Ranting and Ramblings of an Old Man

My annual reminder:
Before Martin Luther King Day is gone let me voice a quiet regret. It is not to the day itself. It is not to having it on Dr King’s birthday. It is the naming of it. It should be called something like Civil Rights Day. While honoring Dr King is a good thing the emphasis on him alone takes away from others who are as deserving. Many others worked as tirelessly and also risked their lives every day. To name a few before next Monday is gone: James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshal, the Barragan brothers, Robert kennedy; not to mention those, both black and white, who were murdered, Viola Liuzzo comes to mind.

On MLK day. If one considers the current rabble-rousing over the Macedonia name you may lose faith in humanity. .Many people have spoken of racial or national or linguistic or religious harmony; but America in the 1960s actually made it happen and that is rare.

A problem with having a national dialogue that is meaningful and not mere rants is lack of definition. What do we mean by Democracy, by Freedom, by Rights, by Middle Class, by Populism, by Socialism, etc? Is there any agreement on these basics? For example; the term Working Class has nearly disappeared and anyone not actually on welfare considers himself to be Middle Class. But so too do surgeons and lawyers, basically anyone not holding many millions of dollars in stocks. How then can we even talk about helping or taxing, or whatever the Middle Class as a single entity? For another example; anyone with a cause calls it a Right. Does he mean a natural right, a legal or constitutional right, or perhaps a moral right? I, for one, envision “Small Business” as a mom and pop store but in industry regulations a small business may employ anywhere between fifty and a thousand persons depending on the industry. Bottom line: without more definition we too often talk past each other using the same words but not with the same meaning. I suspect that with more agreed definition there might well be less disagreement and certainly less hostility bred of misunderstanding. But I also suspect that both rabble-rousers with some cause and crafty politicians who negotiate for a living prefer the haze of imprecise terminology.

After Trump the country will be different. The question is whether it will have a very authoritarian executive or a more independent and “take charge” congress? The jury is out, but in 2118 and 2120 individual voters will truly count and everyone who didn’t support Hilary wants some sort of change. If one looks at how Augustus Caesar saved the Roman institution by changing the republic to a dictatorship, he saved the country but destroyed the system. Looked at that way today’s anti-Trump liberals are the true conservatives who want to maintain our 20th century values. It is the Trumpers who want to change the system just as was the case in prewar II times by returning to some imagined golden age of unrestricted capitalism and anti immigrant nativism where everyone “knew his place” and stayed there. (and by association the GOP which wants to use Trump for their excessively pro business agenda until he can be dropped – Not dissimilar to the German industrialists of the 1920s.)

On May 19th, his birthday, many people will remember Malcolm X as a great civil rights leader. He was not. He was a great leader and his views were constantly evolving. But at the time of his assassination Malcolm X was a black militant who saw separation of the races as the only solution to America’s race problems. He surely would have changed that view had he lived to see the country today but in his lifetime he did not. What he did do was evolve from thinking all whites were devils as taught by Elijah Muhammad to seeing racism as only a white American problem that could be ignored by a black nationalism within the wider community.
At least where I live in the Northeast young folks are living Dr King’s dream of a race blind society. With others of my generation I have no problem with interracial couples but I do note it when I see one. Young folk don’t even notice. In fact there was a South Park episode about this. We have a president who went beyond Jesse Jackson’s all inclusive Rainbow Coalition to instead run a race neutral campaign and administration. If there is still a preponderance of old white men at the top of business and industry their seconds in command are often not. Anyone joining a company today has no reason to assume that his immediate and middle management bosses will be either white or male. Of course there is still discrimination and people everywhere have always felt at least vaguely superior to their geographical and ethnic and religious neighbors, but truly Dr King’s dream of white and black children sitting together on the hills of Georgia exists at least among the young in much of America today and in corporate business nationwide. Alive Malcolm X had no faith in the dream of complete American integration. He was a crusader for black nationalism. I expect his spirit is content that he’d been wrong. (Of course having converted to Islam he’d not have liked me calling him a crusader.)
And it wasn’t just Dr King who had a dream. I feel that the celebration of Dr King’s birthday should have a more inclusive name than Martin Luther King Day. His dream was not his alone. Many others shared it and fought for it in their own way. Dr King rallied multitudes of both black and white citizens to the civil rights cause, but others like James Farmer and Thurgood Marshall worked tirelessly for civil rights in the courts. Roy Wilkins was an important organizer as was the labor leader A Philip Randolph. These and others were in their own way as important as Dr. King. But how many young people today know the names of Whitney Young, Ralph Abernathy, or Bayard Ruskin, not to mention those hundreds who worked on a state rather than national stage and were as well known and important in their states. These men and women (Viola Luizzo,, Shirley Chisholm, Mary Peabody) were not militants nor were they dreamers, but hard nosed Americans who shared a vision. Not all were black either. Mary Peabody, the mother of the then Massachusetts governor, was arrested for civil rights activity in Florida. Viola Luzzzo, another white woman, was murdered by the KKK. None of these civil rights activists who risked and sometimes lost their lives had much use for black militants who mostly posed for photo ops but were no more than an angry reaction to the pace of social equality. That was perhaps an inevitable stage which had to be passed through in the 1970s but they would never have dared to pose with guns had it not been for the Rev. King and his partners.

