Footsteps

Since I have no wish to write about emotionally heavy-duty shit today, and because I live in one of the reddest of the Red States, and because I have a talent for drawing a pretty diverse crowd into my life, I’m going to explain where I’m at when it comes to politics. If nothing else, it should save me some time in the long run.

Potential clients and employers who stumble into this piece should consider, before forming any opinions, that I leave my affiliations at the door when I clock in. If I’m taking your money, I’m not about to subvert anything that matters to you, period, end of sentence, line, paragraph, story.

As is natural, my policy leanings are in no small part a product of my upbringing. Dad was a journalist and, until two months ago, a tenured American History professor at a well-regarded branch of the CSU System. His forebears were Mennonites before they were Lutherans. As for Mom’s family, the better part of my examples come from my grandparents. My grandfather was himself a career educator and both of my grandparents have long been enthusiastic believers in the messages of the (unaffirmed) Lady of Međugorje, which are generally thought to pick up where the Messages of Fátima left off.

Add to these influences the fact that two of my grandparents were small business owners; after Mom’s little sister started high school Grandma took it upon herself to spend twenty years selling needlework supplies, and Grandpa Bill (Dad’s dad) was a job printer. Dad attempted his own small business when I was in grade school; both of my stepparents and all four of my great-grandfathers all signed their own paychecks at one time or another (in all but my stepmom’s case, through practically their entire careers).

When you add up those influences, the result is a belief that government is meant for the benefit of all people as a counterweight to the commercial advantage that corporations and industry advocacy groups gain from economies of scale. As much to the point, I’m mildly hostile toward large corporations.

That by itself is enough to explain why I identify as a Yellow Dog Democrat… to the extent that such a label amounts to anything substantive these days. From this desk, it looks like it’s been several generations since the Republican Party has even pretended to give a dam about the well-being of small-business-people.

Rejection for the sake of social justice

For me, the real clincher is the issue of social justice. I identify as Catholic, even though I am enthusiastically lapsed… but it’s impossible for me to ignore the gravity lent to social justice by the Gospels. When I look at the contemporary political landscape, however, I see on the Right an unholy alliance of Big Business, crypto-racists, crypto-Objectivists, and the fanatically pious. I see hostility toward the unemployed. I see the scions of High Finance pulling every trick they can to evade responsibility for pulling apart the beams of the fractional-reserve system.

The Left, meanwhile, appears to be running for cover; their adversaries have shouted down, stalled, and intimidated at every turn. I’m reminded of something Dad pointed out to me a few months ago: that if the Left attempted the sort of leadership and framing practiced by the Right, they’d be accused of fascism or at least authoritarianism.

Thus my positions are those of rejection: I reject the belief that the entitlement of the individual person in all things beyond basic human rights, whether private or corporate, takes precedence over that of the community. I reject supply-side economics. I emphatically reject the notion that conspicuous wealth is a realization of the “American Dream.”

Reminisces of telling words

When the subject of politics comes up, I’m inevitably reminded of my most recent visit to my grandmother in Seaside, made immediately before I moved to Lawrence. Before I came out, she stocked up on groceries, among them Oreo cookies that I tend to wolf down during movies we watch, and games of Scrabble that we play (in my case poorly) when I visit. At any rate my arrival was held up for three days, and when I called Grandma to follow up, she sheepishly admitted that during that time she’d unwittingly eaten the entire bag. Many chuckles were had.

The guffaw, however, came during my visit.

At the time the case of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen was all over the papers and television, and that news was hot on the heels of the dubious detention of a Washington County attorney then alleged by the FBI to have standing as a material witness to the 2004 train bombings in Spain. Terrorism was the beginning and end of the public chatter, and Idaho figured in the conversation.

Revelations of an Idaho-based White supremacy group’s ties to the 1986 murder of an Ethiopian immigrant in front of his Southeast Portland apartment building directly thrust into Oregonians’ view the Idaho Panhandle’s status as a locus for militia and White supremacy fringe types. Take note meanwhile that my Idaho relations hail from the 84/20 corridor between Boise and Nampa, several hours’ drive south of Moscow and Coeur d’Alene.

For her part, Grandma was called upon to go to the post office for the sake of posting a letter to her sister in Idaho, and after the counter rep read the recipient address he rather dimly uttered an an aside: “I hear there are a lot of terrorists in Idaho!”

Without skipping a beat Grandma looked straight at the guy with a grin and replied, “…and a lot of Republicans, too!”

The counter rep went dead silent in an instant, and his eyes drooped in the general direction of his shoes. I exercised iron will to restrain myself from laughing out loud at that.

Music

Bruce Hornsby & The Range, “Look Out Any Window”
@amazon
@allmusic

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Yellow Dog

Yellow Dog —by Ben Henick, 21 July 2010

All journal entries

  1. Talking About the Weather
  2. To the Rafters?
  3. Coming of Age with Killer Apps
  4. Race to the Bottom
  5. Meditations on Decay
  6. Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof
  7. Three Problems
  8. Post Mortem of a Book Project
  9. The Egg and the Chicken
  10. Yellow Dog
  11. Digging Through the Clutter
  12. Lessons from Mom
  13. Being Careful What You Wish For
  14. Out on a Limb
  15. Beliefs, No. 1
  16. Like a Chimney
  17. Does Not Compute
  18. Past Trends, Future Results
  19. Beyond These Four Walls
  20. Competence, Confidence, and Reality
  21. Anesthesia
  22. King of the Mountain
  23. “A Deer in the Headlights”

Disclaimer: This is definitely self-indulgent. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.

This nook of the Internet is my antidote for Twitter. ©2010 Ben Henick, all rights reserved.

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic