“Mr. President, how are the children?”

Brain Dropping #95

        African Greeting.  Excerpt from a speech by Reverend Dr. Patrick Neil, First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Framingham, Mass.
        “Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have more warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai.  It is perhaps surprising then to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors “Kasserian ingers?” means, “And how are the children?”  Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer. “All the children are well!”  Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young and the powerless are in place.”
         Wouldn’t it be remarkable if at President Obama’s next press conference, a reporter among the usually sycophantic, careerist press corps would have the nerve to ask: “Mr. President, how are the children?”  And when the President does his usual thing of rhetorical evasion, the reporter would persist and present the following statistics:
              – In a United Nations UNICEF survey among the 41 wealthiest countries, the USA placed 27th in 
                     the well-being of children.                                                                                                         
              – Since the 2008 economic downturn poverty among children has increased 2%, that’s one million
                     point seven children, to a new total of 31% of all children living in poverty.
              – According to the American Institute for Research (Homeless Children America.org) there are two
                     million, four hundred and eighty three thousand homeless children in the USA.  That’s an 8%
                     increase – and 10% or more in thirteen states including Washington D.C.
              – Every country in Europe has subsidized child care, paid maternity leave and direct cash 
                     payments to help with the raising of children.  The USA, the richest country in the world,
                     has none of these benefits.
             –  Pakistan, definitely not one of the wealthiest countries , has a statutory 12 weeks maternity leave  
                     with pay.
             –  Brazil, considered a developing country has direct monthly payments to parents for child raising.
             –  For older children – Germany just eliminated ALL tuition for a university education.
       The good, old U.S. of A has none of these benefits for the sake of the children. I think we’re  risking the waste of generations of talent and potential ability – which bodes ill for the future.  Even with all the supposedly philanthropic billionaires, with all their self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, charitable contributions, and all their bought and paid for men in high places, we still need an answer : the children are not well, Mr. President – what will you do?

Unraveling in Ferguson

Brain Dropping #94

         The Moral Tapestry.
 All us Philosophy 101 students know about “The Philosopher King” who Plato designated to rule over ancient Athens.  His leadership would model the  norms of behavior, to be followed by the common folk.  Under the wise guidance of this benign leader a semblance of social order would prevail.  Each strand of social interaction would be woven into the weft and warp of society’s tapestry.  To unwind one strand would be to fray and unravel the fabric of daily life.
          Now, in Twenty First Century America we see dramatic evidence of this unraveling.  As a matter of fact  the Nobel Laureate in economics, Paul Krugman wrote a book titled “The Great Unraveling.”  Of course, we are not led by a mythic “Philosopher King.”  We are led by dangerously flawed leaders who appear to be trapped in a system which perversely rewards hubris – overweening pride and arrogant actions.  “You are either with us or against us!” as we wage preemptive war to protect the ’empire’.
           To use an idea of Emanuel Kant, we should ask: “What behavior is our leadership modeling and what would be the consequences if these actions were elevated to universal precepts?”  I’m talking about the Bush / Obama policies of torture, assassinations, murder-by-drone, the lies about collateral damage to divert us plebes from the reality of murdering innocent women, children and men; The premeditation of Obama’s “Kill List” in violation of Western morality and international law.
          So, what other parts of the tapestry are being shredded by the followers of these corrupt leaders?  Since Obama and his cronies see no problem in annihilating people of color in foreign lands without evidence of wrongdoing, why should local police departments hesitate to do the same?
  Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the innocent, sixteen year old son of Anwar Al-Awlaki, blown to smithereens by a drone in Yemen, could very well have been Michael Brown, or Tamir Rice, or Laquan McDonald, or Dillon McGee, or Roshad McIntosh, or Diana Showman.  Blacks are four-and-a-half  times more likely to be gunned down than whites in our city streets. 
          The members of the Grand Jury in Ferguson were merely following the behavior practiced by their esteemed leaders.  The tapestry continues to unravel!

More light !

