Welcome To The Poet’s Eye

October 18, 2010

“In the spirit of Molly Ivins, Hunter Thompson, Mark Twain and George Carlin, The Poet’s Eye offers a look at contemporary life that readers find charming and enigmatic.”

The Poet’s Eye is a column of social commentary and satire by Lightning Rod. The Poet’s Eye has appeared in various locations on the web since 2003. Feel free to comment and to send this link to all of your friends or enemies. Remember, The Poet’s Eye is for entertainment purposes only.

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
~ William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Poet’s Simple Solution for Unemployment

November 11, 2011

Like anything else in life, ideas sometimes need to just grow up. I speak in the same way as if I were talking about wine. Ideas need to age and be raised or lowered by how they test against time.

Most of the ideas which defined this writer’s political outlook were acquired in the Sixties about the time of my passage into adulthood. Many of these notions were considered radical or on the edge at the time and now those same assumptions are considered politically correct and middle-of-the-road. They have become the ethical backbone of the Baby Boom. Ideas such as pacifism, and racial equality and gay rights and sexual equality, legal pot and organic food have all come to be accepted. For the most part my hippie ideas, while less than tactfully stated, proved to be right most of the time. But not all of the time. I have extended my mea culpas on several occasions for one of the mistakes I did make in the Sixties….my opposition to The Draft. The most misguided act of social protest in my career as a young activist was when I stood on the front steps of my college administration building and burned my draft card. I was young and ignorant and also under the direct political pressure of being in school on a student deferment. The draft was breathing down my new, pink neck under my new, long hair. To be sure, we were fighting an unjust war and I don’t apologize for resisting it but I chose the wrong battlefield. The idea of mandatory national service is a good one. We would show good sense as a society if we returned to it. Now would be a particularly good time to do this. With about a third of our capable working hands idled by unemployment and with infrastructure crumbling around our ears and vital, useful work begging to be done, it seems like the perfect time to match these two problems and transform them into mutual solutions. A National Work and Recovery Corps could be a bold step toward solving some of our economic and social problems.

During the absolute doldrums of the Great Depression one of the boldest and most significant things that FDR did as part of his sweeping New Deal reforms was to, by Executive Order, establish the CCC and the WPA. These programs were designed to immediately direct idle hands toward tasks that needed to be done for the pride or well-being of our country. They built bridges and sewers. They built and maintained our National Parks and monuments. They did things that needed to be done. These programs also threw a few dollars a month into the economies of thousands of strapped American households. Regardless of how often we hear the chant from the Right that the government doesn’t create jobs, FDR exposed that fallacy as the lie that it is. Of course the government can create jobs the same way that government creates money. And when the government decides to create jobs,, it can create a bunch of them and do it right away.

The authors of our Constitution provided clearly for the separation of Church and State. They did not provide for the separation of State and the Economy. Industry and government have traditionally worked hand in glove and we have traditionally been ruled by the steady, if greedy, hand of the oligarchy. This wasn’t all that bad because in the past at least the oligarchs have been people. Now the players in our oligarchy are not even people but organizations. Corporations are legal devices who petulantly insist on being treated as people. But they are not people. When you prick them, they do not bleed. When you pinch them, they do not wince. The only ethics they know are the ethics of the bottom line. This makes them largely indifferent to human needs and limitations and desires. What they care about is their own institutional survival and the profit they can make for their owners. They aren’t playing the same game as people are playing. That’s why they are bound to win. The highly organized and purposed organism will always take its place at the top of the food chain and become realized as a predatory beast, without conscience or remorse. Marx was exactly right when he observed that laissez faire always leads to an oligarchy where the owners of the means of production, given time, will inevitably own everything. When this happens, it’s like an economic Ice Age. All of the funds are frozen at the very top of the world. Everybody suffers. What we need is a more temperate climate where the money is warm and flowing and spread over wide areas and is touched by many hands. We suffer our current financial crises not because of lack of wealth but due to lack of Activity.

Henry Ford created the 20th Century Middle Class not by inventing the production line, but by inventing the idea that it didn’t matter how many millions of cars he could make unless there were also that many consumers who could afford to own them. So, he adopted a 5 dollar a day minimum wage. He wanted to assure that his workers could afford to buy the product that they helped to make. But the mega-corporations of today don’t have any heart. At least the tycoons of yesteryear had the basic human sympathy to realize that in some way all of humanity is connected. We depend on each other. Corporations don’t get this.

That’s one reason why it is a very legitimate function of government to keep the money flowing and in a liquid state and not frozen in the hands of a very few. By means of taxation and spending on public works and services and infrastructure, the government re-distributes the wealth. This is a good thing, like spreading manure in a field. It enriches all involved.

