The Level Playing Field

 

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

— Barack Obama, speaking at a July 2012 campaign appearance in Virginia. Republicans quickly jumped on his comments, taking them out of context in order to convince business owners he was insulting them and their hard work and initiative.

If anyone needed a reminder there is no such thing as a level playing field, the recent college admissions scandal ought to have brought it home. There was no surprise about wealthy parents greasing the skids to get their children into prestigious universities, and no surprise about the willingness of those institutions to bend their own rules to the breaking point in order get more money in their coffers. The admissions dance between wealthy patrons and their preferred institutions of higher learning has never been particularly secret, either, as can be seen with the admission of Jared Kushner to Harvard in 1999.

 

There’s enough hypocrisy and corruption in this latest scandal to go around many times, equal in its way to college admissions standards being contorted for the benefit of the athletic program and wealthy and amoral alumni supporters who want top athletes for the school no matter how deficient their academic qualifications. Any sober scrutiny of that boondoggle would cause the implosion of most major athletic programs at schools large and small. Poorly qualified students have always entered the doors of academia, whether the ticket they or their parents proffered was wrapped in large amounts of currency or in the promise of athletic prowess.

The Education System in Britain, 1914-1918 Q30858
Eton schoolboys digging potatoes from an allotment allocated for wartime vegetable production on the school playing fields during the First World War. Photo by Horace Nicholls (1867-1941) archived in the Imperial War Museum. Unfortunately, times of dire emergency and full mobilization are required to get the rich and their progeny to pitch in and work like everyone else.

The interesting aspect to examine after the latest revelations is the idea of meritocracy, which seems to offer a delusion of an open society to the poor and the unlucky. Rich, successful people want everyone to believe they achieved their exalted station entirely through their own merits. Many of them fervently believe this themselves. They take little account of the advantages afforded them by the society at large, and especially by dumb luck. This society’s adherence to the tenets of meritocracy results in rich, successful people giving themselves too much credit for their good fortune and poor, working people accepting too much blame for their abysmal circumstances. Meritocracy serves the purposes of the rich in allowing them to excuse their selfish behavior and to have disdain for the poor.

The way the system really works on behalf of well-off individuals and organizations is that they are made to believe a successful business or investment is all their own doing, and therefore they immodestly grab the larger portion of the profits for themselves, while unsuccessful endeavors are the fault of others, usually the workers, who need to accept blame and financial losses in the form of wage cuts or termination of employment. Privatized profits and socialized losses – that’s the American Way. Top executives sit on the boards of companies to look out for the interests of other top executives, members of what has largely been an Old Boys’ Club for as long as elites have dodged responsibility to the greater society, which is to say forever.

An excerpt from the “Dumb Americans” section of George Carlin’s 2005 Life Is Worth Losing performance. Warning: foul language.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with Wall Street bonuses – not pay, but bonuses only – over the past generation, it would stand at $33 an hour today. The people on Wall Street do provide the necessary economic service of concentrating investment capital, but that service is not as vital nor the work as important as portrayed in the 1980s television advertisements for the investment firm Smith Barney, in which the actor and producer John Houseman pompously announced “They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it.” Hogwash! And it has only gotten deeper since the 1980s, to the point we’re all drowning in it, and Wall Street investors would have everyone believe they are the driving force of the economy, not the workers who actually produce useful things. Better education is needed, starting with teaching that rich does not necessarily equate with deserving, and that money is not a measure of worth beyond its contribution to the common good.
— Ed.

 

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The Christmas Goose

 

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and had it published in 1843, the Christmas goose was a traditional feast, and turkey was an uncommon replacement. Goose was relatively inexpensive and plentiful, and turkey was quite the opposite in Europe at least, where it was not native. After Scrooge, the rich man, has metamorphosed into a warm, charitable human being, he makes a gift of a turkey to the family of his clerk, Tom Cratchit. At the time, a gift of a turkey for Christmas dinner was considered quite an upgrade over goose.

Mixed Greylag & Canada Goose flock, Netherlands
A mixed Greylag and Canada geese flock in a farm field in The Netherlands in February 2011. Photo by Uwactieve. During winter, geese often feed in farmers’ fields, gleaning grain fallen among the stubble of the harvest.