Brain Dropping #93

              “More light!”  said Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe on his death bed. Today, November 26, we put all the lights on in the house to ward off the emotional blahs. There’s a snowstorm brewing and the sky is veiled and glowering.  Gail is sitting in front of a full spectrum light as she eats breakfast.  She and my son Jonah get a case of the SADs this time of year and rely on artificial light to make up for gloomy, gray skies hiding the sun.  I’m not sure about my own reaction to the absence of the sun, but it certainly does not make me spill over with joyful energy.
               We are creatures of light whose biology has been conditioned by eons of the rising and setting of the sun.  The beat of our cycle of awakening and sleeping, the circadian rhythm, has a profound effect on our vital functions.  Folks who work at night know exactly what I’m talking about.  To work my way through college I had a job as a Night Counselor at The Wiltwyk School for Emotional disturbed Boys.  It was required of me to stay awake all night to give comfort to boys having nightmares and to change the sheets of the bed wetters.  No matter how much sleep I had gotten before arriving at the school, when two a.m. arrived I could not keep my eyes open, and often fell sound asleep sitting in a chair while a friend punched the time-clock at proper intervals.  This low ebb of energy at the nadir of the circadian cycle is particularly troubling for airline pilots.
               Dr. John Ott studied the effect of light on human behavior and concluded that artificial light which mimicked the full color spectrum of the sun was effective in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
He found that full-spectrum light was so biologically potent that, when fluorescent bulbs in a public school classroom were replaced with full-spectrum bulbs, many behavior disorders such as hyperactivity and “acting out” significantly declined.  Amazingly, so did tooth cavities.
               With good reason we worship light.  Just imagine the horrors lurking in the impenetrable darkness the cave dweller must have conjured up.  Five hundred years before Jesus declaimed:- “I am the light of the world!  He who walks in darkness knows not where he goes!”- Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god of light and wisdom was worshiped in the Persian Empire of Darius The Great.  In 1909,  In homage to that God of antiquity,  General Electric trademarked the Mazda incandescent light bulb. If the Emperor Darius had been around he probably would have sued for copyright infringement.
               Much to my bewilderment, Quantum Mechanics has shed a new light on light, identifying it as both a wave and a particle.  Every schoolboy now knows the speed of light – 186,282 miles per second – and that it is a universal constant which can not be exceeded, and that time slows as the observer approaches the speed of light.  George Gamov in his “ABC’s of Physics” gives this example: “If one of two identical twins was able to travel at the speed of light to Alpha Centauri and back, when he returned he’d be younger than his brother.”
                My favorite quip about light comes from stand-up comedian Steven Wright:  “If you are traveling in a car at the speed of light and you turn on your headlights – would anything happen?”

