Wednesday, July 31, 2013

If You're Wondering What's Wrong with America . . .

. . . is the title of a piece in Business Insider that my sister alerted me to. You can find it here. Here's a preview. 

Five years after the beginning of the financial crisis, the US economy is still staggering. Here's the context: unemployment tops 7%; growth is anemic; consumers don't have money to spend.

Why? "The answer is that our 30-year obsession with "efficiency" and "return on capital" has produced a business culture that believes that companies only exist to make money for their owners, instead of also serving their other stakeholders – customers and employees.

That's what the charts in this piece illustrate. And they are much more graphic and much more sobering than the words that follow.

Chart number one – corporate profits and profit margins are at an all-time high
Chart number two – wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low.
Chart number three – fewer Americans are employed that anytime the past three decades. Reason is employees are regarded as costs, not people.
Chart number four – the share of our national income that is going to the people who do the work ("labor") is at an all-time low.

I continue to believe that this country does not have what it takes to fix these problems. We are a greedy, smug, and ignorant people who refuse to consider that we may not be God's chosen. The country will continue to go down in flames, and nothing will be done about any of this until everything collapses. The country and its government are being run by the corporations who have neither conscience nor soul. I really wish I could be more optimistic. But I know too much history for that.

Monday, July 29, 2013

On the Road Again Soon

We're getting ready to hit the road again . . . to Tampa to see our boys, and then again in September we'll be in Colorado where I'll preside at the wedding of my niece Lindsey. Seems like we just got back from Oregon, although it's been a week. Of course, I'm anxious and excited to see my sons--how I wish they were closer--but I must be getting old. When Susan and I got back last Monday, we each slept over 12 hours that night. This is really unusual for me. These trips just seem to take more out of us. Aging ain't to blame for everything, but it's playing a larger role, I fear.

Speaking of which my friend Cecil had a bout with kidney stones last week. He passed it pretty quickly but told me it was excruciating. I know. My son Stu has had a couple of bouts with them, and testifies to their ferocious pain. Bless him, the guy needs to have this physical stuff leave him alone. There's time enough for that . . .

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bus Tour

Susan I just got back yesterday from a trip, vacation trip, to Oregon. If you could describe that state in one word it would be "green". It's green, and it's beautiful. I could live in Portland, no doubt about it. We spent three days there and got a pretty good feel for the city. We also saw most of the other things to see when you're in Oregon: Crater Lake, Astoria in the Columbia River bar – there is a great maritime museum there too – the rocky coast where we did some whale watching, and a little further  down the road gigantic sand dunes that we rode all over in a buggy that held about 30 people. The wine is fine, but the most common wine you find is from California. Reason being it is cheaper, but not necessarily better. There are some awful fine brews in the state also. We saw lots and lots of beautiful forest, beautiful landscapes, beautiful mountains. Food was good, nothing outstanding to report there. Loved being with Susan and having her to myself for a whole week.

The only problem was we spent far too much time riding on a bus. Both Susan and I have resolved that this will be our last bus tour. The group we went with was called the Oklahoma Retired Persons Travel Club. Groan. Obviously, I couldn't discuss politics with anybody, although we did find one lady of progressive views "except on crime" whom we could talk to about something other than the scenery. A lot of these people made me feel downright spry and almost young, and I'm pushing 70. One lady had a stroke – or at least we think it was a stroke – on the tour. Another couple had to leave because her stepmother died. And there was more than one Okie on that trip who was pokey, real slow getting around. Oh, they were all nice enough, but they weren't my kind of people.

