The Collected Thoughts and Musings of an Aspiring Political Philosopher

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sign of the Recession? Witches Forced to Accept Factory Jobs as Covens Lose Contracts

The Huffington Post has a really eye-opening story regarding our beloved "always trying to top the crazy charts" Christian Broadcasting Network (Pat Robertson's money-trough and googly-eyed wonderland of nuttiness). Seems that CBN is warning that Halloween candy is possessed of demons. Anyone who has eaten Halloween candy and become violently ill, not to mention 20 pounds heavier, already knows this, so it's not particularly newsworthy. But for me, here's the real kicker:
"For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches."

One has to wonder: is the recession so bad that witches have to take jobs as spell-casters in candy factories? All the witches I know have been independent contractors working through their Coven Locals; if business is off this much to force them into taking factory lineworker jobs, we must be in some really deep doo-doo economically.

What has happened to all the spellcasting, potion and hex-removal work? Are there not enough places formerly occupied by "Bush/Cheney '04" bumper sticker owners still left to smudge? This is a crisis in the making; if enough Witches join the ranks of factory workers during Halloween, who will be left to keep the Sabbat of Samhain? Great disturbances in the Summerlands may be involved.

I'd be very interested in knowing too whether this is an issue involving just witches, or are warlocks similarly affected? If not, why not? Is there gender discrimination involved? Or is Robertson's website just being misogynistic as usual? We should demand data from CBN to support their claims, and to determine if we have a legal case in the making.

Another thing; are they just being hired as temp workers, to be let go after Halloween? Or will they be kept on through Christmas, Valentine's, and Easter? Are they being offered health insurance, or is magick considered a pre-existing condition?

I say we help our witch (and warlock?) friends out and buy as much Halloween candy as possible. Perhaps we can repackage it in red and green and give it to all of our evangelical fundamentalist demon-believing friends for Christmas... wouldn't that be a nice way to say "Merry Met, a Happy Yule and Solstice to ye, Enjoy Your Candy, and Merry Part"?

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's in your wallet? How about what's in your closet?

We are a society with a disease. We caught this disease willingly, even actively embracing it. It is an addiction... to "stuff". And one of the most interesting and telling indicators of this something seemingly innocuous: the size of our closets.

In homes built in the late 1800's/early 1900's, most typical homes had perhaps one closet, usually near the front door for coats. Many had no closets at all, and the attics were made up into living space, not storage. For ones with cellars or basements, those were most often used for short-term or seasonal storage and canned goods.

By the 1930's, homes were being built that had usually at least one closet, and often two or three. But these were usually under stairwells and often pretty cramped and tiny, about what you'd need for a broom and mop and bucket, or a few extra clothes. Basements were all the rage during this period, and more stuff was going into long-term storage down there.

By the late 1950's, homes were being built with larger closets and more of them, and the first "walk-in" closets (still tiny by today's standards, but you would actually stand up in them and move around). Attics began being used for long-term storage more than converted to living space, and basements were getting full of old pictures and trophies and clothes Aunt Betsy made for your mom's wedding.

By the 1980's, typical homes had a closet in every bedroom, hallway, and even bathrooms and utility rooms. Closet size increased dramatically, and walk-ins were considered the norm for the bedrooms. Basements and attics became less common, so they had to come up with alternatives for storing the accumulating stuff. Outside storage closets, carport sheds, and two-car garages (often for storage rather than cars) thus increased in number.

Today, any newly-built home you buy will most likely have nearly 1/4 to 1/3 of the total square footage set aside for some kind of storage (or potential storage, in the case of the garages; how many people do you know with homes that park their cars in the driveway, and when they open their garage it's wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling boxes and containers? I speak from personal experience here.). We have so much stuff in our lives that we must rent or own a home 1/3 bigger than we need (equaling 1/3 more energy to heat and cool, and 1/3 more land area taken up) just to have a place to put it all, and when you realize that the vast majority of it is stuff we will never, ever use again... it's just landfill fodder waiting for someone to haul it off. Think too of the added materials used to build it, and the added cost in rent or mortgage payments and property taxes for these mini-mansions, and it's mind-boggling.

