Tuesday, March 29, 2011

John Donaldson: Unsung Great African-American Baseball Player

I love stories like this.

But, still, Wikipedia's entry shows an entry back to 2007, and I think I've read of him over the years when reading about other great Negro League ballplayers, whether Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, etc.

Great story, though, and nice to have a great ballplayer, who was a contemporary of once-famous and still somewhat known white baseball players such as Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, finally remembered.

My sense is that Donaldson faded into obscurity because he came from an era that was before Paige and Gibson, and before the most prominent years of the Negro Leagues. Still, he deserves to be remembered...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: March 27, 2011

This morning's NY Times Sunday Book Review has some fascinating biography book reviews:

First up is Geoffrey C. Ward's nicely written review of a new book on a man who truly deserves to have a religion started in his name: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The film on Gandhi is the greatest film epic I've ever seen, and is truly inspirational. His autobiography is one of the most insightful and self-critical I have ever read from any famous political leader. It is also exciting to learn Ward, an excellent historian, is writing a book about the partition of India and Pakistan after independence from Great Britain. I did not know he had some personal acquaintance with India.

ADDENDUM 3/28/11: Wow! Ward seems to have studiously avoided the bi-sexual angle of the book he was reviewing. See here. Ward did deal with the racist part, but recognized that Gandhi evolved away from that stance. As for the bi-sexual stance, it is sometimes difficult for us in the 21st Century to understand the way people from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries wrote and what they meant. There was often a florid style that people had that to our ears means sex, when in fact it does not mean that at all. Ward had an argument about 18 years ago about Eleanor Roosevelt's proclivities when he tore apart Blanche Lincoln's two volume bio of ER. I think Ward was more right than wrong then, but I think he should have mentioned this issue in the Gandhi review. See here and here. I vaguely recall another rejoinder Ward had with Cook where Ward said in effect, "For years, it was ER's detractors who called her a lesbian. I defended ER from that charge, and did so because I admired her. Now, because I deny a modern historian's designation of her as lesbian, I am denounced by that historian as hating ER."

Second, historian David Oshinsky favorably and also nicely reviews two biographies about legendary Brooklyn Dodgers: Branch Rickey and Roy Campanella. Oshinsky gives kudos to Jimmy Breslin's new bio of the flamboyant, inspirational and then skinflint- co-owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey, who people somewhat jokingly called "the Mahatma"--like Gandhi. What surprised me is that Oshinsky did not mention the magisterial biography of Rickey, which I read several months ago, by David Lowenfish. The beauty of Breslin's book appears to be its brevity and summarizing of Lowenfish's work--but my feeling about Breslin is that his viewpoint is terribly shallow about the business side of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Breslin is one of those foolish adults who continues to believe the lie told to him as a child that O'Malley schemed to leave Brooklyn, when in fact he was pushed out of Brooklyn. The powers that be in New York City, led by Robert Wagner and Robert Moses, gave O'Malley one choice: Queens or completely leave New York City. They didn't think O'Malley would leave, but Moses really wanted O'Malley to leave because he hated O'Malley's Tammany Hall political appointee father, and had his own ideas for a new baseball team to come to New York--helping along the way his buddy, William Shea, of the legendary and sometimes corrupt law firm, Shea & Gould. The Metropolitans show up a few years after O'Malley and the Dodgers (and less beloved NY Giants) leave for California, and the new stadium in Queens is called...Shea Stadium. That the Mets' current ownership is tied up with the convicted and disgraced financier Bernie Madoff is rather ironic in this light, isn't it? And it is doubly ironic to consider how the "villain" O'Malley had wanted to build a stadium in a vacant building and area of Brooklyn without one cent of taxpayer subsidies--and was refused by the city.

The biography on Campanella is intriguing, and proves why Rickey knew the first African-American baseball player in the modern era had to be an educated man who was loyal to his wife and family, and who could articulate on behalf of his "race" (I put that last term in quotes since biologists, sociologists and anthropologists tell us it is more a social construct and no better an indicator of character traits than our hair and eye color).

Third, here is writer James Gavin's excellent review of a new book on the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. He brings her to life, manages to explain the shortcomings and positive aspects of the new biography of Piaf, and gives us a range of other sources that provides support for his opinions of the new biography. He knows his stuff, in other words, and writes about Piaf with a sensitivity that should make us males of the species proud.

