distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views

June 12, 2017

Light

Just musing on the amazing quality of light.  I’ve been reading several science books lately, one in particular (The Invention of Science by David Wootton) that goes into considerable depth about actual Seeing as essential to the transformation of culture from a pre-scientific to scientific basis. But all of them deal with light as a founding subject for the apprehension of the world. Einstein won his Nobel because of the work he did on photons, Newton began with a study of optics, and quantum mechanics wouldn’t be giving both the joys and headaches of our present understanding of nature if not for the whole revelation about quanta and photons and wave functions…

It is essential to everything we are, whether we can see it or not.  As Carl Sagan said, we are made of star stuff and you  cannot think of stars separate from the light.

So a couple of images for you, showing the marvelous manifestations of light.

Caught out the window of the car on our way back from Pittsburgh.

And…

 

Stepping out of my car in an underground garage, early morning, where an opportune window let this beauty in.

Have a good week.

June 08, 2017

Great Bear Politics

In all the chatter about Russian interference in the last election, one question keeps coming up. It’s never fully answered and because of that, the question as to whether or not such interference occurred remains in play.  At this point, it’s like climate change—everyone knows it happened, but how, in what form, and to what end are details the absence of which seem to insulate the president for the time being. That seems about to change with Comey’s testimony.

But that question—why, what does Putin hope to gain, what’s the pay-off?—bedevils people.  Especially people raised on spy thrillers and James Bond and post-Cold War conspiracy porn.

It seems fairly evident that any hacks of voting systems were ineffective in changing ballots or anything so direct.  What is important is the fact of the attempted hacking not the direct results on tallies.  Something was done, but because there does not seem to be the kind of result that makes sense in terms of past history and strategic movements of the sort we expect, the whole thing exists in a murk.

Which was the point.

Putin would like to “restore” Russia to the size and influence of the former Soviet Union.  He doesn’t necessarily want to resurrect the U.S.S.R. politically, at least not in terms of collectivist, Marxist ideology.  That nonsense doesn’t interest him.  He’s interested in power, pure and simple, and the one threat to that is still—the United States.

The telling moment was this whole mess in Ukraine. Not till the threat of NATO membership did Putin act.  Despite what Trump might say, NATO still has teeth. Membership in the alliance carries many benefits beyond simple military cooperation and mutual defense, although that is huge when you stop to think about it—the confidence that the member states will guarantee your sovereignty has tremendous ancillary benefits.  You can act in your own best interests without, or at least with much less, fear that those actions will be crushed by a neighbor. Which is what has happened to Ukraine.

Power and money, at this level, are two sides of the same coin.  The sanctions imposed on Russia by Obama have throttled a potential windfall from the Siberian oil fields.  Ukraine was a part of that.  There is a huge amount of money bottled up because of Putin violating Ukrainian sovereignty.  What he wants more than anything else is to get those sanctions lifted so the oil will flow.

But more than that, in the long run, he wants a free hand in his part of the world. He’s not exporting revolution, that’s no longer part of the Russian identity. He just wants to be a big, bad bear, in charge of his tundra, and able to play as an equal on the world stage. He wants what he possibly believes the West has been keeping Russian from since 1917.

In spite of the fact that over the last three decades we have hamstrung our ability to be a positive force in the world because we can’t see how making money and human rights conflict in the Third World, and because we are unwilling to put a muzzle on our corporations when they go into other countries and poison environments, undercut reforms, and damage the people we think we’re helping, it remains possible for us to actually do what we should have done after the Soviet Bloc collapsed, namely rebuild and stand for justice. We in fact do that, in limited but occasionally spectacular ways, but we rarely hear about any of it and too often we do a half-assed job because of our inability to see our way past our own paranoia and self interest.  (The chaos and mess in Iraq is an example of shortsighted greed undercutting what might have turned out to be a major success, but I won’t go into that here.)

What Putin wants most is for our political will to remain locked up in a struggle with itself over questions of money versus ethical action. We have been doing a reasonably good job of keeping ourselves disorganized and conflicted without his help.  But it is just possible that he sees what we do not yet see, and that is a younger generation coming up that is fed up with this kind of inanity that will put into power people who will act positively.  That will impact the money sector, certainly, but its biggest impact may well be globally with an America once more of the kind that created the Peace Corps and embraced a humanitarian mission. It might create an America willing to call Putin’s bluff.

