Mangling the American Dream

I am never more out of sync with my country than when it comes to consumerism. For all of the reasons Republicans say people like me are “un-American,” I hate all of the holiday seasons; especially Xmas. It’s not just the superstition and faux-good-will that smears itself across this smarmy holiday from work (for a rare non-retail few) and common sense, it’s the constant guilt-manipulating whining about “gifts” and expectations. If I could pick any time of the year to be struck down by lightning, it would be anytime between Halloween and Easter. Hell, I’d step between practically anyone and a bullet to get out of that time of the year (Trump and his spawn excluded).

One morning a few weeks ago, I was making potato pancakes for our breakfast and decided to drag out my rarely-used food processor to shred the potatoes and onions. As I was assembling the pieces of this vintage machine into something that would turn potatoes into bits of vegetable confetti, I was reminded of where this kitchen implement came from. Sometime around 2005, I decided I wanted to make one more attempt at adding a lot of vegetables to my diet and I figured buying a food processor to make that job a little less irritating might be motivational. As usual, I didn’t want to pay much for this speculative diet-motivational tool. So, I went on Craig’s List, created a “search alert” and let CL do what it does best. A couple of days later, I got a hit on a processor in my price range in the Payne-Phalen area of St. Paul. I called the seller and set up a time for me to check out the appliance a few hours before I needed to be in St. Paul for a recording session later that evening.

The sellers turned out to be a fairly recent-immigrant Asian couple who were doing the American Dream thing: buying all new everything as fast as they could toss their credit cards at anyone with stuff to sell. They had a new Honda Accord in the driveway, a living room full of nice leather-bound furniture and a television bigger than my living room wall, and a recently redecorated kitchen with lots of brand new appliances. I suspect the processor they were selling me was a hand-me-down. When they greated me at the door, they checked out my classy 1998 Ford Escort station wagon and my usual high-style outfit: a tee-shirt and jeans and sandals and a Denver Nuggets jacket. I don’t think I impressed them at all. We talked a bit while I tested the food processor and stuffed it and its parts back into the original packing box they had provided. They wanted to show me their new Cuisinart food processor, but I needed to keep moving so that I wouldn’t be late for my gig.

That morning, I considered the fact that I have never been much of a fan or even a participant in the American Dream; as commonly accepted by most Americans. I have owned exactly one new car—a  1973 Mazda RX3 station wagon—in my life and would just as soon never get financially beat up that badly again. I bought two new motorcycles, both early in 1974, and got my financial ass handed to me on those vehicles. Since then, I’ve owned a collection of beaters and utilitarian used vehicles and have driven a few of them into the ground. I’ve been accused of being willing to buy used food if I could figure out how to safely digest it. During my working career, I allocated so few minutes to meals that I probably wouldn’t have tasted the difference most of the time.

I don’t care about keeping up with the Jones’s, I just don’t want to get screwed. For most large purchases, being the first buyer is accepting the fact that you will likely be the one who takes the biggest financial hit for getting it when it is new. New cars lose 25-50% of their purchase value the day they roll off of the lot. Most motorcycles are no different. I bought a relatively new construction home in Parker, Colorado: I paid $71,000 for it in 1992, the original owners paid $110,000 for the house in 1984. (Thank you, Mr. Reagan.) I bought a like-new carbon fiber guitar a couple of years ago for $750. The original owner paid $1100 for it and a friend bought a lower cost version of the same instrument at the same time I found my used one; he paid $1300 plus tax. I bought a collection of power tools from a local retired guy for $100. On the way out his door with my new tools all loaded in the pickup, he mentioned that he’d paid about $2000 for those same tools when they were new. I bought a like-new $1400 digital oscilloscope a few weeks ago for $200 and the original owner threw in a couple hundred dollars worth of test probes to seal the deal. All of this equipment was barely used when I bought them. And on and on I could go. You too, I hope.