Fourth, here is an astonishing review of a new book about Will Rogers, who was to me always more of a Bill Maher or even Jon Stewart of his time, with a healthy dose of the late Molly Ivins in the sense of playing a role of a small town mid-western "hick" who said profound things in a simple manner and style. I had no idea he was that connected to the back rooms of political life in the USA. John Schwartz's review is deliciously written, and I love the nugget he pulled from Rogers' vault of witty remarks: "Everything is changing. . . . People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." How timely is that!? One amusing criticism of Schwartz is he shows his New York urban bias at the end of the review. He said Rogers' so-called "cornpone" does not travel well to our time. Try telling that to fans of Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, Mr. Schwartz. You and I may not like that sort of humor, but millions still find it hilarious. Still, I wish Molly had written the book--or even review. God, I miss her...(That's Susan Filudi doing the initially awkward interviewing...She is a delightful person, too, and so very earnest!)

There are also some intriguing reviews of new history books, including Richard Kluger's sad book about Native Americans losing the land we now call the Pacific Northwest, a fascinating sociologically-based perspective on the life of Isaac Newton and more evidence of the tragedy of Zimbabwe and the monstrous leader Mugabe, who started out as a darling of Western Bankers when he first took power three decades ago, and then embraced a totalitarian form of populism to maintain power since then.

Finally, here is a decent review by Andrew Delbanco of David Goldfield's new book questioning whether we should have as a nation fought the Civil War (1861-1865). Delbanco makes only a decent case why the Civil War was necessary, but I would go further. The Southern leadership was aching for war to defend slavery from the 1830s forward. The amazing thing is that the war did not start earlier. Henry Clay's astute and sometimes too effective diplomacy in the US Senate kept war from occurring in 1820 and especially 1850. There was also violent rhetoric and growing armed clashes in the territories and then States of Nebraska and Kansas, and the slightly earlier fight over California entering as a "free" state, which caused John C. Calhoun at the end of his life to lament that secession was either necessary or slavery was doomed. Calhoun also realized that Clay's diplomacy had staved off the inevitable war for so long that the North now had a population and wealth advantage, since slavery dominated plantations were simply not as profitable and as good for economic development as factories and finance, which characterized the North and northern Mid-West.

One also sees the inevitability of war between the Southern region of the US and the rest of the nation in the way in which the argument over slavery was underneath nearly every argument in Washington DC and other State capitols--whether involving Native American affairs, the tariff, "internal improvements," etc. The Southern States' Senators were all in favor of national power when they pushed for and passed the "Fugitive Slave Act" as part of the Compromise of 1850. The law overruled States' rights to protect runaway slaves escaping to and residing in the "free" States' borders and required State governments to cooperate and allow federal authorities to remit the slaves to their masters in the slave states. Talk about your mandate! The Southern Senators of course became more enamored with the rights of States following Lincoln's victory in November 1860...The reviewer forgets to alert the reader that the so-called moderate, Alexander Stevens of Georgia, the first Vice President of the Confederacy, made clear in his remarks at the time that slavery was the "cornerstone" of the Confederacy.

The Confederate political leaders, starting with Jefferson Davis and down through Nathan Bedford Forest, should have been executed as the traitors they were for all the carnage they caused to defend a cause, slavery, that was odious and so against the ideals expressed in our nation's Declaration of Independence. At least Jefferson knew what a hypocrite he was as a slave holder, and so did Robert E. Lee, who more than any Southern leader, was able to move to stop the carnage by his brave act of surrender (see Jay Winik's "April 1865" for this remarkable insight). The failure to execute people like Forest and Davis allowed these men to rehabilitate themselves with their racist views intact and to tell their lies about having simply wanted to preserve states' rights. Plus, Forest was an enthusiastic and early supporter of the notorious Ku Klux Klan. Delbanco fails to explain to lay readers that the failure of Reconstruction following the war had to do with this leniency, and how the failure of Reconstruction led to rigid segregation laws and cultural practices. Nor does Delbanco explain how the corruption of the Republican Party from an economic standpoint made that cultural response possible. See: Rayford Logan's "The Betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson" for the most compact and penetrating analysis of this subject.