August 24, 2016 ·
Since old fashioned razors are being pushed let me write a brief note about how business works.
When I was young Gillette pretty much had the razor market sewn up. (There was one other less popular brand.) There were Gillette Red Blades meant to be used once and discarded (though you could get a few shaves from one) and Blue Blades that promised a longer life, maybe a week. Then Gillette came up with the Super Blue Blade which they said was better though I don’t recall them saying why.
Meanwhile in the back pages of men’s magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics (not the mags you’re thinking of) there were very small ads (the smallest possible) advertising stainless steel blades imported from Europe. Most everyone ignored these as probably not what they were cracked up to be. Then Wilkinson came into the US market with a stainless steel blade and a massive advertising campaign. Within weeks Gillette “discovered” stainless steel and was marketing its own stainless blade.
Trouble was they lasted too long. Gillette wanted to sell a lot of blades. Soooo, enter the throw away razor to be followed by the two bladed throwaway and the three bladed. Now we’re supposed to go back to replaceable blade razors as if that were something brilliant.
Don’t get me started on Virginia Slims’ taking advantage of the women’s lib movement. …Now women could have their very own coffin nails. I never expected that to work but it did.

October 12, 2016 ·
All across this land people are taking their Trump University degrees off the wall for their grand-kids to sell as antique curiosities – like Confederate dollars. Posturing aside, as Trump finally self destructs, we all, as Americans, have to ask how it happened. It happened to the Republican party but something as media-driven as this could have happened in the Democratic party. All presidential candidates are – and must be – self centered. They are individuals who firmly believe that they know what is best for the country. I have posted this before and it should have been obvious all along. It should have put an end to Trump’s characterization of Secretary Clinton as “crooked Hillary.” At this point in her life she has nothing to gain financially or otherwise by being crooked though some of the things she’s done in the past were probably wrong and illegal – but no more illegal than others have had to do. They were what she perceived as good for the country. The same can be said of anyone, Democrat or Republican, who has held a cabinet post. Despite what Libertarians on the right and anarchists on the left might want, the good of the country – of any country – and the interpretation (and manipulation) of its laws is a complex matter well beyond the knowledge of us poor citizens enlightened only by over simplified and / or twisted and one sided media outlets. Few of us have either the time or inclination to read deeply on every subject including politics. We rely on experts to synthesize for us – most of them try to be relatively fair even when they have strong personal feelings, though some on the edges are too ideologically blinded to be anywhere near fair.
But to get back to the issue I mean to write about. It has long been obvious even to his supporters that Trump lies. In fact I question whether he wouldn’t pass a lie detector test since his whole career has been a flimflam act. I wonder if he even recognizes the difference between truth and lies. If he does he clearly considers it irrelevant. His only god is to be talked about like Hugh Hefner is (or was). He doesn’t care what is said so long as he gets headlines, in the same way as he doesn’t care about the truth so long as he gets noticed. He considers it to be simply good business if he gets noticed by lying and / or hurting others.
Have other politicians lied just to serve themselves? Of course. Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky. Nixon lied about Watergate and dared to claim that whatever the president does is legal. Others have lied, but for what they perceived as the good of the country. Bush Sr. tried to convince Americans that we were invading Iraq to save the Emir of Kuwait’s ass, not to protect the American Mideast oil monopoly. Even Ike told the world that a U-2 hadn’t overflown the Soviet Union. But these were what these leaders believed were for the good of the county as they saw the good of the country. Some of you reading this post no doubt think that I am naive because I believe people enter public service for the best of reasons no matter what may happen to them later. I refuse to always be cynical. Yet in the case of “The Donald” it is not cynicism. His self serving egotism and selfish business activities go well beyond what we expect from an investor or CEO. He is (and now we know that he always was) a simple self important flimflam man. America seems to have dodged the bullet but we must be worried about another round coming our way. Trump was a bad Republican. In fact he seems to have no real political ideology, only slogans to promote himself. But some other unqualified egotist could as well have come from the left. He was no Teddy Roosevelt, Ike, or Reagan – true Republicans all. Oddly, he reminds me most of Timothy Leary, to my mind the most evil American of the last century, who was so self absorbed that were he to have had political ambition he would not have cared what happened to anyone so long as he was on camera having fun at their expense.
It is not Trump that we have to blame. He is what he is and has always been. His hubris has finally led to his public shame. We who put being entertained by popular simplistic but unspecific “policies” above electing a solid Republican or Democrat are the ones to blame. Whichever doesn’t all that much matter. The Republic has survived more than one well meaning dim whit who, however, cared for more than getting a trophy job. That’s why there are three branches of government.