 

Now the tables have turned, so to speak. Turkeys raised on factory farms have become cheap to buy for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but since they have been bred for size and other characteristics, such as being able to withstand close quarters, flavor has been lost in the breeding. Roast goose, meanwhile, has been largely neglected in Western culture over the past 100 years. At the same time, Canada goose (Branta canadensis) numbers have exploded, to the point they are now nuisances in many urban and suburban areas across North America and even western Europe, where they have been both introduced by people and settled by way of natural migration in the past several centuries.

Canada goose populations have followed a curve similar to that of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), another once common North American animal that European settlers hunted to such low numbers by the early twentieth century that conservationists took measures to curtail hunting and preserve and protect both species. From that low point in the early twentieth century, Canada geese and white-tailed deer have rebounded to numbers higher perhaps than they were before Europeans migrated to North America. Both species have adapted so well to modern urban and suburban development, liking and even preferring some human-made habitats over undeveloped country, that many people now consider them pests, and even expanded hunting seasons cannot keep up with controlling their booming numbers.

Branta canadensis (35852362071)
Canada geese have found well-tended parks and golf courses with water features to be ideal habitats year round, making long migrations unnecessary. Photo by Marta Boroń.

Some municipalities in North America hire hunters to cull Canada geese and white-tailed deer, donating the meat to food banks. It’s an interesting development that in 150 years goose has once again become the roast meat at the center of holiday dinners for some poor folks like the Cratchits. They are perhaps eating some of the same Canada geese that have been pestering the rich folks on their golf courses, though naturally the municipalities paying to cull geese to help feed the poor would only do so on public lands, such as public golf courses and parks, and not on privately owned golf courses, since everyone knows rich people don’t believe in government assistance for anyone but themselves.
— Izzy

 

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Consumer or Citizen

 

The Keynesian economic model which held sway in Western capitalist societies in the middle of the twentieth century has long since given way to neoliberalism, a policy and a philosophy which is a reworking of the laissez faire economies of the early industrial revolution. No wonder that we live in a new Gilded Age, the culmination of increasing economic inequality and degradation of publicly subsidized social services for everyone but the rich. Neoliberalism, a term which has meant many things in theory over the last one hundred years, has come to mean in fact laissez faire economics for the poor and middle class, and corporate welfare for the wealthy.

 

The result has been the takeover of the economy by short-sighted financial interests among the largest banks, and the takeover of politics and public policy making by those same banks and international corporations which owe allegiance to their executives and their shareholders instead of to any one national or local community. Consumers bear a great deal of the responsibility for this state of affairs, while citizens can change it.

American corporate flag
A protester at the second presidential inauguration of George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., in January 2005 holds up Adbusters’ Corporate American Flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.

Consumers are passive; citizens are active. Consumers are inattentive to politics; citizens pay attention to what’s going on in government. Consumers struggle to get by and blame themselves when they cannot; citizens understand larger forces are arrayed against their interests and demand an equal place at the table. Consumers look at the wealthy and see people who helped themselves; citizens know how wealth creates wealth and privilege looks out for its own. Consumers feel helpless to change the course of society; citizens band together because they realize their power is in their numbers.

2018 Women's March in Missoula, Montana 179
A sign at the January 2018 Women’s March in Missoula, Montana. Photo by Montanasuffragettes.

 

The neoliberal philosophy of the past forty years has stripped people of their view of themselves as citizens with rights, duties, and responsibilities in society and replaced it with the lumpish, passive recognition of themselves as consumers, replaceable parts in the economic machine. Meanwhile, neoliberals have sold the consuming masses on the idea that unions and publicly funded healthcare and education are bad policies, but tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations are good because of some nebulous trickling down that’s supposed to happen. Mission accomplished!