In search of a turnaround artist

Brain Dropping #92

Roosevelt’s Baby.  I was born on October 13, 1933 – a Roosevelt baby.   At the same time I was a depression baby, born four years into the most severe economic collapse in the history of American capitalism:  One in four workers were unemployed.  Millions of families went without food and shelter.  The unprecedented drought in the Mid-West and the Plains States created the catastrophic dust-bowl conditions dramatically chronicled by John Steinbeck’s  “The Grapes Of Wrath.”  My father, a furrier by trade, sold potatoes in the streets of Brooklyn from a horse drawn wagon.  Roosevelt was inaugurated in March 1933, I was born six months later at Beth-El hospital in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
To many it was Armageddon for capitalism – the “end of days!”  But in four years Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned things around.  And just in case you weren’t paying attention in your American history class, or have forgotten, allow me to refresh your memory.
What did Roosevelt do? – He created the Social Security system. – He established the Unemployment Compensation system. – Between 1934 and 1941 he created twelve and a half million jobs through programs like the Works Project Administration, the Civil Conservation Corps, and the Federal Art Project among others. (If you’ve ever driven north from N.Y.C. along the picturesque Taconic Parkway with its beautiful stone overpasses, thank the C.C.C.)
With the start of WWII, the federal government pouring money into the war effort to defeat the Axis – Japan, Germany and Italy- decisively ended the depression.  Almost literally half the unemployed went into the armed services, and the other half went into the war production plants.
To begin with, in 1933, how did Roosevelt find the money to do all this?  Just as now, everybody in the establishment was crying poverty.  But there was money and Roosevelt knew how to get it. (There’s far more money now but Obama doesn’t have the same courage to get it.)  Roosevelt gathered the wealthiest people in the nation and the heads of corporations and demanded that they contribute generously to these programs. Why would these fat-cats and the Congress agree to such demands?  Roosevelt pointed out that millions in the populace had mobilized into militant trade unions like the AFLCIO, Socialist and Communist parties and were on the march to feed their families.   If the capitalist system was to survive the monied class had to ante up – and at least half of them did so.  Roosevelt also brazenly proposed a $25,000 dollar cap on income (about 350,000 in today’s dollars.)  What he did get was a 94% marginal rate income tax.  For every dollar above $200,000 in income the government got ninety-four cents the taxpayer six cents. Now perhaps you’ll understand why Roosevelt was considered to be “a traitor to his class!”
To prevent risky speculation from the banks, Roosevelt rammed the Banking Reform Act through Congress. It placed a firewall between depository or commercial banks and riskier investment bank activity. It was also known as Glass/Steagall.  It became very well known in its demise, when the Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1999, killed it.  Eight years later we had the bank failures.
In the years after Roosevelt’s death in April, 1945, I’ve seen played out the betrayal of the New Deal by the political elite succumbing to corruption and bribery by the monied class, and the paranoia of the Cold War.

What now then? How about another Roosevelt, Baby !? Seriously, we need the help of the World’s most capable turnaround artist. Will we find their name on the ballot in 2016?

Follow me to Ursula Le Guin

I never was a great fan of science fiction and read little ( except for Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” ) but I knew of Ursula Le Guin’s reputation as a great writer in that genre. Now I’m going to remedy that by reading a few of her prodigious number of science fiction novels.  Why?  Well, listen to this speech she gave upon receiving a prestigious book award and see if you want to do the same. http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/science_fiction_writer_ursula_k_le_guin_warns_against_capitalism_20141122

Orpheus Ascending or, Music Completes Me

Brain Dropping #90  – Orpheus Ascending

Orpheus was the mythic minstrel taught the Lyre by Apollo, and who played so exquisitely that wild animals were charmed and trees uprooted themselves to follow him.  His mesmerizing music got him into the underworld where, if he hadn’t disobeyed instructions not to turn back to look at her as he was leading her back to life, his great love Eurydice would have been saved.  The jealous wild women of Thrace tore Orpheus limb from limb and threw his head in a river where it kept on singing all the way to the sea.  Hey! The show must go on!
There’s that old time-worn saying: “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.”  I always thought it was Shakespeare, but it turns out it is properly attributed to William Congreve in his play “The Mourning Bride” of the Restoration Period in England, 1660 – 1710, when Charles II was king.
As I approach my dotage, music has become a vital part of my daily life soothing the quotidian hills and valleys and often elevating my spirit to a higher plane.  Some days, driving along in northern Vermont on Chester Arthur Road (Named after the undistinguished President.), I have my car radio tuned to Vermont Public Radio’s classical music service. On my way to put labels on sauerkraut jars for my pal Doug Flack , I would be – well – transported by, say, Frederick Delius’ “In A Summer Garden” or Jan Sibelius’ Second Symphony building to a towering climax as Mt. Mansfield comes into view across the rolling foot hills of the Green mountains.
Duke Ellington, in talking about pop music versus ‘serious music’ said that there was only two kinds of music – good and bad!  Without meaning to be snobbish I’ve got to say that its so-called Classical Music that does the job for my psyche.  The thematic construction, multi-layered tonalities, and the polyphony with ingenious modulations, grips my attention like a good short story.  Frequently,in my head, the music seems to have been composed with my drive along the meandering road in mind.  Bach’s “Double Violin Concerto played by Pinchas Zuckerman and Itzhak Perlman rolls along with the hum of my tires on the dirt road. and then, in the adagio movement, allows for closer attention to be paid to the bordering landscape.
For me, it isn’t enough to sit and listen. Since I was in High School I have made my own music, banging away on my guitar with the old folk tunes and more current singer-songwriter songs.  Bob Dylan, Eric Bogle, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, even Tom Waits and a host of others occupy my time trying to overcome my somewhat tin-ear in learning a new tune.  I’m currently learning Paxton’s “Looking For The Moon.”
Like Orpheus’ detached head I want to keep on singing, and listening, ’til the river of time carries me out to sea.