The Poet’s Eye would love to see our President take the same type of bold step as FDR took with the New Deal works programs. I invite Mr. Obama to establish a National Works Program. He should do it in the same way that FDR brought the WPA into being and Kennedy established the Peace Corps, by Executive Order. Let Congress catch up in ninety days. Take the bold step, Mr. President! Give us a National Works Army. Hire anybody who wants to work. Pay them enough to drive a Ford and raise a family; give them healthcare. Let’s re-distribute some wealth, Mr. President, and don’t be shy about it.

For less than a couple hundred billion dollars, we could create six million jobs. These would be jobs with an average of thirty thousand per year working to improve our country and the wealth and happiness of our citizens. Give it a sexy name like AmeriCorps or Big Job Brigade and a hot, smart logo. Make it proud as the Marines. It would cut unemployment in half.

Yes, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat, and my asthma’s getting worse
Yes, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt
Besides, I ain’t no fool, I’m a-goin’ to school
And I’m working in a DEE-fense plant++ Phil Oachs

Get An Occupation!

October 27, 2011

What if they held a demonstration about notohing and Everybody came? This appears to be happening all over the world. TV and radio pundits and bloggers across the WWW are scratching their heads trying to explain or figure out the meaning of the “Occupation” Movement.

Since the ragtaggle crowds began to gather about a month ago saying something about Occupying Wall Street, people have been asking, ‘What do these nuts want?” For every demonstrator there seems to be a different answer. We hear refrains of ‘distribution of wealth’ and ‘economic disparity.’ Some grumble about the banks and others rag on about rich people in general. Many of them are talking about jobs. Depending upon whether you are listening to Ed Schultz or Bill O’Reilly the demonstrators are heralds of a class uprising for justice and fairness or a rabble of lost, misguided souls who would show up to any demonstration no matter what its stated or unstated cause. The Poet’s Eye observes that these demonstrators have taken to the streets for the same reason demonstrators have always taken to the streets…..they are not satisfied. They are not satisfied because they think that something is wrong or unjust. Maybe they don’t even think it. Maybe they just sense it.

One common factor that we find in the Occupation Movement and the Arab Spring demonstrations is an attention to jobs. Like their counterparts in Egypt and Libya, most Occupation demonstrators are Young and Educated and Unemployed. The words ‘Occupation’ and ‘Job’ are synonyms after all. We would expect jobs and employment to be subjects of protest given that we live in a world of pervasive unemployment. Everyone has their favorite villain to blame for the fact of worldwide massive unemployment. Too much spending, not enough spending, not enough regulation, too much regulation. But those arguments are all couched in terms of an economic world that no longer exists. The recession of 2008 is not the same beast as all previous economic down-turns. It’s not a question of jobs going away to adapt to a temporary contraction which will at some point run its course at which time the jobs will come back. Not this time. You will more likely see the return of the rotary dial telephone than the return of the jobs which have recently vanished from our economy.

Largely because of the computer, this is not the same economic landscape as we observed just two decades ago. The old notion of a ‘job’ is fast becoming obsolete. A vast number of jobs and occupations have been rendered unnecessary by the technology. With the revolutions in computerization, miniaturization, robotics and telecommunications, we can get much more done with the help of many fewer people. The needs of our civilization can be satisfied by the work of far fewer people. At the same time we have more and more people. This means that worldwide we have a vast and permanent oversupply of labor. Naturally this means Summertime for capitalists. When human labor is in oversupply, it becomes cheap. Only a worldwide pandemic that kills eighty percent of all the worker bees could prevent the inevitable fact of a permanent labor surplus.

What we refer to in Main Street language as Middle Class is actually a misnomer. What we have called Middle Class for the past several generations really means Working Class but you Own a House. People who we define as Middle Class are most often laborers with a good job (union job). Anybody who sells his effort or talents on a salaried or an hourly basis is a member of the Working Class, not the Middle Class which is occupied by entrepreneurs, capitalists, merchants and investors. Our entire idea of Middle Class life was created from whole cloth after WWII when there was a robust union presence in American labor. The idea was that if you put in an honest day”s work, you were entitled to a certain dignity of life which included being able to own a home and educate your kids and have proper healthcare. It was a pretty good idea. It was such a good idea that the whole world has fallen in love with it. Almost everybody in the world wants a Middle Class life.

The small problem that we run into here is that there are seven billion people in this world and they all want to be Middle Class. To be Middle Class, you need a Middle Class Job. Because of some Malthusian joke we find ourselves in a world where we can actually feed seven billion people because of our technologies. in fact it takes only a fraction of that number to do it. In other words there are many fewer useful, productive jobs available and many more people to fill them. Human labor becomes a cheap commodity. These are the jobs which form the basis of our notion of a Middle Class.