Taking action to change neoliberal policies on the environment, on economic inequality, and on the accountability of corporations, banks, and politicians is going to have start with a change in attitude among the populace from consumers to citizens. It starts with getting the money out of politics, and that starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which equated money with speech. What greater symbol for the neoliberal outlook can there be than “money talks”? The second most important step toward change would diminish the power of the big banks by reinstating the Depression era Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial and investment banking. The third step would end government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and divest from it entirely. All easier said than done, of course, and only the first few of many steps to curtail the undue influence of the rich and powerful over society, but once consumers get up off their couches and walk down as citizens to their voting places they will be taking the steps necessary to change a system that works only for a privileged few, and not for them.
— Vita

 

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The Artist’s Rendering

 

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
— Words of Jesus Christ quoted in Matthew 22:21, King James Version of the Bible.

Mona Lisa moustache
Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) Mona Lisa, with digitally added mustache. Derivative work by Perhelion.

 

This past Friday evening at a Sotheby’s art auction in London, the English graffiti artist Banksy remotely activated a shredder hidden within the frame of his painting Girl With Balloon moments after it had sold for one million British pounds. The lower half of the painting shredded, and there is some question now about the status of the sale and whether Banksy’s vandalizing of his own painting will render an even greater value for it.

Discussion of an artwork’s value outside of its aesthetic appeal is a reminder that for the rich who can afford to pay tremendous prices for art the value lies more in other, equally idiosyncratic, considerations than in its aesthetics. For the rich, art is an investment and a step on the ladder of social climbing. They may not find a particular piece they buy aesthetically appealing whatsoever. The essential thing is that enough other important people find an artwork appealing so that its value is driven up, checking off the boxes for high return on investment and an increase in high society credentials for its new owner. The artwork itself may languish in a warehouse after sale rather than go on private or public display.

 

The investment value of an artwork is, like money itself, largely artificial and sustained by the beliefs of the people who hold it or wish to hold it. No one can eat art, any more than they can eat money, nor can they grow food on it like they could on land, nor withdraw food from it as they might withdraw fish from the sea. It has no monetary value unless enough people believe it does. Aesthetic value, on the other hand, is almost entirely in the eye of the beholder, though some people may in their appreciation of art be too dependent on the opinions of “experts”. For an extreme case of wishful thinking brought on by peer pressure, look to the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Titian - The Tribute Money - Google Art Project
The Tribute Money, a painting by Titian (1490-1576).

Before the Renaissance, art was for decoration of public spaces and the homes of the rich, and for religious instruction in places of worship since most people were illiterate and did not receive their education from books. The names of very few medieval and ancient artists have come down to us along with their works. That changed with the Renaissance, when artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael acquired reputations beyond their immediate patrons among the rich and powerful. Note how we have come to know all three by single names, as if they were modern day celebrities. And it was the widening of cultural influence beyond the insularity of any one city-state’s walls during the Renaissance that allowed artists to break out of anonymity.

The international renown of a few popular artists such as Rembrandt was slow to build at first, and their artworks commanded modest prices by today’s standards. It is the international culture of today and the concentration of great wealth among an ever smaller percentage of the population that has enabled the explosion in high prices for the artworks of a relatively small number of well known artists. The last great jump in prices was roughly during the Gilded Age around the turn of the twentieth century, when a great concentration of wealth created a new aristocracy of capitalists.

In the 1941 film Citizen Kane, wealthy newspaper publisher and art collector Charles Foster Kane, modeled on tycoon William Randolph Hearst and played by Orson Welles, discusses his changing economic circumstances with his banker Mr. Thatcher, played by George Coulouris, and his longtime assistant Mr. Bernstein, played by Everett Sloane.

Now there is another concentration of wealth occurring, this time on a worldwide scale rather than limited to Europe and North America. Nothing has changed, of course: as always, the rich get richer. It’s the scale of wealth accumulation that has changed, and when artworks are selling for hundreds of millions of British pounds or American dollars, a mere million for a painting by anti-establishment artist Banksy is entry level stuff. The rich people sitting on mountains of the wealth of the world would not flinch at shredding a million pounds, and the irony of one artist’s rendering matters not at all to them as long as the artist’s growing fame increases their return on investment.
— Vita

10/8/2018 Update: Since last Friday, when Banksy’s Girl With Balloon partially shredded after being sold at auction for about £1,000,000, its value has increased by at least 50%, and may have doubled.

