Vladimir Putin and the Devastation of the Baby-Boomers Redux

With Russia and Putin hovering over our election, I thought back to Mr. Putin’s New York Times Op-Ed in 2013 regarding Syria.  Mr. Putin opened his op-ed to the U.S. and its political leaders seeking to avoid devastation.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation [my emphasis] from ever happening again.

Devastation.  The word comes from the Latin verb, devastare  —to lay waste, and from the Latin adjective vastusempty, desolate.

Putin knows devastation.  Born in 1952, 7 years after the end of World War II, baptized in secret, Putin grew up in a devastated family in a devastated country.  Both of Putin’s older brothers had died; the oldest son died in infancy in the 1930s, the second, of diphtheria during the Siege of Leningrad.putin

His family was not alone, in Russia almost 13% of the population perished during the war, with over 7 million civilian deaths and nearly that many military deaths.  More Russian civilians died in WWII than soldiers, almost 14 million Russians perished.  In contrast the United States lost roughly 400,000 soldiers and 1,700 civilians, altogether less than one percent of the total population.

The brutal warfare along the Eastern Front left Russia devastated economically as well:  a quarter of its capital resources were destroyed and agricultural output was lower than it had been in the 1920s. Stalin killed an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens. Add the economic disaster of Communism to the destruction of WWII and you have a land made empty, desolate.

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Russian parents and their dead child

Vladimir must have been a source of hope for his parents in the devastated emptiness after the war, like his Baby Boomer peers in the U.S. were for the G.I. Generation after the Great Depression and WWII.

However, unlike post war Russia, post war America was a cornucopia.  Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, the United States had not been bombed into rubble.  We were the exception.  We had no industrial competition.  Everyone in the world bought our stuff.

In the U.S., real consumption rose by 22 percent between 1944 and 1947, and spending on durable goods more than doubled in real terms. Gross private investment rose by 223 % in real terms, with a whopping six-fold real increase in residential- housing expenditures.

The private economy boomed as the government sector stopped buying munitions and hiring soldiers. [i]

The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. It was a unique moment in history when the Boomers came of age.  As the Economist writes:

These Boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age… Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And Boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs… boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.

Our Baby Boomer political leaders grew up as well-cared-for children in the brand-new suburbs, at a time of unprecedented optimism and wealth.  The strength and wealth of the nation were so secure that they could “tune in, turn on, and drop out”; in that fit of Daddy-anger that was the late 1960s.

There was material wealth to be sure, but the Boomers were devastated in their own way, uprooted from their ethnic enclaves in the northern cities (if Catholic) and from their Midwestern towns and farms (if Protestant), devastated psychically in the wasteland of Levittown and cul de sacs.  In fact, Baby Boomers now have the highest suicide rate of any generation[ii].  The Me Generation is an alienated generation.  It was an exceptional mirage, material wealth masking spiritual devastation.

Tom Wolfe, himself of the Silent Generation sandwiched between the GIs and the Boomers, described the exceptional nature of Boomer self-absorption as having discarded the “age-old belief in serial immortality.”

Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, ‘I have only one life to live.’ Instead, they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offsprings’ lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well… The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things.

Climbing out of the stream upon their rise to power in the early 1990s, with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and the accession of Newt Gingrich as House Speaker in 1994, it was declared The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama, born in 1952 like Mr. Putin.

Revolutionary Boomers rebelled against the traditions of the past and are wrecking the future. Wolfe echoes G.K. Chesterton who wrote that:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

Clinton went to war in the Balkans, intervened in Somalia, and bombed Iraq.  Madeline Albright suggested 500,000 dead Iraqi children, “was worth it,” whatever “it” was.  Bush and Obama have warred on Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, with Boomer war-drums beating for Syria and Iran.

The LA Times, using CBO numbers, says Iraq and Afghanistan will be the most expensive war in U.S. history.  Afghanistan is already the longest[iii].  The Millennial Generation “has been at war their whole lives.”

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, with medical care and disability benefits weighing heavily for decades to come, according to a new analysis.

The bill to taxpayers so far has been $2 trillion, plus $260 billion in interest on the resulting debt. By comparison, the current federal budget is $3.8 trillion.

The largest future expenses will be medical care and disability benefits for veterans, [Linda] Bilmes [public policy expert at Harvard University] predicted. “The big, big cost comes 30 or 40 years out,” she said.

The Boomers inherited a fortuitous economic head start on their global peers.  Their G.I. fathers had bombed all industrial competitors into dust.  Mistaking this head start as an “unconditional election” to be global hegemon, they have proceeded to spend the principal of their exceptional economic endowment.  Now they are mortgaging the future of their progeny to continue the fiction.  Boomer Bernanke did not taper.  Yellen continues.  Boomers exempt themselves from history and borrow against their posterity.

Are the Boomers on an extended ballistic tantrum?  A cruise-missile hissy fit?  Are they just acting out?  They have proceeded to lay waste to the foundations of their inheritance, graduating from waging ideological wars on the institutions that raised them, to waging whimsical wars abroad, costing billions, from Clinton through Bush and Obama.   As Baby Boomer Chris Hedges writes, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”

Boomers have indebted their children and grandchildren with these wars of theirs, for some notional, Platonic ghost of Democracy, which also [just happens] to bring with it market-opening opportunities for Democracy! Whisky! and Sex![iv] to these bedraggled traditional peoples who only know the ways of their ancestors and not our enlightened, modern ways; not for any real national threat, but spuriously, based upon lies and/or to cover up lies.

On the other hand, Putin knows about the wasteland left by Great Patriotic Wars, about the economic and moral collapse of a people broken by war.  He knows about the decades of U.S. sponsored jihad on his country’s southern borders, and the unintended consequences and blowback of such sponsorship and intervention. (see: Boston Marathon Bombing)

Putin’s Mother Russia was not just devastated economically, it was devastated morally and spiritually after WWII, annihilating its own future with some of the highest abortion rates in the developed world through the 1990s, with alcoholism and other social pathologies devastating their ability to continue as a people Rus.

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward. -Vernon Law, baseball player, Silent Generation

Russia in general, and Putin in particular, have experienced the test of war and devastation, they learned the lessons.  Recently, Russian birthrates surpassed those of the US.  As Tom Wolfe noted, this is an indication of belief in a future and a sense of continuity for themselves as a people and as a civilization.  Putin the practical politician does not want devastation again.7ba2f-russiausbirths

Having experienced the devastation of war across his country’s borders and in his own family, Mr. Putin finishes his Op Ed using the crusading, religious terminology of the American Baby Boomer political class -teleological “democracy”, while echoing the Declaration of Independence:

There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

America is exceptional to us because it is ours, not because of the historical, economic anomaly of the post war years, not because it stands astride the world as a Colossus. It is not merely a consumer market nor a labor pool. It is our nation, and we can love because it is ours, not because it is “Number 1!”

Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Mexicans, Somalis, Vietnamese, etc. are not deformed Americans waiting to be fully Americanized.  They can love their countries too, to think that their country is exceptional because it is theirs, whose blessings they hope to pass on to their posterity, as we hope to pass on our nation to our posterity.

The devastation of WWII and the devastation of Communism led to a devastation of the soul of the great Russian people and their civilization, a civilization that is literally being born again.

The spiritual devastation of the Baby Boomers, their antiseptic yet materially rich upbringing in suburban alienation, has resulted in the material devastation of whomever gets in the way of their tantrums –be it the civic institutions they inherited, or the indigenous cultures of small countries who rub them the wrong way.

Baby Boomers took for granted the material wealth and security in which they were raised.  They attacked the very civilization and institutions that had made them the best-raised and most educated generation of children in the history of the world to that point.  They exempted themselves from their legacy and borrowed against their posterity.

Tom Wolfe recognized the unintended consequences for the Boomers’ rejection of civilizational norms in the 1960s:

In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.

The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start from zero. At one point, the novelist Ken Kesey, leader of a commune called the Merry Pranksters, organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better. Among the codes and restraints that people in the communes swept aside–quite purposely–were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets, or as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning…the laws of hygiene…by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.

This process, namely the relearning–following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero–seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America. -from Hooking Up

The whimsical way in which Boomers go to war suggests a need for a great relearning of the rules of civilization.  But it also suggests “war as psychotherapy” and is reminiscent of the “World War as an Afterthought” theme in the background of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, when a sick and decadent nation continually goes to war abroad while waging a domestic war on the minds of its pharmacologically pacified citizens, and on culture itself:

[Montag has just come home to find his interactive-television addicted wife overdosed on sleeping pills.]

The object he had sent tumbling with his foot now glinted under the edge of his own bed. The small crystal bottle of sleeping-tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare.
As he stood there the sky over the house screamed. There was a tremendous ripping sound as if two giant hands had torn ten thousand miles of black linen down the seam. Montag was cut in half. He felt his chest chopped down and split apart. The jet-bombs going over, going over, going over, one two, one two, one two, six of them, nine of them, twelve of them, one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him. He opened his own mouth and let their shriek come down and out between his bared teeth. The house shook.

The Boomer devastation, because it is wholly spiritual, is worse than the material and economic devastation that informed Putin’s childhood, which probably made him all the more practical and ruthless.

Boomer devastation is in their psyche, the pain of their desolation screams out in cruise-missiles and F-16s. They are pissing away the material wealth that they inherited by bombing deserts.

[i] http://mercatus.org/publication/economic-recovery-lessons-post-world-war-ii-period

[ii] http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/baby-boomers-are-killing-themselves-at-an-alarming-rate-begging-question-why/2013/06/03/d98acc7a-c41f-11e2-8c3b-0b5e9247e8ca_story.html

[iii] http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/29/nation/la-na-0329-war-costs-20130329

[iv] http://www.command-post.org/archives/003688.html

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Monopolizing a Niche

Did Donald Trump follow Peter Thiel’s Advice for Start-ups?

In the start-up and entrepreneurship world, Peter Thiel is an icon.  One of his oft-quoted pieces of advice is to “monopolize a niche.”  When Donald Trump announced his candidacy and came out against the immigration status quo, I was advising a few start-ups and my first thought was, “My God, he is monopolizing a niche!”  As Ann Coulter pointed out, immigration was the “Thousand Dollar Bill” on the floor that no one would touch, except Trump. Ted Cruz then tried to get in on the niche, but it was too late.  Trump next built on that niche and expanded into trade issues and an attack on Wall Street. It was brilliant to watch.