Now imagine this... with nearly 7 billion people on the planet, nearly half of which are either actively consuming all this stuff or dearly desiring to attain the lifestyle to enable them to do so. In just the last 60 years, our incredible productivity, fueled by the active adoption by manufacturers of planned and perceived obsolescence in the 1950's, has enabled the U.S. to become perhaps the richest and most prosperous nation in the history of the planet. However, the cost has been that we have used up resources at a prodigiuos rate, polluted our air, water, and land, nearly wrecked the climate, and have created a mentality that "more is better" which robs us of the ability to simply enjoy what we have, and use what nature provides us with a conscious awareness of limitations, including building for quality and longevity rather than the profitability of six-month product lifespans.

America is addicted to "stuff", and we've infected the rest of the world with our disease. It's way past time for an intervention, and it begins with each and every one of us just buying and using less.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chantelle Princeton - Celebrating a Life Well Lived (Video)

Celebrating the life of Chantelle A. Princeton, born October 22, 1943 in Oregon City, Oregon as Delores A. Ray, we wanted to honor her memory by uploading this video on what would have been her 66th birthday.

She brought love, joy, and beauty into everything she did, including and especially her family. Through her 65 years of life, she raised two daughters, created cakes, pies, and professional-quality clothing, and had a really killer BBQ meatball recipe. Her greatest loves were sunny beaches and palm trees, and she always had a (not so) secret crush on James Garner. Even when times were tough and things seemed nearly hopeless, she maintained her integrity and great sense of humor. Sometimes she'd surprise you; one moment she'd be a dainty lady, with her frills and 'poofy-things', the next she'd be cussing like a sailor and telling bawdy jokes. She had a running competition with Imelda Marcos on who had more shoes, and she dearly loved her Lowery organ (which she hardly ever had time to play, but when she did, she'd bring the house down).

We're going to miss you, Chanty... even though you left this earth March 24, 2009, you'll never leave our hearts.

Even if you never knew Chantelle, please enjoy our tribute to someone we cherished very much. Hopefully, if you have lost a loved one, it will lift you up and bring a smile to your face. And if you have not yet lost someone you love, we hope that perhaps this tribute will return to your mind on that day when you inevitably will find yourself wrapped in both grief and joy.

(For previous posts on Chantelle's final days and the life she led, please see archives from March 2009)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Corporations and Free Markets Don't Mix:
How Ayn Rand Confused America

As we're seeing more and more talk of Ayn Rand today because of the collapse of the economy (new books, news broadcasts, interviews with Rand historians and pundits, even talk of a new movie or two), it occurred to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding concerning basic economic concepts that Rand herself perpetuated. I pick on Rand here, because more than anyone else it was her philosophy that most influenced our modern thinking about the wonders of capitalism, thanks both to Rand's own evangelism and that of her followers. And yet, what should have been seen as a very glaring contradiction with her own philosophy has instead been glossed over to become a rallying cry for ever more freedom for our beloved capitalism to "work properly". We have, partly due to Rand, a dual crisis: we don't understand our own terminology, and we have a fallacy standing in for fact about what now constitutes the role of the corporation vs. individual rights in this country.

It seems that Ayn Rand as well as most other people equate "laissez-faire capitalism" with "free market capitalism". Having read through her books, papers, essays, and interviews, I constantly hear her refer to "capitalism" and "free markets" interchangeably. But despite the dictionary definitions, they have morphed into two very different things, and hence what I believe to be a key confusion between what we see on Main Street and what we see on the Dow or S&P.

Rand is famous for saying that we should "hug the dirtiest, grimiest smokestack you can find" because it signified "progress", but her definition of progress is one-sided; the bigger the better. She lauds the entrepreneur, the small businessperson, the rugged individual who takes an idea and runs with it despite all odds, and then goes on to assume that the REAL pinnacle of success is some giant corporation or factory.