 

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If It Keeps on Rainin’

 

Difficult as it may be to find a silver lining to all the flooding brought on in the mid-Atlantic states by Hurricane Florence, there is something to be said for how flooding can rejuvenate soils, replenish groundwater, and also bring home to some people the foolishness of their ways. It’s terrible that poor people lost their homes because they have few options available for where they build them or, in the case of mobile homes, park them. The wealthy people who built expensive beach front properties should have less cause for sympathy from the rest of the population.

 

The newer difficulty with hurricane damage is due to the effects of global warming, and that is the rising problem of inland flooding. It used to be that the primary problems caused by hurricanes were storm surge along the coast and wind damage everywhere until they weakened upon moving inland. Lately, sluggishness in a warmer atmosphere causes more hurricanes to stall over land, where they drop upwards of tens of inches of rain inland over the course of days. Hurricanes now are less likely to move quickly after landfall, dropping less than ten inches of rain on inland locations.

People, bus and bike in rain and floodwater
People in Vanni, Sri Lanka, coping with rainfall and flooding from Cyclone Nisha in November 2008. Photo by trokilinochchi.

People who haven’t foolishly spent riches on beachfront property within feet of harm’s way, people who have instead built their houses inland on properties well away from the dangers of storm surge, now find themselves nevertheless dealing with catastrophic flooding as hurricanes dump tens of inches of rain over their inland homes, overwhelming the capacity of present infrastructure to cope with those intense events. What are these reasonable people to do?

Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie perform their original song “When the Levee Breaks” in 1929, a song which refers to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Led Zeppelin performed their own altered version of the song in 1971, and that version has since become the most well known.

They can’t fight rising water; to try is futile. The best they can do is to to work with the water and give it a place to go. Levees don’t work without spillways. Paying attention to where the high ground is always pays off in emergencies, and it’s interesting how many people, divorced as they are from nature, fail to include it in their calculations when buying or building a house. Poor people often don’t have that luxury. Wealthier people, who have options, should not be bailed out by everyone else when their expensive houses slip underwater. The days of not taking severe weather events into account when choosing where to live are over. Escaping the effects of severe weather will be impossible, however, as people who have been flooded out of their inland homes hurricanes now know, and that leaves taking sensible measures to cope with the consequences of global warming in order to go on living.
— Izzy

 

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The War on Economic Disadvantage

 

12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

— Words of Jesus Christ quoted in Luke 14:12-14, the King James Version of the New Testament.

The current presidential administration has declared an end to the War on Poverty, and a victory for someone or other, certainly not the poor. Perhaps the rich, who can now go on plundering the nation without any nagging concerns for the poor. Not that the poor were ever a great concern for the rich, a disconnect that has been made easier over the past half century with sociological euphemisms like “economically disadvantaged” and “low income”. Sociologists and others with a bureaucratic and academic inclination to their thinking supposedly applied euphemisms for the words “poor” and “poverty” out of consideration for the feelings of people mired in “low resource” neighborhoods, among other things, but really they were doing those folks no favors. Good intentions merely made it easier for everyone in the “upper income brackets” to look the other way.


Thomas Benjamin Kennington - Orphans
Orphans, an 1885 painting by Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1856-1916).

The War on Poverty is over then, and up is down and wrong is right. Two plus two equals five. “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” saith Supreme Leader. None of that rhetorical nonsense fills the bellies of the poor with nutritious food. It’s all sophistry. Anyone with eyes that see and who acknowledges the world as it is can attest there are poor people everywhere in need. Those poor people are more than “food insecure”, they are hungry, even starving. Academics, bureaucrats, politicians, and the wealthy can argue forever about how best to deal with the problem of the “economically disadvantaged” or “underprivileged”, and in the end they will only increase their own advantage and scrupulously preserve their own privilege. Stop the jibber jabber and get down to a soup kitchen and start dishing.
— Ed.


George Carlin talks about how euphemisms erode meaning in his 1990 concert Doin’ It Again. Warning: foul language.

