Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Class War: A Perspective on Wealth

weaalth distribution in U.S.A.

Source: Bing Images

©2016 By Bob Litton

WEALTH
1a. An abundance of valuable material possessions or resources, riches
1b. The state of being rich, affluence
2. Goods and resources having value in terms of exchange or use
3. A great amount, a profusion
The Free Dictionary (online)

* * * * * * * *

As long as I have been aware of societal divisions into classes I have hated the whole idea of a caste system and not strictly because of any income gaps. No, I am repelled by the notion that somebody could believe that he or she is irreversibly superior to me by divine right or other source such as a congressional appointment. I got my first taste of the totem pole culture while in the air force when I learned that I was expected to be always the first to salute and that I must always surrender place when even the spouse of an officer picks up mail at the postal window. That very much offended me and I still bridle a little when memories of those incidents come to mind.

Nor do I have any appreciation for the terms “upper class”, “middle class” and “working class”. I guess we are supposed to be thankful that the words “peasant” and “slave” are no longer generally descriptive of people in the United States and most other countries, but that is not enough: the whole class system must be erased entirely. (Sadly enough, slavery— or “involuntary servitude”— is still irritatingly present, although illegally, in my fatherland.) In the United States, class distinctions are not generally based on bloodlines as they have been in Europe and in Asia but on wealth, although family connections were more noticeably determinate up through, perhaps, mid-20th century.

During the last couple of decades the topic of “income inequality” has often appeared in newspaper and magazine articles and columns. Repeatedly the image of a very small portion of the U.S. population—the so-called “one-percenters”, those whom Thorstein Veblen called “the leisure class”— has accumulated more than a third of the nation’s wealth, and the next 19 percent possess more than 50 percent, leaving the remaining 80 percent of our citizens with only 15 percent of our national treasure. How did that happen?

Now the conservatives like to argue that the super-affluent obtained their riches through hard work, thrift, and prudent investments. To a limited degree that is true for some of the rich but not, I believe, for all of them. With the exception of “prudent investments”, those attributes cannot logically account for the vast wealth gained by the one-percenters. A person would have to enjoy an extremely high hourly wage to get wealthy through “hard work” (a phrase I handily contemn). Of course, most of us are aware of the ridiculously high “salaries” and bonuses lavished on corporate executives, even when their companies are losing money and are letting the CEOs go with “golden parachutes”.

In an April 24, 2014, column Harvard economist and regular The New York Times contributor Paul Krugman wrote that the primary route to riches for most of the one-percenters is not by way of “hard work”. Krugman applauded a recently published economics book by French economist Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century, in which the author asserts that the affluent don’t get rich from enterprise but from assets gained mostly through inheritance. Piketty calls for “progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth”, wrote Krugman. Conservative critics have responded with ad hominem attacks, calling Piketty a “communist”, Krugman noted, because they cannot come up with any substantively valid arguments to refute him.

Some roads to riches, however, do involve initiative and energetic endeavor—along with considerable native intelligence. Two of the richest men in the U.S., for instance, started their eventual capitalistic enterprises while still in school, with assistance from classmates. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote his first computer program at age 13 while in prep school and went on to refine his geek skills, with college classmates, to a point where he could start-up Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook working with four college classmates in their dorm rooms. More about those two later.

Many young people of our time, though, seek to win fame along with fortune in either entertainment or sports. The most worrisome thing about this trend, for me, is that only a very small number attain the stature and earnings they had hoped for. And the “earnings” of those who do seem as ridiculously out of proportion as those of the corporate executives.

Harrison Ford, for example, reportedly received from $10 million to $25 million (different sources cite different amounts) upfront for his final appearance as Han Solo in The Force Awakens (2015), along with .5 percent of the film’s gross earnings. Contrast that with the $500,000 his contracted base pay was for Return of the Jedi (1983), the $100,000 for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and the $10,000 for Star Wars (1977). The .5 percent on gross sales of course significantly augments those figures.

Another major Hollywood figure, Carole Lombard, was the highest paid cinema star of 1937, during the Great Depression. Of course her earnings that year ($485,000) did not come anywhere near Harrison Ford’s, but we must allow for inflation. She did earn $150,000 for each picture, definitely exceeding the amounts Ford initially received for his first two Star Wars films. The main reason I mention Lombard here, though, is the interesting tidbit I picked up from an August 25, 1938, article in The Mercury. She paid four-fifths of her 1937 earnings on taxes; after that amount plus various incidental expenses such as her press agent’s fee, her net income was about $20,000, according to Mercury.  “‘But I have no kicks,’ she [said]. ‘I am pretty happy about the whole thing, and 20,000 dollars a year is plenty.’ She added: she was glad the government was spending the rest on public improvements….’”

Then there is the music industry. I recall viewing the film The Glenn Miller Story in 1954. It starred Jimmy Stewart as Miller and June Allyson as his wife Martha. I now can recall only three scenes from it, and even those only vaguely. The scene related below is the only one pertinent to this essay. (I transcribed the dialogue from the film as I viewed it recently on YouTube):

Miller’s parents come to visit him, Martha and their infant child in their new home — a mansion for the times. While Glenn and Martha lead his parents up the wide stairway, his father inquires about how his son has managed to pay for the house on a musician’s earnings:
Pop: “Paid for, is it?”
Glenn: “O yeah, yeah, all paid for.”
Pop: “Must be doing pretty well.”
Mom: “O yes, he’s doing pretty well. Don’t we hear him on the radio every night?”
Pop: “That’s only 15 minutes. Don’t suppose they pay very much for that.”
Mom: “Well, there’s the records, and he’s playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania.”
Pop: “How much do they pay for playing on one of those records, son?”
Glenn: “We get three cents a record.”
Pop: “Three cents, huh? Have to sell a heap of records to make it worthwhile, don’t you?
Mom: “But they do, dear.”
Pop: “How many copies of a record do they sell, son?”
Glenn: “O, of ‘Moonlight Serenade’ we sold about 800,000.”
Pop: “Did you say 800,000?”
Glenn: “That’s right.”
Pop: “O! Heh, heh, heh.”
Now, if you suppose that Glenn Miller’s orchestra spent a full 8-hour day producing “Moonlight Serenade”, then they grossed $24,000 on that one record. Of course not all of that went to Glenn, there were the members of his band and presumably a studio rental and sound technicians to cover, not to mention some income tax. Still, that was just for one record; when you consider similar days for a whole work week, Glenn still came out pretty well.

