Views on politics and current events

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Old Work Ethic, The New Reality

If you work hard, are loyal to your employer, budget your money wisely, and save all the money you can, you will be able to retire and live out your senior years in relative comfort.

In a nutshell, that is the work ethic that was taught to me and most others in my generation. It is a good work ethic, one that I followed for 30 years of labor in a steel mill. It was applicable during the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, and started unraveling in the 1980's, approximately. The unraveling continues. The Old Work Ethic no longer applies to many.

The economy has changed due to globalisation and many other factors. Loyalty to an employer is still stressed by some, but there is no loyalty returned from the empoyer to the employee. There are more and more people that have to budget money drastically just to lead a subsistent life. There is no spare money for most people to save. Many never get the opportunity to work at a job with decent pay. The plight of blue collar labor and more and more white collar labor is either to be forced to work until you physically can't work any more, or if you do happen to lose a well paying job, it must be your fault and thus you are not a very good prospect to be rehired. In either case, the workplace casts you out like a worn-out machine, and your life gets even worse.

But the Old Work Ethic continues, and is even quite vigorously supported. Sometimes by the very folks that are affected the most by its inapplicability. I have seen the result of the New Reality. Not only in an economic sense, but in a psychological sense. For the Old Ethic implied that if you did not work, you were not a productive member of society. If you worked at a low paying job, you weren't hard-working enough, or smart enough, or ambitious enough to better yourself. And that if you lost a job, it was your fault. Despite the continuing promulgation of these ethics, I do not believe this holds true for all of the millions of people out of work or working at low paying jobs with no benefits.

Until the people affected the most by this Old Work Ethic realize that it no longer applies, it will indeed continue. It needs to be examined, discussed, debated. It is my belief that until these things happen, and that awareness of the issue is increased, labor will continue to falter, politicians will continue to create legislation that benefits the already wealthy minority, employers will treat employees worse than a machine. In the long haul, the very core of what makes The United States great will continue to lose ground. The demise of this country will not come about militarily. It will come about economically. The beginning of that demise has already begun with the minimization of the value of labor in real and intrinsic terms.

A Letter To The Editor, And My Reply

The area where I live has a large Hispanic community, and for longer than I can remember there has been a Mexican Fiesta Day celebration and parade every September. The community supports these festivities, and a large crowd always gathers for the parade. The local peace group has had a float in the parade for the past five years. Following is a letter written to the local newspaper by a Sergeant in the Army after witnessing the parade, and my reply:

Saddended By The Crowd's Cheers For Anti-War Parade Marchers


On Sept. 16th, I had the misfortune of being offended as both soldier and an American at the Fiesta Parade.

As the Color Guard passed, those who stood in support of the American flag could be counted on one hand. I consoled myself that perhaps my fellow citizens were simply ignorant of this centuries-old act of respect for Old Glory. But when the crowd rose to its feet in celebratory glee for the anti-war protesters, I felt a wave of shame and the sting of insult to myself and all that have served in the Armed Forces.

I wonder whether this was the protesters' first march in favor of fascism because, make no mistake, to march against the war is a public statement of "I wish we had never toppled the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban." It is a public affirmation - indeed, a public longing for - state sponsored rape rooms for political prisoners, mass genocide, "honor' killings, and the illegality of women in schools, at work or out of stifling burkas.

With dogmatic insistency, protesters evoke the reliable standby, "I oppose the war, but support the troops." I wonder, then, why I never see or hear of these protesters marching in pro-troop rallies? Why can they never be spotted at airports welcoming home soldiers back from the third world hell that we are trying to free?

Those at the Fiesta Parade and around the nation who stood in support of homocidal Islamofascism can be called ignorant, little more than the frenzied throngs of Orwell's 1984 shouting their "minute of hate' - but those who actively marched are guilty of inciting that hate, not for the evil that plagues the world, but for the men and women of the military who fight evil.

B. R. Tompkins, First Sergeant, United States Army

My reply to First Sgt. Tompkins:


  • The peace group’s float represented opposition to the foreign policies of this administration, not to those who faithfully carry out orders. I have seen no disrespect shown for anyone in the military, nor would it be tolerated within the group.
  • The word fascist is used far too often by one group that does not agree with another group. This goes for pro-war, anti-war, liberal, conservative. It is an attempt to demonize the opposition at the expense of any kind of dialogue.
  • The local peace group as a group has donated items for our soldiers in Iraq. Most have also done so as individuals. We have worked towards trying to reverse the cuts in veteran’s benefits. We recognize the immense debt this country owes to our military, and believe that if they are asked to fight in a war, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with administrative policy, they should be duly compensated and cared for. There is much more to showing concern for our troops than having a yellow ribbon magnet attached to your car.
  • I agree it is a sad state of affairs when a color guard receives less accolades than a peace float, but I do not look upon it as disrespect so much as disenchantment with foreign policy. It would be wise for this administration to take these opinions in consideration.
  • You have every right to call the promoters of peace anything you wish. But there are veterans within the local peace group, and people with family members serving in Iraq that are members also. There are an increasing number of retired and active military people that oppose current foreign policy. Are all of these people that have first-hand military experience to be accused of such things also?
I hope that the things I have mentioned have given you food for thought. In any case, the fact that you could freely express your opinion shows the freedom we all have to do the same. The advocates of peace are no different. I accord you the honor you deserve, and bid you peace.

Alan Beggerow

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Interview With Warren Buffet

An Exerpt From An Interview By Lou Dobbs With Warren Buffet

DOBBS: In point of fact, the Congressional Budget Office, which is considered to be the bipartisan objective standard of such things, has research that suggests that the deficit in Social Security would be only 0.4 percent of our GDP over 75 years as compared to the other large deficits percentages that associated with trade in the budget deficit. Do you have, we're talking about fixing the fixes we're in, a quick answer for Social Security?

BUFFETT: I personally would increase the taxable base above the present $90,000. I pay very little in the way of Social Security taxes because I make a lot more than $90,000. And the people in my office pay the full tax. We're already edging up the retirement age a bit. And I would means test ... I get a check for $1,700 or $1,900 or something every month. I'm 74. And I cash it. But I'll eat without it.

DOBBS: You will eat without it. So will literally more than a million other Americans, as well. Means testing, the idea of raising taxes, the payroll tax. In 1983, Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, he had a very simple idea: raise taxes. That's what you're saying here.

BUFFETT: Sure. But I wouldn't raise the 12-point and a fraction payroll tax, I would raise the taxable base to above $90,000.

DOBBS: That's a progressive idea. In other words, the rich people would pay more?

BUFFETT: Yeah. The rich people are doing so well in this country. I mean, we never had it so good.

DOBBS: What a radical idea.

BUFFETT: It's class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn't be.

DOBBS: Exactly. Your class, as you put it, is winning on estate taxes, which I know you are opposed to. I don't know how your son Howard feels about that. I know you are opposed to it.

At the same week the House passed the estate tax, Congress passed the bankruptcy legislation, which they had the temerity to call bankruptcy reform, Democrats and Republicans passing this legislation, which is onerous to the middle class. Half of the bankruptcies in this country take place, because people fall ill, serious illnesses result in bankruptcy. Nearly half of the people involved. How do you -- you have watched a lot of politics. What is going on in this country?

BUFFETT: The rich are winning. Just take the estate tax, less than 2 percent of all estates pay any tax. A couple million people die every year, 40,000 or so estates get taxed.

We raise, what, $30 billion from the estate tax. And, you know, I would like to hear the congressman say where they are going to get the $30 billion from if they don't get it from the estate tax. It's nice to say, you know, wipe out this tax, but we're running a huge deficit, so who does the $30 billion come from?

DOBBS: And it is, it's $300 billion in lost tax revenue over the course of the next decade if the estate tax goes through.

You say the rich are winning. The rich are winning in some cases, because they are cheating. The corporate corruption scandals, which burst full upon the country at the end of 2001, Sarbanes-Oxley, new regulations, new efforts to achieve transparency. Has enough been done? Or does more need to be done?

BUFFETT: I think the climate has been changed on that for the better, Lou. Mae West said, "I was Snow White but I drifted." Well, I think corporate America drifted some. But I literally think what has happened has changed the culture somewhat, and for the better. I think that's probably more important than the laws.

DOBBS: Yet we hear the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whining that it's so onerous, so difficult to obey the law and to meet these regulations. What's your reaction?

BUFFETT: Well, right now corporate profits as a percentage of GDP in this country are right at the high. Corporate taxes as a percentage of total taxes raised are very close to the low.

DOBBS: Historically we're talking about.

BUFFETT: Historically. So, you know, corporate America is not suffering, I'll put it that way.