 

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The Neighborly Thing to Do

 

With gentrification occurring in many old city neighborhoods across the country, there has been a rise in calls of complaint to city officials from the new, mostly white, residents about the established, mostly black and brown, residents. New residents usually make those calls to a city’s 311 line, which doesn’t automatically entail a police response, and that’s just as well because out of control police employees are just as likely to escalate a conflict between neighbors as they are to defuse it, particularly since the complainants are pointing their fingers at black and brown people.

John William Waterhouse - Gossip
Good Neighbours, an 1885 painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). While not a depiction of an ethnically diverse gathering, still this painting conveys the notion of neighborliness.

Some white folks, but not all, understand the possibly dangerous consequences for black and brown folks of having the police intercede in even the mildest disputes. Those who do understand how it works use the police as their personal enforcers, as a blunt instrument to get their way without having to simply talk with their neighbors. Involving city officials, especially the police, ought to be the last resort, but when you are rarely the target of a blunt instrument it is easy to take the view that it is a first resort.

The new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods have little in common with the established residents, and that has much to do with their reluctance to deal with them one on one as equals. Some are intimidated by people whom they have long been instructed by the greater white society to view as likely criminals, or at least as not worthy of the benefit of a doubt. A black or brown person conducting themselves in a manner not dissimilar to a white person, for instance conducting a house inspection as part of his or her official duties or job, is far more likely to be viewed with suspicion by a white person in the vicinity, with the white person eventually calling the authorities to report those supposedly suspicious activities. The glass half full for white people in this society is almost always half empty for others.


Sesame Street has always been at the forefront in portraying amicable relations among people of different ethnicities. This clip from a 1990s episode features a version of “The People in Your Neighborhood”, a song written by Jeffrey Moss and, since the show’s inception in 1969, usually performed by Bob McGrath and a selection of Anything Muppets representing various occupations.

 

It seems like this society is sliding backwards, and the rhetoric and actions originating with the current presidential administration are leading the way backward. No doubt that is the meaning behind the slogan “Make America Great Again”. For a few in this society, about one third of the population, going backward appears to mean returning to the days when black and brown people were rarely seen and never heard, and then only in a subservient capacity. One thing they overlook is that in the days before home air conditioning and home theaters, people got out and about amongst their neighbors in the evenings, getting to know each other.

Turn on the captions for the printed lyrics.

Granted, ethnically mixed neighborhoods were never part of life for the upper classes, but the upper classes have always been able to afford their own way of life and rarely cared much at all how the rest of society viewed them for it. Poor and working class people have always had more day to day experience with other ethnicities, though that hasn’t implied an always peaceful coexistence. It seems now that in gentrifying neighborhoods the new residents, wealthier and usually whiter than their neighbors, don’t bother getting to know the poorer and darker people around them, and consequently they are easily disturbed by unfamiliar behavior, calling 311 out of fear or annoyance. The pattern continues until all the established residents are priced out of the neighborhood. What a shame then that the new residents come from all political stripes, some with the best intentions, and yet the ultimate effect they have on their new neighbors reflects the same backward thinking as that of those cynical, small-minded leaders now making policy in Washington, D.C., and that of their frightened, small-minded followers, calling the cops out to hassle their neighbors over every little thing.
— Vita

 

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We’re Watching You

 

There are so many surveillance cameras in private and public spaces watching private citizens that it seems the only way to redress the imbalance is for private citizens to start recording corporate and government officials with surveillance cameras of their own. Recording business representatives on their property without their permission would be legally permissible only on publicly accessible portions. Recording public officials, however, such as police employees, would be much easier since much of their business is conducted in public and because they are, well, employees of the public.

 

The police employees themselves will often dispute the right of citizens to film them as they go about their business, and intimidate filmmakers into shutting off their cameras and even turning them over to the police. Those tactics are illegal, and cops who use them are doing so either out of ignorance of the law or, more likely, in anticipation of ignorance of the law on the part of the filmmaker. It’s interesting that the increasing surveillance in public of private citizens by corporate and government entities is justified by asserting “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about”, but the same entities do not feel their dubious logic applies to them when the public films them going about their activities.

Inauguration U.S. Park Police Surveillance
A U.S. Park Police (USPP) employee takes video of spectators observing an incident in which the USPP had kettled a group of people at 12th and L N.W. in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The USPP officer has his back to the kettled group. Photo by Mobilus in Mobili.

