“All the historical data at our disposal today indicates that it was not until the second half—or even the final third—of the nineteenth century that a significant rise in the purchasing power of wages occurred. From the first to the sixth decade of the nineteenth century, workers’ wages stagnated at very low levels—close or even inferior to the levels of the eighteenth and previous centuries. This long phase of wage stagnation, which we observe in Britain as well as France, stands out all the more because economic growth was accelerating in this period. The capital share of national income—industrial profits, land rents, and building rents … increased considerably in both countries in the first half of the nineteenth century… The data we have assembled nevertheless reveal no structural decrease in inequality prior to WW1. What we see in the period 1870-1914 is at best a stabilization of inequality at an extremely high level, and in certain respects an endless inegalitarian spiral, marked in particular by increasing concentration of wealth. It’s quite difficult to say where this trajectory would have led without the major economic and political shocks initiated by the war. With the aid of historical analysis and a little perspective, we can now see those shocks as the only forces since the Industrial Revolution powerful enough to reduce inequality.” —Thomas Piketty, Caplital, Introduction pg. 7

enlightenment 02“What journalists choose and how journalists frame inescapably arises out of what journalists believe.”

That observation, made by journalist Michael Kelly, should not be news given human nature and that journalists are human. To be purely unbiased is not an easy state to achieve or maintain. It may be impossible. But this doesn’t stop us from claiming to be so.

In the mid 1990s a TV network was launched specifically intended to be biased while adopting the ironic motto “fair and balanced”.  The Fox network followed naturally from Ronald Reagan’s drive for deregulation. Reagan’s FCC abolished the “fairness doctrine” which up to then had required broadcasters to present political arguments from both sides of the spectrum which led, almost immediately, to the scourge of Rush Limbaugh and, soon after, to the birth of Fox News.

As writer Bruce Bartlett says in his paper, How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics, “The ideology at Fox was strictly a top-down affair. Roger [Ailes] was a conservative. All of his deputies were conservatives. Most of the hosts were conservatives, or at least were good at pretending to be while on television, if they knew what was good for them….The VPs, as near as I could tell, were all staunch conservatives, too. Whether by coincidence or design, Roger had effectively surrounded himself with fellow travelers.”

As a result of Fox’s conservative 24/7 barrage of intentionally biased reporting the network’s viewership quickly rose as the go-to network preferred by conservative-leaning Americans. There’s no surprise there.

A 2014 poll (publicpolicypoling.com) shows that Fox’s popularity among Republicans has increased especially among seniors. No news there either —Republicans and seniors do not tend to be liberals.

What is news-worthy is that Fox has now become the go-to place for info of those with a serious ax to grind who find at Fox a very effective grinding wheel. As media critic Michael Wolff puts it, “Fox is not really about politics … Rather, it’s about having a chip on your shoulder; it’s about us versus them, insiders versus outsiders, phonies versus non-phonies, and, in a clever piece of post modernism, established media against insurgent media.”

But Fox has by now shifted far to the right of even its moderately biased early years and has adopted a no-holds-barred policy of running all news through a far-right filter and is scripting its broadcasts to elevate right-leaning misinformation to the status of (almost religious) doctrine. It distorts not only political events and policies, but those of science also. If a fact does not fit the Fox agenda it is water-boarded until it says what Fox demands it to say. With the popularity of Fox this has led to a precipitous dumbing-down of America and, consequently, to public discourse. In fact the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) has found that Fox is the least accurate of the three most watched news networks —CNN and MSNBC being the other two.  The USC says that “72 percent of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. Fox News covered climate science 50 times in 2013. Of these segments, 28 percent were entirely accurate, while 72 percent included misleading portrayals of the science.”

Regardless of your political views this is bad news for our children and grandchildren. Having a congress that’s ignorant or politically disposed to ignore reality and science is bad, but to have a huge chunk of the American populace as happily uninformed as Fox seems determined to make them is something else.