I'll check out David Goldfield's book, but I believe his pacifism has gotten the better of his judgment. Sometimes, there are good and solid reasons to fight a particular war. In my not so humble view, the US Civil War was the most inevitable of any American wars, foreign or otherwise.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Facebook: The most successful CIA Spying Operation

The Onion makes a fairly profound point in its satire...:-)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: March 20, 2011

Here is the latest from Garry Wills in the NY Review of Books. The review is a short, sharp takedown of a new book on reading classic literature and finding meaning in a secular age. He offers us no alternative ways to think about how to apply the knowledge of classic literature, which might have spoiled the fun, I suppose. However, still I have some thought that perhaps we need to find a way to convince people that sitting alone at a computer, as I am doing, is not enough. And we need to find a way to help people understand that a consumer logic to government, to our employment environment or even our non-profit organizations to which we claim to belong, can be devastating to a community. We need to restore a sense of sacrifice for a larger whole, but without the abuse that it too often entails--such as wars under false pretenses, corruption and the like. I wonder if we can achieve that if Republicans continue to beat up on workers' unions...Hmmm...maybe the degree of difficulty in offering solutions is why Wills chose not to offer solutions in his review...

Here is a meaty review from Geoffrey Nunberg of James Gliek's new book "The Information." I don't know if I would really enjoy traversing this book, and I am struggling with how useful the information in "The Information" really is, especially as Nunberg raises the important point that there is a "slippage" in using the word "information" the way different professionals use it, whether one is a software engineer, a hardware engineer, a literature professor or logic or philosophy professor. And certainly the way a teen-age girl in the US uses it, i.e. OMG, BFF, GMLET, etc. The slippage is we use the term in ways that denote different realms of thinking, yet are not conscious of it as we write or speak about it. It is a word that seems scientific and specific, but may be as elusive as defining "beauty."

Sometimes a review contains such simple beauty in relating the story of a book that one realizes, when finished, "Even though this reviewer loved the book, I don't have to read it now." This is true of Susan Cheever's remarkable review of John Darnton's memoir about having a well-known but dead father and a mother who fell apart from the death of that father. Memoirs are just so often not worth reading, but are often worth reading about...

And here is a fun review by a fellow, Dwight Garner, who cheerfully provides the substance of a book he found "dull" and "charmless," but which he recognized is important enough to provide for us the book's substance. It is Michio Kaku's "Physics of the Future," which is often about the gizmos we'll have by the end of the century--well, some of us will have, as who knows where the political-economic forces are going. I do have an idea, but it is dystopian for the US, and less so for India, China and Brazil, though each may find some dystopia along the way.

The foreign correspondent has always been heroic to me, standing in and on the sidelines, never knowing where the line is between a by-stander and an actor in events. From George Seldes and Herbert Matthews (who covered Mussolini's march into Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba in the late 1950s) in real life to Joel McCrea in the outstanding film, "Foreign Correspondent," to the Vietnam War correspondents and beyond, I've been a sucker for their memoirs of their exploits. Here is a charming review by NY Times Book Review editor Michiko Kukatani of an even more charming sounding book by a female war correspondent about her time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, a comment about the recent terrible sexually charged attack upon a female war correspondent, the tough, smart and admittedly beautiful Lara Logan, might have tempered this review. It reminds us that the bullets are real, and so is the bloodlust that causes humans to engage in war against each other.

Here are two reviews of books that are sure to be even more overrated now that the NY Times has deigned to review them. Both are by ethnic women and both have the word "Tiger" in the titles. What is the deal with tiger titles, such as the new teen book, "The Tiger's Curse" my daughter so enjoyed? Not sure, but there is the fact that tigers are becoming extinct. Human guilt, I suppose...

Oh well. It's Purim, and I need to take my daughter to religious school. The thespian is sleeping in after his last performance of the play (see the below post) and my wife is going to be a bit late for religious school as the director's assistant this morning, too. Real life intrudes in this idyllic computer screen again!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My son, the thespian...and thoughts on "Urinetown"

I always thought it would be my daughter who would become the thespian, but my son stunned my folks and me (my wife will be surprised tonight...) last night at his high school's performance of "Urinetown."

My son played Joseph "Old Man" Strong, the father of the male lead character, Bobby Strong (Veteran theater actor Ken Jennings played Joseph Strong in the Broadway show for those who may care about such things...:-)).

