Sunday, March 20, 2005

America VS Americana: who do you think is winning?

Today's question is: why should U.S. citizens' perception of our country be more important than our actual country?

Unfortunately, I now believe this is true, despite the fact that, rationally, such a disconnect is irreconcilable?

Disagree?

Well, did you watch the Sunday morning "news" programs today: Face the Nation (CBS), Meet the Press (NBC) and This Week (ABC)? Because if you did, then it seems quite clear that our media believes that the most important CRISIS facing the United States today is: Do professional baseball players use steroids to enhance their performance?!

My answers: 1.) WHO CARES!? 2.) OF COURSE THEY DO!

My thesis: Sports, especially professional sports are so tainted by "winning" that this very question is mute, absurd and ridiculous. Pro sports teams are corporations. Corporations, by their very nature, have one objective: sheer profit.

So asking if athletes, especially professional athletes, as arguably the most visible and respected corporate employees in the United States, use performance enhancing substances is akin to asking if corporate officers export jobs to foreign nations to maximize beneficial labor/wage arbitrage. I mean, there is no question. There is no doubt. There is only reality. End of discussion.

OK. So now that I've dismissed the very question as absurd and irrelevant, let's explore its larger and perhaps more important implications. Specifically: America's obsession with popular digressions like baseball, values, television, et al is, IMO, simply an indicator, a road-sign if you will, on the trail of our now colossal, all-time-high, personal and collective unhappiness and powerlessness as human individuals in an ever complex, but eroding, society.

In other words, rather than fix our collective budgets, feed the starving, mend the sick, pursue higher truth, walk the dog, etc... we seem instead wont to engage in pursuits more akin to masturbation than to any other term I can find to describe them. For example, this whole "Is baseball tainted?" crisis is not as much about Baseball in America as it is about Baseball in AMERICANA.

In other words, Welcome to Americana, the land of masturbatory nostalgia. Where, because our founding fathers drafted beautiful documents espousing terms like Inalienable Rights and Liberty and Justice for All (OK and because our nation almost single-handedly defeated communism and Hitler), we now seem fixated by a Disney-like perception of ourselves -- as holier, righter, truer, smarter, and dog-gonnit, more likeable, than any other homo sapiens in the history of mankind.

Well, dog-gonnit, it's just not true! And worse (and I'm using metaphor here, OK...), it's masturbation. By that I mean it's an activity that subverts and obscures reality, that keeps you from getting up out of bed on Sunday morning to clean the bathroom.

So my message for today is: Let's clean the bathroom! Or for heaven's sake, let's at least try. Because staying in bed, eating junk food, wistful for an America that never existed in the first place, isn't feeding, educating, or liberating anyone, least of all ourselves.

In short, if America IS good, then America must ACT good -- all the time, no matter what, to the best of its ability.

And a bunch of Congressmen, freshly suntanned and released from a corporate-sponsored junket to Europe or the Carribean, asking hardball questions to current or former professional athletes participating in sports that do nothing more than divert, entertain, or worse, reinforce the sick concept that winning isn't everything -- it's the ONLY thing -- is NOT good.

Perception is NOT reality.
It's just easier to improve.

Todd Ryder
Sunday, March 20, First Day of Spring, 2005

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bye Bye Bernie... and Welcome to Justice? Mr. Ken Lay

So Bernie Ebbers got it good.
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20050315/D88RI66G0.html
If they throw the book at sentencing, I think it could add up to 85 years. No one ever deserved jail time more than this obvious crook, except maybe Ken Lay (Enron).

Not coincidentally both Lay and Ebbers have proffered the same defense. In a word: STUPIDITY.

"Yeah, I commanded millions in salary, appeared on television at least monthly to discuss the unbelievable dot.com-era growth of my company... blah... blah... But did I KNOW anything about what actually went on there? Are you kidding? I'm an idiot! A cheerleader. A stooge. A buffoon..."

Well, it didn't work for Ebbers, so hopefully it won't work for Lay or anyone else (Dennis Kozlowski http://www.nydailynews.com/news/story/18669p-17595c.html) that ripped off investors the way these lying pukes did.