Of course, it’s not just the United States.  And so we’ve been seeing signs of Russian interference in many elections, most recently in France (where it backfired and where the newly elected president publicly scolded Russia), not with a view to invasion or anything so dramatic, but purely for the chaos resulting that will distract the West from Putin’s actions.  Putin can do nothing but benefit from a West that is paying little or no attention because it is tangled up in petty feuds and ideological mudwrestling.  Undermining our confidence in our own electoral process will only feed that chaos and render us even less effective.

Did Trump and his people collude with the Russians to fix the election?  Probably not, at least not in those terms.  I think Trump really believed he could win without interference.  I think he may have thought he was playing Putin, accepting a hand that would gain him advantage with the Russians afterward.  Did he do it out any embrace of treason?  No, he did it because a deal was on the table and there was a lot of money to be made, and that is simply how Trump sees the world.  If he is impeached over any of this I suspect he will be genuinely surprised.  It was, after all, the Game, and he sees himself a master of that game.

What he will not understand is that his game is the least important one and the one Putin is playing is both more sophisticated and more devious and with stakes Trump just might not understand.

But the bottom line is likely to be, all Putin wants is what he now has.  We’re distracted, we’ve suffered a blow to the confidence in our systems and institutions, and the bitter squabbling over the right to make as much money as avarice demands continues but now with even less intelligent players.

 

June 06, 2017

Uncle Joe

Now we know what it’s like to have Uncle Joe running things.

I’ve been watching, as has the world, the Trump administration unravel. I have to say, anyone capable of making George W. Bush look like an exemplary president has a degree of chaos in attendance difficult to comprehend.

But this is our Uncle Joe.  In charge.  You know who I’m talking about. Most families have an Uncle Joe, who shows up at family functions and proceeds to dominate discussion with his opinions on everything from the world series to nuclear proliferation.  He will sit there and tell you how if he were in charge things would be different, he wouldn’t let those people get away with this or that, he’d solve the Middle East problem thus and so, and Russia? Hell, they’d be all the way back within the original borders of the Duchy of Moscovy! Uncle Joe knows what went wrong with Cousin So-n-so’s marriage to that bimbo and didn’t he say all along that it wouldn’t end well?  Uncle Joe thinks PBS is too much a family business and its sole purpose is to provide “traveling money” to people who live large for very little work by doing “educational” programming, which always seems to be about something America did wrong to some group we never heard of or showcases these scientific know-it-alls who want us to believe in climate change and evolution. Lotta nonsense, you ask Uncle Joe. And what’s with that new husband of what’s-her-name and all his nose-in-the-air posing? He talks about wine like he invented it and books no one reads and you never hear him cuss, can’t trust a guy like that, doesn’t drink beer, reads all the time, and tries to be polite to everyone, what’s he trying to do, make us all feel inferior? Uncle Joe thinks they should level Jerusalem so no one can have it and nuke North Korea and what are we wasting time worrying about Syria for when everyone knows Iran wants to conquer the world! And don’t get him started on civil rights, my gawd, give them people the vote and they think they have a right to burn everything down they don’t steal first…

Uncle Joe. Everyone tolerates him because Aunt Phoebe has been with him umpteen years and she’s as sweet as could be, always telling us “he doesn’t mean anything by it, but since he retired, you know, just ignore him,” which drives Uncle Joe to even greater heights of pomposity and displays of ignorance, because the last thing he wants is to be ignored. So he doubles down until everyone’s nerves are ground to an emory thinness and when is this party supposed to end?

But Uncle Joe has his fans, kindred spirits who feel just as marginalized by the complexities of a world that constantly demands their attention and threatens them with obsolescence every day. Sycophants of all ages who feel overwhelmed by matters they find barely comprehensible.  Uncle Joe has it down, as far as they’re concerned, he has a good bead on it all.

And that new husband with the wine-savvy and the book-learning?  He’s some leftist, socialist, social justice warrior who wants to take their jobs away and make them feel bad for being Americans.