Anyway, my son was really good and definitely convincing, which is a pretty amazing thing to say about a 17 year old. What really knocked me out was that he was a walk-on to the theater group. At the start of this year, he suddenly told us, "I'm trying out for the school's spring play." And my wife and I said, "What?" and I added, "Why? You'll be lucky to end up in the chorus. There's plenty of students who have been working in theater since middle school..." He said, "I want to do this." So, we said, "Okay, then go for it." I added again, "You know, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda didn't start out thinking they'd be actors, either. It just sorta happened..."

Then, lo and behold, he landed a fairly significant role. The Old Man Strong character is quite significant in the first fifteen minutes of the play, and shows up a few times through the rest of the play. My son didn't have a singing role, which was his ultimate goal, but it was still a dramatic role with just a touch of humor within it. And again, he shocked my folks and me because he nailed the mixture of drama, pathos and humor. Plus, I never heard him practice...Amazing...

On the other hand, during this process to performance, his grades have dipped. But I now see why the drama teacher gave him this opportunity, even with other performers who were also outstanding.

Comments on "Urinetown":

I had never seen "Urinetown," and didn't know the plot or anything about it other than the rather gross name. The show has a style one finds cloying after awhile, which is the many audience asides and continued expressed reminders that one is watching a play. Then, I was unpleasantly surprised by the Reaganesque-Ayn Rand ending that expressly sought to justify the conduct of the dictatorial, corrupt and violent corporate executive we had watched cause such misery throughout the entire play. It was done as a throw in by the narrator, but I thought, "Is that really in the original play?"

So, this morning, I did the inevitable Internet search of "Urinetown," and I found the narrator's speech to the effect that allowing people access to water and public toilets without paying individual charges later led to drought, chaos and destruction of the community, which justified, at least for the narrator, the private corporation's previous oppression, bribing of local and state officials and, yes, murder.

I then looked up the writer, Greg Kotis, and found he was a political science major at the University of Chicago. Hmmmm....Then, I noted his wife, an actress and writer as well, changed her name from Anne Halliday to Ayun Halliday, saying the spelling is still pronounced Ann. Was that merely a whimsical change because of her whimsical children-oriented books, or is it an homage to a dog-eared copy of "Atlas Shrugged" she may have lying on a shelf in a room of her home somewhere?

Kotis is certainly entitled to his opinion and ending, but the rest of us are also entitled to our opinions. And what struck me about the narrator's statement at the end is that it was ultimately cowardly. It was like saying to this suburban, Republican community where we live, "Don't worry. Despite all this counterculture sort of banter, and revolutionary socialist fervor, you're really right. You know best. Keep voting Republican or else the rabble will destroy everything."

It's sort of how the late 1960s ethos of "Do your own thing" can often lead to Ed Clark...

If Kotis was looking for a sort of existential ending that shows the absurdity of life and communities, he could have said something about the sun burning out, or that the Earth is struck by a stray meteor which obliterates the planet, our human social constructs of values, morals, etc. It would have fit just as snugly into his speech of "Dear Little Sally (a recurring character who gets to speak to the narrator as narrator), this all means nothing...", which the narrator delivers to support his point that the play is really "a sad musical."

However, choosing what is an essentially Reaganesque or Ayn Randian philosophy to end the play does help me understand how this play ended up as a high school choice in our little suburban enclave. The play is ultimately safe, isn't it?

ADDENDUM: Saw the play again tonight with my wife. The kids were even more confident. Still, tonight I caught a line I missed before, which was last line of the play where the police officer narrator says, "Hail Malthus!" That is again an Ayn Randian sensibility, which says we can't produce enough for the masses without significant monetary and social costs--and sharing is collective death. I guess the writer of the play doesn't know how municipal water districts have brought water where there was none before in desert areas such as southern California.

As I said early today, this play will continue to grow in popularity in high schools because of its corporate-safe philosophy at the end of the play. Perhaps, though, as usual, people won't listen anyway, and just say, "What fun songs and...weren't our kids great?" You know, kind of like my wife and I tonight ("Oh, honey, our son was so great!"). Heck, maybe contrary to the narrator, it is a happy ending play--for right wing libertarians...:-)!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Colonists and Indians in the West Bank...