I correspond regularly with the three friends from graduate school, two of whom are excellent writers of trip reports. Such things are not my forte, so I'm sorry to have to leave you with this brief and unsatisfactory report for a weeklong vacation. I meant to post some pictures to the web later on, and I'll point you to them. In the meantime, I'm back. Minus the iPad and iPhone 5 charger cords I left in the hotel on the last night. (I actually got a call from the hotel though that they had found the phone cord. It's in the mail on the way back. No idea what happened to the other cord. Of course, I've replaced both already.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Here it is six whole days since my last post, and I'm wondering just what happened to the week. I look back on it, and for my life cannot discern anything all that earth-shattering. Just where does time flee to? I can say this: three days of the past week were taken up with in-house guests. Three of Susan's sisters can to visit us, two from Baton Rouge and one who lives in Houston. This occasioned a couple of nights in a row that we got to see our daughter and her family also.

I've been scurrying about for a couple of days trying to line up a dog-sitter to watch Prozac the Boston terrier when Susan and I take off next week for Oregon. Looking forward to that trip with Susan. I've never been there, although I was to Seattle a few times.

The George Zimmerman verdict is in, which is what I really wanted to comment on. The six-woman jury found him innocent. Of any wrongdoing whatever. Susan says she's not surprised, and she watched practically the whole trial. To tell you the truth I am surprised. I didn't think the state would be able to prove second-degree murder, but I thought the lesser-included charge of manslaughter was not only possible but probable. To me, there would not have been any question. I would have never qualified for the jury. Yahoo with a 9 mm. tracking a black kid at night, getting out of the car he's been following him in. Then the black kid ends up with a bullet through the heart. And this guy is let go pleading self-defense. Please.

To me, a southerner, brought up in the South, schooled in the South, there's only one way of understanding this. Jury in a southern state frees white guy who killed a black guy . . . what else is new?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How Big?

I attend a tiny little Christian Church (tiny by the standards of what you normally think of as an urban church community). We're an open, accepting community, theologically and politically left. Not your standard-issue Christian. On a good Sunday we will have 35 people attend services. Our norm is about 20-25, and even fewer at religious ed. One of the brightest events of the day is seeing a new face or faces(s) at services. I've been going to the UCC of Norman for about 18 months, if my memory serves (and it doesn't a lot of the time), and I know that it's seldom a visitor comes back again after a visit. We never know why, and we don't question. People are where they are, and that's fine with us.

But the question of why they did not choose to come back is often nagging. Yesterday we had an engaging discussion about what people thought of growth as a church community. I think it's fair to say that opinion was divided. One the one hand there's the security, safety, and warm fuzzy feeling of being among people who accept you, listen to you, and (for the most part) agree with you. Do we want that endangered or diluted by numbers of "others"? Do we want to bend or fashion our bedrock beliefs to suit the sensibilities of others? These are valid concerns. But on the other, there's the desire to share what we have, to let others know that we follow a Jesus who's human first and foremost and who has taught us how to be authentic human beings ourselves. We believe in a God who is still speaking. Revelation of this wondrous God didn't stop in the first century. What we have to share with others is truly good, liberating, joyous news. We want to share this with people

Why then aren't more people interested in hearing it? That's our dilemma, as I suppose it must be for any group of people outside the mainstream, outside the ordinary. That constant tension between our being and our becoming, and how much choice we have in either. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Joe Hill Is Dead

Joe Hill is dead and gone. I tip my age as well as my life's connection to an earlier part of this country's history when I bring up his name which I guarantee younger readers of this blog will not recognize. But why would they? Young people today have been brought up in an atmosphere actively hostile to organized labor. Nobody knows history anymore, so how would they know all the blood that was shed and all the outrages perpetrated by the "capitalist class" (as the Wobblies called it) on common working people trying to organize simply to obtain basic rights? All you have to know about him is that he was a labor organizer. There's more about him in this Wikipedia article if you're curious. And he's the connection to the title and to what follows.
A half century ago America’s largest private-sector employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits. Today, America’s largest employer is Wal-Mart, whose average employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Wal-Mart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits. There are many reasons for the difference—including globalization and technological changes that have shrunk employment in American manufacturing while enlarging it in sectors involving personal services, such as retail. But one reason, closely related to this seismic shift, is the decline of labor unions in the United States. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers belonged to a union. Today fewer than 7 percent do. As a result, the typical American worker no longer has the bargaining clout to get a sizable share of corporate profits. (Source)
 Lamestream media, the Supreme Court, and your basic ignorant American all contend (or pretend) that organized labor is somehow a huge threat to the "proper" operation of the free market. It's a crock, like most of the nonsensical assertions of the defenders of the American way.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth!