This is what is not going to change. This is what no bold leadership by a president or no Act of Congress can change. There will continue to be more people and fewer Middle Class Jobs. Judged by the traditional paradigm there will be a permanent glut in the labor market. If we are all going to enjoy the benefits of a Middle Class Life, then we are going to have to find a different way to distribute the wealth than through Jobs.
Already a great number of our jobs are ceremonial. By this I mean that the work done by the jobholder bears no particular relationship to his status or payscale. Have you ever asked yourself why a baseball player gets paid a hundred times as much as a school teacher or a nurse? Does a business executive work harder than the immigrant lady who cleans his bathroom? I doubt it.

Thanks to modern agriculture and science and medicine, we can feed and support our seven billion fellow humans. There is no question of this. We are doing it now, only poorly. We need to be doing it better and with more equity. If we do things in a smart and fair way, there can be plenty for everyone. If do things in the same haphazard ways and allow the ‘free market’ to have its way then we can expect more of what we are seeing now, a small percentage of the population will prosper in a grand way and the vast majority of the rest of us will fight for the leftovers.

The Poet’s Eye envisions a world where every person has a job at birth. OK, call me a commie, but in my ideal world everybody has a job. You’re born, you’re hired. This Job of Citizenship would have duties and responsibilities like any other job and like any job you will get a paycheck. The Job of Citizenship would come with educational and medical benefits. At some point in their lives every citizen would be expected to serve X number of years in a National Service organization. The rest of the time they would receive their paycheck and also be able to work in other occupations for additional pay or simply for social fulfillment. You could even write poetry if you wanted to.

Why what have you thought of yourself?
Is it you then that thought yourself less?
Is it you that thought the President greater than you?
Or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you? — Walt Whitman, Song for Occupations

Universal Healthcare — Save The Poet’s Eyes Benefit Concert

July 30, 2011

The salary of a poet is meager even in the best of times. This is why it is good that the collateral job benefits of the bard are many, the world treats you as a guest and tells you its secrets, on occasion you dine at the most opulent tables, beautiful women smile upon you, etc. But we don’t get health insurance. This is why I’m thankful not just to be a poet, but to be a poet in America. This wonderful country is full of paradoxes and one of the most flambouyant of these is how we persistently and vociferously present ourselves as a hard-headed, free-market, take-no-prisoners capitalist society while we are in fact a generous, kind-hearted, sentimental and pragmatically socialist society in the practice of our institutions and everyday lives. We provide for the weak and make adjustments for the unfortunate.

As The Poet’s Eye has noticed most recently, the area of how we manage and deal with healthcare as a nation is a grand example of this magnificent American contradiction. While insisting that the free market rules our healthcare policies, the government is hands down the largest player in the game and to the extent that capitalist interests are a factor, they take the ride purely at the pleasure, behest and the permission of government.

As some of my readers know, the attention of The Poet’s Eye has been forcibly dragged to the perfect vantage point from which to examine our healthcare apparatus and how it functions. I contracted cancer. After 40 years of enthusiastic and unashamed cigarette smoking, my voice began to crack in unusual ways. After some months of valiant denial and manly procrastination I submitted myself and my vocal complaint to the Emergency Room at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. As I mentioned, I have no insurance. Nor do I have a lavish stream of royalties or for that matter any income at all. Poets must swear vows of poverty and mine are honest and complete.

When I presented myself and my raspy voice to the receptionist at Parkland, her question to me was not ‘are you insured?’ or ‘how are you going to pay?’ What she asked was ‘What is the matter and how can we help you?’ This is proof that for all our squawking to the contrary, we have socialized medicine in America.

I find myself in a position to observe the workings of our healthcare system from the inside out. Because of this I have decided to devote occasional editions of The Poet’s Eye to the purpose of commenting on American Healthcare. I do this not with the intent to change or expose or to promote outrage but simply to describe what I observe from the very subjective viewpoint that is offered to me by virtue of my role as either a victim or beneficiary of the system. I hope it furnishes my readers with some modest insight into a subject they would understandably prefer not to experience for themselves. I hope I can accomplish this goal with the same honesty and good humor you have come to expect from The Poet’s Eye.

Support Universal Healthcare
Donate to Save The Poet’s Eyes Benefit Concert

Since I committed myself to the care of the Parkland socialized healthcare system, I have had two major and several minor surgeries, enjoyed the nursing staff in pre-op, post-op, ICU, and recovery hospital rooms and wards, been fed by their kitchens and fussed over by their specialists and counselors. Aside from a few co-pays for prescriptions and clinic visits, i have paid them nothing. The costs have been bourn, through various arcane routes, by my fellow taxpayers. We have socialized medicine in America, clear and present. I am proof of it. But in our phobia of the very word socialism, we operate the system in a variety of stupid, inefficient and downright fraudulent ways that make it cost us more and serve us less.