Hey Kids! Brush up on your German!

Brain Dropping #89

Alles Ist Frei In Deutschland!  It’s all free in Germany. Wow!  There’s a great traditional German song: “Die Gedanken Sind Frei! – My thoughts are free / Should tyrants take me / and throw me in prison / my thoughts will break free / like blossoms in season. / No scholar can map them / no hunter can trap them. / Es bleibt dabei / Die Gedanken sind frei!”  As an aside: It seems to me that song should be sung on every street corner in the U.S.A.  But I’m not talking about the stifling of American protest – I’m talking about freeing and growing your thoughts with a tuition-free university education in Germany for everybody – and, get this, for foreigners too.
Last week Lower Saxony made itself the final State in Germany to do away with tuition in public universities like the fabled Universities of Heidelberg and Munchen.  So, pack your bags American students – you who can’t afford the outrageous tuition at our Colleges (Going up as much as 28% in California.)  Or those of you who don’t want to be working at McDonalds upon graduation, entangled in life-long debt.  As the ‘American Dream’ sinks slowly in the West – as we waste yet another generation of talented, intelligent potential students, enervating the very core of our society for short term profit, Germany recognizes that the life’s blood of the future is its young people.
But, there’s always a BUT!  Don’t expect the kind of Country Club, Summer Camp atmosphere you find on many U.S. campuses.  In German universities there are few amenities like huge field houses with Olympic swimming pools, or luxurious Student Union buildings (like the architecturally horrendous Davis Center at the University of Vermont.)  You, as a foreign student, will not find multi-million dollar sports stadia with body building facilities, or tens of millions spent on narcissistic football coaches and corrupt jocks.  There aren’t many dorms available, and those are spartan.  Most students share living space in town.  Apparently the German system doesn’t provide the degree of “in loco parentis” guidance services that have proliferated on American campuses – it is expected that a student on the university level is mature and motivated enough to know his own mind.  In the European model many classes are lectures with the expectation that the student will take the initiative to study on his own.  A major hurdle to all this largess from Deutschland is the need to learn German more than superficially, so as to avoid the embarrassment suffered by JFK when he declaimed before a huge crowd at the Berlin Wall: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” – meaning,”I am a donut !”

The Ballsy Alayne Fleischmann

Another Woman shows that she has more balls than Obama, Holder and the rest of the governmental chickenshits.  Her name is Alayne Fleischmann a former securities lawyer for JP MorganChase whose testimony may reopen the case against Blankfein, Dimon and the rest of the goniffs who picked our pockets. She joins Elizabeth Warren, Brooksley Born, Sheila Bair in my personal Pantheon of Heroes who blew the whistle on the sticky-fingered Wall Street eunuchs who destroyed our economy, and will continue to destroy our way of life thanks to the fear ridden President and the Attorney General.    To hear Ms. Fleischmann tell it click here: :http://www.democracynow.org/2014/11/7/matt_taibbi_and_bank_whistleblower_on