Lay actually faces TWO trials: one criminal case scheduled for January, 2006 with co-defendants Jeffrey Skilling and Richard Causey of Enron http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/news/022405_APlocal_layskilling.html and another, civil case brought by the SEC for allegedly profiting from $34M in personal stock sales back to his own company as he apparently realized Enron could no longer hide its massive, bankruptcy-scale debt and was doomed to fail financially. http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/enron/index.html

So all I can say, to legal crusaders like Elliot Spitzer and muckrakers like Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman is: keep it coming folks. After all, yet another evil pig from Texas, Tom Delay http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/04/60minutes/main678234.shtml is still House Majority Leader!

Todd Ryder

Saturday, March 12, 2005

ART = NEW...

I watch IFC (Independent Film Channel). I like IFC. IFC represents part of my attempt to recover from Republicanism. I am a reformed Republican. I was never much of a conservative, but I was a Republican. Now I am not.

So anyway, I was watching short films on IFC this morning and I saw this amazing film about this guy (George [something or other]) creating "art" in New York city.

Now, what this guys does is post flyers: some advertising "a cracker" or "an eraser" or... anyway, prices range from $0.15-$0.35.

And the AMAZING thing about all this is just how many people tear off the phone number strips from his flyers, posted all over midtown Manhattan, and CALL him to get their cracker/eraser/pen-cap/[whatever]...

Now, many of the callers espoused "theories" about why they did this. The most eloquent can be paraphrased as follows: Buyer: "... This is art as social commentary isn't it? Commenting on the banality and futility of commerce, of CAPITALISM itself. Isn't it?" George: "Well,... Yes! It is."

And that says something about ART, per se, something that I want to espouse at this moment in time.

ART is not beautiful.
ART is not (at it's core) emotionally moving (I mean to say that is not its REAL point).
ART is NEW!

That is the most important aspect, as I now realize... to use old objects... to use new objects... to use ideas... but most importantly, to produce something NEW. Something that takes human consciousness, if only briefly, somewhere it wasn't going yesterday, or even 30 seconds ago. That is ART.

And, conversely, what I do: renovate old houses, restore an old pickup, graft lovely, elegant software algorithms to suit yet another business information system, is NOT art.

Not art, but instead advertising: a demonstration of examplary techniques and patterns of behavior designed to encourage mass consumption. And, unfortunately, making the world a worse place, by encouraging followers, increased consumption, and ultimately (banal, futile) commerce!

Next week, my goal is to stop watching and maybe actually pursue a legitimate NEW experience of my own. My wife, often angrily, encourages me in this endeavor. Thus, I resist.

But then that's another story, isn't it?

Todd Ryder

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Judgement at Iraq

Just finished watching "Judgement at Nuremberg" on televsion. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055031/
Magnificent.

So now I find myself longing for 1960's America. Or more specifically, for a time when "survival" and the privileges of class seemed not mankind's highest aspirations.

But maybe I'm just deluding myself about actual reality then. After all, I was every bit of 8 years old at the end of that decade. But having watched Nuremberg I say unabashedly that the art of film has not risen since.

Sure "Million Dollar Baby" (though I haven't actually seen it yet) looks like a true, honest, and moving film, but does it address the larger philosophical issues reflected in times such as these. Times of war. Times where the speed of life and death (mostly death) seem accelerated.

OK. By today's standards, if not those of 1961, Nuremberg's morality was too obvious. Its acting too good. Its actors too fragile (Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland, both past their careers and very near the end of their lives... embarassingly tragic.)

But then that's really the point isn't it? At least for me it is. I mean, as human beings, what is it that we survive for? To what true purpose? To what great end? I was taught: for the advancement of our species -- for its highest principals and noblest aspirations.

So how does torturing human beings, simply because, given the opportunity, they would torture and behead us, fit this model of Western idealism? Are national pride and "animal spirits" ( http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/ch12.htm ) really worth dying -- and killing -- for? Nuremberg said NO. But Iraq says YES.