DOBBS: Corporate America is not suffering. In point of fact, those same organizations that I just mentioned, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable representing some of the largest companies are saying "You tax us, you are taxing our consumers, our customers." Do you think corporations in this country should be paying more? Taking some of that burden?

BUFFETT: I think that ... you have seen companies be able to repatriate earnings with a very small tax that were taxed at very low rates abroad. Corporations are doing better in the total tax picture than the people I'm going to walk by on the street when I leave here.

DOBBS: And some of the people you are going to meet are going to say, perhaps this evening and otherwise in business circles, are going to say, Warren, what are you talking about, raise our taxes.

BUFFETT: They are still friends of mine, Lou.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An Article And My Rebuttal


An article by Thomas Sowell (in bold) and my rebuttal (in italics)

Pacifists Versus Peace

One of the many failings of our educational system is that it sends out into the world people who cannot tell rhetoric from reality. They have learned no systematic way to analyze ideas, derive their implications and test those implications against hard facts.

I agree totally. Critical thinking, the ability to analyze an issue from more than one perspective needs to be taught and practiced as a part of education. In the representative form of democracy that this nation has, it is absolutely critical for the population at large to be able to see through the rhetoric of politicians and the government. To allow yourself to be blindly led, to invest total confidence and trust in our leaders is folly. Power that is derived from the people demands that the people themselves need to be informed and aware, otherwise we get the kind of government that tells us what to do instead of the opposite.

"Peace" movements are among those who take advantage of this widespread inability to see beyond rhetoric to realities. Few people even seem interested in the actual track record of so-called "peace" movements -- that is, whether such movements actually produce peace or war.

Every type of movement and organization takes advantage of this. The government, special interest groups, politicians, religions, salesmen, businesses, individuals. So of course peace movements take advantage of people’s ignorance, but no more than any other entity. It is this ignorance that is the problem that allows the ‘widespread inability to see beyond rhetoric to realities’. That goes for peace movements, pro-war authors, and manufacturers of toothpaste.

Take the Middle East. People are calling for a cease-fire in the interests of peace. But there have been more cease-fires in the Middle East than anywhere else. If cease-fires actually promoted peace, the Middle East would be the most peaceful region on the face of the earth instead of the most violent.

A cease-fire in and of itself does not cause peace. But for any kind of negotiations to take place, the killing must stop. Regrettably, the intensely complex situation in the Middle East has deteriorated to the extent that perhaps constructive negotiations can’t happen. The most opportune time to work towards peace is not while a war is being waged, but before conflict boils over into war.

But then what is the alternative? History shows that war itself does not bring peace. The aftermath of any war always contains the seed of another struggle. So is the only way to have peace is by fighting an eternal war? And as a cease-fire is not an option unless a war of some sort is being waged, can the converse be true? There have been more wars in the Middle East than anywhere else. If wars actually promoted peace, the Middle East would be the most peaceful place on earth.

Was World War II ended by cease-fires or by annihilating much of Germany and Japan? Make no mistake about it, innocent civilians died in the process. Indeed, American prisoners of war died when we bombed Germany. There is a reason why General Sherman said "war is hell" more than a century ago. But he helped end the Civil War with his devastating march through Georgia -- not by cease fires or bowing to "world opinion" and there were no corrupt busybodies like the United Nations to demand replacing military force with diplomacy.

The United Nations has failed primarily because the nations that comprise it never really bought into the idea. Instead of using the UN to explore the differences and search for possible solutions, nations have used it to push forth their own interests, regardless of the consequences.

There was a time when it would have been suicidal to threaten, much less attack, a nation with much stronger military power because one of the dangers to the attacker would be the prospect of being annihilated. "World opinion," the U.N. and "peace movements" have eliminated that deterrent. An aggressor today knows that if his aggression fails, he will still be protected from the full retaliatory power and fury of those he attacked because there will be hand-wringers demanding a cease fire, negotiations and concessions.

History proves you wrong. There have been many instances of a ‘weaker’ nation challenging a ‘powerful’ nation, and winning. Our own Revolutionary War is but one example. This was way before the UN, and during a historically different world opinion.

That has been a formula for never-ending attacks on Israel in the Middle East. The disastrous track record of that approach extends to other times and places -- but who looks at track records? Remember the Falkland Islands war, when Argentina sent troops into the Falklands to capture this little British colony in the South Atlantic? Argentina had been claiming to be the rightful owner of those islands for more than a century. Why didn't it attack these little islands before? At no time did the British have enough troops there to defend them. Before there were "peace" movements and the U.N., sending troops into those islands could easily have meant finding British troops or bombs in Buenos Aires. Now "world opinion" condemned the British just for sending armed forces into the South Atlantic to take back their islands. Shamefully, our own government was one of those that opposed the British use of force. But fortunately British prime minister Margaret Thatcher ignored "world opinion" and took back the Falklands.

This is an example of blatant militarism for the sake of empire.. What makes the Falkland islands the property of Great Britain? Are the Falkland Islands that important in a political, military, or economic sense? Or was this a vain attempt by Thatcher to hold on to a miniscule remnant of a ‘great’ British empire? Was maintaining control of the islands worth an all-out bombing and destruction of Buenos Aries? And while the ‘official’ opposition of the Reagan government was the case, how much covert support was given to Britain? By the way, isn’t the Monroe Doctrine still a matter of foreign policy for the U.S.? If indeed it is, then should not the U.S. condemned what the British were doing?

The most catastrophic result of "peace" movements was World War II. While Hitler was arming Germany to the teeth, "peace" movements in Britain were advocating that their own country disarm "as an example to others." British Labor Party Members of Parliament voted consistently against military spending and British college students publicly pledged never to fight for their country. If "peace" movements brought peace, there would never have been World War II. Not only did that war lead to tens of millions of deaths, it came dangerously close to a crushing victory for the Nazis in Europe and the Japanese empire in Asia. And we now know that the United States was on Hitler's timetable after that. For the first two years of that war, the Western democracies lost virtually every battle, all over the world, because pre-war "peace" movements had left them with inadequate military equipment and much of it obsolete. The Nazis and the Japanese knew that. That is why they launched the war.

To blame World War II on pacifism is to neglect the fact that there were totalitarian governments at the time that were hell-bent on war. Which started the war, pacifism or totalitarian governments? Each played a part, along with world economics and myriad other causes. One of the greatest causes of World War II was World War I, in fact.
Whenever an ‘enemy’ is defeated, it causes a vacuum of power. Did the end of WW II bring peace to the world? It brought about a very sinister type of war, the ‘cold’ war, which with the revelation of historical documents of the time show was more ‘hot’ than most remember. The war in Iraq is over, and the vacuum of power is still in effect after two years. So the total defeat of an enemy is never total, unless of course the ‘enemy’ is obliterated. But that only stops that specific enemy, and may indeed inspire others.

"Peace" movements don't bring peace but war.

This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Without war, what would be the need for peace movements in the first place? The author has focused on all possible negative aspects of the peace movement, and has defined the peace movement as consisting only of people who oppose war and want to appease an enemy.

To be sure, there are some negative aspects about demanding negotiations and cease-fires in certain cases. No doubt some of my fellow peace workers would argue to the contrary. But for me there remains the fact that no matter how we may try, there will always be people who wish to do us harm. Sometimes war, defensive war, is the only alternative. But those instances are very few and far between. If people could somehow come to terms with the issues and policies that may cause others to wish us harm, it would be better than blindly following a foreign policy with no regard for unintended consequences.

So what is the peace movement? Is it only about the protesting of war, any war, and a demand for it to stop, at any cost? No. You cannot ‘wage’ peace like you ‘wage’ war. You ‘live’ peace. You practice it with your family, your friends, your enemies, (when possible). Peace is a way of life that entails every aspect of your life. The peaceful resolution of inevitable human conflict in all its forms is the goal. Is this attainable? In an absolute sense, probably not. But it is a way of dealing with conflict without resorting to violence that will make the world a more just and safe place. This I truly believe. It isn’t whether the lofty goal itself can ever be reached, but how much the human condition can be improved in the process of working towards the goal, that is important.

We have had war as long as there has been more than one human on earth. That doesn’t mean we can’t rise above our animal instincts and work for the common good. Indeed, isn’t that what society and civilization are all about? War itself causes peace movements.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Economy's Good, Unless You're The Lazy Semi-Rich

From The Sundries Shack

Am I supposed to feel sorry for this man or what?

ROCK FALLS, Ill. — Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid. So instead of heading to work, Mr. Beggerow, now 53, fills his days with diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, writing unpublished Western potboilers in the Louis L’Amour style — all activities once relegated to spare time. He often stays up late and sleeps until 11 a.m.

Back in the day, this man’s neighbors, who had been helping him in the lean times when he wasn’t working, would have stopped their help and pointedly hinted that it was high time he acted like a man and took whatever job he could find to provide for his family.