PS: Saying over and over that Obama was the worst president ever, or that our country is in the worst economic situation ever, or that our military leaders are stupid doesn’t make these things true. I have lived through far worse times. But the Big Lie has worked since the demagogues of ancient Greece – Hitler always comes to mind.

PPS: An aside about Hillary and Bill. Were they ever in love or was their marriage entirely political? I can’t be that cynical. They met in law school. They shared an ambition to enter public service. Surely at that age they didn’t expect to become presidents though they likely fantasized it – as who among us wouldn’t have in their situation? I doubt it was a starry eyed romance but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t share a vision of public service and a real fondness for each other. They probably still do. Hillary has to have known all their entire married life that her husband was a rutting moose but she is far from being the only wife who has put up with that. The things that drew them together in the first place still remain. Hillary should have said this long ago and told the clucking old women who wanted her to play the cheated wife to mind their own damned business.

We could see this coming years ago. It was obvious in the “80s that Americans were overpaid by global standards. Europe and Asia had recovered from the bombings of WW II and their factories had been rebuilt more modern than ours. Unfortunately no one dared to say so. The auto industry was turning out crap and asking Americans to not buy Japanese because that wasn’t patriotic – not a sustainable argument. Personally, I actually looked forward to a recession to correct this thinking before it would be too late. America was not competitive and relied only on advanced technology to stay ahead, yet Europe was quickly catching up. Retraining wasn’t happening. Instead autoworkers and coal miners seemed to think that they had some right to the same job as daddy had. (Which by the way reminds me of the example of the Truman years when there were strikes in support of having firemen on the new diesel engines.) It was necessary for labor to downsize – which it did with many “give backs” and loss of health benefits, and unaffordable pension plans. So far that has not been enough and the wealthy aren’t doing anything out of patriotism. The economy continues to leak jobs overseas and to robotics Nor will blue sky talk of bringing jobs home and making the country great again help (short of winning another world war.) Of course I’m not saying that the country must conform to the standard of living of the third world (I might prefer a war to that), but we should remember that the promise of America is opportunity not entitlement: a house in Levittown or next door to Archy Bunker and Ralph Kramden, not a mac-mansion and a restaurant dinner any time one just feels like one. That has to be earned and if we are to get anywhere it will not be done by simply pushing paper (or paper currencies.) I think that I may be the only one who regrets seeing the Hudson River denuded of freighters and one of the world’s greatest ports converted into a riverside park. I have no better idea than anyone else how we can make stuff again but making stuff is basic to a good economy. Germany makes stuff. It is much higher quality than anything coming out of Asia yet Europeans happily pay the price and Germany thrives. Why can’t we, except that US business makes higher profits by dealing with manufacturers of cheap junk in Asia? No, I have no magic solution. But it doesn’t help to ignore the facts.
Like · Reply · 1 · October 19, 2016