You really have to wonder what exactly that means: happy Fourth! I am a perennial nay-sayer when it comes to these flag-waving holidays. We have two religious, or I should say, formerly religious holidays: Christmas (which is now Santa and an orgy of materialism) and Easter (bunnies, little chickies, and an orgy of materialism). We have three flag-waving holidays: Memorial Day, July 4, and Veterans Day. The first and the third of these are basically about glorifying our wars, and they essentially are about the same thing. Hurrah for all the guys--our guys, not the guys they killed and maimed--who got sent to war and were either killed there, maimed there, or got out of it alive in some form or fashion. Today we are celebrating the basic America-is-the-greatest-country-in-the-world-day. Everybody knows this. Why, we invented freedom and equality. And we have sent our men and women all over the world to die for freedom and equality, and by God, we should celebrate what wonderful people we are.

My life span has basically witnessed my country involved in one war after another. I was born during World War II, Korea before I was ten, Vietnam, a whole series of interventions during the 80s and 90s (Grenada, Panama, Bosina, etc.), the Cold War which spanned 1946-90, Afghanistan, Iraq. And waiting the wings: Syria, and who the hell knows next? Facing such a history, basically the trajectory of empire, we do what every empire before us did: we glorify our conquests. We brand anybody who ever wore or now wears a military uniform a "hero" and fall over ourselves glorifying them and their bloody trade.

My life span also witnessed people being lynched and murdered in my section of the country because they stood up for simple basic human rights and dignity, much less the rights supposedly guaranteed in our Constitution.

So, sorry, I cannot wave the flag. I cannot not see how we lie to ourselves as a country, how we fail to see what's plain: we're no better than people we hate, no better than our allies or enemies. It really just makes me sad: this orgy of patriotism. I forget who it was now who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of scondrals," but it's a statement worth pondering.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Whitman Leavings

The following is from the preface of the 1855 edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a collection of his poems that grew ever larger through numerous further editions.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
A remarkable statement, don't you think, for the middle of the Victorian age? Whitman's been called the quintessential American poet. Yes, that may be, but can you feature most Americans today being thrilled by these words? Most of these injunctions would be regarded as the ravings of some lunatic socialist. Must be why I find them so strangely powerful.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

46 Years

Today Susan and I celebrate 46 years of marriage. Three grown children; two lost very early in their lives; two grandchildren; several major changes of vocations and life venues; our share of marital crises, arguments, and pains--and amidst them we'd often construe them as considerably more than our share--here we are. Still discovering each other, still in love with each other, still amazed at what love has wrought in our lives, still looking forward to more years together. Because we know that the essential grounding to what's real that we share in our love for one another will only grow.

We've long past the point where our consciousness of being melded into the other is palpable, where we know (sometimes, lots of times) what the other will say or think before the words express it. And yet we remain for one another the essential mystery of life. We're past the point of thinking about the might-have-beens. Those are for people who haven't gotten here yet. Of course, there are regrets, but all of mine are about hurts I've caused, things I wish I could undo or unsay. But I don't wonder, as once I might have, if somehow I could have more of Susan's love had I not hurt her. Don't wonder at all because I know I'm loved by this other person as much as she can love anybody. Because I'm so secure in her forgiveness and she in mine. That's the way this works.

I cannot help but believe there's something utterly otherworldly about the power of human love. It's a glimpse into another reality where we long to reside all the time. Like everything else in life, though, we cannot grasp it and keep it, that glimpse. We see Reality but we can't hold it. We're always pulled away.

I love you, Susan. I always have. I always will. What more can be said?