But that’s a day long gone. Now, he can just borrow some money without much worry about paying it back, leach off the income of his wife, maybe snag some money from you and me courtesy of the government, and look down his nose at the jobs that are available.

Again, back in the day (well, further back in the day and on another continent), the people carried pitchforks and torches against the elites who acted like this. Anyone remember Marie Antoinette?

Today, it’s the people who can more or less afford to act like this and, since their sense of shame seems to have evaporated like spit in the noonday sun, they’ve decided that pitchfork and torch-carrying are jobs that are beneath them.

Just call it another job that Americans won’t do.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein also wrote about this article and made a couple assertions that seem to me ridiculous. I’ll let you judge.

First, he writes:

But on another level, this is related to the decline of unions, the breakdown of the manufacturing sector, and the shift to a service economy. Where once blue collar jobs offered the sort of benefits and salaries that allowed for a sense of dignity and purpose, a greeter at Wal-Mart is low-skill labor that refuses to masquerade as anything else. That, of course, was the primary use of unions: to force employers to treat even lowly employees as valued labor deserving of respect and all that goes with it. But in a stagnating market where most of the blue collar growth lies in non-unionized sectors, many men simply can’t bear to follow their lost job by letting go of the dignity it afforded them.

His conclusion may be accurate, though I don’t believe it is, but the route he took, through labor unions, isn’t even close to the mark. Labor unions never existed to make sure that your boss or mine as to say “please” to you and to make sure they never make you feel like pond scum. They exited to make sure that your boss and mine didn’t work us to death when we were 14 years old for a buck a day. There’s a wide gulf between the actual reason labor unions have existed and what Klein thinks they should be doing today and it skews his thinking badly.

Because if you believe that a vital component of a job is to give you a warm fuzzy, then you have to believe that the men in the article are tragic figures deserving of our sympathy and perhaps a big government program instead of spoiled people who would much rather put their families’ financial security in jeopardy than go find a job with less dignity than they feel they deserve.

Which leads us to Kleins wrap up:

And try to do so without judgment — these men are making terrible financial decisions in order to forestall worse personal admissions. If the left still possessed a labor consciousness, we wouldn’t rest until the service economy offered the dignity and compensation to ensure that the scores of workers who will migrate to its industries in the coming years could do so without grievous psychic damage.

Grievous psychic damage? What on Earth is Klein talking about. Who among us hasn’t taken a “joe job” for a little while to pay the bills until they could find a better one? Who among us hasn’t had to occasionally step back in our careers in order to move forward again? I sure as heck have and, while I didn’t like doing it, I don’t wake up with gas station booth flashbacks and I don’t weep uncontrollably every time I drive past a QuikShop.

I think that Klein coddles these men far too much, but that’s a vital difference still etween left and right. One believes that the only life worth living is one that never knows a moment outside the warm bath of self-regard and the other knows that sometimes life involves hard and unfulfilling work.

Pity The Poor American Male

The Stranger / Seattle Slog

According to the New York Times , 15 percent of American men between 30 and 55 are not working despite being employable and in their prime. Instead, the Times reports, they are “turning down jobs they think beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified.” That’s up from 5 percent in the 1960s, a difference the Times says “represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950’s and 60’s,” when women started moving into the work force.

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The unemployment rate for men was once much lower. Then women came along and took jobs that would have gone to men. As women get more educated, the jobs that are available to them improve. As a result, men in the newly competitive marketplace have trouble finding work that isn’t… ummm… “beneath them.”

The Times goes on:

Many of these men could find work if they had to, but with lower pay and fewer benefits they once earned, and they have decided they prefer the alternative. It is a significant cultural shift from three decades ago, when men almost invariably went back into the work force after losing a job and were more often able to find a new one that met their needs. … Even as more men are dropping out of the work force, more women are entering it. This change has occurred partly because employment has shrunk in industries where men predominated, like manufacturing, while fields where women are far more common, like teaching, health care and retailing, have grown. Today, about 73 percent of women between 30 and 54 have a job, compared with 45 percent in the mid-1960’s, according to an analysis of Census data by researchers at Queens College.

So it’s not that the men can’t get jobs. It’s that the jobs that are available are women’s work, and thus “beneath” men’s dignity.

But at least that frees men up to take care of housework and child care, right?


Many women without jobs are raising children at home, while men who are out of a job tend to be doing neither family work nor paid work.

So what are they doing? Reading, sitting around, and sleeping, the Times suggests:

[Former steelworker Alan Beggerow)] has not worked regularly in the five years since the steel mill that employed him for three decades closed. He and his wife, Cathleen, 47, cannot really afford to live without his paycheck. Yet with her sometimes reluctant blessing, Mr. Beggerow persists in constructing a way of life that he finds as satisfying as the work he did only in the last three years of his 30-year career at the mill. The trappings of this new life surround Mr. Beggerow in the cluttered living room of his one-story bungalow-style home in this half-rural, half-industrial prairie town west of Chicago. A bookcase covers an entire wall, and the books that Mr. Beggerow is reading are stacked on a glass coffee table in front of a comfortable sofa where he reads late into the night — consuming two or three books a week — many more than in his working years. He also gets more sleep, regularly more than nine hours, a characteristic of men without work.

Meanwhile, while Mr. Beggerow sleeps, lounges, re-mortgages his family’s house and declines to look for work, his wife has taken on three part-time jobs, all traditional women’s work, and is looking for another:

She is taking in work as a seamstress, baking pastries for parties and selling merchandise for others on eBay, collecting a fee. Still, she says, she hopes to land a part-time clerical job. “The comfort of a paycheck every week would take a load off my mind,” she said.

So it seems the real story here isn’t so much that men aren’t working, but that men are piling onto their wives (in addition to the housework and childcare that remain American women’s primary responsibilities) one additional burden: Earning a paycheck, often at a crappy job, while they lounge around, remortgage the house, and burn through their family’s remaining savings.