While the Republican “autopsy” after Romney’s loss suggested reaching out to Hispanics via immigration reform and amnesty, two authors noted data points suggesting other opportunities for Republicans. Timothy Carney wrote that the financial meltdown in 2008 was a golden opportunity to re-brand the Republican Party as the party of Main Street vs. Wall Street, the populist party vs. the crony capitalists. If Romney had increased his share of blue collar, white voters in a few states, he would have won.  Carney is a Pro-Life, anti-war Republican. He first came to prominence as part of a cadre of young, anti-war conservatives, and has made his bones writing about crony capitalism and the revolving door in D.C. between government and lobbying.

Steve Sailer, who was a data marketing guy before he began writing, developed “The Sailer Strategy” which looked at, among other things, party affiliation as it related to affordable family formation.  Over the years Sailer has taken the available data and dissected it in different ways than others, which led him to understand that, with the advent of identity politics, the Republican Party had by default become the “White Party”, while the Democrats became a coalition of non-whites and other marginalized groups -the “Coalition of the Fringes”.

Sailer quotes Lee Kwan Yue, founder of the state of Singapore, who said:

In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I’d run their system [British Parliamentary Democracy] here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese.

For Sailer those are just the realities of democracy in a multicultural state, not his own ideological wishes. As a marketer he then looks at what is the optimal strategy given that demographic reality.

Sailer calls himself and “Americanist” or a “Citizenist” and thinks that all policies should be judged as to whether they are good or bad for current U.S. Citizens.  War, trade, immigration: does a policy benefit those who already live here and are citizens?  He does not think that everyone in the world has a right to migrate here, nor that inside every foreigner is, to paraphrase R. Lee Ermy in Full Metal Jacket, an “American waiting to get out.” It has been suggested that Sailer’s ideas were the seeds for the Ann Coulter book, Adios America that inspired Trump on immigration.  And the election results look like The Sailer Strategy in action.

It has been made clear by grass-roots activism through both Bush and Obama administrations that regular citizens were concerned about immigration policies.  Regular Americans burned up phone lines to oppose amnesties and “reforms”. In business such an unaddressed problem is a huge opportunity, and the ignored insights of Carney and Sailer allow someone like Trump to immediately address that opportunity.

Another popular term in business is “fit”. Is there a good “fit” between a job candidate and the corporate culture? Or is there a good “fit” between a company and a possible acquisition?  Managing “culture” and human capital is big business. Does a company have the right human capital to achieve their goals? Is the Culture aligned with the Human Capital and with the Strategic goals. (In Aristotelian terms, are the Material, Formal, and Final causes in sync) .  Human Resource departments, undergraduate and graduate admissions, all take human capital and culture seriously.  U.S. citizens thought that their government should as well. Trump saw that.

Robert Putnam at Harvard found a result -horrifying to mainstream sensibilities, when he looked at the idea that “Diversity is Strength.” It turns out it is not. In fact, Putnam found that diversity harms social capital and trust.

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone – from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.

This is a question of culture and “fit”.  The only solution to these negative aspects of diversity is assimilation, and that takes time.  The Triple Melting Pot theory suggests that ethnic identity changes from country of origin to religion in three generations.

…the unity of American life is indeed a unity in multiplicity, the pluralism that this implies is of a very special kind.

Trump’s comments about immigration were about human capital. In Arizona he sounded like a college admissions associate when he talked about “fit”:

We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.

Do immigrants “fit” -are they an asset to the country and to fellow citizens, or a drain? Are they from a culture that is compatible with American culture or not?  Is it fair, is  justice being done, allowing someone in who won’t “make” it? Is enough time being given, and are policies enacted that allow for assimilation? From an MBA perspective, everything Trump did made sense given the market opportunities and the type of political messaging that was present, or absent.

Trump looked at immigration as a Human Capital issue about culture and fit. He tied this to an elite, “Wall Street” preference for a cheap human capital policy, rather than a “fit” human capital policy. He looked at the political landscape, saw an unaddressed problem, monopolized a niche, expanded on that niche and re-branded the Republicans into a populist party. Then he won.

There Goes Steve English, the Greatest Shooter that Ever Was

On the morning of May 28, 25 years ago, I awoke to a terrifying sound coming from my mother downstairs.

Steve
Steve

Something I had never heard before. Something like, “No!” with Irish defiance and maternal heartache.  Something was really wrong. Within seconds my father came into my room with the news that my friend and classmate Steve English had died the night before.

We had recently read A Separate Peace in school and I kept picturing Steve as Phineas, which was an apt comparison. I couldn’t imagine what had happened. “Why was Steve climbing a tree!?” This dreary, dazed wondering seemed to last an eternity, as I tried to wrap my head around what I had just been told. The most graceful kid I had ever seen, I even remembered that I had tried to imitate how he stood during the Gospel at Mass when we were in lower school.  He was so at ease with himself.  But it was actually just a few seconds between my mother’s cry and my father telling me that he had been in a car accident.

It was the first clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make.
-A Separate Peace

I felt nothing, numb all morning until my uncle Rich came over. Rich was our math teacher and the Varsity basketball coach at The Heights, where Steve and I were sophomores. We had been students together at The Heights since the 3rd grade. Steve’s dog had bitten me above the eye in 4th grade, and since the 6th grade, several of us would spend Friday nights at the English house because they had a half basketball court in the side yard and we could play 3 on 3 or 2 on 2 all weekend. As soon as I saw Rich, that’s when I started crying. Because he came over, that meant it was real.

Steve had grown up on that half court, getting a basketball education from his older brothers. Both Joe and Mike were fierce competitors and great guards. Without older brothers of my own, Steve’s toughness and trash talking were my substitute, his older brothers schooling me by proxy. I was usually one of the worst of the bunch in the 3 on 3s, but the English half court is where my game grew up too.  Steve was a shooter, I was supposed to be a point guard. But he picked my pockets all the time.  He was better than me in every way. I thought I loved basketball. Steve loved it more.

He had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he. -A Separate Peace

The three point shot had been introduced in high school between oldest brother Joe English’s tenure as the point guard (the best high school point guard I ever saw play) for a Heights team that went 31-4 without a gym to practice in (they were even featured on the local news shoveling snow from the courts before practicing with gloves and winter coats), and Mike English’s arrival on the Varsity as a three-point gunning sophomore. We had all heard the story that Michael Jordan had been cut from his varsity team as a sophomore, so making the varsity as a sophomore became a benchmark of greatness in our minds.

I had grown up watching Steve’s older brothers play basketball. My father was the headmaster of The Heights and my uncle coached Junior Varsity and later Varsity. I rode along with Rich in the team van to a lot of the JV games, and Steve would be there with his parents. Rich even paid me to cut out the high school scores from the Washington Post and tape them into a notebook as part of scouting opponents.

“Watch that purgatory they call a gym. No drive 12 foot in.” Shooter, in Hoosiers

The Heights developed a rivalry with another Catholic boys school, St. Anselm’s, who hosted the oldest basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. As far as Rich was concerned, The Heights was cursed in the St. Anselm’s gym, and I believed him. Steve and I never saw The Heights win there growing up.  Was it merely Purgatory? Or was it worse? But we did become basketball “junkies” there, spending the three day tournament weekend watching as many games as we could, as well as shooting around at halftimes and between games. Gym time was at a premium for us after all.

After The Heights built a gym we traded home wins with St. Anselm’s for a few years… but could never get past St. Anselm’s in their gym, in their tournament. St. Anselm’s won in 1989 when Mike English was a senior, and St. Anselm’s repeated the next year, defeating The Heights 72-71 in the championship game. We were sophomores and Steve was the starting shooting guard for The Heights.  And man could he shoot. Varsity as a sophomore on a team that went 21-12!

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Red!

Steve had developed an unorthodox shooting style that violated many of the  fundamentals you learn growing up. However, he violated the fundamentals in pretty much the same way that Larry Bird did. His right elbow was pointed a little bit out. He got a little bit of his left thumb and index finger on the ball during the shot and follow through, and he brought the ball back to his right ear. He also had an ability to square up and release the ball in one motion incredibly quickly. I remember watching one game against Newport Prep, a local power at the time, and they tried to extend a zone defense to stop him. He just kept moving back and draining threes. If they had extended any farther he would have been hitting them from the parking lot.

He was not one dimensional either, though he seemed to understand better than the rest of us that the three pointer was an equalizer for guys like us, that it was more than a gimmick. He played hard all the time. He wasn’t a shooting prima donna: he played defense, rebounded, drove the lane.  And like his older brothers, he never ever committed a foul. The refs were just wrong.

It was almost as if he had a plan, when the three point shot was introduced in 1987 and he was in 7th grade, he made it his mission to be devastating at it.  And he succeeded.  He had over 100 threes as a sophomore. Nobody in the DC area was even close to that. The second place three point shooter in Montgomery County was a great shooter, but was still over 40 behind Steve, and he was a senior. Steve was going to be a special player, because he already was a special player. When I talked about being the varsity point guard for our upcoming junior year he said something like, “Just pass me and Tony [Diggs] the ball. That’s all you need to do.” He was so confident, but had the work ethic to back it up. And he had such a love of the game to make the package complete. [Full disclosure: I was a heist sophomore year as the point guard on JV. So he was right to remind me of my proper role.]

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1989-1990 Varsity Basketball, 21-12

A few months after Steve’s first and only appearance in the St. Anselm’s Tournament in 1990, the tournament he had been attending as a fan since about 5th grade, he left us.  Some of us were altar servers at his funeral Mass. Our charismatic, graceful, athletic friend was gone.

The following year, as juniors, we actually won the St. Anselm’s Tournament for the first time, beating Shenandoah Academy.

