by Gilles d'Aymery
"Everybody wants change so long as one does not rock the boat and it all remains the same. You want change? Me too. You start first."
—Gilles d'Aymery, November 2005
(Swans - November 7, 2005) A FRIEND WRITES, "A simple idea that I would like to present to Jan Baughman and the readers of Swans is that the United States IS the best country in which to live in this world...considering quality of life, standard of living, liberties and freedoms...overall I think a strong case can be made for this belief. And in this lies the biggest dilemma, heartbreak and disappointment. When the 'Best Country' is capable of such hypocrisy, destruction, self-destruction, disregard and ill regard for its neighbors and friends...even its foes...then something is terribly wrong. And this road to perdition upon which we Americans travel will lead us to the best hell we are truly creating for ourselves and others."
THE BEST COUNTRY? Sure, so long as one is on the right side of the tracks. For those who have the gold, life is indeed qualitatively better than almost anywhere in the world. Take, for instance, wealthy seniors in the San Francisco Bay Area. They can move in to a new 388-apartment facility, the Palo Alto Classic Residence by Hyatt, located on 22.5 acres of land leased from Stanford University near the Stanford Shopping Center and Stanford U. hospital, across Sand Hill Road. For a meager $1 million entrance fee and monthly fees of $4,000 to 5,500, they can live in a 1,400 square foot apartment with maple cabinetry, Italian porcelain tile, and marble countertops. A few really well-heeled customers can fork over $4 million and take advantage of one of seven 4,212 square feet three-bedroom units. According to Dave Murphy ("Upscale retirement complex opens - Facility includes assisted living and skilled nursing care," San Francisco Chronicle, November 3, 2005), the residents can eat 30 meals a month at the Colonnade, with French linens and Rosenthal china, or the Club Room and the casual Bistro Café. I suppose the other 30 meals a month are not included in the monthly fee... But the fee does include "property taxes, insurance, security, housekeeping, many utilities, maintenance, concierge services, valet parking and a variety of facilities and programs, including fitness classes, transportation and an indoor swimming pool." Swell, no?
OF COURSE, one has to add what's not included -- the daily expenses, the car, health insurance, the optional packages certainly offered by Hyatt to their retirement consumers, all these conveniences of living a good life to the end. No doubt, "quality of life, standard of living, liberties and freedoms" for the happy few is unquestionable. But, go back to what I wrote in "Shame on us" about education in the U.S. as far back as September 1996, or read my September 1999 three-part series "Let 'em Eat Cake" -- the situation has further deteriorated since then, for the majority of the population.
THEN, EXPLORE the other side of the tracks, the one kept hidden, practically never seen on TV... Listen again to Etan Thomas's eloquent speech about that other side (the "wrong" side), one which those on the "right" side should be well advised to visit more often -- not only visit but share for, say, a 15-year prison sentence; or a sentence to live with the downtrodden for 15 years, as Thomas advocated members of the Bush gang should experience in actuality (and so should the Lib-Labs). Be sure to read the many tributes to Rosa Parks on November 2, 2005, in Detroit -- from James Crow, Jr., Esquire raising his ugly head again, but in more disguised and subtle ways, to the time "when the City of Bloomfield Hills and the City of Detroit have the same college graduation rates and the same low prison incarceration rates" (Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm), and Nina Simone's "I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, I wish I could break all the chains holding me, I wish I could fly like a bird in the sky."
"QUALITY OF LIFE, standard of living, liberties and freedoms," for the masses? Visit the penitentiary populace; get out of our all-white neighborhoods and venture in the outskirts of the forgotten America; check the stats provided by myriad national and international organizations; compare... Sure, you'll see many countries in dire straits, but you won't find one country that has as much wealth, wastes as much, and has as much dismal inequity as the un-United States of America. Don't hesitate to prove me incorrect in my assessment.