The above scene brings to the fore an important question. We may be amazed and even disgusted at the huge amounts recording artists make from their records and live performances; but when we look at it a little more objectively, three cents is a really paltry amount on a single record. It is only when we multiply it by the 800,000 purchasers that the earnings jump significantly. And the world’s consumer market has increased tremendously since the 1930s, when Miller was just starting out. How can we begrudge some musician three cents on a single record?

As far as record sales go, the gain hasn’t increased all that much since Miller’s time. From what I have been able to gather online, the most popular musicians of today—the “rock stars”—receive only 75 cents to a dollar on an album. No, most of their wealth comes from live performances and T-shirts. An average box office “take” for a live performance was noted as between $150,000 and $200,000; but the fee for venue rental can be as high as $50,000, and there are the truck drivers and “roadies” wages to pay. Still, one source claims that each member of the rock band Metallica has had from $5 million to $10 million in the bank from their start-up to the present.

The earnings of major sports have become similarly ludicrous. In December 2015, basketball star LeBron James signed a lifetime contract with Nike to act as their brand-enhancer. The exact amount was not revealed, but ESPN reporter Darren Rovell estimated it could be worth $1 billion. In 2014, James joined the Cleveland Cavaliers for $22 million a year. And, Rovell wrote, James “ranks as sixth on Forbes 2015 list of highest paid athletes.” James’ total wealth—from endorsements and business ventures as well as from playing basketball—has been estimated at $64.8 million.

During the same month (December 2015) that James contracted with Nike, pitcher David Price finalized a $217 million, 7-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. According to Jimmy Golden of the Associated Press, the terms of the contract are that Price be paid $30 million a year for 2016-2018, $31 million in 2019 and $32 million in each of the final three years.

Professional sports teams that used to be filled by white men only are now predominately black. I don’t know what happened to the white guys: Are they physically unable to compete anymore or are they too racist to engage in the try-outs? As for the blacks, professional sports teams have become the equivalent of the 1840s gold mines; they apparently dream from childhood on of becoming sports heroes; sports has become their pathway to success and financial security. And the team owners are playing this longing to the hilt: I read an article not long ago that related how scouts have been venturing to a certain country in Africa (which one I don’t recall) to recruit youngsters to come to the USA and show their stuff; unfortunately, a large percentage of youths who venture westward cannot make the grade, not because they aren’t talented enough but because there aren’t that many positions open.

Another source of over-the-top income is gambling, either in the stock market or in the lotteries.

Oprah Winfrey, for instance, bought 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers stock in October 2015 for $43 million. Almost as soon as this newsy item was out, Weight Watchers stock skyrocketed by 90 percent, according to ABC News. Winfrey said she invested so heavily in the company—which was “struggling with declining sales and a looming debt of $144 million” (ABC)—because Weight Watchers had helped her and millions of others with their weight issues. (The prestige derived from her joining the board of directors very likely helped them, too.) In February 2016, however, Weight Watchers stock declined 29 percent, according to USA Today (Feb. 26, 2016), and as of that date Oprah had lost about $29 million on her investment.

Then there is the much less admirable mode of gambling in which a hell of a lot of poor people engage: the lotteries. As far as I am concerned, this is a national sin. Yet the fact that lottery winnings are so absurdly astronomical testifies to the willingness of many of my compatriots to be gulls. I recall a news story from 1987 about a New York City janitor who won $5 million in a lottery, went to work the next day and, as he was about to climb a ladder to screw in a light bulb, another bulb lit up (in his head). “What am I doing this for?” he wondered, “I’m a millionaire.” Fifteen months later, according to a 1992 New York Times story by Alessandra Stanley, the lottery winner died in an automobile accident; and, since he left no will, his family had to spend a lot of time and money on lawyers and accountants plus income and estate taxes before they could extricate themselves with an estimated $400,000. Many other lottery winners’ stories have reportedly ended in similar Dickensian tragedies, according to what I have seen on the Internet.

But the most ridiculous money-grubbing story I ever read about concerns that silly little ditty known as “The Birthday Song”. If you live in the English-speaking regions, you probably know the words to the song. (I won’t dignify them by calling them “lyrics”, as some people do.) And if you don’t know the words, they are absolutely simple to learn; no memorizing necessary. It goes like this: “Happy birthday to you/Happy birthday to you/Happy birthday dear Nancy (or whoever)/Happy birthday to you.” It is usually sung at birthday parties; Marilyn Monroe sang it to John F. Kennedy at a celebration for him, but it is a universal tradition for anybody’s birthday in my country.

The ditty, you will note, contains only four words with an additional two stuck in as the addressee. And when it was supposedly composed by two sisters in Kentucky in 1893 no thought was taken as to copyright. The two ladies, Patty and Mildred J. Hill, used the ditty simply as a tool for teaching young children to sing. It reportedly first appeared in print in 1912, still without credits or copyright notices. Then, in 1935, the Summy Company registered a copyright. That company was bought by Warner/Chappell Music in 1988, when “Happy Birthday” had an estimated value of $5 million. Groups larger than small gatherings of relatives and friends had to pay royalties to the company for the opportunity to chirp the nonsense. For one such opportunity, in February 2010, the royalties reportedly amounted to $700. According to the Wikipedia article where I read up on this farce, “the song is the highest-earning single song in history, with estimated earnings since its creation of $50 million.” In addition, legal battles over the copyright issue went on for decades until February 8, 2016, when Warner/Chappell accepted a final judgment declaring the ditty to be in the public domain. For an entertaining summary of the lurid history of “Happy Birthday” I refer you to the Wikipedia article.

So, what can we do to “level the playing field” in economic, not sports, terms? Not a whole lot, I’m afraid, for greed and thievery will always be part of the human makeup. There are some proposals and movements, though, that seem promising to a small extent.

One is that old one FDR applied during the Great Depression and to which I referred when discussing Carole Lombard’s patriotic attitude: raising tax rates on the rich. Such is not going to happen, however, as long as the Republicans dominate Congress. Anyway, to me it seems a Sisyphean solution, attacks the symptom, so to speak, rather than the problem, and would certainly aggravate the tensions between rich and poor. But it might stabilize the income gap until a more satisfactory solution can be instituted.