Uncle Joe—uninformed by anything more current than the Korean War and the SALT talks, wondering why nobody sings like Frank Sinatra anymore, convinced the EPA is only there to take everyone’s job from them, and the solution to everything is the Big Stick philosophy (which not even Teddy actually used)—is now in the White House.  We have been watching, waiting for the moment when things rationalize, when he takes off the Sunday barbeque façade and begins acting like he knows something about how all this is supposed to work, and what we are seeing is everything promised in the campaign.  In charge and making a hash of it all.  There will be no moment when he reveals himself to be smarter than the act he put on to get people to vote for him.  This is what he is, this is what we have, and even many of his supporters are beginning to wonder what they were on back in November.

He is proposing to take an axe to just about everything worthwhile in this country.  And for those who somehow believe that in the wake of the destruction they will be better off, that somehow the EPA, the NEA, the space program, education funding, Pell Grants, and the FEC are the reasons they don’t feel secure and are at risk of losing their jobs and that by getting rid of these programs they will get back what they feel they’ve lost, all I can say is—

Actually, I don’t know what to say to them that wouldn’t be just more salt in a wound they don’t know how or when they received.  They don’t know.  Anything I might say to them would just be kicking them some more.

What I will say is, the media and the government agencies responsible for the conduct of the networks and the licensing and oversight—there are laws regarding public service and equal air time which have been pretty much ignored since the aftermath of Watergate.  You have obsessed over lowest-common-denominator irrelevancies for so long you actually think it’s news.  Your obsessive attention to someone’s emails and Uncle Joe’s antics abetted this situation because you didn’t do your job.  When someone as odious as Glenn Beck publicly acknowledges that he did it all wrong and is sorry for his part in gulling the public and contributing to this mess, you all know you have failed.  Not all of you.  A goodly portion of the print media tried.  But they’re hamstrung by their Owners, who can fire them at will for not toeing the corporate line, a situation allowed by the greed is good politics we’ve wallowed in since Reagan. Most people get their news by broadcast and the overwhelming majority of you failed us.  You’re the journalistic equivalent of ambulance chasers.

So Uncle Joe’s in the White House.  And we’re getting a lesson in just how fatuously stupid Uncle Joe has always been.

I hope we survive the lesson.

May 27, 2017

At the Nebs

Recently (last weekend) we attended the Nebula Awards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Actually, we went to visit our good friends, Tim and Bernadette.  Tim—Timons Esaias—is an accomplished poet and a solid SF writer.  You should go find his work, it will improve your mind.  Bernadette, his wife and partner, is a physician and one of the finest people I’ve ever met.  The gentleman with the magnificent mustache is Douglas Gwilym, whose acquaintance we had just made. And, of course, that’s Donna beside me, my sweetie.

This is the night of the reception and award ceremony, so we’re all appropriately attired. It was a fine night and the tributes to the writers and the craft and those we have lost this past year left me seriously moved. In any case, proof that we were there and that  I at least can clean up well. More later.

 

Photograph by:     Larry Ivkovich

May 23, 2017

More To Follow (he cryptically promises)

May 15, 2017

Concrete!

At long last, in the fulness of time, it came to pass that the patio needed attention. Yea verily, the walkway from patio to garage lay sore in need of a makeover. The lineaments of the former had become a vexation to those of us who walk upon  it daily.  As can be seen and attested by this image, while in most ways decorous and even of distinctive character, the stones which we had set down to replace the joke which had lain from pad to door when we originally moved in had lost their charm. Winter especially proved awkward and we agreed that this was but an accident waiting to happen.

We’d inherited those stones from my parent when they redid the concrete around their house. They had formed a wall around a garden plot in the front of their house. Dad just wanted to pitch them. Donna immediately said we’d take them and we spent a hot summer weekend digging a trench and placing them as you see. Donna’s nephew Dan helped. I’m not sure I could do it again, certainly not in one weekend. I was proud of that walkway and it has done it’s job for over 20 years.

But it was time. Something a bit less picturesque and a lot more practical was in order. So we made our plans, got in touch with the man who did my parents’ concrete work, got a quote, and set  date.

First problem. Because we’ve had a rainy spring, the date had to be flexible.  As it turned out, we had a window. They showed up on a Friday, after almost a solid week of rain, to do the prep work.

Scott Schilling and two young men arrived around nine and went to work. They moved all those stones, piled them up, and started excavating. I spent the time doing other chores and some writing and occasionally emerging to document the process. (Because, like the kitchen remake, I knew I’d be writing one of these.)

