You are browsing the archive for Consumerism.

10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America – Mark Manson

9:06 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

I got this link to an essay by Mark Manson from a Facebook friend. One of the best assessments of America and Americans I have read so far. I myself have never been to Europe or any other country but I have talked with people outside this country on My Amateur Radio, and at length sometimes.  In over 200 countries in fact. I have found them to be kind, patient, for the most part humble, sincere and polite. Not what I would say about more than a few American Amateurs. I have lived in the north and south and visited a number of states but not many west of the Mississippi, so I do confess my experience in that respect is limited.
Even though I find the appraisal to be pretty much on the mark.

Imagine you have a brother and he’s an alcoholic. He has his moments, but you keep your distance from him. You don’t mind him for the occasional family gathering or holiday. You still love him. But you don’t want to be around him.
This is how I lovingly describe my current relationship with the United States. The United States is my alcoholic brother. And although I will always love him, I don’t want to be near him at the moment.

I know that’s harsh, but I really feel my home country is not in a good place these days. That’s not a socio-economic statement (although that’s on the decline as well), but rather a cultural one.

I realize it’s going to be impossible to write sentences like the ones above without coming across as a raging prick, so let me try to soften the blow to my American readers with an analogy:

You know when you move out of your parents’ house and live on your own, how you start hanging out with your friends’ families and you realize that actually, your family was a little screwed up? Stuff you always assumed was normal your entire childhood, it turns out was pretty weird and may have actually fucked you up a little bit. You know, dad thinking it was funny to wear a Santa Claus hat in his underwear every Christmas or the fact that you and your sister slept in the same bed until you were 22, or that your mother routinely cried over a bottle of wine while listening to Elton John.

The point is we don’t really get perspective on what’s close to us until we spend time away from it. Just like you didn’t realize the weird quirks and nuances of your family until you left and spent time with others, the same is true for country and culture. You often don’t see what’s messed up about your country and culture until you step outside of it.

And so even though this article is going to come across as fairly scathing, I want my American readers to know: some of the stuff we do, some of the stuff that we always assumed was normal, it’s kind of screwed up. And that’s OK. Because that’s true with every culture. It’s just easier to spot it in others (e.g., the French) so we don’t always notice it in ourselves.

So as you read this article, know that I’m saying everything with tough love, the same tough love with which I’d sit down and lecture an alcoholic family member. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t some awesome things about you (BRO, THAT’S AWESOME!!!). And it doesn’t mean I’m some saint either, because god knows I’m pretty screwed up (I’m American, after all). There are just a few things you need to hear. And as a friend, I’m going to tell them to you.

And to my foreign readers, get your necks ready, because this is going to be a nod-a-thon.

A Little “What The Hell Does This Guy Know?” Background: I’ve lived in different parts of the US, both the deep south and the northeast. I have visited most of the US’s 50 states. I’ve spent the past three years living almost entirely outside of the United States. I’ve lived in multiple countries in Europe, Asia and South America. I’ve visited over 40 countries in all and have spent far more time with non-Americans than with Americans during this period. I speak multiple languages. I’m not a tourist. I don’t stay in resorts and rarely stay in hostels. I rent apartments and try to integrate myself into each country I visit as much as possible. So there.

(Note: I realize these are generalizations and I realize there are always exceptions. I get it. You don’t have to post 55 comments telling me that you and your best friend are exceptions. If you really get that offended from some guy’s blog post, you may want to double-check your life priorities.)

OK, we’re ready now. 10 things Americans don’t know about America.

1. Few People Are Impressed By Us

Unless you’re speaking with a real estate agent or a prostitute, chances are they’re not going to be excited that you’re American. It’s not some badge of honor we get to parade around. Yes, we had Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, but unless you actually are Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison (which is unlikely) then most people around the world are simply not going to care. There are exceptions of course. And those exceptions are called English and Australian people. Whoopdie-fucking-doo.

As Americans, we’re brought up our entire lives being taught that we’re the best, we did everything first and that the rest of the world follows our lead. Not only is this not true, but people get irritated when you bring it to their country with you. So don’t.

2. Few People Hate Us

Despite the occasional eye-rolling, and complete inability to understand why anyone would vote for George W. Bush, people from other countries don’t hate us either. In fact — and I know this is a really sobering realization for us — most people in the world don’t really think about us or care about us. I know, that sounds absurd, especially with CNN and Fox News showing the same 20 angry Arab men on repeat for ten years straight. But unless we’re invading someone’s country or threatening to invade someone’s country (which is likely), then there’s a 99.99% chance they don’t care about us. Just like we rarely think about the people in Bolivia or Mongolia, most people don’t think about us much. They have jobs, kids, house payments — you know, those things called lives — to worry about. Kind of like us.