Dashboard cameras, many of them with audio recording capabilities, are increasing in popularity mainly for insurance purposes in the recording of accidents. Some auto manufacturers have started including them as standard equipment or options, and therefore they are not entirely after market purchases by car owners anymore. What some car owners tend to overlook is the usefulness of dashboard cameras in recording interactions with police employees. Police have themselves had dashboard cameras for about 20 years, and body cameras are becoming more prevalent every year. The question is how much a citizen can rely on evidence provided by police dashboard cameras and body cameras in any interaction with police employees.

 

The police have cameras, which they can and do turn off, or the footage of which they can and do selectively edit. It’s well past time for the general public to have cameras in the same abundance. In their cars, for instance, they should have not only a dashboard camera pointed forward, but a rear dashboard camera pointed backward, because that is where a roadside stop by a police employee will end up if it goes outside, with the cop and the driver between the back of the driver’s car and the front of the squad car. All cameras should have the ability to swivel on their mounts, which in the case of the front pointing dashboard camera would allow it to capture the interaction with the police employee at the driver’s side window. All cameras should also have audio capability, though it is important to remember to advise passengers in the vehicle if this feature is on. Police employees do not have to be informed, because they are engaged in public business.

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Police employee with bodycam in North Charleston, South Carolina, in March 2016. Photo by Ryan Johnson.

So many people have smartphones now that it may seem unnecessary to buy and install more than one dashboard camera in a vehicle. If the need arises, people think, they can always take out their smartphone and film the interaction with the police employee. There are a few things wrong with that idea. The first is that for most people, who interact with police rarely, getting stopped by a police employee can be intimidating and make them nervous, which in turn may make it difficult or impossible for them to get out their smartphone and point it directly at the police employee, making it obvious they are filming them. Secondly, for some aggressive police employees who don’t know or don’t care about the constitutional rights of the citizens who employ them, pointing a smartphone camera at them is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. It’s much easier and less conspicuous to reach up quickly and turn the dashboard camera toward the driver’s window, making sure to enable audio.

The Conversation, a 1974 film by Francis Ford Coppola, is about an audio surveillance expert, though in general the topic becomes the loss of privacy in the electronic age.

It’s a shame it has come to this, where the public feels they have to protect themselves against the very people who have sworn to serve and protect them, people who use public funds to trick out publicly funded squad cars in thousands of dollars worth of the latest technology, and themselves in quasi military gear and vehicles for the purpose of intimidating and beating down the citizens who pay their way. For the time being, it may appear out of control police employees are hurting only minorities and the poor, but that will change as they see they can get away with it, as they have. Any day now, the mistreatment will become indiscriminate, because that is the way of things like this. Psychotic bullies will beat up on almost anyone, middle class white people included, if they step out of lines that are ever more narrowly defined. They will beat up on almost anyone, that is, except the rich who are their real masters. Protect yourself with as many cameras as they have, if you can, because you can’t afford as many lawyers.
— Techly

 

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Sell All That Thou Hast

 

“Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”
— Luke 18:22, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Philanthropy, meaning love of humanity, differs from charitable giving in that the rich conduct philanthropy in broad brush strokes for society, while charity is usually in the form of small gestures from one individual for the benefit of other individuals or small organizations. Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, endowed libraries across the country as well as cultural institutions. the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations have similarly given large grants to institutions since their establishment in the early twentieth century. When John D. Rockefeller handed out dimes to individuals, as he was known to do, that was charity, not what is generally considered philanthropy.


Helping the homeless
Two women donate food to a homeless man on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Ed Yourdon.

Among modern philanthropists are Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Supreme Egotist wants to be included in that group, but like everything else he does, his philanthropy is a fantasy for the benefit of his narcissism and con artistry more than it is a real construct for the love of humanity. After first acknowledging what a good thing people like Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates are offering to do with their money, the next thing that springs to mind is how on earth they accumulated their kind of wealth in order to give at least some of it away. The conventional capitalist idea is that they gained all their riches through their own hard work and good fortune. Maybe so. An aspect of capitalism that is usually glossed over in this scenario is how wealth begets wealth in algorithmic numbers. In other words, rich people in our system can benefit from a snowball effect.