A sort of obverse to that approach is what has been termed a universal basic income (U.B.I.), which New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki wrote about in his June 20, 2016, column. The tactic here is to pay every U.S. adult a stipend of, say, $10,000 a year (children would receive a smaller amount). An experiment on this idea was tried in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada, in the mid-nineteen-seventies, and, although a conservative government buried it quietly in 1979, later research indicated that while the guaranteed basic income was in force hospitalization rates had fallen, more teenagers had stayed in school, and work rates had only barely dropped.

New experiments on U.B.I. are currently underway or planned in Finland and in Oakland, California, Surowiecki reports. He writes: “In the U.S., the new interest in the U.B.I. is driven in part by how automation will affect workers. Bhaskar Sunkara, the publisher of the socialist magazine Jacobin, told me, ‘People are fearful of becoming redundant, and there’s this sense that the economy can’t be built to provide jobs for everyone.’”

I’m all in favor of a U.B.I., but even it might leave a certain discontent in people’s minds—the yearning to be useful and creative. I am too cynical to believe that every adult in the U.S. has enough imagination and energy to discover and develop a creative purpose or function or vocation on his/her own just to preserve his mental health. I can only hope I am wrong.

As long as we have businesses and industries that still employ people and that hope to retain their work force for a long period, another approach might fit: Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Actually, ESOPs have been around for years now, becoming popular in the mid-nineteen-seventies. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, by 2014, seven thousand companies had ESOPs covering 13.5 million workers. I will let NCEO describe the system themselves, for they can do it more clearly than I:

“Similar to Profit-sharing plans, the ESOP is a trust fund into which the company contributes new shares of its own stock or cash to buy existing shares….Shares in the trust are allocated to individual employee accounts. Although there are some exceptions, generally all full-time employees over 21 participate in the plan. Allocations are made either on the basis of relative pay or some more equal formula. As employees accumulate seniority in the company, they acquire an increasing right to the shares in their account, a process known as vesting. Employees must be 100% vested within three to six years, depending on whether vesting is all at once (cliff vesting) or gradual.

“When employees leave the company, they receive their stock, which the company must buy back from them at its fair market value (unless there is a public market for the shares). Private companies must have an outside valuation to determine the price of their shares. In private companies, employees must be able to vote their allocated shares on major issues, such as closing or relocating, but the company can choose to pass through voting rights (such as for the board of directors) on other issues. In public companies, employees must be able to vote on all issues.”

There is more and important information in the NCEO statement that might interest you, but I will have to refer you to NCEO’s website (www.nceo.org) to read it, for my essay is already too long and I have a bit more to write.

All the media coverage over the huge disparity between the incomes of the super-rich and the rest of society apparently has had some impact: The Giving Pledge. According to its Wikipedia article, the Giving Pledge’s goal “is to inspire the wealthy people of the world to contribute the majority of their net worth to philanthropic causes, either during their lifetime or upon their death. The Pledge is a moral commitment, not a legal contract.” In June 2010, billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett formally announced “the Giving Pledge campaign” and began recruiting members. By August, forty people had pledged $125 billion. As of March 2016, one hundred forty-two individuals or couples had pledged an aggregate total of $731,860,000,000.

A year or two ago, before I had even heard of The Giving Pledge, I read a comment by Melinda Gates (Bill’s wife) in some news article to the effect that she didn’t need a billion dollars to live on and was planning to give some of her wealth away. I have long been suspicious of Bill because of his viciously aggressive business tactics, but I was also pleased by his reported charitableness: he reportedly has donated many, many computers to children in Africa. I realize that could be a subtle business tactic, too, since it might lead to future purchases of his Microsoft products in the future, but why “look a gift horse in the mouth”? (Come to think of it, the Trojans might have done well to have done just that!)

As for Warren Buffett, he has been one of my favorite people for several years now—ever since he urged Congress to make his tax rate higher than his secretary’s. If he approves of Bill Gates enough to associate with him in this Giving Pledge organization, then I guess I’ll have to accept Gates as okay, too.

The top five donors on The Giving Pledge roster are Bill and Melinda Gates ($77.3B), Warren Buffett ($66.7B), Larry Ellison ($49.3B), Michael Bloomberg ($37.2B), and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan ($35.7B).

According to the Wikipedia article, “The pledge does not involve pooling money or supporting a particular set of causes or organizations. The pledge asks only that the individual give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charitable organizations either during their lifetime or in their will….The pledge encourages signatories to find their own unique ways to give that inspire them personally and benefit society.”

I don’t know whether my curiosity derives from good old-fashioned journalistic instinct or from dirty old cynicism, but I wonder what these people’s motives are. Could they be reacting to the threat of a possible new revolution of the French sort? (You might recall that one year later the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began in New York City.) Could they be honestly sensitive to the inequity of the wealth disparity? Could they have concluded that a hyper-tax is looming ahead and want to determine for themselves where and how their contributions are to be spent? I can’t answer those questions, and I don’t think it is necessary that I do so. Although the Giving Pledge is not likely to benefit me individually or directly, if it reduces the number of solicitations for contributions that show up in my mail box each December, then I will be pleased.

Finis

 

 

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Blossoms, Death Watch, Bread & Circuses

Trees Blossoms Full View

NON-BEARING PEAR TREES with their snow-white blossoms started their annual decoration of the drive at my apartment complex in late February. (Photo courtesy of Chris Ruggia)

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

It’s one of those days, people, one of those days when I have nothing solid enough in my noggin to offer as a single, coherent essay or poem. But I have to prove to you that I am still alive, even though each morning I am filled with wonder when I rise out of my bed that I am still here.

Death becomes a preoccupation for many of us humans when we pass the 70 mark, which is probably a primary reason for my current interest in American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), many of whose 1,775 poems were meditations on death and immortality. I bought a paperback volume of Emily’s poems last month and a much smaller hardback volume of selected letters she wrote. I am absolutely determined to learn to understand her poems, some of which even Dickinson scholars acknowledge are tantalizingly obscure.

Tree Blossoms Closeup

BLOSSOMS IN MORE INTIMATE VIEW will soon entice the bees, who will loudly hum among them. And in a few days the blossoms will begin to fall, covering the ground like snow. (Photo: Courtesy of Chris Ruggia.)

Mortality is always closely evident in this housing complex, where all of us are either aged or severely disabled. The neighbor on my right, a blind fellow who writes a witty column for one of our local weeklies, has dubbed the complex “Mausoleum Manor”.