Ignorance among the population is a great advantage to governments and corporations. Misleading and manipulating an ignorant population is so much easier than to do so with an informed one, and the most powerful in each of those spheres know this. Fascist propagandist Joseph Goebbels made this very clear: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Goebbels may just as well have been laying down the business plan of Fox news when he said that because Fox has been a great contributor to the disenlightenment of the American people.  Americans seem to have become less embarrassed by ignorance and unconcerned about its consequences. In fact it was once considered not good in the U.S. not to know. To be willfully ignorant of the realty of climate change, the dangerous effects of fracking, the toxic outcomes of continued use of fossil fuels, etc. But today to be stupid about these things in public without losing face seems not to be a problem for many because being ignorant is extolled by the Sarah Palins, Michelle Bachmanns and Ted Cruzes of the country for whom superstition and ignorance seems to be a badge of honor.

We must be very wary of the bottom line beliefs of the most influential among us and what they’re selling because, though superstition and ignorance go way back, they’re still with us and exploding in virulence:

“In the beginning was Ignorance, which, after seven days of metastization, took no rest, not even a nap, and saw that it was good; or, if not ‘good’, at least very effective.”  —Fascist Bible 1:1

by Jim Culleny
5/17/15

Cartoon cross and dollarsAlthough Americans have a prevalent national faith, Christianity, we have another at least equally as fervent: Capitalism. In America both are mythic  and fundamental, which means they’re bound to our psyches like barnacles and cannot easily be shaken off —not that millions of us would want to.

Of these two faiths I’d argue that capitalism is the stronger and more fervent. I may be wrong about that, but these faiths have at least become so enmeshed in our mythic indoctrination that if you threaten one you threaten the other. A non Christian may be merely “unsaved”, which may be considered a foolishness of omission. But a non-capitalist is automatically a socialist or worse, a communist (both of these are considered sins of commission) —regardless, unsaved, socialist or communist, all are thought ungodly.

How capitalism became almost synonymous with Christianity in the United States is a tale of confusion wrapped in inherent practicality. How the story of shared loaves and fishes found in the New Testament became the tale of two cities: the Shining City on a Hill and the impoverished one at the base of the hill, is an example of Jesus’ ongoing battle with America’s 18th,19th, 20th and 21st centuries’ practical politicians as they co-opted the teachings of that 1st century Nazarene bleeding-heart —as they re-defined them while clawing their way to the top. In the United States a capitalist cocooned in a corporation can do no wrong even while she or he is poisoning your water, contaminating your air and robbing you blind with payoffs to your legislators.  She or he is legally and (to some minds) morally invulnerable no matter how corrupt they might be.

But maybe, just maybe, we’ll break out of our nation-wrecking stupor soon enough to avert the most extreme effects of it. But it will first take an epiphany followed by an immediate commitment to de-toxify.

A good starting point would be to imagine a future free of our Christian-capitalist conflation. As writer Justin Smith muses, “I’m still dwelling on how ironic all the feverish proclamations of capitalism are going to look someday.”  I think it won’t be pretty.  We’ll see that more clearly once we’re freed of having dumpster dinners at the corner of Wall Street and New. We’ll know we’re on the psychic mend when we’re finally not sold by a Coke sign’s faded blush —when we’re embarrassed at how it thrusts itself from desiccated dollar dunes.

Just yesterday I came across an article that reported how in California, now in the midst of a drought severe enough to elicit predictions that the state will be out of water in a year (short of  a miracle that some foolishly rely upon), the Nestlé Corporation continues to bottle city water to sell back to the public at a big profit, local activists charge.  A Sacramento environmental coalition spokesperson, Andy Conn, said, “This corporate welfare giveaway is an outrage and warrants a major investigation. For more than five months we have requested data on Nestlé water use. City Hall has not complied with our request, or given any indication that it will. Sacramentans deserve to know how their money is being spent and what they’re getting for it. In this case, they’re getting ripped off.” 

It’s really not surprising City Hall is in hunker mode. There’s a zealous, capitalist mindset in US government at all levels that makes such things possible.