Fuck You Deniers – A Few Words on Soft Language

Brain Dropping #87

        I’m giving over my Brain Dropping digital space to Cornell West on the occasion of a discussion of his new book “Prophetic Black Fire.”  When Professor West was asked why he used the term “Black” rather than “African American” he spoke of the need for historical context and continuity.  In effect, he was saying, using the term “African-American” caused a psychological distancing from the history of extreme barbarism suffered by American Blacks at the hands of white Americans and Europeans, and trivialized the irrational hatred against people of color.  He goes on to explain that using African-American equates the Black man, at least terminologically, with Italian-Americans or Jewish-Americans, or any of the hyphenated ethnic groups, who were not forced to sit at the back of the bus, or drink from segregated water fountains.  George Carlin had a term for such euphemistic trickery – he called it “soft language” – a way of mitigating or hiding the pain of reality.
       Professor West believes the age of the neo-liberal Obama Presidency has made the radical Black prophetic tradition of Frederick Douglas, Ida Wells W.E.B. DuBois, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King and Malcom X, weak and feeble.  His moral horror at Obama’s betrayals is well known, but it has a powerful impact to hear him directly indicting not only the President, but the leadership of the Black community and media, which are loath to say anything negative about the first Black President – a Black man who has become the Chief Executive of the oppressive “Surveillance Empire” and a war zealot.
       But let Cornell West speak for himself:              :     :http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/sparking_black_prophetic_fire_20141116      

Bu Hau ? Relax. It’s just not your turn…

Brain Dropping #86

    NI Hau Ma?   That’s Chinese for:  “How are you?” (There are four tonal indicators I can’t do.)  The usual response is: “Hen Hau!” or “I am good!” (That’s according to the Wade-Gilles system I learned at New Paltz State.)  But these days Americans should respond:“Bu Hau!” or not good!  The U.S. economy is headed for bankruptcy because of its trade policies, and “Jungwah” – the Middle Kingdom as China is historically known, is one of the most significant factors.  China owns 1.317 trillion dollars of U.S. debt, about a fourth of the 5.6 trillion dollars in Treasury Securities bought by foreign countries.According to Forbes Magazine, U.S. debt is accumulating at a rate of one billion dollars per day.
    As President Obama goes hat-in-hand to The Middle Kingdom, his Chinese opposite – President Xi Jinping is well aware that he is holding all the good cards.  The straightforward explanation is that  we consume more Chinese goods than they consume American products.  Think WalMart!  The Off-Shoring policies of American corporations have drilled huge holes in the good ship U.S.S. America and she is slowly settling toward the bottom.  As soon as American corporations come up with a more efficient new production technology they ship it to China where labor costs are a pitiful fraction of our pitiful minimum wage.  Any corporation that wants to sell in China must not only manufacture there but bring the best technology.  These job destroying policies of so-called “free trade” (Not Fair Trade!) go back to the Eisenhower administration.  For instance, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) eliminated one million U.S. jobs.
    Now here’s the sweet irony of it all, which proves that historically, what “goes around, comes around!” I know that for Americans it’s a strain, but cast your mind back to 1839 – 1842, the dates for the first “Opium Wars” between the Brits and Manchu China. The British East India company was producing vast amounts of opium in India and wanted to flood China with this very profitable narcotic and other goods.  But the Manchu emperors believed that “The Middle Kingdom” possessed everything worth having and needed no “barbarian” goods particularly opium.  The growing number of Chinese addicts caused the Chinese Manchu Emperor to abolish the opium trade.  The British, in true imperialist fashion, with its navy and heavy guns, forced opium, at obscene profit, down the throats of the Chinese.  There was a second such encounter in 1856 – 1860, thus beginning what the proud Chinese still call “the century of humiliation!”
    What follows is what TV script writers call a  “back story”.  In 1823 an ambitious 23 year old American Yankee from Boston, arrived in China and began profiting from the opium trade paid for by Chinese silver.  After amassing a fortune from the drug trade, he returned to America in 1851 and settled in Newburgh, N.Y. His name was Warren Delano.  His daughter Sara married James Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s father.  In a moment of unusual candor,Eleanor Roosevelt admitted that the roots of the Roosevelt fortune were deeply planted in the opium trade. So, historically, the U.S., that paragon of virtue, in one hundred and sixty years went from a war to force people to take drugs, to a war against drugs.  In both instances it was ordinary people who suffered the most while the elite profited enormously.  It would be great if President Xi Jinping, in a friendly manner of course, would give our Chief Executive a history lesson whose result would be a little American humility.