  • Sounds like Mr. Beggerow and his peers need to start getting their nine hours of sleep out at the curb. This is so ridiculous it almost smells like a setup. Mental health issues? There's SOMETHING wrong with him, and her for putting up with it.
  • So am I supposed to read this and think: "Gee, we need a government-sponsored social-engineering campaign to re-educate men to behave differently"? Because all I am thinking is: "Gee, that guy's wife needs to leave him."
  • The layabouts described notwithstanding (and this is surely not a new phenomenon--look at Joe Gould!) couldn't some of this increase be ascribed to a greater number of men participating in the "alternative economy," i.e. the drug trade?
  • Allowing these "women" into the workforce is taking away jobs from our middle-class white men, and depressing the wages they should expect to earn. This administration needs to wake up, smell the coffee, and deport all of the working women right now.
  • White men are lazy pigs. Their wives should leave them. Women are smarter, better educated, and deserve more money. If we had a woman as president and more women running industries and government there would be no global warming or wars.
  • what horse shit. i've got a father (white male, 56, all white hair) who lost his job working a white collar type deal. He ended up losing several jobs opptorunities to people who were either 1) a woman or 2) younger. is that the fault of women? No. But do you know what he ended up doing for almost two years until he was able to find a similar job? he sold fucking uncle, white male, late fifites, lost his job for volvo working in their printed materials division (manuals, etc.). lost his job, and know what he did for several years until he found a "real" job? he drove a fucking school bus. do you have any idea how hard it is for someone to do that? honestly? to be basically admitting to themselves and their family they are supposed to be looking out for that they are like some kind of failure? i think its entirely reasonable to think that anyone would not want to take a job that is "beneath" them because it strikes right at their own identity. its not a fucking "vacation" and all fun. It sucks. Neither my dad or uncle quit "trying" to find a job. For those several years they were sending out resumes and interviewing and the whole nine. While you may be able find examples like the dude above, the implication of this whole post is that this is what all "white men" are like. Thats sexist bullshit. Seriously. Fuck that. You'd sleep 9 hours a day and read books if you couldn't find a job for several years, too. What the fuck else are you going to do?
  • The laundry?
  • I read the entire article this morning. Granted the headline and the first men featured could get the blood boiling (at least they could do some housework). However the rest of the story explains that the vast majority of non-working working-age men fall in one or more of the following categories: a)were already trapped in the economic underclass of our country and lost a minimum wage job b)too old or disabled to take a physically demanding job c)have a prison record that disqualifies them from most positions d)are African American and continue to face discrimination based on their race. The article further details how they are often estranged from families(no wife paying the bills), struggle to keep their disability checks, and take under-the-table work to keep more money for basic food and shelter. Too bad that 3/4 of the article will be overlooked, because of the headline and first paragraphs.
  • Uhm, yeah. Demeaned by having to do under-paid or "women's" work. Good thing I'm a woman, 'cause being over-qualified and under-compensated in the workplace isn't an issue for us anymore.
  • What do they think is going to happen while they're not even looking for a job? That the perfect job is going to look for them?
  • Back when men did all the paid work, it only took one paycheck to raise a family. Now it takes two working full time - so who's around to take care of the kids? Don't blame American men, - blame American corporations. Now they get two for the price of one.
  • Umm... to pick a nit... Mr. Beggerow had a 30 year industry job. Sounds like Mr. Beggerow is enjoying a union (maybe even a "forced") retirement check. The wife of a retired union worker making money on the side by sewing in the sewing room, putting junk from the garage on ebay for sale, and baking cakes for parties is not exactly the same thing as working in a tailor shop, holding down a few shifts at Value Village, then working grave-yard at the Hostess cupcake factory. There is nothing sexist with either part of the "married" husband/wife, husband/husband, wife/wife union earning more money then the other half. Maybe "anti-feminist" is the correct word dynamic. There is nothing sexist if a married couple chooses that one half of the union earns or labors at a labor less then equal halfs. As long as both people are cool with it, happy with it, then all is good. That's what an LTR is about, compromise between the people involved. I find the point of this article to be very old fashioned, and out-of-date as far as to prove a point about how "married" couples should act.
  • assuming that that wives three jobs are less valuable and somehow less legitimate because they are done at home is very old-fashioned and sexist. Work at home is still work and shouldn't be considered less legitimate. Just because someones sewing is done at home does not alleviate the strain of the work. The problem here is that the inherent work of the household tradionally womens work is not being considered into this marriage equation. Its fine for one member of a union to earn more or work more than another but not to the extent where they find themselves with three jobs, especially when the other member has supposed skills and capability.
  • According the story, the majority of the non-working men are blue collar and live alone, so I'm not sure how the real story could be that they're living off their wives/families. Men tend to get their sense of social status from their employment -- that might mean they think some kinds of work are beneath them, but it also means that not working at all has a terrible impact on their self-esteem. (And "beneath them" as a catch-all is likely to include jobs that don't pay enough to keep up with bills, jobs they feel they aren't qualified for, or entry-level jobs that represent starting over at 53 years of age.) For these guys to have given up looking says something trenchant about our "booming" economy and the importance of what kind of collar you wear to work. In short, you don't want it to be blue.
  • A real reporter would have taken the original story, read the entire thing to despin it, and then done a search on one of the science paper sites to read the original study and read the original conclusions, instead of trusting the Bush-inspired snippet headline. Luckily, we just figure you had a really really good weekend at the block party, and know you're a really good reporter 99.9 percent of the time ...
  • Hey, if $14-16/hour office jobs are 'beneath' working class men, I'll be more than glad to take those jobs in your stead.
  • It's one thing to not want to take a job that is "beneath you." It's another to not take that job. When I was between jobs, I had no qualms about looking for minimum wage work to help support me while I lived off my savings. I feel sorry for people who can't find jobs. I feel sorry for people who can't find a job that is nothing like what they deserve. I don't one bit sorry for someone who can find a job and refuses to accept it because s/he thinks his/her pride is more important than personal responsibility. I think there could be more to the issue than what is reported here, and so there could be a legitimate financial (or other responsible) reason for turning down work, but that's not discussed.
  • Why can't these guys help around the house while they are between jobs? Why can't they volunteer in their community or take a blah job until they can find the right thing? I understand that job-hunting SUCKS and it's horrible to take a lame job when you used to do something that was much more meaningful. But one has to to survive. That's what the women are doing and the men need to step up. It's called pulling your weight.
  • White males are lazy and dumb. Most of them couldn't hold a job if it wasn't handed to them and then don't work that hard if they do get a job. Women are finally taking over the workplace and you're going to see this country get better, and better. If you compare how good things are in last decade to what it was like in the 1950's you can see where we're headed. We have women in the military, in industry, and in government and soon we'll have a woman president. When that happens there'll be no more war, or global warming.
  • This is really sexist! This is crushing my theory that women are smarter than men. They don't call it HIStory for nothing, let's not repeat it!
  • Some questions for the judgers out there? Why can't you all stop judging a guy you don't know anything about? Why can't you all stop treating Ms. Beggerow as if she is a child and can't voice her needs to her husband? Why don't you all butt out and stop drawing false conclusions from an anecdote? Why is genrealized sloppy thinking tolerated in the press? Oh yeah, I know, becuase media that makes us feel superior sells more than the media that reports the news.
  • Also, women fail themselves when they stick with deadbeat men.
  • Man-hating is not true feminism. It is petty and impractical, at best.
  • "If we had a woman as president and more women running industries and government there would be no global warming or wars." Listening, Condi?
  • I hate to break it to everyone, but 53 year old man who lost his manufacturing job doesn't really have the option of getting a job at Starbucks, Chili's or Barnes and Noble that most 20-30 somethings enjoy. Getting any job is difficult. Now that obviously doesn't excuse the fact that he isn't helping out around the house.
  • It's stories like these that make me glad I am a lesbian. Sorry my straight sister's.
  • Let me get this straight... white men are lazy bums because a fraction of 15% of them seem to be disenchanted with work? Some after having been kicked around at crappy jobs for 30 years? Ok you can nail us for genocide and slavery and war and economic depressions and polution and pro wrestling and yadda yadda, but we did not accomplish all that mayhem by being lazy. sheesh.
  • More power to these guys. If their spouses aren't on them about it, and they're not mooching off the government, then let 'em do whatever the hell they want. And do I detect a hint of hypocrisy here? When women do this, it falls under far less scrutiny than when a man makes a conscious decision to work less or leave the workforce short or long term. These men have recognized that corporations and employers are screwing workers now more than ever, forcing them to accept more more concessions on wages on benefit while CEO pay skyrockets. They've chosen to rebel and live off the grid- more power to 'em.

Some Men Don't Want To Work - What's Going On?

Total Trust

In today’s New York Times, there is an article about men who have lost their jobs, and who are no longer looking for work. However, these men (and not the ones who are also profiled who are convicted felons) do not seem to fit my typical stereotype of the “discouraged worker.” Rather they have given up looking for a job because some jobs are beneath them, or they’d rather live off their home equity than take a job that is not as good as their former job.

Well I was raised to be productive, regardless of the “opportunities,” and worked at several jobs in high school and college that were certainly “beneath me” in terms of my education, but nevertheless provided much-needed money, and at a minimum, reinforced in me a work ethic that I had initially developed in my school work.

The article provides a disturbing portrait of one couple in which the wife is unwilling to challenge her unemployed husband to get back to work, even though she supported him until she had to go on disability following an automobile accident.

Somehow we must find ways to bring back these men into society’s fold, so that they can become productive citizens again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

From 'Brilliant At Breakfast'.

These guys had better wake up and realize this is the economy they voted for

I wonder how many of these guys voted for George W. Bush!

Accumulated savings can make dropping out more affordable at the upper end than it is for Mr. Beggerow, but the dynamic is often the same — the loss of a career and of a sense that one’s work is valued.

Maybe that's because politicians have decided that the work Americans do is NOT valued, and that's why they've made it so easy to outsource jobs to low-wage countries, essentially turning high-paid jobs here into sweatshop jobs overseas.

I'm not solely blaming the Bush Administration; the exodus of high-paying jobs began with the sainted Bill Clinton, who triangulated his way into NAFTA and really got the ball rolling. But it has been Republican rule over the last six years that has accelerated the trend towards less opportunity, less pay, and fewer benefits.

But there's an issue of culture shock here too, for it seems women -- the very same women that Republicans and their Christofascist minions would like to see out of the work force -- have a better sense of Doing What Has To Be Done. For all of the residue of Reagan's "welfare queen" speeches during the 1980's, it's women who are out there working menial jobs, sometimes more than one, in order to feed the kids and keep a roof over their heads:

Even as more men are dropping out of the work force, more women are entering it. This change has occurred partly because employment has shrunk in industries where men predominated, like manufacturing, while fields where women are far more common, like teaching, health care and retailing, have grown. Today, about 73 percent of women between 30 and 54 have a job, compared with 45 percent in the mid-1960’s, according to an analysis of Census data by researchers at Queens College. Many women without jobs are raising children at home, while men who are out of a job tend to be doing neither family work nor paid work.