Capitalism, in whatever form, only works well when everyone is treated as individuals with widely-acknowledged and legally-protected individual rights. Nobody has any "special" rights, so everyone is on a level playing field, and what you put in is what you get out. But that's not what we have in America, or in most other capitalistic countries in the world. For over 100 years, we have enshrined the corporation with special rights; it is an entity before the law, with special priviledges, and for some reason Rand doesn't seem to see the huge contradiction here with her stance that groups have no rights in themselves; it flies in the face of her own Objectivist philosophy, and yet she holds the corporation out as the shining example of progress. No wonder things have gotten so confused.

In fact, she goes so far as to applaud corporations as if they were the embodiment of the individuals who started them; a super-entrepreneur, you might say. Perhaps this was true until the late 19th century, but today they legally and literally have a life of their own, and stand in stark opposition to the rights of the individual. They are special groups that have been given the rights of individuals, and yet stand in far less jeopardy of the consequences of their decisions than an individual must.

If a corporation kills someone with their product or unsafe working conditions, they may be fined and some executives may go to jail, and they may be legally required to make changes to their product or workplace; however, no matter how heinous the offense, the corporation itself is virtually immortal. On the other hand, if an individual entrepreneur kills someone with their product or unsafe working conditions, they themselves may face stiff fines, may go to prison, and may see their company go under. It is these corporations with "C-corp" and "LLC" as their structure that have been given legal entity status but do not have the same restrictions and consequences. These are at the heart of modern capitalism, and thus they make modern capitalism the antithesis of free markets.

Corporate capitalism is to free markets what water is to a fire: it does everything it can to dowse the flames. Capitalism seeks to destroy free markets; it is in the very DNA of a corporation to seek market dominance for their product or service, and the less competition they have the better. All corporate capitalists seek a monopoly, or at worst an oligopoly or trust. This may not be their stated goal, or even a conscious one, but it is how true laissez-faire capitalism functions when corporations are given special legal rights; if a company has driven all their competitors out of the market, has restricted entry into the market by newcomers seeking some of those high profits by owning or controlling all of the resources used to produce a product, and has reduced labor mobility by restricting wages such that workers cannot afford to move from one physical location to another, then we have exactly the conditions extant in the early Industrial Revolution, or more recently in the Banana Republics. Unlike the railroads of the 1800's that Rand speaks of, they wouldn't even need government intervention to protect their markets; just the legal recognition of their special entity status. If the government kept completely out of the economy, capitalists would just run their competitors out of business, buy up all the resources and sit on them like a mother hen, and charge whatever the market would bear. There can be no "free market" here, because corporate capitalists with special legal rights would kill it off.

Free markets, or free competition, on the other hand, is not corporate capitalism. It is free trade, where small individual entities are free to participate, or not, based on their values and based on free choice. Oligopolies and monopolies cannot exist in free-trade markets, because there is too much real competition and they would have no special legal rights and thus no jeopardy exclusion. The only way to ensure that real competition continues throughout the entire system is to eliminate the special exclusions for corporations and to provide a minimal and sensible amount of government regulation to ensure individual rights are protected.

Despite Rand's bald and unsupported assertion that regulation causes financial crises (she seems to pull that one out of the hat as a given, and nothing I've read from her or her golden protege Alan Greenspan seems to support this assertion with any factual or empirical evidence), in fact the opposite has been true throughout the last 70 years. It was the REMOVAL of regulation in the marketplace that led first to the S&L Crisis and then the current blow-up. Things had gone on pretty smoothly for over 60 years with Glass-Steagall and other regulations in place, with only minor bumps and glitches. In the three decades since massive deregulation has taken place, we have seen a suddenly unleashed corporate-led capitalistic system moving closer and closer to laissez-faire, with the result being catastrophe on a world-wide scale... and no accountability towards the corporations (or their executives) who created the mess. Millions of people have lost their homes, are out of work, may have to put off college or healthcare, and some may have (probably have) died; and yet the corporations who have legal protections and special rights that no individual can claim are able to walk away, shake it off, and go back to doing exactly the same as they were doing to create the crisis in the first place.