It rained that day anyway, though barely. Not enough to cause a massive disruption. During the heaviest part, they sat in their truck and waited for it to pass, which it did.

Our backyard is…idiosyncratic? It has character. Over the years we’ve acquired a variety of objects which Donna has rather wonderfully incorporated. One major change this time is  Coffey’s old digging  pit.  She hardly uses its anymore, so we had them dump the extra dirt in it and Donna went to work later remaking it.

Below is a series of shots from that first day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gravel laid, the forms in place, we just had to wait for another dry day to complete it. Fortunately, Sunday was gorgeous, so when they arrived Monday morning it was ready to receive the magic elixir of impenetrable solidity.

There’s something beautiful about wet, freshly-smoothed concrete. I almost wish it could have remained so gleaming.  But in the rain and during winter ice, that could be dangerous.

It took them till almost noon to get it done. I had to go to work that afternoon. We did not use it for two days, despite assurances that it would be walkable by the next morning.

I almost wish we had opted to get the entire patio done at the same time, but that would have stretched the budget a bit too far. A project for a couple years from now.  We will certainly use the same contractor.

Now, then, came the work to restore some semblance of order and charm to the wreck of the yard. Repurposing those stones was the first set of decisions.  Some, we knew, were destined for the front of the house. I pulled up the wooden ties that had framed the small flower bed to the left of the porch. Replacing them—which was inevitable, as the bottom of the two ties had already turned to mulch—gave us a slightly larger area for flowers. I moved the stones carefully. A few of them weigh upwards of sixty or seventy pounds.

 

 

 

Shifting the remaining stones in the backyard was a more studied project. Some of them returned to their former positions, but now only as borders, with a trench for—yep—more flowers.

As for the extension of the patio, Coffey approves. At some point I intend to get a new grill, as we now have somewhere to put one where it can be semi-permanent and easily usable.

The rest will be an ongoing project, to be completely (mumbled-snook, farfle) later.

Just in time for the full spring bloom.

And I managed to get my improvisational bit of lawn art more permanently fixed.  Donna added a touch (the dish) and things are falling into place.

Therefore, we conclude this report by admitting to be pleased with the results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 03, 2017

Further Explorations of Backyard Flora

 

 

 

April 28, 2017

A Single Iris On The Verge of May

April 27, 2017

Concerts!

So there’s a meme going around on FaceBook about concerts.  Basically, list 10 concerts, 9 of which you have actually been to and 1 you have not.  Your friends are supposed to guess which one is the false claim.

I love music.  I mean, if I could I would have a soundtrack backing my daily movements. I’ve been playing an instrument, either keyboard or guitar, since I was nine, and I have been buying albums (as opposed to 45 rpm singles) since I was fourteen. I went to my first honest-to-gosh-wow concert when I was thirteen (I’ve written about that before and will not repeat it here, because it was an anomaly) and started regularly attending at fifteen.

I have not seen a lot of live acts.  Compared to some, I am woefully deprived of live concert experience.  But I treasure the memory of all the ones I did see, which, mulling over my list for this silly/fun meme, turns out to be not too shabby.

I have seen Yes—my standard, musically—about eight or nine times. The first time was their Close To The Edge tour back in 1972. Poco opened for them.

Opening acts are very important.  I mean, we usually go to see the headliner, but those opening acts are sometimes more significant.  I only saw Gentle Giant because they opened for Rick Wakeman on his first solo tour, for Journey To The Center of the Earth.

I have seen Emerson, Lake & Palmer at least five times.  My other standard in terms of music.

Jethro Tull five times. And here opening acts matter.  I have seen, opening for JT—Brewer & Shipley, Journey (pre-Steve Perry), and The Band.

I saw a more or less forgotten British prog group that was AMAZING opening for Yes—Gryphon.

I saw Livingston Taylor, who opened for ELP (and a sadder pairing I have never seen since—no one gave a dove’s fart about Livingston Taylor at that show).

I have seen Kansas three times, Styx once, Starcastle once, and REO Speedwagon once.  Of course.  I live in St. Louis and am over forty.

Cat Stevens.  John Denver (thank you, Vickie).