The neighbor on my left is dying very slowly of lung cancer. All of his meals have to be created in a blender because his esophagus has shrunk. Last night, just after I had settled in my bed, I heard a racket out on the front porch. I could guess what was going on, because similar noises — rollers passing over the rocks under the evergreen hedge — have happened three times before. The sound of a police radio-phone cinched it. They were wheeling my neighbor off to an ambulance and then to the hospital, probably because he was having trouble breathing again. But then, they might have been taking him off to the funeral home or to a distant hospice, which I consider a better option than the hospital because he had turned away from chemotherapy weeks ago. He needed to go somewhere that he could get attention day and night; otherwise he would die of suffocation.

The only other tenant in this unit (each of the nine units has four apartments) is a woman at least a couple of decades younger than we three males. Her affliction is fibromyalgia. I haven’t really met her; she stays in her apartment practically all of each day’s twenty-four hours, so I have only saluted her on the sidewalk a few times as one of us goes to our vehicle or the mailbox. I don’t make any special effort to introduce myself to people who live so near to me, for there is always the strong likelihood that some event, attitude or word will eventually cause an argument. As one of Robert Frost’s characters in his poem “Mending Wall” says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (I don’t believe Frost himself held that view, but I do.)

So many things on my mind, so many that I have a difficult time focusing on more creative ideas and projects. Politics also beleaguers me, as I imagine it presently does most adult Americans. Many of us are worried that some of the candidates would make a dangerous president either by becoming a totalitarian tyrant in the style of Hitler and Mussolini or by chopping away at the socio-political structure that has taken more than three hundred years to build, and institute a theocracy.

But perhaps we deserve such a collapse, since, without even being totally conscious of it, we have weakened the substructure of our national unity. For too many years most of us have been so secure and comfortable that we have become complacent. We ordinarily have exceptionally low voter turnout.

Also, since 1968 at least, we haven’t had any presidential candidates that struck us as either crazy or extreme; now we have a passel of them. I hate to admit this, but one of my primary criteria for gauging a presidential hopeful is his/her demeanor…his/her stage presence. And remember, folks, we are going to have to watch the next president on TV often during the next four years. It is incredible how obnoxious in their various ways most of the Republican candidates were. I won’t take space here to caricature the top three vote-getters, but I will acknowledge that John Kasich is the least objectionable. Kasich is not handsome, certainly, but he doesn’t pose or bellow or whine or over-talk his opponents’ remarks.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has good stage presence, immense experience in government, and acute intelligence. On the other hand, she has associational baggage, a taint of dynasty, and an FBI investigation dogging her: I have bad mental images of her being led away from her inauguration stage in handcuffs.

Still, I agree with as many of Hillary’s proposals as I can understand, just as I approve of Bernie Sanders’ socialistic bent. But Bernie has a slight problem with stage presence, too: he stands up there with his shoulders bent, waving a finger in the air like a scolding school teacher; he needs to modulate some. Also, Bernie is only two years younger than I; I don’t think he realizes how the presidency ages a person; just look at photos of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from the days of their first and last years in office; ditto for Barack Obama. I doubt that Bernie could survive four years.

But it is we the people that worry me most. If the crowds at Republican primary debates and the number of their voters going for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are a true indication of the mood and intelligence level of Americans overall, we are in for a major disaster.

Too many Americans are believers in “pie-in-the-sky”. They are addicted to get-rich-quick gimmicks such as the various lotteries. The politicians — of both parties — frequently use the phrase “hard-working Americans”, when the fact is that few of us work hard enough to break into a sweat, and too many young people dream of becoming rock stars or outstanding athletes (which I concede will bring up the sweat for a few fun hours) because that is where the big money is. We import Latinos and Asians to do the truly menial work and then we accuse them of stealing our jobs. What we want for ourselves, just like the ancient Romans, is bread and circuses.

♦ ♦ ♦

P.S.:  I went to visit my neighbor at the hospital this afternoon. He appeared to be in much worse shape than the last time I saw him, in his apartment two days ago. Moreover, it was difficult to understand what he said because his head was enveloped in a complicated device to aid his breathing; it was similar to that nosebag that Hannibal Lecter wore in “Silence of the Lambs”. But I did get enough out of our conversation to discover that the hospital will keep him there as long as necessary and that he can shorten the period by telling them to “pull the plug”. Not a good prognosis, of course, but certainly better than one of us entering his apartment to find him in his bed, dead from suffocation.

Finis

 

The Other Side of the Altar, Part II

Pastor with couple No. 1

PREMARITAL AND POSTMARITAL counseling can be arduous for couples–and for the pastor, too–because the affianced or newly-weds are usually so emotionally involved in their relationship that they cannot look at it objectively.

How Ministers View Weddings, Alpine

NOTE TO READERS: While reading the article below, keep in mind that it was written in 1996. All the ministers quoted have moved on to other parishes or retired. The priest has left the priesthood. I had originally intended to alter the verb tenses in this re-publication to better reflect that these interviews are now history, not current events. However, that tack proved to be unworkable for me, so I am leaving the article as it originally was printed, except for correcting any typos I spot.

—BL

© 1996, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

By the time most young lovers set a date for marriage they’re usually too much in love to consider counseling worth their time, but they feel obliged to talk to the minister anyway.

Local ministers vary in their approaches to pre-wedding and post-wedding counseling, largely in response to what they have learned from couples’ reactions earlier in their careers.

First United Methodist pastor Rush Smith has been a minister for 19-1/2 years now.  While he was serving churches in El Paso he had couples take a compatibility test: “The test didn’t make any difference whether I married them,” he says, “but it gave us something to talk about. Here in Alpine during the first year I found that nobody even wanted to take it. They already pretty much knew their compatibilities. They’d just come right out and tell you, ‘Well, he won’t do this’….‘Well, she don’t like that.’”  Finally, he quit suggesting the test.  “It wasn’t something I dropped reluctantly,” he adds.

Now, in two or three sessions before the wedding, Smith tries simply to get to know the couple.  He concentrates on the expectations of young engaged couples, while older couples require a different scenario.

“The church requires I ask how long divorced persons have been divorced, and, most important, are there children involved,” he says. “I try to talk through many of the situations with children: Where’s the discipline going to center? Where do children fit in? Should they have children of their own?  I want to know why the previous marriages didn’t work. Then we talk about how that might affect this marriage and be avoided.

“In both cases, we always talk about the format of the ceremony itself.  That’s really up to the bride; it’s her day.”  In nearly every instance the preferred service is traditional — out of the book — but what happens afterwards can sometimes be unconventional.  Smith recalls how he married a couple in the traditional manner and then watched them drive off in an 18-wheeler, fully loaded.  “They were both truckers,” says Smith, “and they had to make a run to Houston. Some other truckers on motorcycles escorted them out of town.”