I have read stuff on Cafe Hayek and other libertarian websites that make me want to laugh, or cry, and often both: that the tiny shreds of remaining regulation and those pesky regulators who were still paying any attention were the true enemies here; it was they who caused the whole system to collapse. If they had just gotten completely out of the way, they claim, and all the remaining tatters of regulation were finally done away with, the markets would have self-corrected (and if any recession occurred, it would be a tiny bump folks would have hardly noticed). It amazes me to read their analyses and ideologically-driven fantasies of what "might have been" in the face of such massive evidence to the contrary. They are forgetting that we now live in a corporate-run version of capitalism, and not some "Unknown Ideal" of a sturdy band of rugged individualistic entrepreurs all competing on the same level. And yet, these are the same people who are still running the show at the Fed, the Treasury, and are advising the President; they are still trying to "shrink government to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub". If they succeed with current corporate laws in place, all that will be left to run things will be the corporations. We will have a true corporatocracy.

Laissez-faire capitalism is a nightmare waiting to happen as long as corporations have special entity rights; Rand and others should have recognized the difference between modern corporate capitalism and free competitive markets, and taken pains to point out how one is destructive to freedom and the other enhances it. The libertarian goal of totally government-free markets has just been tried in the financial sector of this country, with predictable results. How anyone can call themselves a libertarian with a straight face, and at the same time support corporate entity laws, is beyond me. That makes them corporatists, not libertarians who stand for individual rights.

Now, as we pick up the pieces, it's time to get smart about regulation; some of it was bulky and counterproductive, but much of it protected the free-market system from developing into runaway corporate-led laissez-faire capitalism; a little wise regulation is a good thing. Otherwise, what we are increasingly seeing today, especially in the increasing consolidation of power by financial giants like Goldman Sachs, may in the not too distant future end up with this:

"We the executives of Goldman Sachs, in order to form a more perfect stockholder ROI, eliminate justice, insure domestic consumption, provide for the perks and golden parachutes, promote the general indifference, and secure the blessings of taxpayer bailouts to ourselves and our political co-conspirators, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United State of Corporate America."

I for one would be exceedingly unhappy with this result.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Education in America: Are you appalled yet? You should be.

Healthcare reform, climate change, income inequality, and anti-corporatism are issues that are very important to me, but you might say my long-term passion is educational reform. I've been doing some research in that area recently, and the more I study, the more despondent I become. Since the 1970's, our nation has been systematically dumbing-down what we teach our children. TV has heavily influenced that, and so too has the rise of two income-earner families as well as the laissez-faire attitude many baby-boomers have had towards how we raise our children.

But the curriculum itself is collapsing in on itself, being reduced to a series of overviews and highlights, little more than episodes on a TV show which flash in front of our children, only to be gone and forgotten soon after. Context is slipping. Culture is being lost. Understanding of interconnections and interrelationships is diminishing. Our children are growing up full of knowledge, but in too many cases they are left without the basic philosophical and cognitive tools to put that knowledge to use.

Here's one example of what bothers me:

In 1920, my grandmother graduated from public high school. In 1948, my mother graduated from public high school. In 1984, I graduated from public high school. In 2010, the son of a friend of mine will graduate public high school. Now, let's look at what kinds of courses each of us had to take in school:

My grandmother: Latin (4 years), Greek (2 years), Classical literature (in the original languages), music, drawing and design, penmanship, world history, American history, citizenship, industry & commerce, bookkeeping, economics, ancient philosophy, modern philosophy, theology, psychology, social science, journalism, English composition, English literature, poetry writing, biology, chemistry, physics, basic algebra, advanced algebra, trigonometry, basic calculus, agriculture and husbandry (hey, it WAS the early 20th century), German (2 years), French (2 years), and a few others.

