fact that workers had no choice because Libertarians always throw this idea up. To them everyone has endless choices. This may come from the fact that most libertarians are themselves from affluent or at least upwardly-mobile families themselves. But the truth is that people have at most an alternative not a choice. And most people don’t even have an alternative.
Libertarianism Just Helps the Rich
So libertarianism is a useless philosophy. All it stands for is bashing the government and allowing in the rich to do whatever they want. And I will fully admit that governments are often a huge problem. But in the United States it is not. The government is a problem mostly to the extent that it acts as a protector of the rich. Thus it isn’t surprising that the rich tend to be libertarians. In the United States it’s quite a deal. You have a government that supports the powerful and here is this supposedly scruffy political philosophy that wants to destroy the government.
This goes back to something I noticed many years ago and is probably the biggest reason why I stopped being a libertarian. If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does like helping the poor, providing healthcare, providing for retirement, and so on. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.
Now it is true that if you talk to libertarians, they will usually tell you how they don’t believe in all this crony capitalism. But there are two important issues here. One is that in practice this is the way libertarians always act when elected. And the other is if you look at the libertarians themselves and how their default position is pro-business and anti-worker, you will see that it’s no accident that in practice libertarian philosophy always comes down to the worst form of conservatism.
Libertarianism Is Anti-Worker
What workers need to know is that libertarianism is not their friend. Even if it says some nice things about workers and rights it is dead set against them. It believes that if you aren’t a business owner you are just a taker and you should be glad that some great Job Creator is there to give you a job.
When you get down to it, libertarianism is the worst political theory that gets any kind of a fair hearing in our society. It is quite amazing that libertarianism hasn’t been soiled the same way that communism and fascism have been. But I believe this is only because a major country has not explicitly called itself libertarian. The truth is that Pinochet’s Chile was a libertarian system of government. Of course libertarians will never admit this.
Libertarians Will Not Accept Its Practical Results
Libertarianism only exists as a platonic ideal in the minds of its adherents. When it exists in practice it simply reduces to the worst kind of conservatism: absolute law of the jungle capitalism for the poor and crony capitalism for the rich. But this is never the fault of libertarianism. This is because libertarianism is a cult. It can never fail; it can only ever be failed.
Thus I get incredibly tired of even talking to libertarians because they aren’t willing to talk about the real world. They are stuck in their minds. But even on that level they are no friend of the workers. Remember that. If you work for a living, libertarians hate you.
Happy Labor Day!
On this Labor Day, you should really read Elizabeth Anderson excellent article How Bosses Are (Literally) Like Dictators. I read it right after writing this article, and I was pleased that she said much of what I had. But she goes into a lot more depth overall. What’s more, she talks about how all the great free market (libertarian) writers were talking about a totally different economic environment, and how the Industrial Revolution made what they were talking about irrelevant. I highly recommend reading it. I’m going to get her book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It).
The rock and roll legend Chuck Berry died yesterday at the age of 90. When I a kid, I thought of him as just a great guitarist — certainly the most recognizable and most copied lead guitar player ever. And he was certainly that. But I tend to downplay it now. Sad as it is to say, he is the only lead guitar player who I can play like — basically, I’ve never gotten past the surfer bands of the 1960s, and they didn’t know a thing they didn’t learn from listening to Chuck Berry.
It was only later that I realized that he is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. And I’m not just talking about rock and roll. He is as good as Rodgers and Hart, for example. And I can’t really give a songwriter any greater compliment. There is lots to say about Berry’s life, but I prefer to let the music speak for itself. So let’s listen to a few of his hits.
First there is the classic, and possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever (but not my favorite), “Johnny B Goode”:
Second is one of my favorites, “You Never Can Tell”:
Beyond Teen Music
One thing I especially like about Berry’s work is that by and large it isn’t adolescent. That doesn’t take away from it’s fun. But I love the multiple generations of “You Never Can Tell” — rather a more adult take on marriage than The Beach Boys’ anemic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
In “Memphis, Tennessee” he wrote about trying to get in touch with his daughter following a break-up. It’s poignant:
New National Anthem?