The Eagles, once, before their whole Hotel California period, but more importantly Dan Fogelberg opened for them.  He was all by himself, no band, with a single guitar and a piano and he blew the Eagles away.

Joni Mitchell.  Crosby, Stills, Nash (never Young). The Grateful Dead, twice.  Santana (three times?)  Deep Purple.

Phish twice.

Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac (twice), Jeff Beck (twice), Jefferson Starship (twice), Jan Hammer, Ted Nugent (before he decided he was more than just a good guitar player)…

Earth, Wind, & Fire.

Asia.

Mark-Almond. Focus. Billy Joel (twice).  Renaissance. America.  Wishbone Ash.  Hot Tuna.

The Moody Blues (thrice).  The Beach Boys.

Harry Chapin (twice).

Genesis (thrice).  Robert Palmer (opening for Jeff Beck).

Led Zeppelin.  And then, many years later, the Page & Plant tour. David Bowie (once, early, the Ziggy Stardust tour).

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.

Sting.

The Who (twice).

Unfortunately, opening for the Who was Lynard Skynnard.  That is one of the downsides of opening acts, from time to time you will see (and suffer through) a real disappointment.  Opening for Uriah Heep I saw an outfit called Tucky Buzzard, which was the only time I preferred a Stones version to the cover.  (Sorry, folks, I know the Rolling Stones are up on Olympus for a lot of people, but I can’t stand them.  Love their songs—done by other people, except this time.)

Then there were a whole roster of Other Acts that may surprise.  I saw Neil Diamond, who is a consummate showman.  I saw Liza Minnelli.  Ferrante and Teicher.  Arlo Guthrie.

Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, and Count Basie, all in the same night.  Branford Marsalis.

Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis (you can Google them and then acquaint yourselves—superb jazz guitarists).

At this point I would have to go unbury all my saved ticket stubs.  I have missed a few, I know.  More than a few, maybe.  So I’ll probably have to do this again.

But it sent me down into the archives and I came back with some terrific memories. We stopped going because the scene grew progressively less tolerable.  First when the drug of choice changes from pot to beer.  I’m sorry, it’s true—sitting in a crowd of several thousand beer-swilling people can be a bit dangerous.  Whatever else you might say about it, marijuana makes for a much more pleasant audience.  Then the security situation got ridiculous.  I don’t care to be patted down just to see a concert.  And to be fair, I don’t care for big crowds to begin with.

But occasionally, you just have to go see a performer you love.  So this summer we’re going to see Santana.  Again.

So thanks for the meme—er, memory.

 

 

April 17, 2017

Perceptual Drift

Once in a while, something comes along to knock us out of our course, drives us to take a look at things from a perspective long discarded, and calls upon us to reassess.  Shocks that set us not only back but prompt the kind of deep re-evaluations we sometimes believe we do all the time. It’s fair to say one such shock is this election just past, which many of us, on both sides of the political divide, are puzzling over, conservatives no less than liberals.

Coming upon the heels of that we may be fortunate to find a book or two, hear a lecture, find revelation in an analysis that brings us up short and calls into question everything we took for granted for, well, decades.

Thomas Frank, known for his first book, What‘s the Matter With Kansas?, most recently published such an examination—Listen, Liberal is as complete an indictment of the Democratic Party and the assumptions of liberalism as I have seen in one place in many years. What is particularly troubling for me—and perhaps for many like me—is that all the points he raises are based on history which I knew, events that I remember, paths taken that at the time seemed inevitable, but which I never interpreted this way. I indulged a fairly banal process of explaining it to myself so that all these things became acceptable, even normal, in a way that now, looking at the shambles of where I always thought we were headed, I find bewildering. None of us, ever, are free of self-deception, especially in the face of specific alternatives we find unacceptable at the time.

Then Frederick Dutton, Democratic Party power broker, went farther: he identified workers, the core of the New Deal coalition, as “the principle group arrayed against the forces of change.” They were actually, to a certain degree, the enemy. Dutton acknowledged that it was strange to contemplate such a reversal of the moral alignment that had put his own party into power, but you couldn’t argue with history. “In the 1930s,the blue collar group was in the forefront,” Dutton recalled. “Now it is the white-collar sector.” Specifically: “the college-educated group.” That was who mattered in the future-altering present of 1971.