My mother: Latin (4 years), Latin literature (in the original language), music, art, penmanship, world history, American history, citizenship, business, accounting, economics, philosophy, psychology, social studies, journalism, English composition, English literature, biology, chemistry, physics, basic algebra, advanced algebra, trigonometry, basic calculus, French (2 years), Spanish (2 years), and a few others.

Myself: Music, art, world history, American history, civics, business, accounting, social studies, journalism, English composition, American literature, biology, chemistry, physics, basic algebra, advanced algebra, trigonometry, basic calculus, computers and programming, shop class, French (2 years), and a few others.

My friend's kid: Western history, state history, TV broadcasting, English composition, American literature, finance and marketing, accounting, world studies, cultural awareness, general science, biology, algebra, pre-calculus, computer programming, Spanish (1 year), and a bunch of "electives" ranging from engineering technology to technical certification preparation to leadership training.

So what is happening here? My grandmother never went to college, yet she graduated high school with a more profound and in-depth education than many folks today leaving college can claim, and went on to establish a successful real estate business. My mother did go to college, completing a bachelors in social science, teaching for a time and then working for the state health and family services department. They were both avid readers, with impressive libraries, and could hold conversations in anything ranging from horticulture to politics to theology. It would not be unusual to have a verse from Shakespeare used to chastise my wayward self, or to overhear a heated discussion over whether Kant or Hume had a better grasp on ethics. Both my grandmother and mother were, by the standards of their day, fairly average. By today's standards, they would be mistaken for people who attended an elite private school.

My high school education did a fair job of preparing me for college, but just as important and as in my grandmother's and mother's case, it also prepared me for life. Even though by the time I got into school, Latin and penmanship and psychology were not offered, I still got a fairly well-rounded education with a lot of attention on history and literature, though in-depth attention to the classics and philosophical ideas were mostly left up to college. Thanks to my family, however, I inherited the same love for books, and my personal library threatens to push me out of the house.

But what of today's kids? Schools vary, I know, but the average curriculum offering (or at least in most cases, the required curriculum, even if a variety of classes are available) has declined in the very things needed to ensure a good grasp of the context, history, and interconnectedness of knowledge, while pumping up technology and business courses in order to make sure our kids "compete" in the world marketplace. Our expectations for our kids have turned towards technical and business achievement, at the expense of developing an understanding of how it all fits together.

Where is the context? Where is the history? Where is the cultural knowledge? Where is the human element? What binds all this technical knowledge and business learning and leadership training to an understanding of what has come before, where it all leads, and what implications our decisions have in a global context? You don't have to study Latin to read classical texts, but it sure helps to read the classical texts to understand that humanity is not just what you see around you today; the story by Plato of Crito's attempts to get Socrates to avoid his own death have logical and moral applications to today just as much as they did 2,500 years ago. But if you don't teach kids this stuff, they not only can't go around impressing everyone with their Shakespeare quotations, they lack a critical tool towards understanding the world around them. They live in a bubble of now-ness, with only a vague sense of some historical stuff that doesn't really mean much to them.

Over the last 60 years, our average educational requirement for our youth has gone from well-rounded and diverse to limited and career-centric. We are creating, with every graduation year, a new set of adults who have all sorts of technical and scientific skills, but no sense of history, no sense of philosophy, no sense of citizenship and political awareness, no sense of the interconnectedness of our culture going back thousands of years ago through today and on into the future.

We are steadily destroying our nation's understanding of who we are, where we came from, and what we are capable of being. And that is why I am appalled. It's not a matter of finding and laying blame; it's a matter of rediscovering how and what to teach our children so that they are armed with a greater depth and understanding of how the world works and how they fit within it. If we are to have a country populated by people who are worthy of the great trust men like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Jay, and James Madison provided to us, we must live up to their steadfast belief that only an educated and informed population can be free.