The very fact that I am writing these words testifies that the Parkland Socialized Heallthcare System has kept this humble pauper alive. When it was a matter of cancer and life and death, I was taken care of as any citizen of a modern, humane liberal democracy should be taken care of. They saved my life. From the moment I walked into the Emergency Room, it was only a matter of days before they performed the operation to remove my cancer and save my life. This is laudable, but it makes me wonder why the system will move with such admirable agility in order to cure my cancer but is stumbling all over itself when it comes to saving me from blindness. I agree that death is a more serious condition than blindness, god knows, we have to draw the line somewhere, but it would just seem to me that both are to be avoided and so merit the extension of our medical mercies. But this isn’t the case and The Poet’s Eye has already moaned at length about how it is nearly impossible for a person without private medical insurance to obtain the simple medical miracle of cataract surgery. The procedure, which is performed in India for 250 dollars, has been chosen as one of the private profit centers that the insurance cartels have allowed as a kickback to the medical professions. The cataract operation is an example of the stupid inefficiencies of a system that won’t be honest about whether it is public or private. The price of medical procedures isn’t determined by the difficulty of the procedure, how much it actually costs to perform in terms of personnel or equipment or expertise. The marketplace doesn’t decide how much it costs, not supply nor demand. What decides the cost of a medical procedure is how much the insurance mafia will pay for it. They set the prices. This is why a fifteen minute operation can cost 15,000 dollars.

This became evident as we were preparing for the Save The Poet’s Eyes Benefit Concert. Since the concert is being held for the purpose of paying for my badly needed cataract surgery, I needed to know exactly how much the operation costs. My friend VanZandt offered to help do the research into this question. There are a healthy number of private commercial clinics who make livings selling the miracle of sight. There is something so inescapably Christlike about a doctor who can perform this most symbolic of classical miracles, the restoration of sight, the healing of the blind. Maybe this is why the notion of buying and selling this miracle like a common commodity in the marketplace, is such an insult to my sense of the sacred. Selling miracles seems almost as profane as selling indulgences. After interviewing the various large franchise operations like Key-Whitman etc and some local private clinics, we established that the going rate for accomplishing the task that Christ would have performed for free on the roadside to Damascus seems to be in the range of 10 to 15 thousand USD.

My friends down at Southwestern Medical at Parkland will also do the operation. The only problem is that the waiting room is deep; one has to forge through his blindness for upwards of two years before his number comes up. But since we were doing research, I wondered what the price would be from Parkland for a cash and carry customer? And if I paid cash, how long would the wait be then? It had been tricky but not impossible to get this information from the private clinics. They were accustomed to dealing with insurance companies and Medicare and not with individual cash-paying customers.

So, with his charming and professional telephone method, VanZandt tackled the task and talked to what turned out to be a string of representatives of the institution. They would dutifully look through the bowels of their computer systems, they would ask their colleagues, but at the end of the day, nobody could tell him what the operation would cost for a paying customer. Here is VanZandt’s slightly frustrated firsthand report:

Parkland Ophthalmology Clinic

After 5 calls to every redirected department that
told me that someone at another department would be
able to give REAL HARD DEPENDABLE Cash and Carry
price…..the fact is no one fucking knows what the cost
of anything really is. I don’t think that actually
getting paid for services at Parkland ever actually
happens… so they have never prepared for that situation
by actually knowing what the costs are for the procedures.
But if I was in their System already ……ahhhhhh then they
could help me with with some forms and some paper work and
THEN….ohhhh yes…then they can give me a price down to
the penny….which I would then not pay because….I’m part
of the Parkland System and that’s what they expect me to do
and that is why the number doesn’t mean anything……or
if I had insurance then my insurance company would tell them what they can charge and ….that is what they would charge.” –VanZandt

As the Save The Poet’s Eyes Benefit Concert draws closer, this poet is uber-mindful of the fact that not everyone who is in my position, being an uninsured person who needs medical attention, has the network of generous and talented friends that I have. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends who can throw a concert to raise money for their operation. Until we get honest with ourselves about what kind of a society we want to inhabit, until we see that an enlightened and humane society takes care of all its citizens in the area of healthcare and that the best way to do this is with Universal Healthcare, we will be leaving our less-forutnate members stranded blind on the road to Damascus.
I hope that everyone who attends the concert and auction or who makes a donation online will also be mindful of the dire need we as a society have for Universal Healthcare.

To show that you are in favor of Universal Healthcare and to donate money to the Save The Poet’s Eyes fund, GO HERE.

Casey Anthony Playing Golf With O.J. Simpson

July 7, 2011

The Poet’s Eye has a tear of joy on this hot July afternoon. The Casey Anthony trial has come to its jaw-dropping conclusion and not only has our crippled criminal justice system limped across another symbolic finish line, but now the endless and tawdry cable news coverage of the trial will at last be over hopefully leaving some air-time for real or consequential actual news.