“Listen, pal, if I can’t play sports, you’re going to play them for me,” and I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas. -A Separate Peace

Six juniors had been classmates with Steve, three of us since the 3rd grade.  We had grown up on the English family’s side yard half court.  I was the starting point guard. Tony Diggs was our best player and scorer, as he had been at every English half court hoops sleepover since 6th grade. Denis Mitchell was our Do Anything and Everything undersized forward, as he had been at every English half court hoops sleepover since 6th grade…

1990-1991 Heights Varsity Basketball Team
1990-1991 Heights Varsity Basketball Team

During the awards ceremony that year, St. Anselm’s coach Brian Murphy and the St. Anselm’s community debuted a trophy in Steve’s honor for the player who made the most three-pointers in the tournament. It was a touching tribute by St. Anselm’s and a testament to the best aspects of a great rivalry.

In 1992, in what would have been Steve’s senior year, we repeated as champions, finally beating our rival St. Anselm’s on their home court. The team that had grown up at the English’s won it’s final 15 games, 6 in overtime and was the first Heights team to be ranked in the Washington Post Top 20. It is still the highest ranking that any Heights team has achieved.

Steve’s younger brother Nick was all set to win the trophy a few years later. But a snow storm kept Shenandoah Academy from making it in for the third day of the tournament. Georgetown Day had already been eliminated but they were nearby and agreed to play in their place. One of their players hit some threes and ended up winning the trophy. It was heartbreaking for Nick, and for the rest of us. But we knew how hard he had worked to win it, and he really had won it. He put on a shooting show worthy of his brother.

After the championship game in 1992 Rich was talking to coach Murphy and said, “I hear you guys are going to be building a new gym!” Murphy responded with a wink, “Yeah, but we’re still going keep this gym, just to play you guys!” He knew about the curse too.

Many years later I had the opportunity to help start a school with my old Calculus teacher and basketball coach (and uncle and godfather). I ended up becoming the first Athletic Director at The Avalon School and even coached one year of varsity basketball. I was not able to beat St. Anselm’s. A few years later Avalon was invited to participate in the St. Anselm’s Tournament. I had gone off to business school and Rich had taken his rightful place as the head ball coach at Avalon. He called me up after the tournament to tell me that they still had the Steve English Trophy, but that people didn’t quite remember the story behind it, the rivalry with The Heights, Steve, his brothers, etc. A player from The Heights had won the trophy that year and nobody from The Heights knew that it was named after their greatest shooter ever.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Steve’s death, and next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the trophy named in his honor.  So I drove up from North Carolina with my two sons to go to the tournament this year. I watched Avalon defeat The Heights in the semifinals on Saturday and go on to win the Tournament on Sunday.  Due to the snow storm this year a team couldn’t make it, so St. Anselm’s and The Heights played in the consolation game.

Through the gracious cooperation of the St. Anselm’s Parents Association, a group of us -Steve’s friends, teammates, and classmates- raised some money to sponsor an ad in the tournament program to tell Steve’s story, and to pay for the trophy. We hope somehow to be able to endow the trophy in the future and keep Steve’s story alive. But we also want to honor the generosity and the solidarity of what Coach Murphy and the St. Anselm’s community did in dedicating a trophy to our friend, our teammate, and their rival.

“Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him.”-A Separate Peace

Below is the ad and a picture of this year’s winner receiving the Steve English Trophy from Steve’s coach, Rich McPherson.

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The Steve English (Heights ’92) Three-point Award is presented to Tariq Abraham of Washington Latin. As a sophomore Steve was on The Heights varsity and displayed unparalleled three-point shooting ability. Steve died in a car accident a few months later and St. Anselm’s created this trophy to commemorate Steve and his ability. The next year The Heights won the Tournament for the first time. Steve’s coach, Richard McPherson, was asked to present the trophy. Heights’ alumni, who had played with Steve, sponsored a page in the program.

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Ad Text:

A Thank You:

During the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, The Heights and St. Anselm’s developed a great rivalry in sports, especially in basketball. Steve English grew up watching his older brothers, Joe and Mike, play for The Heights against Kensington neighbors Matt Gerber and Matt Opalack, who played for the Panthers. There was no better place for a younger brother to watch games than the old St. Anselm’s gym for tournament weekend. Nor was there a better place to watch intense high school basketball in general. Unfortunately for us, The Heights could never win in that gym.

Steve grew up to become a great shooter and started at guard for The Heights as a sophomore. He led Montgomery County, MD in three point shooting, making over 100 threes. The next most prolific shooter, senior Jon Landy of the Jewish Day School, was roughly 40 behind him. A few months after Steve’s first and only appearance in the St. Anselm’s Tournament in 1990, the tournament he had been attending as a fan since about 5th grade, he died in a car accident.

The following year, The Heights actually won the Tournament. During the awards ceremony, late coach Brian Murphy and the St. Anselm’s community debuted a trophy in Steve’s honor for the player who made the most three-pointers in the tournament. It was a touching tribute by the St. Anselm’s community and a testament to the best aspects of a great rivalry.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Steve’s death, and next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the trophy named in his honor. We, Steve’s family, friends, teammates, and classmates, want to thank St. Anselm’s for continuing to honor our friend and teammate in this way.

God bless,

The English family, The Heights class of 1992, The Heights Varsity basketball teams of 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992.

Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.

photo 4(4)

Does Travel Change You?

Change is a morally neutral term, it can be virtuous or vicious. If the meteorologist says that the temperature is going to change, he offers no value unless the direction of the change is also conveyed. Is it going to be warmer or colder? So… does travel make you better or worse? Or do you stay the same?

Travel1

Mark Twain said,

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

By this he means to convey the virtue of travel, as a broadening experience. Though I would submit that travel can have the opposite effect as well, confirming biases and prejudice. Merely dabbling in the foreign is both patronizing to the foreign and neglectful of deepening one’s appreciation of one’s “little corner”.

Historian Christopher Dawson articulated the value of studying History in a way that echoes Twain. Studying history, like traveling, is a way to break out of one’s parochialism. Dawson says:

“One of the great merits of history is that it takes us out of ourselves – away from obvious and accepted facts – and discovers a reality that would otherwise be unknown to us. There is a real value in steeping our minds in an age entirely different to that which we know: a world different, but no less real – indeed more real, for what we call ‘the modern world’ is the world of a generation, while a culture like that of the Byzantine or the Carolingian world has a life of centuries… History should be the great corrective to that ‘parochialism in time’ which Bertrand Russell rightly describes as one of the great faults of our modern society. ”

But Dawson indicates that there are different ways to study history –one way confirms us in the parochialism of our time, the other way can liberate us from such parochialism. He continues,

“Unfortunately, history has too often been written in a very different spirit. Modern Historians, particularly in England, have frequently tended to use the present as an absolute standard by which to judge the past, and to view all history as an inevitable movement of progress that culminates in the present state of things.”

So to qualify Twain’s remark about travel I would add Dawson’s insight about studying history: that it has to be done in the right way, with the right spirit or mindset, in order to have a positive effect on us. For Americans this is of particular importance, as we “bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.” When we travel do we measure the foreign as relative to American culture, or do we consider and appreciate the foreign on its own terms?

The latter would be more like Twain’s hope for travel, using Dawson’s nuance –immersing oneself in the Other, which is not ours, but is nonetheless real and exists on its own terms; not measuring it as a relatively unfulfilled percentage of us and ours.  The prior view is articulated by the Drill Instructor in Full Metal Jacket:

We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.

Travel does change us, but how it changes us depends upon the spirit with which we embark. Do we travel to show off, to prove ourselves to be sophisticated beyond the rubes we live near? Do we travel in order to deign with our presence the little foreigners who are really imperfect Americans wanting to be made whole by us? Do we travel to escape, because we are uncomfortable in our own shoes, at home, in our own lives? My friends and I used to call that a “Geo-Cure”. It may be the most patronizing of all travel. “Give me your simple magic you benighted savages because I cannot stand my cubicle anymore!” Or do we travel to immerse ourselves in the Other, so we can more truly come home?

English author G.K. Chesterton said about a century ago, “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place…”
While contemporary English author Terry Pratchett writes, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.” Maybe English writers have such great insight into travel because they live on an island.

Ideally travel takes us out of the parochialism of our own land and culture, but the point is to come home again, to see home in a fresh way, to have a strengthened love of home and hearth while visiting other homes and hearths loved for their own sake by their own people on their own terms, and not as some pale imitation of our own.

Travel can change you, but it is the traveler’s frame of mind before taking the first step that will determine the value of that change. That change can make you more fully yourself, either conforming you in your biases (both of neighbor and of foreigner) or confirming you in your love of home by seeing others in their homes, on their terms.

Author’s note:  Leslie Farnsworth has asked a group of writers to participate in a writing challenge: 

So I wanted to see if you’d have interest in a round-robin topic exchange, where one blogger a month in the group suggests a general topic and we all publish our take on the topic on the same day on our blogs, linking to the others’ posts. We will all handle a subject completely differently, which is interesting, and people who read one of our blogs are likely to be compelled to see how different people differently approach the same topic.

It was an honor to be asked to contribute.