And while Bush loves to crow about the low unemployment rate, the numbers do not take these guys into account:

Despite their great numbers, many of the men not working are missing from the nation’s best-known statistic on unemployment. The jobless rate is now a low 4.6 percent, yet that number excludes most of the missing men, because they have stopped looking for work and are therefore not considered officially unemployed. That makes the unemployment rate a far less useful measure of the country’s well-being than it once was. Indeed, a larger share of working-age men are not working today than at almost any point in the last half-century, which raises the question of how they will get by as they age. They may be forced back to work after years of absence, they may fall into poverty, or they may be rescued by the government. This same trend is evident in other industrialized countries. In the European Union, 14 percent of men between 25 and 54 were not working last year, up from 7 percent in 1975, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Over the same period in Japan, the proportion of such men rose to 8 percent from 4 percent.

Of course, we are also living in a country where businesses largely put their workers out to pasture around age 50, so where the jobs for these guys are is an open question.

Perhaps it's because men have always defined themselves by what they do for a living, and have devalued hobbies and other nonpaid pursuits. I'm not sure that's changed all that much over the years. So perhaps being out of work, and not being able to find work, frees these guys to do things they've never felt free to do before. The problem is that our society is more unforgiving than every of those who can't pay their bills, as evidenced by the punitive bankruptcy legislation passed by Congress last year and signed into law as a means of protecting the credit card industry against just the kind of contracting job market we're seeing now.

Here in New Jersey, we've seen some job growth, but it is modest, it's expected to remain that way through the end of the decade, and the growth that does occur is expected in low-wage industries, such as education, health, hospitality and restaurants, and other leisure activities -- which means that an ever-growing sector of working poor will be providing the leisure fun for the wealthy.

Men like the one that opens this article may be able to get away with tapping home equity for a while, but with a falling real estate market, these guys may find themselves tapped out for more than their houses are worth:

the number of unsold homes is at the highest level ever. Housing starts are starting to fall, but remain at a high level by historical standards. If sales do not pick up this summer, when sales are usually seasonally strong, it could be a sign that prices are going to come under pressure and lead to a much larger decline in housing starts.

The accompanying charts show year-over-year changes in sales of existing single-family homes and apartments, using six-month moving averages to smooth out monthly fluctuations. The latest figures show sales of single-family homes down 4.4 percent, the largest dip since 1995, and apartment sales off 6.6 percent. Statistics on apartment sales are only available back to 1999, but that is the worst showing in that period.

Meanwhile, the number of existing single-family homes on the market is up 33 percent year-over-year, measured the same way. Figures from the National Association of Realtors, going back to 1983, show no comparable increase in homes for sale. The number of condominiums and cooperative apartments for sale is up 61 percent. The picture is consistent with demand for homes suddenly drying up, while sellers are reluctant to cut prices.

If men continue to shun jobs that aren't "good enough" for them, while their wives swallow their pride and become grocery cashiers, fast food service workers, and other menial workers, there's going to be a poverty problem among the elderly in about 20 years that's going to be monstrous.

Perhaps this is why the president wants to revive privatization of Social Security.

titusonenine Comments About The NY Times Article

from Canon Kendall Harmon

  • Thank you for posting this. I have noticed this trend, but have yet to read it so “succinctly put.” It appears that no one reported on here in this story is actively seeking God’s will for their lives; either that or the reporter neglected to print mentions of God knowing all, being in control, providing recommendations for life and living and taking responsibility for such in the Bible, etc. I wonder how the children being raised with such an approach to employment will approach employment when they are able.
  • We don’t know that none of the people interviewed are seeking God’s will for their lives. We only know that that question either wasn’t asked or wasn’t reported. And even if they are seeking God’s will, God doesn’t generally reveal that will by means of flashing neon signs, emails or telephone calls. Most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got, but the bills keep coming in while you’re waiting for God to reveal his will. I’m not an economist, but I do have a lot of pastoral experience, and my experience is that in this economy, people with advanced degrees are competing for low-wage hourly jobs–if they can even get those. The clerk at the local convenience store has a doctorate and makes $7 an hour. The swing manager at McDonald’s has a master’s and makes $6.15. And that person beat out other candidates with masters’ degrees. Most people will do what they have to to survive, including applying for assistance, but it’s galling for people who once had good jobs, and the attendant satisfaction and sense of self-worth that goes with them, to be reduced to jobs that they’re overeducated for, overqualified for, and which society looks down upon. It’s true that pride won’t feed you, but a person’s dignity isn’t something to be treated lightly. You do what you can to pay your bills and take care of your family. If this guy has thousands of dollars in savings or equity to live on, good for him. I wish everyone were so fortunate.
  • As one who has been jobless several times over the course of my career, I think this guy is making a big mistake. No honest work is demeaning. He will be mentally much healthier working at a low-paying job, than sitting around loafing. Eventually his wife is going to tire of supporting a selfish, overgrown teen-ager, and give him the boot.
  • And now for my rant: These kinds of stories just irritate the daylights out of me. It’s not really the story but the people they highlight. IMHO the attitude of the men highlighted in this piece is wholly selfish. The quotes, “I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” and “If things really get tight, I might have to take a low-wage job, but I don’t want to do that,” point to this selfish attitude. When the piece stated, “he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid,” is when my blood started to boil. Demeaning? Like what, washing floors or cleaning toilets? Why would it be demeaning (someone has to do it)? Is it demeaning only for someone who has a degree, or is used to making big money? Grow up, Gentlemen. You do what you have to do to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Maybe even working two low wage jobs if that is what becomes necessary to eat. Living off the government dole is wrong unless one is truly (TRULY) physically or mentally handicapped to the point where one can not work. Thirteen and a half years ago, I left a low level management job in a telecommunications company to take the best unpaid (monetarily speaking) job in the world: stay-at-home-dad. As my kids transitioned into elementary school, and our household budget needed an infusion of cash, I took on a job. I was able to find jobs paying $10.00 per hour, and on a part time basis to boot. I don’t have a degree. I am a high school graduate, and I don’t find working at any job for low pay demeaning. Why? Because my self-worth doesn’t come from my job, my paycheck, my kids, my wife or my societal status, my self-worth and dignity comes from my knowledge in who I am in Christ. Through Christ Jesus, I am a child of the Most High God. Is there any better realization than this for one’s self-worth? If any of these men are Christians, maybe a little reading of St. Paul (Colossians 3:23-24, or better yet, 2-Thessalonians 3:6-13) or some reflection on Brother Lawrence’s life would open an eye or two when it comes to working. And if they aren’t Christians, they need someone to lead them to our Lord Jesus Christ. End of rant
  • Seeking a fulfilling job is not sinful at all. It would be a very bad idea to ask a foot be an eye.
  • There is nothing too small, if given in Jesus name, that is not worth working for. To sit idle while a good work could be done is a sin. Mar 9:41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. Jam 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin. I honor those who mow lawns or clean toilets if it is done in charity. I scorn those who have strength and talent and yet refuse to do some small thing for someone who needs help. I had a christian employer (many years ago) who told me to always do the $20.00 per hour work first and when you finish that work do the $15 per hour work and when you finish that…………. and he conluded with, “…and if you can’t find anything more valuable to do then sort screws.” The sum of the message is, if our god is the almighty Dollar then we can hold out for the most money, if our God is also the One who created us, then we will will fill our lives with that which is most valuable - however humble that might be.
  • Who told these guys that work must always be fulfilling? It’s just another idol set up by secular culture… a job well done can always be satisfying, no matter what it is, and even the job that I love (in my case, teaching) isn’t always fulfilling. But it puts food on the table and a roof over our heads and otherwise provides for my family, and that’s what’s really asked of it. As your mother told you, life ain’t always fair.
  • I agree with every comment about how no honest work is truly demeaning. But I think that “truly” is the key word. It’s a process–and a sometimes painful one–to re-align one’s identity (even if that identity is found primarily in Christ), because what one does for a living is a major part of that identity. PhD’s and CEO’s are not worth more in God’s eyes–only in the culture’s. But we still have to live in the culture.
  • I’m thinking his wife is probably not totally ecstatic with his decisions.
  • The posts talk about “those with doctorates” earing $7.00 an hour at the local convenience store, or “someone with a Master’s” having to compete with others with Master’s degrees for low-paying jobs. The job market is tough. But there is one other thing that needs to be acknowledged here that I havent’s seen anyone address so far. And that is - - some folks have doctorates and master;s degrees who wasted their time getting them. They were able to perform the academics, they were able to absorb the theory, but they aren’t worth a darn translating all that stuff into solid skills in creating product, problem solving, supervising other people with both compassion and good direction, etc. Where did we ever get the idea that “I have a degree” is somehow a guarantee of anything, except that we will probably have to buy a frame to hold it? I have a couple of degrees, but still had to start on the floor of the plant, forty years ago, had to learn to weld from a guy who had no degree but, man, could he weld - - and I was able to “work up” to my current job. And somedays, no kidding, I wish I could remember how to weld!!
  • You want to eat? You gotta work. And I write that not as a greedy capitalist, but as a graduate student who produces next to nothing and lives off the good will of the state (below the poverty level). Should I not be able to get a “worthy” job when my doctorate is earned, I will indeed flip burgers if necessary (particularly if I have dependents). This is the life I have chosen. Risks are always present. That’s life. Hopefully we still have a government that seeks to make opportunities for the working poor. And, more importantly, Christ is still with us, nonetheless.
  • But I don’t see either our society or our political system making opportunities for the working poor. It’s the largest growing segment of the population in the US. People who have skills and training are unable to make a living wage. For many people, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, you can’t make it. These aren’t people looking for any sort of luxury; they just want to get by. The middle class is shrinking, and most of those people are sliding into that class where hard work seems like nothing but running on a treadmill. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t work hard, but it would be nice for the work to offer a living wage, and in most cases it doesn’t.
  • Would someone please let me know what would happen if we asked a foot to be an eye? All the answers here are too pat. I want to make films. Why should I not pursue that? Based on what you all are saying I should be just as happy and fulfilled as a tow truck driver or museum guide. If God doesn’t care what my job is, why not follow my passion? I can honor Christ as a filmmaker just as much as a janitor or CPA. SO WHY SHOULD I NOT SEEK THAT GOAL?????? If I have worked hard and saved money, what is wrong with living off of that while I pursure my interests? You all seem to think that God doesn’t care if enjoy this life or not. It is rather sick and twisted to say that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son for us and backhandedly mean that your life is still not worth God’s care for your works. Faith and works are woven together. Saved by faith, but my works are the actions of that faith.
  • Saint,By all means, you should pursue your film-making goal. And I sincerely hope that you achieve that goal, we need good Christ-loving film-makers. But perhaps you will not. And if you do not, I also sincerely hope and pray that you do not decide that, since you did not achieve your film-making goal, you can accept nothing “less.” And the reason is because - - perhaps it won’t be “less.” Maybe the cure for cancer lies within you, and the rest of us would never benefit from that, because you decided that, with your “advanced film-making degrees” and your deep desire to be a filmmaker, you simply cannot work on cancer. It is too demeaning. The example is a ridiculous one, I suppose. But that is what I am bemoaning; there are a lot of folks out there right now who, since they are unable to “use” their doctorates and their masters’, have decided to simply opt out, since the world clearly does not recognize their great talent in the same way they do. I pray you will not do that, should God decide to send you down a different path! Godspeed in your filmmaking pursuits!