 It has always been hard for me to understand the fascination that we as a nation have for reality soap operas such as the Anthony case. This one has a number of the key ingredients which always seem to produce this type of high drama. The murder or kidnapping or abuse of an attractive young white girl is almost guaranteed a lavish amount of air-time. Add a few other salacious details such as accusations of sexual abuse or incest and we have the perfect recipe for a summer mini-series. The only thing possibly missing was the involvement of a celebrity, but if Casey Anthony or nobody else involved was a celebrity at the beginning of this set-piece, they certainly are now. We have a whole cast of potential stars or supporting players. Do I smell a Reality TV Show?

What is even more embarrassing than watching the nearly three year spectacle unfold is the public reaction to the jury’s unlikely but profound verdict. Like a chorus of scolding old women, the fans of the drama wanted more than anything to see Ms. Anthony in stocks outside the courthouse. With the help of shundits like the ever witchly Nancy Grace, Casey was convicted in the media months ago and this writer has never seen such a pile-on of bored sanctimony as has been exhibited in the tabloid media. I’m ashamed as an American to watch our justice system utterly reduced to moralistic entertainment the way that it has.

If there are any heroes in this rather sad tale of family pathology they come in the form of the jury. These twelve citizens good and true rose above the clatter of media whoredom and courtroom posturing and remained true to the just principles of our system and demanded facts and proof over innuendo and slanderous character assassination in determining their verdict. The Poet’s Eye watched with admiration as the members of the jury to a man declined to attend the media post-mortem of the trial to which they were invited. Good on them and shame on the media and the mob for trying to do justice like gossip over the backyard fence.

The truth about the facts of this unfortunate case will almost certainly never be known. This is partly responsible for what a blank check of a media plaything the whole story has become. But no matter how big a slut that Nancy DisGrace thinks that Casey Anthony is, the facts as presented by the prosecution came nowhere close to proving up murder in this case and absent that the verdict is exactly what it should have been. People will inevitably compare this drama to the OJ Simpson affair, but they are not even in the same arena. The OJ case was probably a more genuaine miscarriage of justice purchased by slick lawyering and while there will be those who assume that Casey Anthony got away with murder too, the facts as presented at trial didn’t warrant a murder conviction and the real tragedy would have been if we had put her to death and laid her alongside her unfortunate and lovely young daughter thereby doubling the number of unjust deaths.

The Poet’s Eye now expects to see the fun really begin courtesy of Casey Anthony. One must wonder how much some adventurous publisher will pay for a book entitled ‘This Is What Really Happened’ by Casey Anthony. She has already proved herself a prolific author of fiction. After we get tired of the first book or it is debunked, she can write ‘No, Really. What Really Happened.’ Then ‘This Is The Truth About What Really Really Happened’ and so forth. Whatever becomes of Ms. Anthony it is good to see that the cornerstone of American Justice ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ is still firmly in place and for as much fun as we have with tabloid jurisprudence we don’t decide guilt on the basis of gossip. Yet.

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”Oscar Wilde

Lightning Rod vs. The Medico-Industrial Post Apocolyptic Irony Machine

June 7, 2011

In Support of Genteel Hypocrisy 

In early May when I presented myself at the Emergency Room of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, they didn’t know that they were about to be treating a world famous poet, writer and social critic. To them I was just a slightly down at the heels old hippie-looking guy who could prove that he lived in Dallas County. This is the secret sauce that makes the whole enchelada of American Healthcare taste so damned good. No matter who you are, you can walk into an Emergency Room and you will be treated. It doesn’t sound like much; it’s not exactly Universal Healthcare, just a reflection of the American values of compassion and mercy. We don’t let our sick suffer without trying to help them. If they need treatment, we treat them regardless of their ability to pay. It’s a good, solid National ethic; The Poet’s Eye approves of it.

We would think that a nation with such generosity and ethical bearing would have a system of healthcare distribution simply reflecting this ethic. But American greatness is not based on what is reasonable or logical. If there is an impossible solution to a simple problem, we prefer it. It’s no wonder that our system of healthcare distribution is as twisted, byzantine and diabolical as possible and still work. The strongest leg of the American ethical milking stool, the leg that must always reach the floor is Functionality. If it doesn’t work, then we have no need for it. It’s the Stoic’s Way.