Biology is our curse. Art our last, best hope. And for today at least, Spencer Tracy is my hero.

Todd Ryder

Saturday, March 05, 2005

W = Government by the rich, for the rich...

Here's another prime example of W administration tax policy for U.S. corporations: the American Jobs Creation Act (or as I call it: pay minimal taxes on foreign earnings with few if any restrictions). This law allows multinational, U.S. based corporations to replace normal corporate taxes with a reduced rate of 5.25 percent if the earnings are "repatriated" (whatever that means -- on the surface it's supposed to mean if they bring the money back to the U.S. and create jobs by directly investing it here -- but the provisions for this are very sketchy, so corporations can basically do almost whatever they want as long as they appear to do it in the U.S. via its banks, lawyers, etc.).

Quoting from CFO.com: http://www.cfo.com/article.cfm/3710986/c_3711269
"Though the purpose of the tax holiday is to enable multinationals to use the tax savings to create jobs back home, some experts are skeptical about how many jobs will actually be created., without specific language in the legislation earmarking the tax savings for jobs creation, the repatriated amounts may be used by firms (to pay down debt or buy back stock , according to a recent story in CFO. In other words, jobs might be created only as a side effect of strengthening companies’ financial health."

It is expected that as much as $300B will be "repatriated" under the law this year.

So if one assumes a typical average corporate tax rate of say 30% (these are profitable corporations: IBM, Johnson&Johnson, Dell, etc. so by IRS law they would pay corporate rates of 30-35%) then simple math shows that the U.S. treasury shortfall this year from this legislation is $75B (30 - 5.25) = 24.75% = .2475 * 300B = $75B.

Now stop and think about who makes up the difference when U.S. corporations renege on the basic principle of "pay your fair share?" Answer: You, me, and future generations (children and grandchildren) -- personal and small business tax payers who do not own, run, or profit directly from multinational corporations. Was your tax rate reduced to 5.25 percent last year? Mine sure wasn't!

So why would anyone earning less than perhaps $300-500K/year ever cast a vote for someone like W? Well, here's my best guess: because the neo-cons have sold the U.S. taxpayer a bill of goods, starting with Reagan (and for a time I too bought it along with the apparent voting majority). And the lie is: Government = BAD. Corporation = GOOD.

But without government, without "democracy" having any teeth in the forms of taxation, regulation and basic protection for those most vulnerable, including someday perhaps more than a few of us, then the current state of affairs is what we get, specifically: corporate profit and worker fear. Fear of job loss, or at best, of never being able to stop working for wages. IMO, if you're under 50 in this country, you don't even think or talk about retirement anymore. Does the concept really even exist if you're under 50 in this country? Certainly not in my vocabulary. Not when virtually everything I own (except my 1890 house and 1960 pickup) seems built to fall apart or at best obsolesce, and my power bill (not to mention my property taxes) increase perpetually above the so called "core rate" of inflation.

Then there's the stock market. Yes, the DOW, the market index of the biggest, fattest, most powerful U.S. corporations (and I work for one) is at a 3 1/2 year high. So just put as much money (e.g. your 401K, soon, as per W, your Social Security payments) into the stock market and everyone will be safe and the future will be bright. Yeah, right!? Unfortunately, the stock market (and to a lesser degree real estate) is a PONZI SCHEME that depends forever on you selling to someone else at a profit. And just take a wild guess whom the last 100M people to get OUT of such a scheme are likely to be: YOU and ME. We, Joe and Jane Six-pack, waiting to cash out our 401Ks and social security retirement accounts before it's too late.

So I say it's time to stop this. It's time to demand accountability and fairness, from our government (which spends $20K per household per year, but borrows $3K of that, basically from China and Japan in the form of treasury bond sales) AND from our corporations. It's time to vote nationally for reformers like Elliot Spitzer and others who understand that without a strong, responsible government, without corporate fairness and social equity, THERE IS NO MIDDLE CLASS. And IMO, that is exactly what the people behind W and his government by the rich, for the rich intend.

Todd Ryder