Among The Missing

From blogs for industry...blogs for the dead

The NYT profiles men who are not in the job market:

Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid.

So instead of heading to work, Mr. Beggerow, now 53, fills his days with diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, writing unpublished Western potboilers in the Louis L'Amour style - all activities once relegated to spare time. He often stays up late and sleeps until 11 a.m.

"I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me," he said.

Sure, but it's not worth jack to the rest of us, grasshopper.

Apparently there are now record numbers of men like this.

About 13 percent of American men in this age group [30-55] are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960's. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950's and 60's.

I'm not sure which is more a sign of the country going to the proverbial hell in a handbasket...that people are in this situation, that banks will give these guys second mortgages, or that they are willing to have their lifestyles plastered all over the NYT website.

Now This Is A Trend I Can Get Behind

From StepBlog:

August 2, 2006

The New York Times ran a front page story Monday about a new trend - men who are laid off or lose their jobs and are unable to find suitable replacements are deciding to just stay home. The guy profiled in the story, Alan Beggerow, is using his time play the piano, read non-fiction and write Westerns, after getting a really good night’s sleep every night. “I have come to realize my free time is worth a lot to me,” he says.

No kidding! Coincidentally, the same day the story ran, Loverman stayed home from work. He was feeling puny, as we say in the South, after having gotten all dehydrated playing that rock and roll music the night before at an outdoor party. After a nap, he worked on a beautiful cabinet he is building, worked in the yard, played guitar and started dinner.

I was reminded after reading the article and thinking of Loverman happily puttering at home of a line from Office Space, when a consultant says to the main character, Peter, “Looks like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately.” “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob,” Peter replies with an ironic smile. Amen, brother.

This all plays into a strange neo-feminist slacker fantasy I have of getting to a place where Loverman doesn’t have to work, and can stay home and do all those things he did on Monday and other such things that will improve the quality of our home and our lives. Sure, I would love to be able stay home too, but for some reason seeing Loverman getting dressed in his togs of oppression to go off to the office everyday seems like such a WASTE of his talents.

So, as one that embraces and supports loafing, I was cheering on Mr. Beggerow. Many readers of the story felt quite differently about it, according to several of the letters to the editor.

But c’mon, surely you’ve felt this way? Wondering why you go work for the Man day after day after day when you could be hanging with the kids, doing yoga, sewing, gardening, blogging, etc.? I know why we do it - mortgages to pay, kids to feed and make happy and be secure, etc. But even though I like my job I am not one of those blessed people who skips off to the office every day to receive deep personal fulfillment from work.

Mr. Beggerow and his wife aren’t independently wealthy. He’s decided to just… care less about money. His wife is pictured laughing in the article ,so she doesn’t seem to mind too much, though it sounds like they’re getting kind of close to the edge financially. But, they’re not overly worried, living instead in a new paradigm.

“When you are in the mode of having money coming in,” he explained, “naturally you are thinking about planning and saving. And then when you don’t have the money coming in, you think less about the future, at least moneywise. It is still a concern, but not a concern that keeps me up at night, not in this life that I am now leading.”

I have long harbored a fantasy of not working myself, in addition to making it possible for Loverman to do so. Buying the occasional lottery ticket is as close as I’ve gotten to doing anything about it, and let’s face it, it will never happen. But it’s nice to dream of being a slacker. One can dream.

August 9, 2006

So last week, I blogged about an article I read in the New York Times about people choosing not to work, getting off the merry-go-round, out of the rat race, on the slow train to happyville. The article focused on one guy, Alan Beggerow, and I wrote about him. Then he read my blog and wrote back! In the comments! The dialog continues! How cool is that? To me, it’s the coolest thing about all this new communications stuff. Dialog. Strangers not being so strange. Making the big world somewhat smaller, or at least more accessible.

The Solutions to Everything

by Michael Ventura

It's happened once too often. Somebody says or writes to me, "You talk about what's wrong but you don't offer solutions," or "My girlfriend - boyfriend - lawyer - therapist says you should suggest solutions, not just talk about bad stuff." And maybe they're right. Maybe to detail one's visions and let readers take it from there is they feel like it just isn't enough. Maybe there are solutions, and maybe I should know them.
So I sat down and thought real hard, and here, numbered for your convenience, are my solutions to everything.

00. Indulge in secrets. Without one or two major secrets, your life will surely fade. (If you're over forty and don't understand this . . . you're in big trouble.)
A conundrum: secrets aren't lies--they're mysteries, havens, passageways. Lies wreck your life; secrets can save your life. But sometimes you have to lie to keep the secret. Ugh oh.

1. Make mistakes. As Coleman Hawkins said, "If you don't make mistakes, you aren't really trying."

2. Stop lying about yourself. To yourself. To your friends. To your family. To your business associates. Maybe even to your enemies. (Your enemies oppress you as much by your fidelity to your own lies as by anything else.)

3. Stop tolerating in your leaders what you wouldn't tolerate in your friends. But...

4. Tolerate impurity. Trying to be pure about anything is a way of setting yourself up to fail. Asking other people to be pure is a way of setting them up.

5. Read one book a month--a book that you didn't find out about in a magazine or newspaper. Browse an independent bookstore and wait till some book says, "Read me" and read it.

6. Listen to the voices. The wee inner voices. Even if they don't speak, even if they only breathe a little, like dirty phone calls. Do anything they tell you to do except rape, kill or pillage. (The voices make mistakes sometimes, but they don't make boring mistakes.)

7. Leave people alone when they tell you to leave them alone. If they mean it, they need it. If they don't mean it, they're trying to manipulate you, so fuck them. (Note: This rule applies to grownups only.)

8. Don't make the "sophisticated" error of thinking that a negative voice is automatically smarter than a positive voice.

9. Eat real food but don't be a fanatic about it.

10. Don't be a fanatic about anything.

11. Do only exercises that take you somewhere. Walk, ride a bike, roller-skate, swim. All other exercise is ego- and/or fear-driven, and if you listen to ego and fear you will drown out the voices you most need.

12. Don't run. Really, don't. American likes to run because running from (fill in the blank) is what we do best. Everybody who runs is running down an alley away from something terrible. Stop running and find out what's behind you.

13. Don't dye your hair unless you're a woman over forty and you dye it the color of my obsessions. Even then, don't cover up all your gray. Gray is gorgeous. And if you're a man, then really don't dye to cover gray. Dig it: EVERYBODY KNOWS. And they talk about it in a snide way behind your back. I'm not kidding.