Smith says he doesn’t suggest any post-wedding counseling. “I think that would be a little presumptuous on my part,” he says.  However, he will meet again with the couple if they request it.

Baptist minister Philip McCraw, like Smith, has three pre-wedding counseling sessions and spends the time trying to get to know the couple and build up a rapport with them.  He differs from Smith, however, in that he uses a series of three videos and requests a post-wedding session.

“There are three basic things I work on,” says McCraw, “communication, money and sex. The video deals with all three. I spend most of my time dealing with the specifics of the situation.”

McCraw says he asks a couple if their parents were divorced and whether they consider their parents to have been good role models.  He asks if they consider their parents’ marriages to have been healthy ones.

Other questions discover whether they have been married before, whether they already have children, whether they are living together, and whether both families are supportive of their marriage.  “I’m looking for factors that are going to lead to a healthy marriage and factors that are going to be inhibitors,” McCraw explains. “I lay those out for them and find out if they are talking to each other about them.”

McCraw suggests that the couple return in six months for another talk.  “I can’t require it,” he says, “so I try to set up in the first three sessions a scenario where they can enjoy it and want to come back. Some do; most don’t.”

However, McCraw says he’s not overly concerned about the lack of response to the post-wedding counseling session among his Alpine couples, because he often encounters them around town and can check up on them informally.  “I try to set up a rapport,” he says, “and I think they are surprised how gracious I am with their situation and that I’m not here to condemn.”

Of the 30 marriages he has performed, McCraw says he feels regret about going through with only one of them. “The woman told me she had already had a child by a man she never married,” McCraw recalls. “During our third session, she said, ‘I ought to tell you I’m pregnant with his (her fiancé’s) child.’  Six months later, they attempted to come in — she called, but he wouldn’t come in with her,” McCraw says.  In a poignant footnote to the episode, McCraw tells of an 18-year-old man who came to see him later about getting married, and it was this woman he wanted to marry.  “She grew up with her grandparents, not her own parents,” McCraw explains, “so she didn’t have good role models. She didn’t have a very good self-image.”

First Presbyterian minister Ed Waddill says that in his 31 years in the ministry he hasn’t changed his pre-wedding counseling approach much.

One difference, however, is that while he was pastoring a church in Temple he started giving couples the opportunity to customize their wedding service as long as the basic integrity of the service and the idea of commitment were retained. “It seemed to me that it was a good counseling technique,” Waddill says. “It personalizes the service for them when they have gone through the trouble of writing the service. Not everybody wants to go through that process, but quite a few have.”

Waddill says he doesn’t require lengthy counseling anymore. “When I did require it, it didn’t accomplish much,” he says. “They were just going through the motions. But some people have wanted to come to me because they had particular things they wanted to work out. I do require that they come to me so that we can get acquainted,” he says. “I don’t do quickie marriages. And when they do talk to me it’s been very fruitful.”

As an example of an instance when more counseling was obviously desirable, Waddill recounts the story of “the most traumatic experience” of his career.  “There was a couple in Temple that I was going to marry,” he recalls. “On the night before the wedding they got into a fight in a bar. Three or four others were involved. They all landed up in jail.

“The next day, the mother of the groom came to tell me what had happened. I said, ‘I’m not refusing to have anything to do with the couple, but there are some things we have to talk about first.’ The father of the bride got fighting mad because he had spent a lot of money. I thought he was going to shoot me. That marriage never did take place. I found out later that the groom was an alcoholic and had some drugs, too.”

Many of the couples Waddill counsels are there because they assume it is required of them.  “More than half the time they think it’s important to talk about what they’re going to do,” he says, “but some of the time people are not communicative, which worries me because I wonder if they can communicate with each other. But it’s only a small minority who are that private.”

Most of Waddill’s counseling deals with the same topics Smith and McCraw cover — money, sex, communication, and in-laws.  However, one different topic he mentions is domination.  “Women are particularly interested in talking about that because of the women’s movement,” he says. “They often come into the conversation with some misconceptions about what the service says, especially ‘love, honor and obey’. That’s not in our service; it’s not in the Roman Catholic service; it’s not in the Methodist or Episcopal services. That’s Hollywood.”

Another false quote from the “marriage service” is that business about “if anyone objects, let him speak now or forever hold his peace,” notes Father Ricardo Ruiz of Our Lady of Peace Church.

Father Ruiz, who completes his fourth year as priest on June 13, has been serving Alpine Roman Catholics for two years.  His first church was in El Paso, where he performed about a hundred marriages.  Here, he says, he has performed about twenty.

The pre-marital counseling process is standard throughout the diocese and is comparatively lengthy. “We ask for six months preparation because it takes a long time to prepare spiritually and for all the other aspects of the service,” Ruiz says. “We focus, not on the wedding day, but on the whole marriage. The most important thing in marriage is communication. About half our marriages involve a Catholic and a non-Catholic. Also, some involve coming into a marriage where children are involved.”

For those couples marrying for the first time, the local diocese requires that they spend a weekend at an Engaged Encounter Retreat in Mesilla, New Mexico.  “It’s an intense weekend for the couples, given by other couples, and covers issues of finances, sexuality, problem-solving, and extended family,” says Ruiz.

“As teachers, couples are preferred who have been through some difficulty in their own marriage and successfully overcome it,” Ruiz points out. “Many times the sessions are so intense that a couple might decide during the weekend that they are not right for each other or they might postpone marriage.”

Several Engaged Encounter Retreats are offered each month at the Franciscans’ Holy Cross Retreat House, Ruiz says.  And it is open to other Christian denominations.

Locally, the priest meets with the couple and works through a little booklet, with a test, on FOCUS — Facilitating Open Communication, Understanding and Study.  “It’s interesting — a different dynamic,” says Ruiz. “Depending on how many areas of disagreement there are, it can take two to five sessions.”

Ideally, the retreat should occur last, says Ruiz.  “It’s a peaceful place and helps them put their experience in a spiritual context.”

Another type of pre-marital encounter group, called pre-Cana II, is for couples going into a second marriage or couples with blended families.  “It’s where the couple engages in dialogue with another couple who have gone through the same problems, usually in the couple’s home,” Ruiz explains. “It takes two to five hours and focuses on issues unique to second marriages.”