INEQUITY EXAMPLES: I mentioned in my response to the letter Sam Pizzigati (the Editor of Too Much) sent on October 12, 2005 that David Duffield (#320 on the Forbes list), founder of the software company PeopleSoft, wants to build a 72,000 sq. ft. dream house with an additional 25,000 sq. ft. for barn, guesthouse, etc., in Alamo, San Francisco Bay Area. To put into perspective of sort: This is not the biggest private home in the U.S. The reigning title remains George Vanderbilt's 175,000 square feet Biltmore House in Ashville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, built between 1889 and 1895 on an originally 125,000 acres estate (down to 8,000 acres "only" today). 175,000 sq. ft. cover 4 acres! Some 250 rooms, etc., etc., etc. In comparison, Mr. Duffield's ambitions look quite modest, though how modest they are is subject to interpretation. The Casa Grande of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, with its 41 bedrooms and 38 bathrooms is "only" 60,645 sq. ft. That should give some idea of Mr. Duffield's ambitions. Of course, Hearst Castle has three additional houses -- Casa del Mar (5,875 sq. ft.), Casa del Monte (2,291 sq. ft.) and Casa del Sol (2,604 sq. ft.) -- and let's not forget the 1,665 sq. ft indoor Roman swimming pool. Overall, 90,080 square feet, 41 fireplaces, 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 19 sitting rooms. Duffield, with his 97,000 sq. ft. of building covering over 2 acres of land appears to want to join the members of the contemporary Gilded Age. Nothing else.
ON THE OTHER SIDE of the equation, the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University, in an analysis completed for the US Department of Agriculture, found that hunger in America has risen 43 percent in the past 5 years. Seven million additional people have joined the ranks of the hungry for a 2004 total of 38.2 million people (31 million in 1999), of which close to 14 million are children, experience hunger or live with "food insecurity," a euphemism for saying that at a moment's notice they are left with an empty stomach. Meanwhile, to help pay for Katrina "recovery," the US Congress wants to eliminate $844 million in food stamps, $5 billion in Child Support Enforcement, and, among other cuts totaling $50 billion, $9.5 billion in Medicaid. A cabal of millionaires voting their conscience to cut assistance to the poorest, while continuing to spend $5 billion per month on the destruction of Iraq. Compare our response with that of Pervez Musharraf, who, faced with the horrific destruction wreaked by the recent earthquake, cancelled Pakistan's purchase of 77 American F-16 fighter planes, which would have cost somewhere between 5 and 10 billion dollars.
In the meantime, people left homeless due to Katrina -- or better said, due to the abysmal lack of preparation and prevention from all local, state and federal agencies, are being relocated in trailer parks, though the trailers aren't even being delivered...
SO, THE BEST COUNTRY in which to live? For whom?
ANOTHER FRIEND WRITES (hmm, lots of friends are writing these days...): "Gilles, I've read your grim opinion of the American experiment. I sensed a lot of anger, outrage, disappointment, and sadness, on your part. I'm sorry you feel that way. I believe that your severe depiction ignores the facts that the U.S. has contributed much good to the world and that, in spite of the horrible complexities we are going through, there are millions and millions of good people in the U.S. -- people who really want change. Do not despair and don't listen to the sirens that sing the tune of a better place elsewhere, somewhere. There is no place to hide. The interconnectedness of the world is incontrovertible. When the center, here, changes, the periphery, there, will change. Keep up the good work and don't feel offended by the un-American accusations that fly your way. You personify American dissent and are as an American as I am."
WELL, FRIEND, the cops in Santa Rosa, California, strongly reminded me that I was French and my accent accounted for it. Disappointment and sadness should be understandable. This is not the America I was dreaming of when I was 16 years old and wanting so much to reach her shores. It took me another 16 years to achieve my dreams -- December 1982 to be precise. It was the age of Reagan's "shining hill," which was befuddling to this newcomer. How could so many people buy the reactionary hogwash spilled by the Reaganites? I knew not -- my mistake and lack of knowledge -- how deeply reactionary the country was; but for the past 23 years I've observed and suffered that reaction -- one among many. Angry and outraged I am; at myself for feeling powerless often times; at the Lib-Labs, the concerned citizens, the do-gooders, who, fully able to delineate, outline, describe the predicaments, are incapable or unwilling to break away from market solutions and, henceforth, keep perpetuating a system they otherwise decry.
PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS should not be regarded as a slogan but as a statement with fundamental implications. Behind profits lay profiteers. Profiteers, of every creed and nationality, strive for amassing riches and power (or controlling the levers of power through the corporate and government revolving doors). That system has proven time and again that it could not alleviate suffering, feed the hungry, heal the sick, be a careful custodian of the environment, sustain the working class, either at home or abroad. Profiteers are plunderers, pillagers, buccaneers. They bribe and take kickbacks -- I know; I used to work in the oil and gas industry and trading for almost a decade. I know greed from inside out, when the only object is to enrich oneself.
BRIBES AND KICKBACKS take all sorts of shapes and forms, and not just in the oil and gas industry (where it's unbridled). Take the latest scheme to spread fear among the people, socialize costs, and privatize profits -- the Avian flu or H5N1 virus that we are told is going to lead to an influenza pandemic, which could kill tens of millions if not now, in an uncertain future. Officials have been beating the bushes for weeks now. We are unprepared, they say. We need protection. So Mr. Bush asked Congress for money and Congress passed an emergency $8 billion bill to combat the official- and pundit-made flu panic. A good chunk of this money, some $3 billion, is earmarked for the purchase of Tamiflu, a drug manufactured in Switzerland by the giant pharmaceutical company Roche, which is the only holder of a license to make the drug. Tamiflu, however, was conceived and developed by a biotech company based in California, Gilead Sciences Inc. For each sale of Tamiflu, Gilead collects a royalty of about 10%. The company's stock has increased from $35 to $47 in the past six months as Roche has seen its orders of Tamiflu grow exponentially the more the flu panic was hyped by officials. Nothing wrong with that picture, you'll say, at least in our current state-capitalist system. The company that developed the drug, Gilead, deserves its reward. But look again...
MANY WAYS TO SKIN A CAT: First, officials and pundits alike hype the risks of a pandemic and create fear among the populace. People demand protection. The government obliges, directing its attention (and yours) toward one specific drug, Tamiflu. Tax dollars (yours or, most probably, those of your children and grandchildren) are used to pay for that protection. Roche makes a hefty profit and so too Gilead, the developer of the drug. On the scene enters Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense. It just so happens that prior to becoming the DoD secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld was the chairman of the board of Gilead, from 1997 to 2001 (current Gilead board of directors includes former US secretary of state and Bechtel director George Shultz). In the past six months alone, Rumsfeld has made a quick million bucks from the stock he holds in the company -- in a blind trust, it goes without saying...like Senate majority leader Bill Frist! (See "Rummy's bird flu bonanza," by William Engdahl, Asia Times, 11/4/2004.) Leeches are literally sucking the blood of all of us, but we keep placing our hopes in that system.
IT IS OFT SAID THAT THE ONLY RECOURSE is to vote these people out of power and replace them with the Dems. I've heard that line again and again from the Lib-Labs and even the so-called Progressives. That people like Howard Zinn, or Edward Herman, whom I deeply respect, espouse that line of thinking is most disappointing...and, at times, infuriating. It brings to mind the words of Cass R. Sunstein, professor at the University of Chicago Law School: "The center has become the left. The right is now the center. The left no longer exists." ("Fighting for the Supreme Court," Harper's, September 2005.) Change, actual change, cannot and will not occur until we break away from the current system. The extreme neo-liberal virus has infected the democratic "leadership" as incurably as it has the republican's.
BREAKING AWAY does not mean breaking the house altogether. There is nothing inherently wrong about private property so long as the extent of the property remains reasonable (a decent house, a small piece of land), which will take care of the greater majority of the people. The Duffields of this world must have their property excesses communized. The commons must take precedence on an international basis. Ownership of the means of production -- financial, agricultural, and industrial -- must absolutely be communized. Income disparity should not exceed a ratio of 1 to 4, vs. 1 to (more or less) 500 today. Bury the "can have it all" mentality and replace it by a "can share it all" one. Bury competition in the recess of consciousness and bring cooperation to the fore. Tread lightly on the environment and in solidarity with your fellows. Denuclearize the world and send the troops back to life-enhancing activities instead of sowing death all over the planet. Redefine the concept of growth away from input-output. Localize and internationalize decision-making processes away from the national construct that exists only in one's mind and is used to keep people subjugated to powerful interests. Put ethics before morality. Relegate religion to where it should be located, churches. Abandon the racial paradigm...there are no races in humanity's DNA. Change the electoral process so that all people serve, from the lowest to the highest echelons, in public service by implementing a system similar to jury duty. This, in very, very, short, is what putting people before profits means: re-defining priorities. It is neither radical nor revolutionary -- not even idealistic. It's utterly practical and feasible, but for the ideologues and profiteers -- the real radicals and fundamentalists -- that control our destiny with a harshness and violence that is increasingly becoming apparent to more and more people.
