Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Booknote: Deer Hunting With Jesus

I just finished reading Deer Hunting with Jesus (link to WorldCat record). This is a book that will either confirm what you think you know about white poor people, or it will make you angry, or both, or maybe it will make you think. As I finished the book, I had some mixed feelings. A lot of the problem is plain ignorance: a serious and appalling lack of education. But it is also a systematic victimization, abuse, and neglect of certain wealthy elements who basically shamelessly exploit the poor white workers in the area that Bageant is describing. For me, on the one hand, you know the stacks are against them, yet they keep voting for the same people that basically screw them over (and I am trying to be polite). On the other, ignorance only goes so far. After a while, you know some of them are willfully ignorant and choose to get screwed anyways. Overall, this is a book that should make a good number of people think as well as make them angry. The book also reinforces how the Democratic Party and liberals in general have pretty much abandoned that part of the country, leaving it to the Republicans and their exploitation by default. There are passages in this book that are very moving; if you are not moved, you are either a "not-so-compassionate" conservative, or you are dead. And if any "conservatives" wish to comment, come right over. How your party and people have allowed medical care to become a "money first, people last" enterprise is simply atrocious and has no defense. Pure and simple, and if it offends some people to hear it, so be it. They need to hear it.

This is one of those books that I found myself making little notes. By the way, a trick I have adopted is to put a sticky note on the back of the book and then jot the page number with a small reminder of what I was thinking, which helps later in making notes like this.