I can’t help but wonder how we’ll feel about having added our own breaths to the cyclone that slew the sacred cow as gangs of suited crooks blew through. As their fingers itched to milk her dry until there was nothing left to suck or bust. Will we be coy then and beg mercy from our god, Capital —or the other one? You gotta wonder.

But I have a sense there’s finally beginning to be a wider appreciation that we’re in trouble. I have a sense that more Americans are realizing that climate-change-global-warming deniers like Senator James Inhofe (R- that OK) are, at best, well-meaning people who are innocently and sincerely stupid —scientifically stupid at least. People like Inhofe are so caught up in their peculiar anti-scientific, mystical doctrines they simply refuse to read the actual signs of the times: the arctic ice melts, the accelerated calving of the Antarctic glacier, the weird weather patterns, the warming oceans leading to rising seas.

So like Justin Smith I’m anxiously curious how all the feverish proclamations of capitalism are going to look someday. In the meantime I still hope that all of this capitalist religious fevor will finally be rejected by Americans and that the force  of what’s coming will be mitigated by clearheaded commitments to change the way things operate. I’m hoping that enough people will change their belief in the infallibility of this capitalist model and say, “I’m done. We’ve lurched too long through spoiled earth as Gabriel’s Mad(ison) Ave. apocalyptic horn more croaked than blew.”

by Jim Culleny
3/21/15

Burning Bush

March 8, 2015

burning bushCommenting on two photos posted online that compared youth activities in the 1970s (guitar playing/singing) to today (screen viewing/texting), I got in trouble with a younger friend who accused me of judging the earlier to be superior to the later.  He said he was tired of older people whining about how it is compared to how it was. He had a point, but at the risk of being called an old whiner, I do think it’s useful to bring past and present together for a little practical contrast.

Although things may seem just-of-this-moment as we stand in it, the past is at least as present as our hippocampus. That memory-sorting center of our brain is our gateway to the past. Keeping this brain-presence of the past in mind it’s probably a good idea to regularly plumb earlier moments — as long as they don’t completely supersede what’s happening now. Why do we have memories, if not to thumb back through them to assess and reorient? There actually may be something to learn from bygone days without pitting then and now against each other in a dog fight. Tradition, innovation— they’re both vital to who and what we are.

For instance, as a carpenter at age 20, I danced the tops of walls. I was as at ease atop a second story stud wall nailing off joists as the Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky was in his ballets. I’d likely fall and break my neck, or worse, if I tried that now, but there was a time when it was true. How my dancing and Nijinsky’s come together has to do with a few words attributed to him.

“God is fire in the head,” Nijinsky said. “I am alive as long as I have a fire in my head.”

When I read that, I thought, “now there’s a definition of god I could live with.” It spoke of fresh experience not tangled in theology, or even msticism; an experience as direct and awesome as Moses’ burning bush as told in the Bible, but without the tortured literalism often brought to it. Nijinsky’s god was in his head, firing-up his vitality, his creativity. It was a blaze that made him dance.

Brilliant — god was a fire in the brain! That, I thought, is as close to the truth as anything a dancer might dance with a bonfire burning in his head. Nijinsky’s god was not remote, was not incarcerated in scripture the way god typically is even today. That same fire burned in 20-year-old Jim as he danced on walls, lifting sticks to be placed and nailed as he held their tails against his boot, as he walked the wires of gravity’s net as a spider commands the filaments of her web. That same fire energizes even the humble spider.

Today we Lilliputians are still prone to bind god with our oldest, tiniest ideas, water-boarding god to extract answers we’d most like to hear. We redact truth instead of appreciating this spectacular world of which we are integral, this miraculous but lethal world which often returns less welcome replies to our queries.

We’re often so trained in narrowness of vision we can’t see beyond our box of holy books and cramped skulls. We place more stock in the thoughts of ancients than we do in our own, as if they were not exactly as ignorant as we are when it comes to stuff unknown. Like them we obsess on single grains of sand and refuse to scan the wide beach.