AND NEVER, EVER BE AFRAID (easier said than done, I know): It's a battle of ideas that we need to fight nonviolently. These ideas are universal, in opposition to the self-interest of the few supported lamentably by the many in the rich world. It's a battle for solidarity and fraternity and equality. There's no evil. Love ultimately always prevails upon hate. We belong to the long chain of life. Let's keep it going, that bright little flame of sanity that inhabits us all...
CITATION FOR THE AGES: "Everywhere in these days people have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible state of affairs must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light... But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw other souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die."
--Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
WOW, AREN'T YOU begging for a tad of humor? Here it comes:
DISRESPECT TO POTUS: A correspondent shares an e-mail he sent to the White House (email@example.com) recently:
Dear White House staffer who answers e-mail:
Did you know that if you go to the Google home page and type in "failure" and then click "I'm feeling lucky" that the White House home page comes up?
I think you need to stop them. Isn't there some way you can get the justice department to make it stop. Isn't this a "failure" on Google's part to obey some kind of law about showing disrespect to the President? I think something needs to be done. Our President Bush has had too many failures and does not need to be reminded of them in such a disrespectful way. Aren't you allowed to shut down Google with the Patriot Act or something?
MY CORRESPONDENT is right on track. As of November 4, I googled "failure," clicked on "I'm feeling lucky," and was transferred to the biography of Dubya at http://www.whitehouse.gov/president/gwbbio.html -- The Googlistas are poking fun at the prez... so un-American!
FRIENDLY WORDS FROM DAILY KOS: To hear kudos for Swans from bloggers is such a rarity (actually, the first time I've ever come across such happenstance) that it's worth noting. Here it is:
People who hang out. . .
. . .here at Kos will find this site worthwhile. Consistently high-quality stuff. These people have great content, but I never hear anyone mention their site. Check it out when you have time.
The time is now. Damn it, the time is ALWAYS now!
by PrairieCorrespondent on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 06:25:33 PM PDTThanks for this site...
I think. Having just read the review of KILLING DEMOCRACY THE STRAUSSIAN WAY, a look at the philosophy of neocon mentor Leo Strauss, I am not at all encouraged as to this country's future if these people retain power. If a philosophy (Strauss's) can be said to be evil, this is it.
by miriam on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 09:22:03 PM PDT
WELL, THANK YOU, "Prairie Correspondent" and "Miriam." Few people mention Swans for we are walking along the "road less traveled." Thanks again and please disseminate the good word.
BOONVILLE NEWS: Argh, I wanted to write a piece deconstructing New York Times contributor James Traub who wrote a poisonous, ad hominen attack on Harold Pinter et al. ("Their Highbrow Hatred of Us. How did virulent anti-Americanism become so respectable?" NYT Magazine, October 30, 2005) and a middle-of-the-road, stay-the-course book review on Arguing the War ("Everybody Is a Realist Now," NYT Book Review, October 30, 2005), but events in Boonville ate up most of my time in the past few weeks. But no worry, Jimmy: Harold, Noam, Gore, et al., don't hate you and your fellow neo-liberals at the NYT and beyond. We like you much though tend to think convincingly that the policies of the Bush administration that you and all the "liberal" intelligentsia defend, albeit obliquely, are extremely detrimental to the world, including America (America is still a member in good standing of the world, isn't it, Jimmy?). Anyway, my deconstruction will have to wait, for life here has been quite busy.