In a Jewish settlement known as Itamar, a Palestinian or Palestinians murdered an entire family in what can be called a house massacre.

The response of outrage is proper and palpable, though one may take some limited solace that Palestinian leadership has been nearly ubiquitous in condemning the murders.

Nonetheless, there were citizens in Rafah in Gaza who "celebrated" the killings ought to be deeply ashamed, however. But let's recall the hundreds of Israeli Jews who "celebrated" the Jewish killer who killed prayerful Palestinians in Hebron back in 1994. With such religious-inspired violence, one may wonder how or why there are not more of these monstrous events in the West Bank.

We Americans who may feel superior with respect to the conduct of certain Palestinians and certain Israelis may wish to examine our own nation's history. There were flare-ups of horrible, personal violence which occurred between Native Americans and white colonists from the 1600s through the 1800s, with the occasional all out war among the colonists and Native Americans. One act of wanton violence that almost immediately came to my mind upon reading about the killings in Itamar was the Pontiac's Rebellion School Massacre of 1764, where Delaware Indians killed a schoolteacher and eight children in a school room in what is now Pennsylvania. See also the entry in Wikipedia titled "Indian Massacre."

Despite this latest act of wanton violence in the Middle East, I remain a believer in sci-fi writer and astrophysicist David Brin's observation that we humans have, on average, become less violent and less irrational than we were in the past. On the other hand, this incident of pre-mediated and personal violence takes one's breath away when one reads the details. To go from room to room with a knife to kill an entire family is both gruesome and astonishing to those of us who live in a relatively safe suburban area of the United States.

One wishes that Palestinians and Jews in the Occupied Territories and Israel could make this latest murderous act stand as a reason for peace. Instead, there is hand-wringing and inaction on the part of Palestinians, and, on the Israeli side, calls for revenge and building more settlements in the West Bank.

The 100 Years War between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East continues...

Joe Morello: 1928-2011

Joe Morello was my truest introduction to jazz drumming. He possessed a sort of nerdy coolness, which personified the Dave Brubeck Quartet in its heyday. Morello passed away yesterday. Read about him here.

Listen to "Take Five" in concert here, and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" in studio and in concert...

Why Philosophy makes me act like have ADD

(Today I devote the Sunday Review of Book Reviews to two reviews in the NY Times.)

Here are two reviews in today's Sunday NY Times Book Review that concern philosophers debating other philosophers' new books on philosophical matters.

Specifically, Thomas Nagel, a professor at NYU, reviews David Brooks' book on moral philosophy. And Harvey Mansfield reviews a book by Eric Posner and Adrian Vermuele on legal philosophy.

What's funny is I believe Nagel, who identifies himself as a political "liberal" in the modern sense, and Mansfield, who identifies himself as a political "conservative" in a less modern sense, are correct in critiquing the books under review for the same reason: In both books, there appears to be a refusal to engage the most American of philosophies, Pragmatism, which owes its own major debt to good old fashioned, Empiricism.

My philosophy may be described this way:

Truth is a mess. Truth is found in the particulars. We should support open government because people don't always act nicely, and some act rather badly very often. And since too often Americans think about Sex the minute they hear the word Morality, let's say what I think about that: Sex often makes people act irrationally. Therefore, we ought to be more humble about things like adultery, though we should remain harsh and judgmental about rape. Sex should be about consent, but we should be willing as a society to draw a line where consent is not an issue, specifically concerning age, mental competence or familial relations.

There. That's my philosophy. While it forms my view about abortion and homosexuality, it does not really reach my political views regarding unions, wealth distribution, social welfare and the like. And if it did reach those views, then I would demand that my position and those who disagree with me be grounded in policy, not philosophy; meaning the viewpoints must be debated with not merely logic, but facts: Facts in defining the issue and solutions proposed, facts in procedures that are followed or not followed when implementing the policy, and facts of performance overall.

The problem I have with most philosophical writers is their jargon makes me jittery and want to scream they are obscuring rather than enlightening. I give kudos to both Nagel and Mansfield for sparing us most jargon in their reviews today.

As for the books themselves, color me unimpressed. I saw David Brooks interviewed about his book and thought, "This is telling me nothing. It just sounds like he wants to make us believe his political theories are the consequence of his moral theories, when in fact his political theories are driving his view of morality."

The two legal philosophers, I really don't know very well. But again, having lived as a litigator for much of my career, and representing insurance companies and individuals who have sued insurance companies, to take one example, I tend to see what each is trying to do maximize profits and protection for their own sides. I also know the power relations tend to favor insurers, and am conscious of the need for the maxim that an ambiguity should be construed most against those who wrote the document, particularly one where there is mostly little room for negotiation. That does not mean, however, that I would side with policy holders at any turn since lawyers are often adept at making nearly anything uncertain. At some point, there may simply be no coverage under a policy and that's that.

Overall, rather than read the books under review, better to read E.P. Thompson's long essay, "The Poverty of Theory" or Michael Harrington's "Twilight of Capitalism," or even my own book that provides an understanding of the patterns of American History, but also the role of contingency in that History. These books move the debate forward, and are argued without the burden of jargon that so weighs down so many philosophers' tomes.

And if one wants to read philosophers who are still with us, I'd recommend we begin with Martha Nussbaum. She has a wonderful understanding of the principles of pragmatism and empiricism, yet can stand in the thicket and argue with the best of the jargon-laden philosophers. When I read Nussbaum from time to time, I find, while reading her, that I can stand above that thicket...and breathe with reflection and a longer perspective, which is what I would hope all philosophy should aspire and inspire.

As for legal philosophy, I find nobody beats Ronald Dworkin in helping us navigate through various legal philosophies over the last two centuries, and nobody is better than understanding the limits of his own views and biases. That is why he is our best guide in that he helps us debate him while we read him, and understand where others are coming from in their differences with him. His answer to legal positivists, who are largely nihilist, in his concept of "the integrity of jurisprudence or law" gets right to the heart of Mansfield's criticism of the book he reviewed. Simply stated, there must be a sense that someone is being fair to be seen as legitimate, and that is where the empiricism comes in: To define "fair." Dworkin has a strong fealty to following previous law, unlike positivists and activist judges. What Dworkin demands, however, is that the law be allowed to breathe, and again within limits: The facts of a case must be rigorously debated to understand where the clashing principles are, if any, and where the solution must be discerned.

Enough. Off to synagogue for meetings and then helping the kids today...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tell me again about the safety of nuclear power plants?

A second nuclear reactor in Japan is melting down after the first nuclear reactor was damaged from Japan's devastating earthquake yesterday...The Washington Post article I linked to states there are already people showing up from the vicinity of the first reactor with radiation exposure.

And some corporate toady news reader at Fox Business News is already looking rather foolish in saying, "Let's build more nuclear power plants."

We live about 30-40 miles as the crows fly from this nuclear power plant. I am not feeling terribly safe when the plant's website tells us the plant merely has a 30 feet high concrete wall to protect against a tsunami. Here is an article showing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had cited the local nuclear plant for a problem that appeared at the first nuclear plant that was hit in the Japan earthquake. Oops...Thank goodness for some government regulation after all...

Bill Maher's vitriolic class rhetoric, "Undercover Boss" and "It's a Wonderful Life"

This week's Bill Maher "New Rules" was amazing. He showed how angry rhetoric directed at the economic elite would look if it was allowed on anything other than a "comedy" show. And of course, please be advised about Maher's language.

Maher is spot on about "Undercover Boss" and the other new millionaire show. These are really grotesque fantasy shows. Here is the one episode I watched with my folks, which concerned a company called Belfor where a CEO, Sheldon Yellen, went undercover and realized he couldn't do the job his employees perform for a pittance. And what was so telling was, at the 31:00 minute mark, when Yellen sat down with two of his fellow executives and explained in practical terms what the experience taught him: That there should be increases in pay and benefits for employees, and how employees they should be better valued for the hard work they do for the company. Yellen also said he and his fellow execs should give up some of their own executive level perks to better balance the relationship between executives and workers, and balance the financial bottom line. The other execs' facial expressions and body language clearly reveal that they believe Yellen has lost his mind. There is a palpable anger that rises in the room where they are meeting as Yellen speaks and sounds like George Bailey in this scene in "Wonderful Life."

And it happened because Sheldon Yellen realized how disgusting the income gap is in our nation, and how vital the hourly employees have been to his own success, and of course the business' success.