Some of us are certain of our grasp of the unknown to the point of lunacy. Some would like to dictate the terms of others’ lives based upon their personal beliefs of what is essentially unknown, beliefs founded upon the three or four thousand year-old speculations of ancients.

But our brain-blaze is as real as that which scorched the insides of the skulls of cave dwellers, creation myth writers, scientists and artists — flames that also combusted in the muscles of carpenters and all workers from then to now. Having that fire hasn’t been the problem, understanding and directing it has been the rub.

While the past is the foundation upon which we build, the present is where young thinkers and carpenters with fires in their heads do their work:

—sweatskin slickkening in the light
breath as sure as the bellows of god

biceps built by the truth of weight,
muscles doing their natural jobs:

arms of sinew, bone and grit
reaching to haul the next board up

to be lifted and laid wall to ridge
and fixed by hammer blows on steel

fueled by blasts of the burning bush
in the orchard of god that has ever spun

like the fire that made big Moses reel
the burning bush we call the sun

Successfully joining old fires to new understanding is what makes the world work. Failing that, we resort to the hoses and axes of fire departments and the keyboard clicks of insurance company clerks.
.

by Jim Culleny
for the West County Independent
3/7/15

Tiny Megalomaniacs

February 21, 2015

megalomaniacOur national mythology leads us to believe in our own goodness. We have scriptures we turn to in moments of self-doubt, when our sense of righteousness needs stiffening. In them we find words such as,  “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” or “…endowed by our creator…” or “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  These, among others, make us feel we’re special and so good and so exceptional —Americanly exceptional.

But to be really exceptional, to be really good, we must take responsibility for everything and credit for nothing, otherwise we slide down a slippery slope at an accelerating clip until we’re taking credit for everything and responsibility for zip. True, this may be the manner of saints, but it’s something to strive for, if you get my gist.

Fortunately, some politicians tap into our national mythology for the sake of The Good and work to that end with humility, but too many others tap into it for the sake of power and wealth and work to that end with arrogance. Where the nation finally comes down depends upon many things, the foremost being the depth of our ignorance. We can’t have an effective democracy that works for a common good if a significant portion of us are stupid. This is exactly why we’re seeing a vicious, top-down assault on public education (and here –here) by politicians abetted by certain of the religious.

What happens on a personal level amplifies to national proportions by the effects of arrogant ignorance. It takes honest self appraisal to be what may rightly be called “good”. Otherwise it’s just a short slip down that aforementioned slippery slope unless (best case scenario) we acknowledge that we’ve already sloughed goodness many times like snake skin for the sake of some small gain, some little leverage, some edge, some in, elbowing out some less able contestant in Darwin’s world to gain what turns out to be a plot of worthless sand by means of tiny sins —which, of course, is only human.

The problem is that while the freedoms we tout in our mythology may have helped make us the richest nation on the planet, they have also blown a huge cocoonish bubble around us making it hard to be honestly self-reflective about what’s happening in the world and our responsibility for it. But, look, it’s tough, discernment’s not easy in the muddle of desire, everything we think we require is righteous so we turn to gods that fan that fire. We whisper prayers into corners first then, picking up a head of steam, we’re bellowing our righteousness from peaks as our minions mutter lies up and down mean streets and many bubbles burst.

One big bubble of recent years was burst by the events of 9/11. Look at what that bursting did to our sense of security, self esteem and honor: we started a war under false pretense spending billions and killing thousands of our own and others in the bargain, all out of an affront to our specialness and all done in the bliss of necessary nation-wide ignorance. Look at how that has fanned the flames of hatred by others as it exposed not only the self-interest of our motives in the Middle East (essentially oil) but the deep arrogance of our might. And notice how that has gotten us absolutely nowhere good. All this was done as we fanned the fires of national indignation and turned to the High Priests of gods that fanned that fire: The High Priests of politics, media and religion all stoking hate, while those of corporations were envisioning billions in blood.