  • Most people, when they think of the poor, they think of Blacks and other minorities. Well, guess again: "Yet slightly over half of all the poor people in the United States are white. Poor whites outnumber all poor minorities combined. Black poverty consumes a larger percentage of black society, to be sure. But that does not negate the fact that there are at least 19 million poor and working-poor whites and their numbers are growing" (9).
  • And then there are the minorities who make it worse, plus the educated people usually have no clue, in large part because they fail to even listen: "Even well-meaning educated liberals have a difficult time with white poverty and semipoverty. If they recognize it, they usually fail to grasp its scale. If they do acknowledge the scale of it, they are often mocked by minority antipoverty groups. The available antipoverty funding that exists is jealously guarded by the groups receiving it; they do not want to spread it even thinner than it already is" (9).
    • I always said that if minorities were smart, really smart, they would actually all unite and demand what they need and deserve. If they were smarter, they would bring aboard the working white poor as well. Instead minorities often bicker with each other, which of course suits the Establishment just fine. For them, it's a basic divide and conquer tactic.
  • The blame goes both ways: "Besides, if liberal America has been somewhat smug of late, my working-class brethren have been downright stupid to be so misled by the likes of Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, and the phony piety of George W. Bush" (15). So there is plenty of stupidity to go around. How about you stop pointing it out and instead actually do something about it. And for those working-class people, how about you get a clue and actually vote in your interest for a change? Because I am sorry, but after a while, I have to say you deserve what you get if you keep voting the same morons into office. And to the liberals who all but abandoned them, how about actually talking to those people, having a few beers with them, and maybe do a little educating while at it? Your work is cut out for you.
  • More on progressives and what they need to understand and do: "It's going to be a tough fight for progressives. We are going to have to pick up this piece of roadkill with our bare hands. We are going to have to explain everything about progressivism to the people at the Royal Lunch because their working-poor lives have always been successfully contained in cultural ghettos such as Winchester by a combination of God rhetoric, money, cronyism, and the corporate state. It will take a huge effort, because they understand being approximately poor and definitely uneducated and in many respects accept it as their lot. Right down to being sneered at by the Social Security lady. Malcolm X had it straight when he said the first step in revolution is massive education of the people. Without education nothing can change" (27).
    • And don't even get me started on that Social Security lady. Talk about a lack of charity.
  • And here is why education in a massive scale is so hard: "But no one in America is about to say such a thing out loud because it sounds elitist. It sounds un-American and undemocratic. It might also get your nose broken in certain venues. In an ersatz democracy maintaining the popular national fiction that everyone is equal, it is impermissible to say that, although we may all have equal constitutional rights, we are not actually equal. It takes genuine education and at least some effort toward self-improvement just to get to the starting line of socioeconomic equality" (28). But in the end, the bottom line is someone has to say it, and someone has to work towards that goal of educating others. Maybe that is a large reason why I became a librarian.
  • Too much reading equals lazy: "The absolute worst thing that a redneck can say about anyone is: 'He doesn't want to work,' which is generally followed by, 'Hell, I don't want to either, but I have to.' By the same logic, educated liberals who have time to read, who in fact read so much that they join book clubs, are suspect" (70).
    • On that basis, I must be the laziest guy around. However, I have not joined any book clubs. Not exactly the greatest logic since, in reality, I have to work for a living.
  • Where liberals failed, and the catch is, they should not have failed: "If the left had identified and dealt with this dissatisfaction early on, if they had counteracted the fallacies the Republicans used to explain that dissatisfaction, if they had listened instead of stereotyping blue-collar angst as 'Archie Bunkerism' (itself a stereotype of a stereotype delivered unto their minds by television) and maybe offered some gutsy, comprehensible, and practical solutions, we might have witnessed something better than the Republican syndicate's lying and looting of the past six years" (81-82).
  • And how could this get scarier?
    • "And if fascism comes, they will like that too if the cost of gas isn't too high and Comcast comes through with a twenty-four-hour NFL channel" (91).
    • "Meanwhile, for the people, it is football and NASCAR and a republic free from married queers and trigger locks on guns. That's what they voted for--an armed and moral republic. And that's what they get when we stand by and watch the humanity get hammered out of our fellow citizens, letting them be worked cheap and farmed like human crop for profit" (91).
  • Bageant's chapter dealing with the gun culture is a bit long, but it is definitely one of the most interesting ones. It is well-worth reading. Let's just say there is more to the hysteric anti-gun rhetoric that liberals in this country have adopted.
  • As for the chapter on religion and fundamentalism, that one can be disturbing. The fact that many "pastor" are barely literate (to put it mildly) is but one of the issues: "Lack of broader higher education is a hallmark of fundamentalist ministers and goes completely unremarked by their congregations, in whose eyes a two-year technical school or community college, and specially a seminary of their ownm is on par with nearly any of the vile secular universities. In fact, the 'Bible colleges' are better because they don't teach philosophy, science, the arts, or literature in any form a secular person would recognize" (162-163).
    • First off, I will say I have nothing against two-year schools and community colleges. On the contrary, they do fulfill an important mission. But do look at the context of the paragraph above before you gripe.
    • And by the way, this is not just Christian fundamentalists. Go ahead and look at other fundamentalists segment of religions like Islam (i.e. what Osama Bin Laden might preach, or wahhabism in Saudi Arabia).
    • The three traits of fundamentalists in the U.S. are: "They are whiter than Aunt Nelly's napkin, and, for the most part, they are working class and have only high school educations" (164).
    • And they are infiltrating society by the way. That whole notion of separation of church and state? Meaningless to them: "Fundamentalist strategists make it clear in their writings that the purpose of homeschooling and Christian academies is to create right-wing Christian cadres of the future. To goal is to place ever-increasing numbers of believers in positions of governmental influence" (173). So much for "render unto Caesar."
  • The hope? You need to do what the Christian Right and Republicans did if you want change at the end of day because "they came to power primarily through elections and can be dealt with in the same way: 'Anyone who wishes to displace them needs to become more engaged in electoral politics than just watching it on television. You need to become engaged and bring your friends. And your family'" (192). As already stated, it won't be easy, but as long as we still have elections, it can be done (in theory at least).
There is a lot more I could jot down from the book. The part about health care will simply make your hairs stand on end, if you have any sense of compassion that is. If you think on the other hand that "non-profit" hospitals (quite the scheme) are just fine in milking people for profits rather than taking care of their health, then you probably will not care. I happen to think that maybe, just maybe, there may be a few things more important than making a buck. And you can possibly care for people and still make a living with some dignity and ethical behavior. Just a thought. Anyhow, I highly recommend the book.

Similar books:
  • Nickel and Dimed (my note on it here).
  • Take It Back (note here). This one is likely closer in reading appeal. I found myself thinking back to this book as I read Bageant's book.
  • Foxes in the Henhouse (no note, but it is on my GoodReads list. Link to the list on the right column of this blog). This was another book I often thought about as I read Bageant's book.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Update on watching what we read

Back in March, I pointed to the story about Keith Sampson, the IUPUI worker who was chastised by the university for reading a history book on his free time. Well, it turns out that the school finally decided to apologize for their whopper of a blunder. You can see the actual letter of apology here. My favorite part of the letter is when Chancellor Bantz was reminded he had not personally apologized by a Wall Street Journal column (translation: we fucked up. And I was hoping this would blow away, but WSJ's negative publicity means I have to say something now). The line about how the Affirmative Action Office's process is there for providing a fair hearing is hollow to say the least. What would certainly make things better would be for some of the ignorant people in the AAO who actually took seriously the allegations from Sampson's busybody coworkers who clearly did not actually know what Sampson was reading for one and rushed to judgment to be fired. Because such ignorance in an institution of higher learning is simply shameful to say the least. Good that Mr. Sampson did get some vindication. And there is the update.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not so good when you are rich?