Here are the other writers, enjoy!

http://therealmil.blogspot.com

http://jennasauber.com

http://bayoucitypostcards.blogspot.com

http://www.williampora.com

http://onefishtaco.blogspot.com

http://www.lesliefarnsworth.com/blog

 

Lunch

I had lunch today with a former student, David Stoughton, from my first year as a teacher. David has turned his high school landscaping business in Maryland into a burgeoning real estate enterprise in the Triad area of North Carolina. He started it out in his parents’ garage of course.
Our lunch was in the oldest building in downtown Greensboro, which he owns, at the Liberty Oak restaurant, rated one of the best in the South by Southern Living magazine.
The owner of Liberty Oak is from Italy. I met him today as well.
Many years ago he was driving a cab in Italy and his passenger was an American businessman from Greensboro, North Carolina, who was gregarious and loquacious about his love of his hometown.
“Eddie” Gramisci was sold and somehow made it to Greensboro where he cleaned the bathrooms at New York Pizza, a local chain.
He now owns all of the New York Pizza places in the Triad, as well as Liberty Oak. He also owns other restaurants from the Piedmont to Myrtle Beach. Eddie also owns Ferraris… So these things still happen.
I taught David Trigonometry. I came in mid year to teach at my old high school. I was back from Austin, TX for the holidays and wasn’t going back. A teacher had unexpectedly left mid year and the Headmaster asked if I wanted to finish the year out teaching math. The Headmaster was my uncle, who had been my math teacher and basketball coach when I was in high school.
I taught for the Spring term and I loved it. Coached some baseball too.
On one of my first days in class I was checking homework. When I got to David, his books were closed and he said, while rising up out of his chair to tower over me at 6’8″ (it’s all blurry to me once someone is 6’3″ or more), “I didn’t do my homework. What are you going to do about it?”
Not only is he tall, but he is as strong as an ox. Legend has it that he actually once saved a guy’s life, stopping at an accident scene and lifting up a car to allow others to drag the guy out.
In a split second every tactic I had ever witnessed a teacher use to assert authority flashed through my mind. Nothing would quite fit this moment. Then David smiled and said, “just kidding, here it is.”
And there it was.
I remember talking to his parents at a parent teacher conference about this moment. They were kind of embarrassed, but I went on, “so then I checked his homework and he doesn’t use any of the steps I show in class but he gets it right, and I can follow his steps and they make sense. It’s really neat and methodical but it’s like his own kind of poetry.”
“Yes, that sounds like David.”
And as he smiled and joked at lunch today I remembered that first challenge. Such a cheerful guy, who is writing his own entrepreneurial poetry.
After lunch he took me over to another office building on the main corner of downtown Greensboro. As we walked in it dawned on me, “wait, you own this too?!”
“Shhhhh!,” he said, “everyone just thinks I’m a maintenance guy.”
It was a good lunch.

Friendship

I recently spoke about Friendship to the high school youth group of my parish -about 150 students. Later, small group discussions were to focus on the Book of Sirach, Chapter 6, on True Friendship, so I tried to incorporate that. These are my edited notes with some of the images from the juxtaposed slideshow that I had going behind me. Many of the pull quotes here were also in the slide show.

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Sirach 6:14-15

Have you ever had someone say to you, “Be careful, or your face will stick like that!”? Well, my wife said that to my 6 year old son once and his response was, “is that what happened to daddy?” Then my boys were watching Despicable Me and the evil banker came on the screen and my 2 year old said, “he looks like you daddy!” And I’m not even bald yet, though I am getting fat.Perkins

So, with that in mind, I, whose face is stuck with this semi-permanent scowl, am going to talk to you about Christian Friendship.

Now how many of you have ever described someone as NICE ? “Oh she is a nice person.” We use “nice” a lot. But “nice” has lost some of its meaning. You might as well say, “Oh, she is breathing,” or, “She has feet.”

“Do you know John?”
“John? Oh yeah John. The guy with the body and the mouth?”

In some ways the word friend or friendship has lost meaning too because we use it so often. It’s a TV show, a book, a meme. It has even become a verb. “He friended me.”

When we say someone is “nice” we often mean that they don’t bother us. They are not annoying, they are not challenging. But it doesn’t really mean a positive good, just the absence of hassle.rainbows puppies

Similarly when we think of friendship we imagine rainbows and puppies and unicorns and all sorts of wonderfulness coming our way. Friends are nice.

But Christian friendship is an action, it is heroic, it is adventurous, it is dangerous. You can get hurt. Friendship is sacrificial because it is about love.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ― Bob Marley

The Patron Saint of Friendship is St. John the Apostle. Christ nicknamed him and his brother James ‘Boanerges’ which means Sons of Thunder! Of the Twelve Apostles, John is the only one who continuously stood by Jesus and never once rejected Him.

I think saccharine notions of Christian friendship disappear when we realize the patron saint of friendship is a ‘Son of Thunder’ who also wrote the Book of Revelation.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

Friendship is epic and adventurous, but do not be troubled, there is a place for simplicity and shallowness!  Which are not bad things in themselves, only if you stay there in the shallows!

The Lord said Duc in Altum! –Put out into the Deep! He asks us to take risks!boat

But you have to start in the shallow part, you can’t already be in the deep part, it’s hard to get on board a boat unless you’re standing on the shore, or in the shallow water.

Like a lake or a sea, like the Sea of Galilee, there are gradations of depth and there is a whole ecosystem of friendship.

happiness
Happiness?

In America we often think of happiness as the reception of pleasure. Receiving pleasure from food, drinks, sugar, teevee, gadgets, clothes, comfortable furniture… from other people… but true happiness actually requires action.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that happiness is an action so it has to be true.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not a single act, but a habit. -Aristotle

Similarly friendship is the activity of loving others, not the mere passive reception of pleasure from their company, their jokes, their status etc.

In fact, Aristotle (THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHER EVER), spends more of his time discussing the importance of friendship in his book on Ethics than on any other subject.

Friends have the greatest effect on who you become, on your character.

Now that you know that your friends will have the greatest impact on who you will become you might be looking around this room and panicking a bit. But, Be Not Afraid! be not afraid

The good news is that there are different kinds of friends. There are friends of pleasure, friends of usefulness, and friends of excellence. And we will have all types of these friends throughout our lives.

“Oh how mean and ridiculous to categorize friends like that” you may say.

Indeed. But guess who said you can categorize friendship this way? The greatest philosopher in the world! Aristotle!

Now, this does not mean that you need to have an app on your phone where you promote and demote friends (though that is an idea that will probably make money) “Josh just said something really stupid, I am going to demote him from friend of excellence to merely a useful friend because he has a car.”

But you will find one day that the friend who gives you so much pleasure with his or her jokes and stories, is not the friend to talk to about the existential question of whether or not you were truly contrite during your last confession and whether or not your sins were really forgiven, etc.

I am sure you worry about things like this every Saturday afternoon.good looking

Or, will that fun friend keep it quiet that you wonder if is it a near occasion of sin to be really, really, ridiculously good looking?

Others are friends, table companions, but they cannot be found in time of affliction. Sirach 6:10

“Table companions” mentioned in here in Sirach are what Aristotle would call friends of pleasure.

A friend of pleasure, for example someone who is great at telling stories and who cracks people up with jokes, might not be the best person in whom to confide. Because guess what makes a funny story?! Your existential crisis!

Friends of usefulness –the word sounds terrible right?- like you’re using someone… but it’s mutual usefulness so it’s okay.

But seriously, you are friendly with people you deal with in business, on a day to day basis –the people who do your dry cleaning, the waiter work friendsat your favorite restaurant.

I have friends in business and we are mutually useful to each other. I sell their stuff and they give me stuff to sell. It helps if this relationship is friendly, but I don’t feel it necessary to invite them to my son’s baptism. At trade shows and conventions I have seen the tragic mistake of people confiding too much in their business friends, thinking they were their best friends. It’s not pretty.

There are friends of excellence who are both of these also, useful and pleasurable; and with whom you can discuss the meaning of life, your marriage, your angst, and whether or not your good looks are near occasion for sin…

But these friends are rare and it takes a while to cultivate that friendship.

Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be. Sirach 6:17

Fear of the Lord –sounds so Old Testament! (Because it is, and we are in the Bible belt after all…) What I take from this is that both people in the friendship fear the Lord –they have the same values, the same ethical starting point and the same ethical goals. You will have a stable friendship with those you associate with -your neighbors, when those people are ethically (and culturally) aligned with you in principle. You all have the same ethical vocabulary.

You can only have a deep friendship of this sort if you agree on some basic things, which it may take time to discover.

The beauty about something like a desire for truth, a desire to gain heaven, or a desire for complete honesty, is that you will find others who want the same thing and these can become great friends. They may be from other cultures and religions but once people have committed to a love and desire for truth, accidents of birth, race, and culture will only serve to enrich.

A friendship of excellence and virtue may grow from another type of friendship. You may find yourself leading someone along into a love and desire for deeper Truth, just because you were friendly and cheerful while discussing college basketball… or while working together…

The college fraternity brother with whom you drink beers, a friend of pleasure, may turn into the best man at your wedding or the godfather to your child.

On the other hand, the best friend with whom you discussed the meaning of life while an athlete in high school, may just become an friendly acquaintance after you go off to art school and become a sculptor.

Your spouse, whose beauty sparked the fire which was a mere pleasure at the beginning of your relationship, will grow into a friend of excellence, your best friend. “One soul in two bodies”, as Guess Who? said. Yes, Aristotle!

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” -Aristotle

You will grow into and out of friendships and someone you thought was a friend of excellence will turn out, in hindsight, on your first Fall break back from college to have been a different kind of friend. Or they will find that you have become a different kind of friend.

Act in a friendly manner (that’s an adverb now, not a noun), or be friendly (an adjective). [A little SAT verbal prep for you, no charge.]

You don’t have to stay friends … And that is okay.

Sometimes personal character solutions require friendship dissolution –breaking bad habits, or developing new interests and good habits means leaving old friends behind. You can be sad about it, you should miss the person… if you don’t miss a friendship, then it wasn’t a friendship, but it is okay to move on.  Be sad, but don’t feel guilty.

But how do we get friends in the first place?

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and gracious lips, friendly greetings. Sirach 6:5

Our disposition will help us find friends. If you have no friends, imitate someone who is friendly until it becomes second nature. Fake it until you make it! To paraphrase the greatest philosopher ever!  But you have to imitate what you want to become, develop the habits until it is truly who you are.

“Only friendliness produces friendship.” -G.K. Chesterton

Smile and the world smiles back, as they say.

From Psychology Today:

Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.smiling is my favorite
For starters, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It also stimulates these things in those who see your smile.

Blah blah blah… hashtag science. You feel better and smiles are contagious! You make others feel better. It becomes a virtuous cycle!

Rainbows and unicorn puppy dogs!

Let those who are friendly to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. Sirach 6:6

Have some standards people! Always be open to friendship but do not trade quantity for quality, depth for breadth. Be friendly to all, but be friends with your friends and know who is which type of friend…

Never turn away a cheerful person but do not mistake cheerfulness for ttragedyrue friendship. Mistaking a friendly acquaintance for a best friend in whom you confide your dark secrets may lead to gossip (a violation of the Commandment not to bear false witness against your neighbor.”) and who knows what other Mean Girls scenarios… Burn Book!