We must reverse this course, stress the humanities, classics and arts once again as well as the math, technology and science, or by the time our children's children are grown, and all of us who were blessed to have a well-rounded public education are gone, who will stand up and say "This is not right!" when none except a few privately-educated elite are left who knows the truth? We are raising a nation of cultural and historical illiterates, and if this continues, we will cease to be a nation: we will become a land of highly-skilled, technologically savvy contract workers who are left dumbfounded at the depths of a Hallmark poem.

Monday, October 12, 2009

White House vs. Fox News: Distraction,
or the Most Important Battle Facing Our Country?

Image from the Facebook group "Quarantine Fox" (link here: must be a Facebook member to join)

A friend of mine recently expressed frustration that the White House is calling out Fox News for that they are: a propaganda mill for the right. She called it a "distraction" to keep people's minds off the "important issues". I can see her point, but is it really a distraction?

For one thing, I'm rilly-rilly liking me some fight-back against Fox... FINALLY!.

For another thing, who's distracted? It's not the folks who really care about these issues, and for everyone else, they could care less. And besides, one of the biggest targets for me IS Fox News... they need to be, because they're our main enemy in these fights; without them, hardly anyone outside of Minnesota would have ever heard of Michelle Bachmann and her crackpot ideas, or Glenn Beck, or Hannity. They would be reduced to what they are... sideshow cranks... without Fox to amplify their idiocy and give it "credibility". With Fox, EVERYTHING we need to get done in this country is 1000 times harder.

Every time people say "quit with the distractions", it seems to me they're kind of missing the reality of things in America. To most of the rest of the American people, honestly, healthcare reform, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, etc. etc. ARE the distraction, sadly enough. They just want to find out what their team did to win the big game, or are concentrating on just struggling through the recession (without really caring about all the economic infighting going on... even the Stimulus Packages only get moderate attention, because it has something to do with jobs).

I was sitting in a bar with my wife a few weeks ago, waiting for a to-go order to arrive. As we sat there, I listened to the conversations around the room. I heard folks talking about sports, about their work, about their kid's school, about the opposite sex, and lots more. You know what I didn't hear, in the 25-30 minutes we sat there in a room with maybe 30 people chatting? Not a word about the speech our President had given about healthcare the day before, in which Joe "You Lie" Wilson gained his fame. Not a peep. The "You Lie" heard round the world, not to mention any subject pertaining to politics or healthcare at all, ever came up that I could hear (and you could hear almost everything). Now this may have been a fluke, but what it made me realize is that MOST OF AMERICA IS JUST GOING ALONG, GETTING ALONG, and don't really care about all the "big issues". They're sheeple, or worse, they're apathetic. It was a big wake-up call to me.

It's only the few of us who really care about these issues that do the political work and write the articles and keep it alive as political issues that really matter, sadly enough. The majority of the American public is already completely distracted, and barely even know most of this stuff is going on. When EVERY EPISODE of Dancing With The Stars gets more audience than all of President Obama's speeches combined (except maybe the acceptance speech), then you gotta know that we few are the only ones who are going to get anything done... and we can't afford to worry about "distractions".

If you care about these things, these truly important things, you won't get upset by "distractions" because you'll be so focused on getting stuff done, a nuclear bomb going off right next door wouldn't phase you. As for the Fox thing, personally, THEY are part of the reason we are in such a mess today, so by all means, have the President call them out for what they are... propagandists and tabloiders. Confine them, make them irrelavent, make sure anyone who "runs" with one of their manufactured "stories" only does it with a clarification that it came from Fox News and therefore is suspect. Make people know that Fox is exactly the opposite of "Fair and Balanced" and that they, and "hate radio", are promoting an agenda that is dividing this country and creating havoc and hardship not only for all the rest of us, but even for the very folks they attract for an audience.

If we do this, we stand a chance to finally take back our country from the hatriots and fear-mongers and crazies. If we do this, then soon enough that particular Fox will be what it deserves to be... roadkill.