But we can’t blame them entirely because ignorance starts here, on the ground, with us and our profound willingness to be duped, which brings us to the second big burst bubble. Think: the financial crash of 2008 which left us floundering in the lies of bankers, politicians and corporate talking heads —a crash that is certainly the fault of crooks in suits who, despite the depth of the debacle, have not personally paid for their crookedness— why? because we live in a land that honors megalomaniacs— why? because the other face of our national mythology is radiant with the hope and desire that we may, ourselves, become one —a tiny megalomaniac that is, at least.

Look, our fattest, most disgusting megalomaniacs did not become so in a vacuum, they became so as a result of human nature nurtured in and abetted by a cherry-picked mythology. We may not all reach the pinnacle of megalomania that our congress-people, presidents, bankers, and media personalities have.  No— more often than not we don’t get that far. We settle for a provincial fiefdom running a big firm or corner bar, equally worthy jobs if our heart’s in the right place and we understand the limits of all and know we’re in this universe under an umbrella of chance, lucky to be small and know we have just a tiny part in the making of this curious dance.

Without that kernel of smallness, of humility, we’re all candidates for megalomania, tiny or otherwise. We’re all capable of heaping disaster and dishonor upon ourselves.

by Jim Culleny
2/21/15

Another Piece of Eternity

February 9, 2015

TimeAsk yourself this: is it possible to run out of time? I don’t mean personally and finally —although, even in that case we don’t really run out of time, it’s like time runs us out —kicks us out of its realm. “Bye, bye,” says Time, “you’re no longer relevant.”

No, what I mean is, is there an infinite amount of time or is there a finite amount that will eventually be depleted —say, a hundred billion years, just to pick a number.  For instance, let’s say we add 30 seconds to anytime,  what’s that interval? Hell, if we double it what’s that? Have we added to time?

What I’m driving at is, have you ever had a day that lasts three or one that goes so fast it’s past —instantly? Are those durations short or long, if hours mean anything? Bob Dylan once wrote, “Time passes slowly up here in the mountains.”  I think those of a certain age know what he meant. Why does some time pass slowly and some fast? Is time elastic?

Going the other way, subtract 5 hours from anytime.  Do we really think we’ve minced minutes? As we tick them off are they really not there?  No. There’s a continuum called “now” outside of which is guesswork because our chronometers only work here. Slice it any way you want, it remains still and whole. Our clocks do not affect it.

These are important considerations because some people think eternity is elsewhere. They imagine some other timeless realm, which would be fine if such thinking didn’t diminish the significance of now and its imperatives and obscure the fact that eternity is now.

I’d argue that the eternity we should be paying attention to is the one we’re immersed in now —the now that changes. Yes, in fact, now is never what it was before because things change and will change again, now, not yesterday or tomorrow, it only happens now. Practically and personally speaking now is the only thing we have to work with. Now only knocks now. So the question is, should we be putting all our eggs in some other basket, or should we pay attention now?

Some great teachers advise just this. Yeshua bar Joseph advised, “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This is really another way of saying that we should just forget about what happens after we die and pay attention to what’s happening now. 

Or you may prefer something from a more contemporary guy, one who became expert in most of the world’s mythologies: Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote, “When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die.”  But, being as finite as we seem to be day to day, I admit that’s a tough nut to swallow, no matter how full of truth it might be.

And, finally, poet Emily Dickenson succinctly pointed out (in case we hadn’t noticed) that, “Forever is composed of nows.” Emily had a way of being concise and weighted with wisdom simultaneously.

The reason I bring now up now (when else could I do it?) is that there’s a lot of off-the-wall rhetoric flying around now that takes our mind off the certainly-now ball and focuses it on the maybe-then-for-eternity ball. In my humble opinion that’s just not a rational approach to the huge planetary problems we’re faced with now. Let any afterlife (any life after now) take care of itself (to paraphrase the wise Yeshua), right now there’s this life, the one we’re living now.