I'D SAY TO THE PESSIMISTS out there that hope, while ceaselessly flickering, should not be discarded altogether for hopeful and pleasant it is indeed to listen to old timers getting all worked up about Bush and his gang. "When is this guy going to be impeached?" they ask (not anytime soon I think, keeping my thoughts private). "But, why would you want to see him impeached?" I venture to ask. "Did you not vote for the man in the first place?" "Hey, don't rub salt on the wound, you hear. We "fucked" up. The guy is a liar; he's brought us to war on fucking lies; gas prices are way up; even diesel fuel is more expensive than regular gas; the economy is drowning in the Gulf of Mexico; he cannot even take care of his own; the man has got to go." As said, keep hope alive... "And, who would you replace him with?" "Any fucking Democrat will do," was the answer. Hope, as we all know, is a fragile plant...
ANYWAY, MUCH ACTIVITY has kept me away from the digital world -- not too good for a publisher and co-editor who has to prod contributors regularly and repeatedly, but a wonderful get-away, human, get-together experience. First, Dean and Craig Titus moved in with their grading and earth moving equipment. Between them they graded about five hundred yards of our road, from the entrance to the top of the property. They brought 16 loads (that's 160 cubic yards) of rocks from the Pardini quarry, installed a 40' culvert in a curve that was impassable during the rainy season, planed the ground so that a carport could be installed, smoothed the hills when needed, and helped me plant erosion-retarding seeds covered by straw bought from the Valley Farm Supply store.
THEN, from the same Valley Farm Supply store we ordered the carport to be delivered and installed by American Carports, Inc. This was to happen some three weeks ago. As I did not hear from the installers despite several calls (three to be exact), I went back to David Gowan -- the owner-seller of the Valley Farm -- to ask for his help. He took his phone; called the company; faxed the order back to them,...result: the carport is on its way this coming Tuesday.
AFTER MONTHS and months of trying to find a building contractor to help us we finally hit the golden goose. I mean, we contacted so many that it's hard to recall. From Burroughs Construction (two-year waiting list), Kurt Morse (at least six months delay -- though Kurt was gracious enough to come up and look at the potential job), Jim Boudoures of Philo Saw Works (he could do it and then could not because his foreman had gotten sick...but he gave us the lucky number, see further...), or the folks at the Cabin Works (did not bother to even call back...thank you good people, we will remember you next time, for sure!), till, thanks to Jim Boudoures, we contacted Dennis Toohey, who, luck strikes gold, was being delayed by county bureaucracy and engineer/architect procedural BS, and had some time on his hands. Fortunately, our project, repairing the tiny shed that's falling apart, widening it with a 10'x12' extension and a small one-vehicle carport, was something he could handle in the little time he had free. Of course, projects take a life of their own, so long as god gives them life, and the rain does not strike. God had little to do with it but rain stuck! Concrete is poured, fortunately. The rest of the project is hanging in cloudy skies, the engineer/architect/county take, Dennis's second-hand man, Speedy, who fell in his newly renovated shower and broke three ribs, and what else...who knows.
RAIN BEING A PART of the foreseeable future, I've had to: bring as much dry wood as I could close to the house to feed the wood stove (first use was two days ago -- and I still need to find a chimney cleaner -- the installer of the stove has gone out of the sweeping business...); build a small plywood roof on top of our outside trash box; work on staining the deck which was built -- thank you Marsha O'Bannon (the seller of this "dream place") -- with fir, wood known to be used only for inside construction and that liberally rots if used outside; bleed (an ongoing job) the radiant heat system line (another botched job thanks to Marsha O'Bannon) for the bedroom; repaint (with Jan's help) the old 8'x20' container we bought for storage a year or so ago -- this involved scratching the entire thing before laying anti-rust paint, priming it, and, at this time, painting the first coat of the final cover using material from good ol' Bob's of Gray's Paint in Redwood City (one goes back to the real thing -- or people...); somewhere in between, put together a cedar wood cover door and roof for the main electrical utility; tarp everything that is in harm's (rain) way; and, back to the digital age, deal with another virus attack.
NOT VERY EXCITING, I confess, but at times one feels rather isolated in the charming -- and beautiful -- Boonville boonies. When you can't find a local chimney sweeper, or when two of the four burners of the gas cooktop have gone AWOL and that the model, installed five years ago has (of course) been discontinued by the manufacturer (Thermidor), and you have no idea how to repair it, you quickly begin to long for some kind, any kind, of self-sufficiency 101 course -- or to look for a manual entitled "What Idiots Should Know About Self-Sufficiency!"
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...