Still other programs, these designed for the already-marrieds, are Marriage Encounter (similar to the Engaged Encounter), Marriage Enrichment (more like a workshop than a retreat in that it covers practical rather than spiritual concerns), and Retrouvaille (a retreat for couples whose marriages are troubled).

When asked why the Roman Catholic Church requires so much soul-searching, Ruiz replies, “Divorce statistics. It used to be that a couple would meet the priest at the church door and say, ‘Let’s go!”  Also, Ruiz points out, “Some people have the skills necessary for making their marriage work, but they need to be affirmed that they are doing right. Other people need help fine-tuning their skills to prevent bigger problems later.”

As for post-wedding counseling, Ruiz says his involvement depends on the problems a couple might have.  “If they haven’t been married in the church, I give them the FOCUS test, just to focus on issues they haven’t resolved,” he says. “If that doesn’t work, I refer them to a marriage counselor.”

All of the counseling is intended to accomplish one basic purpose: undergirding the marriage.  “I hope to help the couple see that the wedding is important, but it is only a day, and help them focus on marriage as a lifetime commitment,” Ruiz says. “For any commitment, you need to discover the tools and the abilities to maintain and enrich the relationship in good times and bad.”

Waddill notes that a lot of people view the marriage service superficially, as just a matter of saying words.  As a minister, however, he sees it differently.  “I have a responsibility toward God first and the church secondarily,” he says. “I have my ordination to think about. I’m accountable to God and the church for everything I do, including marriage.”

McCraw, too, says he needs “to be sure the tie is tied tight and that each couple has a wholesome Christian ceremony so that it will be something they can look back on and treasure for many years.”

— Alpine Avalanche, June 6, 1996

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

730 Days Come and Gone!

© 1983, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

    Well, folks, I hope you haven’t become satiated already with the anniversary brouhaha I published last month, because I have yet another one to celebrate: my second full year as the whimsical author of “The Vanity Mirror” blog. Yessiree, 108 posts through these two years. I started it back on January 3 of 2013 with the two characters reflective of my schizophrenic personality: Orpheus and Narcissus. You haven’t seen them lately, I guess because I have been able to keep myself together — no splitting. But, maybe someday they will return to this screen.

You know, I have been reading a lot lately, mostly pretty heavy stuff, like Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Pierre Abelard’s Sic et Non (Yes and No). And then there is Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, both of which I have finally finished…well, almost; I got interrupted halfway through the latter by my first subscription issue of Harper’s. I mention all this literary stuff not to show myself off as a super intellect but to point to a bothersome characteristic: intermittency. I wish I could break this habit of dropping one piece of reading matter to delve into another and then drop that one also to pick up yet a third, and then drop it to return to the first.

I am considering writing blog posts about the four books noted above, especially a comparison of the styles and contents of …Lady and …Letter. That might not come to pass, however, because it would require having to re-peruse both, since I laid them both aside almost two months ago to read Harper’s from cover to cover; and James in particular is arduous reading for me.

Yes, I have had ideas for longer, deeper blog posts in the past, including a thematic study of U.S. presidents’ inaugural addresses from Washington to Johnson; but I guess I am too lazy. That is one reason why I have published so many of my old columns, short stories and poems extracted from my two collections: A West Texas Journalist and Particles. Another, and better, reason for re-publishing those chestnuts, however, is that I think they are good enough to deserve a wider reading than by just a few Texas counties’ populations.

I still have a few of those country features and columns remaining to share with you. On this occasion I invite you to read the report of my mid-December 1983 visit to Barstow, a hamlet on the western edge of Ward County, Texas. It was published under the column head “Out in the county”, a site for “soft news” I employed each time I ventured beyond the city limits of Monahans.

Enjoy! (I hope.)

Out in the county

“Lum ‘n’ Abner”; Guerrero’s store; tree trimming

Heaven help us if the country store should ever go the way of the five-and-dime and the movie theater!

I recently bought a cassette tape of an old radio show called “Lum ‘n’ Abner”.  Motivation for the purchase was partly nostalgia but mostly admiration for the script writer, who was a superb craftsman.

Many of you, I’m sure, are old enough to remember Co”Lum”bus Edwards and Abner Peabody as the co-owners of a general store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas.  In just 15 minutes each day, those two guys could get themselves into some awfully tangled but humorous scrapes!  Or rather, their script writer could get them into such scrapes.

Lum and Abner’s place was called the “Jot ’Em Down Store”.  It was characterized by a party-line phone (three rings signaled the call was for them) and a continual influx of the townspeople, who shared the tangled plots with Lum and Abner.

Well anyway, I bought this recording of the episode where Lum and Abner have opened a bank in their store.  Unaware that they needed a state charter to open a bank, they neglected to get one.  That’s the basic plot.

I’ve heard it now I don’t know how many times, and I think about some of the funnier lines quite a bit.  For instance, there’s the scene of Abner helping Lum clear checks in an account book.  Abner calls off several checks written by a fellow named Cedric Weehunt—all for five cents or ten cents each:

ABNER:  Doggies!  That Cedric’s about the only one that writes any checks, ain’t he?

LUM:  Yeah, he’s our best customer.  Ain’t no doubt about that.

 ABNER:  Don’t anybody else write checks?

LUM:  Yeah, Widow Abernathy.  She’s got a big one in there some place.  Fifty cents.

I was musing about “Lum and Abner” when I drove into Barstow Thursday afternoon and parked in front of Louis Guerrero’s “Modern Food Market”. In spite of the name of Guerrero’s store, it really isn’t much different from what Lum and Abner’s “Jot ’Em Down Store” was like in April 1944, the date of the recording. What proves my point is that, when I came up to the door, I noticed a hand-written notice on poster board saying:  “Starting this month, if credit accounts are not paid on a monthly basis, credit will not be allowed.”

Inside, I was greeted warmly by Louis, and, while we chatted about local politics and economics, I noted that his shelves were about half bare.

“Yes,” he said. “Business has been good, but it’s all going out and none of it’s coming in.  I’ve carried this credit business a little too far, I’m afraid.”

“But I’m a bit confused,” I said. “You told me a while back that things were getting better, that many of the people who had lost their jobs this year had found other jobs.”

“Yes, but they were out of work too long,” he replied. “They aren’t ready to let go of that green stuff yet.”

* * * * * *

Like Monahans, Barstow was into that just-before-the-holidays quiescence—not much going on there except the trimming of the elms around the community center.