A few examples of irresponsible afterlife responsibility-displacement might help explain why now-thinking is important to those of us who place great importance on the present, while then-thinking is seriously problematic:

During the Reagan administration James Watt, a very religious man, and Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior (the Cabinet head charged with paying attention to the well-being of the environment) said, “We don’t have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.”  Watt was of course talking about the second coming of the same Yeshua who specifically warned against this kind of thinking.

Then there’s this stunner: Ryan Dobson, son of the more famous James Dobson, again a very religious man said, “Kids today are looking for something to die for… If you give them something to die for, they’ll go to the edge of the earth for you,” —which is exactly the sort of philosophy we see creating terrorist hell worldwide: to die a warrior/martyr and be honored in an eternal afterlife. Maybe if such (again) very religious zealots were encouraged to live a good life in an eternal now, explosive vests would not be such alluring means of transport to an afterlife.

But afterlife philosophies have been around a long time and I doubt they will disappear soon, if ever, so for those of us who want to leverage as much goodness as possible in a very precarious world it might be wise to wake on each of the mornings of now and think…

……………………. here’s this day blaring like a fanfare
……………………. from a new horn crisp as frost on glass
…………………… its brink sharp as the edge of a blade
…………………… slicing off another piece of eternity

 

by Jim Culleny
2/9/15

Charlie HebdoBeing born with thick skin is one of the blessings of life liberty and even the pursuit of happiness. Happy is the man or woman who is not threatened by nonsense.  

In this era of guns, bombs and sectarian hysteria, having a thick skin is like wearing a permanent Kevlar psychic vest. A thick skin protects you from the verbal, written and graphic slings and arrows of not only the offenses of others but of blowback of your own as well. Thick skin, having properties to deflect snark (psychological or theological) has this built-in cooling off property. Gives you time to think. You do not lash out first. You think. Unfortunately some do not like to think and this might be at the crux of our problems.

Thick skins are especially protective against ideas that push the envelope of civilized conventions. Among such ideas are those that flow from religious scriptures. At the best end of the spectrum, scriptures tend to bend the truth just enough to make the bending palatable, but at the opposite end call for a total rejection of reason, science and fraternity. Also affected at that extreme are two other historical ideals: liberty, equality.

“Liberty Equality Fraternity” is French for “stability”.

On a religious plane (one I admit I don’t fly): it’s well known that a religious person with a thick skin is on of the great blessings of God, especially in a pluralistic society. But a religious person with a thin skin is often tight with Satan, linked in a bond of hate —sectarian skin with the thickness of tissue paper causes fanatics —ones who will hurl themselves passionately into Satan’s bonfire while raking a Kalashnikov through the ranks of infidel cartoonists in the offices of a satirical magazine.

When in doubt, think, “thick skin”.

Thin-skinned members of sects tend to rant against those who offend God. And liberals often gloss over such declarations. But it’s not unreasonable to assume that what’s really offensive to any god worth his or her salt is the idea that God (The Almighty) would be offended by the predictable utterances of such flawed and clueless creatures as homo sapiens —who some say are under God’s wing.

S/He must be proud. .

There is one question religious fanatics will never ask themselves: why would God, being omniscient and already knowing what to expect, be offended? God probably got over that eons ago.

Religious offense (or any other psychological offense, verbal or graphic) is not only an affect from the outside, but is also an interior matter. Giving offense is not offense’s only voluntary aspect, taking offense is also responsible for trouble —both tango in violence’s spotlight.

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time thought Jesus offended God, but the truth was: Jesus offended them —them, their doctrines and authority. What Jesus suggested was that the real offenses against God were perpetrated by the faux-spiritual, the sanctimonious, the self-righteous.

Offensive ideas vary with the political and theological winds. It just seems more likely to me that God would take offense at the arrogance of anyone who assumes they know what offends God. Better to take the risk of offending those peddling crazy ideas than to let those ideas fester and erupt.

by Jim Culleny
1/11/15

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