Welcome to yet another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. I am telling you, I may have to add that as a tag here. Anyhow, the latest sign of the coming economic apocalypse is upon us: The rich people are a little worried. Well, boo hoo hoo. According to the linked article from The New York Times (in the fashion section nonetheless. You know it's a major problem when such an important article gets published in the fashion section), "hairstylists and private jet rental companies say the wealthy are cutting back on luxuries like $350 highlights and $10,000-an-hour jet rentals." Holy shit!

So, it's not that there is a mortgage market exploding from predatory, less than ethical bankers. It's not that gasoline prices have gone through the roof. It's not that regular people are having a hard time buying groceries or that poor seniors have to choose between food and their medication. The real problem comes when rich people who used to fly Gulfstreams have to downgrade to Beech jets and Learjets. Damn, that is tough. So, what are some of the other symptoms of this latest sign that the economy is bad? These come from the article, by the way:

  • A rich guy is worried his wife will leave him because his income went down to 8 million bucks. Apparently, the gold digging wife is "accustomed to a certain lifestyle" (isn't that always the case?). So, it's not that he may be a loving husband. It's not that he may be good in the sack. It's the bank account. The guy is terrorized to tell his wife she needs to take it easy on the Platinum Amex.
  • "Even nutritionists and personal trainers notice a problem. The wealthy are eating more and gaining weight because of the stress."
  • "THEIR spouses could leave them when they discover that their net worth has collapsed to eight figures from nine. Friends and business associates could avoid them as they pass their lunchtime tables at Barney’s or the Four Seasons." (emphasis in the original).
  • And there is more. Think of the children, oh my God: “'They fear their kids won’t get invited to the right birthday parties,' said Michele Kleier, an Upper East Side-based real estate broker." Holy crap. Their not so poor kids might not get invited to the "right" birthday parties. Because we all know that in reality those birthday parties are networking opportunities for the kids to learn about the right connections. Remember: it boils down to who you know. No, not little Suzie, but little Elsworth Toohey VI. I guess they may have to settle for a gathering at Chuck E. Cheese's. The humanity!
  • And the rich get sneaky too when the economy gets bad: "They try to move their $165 sessions with personal trainers to a time slot that they know is already taken. They agree to tour multimillion-dollar apartments and then say the spaces don’t match their specifications. They apply for a line of credit before art auctions, supposedly to buy a painting or a sculpture, but use that borrowed money to pay other debts."
  • And some may even have to sell their diamond jewelry to make some ends meet. We are talking serious disaster here folks. They are selling their jewelry not to put food on the table, but to "to help support their children who have lost Wall Street jobs."
  • For those rich women, it's getting to the point you can't even go to the hairstylist. The horror! "On a spring afternoon, a half-dozen hairstylists to the very wealthy talked about how customers are stretching their $350 highlights and $150 haircuts to every eight weeks instead of six weeks. Some women are cutting out highlights entirely, saying they would 'rather be brunettes.'” Dear God, bleached blondes have to become brunettes. What is this world coming to? Is this going to be now the new Bravo TV reality show: "Rich People Making Do?" Or maybe a sequel: "Housewives of NYC Roadshow: How to get a good deal on the diamonds?"
Now, some of you may think I am cold or harsh. Maybe, but let's be honest. If the worst for those folks is that they may have to cut back on the hairstylist or downgrading their private jet, there are worse things. And if a woman is going to leave a guy because of the wallet, he is better off without her in the first place.

Folks, this is clearly tragic. The rich are becoming America's new disenfranchised. The American Dream is in in serious jeopardy. We need to do something, and we need to do it now. Just to reinforce how bad the problem is, here is another news story. Clearly, it is an issue as more news sources pick up on this tragic story.

In The Know: Are America's Rich Falling Behind The Super-Rich?

Friday, July 18, 2008

If I were a condiment

Well folks, we made it to another Friday. The two readers of this blog, and my cats, pretty much know what that usually means. Yes, I took another one of those internet quizzes. I was hoping for something like salsa, but oh well. The result is fairly accurate for me it seems in the sense that I really am fairly easy going. Anyways, there you have it. See below for the result.

You Are Ketchup

You are easy going and very measured in your approach to life.

Popular and well liked, you get along with everyone.

Seriously, everyone loves you!

Your taste tends to be pretty mainstream American.

You go for the classic favorites: burgers, fries, and apple pie.

You get along best with mustard and mayonnaise personalities.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Are Americans really whiny brats?