On a personal note, when I was part of a corporate executive team nearly a decade ago, I saw how easy it was to develop an aristocrat's sense of entitlement, and how easy it was to ignore the "little people" on the floor of the factory where our corporate headquarters were also located. My walking the factory floor a couple of times a week, saying hello to people, and engaging in talk about sports, life, etc. was something I did without guile or planning--well, maybe it was to ground myself. Yet, after I left the employ of the company, I learned that my walking the factory floor meant so much to them, when all I thought was that I was simply being decent. I think I'm right and they were merely being too kind when one factory worker told me, "We all said you were the only human being on the second floor."

People can be decent, even corporate executives like Sheldon Yellen. However, Yellen's fellow execs shown in that program may not be that decent, but they are not evil, either. They just need to be pushed back in their greed, either with higher income taxes on the higher incomes they earn, or through unions. They may never understand what Yellen learned until they go through what Yellen did. But sorry, that is not how life generally works. That is why one needs to develop empathy...

Maher is, again, right that people who watch that program think they might get lucky like those workers who happened to have worked with the CEO. And this allows them to remain inclined to continue to believe corporate media rhetoric and propaganda against "socialism" or, more specifically, unions--and to ignore or ridicule New Deal oriented public policies. And then, when these folks watch the nightly cable talk shows or listen to poison talk radio during the day, they are taught to rail against the public employee teacher who has a pension, when they don't.

The people who rail against the teachers, firefighters and the like remind me of "Tom" in this scene from "It's a Wonderful Life." "Tom" and "Randall" can't see how the cooperative building and loan entity, which George Bailey runs, works for the benefit of the entire community. "Tom" and "Randall" can't see how the economic elite manipulates them and stokes the wrong fears about an institution, the government in our case, which has protected them from even worse ravages wrought by the elite economic class. "Tom" just wants his $242 savings account money back--now--while Randall already sold out to the monopolistic businessman, Potter. "Tom" and "Randall" are the face of the modern Tea Party.

The trivial, yet still interesting thing to watch is how long Yellen remains as CEO of Belfor, whether those other execs squeeze him out, and whether he really goes native. As for the larger picture, it's too bad there is not more rhetoric such as Maher's allowed in corporate broadcast media. Maybe it would cause the Limbaughs and others to realize how hateful they sound after they express shock at such rhetoric as Maher's. And then, maybe we can have a nicer, more reasonable talk about rebuilding our nation's infrastructure, with good paying jobs, and talk about Medicare for All, and...Oh boy, now I'm really dreaming, aren't I?

Friday, March 11, 2011

American conservative opinion writers really do hate our country

Dean Baker exposes the ignorance and hatred of America that comes out of people like Charles Krauthammer, who thinks Federal Treasury bonds are "worthless."

It is time for liberals to tell conservatives to their faces: "Why do you hate our country so much?"

We know conservative politicians in the US hate the people who work in the government, and hate most workers generally. And we know how giddy they are about the prospects of states and local communities declaring bankruptcy. Now, they gleefully tell us that US Treasury bonds are "worthless," when their own financial advisers would still tell them those are the safest investments one can make.

American conservative pundits are either stupid or cynically venal toadies of the international economic elite--or perhaps some of both.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Steve Jobs' biological father: An interview

Here is an interesting interview with Steve Jobs' biological father. He is an indirect example of how the US, as part of the Cold War, killed the pan-Arabic movement of secular oriented Arabs and how that area of the world was left for the past few decades with hardly anything but wacky religious fundamentalists. And we also see at work good old American racism during the 1950s and early 1960s, where the father of Steve Jobs' mother forbade her to marry a person of quality because of his ethnic background.

And until the last week, I did not know Steve Jobs' sister was Mona Simpson and that her ex-husband wrote for The Simpsons animated series, using her name for Homer's radical feminist mother. What a family--and I mean both the real and animated ones together!

But, as usual, I digress.

The latest uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya give us hope that secular oriented people are coming to the fore once again in the Middle East and the Arab world in general. A key ingredient appears to be youth who are demanding a better economic life, which they have learned can and does exist through what they have been able to see on the Internet and through social networking. These technologies are helping to bring out people who are not isolated and more willing to embrace the positive aspects of general enlightenment and positive economic development.

Meanwhile, America continues to elect shlubs who don't know how to maintain or re-develop the economic strength of our nation...But no time for that, as I am off to work....