If disaster comes upon you, they turn against you and hide themselves. Sirach 6:12

Difficult times, tests, will show you who your real friends are… also, your friends’ trials and tests will tell them how much of a friend you are. Do you hide? Do they hide?

We need friends to fill in our imperfections. -G.K. Chesterton

But we need friends to receive our love. And we must be open to receiving love and friendship in turn, we must help fill in the imperfections of others with our gifts and allow them to participate in the virtues of charity and active love by being their friends. Love and Charity can only be done if there is someone to receive it… a Direct Object (more free SAT prep for you, if they even do that on the SAT anymore…)

But what if you have no friends? Or think you have no friends?

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people. -G.K. Chestertonneighbors

You might not. At this time of your life. If you are an introvert, or a “go deep or go home” conversation kind of person, the cultivated immaturity of high school may not be the environment for you to develop excellent friends or deep friendships. But that does not mean others are not having deep friendships, don’t write everyone else off as shallow.

You are obliged to be cheerful and open to friendship yourself. Step up and being willing to be hurt. Practice.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

If you have no friends remember Mother Teresa who lived a life dedicated to God and to serving the poorest of the poor. At one point she went through what is called the Dark Night of the soul, a test from God of total abandonment. A dark night that lasted for over 50 years. She persevered through the most lonely of times anyone can experience, she had forsaken the world and loved God and God had forsaken her… And now she will be a saintmother teresa

For more than fifty years following her initial visions and locutions, Mother Teresa was wrapped in a dark, pitiless silence.
She only once more heard the voice of God, and she believed the doors of heaven had been closed and bolted against her. The more she longed for some sign of his presence, the more empty and desolate she became.
We always saw her smiling. She had a playful smile, mischievous, as if privy to some secret joke. Especially when she was around children, she beamed with delight. In private, she had a quick, self-deprecating sense of humor, and sometimes doubled over from laughing so hard. So many people who spent time with her came away saying that she was the most joyful person they had ever met.

Look, it’s not all about right now, in high school… though it is a good time to practice!

  • Life is an action over a long period of time
  • We need friends in order to exercise the virtues of charity and love. These are actions that need an object.
  • Love your enemy, make them your friend
  • Be open to being hurt
  • But “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
  • Do not try to get friends, try instead to be a friend to others
  • Start by being friendly: smile! … endorphins, neuropeptides and all that

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and gracious lips, multiply friendly greetings.

love the unloveableNow, I need to go take my own advice… thank you for your attention and for laughing when you were supposed to!

The Wire as Greek Epic

The Wire can be viewed as an epic poem that reveals the absence of justice in modern American political economy. The Wire is about two worlds: one ruled by Force and Might, the other ruled by Cunning Intelligence. Sometimes the two are in conflict, sometimes congruent, but both operate without Justice as an organizing principle.

The first great epics of the Western canon are the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, and via these works Homer is said to have been “the teacher of all Greeks”, who in turn are the founders of Western Civilization. Modern scholars have characterized the two works in this way: the Iliad is the Epic of Force or Might, (Greek word bié), while the Odyssey is the Epic of Cunning Intelligence (Greek word métis). Both epics take place in a moral ecosystem of the rule of Zeus, the Greek god of Justice (diké) and the god of kings.

The Wire articulates two worlds: a world ruled by Bié –the world of the streets and the drug dealers, and a world ruled by Métis –the world of bureaucracy and politics. This epic begins, as most do, in the middle of the action, after the Barksdale organization has won a war to dominate the drug trade in West Baltimore. It begins with a dead man, “Snot Boogie”.thumb_the_wire

Det. McNulty articulates the simple unfairness that a man christened Omar Isaiah Betts by his mother would be called “Snot Boogie” for the rest of his life because one day he had a cold. In epic poetry, the utterance of a name ensures fame throughout time, ensures immortality. Your name is your rep. Forever.

Snot Boogie’s friend tells McNulty that Boogie used to rob the dice game every time, get caught, get beat up, and that was that. But “the mother fucker didn’t have to put a cap in his ass, coulda just whooped him like we always do”. There is a sense of the excess of violence, of Bié, but it is conceded that Bié is the organizing principle nonetheless. The man with an unfair name would have received “a whooping, like always.”

In the world of the police, we see Métis applied to the manipulation of crime statistics with no relationship to reality. Police are concerned about pensions, promotions, and manipulated numbers to facilitate their advancement. Only accidentally does this system affect the world of crime. Métis is used to navigate bureaucracy, to avoid hassles as well as internal and external political fallout.

Interestingly, while in real life the police have a monopoly on legal violence, The Wire does not focus on the use of police violence, nor on the increased militarization of the police due to the war on drugs. As with the other modern bureaucracies in the series: the school system, the Baltimore Sun, and city hall, the police department is depicted as a milieu of Métis. For the real modern horrors are born in the bureaucracies, in the world of Métis, as CS Lewis wrote:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

We learn two things in season one: The first is that world of Bié has no sense of proportion with Snot Boogie, nor has it mercy when young Wallace is killed by his childhood friends. Secondly, we see the corrupting influence of the institutional “games” that the characters have committed to. In the world of Métis, the manipulation and lies build on themselves. Even for well-intentioned police, gaming the system with falsehoods leads to spiraling miscommunication and tragic mistakes. Internal systems meant to optimize external functioning become goals unto themselves: game the paperwork to avoid the hassles of serious work, instead of seeing valid paperwork as serving the goal of criminal justice (evidence chain of custody, witness statements, medical evidence, etc.).

On several occasions the two worlds meet beyond the drug and murder investigations themselves. In the final season, the world of Métis employs the money from the world of Bié in what Josef Schumpeter would call an act of the Capitalistic Creative Destruction: the “revitalization of the docks”. Crony Capitalism is not only Cunning, it is an unstoppable Force.

[… T]he capitalist process, in much the same way in which it destroyed the institutional framework of feudal society, also undermines its own. –Josef Schumpeter

The organic, ethnic Polish community that is already on its last legs will be wiped out by gentrification, outwitted by the Cunning class, out financed by Bié. Crony Capitalism is a destructive force, “creative destruction” without justice. The alienation of the ethnics from their work means alienation from their homes, here Bié and Métis join together to destroy Community.

In the world of Métis and Crony Capitalism Stringer Bell, the Barksdale organization’s COO, becomes deracinated, increasingly cut off from his roots and his people. Senator Davis rips Bell off, Métis defeats Bié, and because Bell is not exercising his Bié in any service of Justice, is not exercising his leadership in the service of his people from whom he is now alienated, his money is taken by those adept at the life of Métis and Bell’s life is taken by those adept at the use of Bié (Omar Little and Brother Marzoume), whom he in turn had tried to kill through Métis.

In a similar way, or possibly in the film negative version of Bell’s attempt to merge the worlds of Bié and Métis, Major Colvin legalizes drugs de facto in certain sections of his precinct. Drug violence virtually ceases and public health workers are able to bring in services. However, there is Truth and “What is Right” and there is the politics of the world of Métis. The inability of Colvin to communicate clearly, his need to use subversion, even in doing the most efficacious and well intentioned actions, leads to the implosion of the experiment, the destruction of careers, and, in the world of Bié, the emergence of “the spawn of the devil”, Marlo Stanfield.

Paralleling Stanfield’s rise to power is an exploration of the school system. Like the police, the schools are a bureaucracy, where internal systems such as standardized testing are gamed. Any higher teleology of education, which such things as testing might serve, are non-existent.

Aristotle notes in the Politics that, as opposed to animals, “humans master speech to disclose what is useful and what is harmful. And what is just and unjust.” In the world of Métis this is inverted, speech is used to dissemble and create ambiguity. At the intersection of the police and school bureaucracies lies the destruction of Randy Wagstaff’s life. His home is firebombed, his foster mother gravely injured, and he returns to the foster system to become a no-snitch thug.

The feedback loop of lies in the world of Métis comes to fruition in the final season via the schools and the police. Bureaucratic opacity in the school budget leads to police department cuts. McNulty fabricates a serial killer, which garners resources for the police which Freamon diverts to the Stanfield investigation and the unsolved murders in the abandoned homes. A Baltimore Sun reporter wins a Pulitzer based upon lies on top of McNulty’s lies and the editor who calls him on it is demoted. Greggs exposes McNulty’s lie and that in turn is ordered covered up by the mayor. Former cop Herc betrays the wire tap to his boss, Marlo’s lawyer, after he had stolen the number from the lawyer in the first place. Lies and cunning on top of lies and cunning.

As McNulty says to the Sun Reporter:

“You lying motherfucker, you’re as full of shit as I am. And you’ve got to live with it and play it out as far as it goes, right? Trapped in the same lie. Only difference is, I know why I did it. But fuck if I can figure out what it gets you in the end. But, hey, I’m not part of your tribe.”

It is a world without Justice, where Might makes Right on the street and cunning lies get you promoted until your pension. But there are hints that there could be a different world, that there could be another way for these worlds to interact.

In the Iliad and the Odyssey there is another organizing principle that anchors Bié and Métis, and that is Justice, Diké. Both epics take place in a moral ecosystem of the kingship of Zeus and the political kingship of Agamemnon. The Wire is a genus/species inversion of Homer’s works in that those with a proclivity to Justice are subservient to Bié or to Métis. It should be the other way around.

Agamemnon embodies a higher “Zeus” principle than either Bié or Métis, and that is Diké: that each man has his place, and in that place he can flourish and become a hero. While much of the Iliad is about coming to terms with Achilles and the role of Bié, it is also about Agamemnon coming to terms with his appropriate role as king, honored by Zeus.

In The Wire however, there is no mediating character to dispense Justice, even badly. There is only Bié and Métis. Several characters appear to have the potential to be just leaders in The Wire, but they are all undone and wrecked: McNulty, Frank Sobotka, Bunny Colvin, Cedric Daniels, Michael Lee and Omar Little.

The late philosopher Dr. Joseph Palmour described what happened to young men who had both empathetic hearts and strategic, big picture intelligence to be just leaders. He often found that they were emotionally destroyed in Middle or High School, their empathy seen as a weakness and so it was shut down.