Americans tend to assume that the rest of the world either loves us or hates us (this is actually a good litmus test to tell if someone is conservative or liberal). The fact is, most people feel neither. Most people don’t think much about us.

Remember that immature girl in high school, who every little thing that happened to her meant that someone either hated her or was obsessed with her; who thought every teacher who ever gave her a bad grade was being totally unfair and everything good that happened to her was because of how amazing she was? Yeah, we’re that immature high school girl.

3. We Know Nothing About The Rest Of The World

For all of our talk about being global leaders and how everyone follows us, we don’t seem to know much about our supposed “followers.” They often have completely different takes on history than we do. Here were some brain-stumpers for me: the Vietnamese were more concerned with independence (not us), Hitler was primarily defeated by Russia (not us), there is evidence Native Americans were wiped out largely disease and plague BEFORE Europeans arrived and not just after, and the American Revolution was partly “won” because the British invested more of their resources in beating France (not us). Notice a running theme here?

(Hint: It’s not all about us. The world is more complicated.)

We did not invent democracy. We didn’t even invent modern democracy. There were parliamentary systems in England and other parts of Europe over a hundred years before we created government. In a recent survey of young Americans, 63% could not find Iraq on a map (despite being at war with them), and 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa. Yet, somehow we’re positive that everyone else looks up to us.

4. We Are Poor At Expressing Gratitude And Affection

There’s a saying about English-speakers. We say “Go fuck yourself,” when we really mean “I like you,” and we say “I like you,” when we really mean “Go fuck yourself.”

Outside of getting shit-housed drunk and screaming “I LOVE YOU, MAN!”, open displays of affection in American culture are tepid and rare. Latin and some European cultures describe us as “cold” and “passionless” and for good reason. In our social lives we don’t say what we mean and we don’t mean what we say.

In our culture, appreciation and affection are implied rather than spoken outright. Two guy friends call each other names to reinforce their friendship; men and women tease and make fun of each other to imply interest. Feelings are almost never shared openly and freely. Consumer culture has cheapened our language of gratitude. Something like, “It’s so good to see you” is empty now because it’s expected and heard from everybody.

In dating, when I find a woman attractive, I almost always walk right up to her and tell her that a) I wanted to meet her, and b) she’s beautiful. In America, women usually get incredibly nervous and confused when I do this. They’ll make jokes to defuse the situation or sometimes ask me if I’m part of a TV show or something playing a prank. Even when they’re interested and go on dates with me, they get a bit disoriented when I’m so blunt with my interest. Whereas, in almost every other culture approaching women this way is met with a confident smile and a “Thank you.”

5. The Quality of Life For The Average American Is Not That Great

If you’re extremely talented or intelligent, the US is probably the best place in the world to live. The system is stacked heavily to allow people of talent and advantage to rise to the top quickly.

The problem with the US is that everyone thinks they are of talent and advantage. As John Steinbeck famously said, the problem with poor Americans is that “they don’t believe they’re poor, but rather temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” It’s this culture of self-delusion that allows America to continue to innovate and churn out new industry more than anyone else in the world. But this shared delusion also unfortunately keeps perpetuating large social inequalities and the quality of life for the average citizen lower than most other developed countries. It’s the price we pay to maintain our growth and economic dominance.

In my Guide to Wealth, I defined being wealthy as, “Having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.” In those terms, despite the average American having more material wealth than citizens of most other countries (more cars, bigger houses, nicer televisions), their overall quality of life suffers in my opinion. American people on average work more hours with less vacation, spend more time commuting every day, and are saddled with over $10,000 of debt. That’s a lot of time spent working and buying crap and little time or disposable income for relationships, activities or new experiences.

6. The Rest Of The World Is Not A Slum-Ridden Shithole Compared To Us

In 2010, I got into a taxi in Bangkok to take me to a new six-story cineplex. It was accessible by metro, but I chose a taxi instead. On the seat in front of me was a sign with a wifi password. Wait, what? I asked the driver if he had wifi in his taxi. He flashed a huge smile. The squat Thai man, with his pidgin English, explained that he had installed it himself. He then turned on his new sound system and disco lights. His taxi instantly became a cheesy nightclub on wheels… with free wifi.

If there’s one constant in my travels over the past three years, it has been that almost every place I’ve visited (especially in Asia and South America) is much nicer and safer than I expected it to be. Singapore is pristine. Hong Kong makes Manhattan look like a suburb. My neighborhood in Colombia is nicer than the one I lived in in Boston (and cheaper).