Watching America is one of the sites I have on my aggregator. They bring news articles from sources around the world and publish them translated into English. What is interesting about the site is that they focus on stories about the United States. In other words, how the rest of the world sees the U.S. Anyhow, they had a piece just in time for the July 4th holiday, entitled "Happy Birthday America: A Bunch of Spoiled, Whiny Brats." It was published originally in Pravda, the Russian newspaper. Now before you go pulling your hair and ripping your tunics in mock outrage, keep in mind that the article is written by an American, and that American is still living in the States. The article does lay the negative tone a bit on the thick side, but as the nation celebrates the independence of the great nation (and in spite of its defects, it is still a great nation), the piece does bring up some things to think about.

  • On American politics: "None of it adds up to change and, no matter who is elected as president or which party controls congress, odds are America will be on the same course towards more war, more economic pain, more infrastructure problems, and more security intrusions into the daily routine." Can anyone say with a straight face that the nation will truly change after January of next year after the next guy is inaugurated?
  • And why is the nation stuck on more of the same? Here is why: "The executive and legislative branches, according to polls, are sincerely reviled and that means both Republicans and Democrats get equal measure of disgust. But the two parties and their interested backers simply don’t care because they know the American people have no choice but to vote for one or the other. And so the game is all about the two parties entertaining each other and those top few percent of Americans and American corporations that control over 90 percent of America’s wealth." As George Carlin said so well, government was bought out a long time ago. And I hate to say this, but people with their apathy and just plain stupidity just let it happen. You can find Carlin's quote on that, along with a nice piece about him, in this article from June 23rd in The Nation.
  • Here is the line in the article that really made me think. In fact, it has been with me for a while now: "Do they want education systems, roads, bridges and levees that function properly? Well then they need to stop whining about taxes and pay up or make those who pay nothing pull their weight." At the end of the day, it is as simple as that. If you want public services, things like cops, firefighters, schools, maybe a library (or not on the library if some people have their way), hospitals, roads and bridges, then shut up and pay your taxes already. I pay mine, and while I certainly don't like taxes (who does?), I understand you need them to provide for the common good. Therein lies the problem. No sense of the common good. It's the "everyone is on their own" mentality where all they think about is themselves and forget the neighbor. The idea that we are all in this together, and that when we help the less fortunate in the end means we help ourselves as well, is pretty much gone. And that, my friends, is sad indeed.
  • Then again, some people will say we can still have our bridges. From the article: ". . .with their states selling off bridges and roadways for money, it seems they find government of any kind is too much of a burden. Americans really don’t want to pay for anything and they are not accountable to or for themselves (witness Katrina)." So, there is the solution. Don't want to provide for public services, just go ahead and privatize them. We are already doing some of it in higher education, and it seems to be working, right?
The article ends with a remark that the founders of the nation would be appalled. I would say they are probably rolling in their graves. I have actually taken time to read some of the writings of people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and others. And they spoke of a government where the people were actively involved and kept their government accountable. Whatever happened to that simple yet powerful idea? So maybe, just maybe, as people celebrate a long weekend, they can take a moment from their barbecues and shopping to think about where the nation is headed instead of staying blissfully ignorant. Just a thought.

More corporate branding in college campuses

I have made light before of the fact that more colleges are using private and corporate donors to fill the financial gaps after their state legislatures pretty much abandon them. So that the University of Wisconsin is doing it should not come as a surprise. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, on July 5th, "from the Halliburton Geoscience Visualization Center to the Kikkoman Lab of Microbial Fermentation, corporate names are sprinkled throughout the hallways and mailboxes of the UW-Madison campus." At this rate, I am willing to speculate that we may well do away from state colleges and universities. I mean, let's take this to its logical conclusion. State legislatures everywhere keep cutting back on funding their institutions of higher education. Apparently, educating the citizenry of the states is not a high priority to those governing the states (here's looking at you Texas. And yes, I threw one story in those links about public schools because in the end this whole thing is linked. A matter of time before our public schools go corporate too, but that is a separate post).