“These young men become hired brains once their moral and emotional desire for justice is beaten down. Their empathy becomes too much to bear so they shut it down and live in their head.” –Dr Joseph Palmour

These men often go into work that they themselves describe as being an independent “hired brain”. They operate well intellectually but withdrawn from emotional attachment, both to the people within the organization, the organization itself, as well as the actual creative work of the organization.

From within the world of Bié, the two characters that seem to exhibit the most potential for just leadership are like these “independent brains”, except they become independent stick up men on the edge of The Game –Michael Lee and Omar Little. Both are smart and strategic, both question the parameters of “the Game”, both have a rough moral code. Neither is completely co-opted into “the Game”, though they operate in the milieu of Bié.

Somewhat between the two worlds, Frank Sobotka tries to safeguard the livelihood of his men and thereby their homes and the community. But he makes a deal with the devil, the criminal world of Bié, in order to have the money to play in the game of Métis and politics. In the end he is crushed by both.

In him we see true tragedy as classified by Aristotle: Sobotka mistakes friends for enemies and enemies for friends. We see the ruthlessness of Bié, its complete disregard for commoditized human life. We also see how the lies necessary to navigate the world of Métis spiral out of control. Or, as military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart wrote in The Strategy of Indirect Approach, black operations (by definition operations of métis) always get out of one’s control, as they do for Major Valchek against his co-ethnic.

Bunny Colvin has played his game well and is almost set to retire and move on to head up security at Johns Hopkins. But in the end, in his attempt to stop the violence of the drug trade by bypassing the system ruled by Métis, the system retaliates and crushes him. The peace and space that he had carved out in his fiefdom is lost because of the inability to be honest within the world of Métis.

Colvin’s protégé out of the West Baltimore precinct, Jimmy McNulty seems to have a sense of justice from the very first scene. A name has significance in telling us the true nature of a thing. It is unfair that Omar Isaiah Betts is called Snot Boogie. It ain’t right. As Det. ‘Bunk’ Moreland says to McNulty, “There you go. Givin’ a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” McNulty gives a fuck, which is not the same as a fine-tuned adherence to justice however, but injustice bothers him.

The actions of McNulty in season one set off a chain of events that allow others to find their true natures, to articulate their true callings, to try to apply Justice in their lives and work. McNulty is the prime mover who sets a tone and creates the space for others to do their work well. He empowers others and they in turn follow his lead. His agency on the other detectives is tellingly revealed in the very last episode when Bunk says the same words to Det. Deggs, “See now, there you go giving a fuck, when it’s not your turn to give a fuck.”

The most obvious characters who flourish after McNulty’s agency in their lives are Freamon and Daniels. Freamon is brought out from his exile investigating pawn fraud and his brilliance and passion come alive. Daniels sheds his go-along to get-along political maneuvering to stand up for what is right and just. In the end he returns the favor to McNulty by calling him out for going too far with his lies and manipulations. In the Iliad Hera similarly reminds Zeus that he too must obey the natural law and fate when he is tempted to rescue his son from death on the battle field.

But McNulty lacks balance and integrity to his life. While he may desire Justice and strive for it, he cannot square the circle of how to operate both in a just manner and in the world of Métis. As a “hired brain” he is a “natural police”, but he has a disordered moral and emotional life as a result. He has to drown himself in alcohol and sleep around.  This inability to be integrated leads to a complete moral dissolution of the man over the course of the story. He destroys his family and only finds a sort of peace with a new family when he shuts his brain down and becomes a simple beat cop detached from the bigger picture of justice for the people of Baltimore.

Daniels too is permanently affected by the series of events set in motion by McNulty. He and Deggs become the “external or antithetical necessity[i]” to the unbalanced McNulty, whose lies have gone too far. Daniels’ ex-wife tries to convince him to play ball politically in the world of Métis in order to become the Police Commissioner. She says, “The tree that doesn’t bend, breaks Cedric.” He responds, “Bend too far, you’re already broken.” In the end, he neither bends nor breaks, but he no longer has agency either.

There is no escaping Diké, once you set it in motion, as ultimately McNulty acknowledges in his final words to Deggs when she tells him at his “wake” that she exposed his lies to Daniels. McNulty’s response is one of justice: “Detective, if you think it needed doing, then I guess it did.” It was brave of her to come and admit it, but to do so was in line with what McNulty had started in the first place. He honored her bravery and devotion to truth at this moment.

Jimmy McNulty can only find integrity and peace by being just to himself and those he loves. There is no room for him in the world of Métis, in the res publica. All those who step out of line, either in the world of Bié or the world of Métis, and seek a different organizing principle are destroyed. Omar Little is killed, Michael Lee loses his family and becomes a lone criminal. Colvin is burned, Daniels is forced out. Sobotka knowingly goes to his death, unwilling to continue participation in injustice once the full scope of it is revealed to him.

In the world of Bié there is no Justice, there is no memory. In the Theogony, when Zeus impregnates Memory, the Muses (Learning and the Arts) are born. It is only when our memories are joined with the justice of proportion and natural law, the idea of things having their proper place, that we see patterns and can learn.

Before he is shot by Slim Charles, Cheese rants, “There ain’t no back in the day, there is just the Street and the Game and what happens here today.” There is no memory, no justice, and there is no learning, only an endless cycle of retributive violence and the exercise of Bié.

Homer is the teacher of the Greeks because he taught them that men of Bié and men of Métis will lead you to death. If a society wishes to undertake a democratic strategy for governance, it should first know whom not to elect.

No Justice, no Peace.

[i] “The Greek ananke or moira (fate) is in its normal form the internal balancing condition of life, it appears as external or antithetical necessity only after it has been violated as a condition of life, just as justice is the internal condition of the honest man, but the external antagonist of the criminal.” –Northrop Frye

Easy? No. Kids today do not have it easy.

Easy? No. Kids today do not have it easy..

We vaccinate them against every disease, buckle them into their car seats, teach them not to run near the pool, and we think we are keeping them safe. But it’s their souls that we should be especially protecting, and that’s where we often fail.

Like I said in Brain Food:

If genetically modified dwarf wheat leads to wheat belly, if high fructose corn syrup contributes to liver damage and diabetes, can Dick and Jane and the whole word methodology lead to literacy anemia?  Is there a cultural analog to garden variety Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or worse, to bowel cancer?

We get worked up about the physical health of our kids, but not as much about the industrialized and over-processed culture-like and education-like products they are exposed to everyday…

via Easy? No. Kids today do not have it easy..

Vladimir Putin and the Devastation of the Baby Boomers

Vladimir Putin opened his op-ed to the U.S. and its political leaders seeking to avoid devastation.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation [my emphasis] from ever happening again.

Devastation.  The word comes from the Latin verb, devastare  —to lay waste, and from the Latin adjective vastusempty, desolate.

Putin knows devastation.  Born in 1952, 7 years after the end of World War II, baptized in secret, Putin grew up in a devastated family in a devastated country.  Both of Putin’s older brothers had died; the oldest son died in infancy in the 1930s, the second, of diphtheria during the Siege of Leningrad.

His family was not alone, in Russia almost 13% of the population perished during the war, with over 7 million civilian deaths and nearly that many military deaths.  More Russian civilians died in WWII than soldiers.  All told almost 14 million Russians perished.  In contrast the United States lost roughly 400,000 soldiers and 1,700 civilians, altogether less than one percent of the total population.

The rolling tanks, the aerial bombardments, and the brutal warfare along the Eastern Front left Russia devastated economically as well:  a quarter of its capital resources were destroyed and agricultural output was lower than it had been in the 1920s.  Add the psychotic leadership of Stalin, who killed an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens, and the economic disaster of Communism to the destruction of WWII and you have a land made empty, desolate.

Vladimir must have been a source of hope for his parents in the devastated emptiness after the war, like his Baby Boomer peers in the U.S. were for the G.I. Generation after the Great Depression and WWII.

However, unlike post war Russia, post war America was a cornucopia.  Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, the United States had not been bombed into rubble.  We were the exception.  We had no industrial competition.  Everyone in the world bought our stuff.

Real consumption rose by 22 percent between 1944 and 1947, and spending on durable goods more than doubled in real terms. Gross private investment rose by 223 % in real terms, with a whopping six-fold real increase in residential- housing expenditures.

The private economy boomed as the government sector stopped buying munitions and hiring soldiers. [i]

The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. It was a unique moment in history when the Boomers came of age.  As the Economist writes:

These boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age… Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs… boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.

Our Baby Boomer political leaders grew up as well-cared-for children in the brand new suburbs, at a time of unprecedented optimism and wealth.  The strength and wealth of the nation were so secure that they were able to “tune in, turn on, and drop out”; in that fit of Daddy-anger that was the late 1960s.

There was material wealth to be sure, but the Boomers were devastated in their own way, uprooted from their ethnic enclaves in the northern cities (if Catholic) and from their Midwestern cities, towns, and family farms (if Protestant), devastated psychically in the wasteland of Levittown and cul de sacs.  In fact Baby Boomers now have the highest suicide rate of any generation[ii].  The Me Generation is an alienated generation.  It was an exceptional mirage, material wealth masking spiritual devastation.

Tom Wolfe, himself of the Silent Generation sandwiched between the GIs and the Boomers, described the exceptional nature of Boomer self-absorption as having discarded the “age-old belief in serial immortality.”

Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, ‘I have only one life to live.’ Instead, they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offsprings’ lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well… The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things.

Climbing out of the stream upon their rise to power in the early 1990s, with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and the accession of Newt Gingrich as House Speaker in 1994, it was declared The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama, born in 1952 like Mr. Putin.

Clinton went to war in the Balkans, intervened in Somalia, and bombed Iraq.  Madeline Albright suggested 500,000 dead Iraqi children, “was worth it,” whatever “it” was.  Bush and Obama have warred on Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, with Boomer war-drums beating for Syria and Iran.

The LA Times, using CBO numbers, says Iraq and Afghanistan will be the most expensive war in U.S. history.  Afghanistan is already the longest[iii].  The Millennial Generation “has been at war their whole lives.”

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, with medical care and disability benefits weighing heavily for decades to come, according to a new analysis.