I left Louis and drove down to the community center to get a picture of the trimming.  As I approached the park, it looked more like the trees were being decapitated than trimmed, the lobbing off was so severe.  Limbs with thin branches all entangled were spread over the large lawn.  It looked like a kind of battlefield.

I found two young men sitting on the ground between two large trucks.  The hoods of the trucks were up and a set of battery cables was stretched loosely between them.

“How you doing?” I asked as I ambled up to the relaxing youths.

“We’ve got a little mechanical problem,” one replied. “We have to stop and recharge this thing every so often.”

Shortly, they unhooked the cables and lowered the hoods.  Then one young man drove his truck away while the other moved his truck on to another nearby tree.

This latter truck was equipped with a hydraulic lift and bucket.  The youth grabbed his chainsaw, climbed into the bucket and lifted himself in a weaving motion up into the tall elm.

There he started his truncating activity.  I shot several frames of him working and then signaled for him to stop his noisy chainsaw so I could ask him some questions.

His name is Bob Crews, and he and four other fellows (who were busy carrying off the cut limbs) are employees of Spruce Trees Service of Dickenson, North Dakota.

“Why did you come so far?” I asked.

“We come down here for the winter,” he said, laughing.

“How many trees have you done?”

“A hundred in two days, and I’ve got fifteen more to go.  We’ll finish the cutting today but not the cleaning up.”

“Why are you cutting them off so short?”

“So they won’t have to be trimmed again soon.  They’ll bush out nice in the spring and won’t have to be trimmed for five years.”

* * * * * *

Before I leave off this visit with you, I want to go back to what I was talking about earlier, “Lum ‘n’ Abner” and more generally old radio shows.  The prelude to each day’s installment of “Lum ‘n’ Abner” was a scene of them answering the phone as follows:

(Phone rings three times.)

LUM:  By grannies, Abner, I believe that’s our ring.

ABNER:  Doggies, Lum, I believe you’re right.

LUM:  I’ll see.  Hello.  Jot ’Em Down Store.  This is Lum ‘n’ Abner.

(Organ music in and out.) <See Note Below>

It’s the telephone bit that I want to call to your attention.  I doubt that many people paid much mind to the fact at the time, but the telephone was an important element in several other radio programs, such as “Duffy’s Tavern” and “Sam Spade”.

Those were the years (1930s and 1940s) when people, such as former U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, were trying to get utilities like electricity and phone service out into rural America.  To do that, they had to go the route of allowing virtual monopolies, which is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, AT&T got so big.

Now such services are available in practically every backwater in America; and now AT&T is “divested”.  For me, this fact gives extra poignancy to my little cassette tape of “Lum ‘n’ Abner”.  In an indirect and surely unintended way, it is a historical document showing how unique and important the telephone was in years past.

— The Monahans News, December 17, 1983

NOTE: Anyone who would like to listen (on the Internet) to the “Lum ‘n’ Abner” radio show can find a long list of episodes and listen to them, in date order, here:
http://www.otr.net/?p=lmab
Unfortunately, the bank episodes from which the dialogue above derives is not on that list. You can hear two (of six) episodes, however, on this YouTube spot:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqmKCqD4ZyI
One of them involves Lum informing Abner that they are being forced to close the bank because they do not have a charter.

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

Santa Claus’s and Darth Vaders

© 1982, 2011, 2014 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: Merry Christmas, everybody, and may the Force be with you…the light side of it, I mean. Well, the holiday season crept up on us even earlier this year; pretty soon “Black Friday” will come right after the Fourth of July. (Wonder how they will gerrymander that one.)

But people are beginning to “push back” on the merchants’ greedy ambition of extended holidays. We almost saw a revolution concerning the phenomenon this year, with employees complaining about the notion of opening early on Thanksgiving Day.

Years ago, I started holing away in my hovel during early December, not turning on the radio or the TV and reducing the number of trips to the grocery store so I could avoid the incessant clamor of bells and chipmunks. I believe that the Christmas season would be much more enjoyable if they would not decorate or display Christmas items until two weeks before Christmas: Let’s see, that would be December 11, according to my calendar. I know I would probably regain the pleasure from Christmas that I enjoyed as a small boy.

Since I do not have any fresh ideas concerning December 25th, I thought it would possibly be a pleasant entertainment for you if I republished a column I wrote back in 1982 for the Monahans News. I also included it in my CD-ROM, A West Texas Journalist, in 2011. I have added a couple of sentences (italicized) in the fourth paragraph, relating more of the experience: the additional content is factual; it just was left out of my original composition in the newspaper.
   Enjoy!!!
   — BL

* * * * * *

While over at Gensler Elementary a couple of weeks ago to photograph the main characters in the Christmas play, I couldn’t help but recall the time I played Santa Claus in the second grade.

At the time I thought it was a “bit part” because I didn’t have many lines and because I was so covered up in cotton beard and stuffed red suit nobody would be able to recognize me.

I recall only two other players—a boy and a girl playing precisely what they were.  Surely there must have been other roles, although in those days the teachers didn’t feel it was essential that everybody in the grade have a part in the Christmas play.

Only two children for whom to leave gifts and, wouldn’t you know it, whoever filled my sack had put in an odd number of presents. I discovered that discomfiting fact during our rehearsal; and, departing from the script, I stuck one arm in the bag to search for the missing present, then turned the bag upside down, frustrated. The teacher loved that bit of unintentional pantomime and told me to repeat it during the actual performance.  Ever since then I’ve had an intense dislike for long division, especially when there’s a remainder.

But the worst of it was, I botched up my only lines—the last words spoken in the play.  In fact, the curtain was to be closing as I uttered them.

There I was, down center stage with the curtains swishing shut behind me and all those adult faces in the auditorium waiting for me to say something.

I thought real hard and then I bellowed: “A good Christmas to all and to all a merry night!”

Only recently I’ve noticed that Santa Claus is not really a “bit part” at all, but is usually at the center of most Christmas plays.  Any boy who gets selected for the role should be proud of the fact and cherish the memory of it.

As a matter of fact, perhaps only children should play the role of Santa, since he is supposed to be an elf, isn’t he?  After all, a man cannot slip down a chimney, much less be towed through the sky by “tiny reindeer”—even eight of them.

*  *  *  *  *  *

This year, with Darth Vader in town, I’ve had occasion to observe that he is as popular among the little ones as Santa Claus.  Some of those kids huddling around him had been babes in arms when “Star Wars” was released.

