Thursday, February 04, 2021
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Whatever your politics, numbers don’t lie. Too many are displeased. Something stinks in Washington. During the early 1870s, two writers also suffered offended nostrils and together wrote a novel about it. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner called their era the Gilded Age. That’s gilded, not golden. Their era lacked the solidity of deep values, having instead only a golden coating upon an unworthy foundation.
The book begins before the Civil War but largely details the years that follow. Historically this period marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, and some of the book’s characters are among its unwitting victims. This period saw massive capital investment in railroads and machinery as well as massive displacement of small business men and landholders. While the book’s events occur at the beginning of the age, its title lent its name to the era itself.
There are parallels here to our own age. At its height, the Gilded Age brought about massive income inequality. Some grew enormously wealthy while masses of others suffered in dire poverty. Since the 1980s our own society has moved in this direction as well. While the incomes of the top ten percent have stayed even with the living costs, those of the bottom 89 percent have not. The incomes of the wealthiest among us have soared, yet unlike Icarus, they show no signs of falling toward Earth. The technology sector with its high salaries distributed among relatively few workers echoes the effect of industrialization, though some writers fear that this time workers won’t eventually share its benefits after robots and AI eliminate their jobs.
The book touches upon industrialization as several of its characters seek speculative wealth from a new railroad line. However the bulk of the action takes place in Washington DC. Laura and her brother, George Washington Hawkins, as well as the ever optimistic and ever impoverished, Colonel Beriah Sellers, enjoy the patronage of the pious Senator Dilworthy. Since the book contains much satire, the reader is not overly surprised when Laura approaches the good senator in his study as he reads from an upside down Bible.
Washington in 1873, just like today, is a place where corruption prospers. Unlike that of today, however, the corruption is almost quaintly innocent. This book was the first novel from two authors who would subsequently write a good few more. It’s not their best. That said, it’s not that bad. Twain at his worst is better than most and Warner also writes well. However, the work doesn’t flow as well as what one would expect from authors with email and modern equipment. I’m glad I read it though. Along with satire it packs plenty of drama and provides a taste of what life was like in earlier times.
Friday, January 08, 2021
“This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It's a direct assault on the First Amendment. (Yada, yada, yada) We'll see you in court.”
Let’s take a closer look at this. Hawley mentions “Simon & Schuster,” “they” and “sedition” all in the same sentence. But, publisher Simon & Schuster has not accused Hawley of sedition. Hawley’s chief accuser is a PAC called The Lincoln Project which represents disgruntled current and former Republicans. Is his grammatical ambiguity Hawley’s attempt to write in Orwell's Newspeak? It's certainly Orwellian to contest votes for which there’s no evidence of voter fraud, but I digress.
Anyone who occasionally glances at publishing news will know that publishers regularly cancel contracts. They do this for a variety of reasons, but the chief reason is future profits. Publishers are capitalists you see. They’re in business to make money. Perhaps we'll never know the 'true' reason S&S made its decision. Whatever the reason, it's not fair to say, “It's a direct assault on the First Amendment,” because once it passes through a publisher, speech isn’t free anymore, but sold at a profit. At various points in my career I’ve met people who say this sort of thing. Most have an inflated sense of self-entitlement. That seems to be a characteristic of the ruling class, people who like Hawley, attend expensive colleges, suffer from affluenza, and threaten to sue people. The ruling class has a name for those who stormed the Capital naively believing that taking selfies and destroying property will somehow change election results. They’re called sacrificed pawns. They're meant to be lied to, cheated, used and discarded.
Monday, August 24, 2020
Systemic Racism is not a good name for it. It’s not a formal system and there is no formal name. And yet it’s there, flowing through our culture like kerosene saturating a dry rag.
It’s in the things we don’t think about. Pointless commentary, children’s rhymes, ethnic jokes, in the things we don’t realize we’ve said. Those things get inside our heads and it doesn’t occur to us to get them out.
And in some cases, those things pollute entire organizations. Take the Kenosha, Wisconsin police for example. There is no excuse for the appalling crime committed on August 23 by its officers. And yet I don’t blame the police, at least not entirely.
Our culture is ailing and the disease has worsened in recent years. Many Americans are a paycheck or two away from being homeless. This is stressful for people, including police officers. That doesn’t excuse violent behavior, though it may help to explain it. There’s plenty we can do to change policing laws and weed out bad cops, but police thuggery is a symptom, not the root of America’s problem.
Money is the problem. Too little is a problem. So is too much. Those with too much think of themselves as winners and of those with too little as losers. If the cops kill a few losers, it’s a small price to pay to maintain law and order.
And what is “law and order”? It’s the maintenance of an unjust status quo. That’s what the president means when he uses those words in response to “Black lives matter” Those words don’t address justice. They address social control. During the 1890s, Tom Watson tried to unite poor blacks and whites politically. He said, “You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.” Let’s replace law and order with social justice before someone touches a match to a kerosene soaked rag.