This was in the aftermath of the 1968 debacle of Democratic failure which put Richard Nixon in office and announced the coming Age of Plutocracy which has come upon us with the inevitability of an ice age glacier. The “student” movements of the Sixties aligned with the perceived betrayal of the Johnson Administration over Vietnam and the chasm of perception between generations that placed the youth movements on the opposing side against their traditionalist parents’ generation. The Republicans capitalized on the Old Guard vote in the wake of Johnson’s resignation and the year of political chaos that was 1968. The anger exploded in Chicago and the Democratic Party leadership saw the future as one in which the educated class would be the group to court.

Yet somehow this was seen as something that had to be done at the expense of labor, which was suddenly perceived as hopelessly archaic, a drag on change. Even though Labor, as an organized body politic, was still solidly Democratic, they were seen as a burden. Of course, they were also seen as a reliable source of votes. They were, in short, taken for granted.

This is the story Frank narrates in his new book and it is a hard thing to realize how correct he is. That basically the Democratic Party—and by extension America itself—left Labor in the ditch and committed itself to fostering a class of voters who are in many ways indistinguishable from the so-called upper 10%, if not in money then in aspirations.  And it is in those aspirations that the tale is told most painfully, because we have witnessed the betrayal even of them, despite the fact that they are exactly who the Future was supposed to be about.

I have a slightly different take on the path Mr. Frank describes. I remember all that with a different emphasis.

My parents were born during the Great Depression. One thing that bound many of them together, ideologically, was a conviction that their children and grandchildren would not have to suffer through what they did. They were solidly blue collar people.  College was a fantasy for most and I think it was understood that the upper reaches of white collar sinecure would always be for the few. But they would try. If at all possible, they would get their kids into college.  I remember my father telling that he wanted me to be able to make a living without having to cut my fingers. Also, the assumption for many was that white collar was more secure, despite the realities at the time that union jobs represented the better security.

They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, but it didn’t turn out the way they hoped, for many reasons.

The other thing was the Space Race.

I know, this seems an unlikely cause of our present calamities, but consider—with Sputnik, the United States entered into a technology showdown of unprecedented configuration. We were suddenly in a do-or-die competition over knowledge-based innovation. This was a Cold War initiative that got sold to the public in the guise of exploration—which it was, in many of its parts—so we could count political coup and perfect missile technology along the way.  Industry had to be conjoined with science and for the coming Age of Space we needed scientists and engineers—not Teamsters or Auto Workers. The National Science Foundation made a big push to transform education to meet the coming requirements. Education had to be remade.

The experiment turned out to be a disaster in slow motion. In spite of the success of the space program, teachers found themselves at odds with the new requirements, students were being short-changed in basics, the ability of the massive edifice of public education to turn on a dime and create the Future turned out to be a pie-in-the-sky wish. And of course in the midst of all this came the convulsions of the Sixties, by the end of which even the basic assumptions of education were called into question, along with all the confidence in government that had existed since FDR.  Unions were seen more and more as stodgy repositories of old school billy-club thinking (not without some justification—but there’s the rub, of course: all of this transpired with “some” justification), more in the way than not.

(My father was screwed over by his union over technological innovation. This was a real thing. Many unions sensed the coming problem all this innovation was bringing, because the basic question that was asked last if at all was “What about the displaced workers?”)

We were about to Build The Future. As of 1969 we were on the Moon, we were going to the other planets, space stations would soon be orbiting the planet, the future the future the Future!

And it didn’t happen.

Instead we were made ripe for a political realignment that sidelined Labor in the name of that Future which was then turned into a source of votes to undo the New Deal. Instead of going to Mars, we got the Shuttle; instead of universal healthcare, we got the benefits of skyrocketing medical technology along with skyrocketing costs the government refused to take on, leaving more and more people unable to pay for what should have been medical care the envy of the world; instead of full employment, we got a war on the poor and demands for “welfare reform” that created a permanent underclass of poor by which management threatens workers with banishment if they unionize or demand a fair share of the burgeoning wealth owned by fewer and fewer.

All aided and abetted by a Democratic Party that decided its political fortunes were best cast with those people who didn’t want to cut their fingers to make a living.