This has to be the “Age of Favorite Villains”!  For adults, it’s J.R. Ewing; for the kids, it’s Darth Vader.  Their primary attraction, I suppose, is the flair and the absoluteness of their villainy.  You don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be called upon to understand them or to take sides with them.  They’re fun to hate.

I’m rather glad to see a return to the depiction of Evil as absolute.  Back when I was a kid, Walt Disney did a good job of it with his wicked queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.  Somewhere along the way, however, he and those who followed after his death became rather silly with their fumbling crooks and flying Volkswagens.

The best absolute rendering of Evil of late was in the TV mini-series production of “East of Eden”.  The female lead in that show, Jane Seymour, could really spit venom!

Of course, “Star Wars” and its sequels have a moral underpinning, too.  Luke Skywalker is supposed to get his moral training from the Jedi, but he hasn’t the stamina or the patience for it.  We got the impression from “The Empire Strikes Back” that Luke’s days on the side of virtue are numbered.

The only trouble with movies like “Star Wars” is that the audience doesn’t go to see a resolution of the conflict between Good and Evil.  Rather, they go to see the weird characters and the special effects.  The evil in Darth Vader is camouflaged by the absence of humanness in him; it’s as easy to adapt to him as it is to a video game cassette.

The paradox of Evil—that it is at once a separate “force” and yet inherent in humans—has perplexed philosophers of art at least since Plato, who believed plays should be banned because they accustomed the audience to an acceptance of the unreal.

For myself, I prefer to have the knowledge of Good and Evil writ large, especially in dramatic productions, so that “he who runs may read”.

                                                               — The Monahans News, December 23 & 25, 1982

Finis

A Message to So-called “Followers”

Over the two years since I began “The Vanity Mirror” some 130 folks have checked in as “Followers” to my blog site.

Most of them have been people attracted by their interest in a single subject on which I have dedicated an essay; when they discovered that the rest of my topics were not part of that vein, I believe, they stopped visiting. That’s okay. That’s understandable.

Others have been genuine bloggers, too, but their interests (e.g., fast cars, fashions) are so foreign to my own that I wonder what brought them to me. It could be that they thought “following” my blog would entice me to follow their blog. Some bloggers’ sites indicate that they have thousands of “followers”: how could they possibly read each others’ blog posts? That doesn’t work with me. I figure that if somebody wants to follow my blog, they are benefiting their self—and reasonably so, since that way they won’t have to check out my site every day to see if something new has been posted. But they are not benefiting me.

Others have shared a similar background and/or occupation: philosophy; poetry or literature in general; graphic arts and music; social and political concerns. They, I hope, have stuck with me.

There was a period in 2013 when several bloggers—mostly young folks—were pushing what I considered a get-rich-quick “pyramid scheme”; they disgusted me and I hope they have vanished entirely.

During the past couple of months, I have been “followed” by a few who are pushing a “cash-back” program or programs. I don’t know what these people are hoping to gain from “following” my site, except perhaps it is a quick, cheap way for them to advertise to me individually. All I can say to them is “Go get an honest job and stop wasting genuine bloggers’ time!!!”

Merry Christmas everybody!!!
Bob Litton

On Not Believing the Obvious and the Proven

© By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Isn’t it fun to chat and even pontificate about matters of which we are blissfully ignorant? And then, when responding to questions about details regarding the subject, to demur by pretending to modesty and declaring that we are not experts in that area? I suppose this mode of communication has been around longer even than I have…well, at least since Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels’ remark: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

But that and similar feints have become so common now that they have captured the media’s attention: They denote this evasive self-deprecation as a “meme”. That word–meme–is also new to me. (I swear, this world is changing too fast!) Here is a definition from Dictionary.com: “a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.”

The Republicans love to indulge in memes; they find, as did Goebbels, that people’s attention spans are so short, their patience so tentative, and their intellects so shallow that they will be more readily swayed by brief “clips” and “slogans” than by sound reasoning. They have used the “I am not a scientist…” meme ad nauseam when discussing evolution and climate change during the 2014 mid-term election campaigns.

Practically all the media have pointed to this Republican habit. Last September 17, MSNBC reported: “Sen. Mark Rubio (R-Florida), for example, was asked how old he thinks the planet is. ‘I’m not a scientist, man,’ he replied. Gov. Rick Scott (R) was asked what he intended to do about the climate crisis threatening Florida. ‘I’m not a scientist,’ he responded. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about the climate (change) deniers in his conference. ‘I’m not qualified to debate the science,’ he replied.” No, they do not want to debate evolution and climate change; they just want to retain that ol’ time ignorance that was so comfortable back in the Middle Ages. And they want to tear up the Earth for oil, coal and (in the Amazon) gold, at the behest of their billionaire supporters.

The depressing truth about the meme approach used by these political hucksters is that…it worked. The people…the American populace…my fellow citizens, or the majority of those who voted anyway, swallowed it. And now, not just they but the rest of us, here in the USA and around the world, must pay the price. For, you see, the International Panel on Climate Change released three reports between last March and October on the current condition of our planet and its prospects for the future if nothing is done to ameliorate the consequences of inaction. In spite of the detailed proofs of the already existing effects of global warming, as prepared by hundreds of scientists and reviewers, there are still a helluva lot of determined ostriches across our land and the rest of the world who are dooming us to an unbearable future. Here is one paragraph from the INCC’s third report press release:

“A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, representing 70 countries, were selected to produce the Working Group II report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors; and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers provided comments on drafts of the report. For the Fifth Assessment Report as a whole, a total of 837 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors participated.”

There are several reasons Democrats have lost elections, especially for the presidency, which really is just a popularity contest dependent more upon the candidates’ barbers and haberdashers than their ideas. However, the only reason I think is pertinent here is that most of the Democratic presidential contenders were too intelligent for the average American. I am nearing my 75th year, so I can only trace this perception back to Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Al Gore and John Kerry. I believe the candidacies of these nominees were negatively affected by their being perceived as too intellectual. Particularly during John Kerry’s minutes at the debates, I thought too many of his responses–even though I understood them and agreed with them–were above many voters’ heads and were not concise enough. While it is true that Goebbels-style “memes” are toxic to democracy, it is also true that argument threads that extend too long are toxic for a political campaign. Nonetheless, those men stuck to their intellectual idealism, and I will continue to do the same.

When I initiated this blog, I resolved to avoid political commentary, and I hope I won’t break that resolution again. This is a time, however, that tries my soul.

Finis

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