Category Archives: American history

Goodnight September Eleventh

“In a Parish” by Czesław Miłosz, trans. from the Polish by Miłosz and Robert Hass. Read by Haas on Fresh Air on NPR remembering 9/11.

 

Were I not frail and half broken inside I wouldn’t be thinking of them who are like me half broken inside. I would not climb the cemetery hill by the church to get rid of my self pity. Crazy Sophies, Michaels who lost every battle, self-destructive Agathas lie under crosses with their dates of birth and death. And who is going to express them. Their mumblings, weepings, hopes, tears of humiliation in hospital muck and the smell of urine with their weak and contorted limbs and eternity close by, improper indecent like a dollhouse crushed by wheels, like an elephant trampling a beetle, an ocean drowning an island. Our stupidity and childishness do nothing to fit us for this variety of last things. They had no time to grasp anything of their individual lives. Any principiam individuaisonous(ph) nor do I grasp, yet what can I do enclosed all my life in a nutshell trying in vain to become something completely different from what I was. Thus we go down into the earth, my fellow parishioners, with the hope that the trumpet of judgment will call us by our names instead of eternity, greenness and the movement of clouds they rise then thousands of Sophies, Michaels, Matthews, Marias, Agathas, Bartholomews so at last they know why and for what reason.

 

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Filed under American history, Christianity, memory, poetry, religion

>Happy Labor Day

>
Pullman workers leaving factory, c. 1890s

Think about working at a job where management treats it employees poorly. Think about very unsafe working conditions or being required to work overtime without pay or you lose you job. Imagine yourself in such a job and then getting together with other employees and protesting to management. You protest because deep down you believe that, as a human being, you are really no different than those humans running the company and that all humans should be treated with at least a minimum level of honor and respect, plus you like having a job and want to keep working.

Then imagine management does not listen so you go on strike. And then imagine soldiers and police officers come in and shoot you and others dead. Your family, your children hear the news. The soldiers and police are lightly reprimanded (but also receive praise from the non-working classes) and politicians makes a few speeches about how things should change. But you are dead, or you spouse is dead, or your friends are dead and the company makes promises to change, and the captains of industry confer in the back rooms of their exclusive clubs, and 30 years later things have not really changed.

I am not a Luddite, or an anti-capitalist, or a unionist per se. But I am a student of human nature and I know that power seeks more power, and that any system that is powered by human greed and self preservation is destined for trouble. Sometimes I want to smash the machines, and distribute the wealth, and call all workers to unite. But, in truth, I know there is no structural solution, there is only the radical solution of the human heart changing from death to life. However, one can still fight for what is good. And that might mean structural change.


1937 Woolworth Strike for 40 Hour work week

Labor Day was a little bone tossed by big government to the working classes as part of an appeasement for the Pullman Strike debacle of 1894. It’s really not much on the one hand, but we can make it what we will. I am choosing to remember that we live in a world of imbalances, where those in power all to often wield it unfairly over those without power, and that tragedies of labor are now being offshored and therefore unseen by so-called more advanced societies like ours. Let us remember that many of the “rights” we enjoy – 40 hour work week, fair wages, paid overtime, health and safety standards, equal opportunity, etc. – were pushed into existence by the working class and resisted all along the way by the capitalist class. This is not a judgment, just the documented facts of history, and something we should remember. And we should remember that there is a lot of work to be done.


At Starbucks protesting for Union, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

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Filed under American history, memory, Politics

>healthcare and ideologies

>

One of the most common statements made about healthcare in the U.S. is it is the best in the world. Yet both anecdotal evidence and the hard facts say otherwise. It is excellent in many ways but also deeply flawed, often to the points of lunacy and tragedy, in others. Many perspectives (of which there really are just a few recycled over and over) on healthcare, like politics, may be more a reflection of certain external perspectives with questionable provenance expressed as deeply held beliefs, than carefully examined arguments. In other words, for many their personal convictions may, in fact, be merely the unquestioned ideologies absorbed from their culture believed as fact. This is a fault of all of us at some level. The reality that many still cling to their belief that healthcare in the U.S. is the best in the world reminds me of this great and prescient quote:

Conventional opinions fit so comfortably into the dominant paradigm as to be seen not as opinions but as statements of fact, as ‘the nature of things.’ The very efficacy of opinion manipulation rests on the fact that we do not know we are being manipulated. The most insidious forms of oppression are those that so insinuate themselves into our communication universe and the recesses of our minds that we do not even realize they are acting upon us. The most powerful ideologies are not those that prevail against all challengers but those that are never challenged because in their ubiquity they appear as nothing more than the unadorned truth.
~ Michael Parenti

We are living at a time when some unchallenged ideologies on healthcare are finally getting a chance to be challenged. Whether they will be challenged properly and fully will depend a lot of how people, especially politicians, are willing and able to break free from the dominant paradigm. But, then, that is always the issue, isn’t it?

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Filed under American history, Philosophy, Politics

>The audacity of what?!

>Consider this post to be like one of those emails with a subject line something like “Fwd: Fdw: Fdw: YOU MUST SEE THIS.” You know the one you think you are going to delete but then end up reading and then are glad you did.

I offer a slight warning: If you are an American – meaning a citizen of the U.S.A. (as I am) and not the many millions of others living in the Americas – don’t be put off by the fact that the video comes from the Socialism 2009 conference. I say this not merely because you shouldn’t be afraid (a tendency in this country) of political/economic ideologies that are both more democratically minded as well as more committed to social justice & equality than our own current system, but because John Pilger is one of the finest journalists in the world today and has been for many years. His take on Obama, American exceptionalism, propaganda, and current trends is wonderful and, I think, hits the nail of the head.

It is difficult for me to listen to Pilger because he describes exactly what I knew I was going to get when I voted for Obama. I voted with my pragmatist’s hat on, voting against McCain and excited to see change. But I knew in my heart I would not see real change. I knew all that was fundamentally wrong with our current military industrial system, our socioeconomic structures, and our hierarchies of power within and without the borders of this country would remain the same and probably reinforced. That is what we have in Obama, a better politician and president than we have had the previous eight years, but also the same. On the other hand I love hearing Pilger say what needs to be said and to do so in a way U.S. journalists rarely can.

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Filed under American history, non-violence, pacifism, Politics, war

>Good Journalism

>Amy Goodman & Robert Sheer on the state of journalism and its implications:

I have become increasingly convinced that the state of mainstream journalism in the U.S. today is lousy. If we do not take the time to find and engage with good journalism, rather than merely consuming the mainstream media, then we are and will remain ignorant and potentially very foolish.

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Filed under American history, moral ambiguity, Politics, war

>The Crisis Now: Harman & Harvey on our (re)current economic troubles

>Given our current economic crisis (haven’t we been here before?) maybe this would be a good time to see what the communists have to say.

Here is Chris Harman speaking on how we got into this stinking mess:

Harman references several times the talk given by David Harvey. Here is Harvey:

I have to say I like a lot of what they say (in fact I think they are often spot on), but at times they come across a little too simplistic and a little too much like they are preaching to the choir (but Harman is a hoot, ain’t he). This is where some good reading will help. This last weekend I spent about ten hours on American Airlines reading Das Capital. It’s both great and a slog. Many pages left to get through that beast. Then on to other books and more perspectives. Bye for now comrades.

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Filed under American history, curious, Life, memory, Philosophy, Politics, Socialism, technology

>good job boys

>

40 years ago today human beings set foot on the moon. It is still awesome.

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Filed under American history