Frank calls it the Professional Class.  These are the people who don’t join unions because they more or less see themselves as independent contractors, quasi-libertarians, loners, wannabe entrepreneurs. Without benefit of the formal structure, they also make up one of the strongest unions in history because they keep nonmembers out more effectively than any organized union ever did.  They do it by social category, not by skill set or paid dues.  Although if one wished to see it this way, college degrees represent paid dues of an extortionate level. They like to believe they represent a merit-based social hierarchy, but in fact out-of-the-box skills trouble if not frighten them. The idea that someone may be able to “do what they do” and in some cases do it better without benefit of matriculation through the unofficial union membership program they prefer is inconceivable and anyone who comes along to show that this is an error on their part is not welcomed for his or her abilities but shut out because they have rough table manners.

And just as the base of the GOP seems unable to see how their party is not doing well by them, these shiny professionals are dismayed by their party’s inability to challenge the GOP on the state and congressional level because the Democratic Party is serving a class that is simply in most ways too like Republicans to draw a base of natural allies, namely Labor.

What should be a merit-based society has become what might be called a Credentialist Society, which is not the same thing, though in many respects the two resemble each other. Bernie Sanders’ call for free college is a blunt attack on the chokehold universities have on who is or is not to be allowed to participate. The price of that union card has grown all out of proportion to the benefits it confers on the membership.

There’s nothing anti-American about this, though.  While we boast of our founding as a nation of immigrants and a society based not on pedigree but ability, the fact remains that we have a history of exclusion, attempts to keep certain people out.  We are functional snobs.  Real equality scares us, because individually we fear we won’t measure up on a level playing field. Some of us, anyway. And both parties have played on that fear to achieve essentially the same result. While the Republicans are an Us vs. Them party for the rich, the Democratic Party has become an Us vs. Them party representing those who want to be the rich—and feel like they have a shot at it if they can just find a way to free themselves of their declassé roots.  Consequently, most of us have been left in the lurch.

A friend of mine who is a thoughtful conservative once told me, when I asked, that one of things about the Democratic Party that troubled him most was its racism. I thought that was odd, since in recent years it was fairly obvious that most of the racists seem to adhere to the Republicans. I’ve since rethought that. Not that I believe the racism of the GOP is any less real, but the Democratic Party exhibits a kind of circumstantial racism, a racism by default because the economy has been engineered in such a way to assign poverty along broad racial lines, casting such people into labor pools that suffer the most when the jobs are lost and technology displaces them and the housing prices of the upwardly aspirant make it impossible for them to live in desirable neighborhoods.  The Democratic Party would rather fob them off with entitlements than do anything to address the economic situation that makes them, essentially, the Left Behinds.  The GOP at least is more honest in saying they aren’t interested in those people at all, if not in word then deed.

But going back to Thomas Frank’s argument, the Professional Class is where we all wanted to be.  And we didn’t want to be unionized because unions are drags on upward mobility—or so we believed.  We collaborated in the current situation by failing to understand our own preferences—our own prejudices.

Which has brought us to our current situation.

There is nothing natural about the the 1%. There is everything natural about their success.  Why?  Because that’s who we wanted to be.  Many of us.  And we went along with changes in our political reality because we were told that the Future was going to come about by virtue of innovation and technology and the concomitant methodologies of investment portfolios and fey capital.  We were played—by both parties in their own way, yes, but also by our own conceits.

There are a number of quibbles I have with Mr. Frank’s narrative—those technological innovations are not phantoms and are having very, very real effects on they way work is done. The reality we have now is that we simply do not need as many people to make all the things we need to have made.  When Obama talked about “shovel ready” programs, the reality he evoked no longer pertained.  When Roosevelt did that, building a highway could employ ten or twenty thousand men.  Today a hundred people can built that same road.  What we have failed to realize is that while the labor requirements of the mid-20th Century no longer pertain, neither should the economic structures of the 19th Century, which is what we have.  Just because a business owner can do the same work with less than half the workforce previously employed doesn’t automatically mean said owner gets all that money personally.  “Share in the wealth” used to mean one thing by participation in its creation, but the human component in that creation has changed and now it means something else.

In any event, I recommend Thomas Frank’s new book. Argue with it, by all means, but if nothing else it should dislodge preconceptions and open us to the possibility of redoing our political expectations.

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