  • And why would we want to go corporate? In the words of people at UW, "professors and administrators defend the use of corporate sponsorships, saying it allows them to build sophisticated facilities or pay for endowed professorships that they couldn't otherwise afford." Hey, we need new labs, new facilities, better talent for research (which brings grants which brings more money), so on. If the state is not providing, why not let Halliburton do it?
We are probably not going far enough when it comes to seeking out corporate sponsors. Here is what we could do, and I am going to use our campus here as an example (the usual disclaimer about how these are my views applies)

  • The library. Sure, we have it named after somebody, but we need more funding. I say we sell the naming rights to Dell. They already provided our computers for the lab, and certain segments of our administration would like nothing better than to just have the "library" in a couple of rooms with servers to host the databases. If we became the "Dell Library," we can probably rake a few million bucks. Sure, we'd probably would not have books, but everything is online these days, right?
  • Our Chemistry Department could become the Dow Chemical Department.
  • Our nursing programs could be sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces. They are always looking for nurses (if their ads are to be believed). No, I am not picking on the armed forces. Think about it for a moment. We could actually kill two birds with one stone: solve some of the shortages of personnel in the armed forces and keep providing for our nursing programs. However, if you want to keep the corporate idea going, we can pick a couple of pharmaceutical companies and HMOs to pick up the tab. How about Pfizer and Blue Cross?
  • The Department of Political Science is kind of a no-brainer. We could get some of the same foundations and wealthy individuals that fund some of America's finest think tanks. If it works for The Heritage Foundation, the Center for Progressive Reform, and the Brookings Institution, it ought to work for us. Besides, a lot of political science majors do end up working at think tanks, so they would be getting a headstart.
  • We can fund the Criminal Justice department by selling the naming rights and sponsorship to a prison contractor. You know? Those private companies that build and maintain many of the prisons in this country. For example, we could have the CCA CJ Department. CCA already provides prison services in Texas, so this would not really be a stretch.
Yes, I am making light, and that is the point folks. Education is a human right for one. Two, it should be in our best interest as a society to make sure it remains affordable and accessible. And when I say in our best interest, I mean that society should be the ones funding it. Joking aside, letting corporations do a lot of the funding does raise questions about neutrality and objectivity. We need to remember that little detail about conflict of interest. Then again, if most people figure that higher education (along with public education) is not really that important, then let's go ahead and let the corporations and foundations pick up the tab. It works for the arts and humanities (just look at most local symphony orchestras for example). Maybe instead of whining about taxes, think for a moment about some of the things those taxes might fund, including the education of your own children (if you have them). At the end of the day, would you rather those children get and education and become productive citizens (who will work, pay taxes, so on), or would you rather they end up in prison (where your taxes have to pay to house and feed them)?

A hat tip to The Kept-Up Librarian.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

And now it's the coffee

Welcome to what is becoming a semi-regular feature here: Signs that the economy is bad. This one is definitely a candidate for our "Department of the Obvious" tag. MSNBC, and a bunch of other news outlets, are reporting that "Starbucks [is] to close 600 stores in the U.S." This should not come as a surprise to anyone who currently buys gasoline for their cars. It's either the 4 dollar latte or the fuel in your gas tank. Personally, I am thinking along the lines of it should have happened sooner. And I have no ill will to the company. Personally, I never had any interest in their coffee, and I always thought paying 4 bucks for a cup of something I can brew at home was foolishness. And before someone says that you pay for what you get, I will counter that you can buy a nice bag of coffee beans, grind them yourself, brew them at home, and you would still be ahead in terms of cost for your coffee fix. I am a coffee drinker by the way. I have been drinking coffee pretty much since I can remember. In fact, I have this theory that my parents may have blended fine Puerto Rican coffee bean with my baby formula. They had one of those old fashioned percolators (now there is a nice yet simple way to make good coffee), so I am sure pouring some directly into the bottle was not difficult. Now, this is strictly anecdotal.

These days, the budget is a bit tight, so I buy a canned brand (sorry, they are not paying me to mention them, so I am not telling) and brew my own. Overall, the story is an example of what happens when a non-essential product faces a tight economy. I will go out on a limb here and predict that a few other businesses selling non-essential luxury items will probably have significant sales decreases, and a few more will likely close. That is the nature of the beast as they say.

If you go the MSNBC link, and then click on the NewsVine link to see people discussing the story, it might be interesting. There are the usual two sides. One are the Starbucks devotees who will defend their company tooth and nail even when they are wrong. And there are the Starbucks haters who will rag on the company no matter if they are right or wrong. If you take a look, you will see a fine example of the lack of online civility at its best. Maybe you should just skip the whole thing.

And maybe more people need to learn how to brew their own coffee. It's not that hard folks. Buy yourself a nice to go mug, brew it at home, and take it with you. If you are one of the addicts who has to have some syrup with the brew, buy a bottle of your favorite flavor. You'd still be ahead in terms of cost.

Overall, not quite a sign of economic apocalypse yet. Starbucks does acknowledge they made some errors along the way (i.e. selling stuff other than coffee in a coffee shop for instance), but again, we go back to it's either the gas or the fancy coffee. And coffee does not fill the car's tank.