14. Eat Italian food. Italians went from being oppressive Romans to being the inefficient, wonderful Italians they are today. It's probably the food.

[15. No longer applicable.]

16. Given that you're living in a city where driving is necessary, learn to drive. You may think you know how, but my experience of the way you drive is that you probably don't. So here's how:
Drive for space, not for speed. Space in front of you is the safest thing you can have with a car. Darting in and out of traffic doesn't change anything, it just makes you older. You can't beat the average traffic flow on any given street or freeway by more than five minutes, which only makes a difference if you're having a baby. And don't you feel like an idiot when you've passed six cars and they pull up beside you at the next light? They're laughing at you. And they hate you. Which isn't good for you. Drive for space.
If the move ain't smooth, it ain't right. There's no excuse for a jerky turn, stop or acceleration. It's hard on the car, it's hard on the other passengers, it confuses other drivers, it's not aesthetic. Such moves are for emergencies only.
Ninety percent of the time you drive with your habits, not your head, so figure out what your bad habits are--gunning it through yellows? not signaling? tailgating? Your worst habit will turn into your worst accident. So stop it. Drive for space. End of lesson.

17. Dance. Jesus said, in one of the Gnostic gospels, "He who does not dance does not know what happens."

18. Don't worry so much about being fat. Fat feels great in bed.

19. Have at least one other living thing in your abode. Rhododendrons, for instance, are fantastic creatures. They give much, ask little, have marvelous names, and they don't shit where I walk.

20. Look into people's eyes when you talk to them.

21. Call your parents by their real first names the very next time you see them. Try it. Watch their faces. Then do it at least half the time you talk to or about them from now on. (If people all over the world did this, nations would cease to war.)

22. Have candlelight in your life. (If you should get into rituals, it'll come in handy.)

23. No matter how rushed your schedule is, spend at least five minutes in the morning quietly in bed with your loved one just being gentle together. Perhaps drinking tea.

24. Tell your mother and father, individually--and your children, if you have children--what you really think. Once a year, minimum. If more people did this, it would save more lives than arresting drunk drivers.

25. Do not avoid the eyes of the homeless.

26. If you think something's wrong--at work, in your family, in your self, in your country--agitate for change. If you won't do that, it doesn't matter how tan you are.

27. As regards No. 23: Assuming that you want a loved one but don't have one, my bet is it's not because you're fat, ugly, crazy, old, a failure, a drunk, a ninny or a clod. Lot of fat ugly crazy older failing drunk ninnying clods have loved ones. Lots who don't have lovers want one, and would probably even put up with you. So there's some lie at the heart of your loneliness; being with someone would reveal the lie, and you don't want that.

28. Tape this to your bathroom mirror:

One can only face in others what one
can face in oneself.
--James Baldwin

29. Work is a sacrament. Don't despise anyone's.

30. Don't talk down to kids.

31. Don't chicken out about sex. Given that you're with a consenting adult, do whatever you fantasize. This is much more important than quitting smoking.

32. Watch at least one black-and-white film per month.

33. Regarding No. 6: Entertain the notion that there are . . . voices. Some come from within, some from the plants and objects and such around you, and some come from what I call, for shorthand purposes, the Infinite. If you don't listen for them, you life will be more difficult than it has to be.

34. Pay more taxes--and insist that those taxes, and the taxes you already pay, go for education. Giving the young a lively, thorough, truthful education is the most important environmental issue today, even more important than acid rain, tropical rain forests and ozone holes.

35. Let me make that a lot clearer. Recycling and shopping ecologically are almost pointless when one-third of California's high-school students drop out, and most who graduate can't read much and have no skills to speak of. How can these people inherit a world? Even if we give them a greener world, are they equipped to keep it that way? You want a solution, so here's a solution: Take to the Streets for the Education of the Children.

36. Pray.

37. Stop looking for other people to supply the solution. You're the solution. If you're not, there is no solution.

38. Be aware of the Network. We live by a network of connections and links. Your connection to yourself, to your intimates, to your place, to the collective, to the planet, to the Infinite. (Each is a distinct connection.) Equally powerful are the collective's connections to you (not at all the same as yours to it), to groups of intimates, to itself, to the planet, to the Infinite. Finally, the connections of groups of intimates to one another, to the collective, to the planet, to the Infinite. All these levels and connections interweave. All are equally important.
All the links or connective points of this network (call them the acupuncture points of our universe) both take and generate energy. Any link out of sync weakens the others. (The West, for instance, has concentrated too much on the individual; the East, too much on the collective; both approaches have been catastrophic on every level of the network.) This network, from you all the way to the Infinite, is a living whole, ceaselessly changing. Some of these changes take millions of years. Some happen instantaneously.

May the links of the network shine.

From 'North County Forum'

I don't recall which right-wing scumbag called people who earned less than 12K annually "Lucky Duckies" in a WSJ op-ed a few years ago because they didn't have to pay income taxes but I'm sure David Brooks agrees with him.

According to Brooks long-on-anecdote, short-on-facts rant (below) -

"Through some screw-up in the moral superstructure, we now have a plutocratic upper class infused with the staid industriousness of Ben Franklin, while we are apparently seeing the emergence of a Wal-Mart leisure class – devil-may-care middle-age slackers who live off home-equity loans and disability payments so they can surf the History Channel and enjoy fantasy football leagues."

Fuck him.

As if some elitist pig who sits on his ass and receives a handsome salary shilling for the economic aristocracy like Brooks would know anything about real work or the mountain of shit middle class workers must scale every day, day in, day out in order keep low paying, no-benefit, dead end jobs with ungrateful, greedy, downright abusive and often literally predatory employers in our so-called "globalized" economy.

If the boys in the boardrooms are working their asses off, it's only because they laid off 40% of the workforce to achieve a temporary spike in profits so they can cash out their stock options and move on to some other company where they can do it all over again.

Moreover, I cannot possibly concieve of a more worthless, contemptible "profession" than that of "Conservative Pundit".

Crack dealers and prostitutes have more personal integrity and provide a much more valuable service to society than sleazy albeit, high-class journalistic call-boys like Brooks ever will. It's literally impossible to fathom the depths of moral depravity, arrogance and indolence that would compel an individual to take up the cause of the wealthiest, most powerful members of society against those they victimize and bleed dry.

Is it possible to sink any lower than that?

I don't think so.

And aside from bare subsistence, I really wonder what motivates many mid-to-low income workers to keep working at all, much less working hard, under current economic circumstances.
I can certainly see why Bill Gates and Michael Eisner would be willing to put in 100 hrs/wk-plus doing what they do. If my hourly wage was well into six figures, I might be inclined to put in a little O/T too.

But when you consider that executive compensation has incresed over 300 fold in the past 15 years while middle class earnings and purchasing power remain stagnant and in most cases have lost economic ground, a minor point Brooks conveniently chose to overlook, it becomes pretty easy to see why many workers simply get discouraged and drop out of the workforce altogether and why many who remain have little incentive to kill themselves so the CEO can buy his mistress a new Lexus again this year.

The truth is, Big Business in general and upper management in particular simply does not value or appreciate good, hard, honest work.
It places a much higher premium on Bullshit-Artists, Ass-Kissers and Schmoozers (otherwise referred to as Team Players) than it does on maintaining a competent, qualifed, experienced labor force.

How do I know this?
Because management has told me as much. Repeatedly.

And even when they don't come right out and say it, they clearly demonstrate it by their actions.
To most managers, good workers are "a dime a dozen" but a smooth-talking, boot-licking suck-up (ie; an individual with "outstanding interpersonal, networking and communication skills" ie; David Brooks) is worth his weight in "new business opportunities" and worth at least a dozen good workers. Whether a company can adequately service those new clients once they've secured their business is generally irrelevent.

Few, if any of Brooks' moronic assertions in this article are anywhere close to accurate and any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.
But if US Business thinks the American workforce lacks incentive, it only has itself to blame.

Business should know better than anyone that you can't always expect to get more out of something than you put into it. Unfortunately, years of easy, often obscene profits that come even more often at the expense of their workers have caused many employers to forget that. Rewarding good work, loyalty, efficiency, innovation, etc, simply isn't budgeted in this quarter's operating funds. It would adversely affect the company's bottom line, undermine investor confidence, and put the P/E ratio right in the old shitter.

Sorry old boy, a raise now would be out of the question. How about a new title with increased responsibility (at your current pay rate of course) or a nice coffee cup emblazoned with the company logo instead?
Oh! And keep up the good work.

"It's class warfare, and my class is winning" - Warren Buffet

Perception, Meet Reality Part II

Or, Are Immigrants Taking Away Jobs from Americans?