The bill to taxpayers so far has been $2 trillion, plus $260 billion in interest on the resulting debt. By comparison, the current federal budget is $3.8 trillion.

The largest future expenses will be medical care and disability benefits for veterans, [Linda] Bilmes [public policy expert at Harvard University] predicted. “The big, big cost comes 30 or 40 years out,” she said.

The Boomers inherited a fortuitous economic head start on their global peers.  Their G.I. fathers had bombed all industrial competitors into dust.  Mistaking this head start as an “unconditional election” to be global hegemon, they have proceeded to spend the principal of their exceptional economic endowment.  Now they are mortgaging the future of their progeny to continue the fiction.  Boomer Bernanke will not taper.  QE continues.  Boomers exempt themselves from history and borrow against their posterity.

Are the Boomers on an extended ballistic tantrum?  A cruise-missile hissy fit?  Are they just acting out?  They have proceeded to lay waste to the foundations of their inheritance, graduating from waging ideological wars on the institutions that raised them, to waging whimsical wars abroad, costing billions, from Clinton through Bush and Obama.   As Baby Boomer Chris Hedges writes, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”

Boomers have indebted their children and grandchildren with these wars of theirs, for some notional, Platonic ghost of Democracy, which also [just happens] to bring with it market-opening opportunities for Democracy! Whisky! and Sex![iv] to these bedraggled traditional peoples who only know the ways of their ancestors and not our enlightened, modern ways; not for any real national threat, but spuriously, based upon lies and/or to cover up lies.

But Putin knows about the wasteland left by Great Patriotic Wars, about the economic and moral collapse of a people broken by war.  He knows about the decades of U.S. sponsored jihad on his country’s southern borders, and the unintended consequences and blowback of such sponsorship and intervention. (see: Boston Marathon Bombing)

Putin’s Mother Russia was not just devastated economically, it was devastated morally and spiritually after WWII, annihilating its own future with some of the highest abortion rates in the developed world through the 1990s, with alcoholism and other social pathologies devastating their ability to continue as a people Rus.

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward. -Vernon Law, baseball player, Silent Generation

Russia in general and Putin in particular have experienced the test of war and devastation, they learned the lessons.  Recently, Russian birthrates surpassed those of the US.  As Tom Wolfe noted, this is an indication of belief in a future and a sense of continuity for themselves as a people and as a civilization.  Putin the practical politician does not want devastation again.

Having experienced the devastation of war across his country’s borders and in his own family, Mr. Putin finishes his op ed using the crusading, religious terminology of the American Baby Boomer political class, teleological “democracy”, while echoing the Declaration of Independence.

There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

America is exceptional to us because it is ours, not because of the historical, economic anomaly of the post war years, not because it stands astride the world as a Colossus.

Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Mexicans, Somalis, Vietnamese, etc. are not deformed Americans waiting to be fully Americanized.  They are allowed to love their countries too, to think that their country is exceptional because it is theirs, whose blessings they hope to pass on to their posterity.

The devastation of WWII and the devastation of Communism led to a devastation of the soul of the great Russian people and their civilization, a civilization that is literally being born again.

The spiritual devastation of the Baby Boomers, their antiseptic yet materially rich upbringing in suburban alienation, has resulted in the material devastation of whomever gets in the way of their tantrums –be it the civic institutions they inherited, or the indigenous cultures of small countries who rub them the wrong way.

Baby Boomers took for granted the material wealth and security in which they were raised.  They attacked the very civilization and institutions that had made them the best-raised and most educated generation of children in the history of the world to that point.  They exempted themselves from their legacy and borrowed against their posterity.

Tom Wolfe recognized the unintended consequences for the Boomers’ rejection of civilizational norms in the 1960s:

In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.

The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start from zero. At one point, the novelist Ken Kesey, leader of a commune called the Merry Pranksters, organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better. Among the codes and restraints that people in the communes swept aside–quite purposely–were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets, or as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning…the laws of hygiene…by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.

This process, namely the relearning–following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero–seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America. -from Hooking Up

The whimsical way in which Boomers go to war suggests a need for a great relearning of the rules of civilization.  But it also suggests “war as psychotherapy” and is reminiscent of the “World War as an Afterthought” theme in the background of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, when a sick and decadent nation continually goes to war abroad while waging a domestic war on the minds of its pharmacologically pacified citizens, and on culture itself:

[Montag has just come home to find his interactive-television addicted wife overdosed on sleeping pills.]

The object he had sent tumbling with his foot now glinted under the edge of his own bed. The small crystal bottle of sleeping-tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare.
As he stood there the sky over the house screamed. There was a tremendous ripping sound as if two giant hands had torn ten thousand miles of black linen down the seam. Montag was cut in half. He felt his chest chopped down and split apart. The jet-bombs going over, going over, going over, one two, one two, one two, six of them, nine of them, twelve of them, one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him. He opened his own mouth and let their shriek come down and out between his bared teeth. The house shook.

The Boomer devastation, because it is wholly spiritual, is worse than the material and economic devastation that informed Putin’s childhood, which probably made him all the more practical and ruthless.

Boomer devastation is in their psyche, the pain of their desolation screams out in cruise-missiles and F-16s. They are pissing away the material wealth that they inherited by bombing deserts.

Brain Food: What Are Your Eyes Eating!?

Recently an infographic has been making the rounds about the six major companies that control 90% of the media content that we consume.  Those six companies are GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time-Warner, and CBS.

This parallels the few large companies that supply most of the food in the US.

You’ve got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system.  From seed to the supermarket, they’re gaining control of food. –Tony Roush, Indiana farmer in Food Inc.

The 2008 film Food Inc. called into question what was actually in the food we consume and what effects it might have on our bodies.  What is industrial food?  Are there health consequences?

The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000…Although it looks like a tomato, it’s kind of a notional tomato.  I mean, it’s the idea of a tomato…

… In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore.  -Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in Food Inc.

Those who have seen the film, or who are aware of the issue in other ways, tend to govern their own dietary intake by growing their own food, shopping at farmers’ markets, participating in CSAs, etc.  Even Wal-Mart started selling organic products upon seeing the trend.

Given that these six companies control 90% of media content, and if the eyes are truly the windows into the soul, what exactly is getting into our souls and what is the effect?  What is the nutritional value of this food for thought?  What are the consequences of industrial processed media and cultural content?  Is it real or notional?  Is there an obesity of the mind; is there diabetes of the soul?

Our intellectual and cultural diet, our “consumption of meaning”, has changed a lot over the last 100 years –not only the media but the message. Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, fathered the field of “Public Relations” in the early 1900s, by which he doubled cigarette sales and sold war.  He felt that the term propaganda was too negative, but that is what he had done for Woodrow Wilson during WWI.

“Age-old customs, I learned, could be broken down by a dramatic appeal, disseminated by the network of media.”  “The group mind,” he continued, “does not think in the strict sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, emotions.”  -Edward Bernays

We may eat organic and local food, but our brain food, our cultural content, is far from local and organic.

Food Inc., among other films, books, and articles, suggests that many of the health problems in the  US  –the “obesity epidemic”, diabetes, heart disease, E. coli tainted food, etc. are related to our distorted and unnatural industrial food system.

There’s a hypothesis that obesity, a multifactorial condition, can be caused by an absence of nutrition in food.  Mastication, gustatory, and olfactory senses ramp up biological function to digest, deliver and store nutrition.  When nutrition fails to arrive, the body asks for more food, which it gets in the form of yet more calories devoid of nutrients.  Corporate food scientists then seek to override leptin signaling (which alerts the brain of satiety), so that the consumer consumes more product absent of nutrients, which the body is craving.  Instead the mouth is ingesting more of nothing.  –Stephen C. Brown, coffee roaster and buyer, food blogger

If those six companies are the mind’s content supermarket, what about the seed?  How is the appetite for cultural junk whetted?

Industrial schooling was initiated at the end of the 1800s.  Most of our intellectual consumption through our early years is monopolized by a few educational conglomerates such as Pearson, Wiley, Macmillian, McGraw-Hill, and Reed Elsevier.  It is only after we graduate that we turn our intellectual nourishment and ocular consumption over to GE, Newscorp, Disney, et al.

Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn.  They are designed to eat grass.  And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly…  I mean, the reason those calories are cheaper is because those are the ones we’re heavily subsidizing…  By making those calories really cheap, that’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level.  –Food Inc.

The subsidization of the food industry, especially via corn, has resulted in distortions in the food market and in the relative pricing of what is healthy and what is not healthy.

Education conglomerates are likewise subsidized by the property taxes of a completely captured market.  They do not have to convince each household to buy their product, only the school board or the superintendent.  Once that is done they have our money.  Their market is not the final consumer but instead the “reseller”, or distributor of the product to a captive market –our kids.  Can you imagine if we had to buy TVs or groceries this way?

If you were a school textbook publisher, what would you think about compulsory schooling laws?  It would mean guaranteed consumption of your product!  But what about the nutritional value?

I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country. –Dr. Seuss, 1981

In 1951, entire public school systems were bailing out on phonics…

Mute evidence that [Publishers] Scott, Foresman wasn’t just laughing all the way to the bank, but was actively trying to protect its nest egg in Dick and Jane, was its canny multiplication of words intended to be learned.  In 1930, the word  look was repeated 8 times; in 1951, 110 times… in the first see gets 27 repetitions, and in the second, 176. –John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of  American Education

If genetically modified dwarf wheat leads to wheat belly, if high fructose corn syrup contributes to liver damage and diabetes, can Dick and Jane and the whole word methodology lead to literacy anemia?  Is there a cultural analog to garden variety Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or worse, to bowel cancer?

Does the industrial, processed education system lead one to crave more content, because it is itself so devoid of real intellectual nutrients that our mind kicks in to consume more?  Most of what is consumed outside of school is equally devoid of intellectual and cultural nutritional content.   Do we over-consume media junk because it is devoid of “nutrients,” and because our appetite has been trained?  It is as if The Learning Channel and The History Channel are Monosodium Glutamate and Yellow # 5 for your brain.

Our food safety advocacy work started six years ago when my two-and-a-half year-old son Kevin was stricken with e. coli 0157:h7 and he went from being a perfectly healthy beautiful little boy … to being dead in 12 days.