This poet can’t walk through the doors at Parkland Emergency room without thinking about that day in 1963 when we all were there. That was the day we learned what a fatal fashion combination the colors of pink and blood red turn out to be. Even though Dallas was a hot-bed of conservatism, the doors of Parkland Memorial were open to conservatives and liberals alike. They didn’t even care if he was a Catholic. American Emergency rooms are open to one and all. A liberal public health policy is as essential to a functioning democracy as a sound public education system and the right to vote. The only plausible system of healthcare in a democracy is one in which healthcare of the first order is Available to all. Our American healthcare system as expressed in institutions such as Parkland Hospital demonstrates how close we can get to having a system of universal healthcare without actually calling it that.

Like many wildly effective public institutions, our public hospitals are perpetual amazement machines running on the rare fuel of pure paradox. They combine the cold efficiency of a bureaucracy with the hands-on compassionate art of healing. Who could imagine such a thing? such a fortuitous suspension of opposites? The American De Facto National Healthcare System, is a rare example of the type of public corruption and hypocrisy this poet fully supports. No matter what bureauslang we want to use to talk about it, as long as the Emergency Room is avilable to all, we have Universal Healthcare.

It showed up in my singing first. I’ve never been a very good singer. I can deliver a song, to be sure, but I’m not a singer’s singer; I’m not what I call a Voice. My voice has also changed throughout my career in a perpetual adolescent sort of way, it cracks and breaks without my conscious control. So at first I didn’t pay much attention when suddenly I could hit that note I never could reach before or if one of my trusted memory notes did not come forth on command. I had begun looking for singers to sing my songs. By the time I walked into Parkland I was pretty much down to a wheeze and a rasp. I figured it was only a matter of time. I had never seen this story take a happy ending. I only hoped they would not be stingy with their painkillers.

Like many of our great big-city hospitals, Parkland is a teaching hospital. That means that in association with various universities, the hospitals are learning laboratories which train our young doctors and nurses and technicians. It’s a tremendous win-win situation for all involved. During my stay at Parkland, I was visited by a good friend who has always been an advocate of scientific secular humanism. He said to me, “I have one of those pieces of paper somewhere, A Living Will. One thing it tells them to do is bring me to this hospital. Oh, I could afford to go to Baylor or out to Presbyterian or Methodist or St. Paul’s but I want to be in a hospital where they are still learning things not ones based and funded on superstition.” The Poet’s Eye likewise sees remarkable things being accomplished with creative public funding and bright, young professionals who are dedicated to the highest traditions of the medical sciences and the healing arts.

At the end of my first visit to Parkland Emergency, they presented me with a bill which was over six thousand dollars. I pointed to the line on the form that said ‘occupation’ and under it was written ‘poet.’ The nurse seemed to understand perfectly. When I indicated that I had no money, they didn’t blink an eye, just referred me to their financial assistance department. The care I received that day, some blood-tests, a spot of morphine, the odd x-ray and CAT scan, could have easily been done for under a couple of thousand in a family clinic or a doctor’s office. If I lived in England or Canada or Denmark I would simply have handed them my medical ID card and everybody would have been happy. I probably would have sought care a good deal earlier in the course of my illness and might have saved my voice in addition to the thousands of extra dollars in care costs. But in order to cling to the myth that America has a ‘free-market’ healthcare distribution system and that somehow such a system works better than a single payer arrangement, the generous taxpayers of Texas reached their hands into their pockets and paid for my first-class medical care and did it in the most expensive way possible. I would like to thank them for this. The Poet’s Eye usually takes great delight in exposing hypocrisy to all the ridicule it deserves but on occasion hypocrisy deserves praise for being the blessed flexibility which prevents the whole skeleton of our body politic from shattering behind its own rigidity.

We have two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice and another which we practice but seldom preach. ~Bertrand Russell

Atlas Shrugged and Other Bull Pucky

April 18, 2011

 The reason that the American body politic is so hardy is its ability to metabolize bull-pucky. If Democracy is the average of all foolishness, we have prospered by learning to ruminate and digest our own excrement. We chew it again and again until even the most preposterous idea disappears into the soup. One example of such a piece of cud which we cough up from time to time and gnaw on is the idea that somehow rich people create jobs. We blithely refer to those whose only service to society is clipping their dividend coupons as ‘Job Creators,’ as if they were endowed by the majesty of their wealth with powers beyond those of mortal men.

This quaint piece of mythology relies on the basic human con that the rich are rich because they deserve to be. Monarchs, despots, priests and robber barons have been using this ruse for centuries. It’s an example of the ‘It is because it is’ fallacy. In its modern incarnation it originated with a Presbyterian reading of Ayn Rand’s hopelessly ponderous novels. In fact, the very first premise in her philosophical confabulation called Objectivism which is espoused in her book For the New Intellectual, is: “A is A” …..it is because it is.