As many of you know, I’m not fond of our national anthem. Not only does it have a questionable history, it isn’t a pleasant tune and it brings out the worst in our modern day screechers. But Chuck Berry wrote a song that would make a great national anthem, “Back in the USA.” It is the most patriotic song I know of, and without a hint of jingoism. Maybe it’s time to finally change:
What can I say? Chuck Berry gave more than he took. I guess I’ll just take a hint from Douglas Adams…
So long, and thanks for all the songs, Chuck Berry!
I generally think in terms of days. This is why I manage to make at least 365 foundational errors every year: each day I choose to continue on being conscious of the universe. But today, let’s consider this whole year that we look toward. Are we really all going to sit through the whole thing? I think it makes the question of continued survival more stark. Yes, I can make it through the next day. But the next year? Given that we know it will be much like last year, it’s hard to answer in the affirmative.
The Meaning of Life
Many people ask, “What is the meaning of life?” That’s a stupid question. Can you honestly look forward or back on your life and see any meaning in it? I don’t want to upset anyone who really hasn’t been paying attention, but life is meaningless.
For most people, I stand as an object lesson for never allowing a teenager to read Schopenhauer. So I’m on record — repeatedly — about my belief that the continuance of life — the will to live — is an irrational thing. But one needn’t be rational in all things. Indeed, I write more about the irrationality of humans than I do Schopenhauer. One of the easiest ways to annoy me is to tell me that humans are rational. They aren’t — even in little ways.
It’s because of this that I have a thin reed to hang onto as I continue into the future. Perhaps you will find it helpful.
You Make the Universe Worse
I have a great love of anti-art. This is the kind of art that is created only for the process itself. So an example of anti-art might be a digital music device programmed to destroy itself before playing any of the music it was programmed to play. It is art explicitly created for no one. And I am a work of art created for no one. (When you get into ontological matters, it gets hard to distinguish between the implicit and the explicit.) I like to learn things, gain skills, create stuff — all while knowing that they are all ephemeral.
An enormous amount of the universe’s energy has been used to fight entropy and create me. And then I exist for a period of time before giving into entropy. Ultimately, I will have taken very useful energy and turned it into heat, which is a decidedly poor energy source. The universe will be more chaotic after I’ve gone than it was before I existed. So the universe has greatly harmed itself for the purpose of creating a machine that understood for a short period of time that universe was doing this.
And that is hilarious!
More Than You Think
It’s even more hilarious when you consider that the vast majority of people on earth are too caught up in their delusions of meaning to even know the joke exists — much less to get it. And that’s to say nothing of billions of years of evolution of creatures that didn’t get the joke. So why not hang around for another year?
Think of yourself as conscious toxic waste. Wouldn’t you want to hang around as long as possible soiling your environment? But if you don’t like that analogy, you can feel good that most of the damage that your existence has done to the universe has already been done. Maintaining your wasteful machine is pretty cheap. And depending upon how funny you think your existence is, maybe it’s a net positive.
Existence Is a Joke
We are all a joke. If more people understood that, maybe we would live in a more just society. Because when you know that existence is a joke, you also know that it has nothing to do with justice. Your existence is a waste of elementary particles. In this next year, thousands of children will be burned alive. And a trust-fund baby will get the biggest ego stroke on the planet by being the leader of the “free” world. Try not to think of that. Focus on what a waste you are in this universe. That might get you through to next year when I promise I’ll have a whole new reason for irrationally continuing on.
 Or maybe all these “lesser” brains did and do get the joke. Maybe this whole self-awareness thing makes the joke harder to get. Maybe when a female mantis is biting the head of her mate, she is laughing up a storm, thinking, “Can you believe this?!” The male might be thinking the same thing in its final milliseconds of consciousness. For the record, I suspect that no mantis, dog, or cat actually gets the joke. But they do have us beat in not thinking themselves rational. Biting the heads off your mate is just what you do.