The real American dream used to be to hand off a world and a country that was better than the one we inherited. Americans used to take pride in trying to give their children a leg-up into the world they would possess when their parents were either old and feeble or gone. Today, many Americans appear to be proud of doing exactly the opposite. The two generations currently in power, Boomers and X-gens, seem to be doing everything they can to use up all of the world’s natural resources before their children realize how greedy they are being. We’re cobbling together dysfunctional national and state governments, solely purposed to make the rich richer and everybody else poor and enslaved. At least half of us are pretending that humans are not primarily responsible for the rapid climate change the world is displaying.

Americans and Arabs are doubling-down on their death-cult superstitions, pretending that prayers and wishes and a collection of gods so confusing that even the Greeks would be confused by who-is-who-in-the-sky. In the US, we’ve decided social and economic justice, education, democracy, and national security all take a backseat to making the rich richer and more powerful. That is NOT the American Dream. If anything, it is the Russian ogliarchy’s dream and they seem to be driving the car at the moment. I’d call that an American Nightmare.


My Favorite Poem

I sing of Olaf glad and big

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

E. E. Cummings


The Best Obituary Ever?

This is pretty much the obituary I want, except I want to use a baby picture or something idiotic like this: 


Because Jesus?

clip_image001A neighbor, a reasonably well-educated (even if it didn’t take) federal-government-employed (VA Department) woman, recently explained her Trump vote by telling me, “I believe in Jesus.” The sad fact is that I haven’t given “Christians” much credibility since I was nine or ten because they seem to suffer the delusion that they can do any damn thing they want and still slither into the Big Rock Candy Mountain by claiming “I believe in Jesus.”

While I don’t believe in Jesus or any other supernatural being, I’ve read a fair bit of the Bible. That means I’ve been astonished and irritated by the Old Testament’s endorsement violence, corruption, sexism, racism, and general insanity and confused by the wildly conflicting messages of the New Testament and the mythical Jesus character. You can definitely justify Donald John Trump with both books, but it’s harder to stand behind both Trump and Jesus.

Trump’s arrogance and self-promotion and selfishness are a tough sell if Christianity is your stand. ". . . whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Trump, on the other hand, believes that we’re all here to serve his whims. As Donald said, "I've regretted not serving in many ways. So many of the greatest people I know have served." Mostly, I suspect he things “greatness” comes from serving Donald Trump. Even when Don’s rich friends need a little assistance, it’s beyond his capacity.

This isn’t a new position for Donald, it is his lifestyle.

The mythical Jesus said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Donald squeals like a stuck pig when someone does to him as he does to others, but he has no problem sticking it to everyone from his business associates to his family and “friends.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted." You’d have to be Billy Graham-level delusional not to recognize the fact that Trump’s only form of communication is exalting himself. That is the core characteristic of a narcissist; Donald’s primary personality trait.

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." I don’t really need to explain this to you, do I? If you are one of the millions of evangelicals who hope that wishing, hoping, praying, and braying will make them rich, I suppose this whole concept just flew over your head. Jesus supposedly tried to make it even more clear when he said, "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Evangelicals stretch credulity all the way to “you really don’t believe any of this shit, do you?” when they argue that the eye of a needle is the mythical entrance into the city of Jerusalem. But like Trump, religion is all about money for them.

As for Trump’s historic bullying and name-calling, Jesus had something to say about that, “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell” Of course, Christians have been insulting their neighbors for centuries, so this bit of advice is clearly not important. Even though Jesus said it?

Donald-Trump-Jonathan-ErnstAll those photo-ops Trump takes with evangelicals pushes Jesus’ advice a ways, too. “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” The pre-Republican Trump once told Howard Stern, “I’m a smart guy. I’m an atheist,” but now, Donny is all about getting the blessing of the temple’s money collectors. I think we have found a perfect definition of “hypocrites.”

It seems to me that hiding behind Jesus isn’t much of a defense for voting for Trump. The only honest answer is just to admit you are a racist, regressive, entitled white person who hopes that Trump can stop time. It won’t work, but at least you’d be honest . . . for a change.