As a teenager I read all of Ayn Rand’s books with special attention to her philosophical essays since I found her fiction to be largely trite and cumbersome. John Galt was a fashionable name to drop at parties for wannabe young student intellectuals in the sixties. I was stirred by the cold logic of the hundred page diatribe of Galt’s speech which was to become the manifesto for modern reactionary capitalism. For a short time I was captivated by the notion that the triumph of the individual was the path to social bliss. John Galt’s elaborate apologetics for greed which exalted avarice as a virtue, made twisted sense to my post-adolescent mind. It’s a philosophy which requires a selfish and immature intellect in order to prosper. I soon grew up enough to understand the fallacies of this philosophy when applied in real life. Plus, every time I met a dedicated adherent to Ayn Randism, they were singularly tight-assed, intellectually constipated and utterly humorless. These people grew up to be the political right in America.

Ayn Rand’s theories on government and economics are as valid as Jackie Collin’s theories on love, I suppose. They are both highly romanticized versions of reality. Which brings us back to the fantasy notion that the wealthy create jobs. It is a notion that was manufactured out of thin air and has no relationship to the real world. People become excessively rich in several time-honored ways. Most inherit it, many steal it, some gamble for it, fuck their way into it or marry it. Once in a blue moon you get a Henry Ford or Bill Gates (neither of whom were rich when they began) who have an idea that creates jobs but by and large, the rich don’t create jobs. Money itself may create jobs but the most useful and productive jobs are created by those who do them. They start from ideas, not from the largesse of the wealthy.

But as we enter the coming period of economic restacking and tax reform, we will hear over and over again, especially from the neo-con controlled media outlets, the phrase, ‘job creators,’ which is a code word for the corporate oligarchs. This meme, this repeated linguistic trick will insinuate itself into our thinking. Beware, my friends, it is a viral lie. Jobs are created by good ideas. Creativity creates jobs. Making quality, useful products creates jobs. Hunger creates more jobs than the wealthy do. But the lie that rich people create jobs will be chanted until enough will believe it and the plutocracy will remain intact. More wealth will trickle into the stagnant ponds of the very rich because our tax system will insure it.

In his recent declaration about the National Budget, Obama perfectly enunciated the crux and essence of the most vital question we are likely to encounter in our generation. As the president put it, the question is What kind of society we want to have? The choices are: A Compassionate society which cares for its weak, sick and elderly, the one that some like to disparage with the label Nanny State. Or do we want unbridled capitalism with no social compact, no safety nets, survival of the fittest, you’re on your own, suckah, too bad your daddy ain’t rich kind of world? Everybody can have all the medical care or justice they can afford. That’s what Ayn Rand’s little monsters want.

Now, The Poet’s Eye notices that a movie of Atlas Shrugged is being released. John Stossel who I once regarded as at least a clever and entertaining journalist has had a political conversion since being placed on the Fox payroll. He has become a total pimp for the ‘libertarian’ party line. In that capacity, he promotes the Ayn Rand cult. Naturally, he did a show to plug the Atlas Shrugged movie and interviewed the writers and producers and stars. After hearing the writer say that they had followed the book almost exactly, It was no surprise to learn that it will take three installments to tell this almost oppressive story. The first time I ever held a copy of Atlas Shrugged in my hand, the first thought that came to my mind was, “God, I hope I never have this much to say.” If the movie is faithful to the book, it will be mind-numbingly boring and pretentious. I’m sure it will be a delight to Ms. Rand’s cheerless disciples who are uniformly boring and pretentious themselves. I rarely slip to such ad hominem vulgarity when discussing philosophy but it’s just true, Randistas are among the stingiest, most ethically bankrupt and unpleasant folks I believe I’ve ever met. They have taken a fairly insignificant and romantic philosophical notion and converted it into a cult to their own bitterness and selfishness.

In his newly published book entitled Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters), Levi Asher tries to explain in more pragmatic language why Randism, especially in its current political expressions is a failed philosophy. Check it out for a different look at the topic.  President Obama’s simple but vital question, What kind of society do you want to create? perfectly frames the choice that we all have before us. Do we want a society that gives and cares or one where selfishness is counted as a virtue? The Poet’s Eye can easily see the sharp, cold logic in Randism, it’s fascinating the way a deadly weapon is fascinating. But I also have enough imagination to see where such a philosophy would lead if it were universally practiced. It’s definitely not the world I would want to create. Those who subscribe to that brand of intellectual chauvinism are the same ones who are trying to convince you of the fallacy that there is a job creating class who should be given special treatment by our tax system. Don’t go for it.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” –The Dalai Lama 

School’s OUT! Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

April 10, 2011

In general, we can describe education as the orderly transmission of useful information from generation to generation. It saves us from making the same mistakes over and over again. The human capacity to build a culture is the key to our success as a species. It allows us to benefit from the discoveries and innovations of our progenitors. Language and culture free us from the limitation of our short life-span. What one person can learn in his lifetime is limited compared to what our culture can compile over many generations.