There is a negative snowball effect in operation for poor people in our system who find themselves slipping away due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, whether by their own making or not. A person working a non-union factory job gets injured and cannot work, and for one reason or another workmen’s compensation and unemployment insurance either do not apply or are insufficient, and within months or a few short years the person ends up homeless. Living paycheck to paycheck, disaster is always lurking around a corner of bad luck. These unfortunates, who for the luck of the draw at any moment could be almost any one of us, may have to rely for their next meal and night out of the weather on the charitable giving of those who for the time being enjoy regular meals and a comfortable night’s sleep in their own bed.

 

What about the philanthropists whose giving is steered toward redressing larger societal ills? Andrew Carnegie hired goons to bust heads when workers at his steel mills struck for better hours, wages, and working conditions. This was the same Andrew Carnegie who endowed libraries so that the children of those workers could get a better education than their parents. He stole from the poor to give to the poor, and as the money changed hands along the way he made a tidy profit for himself. Are today’s philanthropists much better? Instead of expressing thanks for endowments and grants, perhaps it would be better to question whither the gains were gotten. That’s not likely, however, since it is almost always institutions such as universities that receive those endowments and grants, and stodgy university bureaucracies are not in the habit of examining gift horses too closely.

Serving homeless veterans 090701-N-JD458-020
USS Constitution‘s Yeoman 3rd Class Roberta Lee serves lunch to residents of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. USS Constitution sailors volunteered at the shelter July 1, 2009, as part of Navy Community Outreach’s Boston Navy Week. Photo by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Kiner.

What about the recipients of individual charitable gifts, are they relieved of responsibility? Did any of them question John D. Rockefeller about the provenance of the dime he handed them? Most likely not. It is better in spirit, however, for both giver and receiver if a charitable gift is borne out of the giver’s own honest labor rather than the exploitation of the labor of others or the use of money to beget money. Sharing the little extra one may have with another less fortunate is more meaningful and helpful to society than the sharing of largesse by another who came by it through the impoverishment in finances and spirit of the public as a whole.
— Ed.

A scene from the 1982 meditative documentary Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio, with music by Philip Glass.

 

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Can This Be Flu?

 

Since gastroenteritis is commonly known as stomach flu, and since this is influenza season, people can mistake one illness for the other or believe they are different names for the same illness. They are not. Gastroenteritis is technically not influenza, though it is most often caused by a virus and usually presents with some of the same symptoms in the early stages – headache, body aches, chills, and fever. It is in the lack of respiratory distress symptoms that the two illnesses diverge, that and the continued nausea and diarrhea brought on by gastroenteritis. Nausea may subside to a low level, and vomiting may cease after the first bouts simply because of a lack of contents to regurgitate as the sufferer no longer desires solid food. Diarrhea continues, however, since the sufferer’s inflamed intestines do not absorb liquids as they should.

Influenza Pandemic Masked Typist
Typist wearing mask, New York City, October 16, 1918, during the “Spanish flu” influenza pandemic. Wearing a mask would have helped stave off the influenza virus, which is most often inhaled, but done little to protect the wearer from a gastroenteritis virus, which is ingested.

That last part is the most important in understanding how to treat gastroenteritis. Fluid intake becomes even more important than in treating a case of true influenza because while the overall risk of life-threatening complications is less, the risk of life-threatening dehydration is greater. As with any illness affecting them, pregnant women need to carefully monitor their symptoms as well as take special care using medications. In poor areas of the world, where access to clean water may be limited, dehydration is the biggest killer in cases of gastroenteritis. In wealthier areas, even though a sufferer got the infection by ingestion of contaminated food or water, access to cleaner supplies of both after the illness develops makes chances for recovery much greater. The important things to remember in getting well from a bout with this illness which, dreadful as it feels at the time, are that the risks of developing something more serious are lower than with the actual flu virus, and that dehydration needs to be remedied not just by drinking water but by replenishing salts, sugars, and electrolytes in the right combination.
— Ed.

 

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