October 18, 2016 ·
Another essay from the old man:
My American history prof used to insist that Americans are not an ideology driven people. He had seen the US communists and US fascists of the 1930s and knew that we swing from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Let me give a little history lesson from my own lifetime. This was my business.
By the late 1950s civil rights for Negroes was the main domestic issue and most white Americans had come to believe in some sort of negro equality. Most of us, however, were gradualists. It seems never to have occurred to white America that rights are rights, not something that the haves could slowly bestow on the have nots. I revere Ike Eisenhower above all Americans of the 20th century but have to admit that he was very much a man of his time. He did insist on a level playing field and it was he, not Truman, who actually saw that the military was integrated. That said, I never had a conversation with Ike of course, but from what I saw of him he too was a gradualist and would not have approved of the poverty (IE. largely negro betterment) programs of President Johnson. He did firmly believe that the poor and disadvantaged be able by hard work to improve their situation but he did not favor federal interference. When he sent troops into Little Rock it was not primarily in support of negro rights but because as chief executive he was determined to uphold the decision of the Warren court, whether he personally believed that decision to be right or a federal overstep.
It was the southerner, LBJ, who set the federal government to correcting the evils of a hundred years of southern discrimination and intimidation. I recall listening to his speech after the murder of the three civil rights workers. I was, and still am, moved. When quoting the song he said that “We shall overcome.” This very establishment white man with the one word, “we”, identified himself and his presidency with civil rights in a way that had not been done before, even by JFK. You could hear it in his voice: he was pissed and had turned his back on gradualism.
It was easy for someone on a ranch out west or a farm in the Midwest to think “Why doesn’t the negro pull himself up by the bootstraps,” ignoring the fact that the poor black Appalachian farmer had no boots. The white rancher or farmer had not had to live without hope until he’d just given up believing that things could actually change. LBJ’s answer was the poverty programs which did not say negro but stressed Appalachian, leaving people to picture poor white Arkansas hillbillies with outhouses. But the programs that were developed, like Headstart and affirmative action, government backed loans, and poverty relief, mostly benefited Negroes. Now the playing field became more level. A college education became possible. So did moving from the ghettos for the urban poor. If there remained a lot of darkness there were boots for those willing to pull on the straps. It may be remembered that our country was rich and socially liberal. I used to half joke that even our conservatives were liberal. The GOP senate leader Everett Dirksen helped LBJ get the Civil Rights legislation passed.
The seventies showed the downside however. Although the results were generally positive (less discrimination in housing and employment, advanced education, access to middle management positions), to some Negros of a revolutionary mind change was never fast enough while many in the Black community were too exhausted and themselves too poorly educated to imagine that their children could get into a college. Now we had groups like the Black Panthers, who in their own way were as racist as the Klan, promoting Black English and a sort of reverse separation of the races. Others scammed the system. The image of the welfare mother is not entirely a myth. I recall slightly knowing a young white woman who thought herself too much a poet to have to get a job. I also remember hippie white mothers begging on the NYC subways with an infant in arms because they thought that society owed them a living. How I would like to go back today and tell those young women that the only reason they didn’t have to work was because their dads did and their taxes had made the government wealthy. I would also remind their “self reliant” dust bowl and depression era dads that they themselves had benefited from the government work and aid programs of the New Deal without which many would have starved.
There was a naive hope that poverty programs could most fairly be applied through existing neighborhood institutions. Storefront churches blossomed and the pastors benefited. Even well meaning main stream clergy – who would once have helped the poor by using the resources of their parish and collections from their parishioners – now became experts in manipulating the system – sometimes for people like the “poet” referenced above – who weren’t trying very hard to help themselves.
Finally people got angry that their taxes were being wasted. Ronald Reagan turned against the excesses because too many people weren’t even trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, relying on government handouts instead as though they had a right to sustenance at some imagined ever-flowing fountain in Washington. The country had gone from outright segregation and inequality, to Ike’s belief in self improvement on a playing field made level by the federal government, through a welfare state mentality only made possible by the bloated post war coffers of the US government, and then back to conservatism again. But today the pendulum has swung as far right as Calvin Coolidge and a mockery has been made of Reagan’s readjustment. Republican policy is not Ike and Reagan’s vision of prosperity for all who are willing to work for it, but riches for banks and corporate paper pushers who export jobs even though it again means few opportunities for the poor white, the black, and our Hispanic citizens, as well as the hungry immigrants who, like our great grandparents, still flock with hope to the “shining city on a hill.”

March 18, 2017

In the third world contracts are let and relet often to the relatives of El Supremo without any work actually being done. Or the construction is so poorly done that it falls down because the builder doesn’t use enough (or any) rebar and pays off the inspectors. This is even true in somewhat developed countries like Turkey and Panama.But it is extremely rare here largely because it is in the interests of organized labor to see that the work is to code. But the work does get done and done well. What corruption we have is generally a matter of going over budget to the advantage of the designers et al and with the builders skimming some graft off the top. There is no comparison between what the developed world calls corruption and corruption in countries where there is a wide chasm between the governing / business class and the rest of the people who they hardly consider human. The leadership class feels entitled far more than does our citizenry of any class. I expect that the Saudi princes see nothing wrong in this guy’s behavior. Bottom line: When Americans complain about corruption or entitlements they are using an American ideal as a measure. No wonder so many people want to come here. The country doesn’t need to be made great again, By any worldwide measure it and Europe are great. It is good that we beat on ourselves so much but the price is that we lose perspective.

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