As Americans, we have this naïve assumption that people all over the world are struggling and way behind us. They’re not. Sweden and South Korea have more advanced high speed internet networks. Japan has the most advanced trains and transportation systems. Norwegians make more money. The biggest and most advanced plane in the world is flown out of Singapore. The tallest buildings in the world are now in Dubai and Shanghai. Meanwhile, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

What’s so surprising about the world is how unsurprising most of it is. I spent a week with some local guys in Cambodia. You know what their biggest concerns were? Paying for school, getting to work on time, and what their friends were saying about them. In Brazil, people have debt problems, hate getting stuck in traffic and complain about their overbearing mothers. Every country thinks they have the worst drivers. Every country thinks their weather is unpredictable. The world becomes, err… predictable.

7. We’re Paranoid

Not only are we emotionally insecure as a culture, but I’ve come to realize how paranoid we are about our physical security. You don’t have to watch Fox News or CNN for more than 10 minutes to hear about how our drinking water is going to kill us, our neighbor is going to rape our children, some terrorist in Yemen is going to kill us because we didn’t torture him, Mexicans are going to kill us, or some virus from a bird is going to kill us. There’s a reason we have more guns than people.

In the US, security trumps everything, even liberty. We’re paranoid.

I’ve probably been to 10 countries now that friends and family back home told me explicitly not to go because someone was going to kill me, kidnap me, stab me, rob me, rape me, sell me into sex trade, give me HIV, or whatever else. None of that has happened. I’ve never been robbed and I’ve walked through some of the shittiest parts of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In fact, the experience has been the opposite. In countries like Russia, Colombia or Guatemala, people were so honest and open with me, it actually scared me. Some stranger in a bar would invite me to his house for a barbeque with his family, a random person on the street would offer to show me around and give me directions to a store I was trying to find. My American instincts were always that, “Wait, this guy is going to try to rob me or kill me,” but they never did. They were just insanely friendly.

8. We’re Status-Obsessed And Seek Attention

I’ve noticed that the way we Americans communicate is usually designed to create a lot of attention and hype. Again, I think this is a product of our consumer culture: the belief that something isn’t worthwhile or important unless it’s perceived to be the best (BEST EVER!!!) or unless it gets a lot of attention (see: every reality-television show ever made).

This is why Americans have a peculiar habit of thinking everything is “totally awesome,” and even the most mundane activities were “the best thing ever!” It’s the unconscious drive we share for importance and significance, this unmentioned belief, socially beaten into us since birth that if we’re not the best at something, then we don’t matter.

We’re status-obsessed. Our culture is built around achievement, production and being exceptional. Therefore comparing ourselves and attempting to out-do one another has infiltrated our social relationships as well. Who can slam the most beers first? Who can get reservations at the best restaurant? Who knows the promoter to the club? Who dated a girl on the cheerleading squad? Socializing becomes objectified and turned into a competition. And if you’re not winning, the implication is that you are not important and no one will like you.

9. We Are Very Unhealthy

Unless you have cancer or something equally dire, the health care system in the US sucks. The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th in the world for health care, despite the fact that we spend the most per capita by a large margin.

The hospitals are nicer in Asia (with European-educated doctors and nurses) and cost a tenth as much. Something as routine as a vaccination costs multiple hundreds of dollars in the US and less than $10 in Colombia. And before you make fun of Colombian hospitals, Colombia is 28th in the world on that WHO list, nine spots higher than us.

A routine STD test that can run you over $200 in the US is free in many countries to anyone, citizen or not. My health insurance the past year? $65 a month. Why? Because I live outside of the US. An American guy I met living in Buenos Aires got knee surgery on his ACL that would have cost $10,000 in the US… for free.

But this isn’t really getting into the real problems of our health. Our food is killing us. I’m not going to go crazy with the details, but we eat chemically-laced crap because it’s cheaper and tastes better (profit, profit). Our portion sizes are absurd (more profit). And we’re by far the most prescribed nation in the world AND our drugs cost five to ten times more than they do even in Canada (ohhhhhhh, profit, you sexy bitch).

In terms of life expectancy, despite being the richest country in the world, we come in a paltry 38th. Right behind Cuba, Malta and the United Arab Emirates, and slightly ahead of Slovenia, Kuwait and Uruguay. Enjoy your Big Mac.

10. We Mistake Comfort For Happiness

The United States is a country built on the exaltation of economic growth and personal ingenuity. Small businesses and constant growth are celebrated and supported above all else — above affordable health care, above respectable education, above everything. Americans believe it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself and make something of yourself, not the state’s, not your community’s, not even your friend’s or family’s in some instances.

Comfort sells easier than happiness. Comfort is easy. It requires no effort and no work. Happiness takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting fears, facing difficult situations, and having unpleasant conversations.