There’s microorganisms –bacteria in [the cow’s] rumen, millions of ‘em.  The animals evolved on consuming grass.  There is some research that indicates that a high corn diet results in e. coli that are acid resistant.  And these would be the more harmful e. coli… a strain called e. coli 0157:h7…  The animals stand ankle deep in their manure all day long.

E. coli isn’t just in the ground beef now – it’s been found in spinach, apple juice –and this is really because of the runoff from our factory farms.

They did an E. coli test at the plant that was positive.  They didn’t end up recalling that meat until August 27th, 16 days after he [Kevin] died.

19% of high school graduates are illiterate.  63% of prison inmates are illiterate. Is there an equivalent to tainted meat in the realm of education and culture, a mental E. coli, tainted information that kills a person mentally and intellectually?   If so, can it be recalled?  Is there parental recourse?  Though mere illiteracy may not be the right metaphorical symbol for mind poisoning…

A modern textbook is the intellectual equivalent of the modern hamburger patty.  A hamburger patty comes from a feces covered cow, fed on cheap, subsidized, corn-based feed, which allows E. coli to grow in the cow’s belly.  The cow is shredded and processed amid the slinging excrement they live in, and then mixed with the meat of thousands of cows from across the country to form the uniform patty.  In a centralized processing facility, one sick cow can taint millions of patties sent out nationwide.

The processing plants have gotten bigger and bigger.  It’s just perfect for taking bad pathogens and spreading them far and wide.

In the 1970s there were literally thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States.  Today we have 13 slaughterhouses that process the majority of beef that is sold in the U.S.

When the Common Core is implemented, there will be nationalized standards for all schools.  One content slaughterhouse.  There will be no check on deleterious outbreaks.

In industrial chicken farms they desire a certain outcome and so they engineer fat, big-breasted (white meat) chickens, which grow so fast and fat their legs cannot carry them.  They are caged in, never see the light of day, and grown for uniformity.  They are also pumped with antibiotic drugs to counteract the unsanitary environment of chicken shit in which they are raised.

A lot of these chickens here, they can take a few steps and then they plop down.  It’s because they can’t keep up all the weight that they’re carrying.

…  There’s antibiotics that’s put into the feed and of course that passes through the chicken. -Food Inc.

Nineteen percent of all high school age boys have been diagnosed with ADHD, 10% are taking prescription drugs for ADHD.  A CDC survey found an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed at some point, an increase of over 50 percent over the past decade.  Roughly two-thirds of those currently diagnosed have been prescribed drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall.

The doctor prescribed methylphenidate, a generic form of Ritalin. It was not to be taken at home, or on weekends, or vacations. [Will] didn’t need to be medicated for regular life…  It struck us as strange, wrong, to dose our son for school…

I couldn’t help wondering why forgetting to talk to his friends was a good thing and why we were drugging him to become a good student.  –Bronwen Hruska, Raising the Ritalin Generation

If students are bored and antsy, why not change the class, or the school, or how the day is structured?  It is hard to change the efficient factory, but using Six Sigma and similar industrial quality-control methodologies, the factory can mitigate “variability.”

In the past Man has been first.  In the future, System must be first. –Frederick Taylor
In the past Man has been first. In the future, System must be first. –Frederick Taylor

Of course, the normal, non-variable, defect-free student product is not called normal or average.  They are all exceptional, accelerated, gifted, etc.,  –an IEP for all, to assure one outcome!

It’s all a science.  They [Tyson] got it all figured out.  If you can grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you gotta grow in three months? –Farmer, Food, Inc

THAT was five years ago. Will is about to start his sophomore year of high school. He’s 6 feet 3 inches tall, he’s on the honor roll and he loves school. For him, it was a matter of growing up, settling down and learning how to get organized. Kids learn to speak, lose baby teeth and hit puberty at a variety of ages. We might remind ourselves that the ability to settle into being a focused student is simply a developmental milestone; there’s no magical age at which this happens.  –Bronwen Hruska

It’s all highly mechanized.  So all the birds coming off those farms have to be almost exactly the same size.  –Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

The rebellious boy acting out will not lead to the desired outcome of a stable consumer in a materialistic culture.  He might throw off the efficiency and the timetable, might not ripen fast enough.  There are chemicals for that.  Also, earners and consumers are desired –not someone who possesses the faculties to recognize, describe, and resist the notional culture he or she is being force fed.

I have undertaken to get at the facts from the point of view of the business men… who have the right to say what they will have in their schools. –Charles Thurber, Annual Address of the NEA, 1897

What should a bureaucrat do to train compliant workers for the business class?

“[Edmund Burke] Huey was even more explicit: he said children learned to read too well and too early and that was bad for them.” –John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education

If a regular educational diet is the intellectual equivalent of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, charter schools and private schools who adhere to the educational status quo (they buy the same products, adhere to the same industrial standards, etc.), are like the rebuttal to Supersize Me which is Tom Naughton’s movie Fat Head.

Both Spurlock and Naughton still ate industrial food, but with some tweaking in how the processed stuff is consumed.  Spurlock’s health declined, but Naughton lost weight and improved his health.

Michael Pollan talks about the supermarket tomato as a “notional tomato”.  Most of education is “notional education”, most of the culture we consume via movies and television, on the web and in print, is “notional culture”.  It’s processed culture-like stuff, devoid of human wisdom.  But, while organic, natural food might be artificially a bit more expensive; gourmet, organic, heritage education is as easy as a family library and the arts.

Supersize Me and Fat Head indicate two different health outcomes after intake of the same industrial food product.  Despite Naughton, some people are opting out of industrial food.  But somehow, industrial education is a given.  One Gallup poll stated that most people think that public school education is in decline, but that their district is above average.  It is like Lake Wobegon, where all our children are above average!  (But your children are falling behind.)

I’m always struck by how successful we have been at hitting the bulls-eye of the wrong target.  I mean, in cattle we have learned … how to plant, fertilize and harvest corn using global positioning satellite technology, and nobody sits back and asks, “But should we be feeding cows corn?”  –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

We just try to get our kids into the “right” industrial, educational processing center.  We discuss the processes and the metrics, but hardly ever the goal of education -beyond achieving the next aspirational level of education!  There is no concept human teleology.

Well meaning teachers have had their jobs transformed too.  Teachers now read from a script.  They cannot “teach”, they have little control of their classroom, which is the environment of their work and creativity.  They have to meet desired outcomes.  There is little flexibility, nor the ability to use their judgment.  “Apply the formula,” as they say in Fight Club.  Teach to the test.

They changed the farmer.  Today, chicken farmers no longer control their birds. –Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

We have become a culture of technicians. –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

Could there be an equivalent reaction to the industrial, processed education industry?  Organic Education perhaps?

Famed independent farmer Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, calls his method “heritage farming”.  Farming based upon inherited wisdom.  Inherited wisdom does not preclude the use of technology.  If we had no inherited wisdom, no father would have taught his son an easier way to make fire, or the benefits of making a wheel round.

Industrial food is not honest food.  It’s not priced honestly. It’s not produced honestly.  It’s not processed honestly.  There is nothing honest about that food. –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

Inherited wisdom grows and became more subtle, building upon each generation.  Start with, “make the wheel round” and build from there:  “Don’t tease the lion”, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, “don’t cross the streams”, etc.

Homer taught the Greeks, and the rest of us, through the Iliad and the Odyssey, “that all life is a battle, and all life is a journey.”  Moreover, he highlights that the battle and the journey are made more difficult if your leader relies on force alone (Achilles) or cunning alone (Odysseus), all their friends and followers die.  There is more to leadership among peers than strength or charm, a foundational insight that informed later Greek political/economic innovations.

From Homer on, the subtlety of inherited wisdom increases –whom to marry, how to handle pain, how to handle slights, how to handle pride, how to handle technology and that power, how to improve upon previous knowledge and technology.  “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Sir Isaac Newton.  Our giants are our heritage, our customs, manners, tradition…  Education, in short.

We have an obesity problem in America -nourishment devoid of nutrients so much that we all but involuntarily consume more stuff than is healthy –buzzfeed, failblog, Kardashians, Housewives of Wherever, The Bachelor(ette), the NFL…

When we are in school a small group of conglomerates, with their faculty textbook committees, design the ammonia-dipped pink sludge we consume for learning.

Even more disturbing is that because ammonium hydroxide is considered part of the “component in a production procedure” by the USDA, consumers may not know when the chemical is in their food. –David Warner

After we finish our formal schooling, six corporations fill our minds and conform our palettes as to what life is all about.  The E. coli has left the meat market, and is now in other things.

-58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
-42% of college graduates never read another book.
-80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
-57% of new books are not read to completion.
-Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Every culture hands down wisdom learned from the hard interaction of reality and life, from mistakes with natural consequences, from “fire is hot” to the more complex concept of moral hazard.  It would be a shame to forgo these customs and traditions, the inherited wisdom of our respective peoples –be we Italian, Sengalese, Peruvian, Czech, Korean, etc., for a mess of processed crud, verified by test scores devised by the industrial crud producers.

Imagine if McDonald’s had a 90% monopoly on food and also a Federal mandate to verify if you were healthy or not?  Would you be healthy if they said so?  What if you decided to become a “home-fooder”?  Would your peers mock you for being anti-social or elitist for foregoing the nearby fast food?  Would people try to convince you that your kids won’t be “socialized” unless they are playing in the McDonald’s ball pit and collecting Happy Meal trinkets with other kids?  What would a local educational CSA, a CSE, look like?

Food Inc. came out in 2008.  The top food cop at the FDA under President Obama is Michael Taylor, who was the top lobbyist for Monsanto before that.  He is in charge of telling us about healthy food.  Is Arne Duncan just a mouthpiece for “Big Ed.?”

Even if you don’t eat at a fast food restaurant, you’re now eating meat that’s being produced by that system. – Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

Education is to inform the free citizen, whereas schooling gives you just enough knowledge to be managed by someone else. –John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, The Underground History of American Education

You do not have to consume what you are told to consume, via your mouth, or your eyes and mind.

IllusionofChoice

https://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/index.htm

http://www.senftle.com/