The computer revolution is perhaps the most profound advance in human culture since the invention of writing. Before writing, culture was limited to what one man could memorize in his lifetime. And then he died. With writing we were able to pass greater volumes of information between generations. Mass printing was another step forward because it greatly widened the availability of human knowledge. Radio and television were further aids to teaching our culture. Now, the computer has placed almost all human knowledge at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection. The whole world has changed with respect to our ability to store and access information. Alas, our institutions are not as nimble as our technology. One area where this is particularly evident is in our education system, our schools.

Our public education system functions admirably for the world in which it was designed. The problem is that it was designed to fit the culture and society of the Industrial Revolution. The theory was to give the workers a baby sitting service while mom or dad or both worked in the factory and in the process also indoctrinate the next generation of workers. Our schools were designed like factories which produced docile and compliant consumers. Even though we live in a post-industrial world where most of our jobs AREN’T industrial or agricultural, we persist in training our population to work in factories that moved to China a generation ago.

The Poet’s Eye sees that Public Education is the strongest thread in our social fabric. Without successful Public Education our Democracy simply will not work. It’s what gets us on the same page. Public Schools teach us the things we need to know to be good, productive citizens. The particulars in the curriculum may change over time, but the more important aspect of Public Education is the Public part, it is the thread of commonality which connects us all. It is the place where we learn how to function in a larger group than our blood families. High School is a microcosm, a sometimes cruel crucible that tests our metal and shows us how to find our place in a complex society. What is learned there can hardly be enclosed between the covers of a book or a dozen books. Public Education is charged with the task of indoctrinating our children with the values we share as a society. If it fails in this duty, then the rest of the curriculum is irrelevant.

What we are seeing today in the world of education is the simultaneous death throes of an old system and the birth pains of a new one. Our system of education is failing because the whole apparatus is outmoded and in many cases irrelevant. We persist in preparing our students for yesterday.

What will our education system look like when it finally adapts to the digital age? Everything will be different, from how it is funded to what the buildings will look like to who the teachers are and what they do. The turmoil we are witnessing in the fight between teacher’s unions and school districts and state and federal governments is a symptom of the changes that are inevitable. There are hot tempers because the occupation of teaching is due to take a big hit. Much as other occupational niches such as typesetters and newspaper reporters and photo processors have all but vanished because computers or the internet now do their jobs, teachers will also have to find other ways to make themselves useful. We won’t need as many of them. Do I suggest that the class-sizes will be larger? sixty or a hundred to a classroom? No, the typical class size in our new schools will be one. Just junior and a ‘puter tutor. Home schooling will be the rule rather than the exception. Aside from periodic meetings with study groups and counselors, our students won’t be bound by buildings.

The nonsense that we hear about ‘good teachers’ and ‘bad teachers’ and tenure and pensions etc, will all go out the window because our very best teachers and lecturers will be instantly available to any student at the click of a button. A young cello student will be able to get the word straight from YoYo Ma instead of from Yo MaMa.

In the new school, homeroom will more resemble Facebook than a room with cork boards and desks in a row. Classes may contain students from many cyber locations across the country. Kids will oftener be found studying in malls than in libraries. All the libraries in the world will fit in their shirt pockets. Local school districts will wither but it serves them right; they are cesspools of corruption. But property taxes will go down.

Teachers will have a new role, more resembling that of a guide or counselor or mentor than a classroom teacher specializing in this or that subject. Each student will be directly involved in the planning of his own curriculum. We will no longer press out graduates like Pringles. Each student will be able to study that which will best take him forward in his life.

The question will inevitably arise, “Are public schools even necessary or desirable?” The answer will probably still be Yes. At some point we will realize that simply letting our children teethe on an iPhone will accomplish more than all the Headstart programs our legislators can invent. Schools as we know them today should probably have been abandoned long ago because they don’t accomplish their purpose . The students themselves have been coming to this conclusion as our dropout rates continue to rise. They know that schools are at best kindergartens for conformity and at worst day-care warehouses or prep-schools for prison or other careers of the institutionalized or brainwashed.

What do we want from our schools? We want them to prepare our children to be happy and productive members of society. The Poet’s Eye doesn’t see that goal changing any time soon. What will inevitably change is the method and means that we use to achieve that goal. We expect our public schools to provide our young people with the tools they will need to carve out lives as good citizens. Today, what that means is that a young person should be able to navigate a hyper-connected world where our idea of what a Job consists of is in great flux. Our antiquated notion of what a Job is will change and we will realize that we are all freelancers and that a job is not enough. We will see that what we really want are careers, callings and devotions and that school is not just for kids anymore. We all need to enroll for life.

“Brown shoes don’t make it.
Quit school. Don’t fake it.”–Captain Beefheart

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