Measuring Progress

These sad and sorry days, it’s hard to remember how far some areas of civilization have come. It’s also easy to see how far we have to go, of course.

Roads to ruinAt the recommendation of a very smart and well-travelled man, I recently read Roads to Ruin: the Shocking History of Social Reform a 1966 book by E.S. Turner about the long, slow path to correcting some incredibly obvious abuses and vicious behavior; mostly be the British 1%’ers of their time. Of course, American history is well-decorated with similar atrocities, but . . . damn! the Brits were oblivious to some incredibly awful behavior. Some of the more shocking chapter titles (and subjects) are “Spring Guns Set Here,” “Little Boys for Small Flues,” “A Treatment for Treason,” “Plimsol Rules the Waves,” and “A Flourish of Strumpets.” The associated subjects were:

  • “Spring Guns” are traps set by the elite landowners to kill or maim anyone who might wander onto their property. Everything from trip-wired guns to pits lined with sharp stakes which often as not “caught” employees, neighboring farmers and their pets, and people out enjoying a breath of fresh air.
  • Those “Little Boys” were as young as 4 to 6 and they were used as chimney sweeps and their short miserable lives were some of the worst examples of human slavery in our miserable history. Often by 10, they were used up and discarded with less thought than a farmer might get rid of an injured plow horse.
  • The “treatment for treason” was pretty much the process William Wallace enjoyed in Braveheart: “. . . that the offender be dragged to the gallows; that he be hanged by the neck and then cut down alive; that his entrails be taken out and burned while he is yet alive; that his head be cut off; that his body be divided into four parts and that his head and quarters be at the King’s disposal.” I imagine Trump would be drooling at the opportunity to swap this punishment for “lock her up.”
  • Plimsol was a British legislator who thought that sailors and officers deserved some assurance that the assholes who owned the ships they sailed cared, at least a little, if those ships were sea-worthy and likely to arrive at their destinations. A side issue in this chapter was about the fact that British sailors were more slaves than employees. They could be jailed for refusing to sail on a decrepit, unsafe ship. Worse, they could be marhed on to that ship and forced to sea where there almost always drowned.
  • Obviously, “Strumpets” were hookers of the day; from call girls to street walkers.

One of the many interesting insights Roads to Ruin provides is that the way to the public’s heart is not through logical, ethical discussion, but through some sort of bullshit and insignificant (in context to the injustices) “morals” approach. In the Preface, Turner writes, “Notoriously, in the Victorian Age, a reformer stood a better chance of success if he could present his reform in such a way as to show that the victims of injustice were in moral danger: and even today this is by no means the weakest card to play. What shocked the middle classes who read the reports on conditions in the mines, a little more than a century ago, was not so much the system under which children crawled on all fours dragging sleds behind them, or in which me ruptured themselves lifting loads on to their daughters’ backs; it was the revelation that lightly clad young women working in proximity to naked men at the coalface made no strenuous efforts to save their honour when molested, which was fairly often.”

Something to keep in mind. Injustice is inconsequential compared to unmarried sex in a coal mine. I try, but humans are such disgustingly vicious animals, it’s hard to me to not hope that planet-killing asterioid gets here pretty damn soon.