One of the common arguments against illegal immigration is that illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans:

[Mark] Flanagan [Republican candidate for the 13th Congressional District in Florida] said illegal immigration is "taking away jobs from Americans . . . and overburdening our social services and costing taxpayers dearly."

Lets set aside the "overburdening of social services" and "cost to taxpayers" issue. Each of those deserves its own blog entry.

Could it be possible? Maybe, if you realize that things like these are going on in the U.S.:

Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid. . . Millions of men like Mr. Beggerow — men in the prime of their lives, between 30 and 55 — have dropped out of regular work. They are turning down jobs they think beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified, even as an expanding economy offers opportunities to work. . . About 13 percent of American men in this age group are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960’s. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Here's another example:

“To be honest, I’m kind of looking for the home run,” said Christopher Priga, who is 54 and has not had steady work since he lost a job with a six-figure income as an electrical engineer at Xerox in 2002. “There’s no point in hitting for base hits,” he explained. “I've been down the road where I did all the things I was supposed to do, and the end result of that is nil.” Instead, Mr. Priga supports himself by borrowing against the rising value of his Los Angeles home. Other men fall back on wives or family members. . . Despite their great numbers, many of the men not working are missing from the nation’s best-known statistic on unemployment. The jobless rate is now a low 4.6 percent, yet that number excludes most of the missing men, because they have stopped looking for work and are therefore not considered officially unemployed. That makes the unemployment rate a far less useful measure of the country’s well-being than it once was.

So it's OK to kick back and not look for a job because "the job is not worthy of you." I think that's insane. I wouldn't want to risk losing everything before saying "well, I guess it's time to find any job after all." But that's just me. They have the "money" or "equity" or "understanding spouse," so it's their choice.

What would you say about this, though?

The fastest growing source of help is a patchwork system of government support, the main one being federal disability insurance, which is financed by Social Security payroll taxes. The disability stipends range up to $1,000 a month and, after the first two years, Medicare kicks in, giving access to health insurance that for many missing men no longer comes with the low-wage jobs available to them. No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance. The ailments that qualify them are usually real, like back pain, heart trouble or mental illness. But in some cases, the illnesses are not so serious that they would prevent people from working if a well-paying job with benefits were an option.

And, as the article further explains, a determination of disability makes it more difficult for these people to return to work.

So, the next time someone tells you that immigrants - illegal or otherwise - are taking jobs away from Americans, or the next time someone rails about companies hiring or contracting technical staff from India or other less-developed countries, keep this in mind. They may be taking the jobs some Americans won't take because it's beneath them.


by Arthur Slutzburger, Jr. of The Dick List/The New York Times

WASHINGTON- A growing number of perfectly healthy American men have chosen not to work any job at all, and this extreme lazyness is caused by capitalism.

Many of these men could find work if they had to, but with lower pay and fewer benefits than were once standard, they have decided they prefer the alternative. It is a significant cultural shift from three decades ago, when men almost invariably went back into the work force after losing a job and were more often able to find a new one that met their needs.

“Men don’t feel a need to be in a career, not as much as they once did,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “Nor do men have the incentive they once had to pursue a career, not when employers are no longer committed to them.”

"If employers gave guaranteed positions for life," continued Ms. Milkman, "these unemployed men would gladly take jobs and become productive workers. Further, if they got automatic raises and full benefits, it would inspire them to be the best workers they can possibly be."

In Rock Falls, Illinois, Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid.

So instead of heading to work, Mr. Beggerow, now 53, fills his days with diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, masturbating, and writing unpublished Western potboilers in the Louis L’Amour style — all activities once relegated to spare time. He often stays up late and sleeps until 11 a.m.

“I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” he said. To make ends meet, he has tapped the equity in his home through a $30,000 second mortgage, and he is drawing down the family’s savings, at the rate of $7,500 a year. About $60,000 is left. His wife’s income helps them scrape by. “If things really get tight,” Mr. Beggerow said, “I might have to take a low-wage job, but I don’t want to do that. It's below me. Who do these guys think I am, that I should have to work to make a living?”

"What really pisses me off" said Mr. Beggerow, "is that the government won't subsidize my slothful behavior. Why couldn't I have been born in France or something? Why couldn't the Democrats have been elected? If the government would just give me money, maybe I would feel good enough about myself to get a job. Yeah, that's the ticket."

Truly, not wanting a job and not working at all has nothing to do with being a lazy, disgraceful, self-absorbed waste, but rather it is a product of the pernicious capitalist system that strips people of thier feelings of adeqacy and forces them to work in a state of quasi-slavery.

I Hope They Starve In The Streets

Broken Quanta

My contempt for these guys knows almost no bounds. A man who chooses not to work despite the fact that he could work and needs to work isn't fit to scrape the scum off the bottom of my shoe. He certainly doesn't have any "dignity" to speak of. For those who won't click, or who don't want to go through the Times' tedious registration process, here's the drift of the thing:

Alan Beggerow has not worked regularly in the five years since the steel mill that employed him for three decades closed. He and his wife, Cathleen, 47, cannot really afford to live without his paycheck. Yet with her sometimes reluctant blessing, Mr. Beggerow persists in constructing a way of life that he finds as satisfying as the work he did only in the last three years of his 30-year career at the mill.

That "way of life" is being a jobless bum. And apparently, this worthless layabout is not the only guy too vain and slothful to take his ass to work. The article reports on three guys of different backgrounds, all of whom have decided that they just can't stand the psychological strain of gainful employment. Apparently, this is some kind of trend, reflected in various workforce statistics that the author reports on. Strangely, though, the piece seems sympathetic to these losers. The exact reason we ought to feel anything but contempt for them is unclear, presumably because no such reason actually exists.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Totally Ignorant About Capitalism

Louis Uchitelle, the author of The Disposable American: Layoffs And Their Consequences was on CSpan-2 today discussing the book. Mr. Uchitelle showed once again his remarkable depth of understanding about the current labor situation in particular and the economy in general. I have read the book, and my comments about the book can be found here.

I was interested in the questions asked after his presentation. The questions were varied, but the one that was the most interesting was the one asked by a man that first read a quote by Samuel Gompers, then proceeded to tell Mr. Uchitelle that he was totally ignorant about capitalism. The questioner's point being that if layoffs are the only way for a company to be profitable, what's wrong with that? It is no doubt not the first time the author has heard comments like this, and most likely the questioner was not the rudest the author has encountered.

It isn't that the author is ignorant of capitalism. By what he's written it seems he understands it very well. It is the fact that he does not agree with unrestrained, free market capitalism where maximum profit is gained by the disregard of the ones that are the creators of profit. And who creates profit? Who creates basic wealth? Labor. For the sake of short-term, maximum profit, labor is taking it on the chin. Poor wages, no benefits, no job security for labor while a handful at the top of the pyramid make more and more. The upper echelon recieve high salaries, huge expense accounts, great benefits, while they repeatedly use layoffs and plant closures as profit-making strategies. And for them, it works. Like bands of corporate marauders, they float from position to position, company to company, skim off the gravy and move on.

This is but one part of the debate that the author is trying to put forth to society. Some others are the moral, ethical, and social aspects of layoffs. How they affect productivity, job security, worker's rights, and society in general. So for someone to accuse the author of ignorance shows me that debate is necessary. Without honest dialogue, where beliefs and fears are brought forth in a civil manner, instead of name-calling and ideological rantings, these issues will never be addressed. And they need to be addressed. Nothing less than the future of labor, of our economy, our country , is at stake.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

From An Economist

Free Time is Not Free

We have been discussing the issue of minimum wage. The economist in me was captivated by the "Quotation of the Day" in today's email version of the New York Times.

"I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me."
- Alan Beggerow, unemployed steel worker

The quotation came from a very interesting and fairly in-depth article by LOUIS UCHITELLE and DAVID LEONHARDT in today's New York Times entitled "Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job."

What Mr. Beggerow has come to realize is that in accepting a job, he is selling not only his labor and his skills, he is selling his time. And time is a very valuable commodity. Most of us never really have the opportunity to truly gauge just how valuable our free time is.

That is another aspect of the minimum wage discussion I have largely overlooked.

Just how all of this is going to play out over the next decade is far from clear. Huge numbers of Baby Boomers are entering their 60's. Will they continue to work, or will they discover the true value of their free time?

If they leave the workforce – as they very well may – they will create a massive across-the-board shortage of skilled, experienced workers. This could drive unemployment in the U.S. to record lows, drive up the cost of labor, and put the immigration debate on the back burner.

The Boomers have proven themselves to be very independent. But once they discover the joys of free time, I'm betting it is going to require large sums of cash to lure them back to work.

It's definitely something to think about.

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