What I Don’t Get

A friend has repeatedly told me I need to “blacken up,” since my appreciation for Black Panther is, apparently, insufficient. Of course, he would also say my appreciation for lots of things is equally insufficient; religion, for example. In particularly, the relief or comfort religion provides to this country’s abused and neglected black population. I might imagine that I have plenty of sympathy and solidarity with my black, Hispanic, and other minority friends, but I’d probably be wrong. I’m white, educated, middle class, and live in Middle America where all of my privilege and entitlements are entrenched.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t always been those things. When I escaped my parents’ fundamentalist home, I went from middle class to desperately poor. Poor enough that I lived for part of a summer on the Arkansas River a few miles west of Dodge City in a log lean-to I’d built with my own hands, an axe, and a log saw I “borrowed” from a friend’s father. At the time, I wasn’t broke but I might as well been. My father was the primary owner of my “college savings” and he refused to let me spend it on anything else. To the point that the only way I could do anything with that money was to sign up for what turned out to be just another Texas for-profit “education’ scam. He promptly wrote a check with my money for 3,000 1967 dollars ($22,263.50 in 2018 money) to a “school” that was practically Trumpian it was so bogus. Another $500 of my money ($3,710.58 today) went to a flophouse the school called its “dormitory” and I was on my way from my river hideout to Dallas, Texas and real poverty. In no time, the school collapsed under its own incompetence and most of my school mates joined a class-action lawsuit they eventually won, which resulted in the school going bankrupt and evading responsibility for all but a small percentage of the money it had stolen from its victims. My father, on the other hand, sent the school the last of my savings when they asked for full payment for my “education,” another $4,000 ($29,684.67 in 2018 money). The end result was that I ended up moving to a one-room converted 1900’s garage in a scummy part of Old East Dallas. The place cost me $40/month (about $300 today), which was exactly 1/3 of my monthly income, 1/4 of my gross went to state and federal taxes, the rest went for food and transportation. I ate a lot of chicken, fatty pork, and peanut butter. My wife, Robbye, moved in with me a few months later. From there, I moved from one lousy apartment to another lousier house to more apartments until I saved enough money to get the hell out of Dallas. While we lived in Dallas, I was part of the anti-Vietnam War movement, identified as a “hippy” in a state that truly hated hippies, and was so far into the alternative culture that the majority of my own generation in Dallas would have been happy to see me dead or in jail. The next generation occasionally took actual potshots at me and my friends at every opportunity.

For the next ten years, we lived from paycheck to paycheck while I went to school nights, took engineering correspondence courses, and began a family. I’ve been poor enough that I often took those jobs Bush and Trump say “Americans don’t want.” I didn’t want them, either, but I needed to feed my family and beggars can’t be choosers. I didn’t make it into the middle class until I was just short of 50. I didn’t have squat for retirement savings until a few years later. So, while I may look, today, like a poster boy for my so-called entitled generation, you have no idea who you are talking to if you believe that. To get to here from there, I have had to pretend to be someone I am not for the majority of my adult life.

Back to Black Panther.

What left me cold in the movie was the bowing and scraping over Wakanda’s royalty. The whole idea of a king leaves me cold. Yes, I have little-to-no respect for the UK, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, etc. At the head of each of those countries lies a waste of air. The ease at which Wakanda’s Princess Shuri mastered “science” was one more false premise in the usual nonsensical Marvel world. The “happy folk” littered around the edges of Wakanda’s capitol city tending goats, walking beside their animals, weaving baskets, and other examples of the usual giant economic inequality demonstrated in monarchies didn’t impress me, either. Sorry. Whatever excuse you have for some people wearing rags and going barefoot while the royalty wear super-armored and weaponized suits isn’t going to do much for me; other than piss me off.

I feel the same way about black promoters of religion. Christianity has done NOTHING for black Americans; except take their money in huge quantities. Supposedly, there is “comfort” provided by the promise of a Big Rock Candy Mountain afterlife, but we all know that is just a shell game designed to distract suckers from what’s happening right now. And there are even uglier aspects of black Christianity that don’t have to be faced while the sales pitch is in full demonstration: racism, homophobia, income inequality, and the rest of the crap religion is designed to distract us from addressing and fixing.

You know religion isn’t helping when writers argume it’s a good thing that “Black People Aren't Inherently More Homophobic Than Anyone Else.” I’d be impressed if all minorities bound together to oppose their common enemy, but I’d be a drunken fool to expect anything like that from the deeply flawed human animal.

My Black Panther movie was probably V for Ventetta. The identifying moment for me came with the impossible event that the British military decided not to slaughter the general population as thousands of unarmed and Guy Fawkes masked Londoners march on Parliament. Every bit as impossibly idealistic as anything in Black Panther, I know. So sue me.