Comfort equals sales. We’ve been sold comfort for generations and for generations we bought: bigger houses, separated further and further out into the suburbs; bigger TV’s, more movies, and take-out. The American public is becoming docile and complacent. We’re obese and entitled. When we travel, we look for giant hotels that will insulate us and pamper us rather than for legitimate cultural experiences that may challenge our perspectives or help us grow as individuals.

Depression and anxiety disorders are soaring within the US. Our inability to confront anything unpleasant around us has not only created a national sense of entitlement, but it’s disconnected us from what actually drives happiness: relationships, unique experiences, feeling self-validated, achieving personal goals. It’s easier to watch a NASCAR race on television and tweet about it than to actually get out and try something new with a friend.

Unfortunately, a by-product of our massive commercial success is that we’re able to avoid the necessary emotional struggles of life in lieu of easy superficial pleasures.

Throughout history, every dominant civilization eventually collapsed because it became TOO successful. What made it powerful and unique grows out of proportion and consumes its society. I think this is true for American society. We’re complacent, entitled and unhealthy. My generation is the first generation of Americans who will be worse off than their parents, economically, physically and emotionally. And this is not due to a lack of resources, to a lack of education or to a lack of ingenuity. It’s corruption and complacency. The corruption from the massive industries that control our government’s policies, and the fat complacency of the people to sit around and let it happen.

There are things I love about my country. I don’t hate the US and I still return to it a few times a year. But I think the greatest flaw of American culture is our blind self-absorption. In the past it only hurt other countries. But now it’s starting to hurt ourselves.

So this is my lecture to my alcoholic brother — my own flavor of arrogance and self-absorption, even if slightly more informed — in hopes he’ll give up his wayward ways. I imagine it’ll fall on deaf ears, but it’s the most I can do for now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some funny cat pictures to look at.


What is it with rich white people?

8:30 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Gated Community – flickr creative commons

I just read this story about a woman from a well off background who was having major financial problems. About to lose her house and shot her teen age son and daughter then killed herself. What is weird is NOT that this happened, but that is seems to be happening over and over again. And in nearly every case it’s about some upper crust white who is about to lose their house, job and/or relationship.

And nearly every time I read about some school or mall or other killing, the person doing the killing is from an upper crust white family and area.

Now there is this item on Bill Moyers site about how wealthy people favor punitive and harsh Punishment for criminals and even school children. Interestingly the study sited also point out that they by and large feel entitled to what they have.

Holland: I’m always struck by how different scholars working with different methodologies find complementary results. Your colleague, Paul Piff, found that the wealthy tend to be more likely to have a sense of entitlement than average people. He also found that they were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits. These all seem to be perfectly complementary.

Keltner: Yeah, Paul Piff’s findings and Michael Kraus’s earlier findings — and studies by Hazel Markus, and Nicole Stephens at Stanford — are all consistent. We take great heart when different scientific approaches converge on a notion or an idea, and this is all converging on this idea that there’s something about wealth and privilege that makes people perhaps a little too self-focused. And they lose sight of the great breaks they get in life, thinking, as you said, that if you’re born on third it’s because you hit a triple.

Could this also be why they seem more likely to flip out when this entitlement is likely to be lost ? That they also feel entitled to ownership of even other people? Or that the cops from those areas are far more likely to engage in abuse and even murder and get off for it.

One study shows that the rich have far less compassion than those in the lower economic classes.

One has to wonder about their values and moral compass. Or do they even have any …

A Difference that makes no Difference ..

9:23 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Flickr creative commons

I have been reading Andrew Levine’s “Do Elections Make Any Difference?” in Counterpunch.  He takes a good deal of his premise from Arthur Schlesinger Jr’s Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference?, whether or not voting for Kennedy or Nixon in 1960  would make any difference. A book that tried to make the proposition that Kennedy needed to win for a myriad of reasons, some valid – so not so much.

Going from there to the Reagan years and how the as the republicans have gone off the the scale to right, the democrats have never been that far behind.

Evangelicals who lived in the South were Democrats and so were Catholics in immigrant communities in the Northeast and the upper Midwest.  Most of the former would become Republicans once blacks got the vote, and many of the latter would become Reagan Democrats.  At the time, though, these constituencies still voted in accord with their economic interests, and there were many New Dealers within them.

However, it is plain in retrospect that the seeds of conflict between economic and social liberals were already in place.  That conflict would erupt full-blown in the Reagan years; it has blighted our politics ever since.

Indeed racism and bigotry was always front and center in the north, though not as in your face belligerent.  However one must take into account the history of slavery in this country and how it has always played a very large part in our political and social and economic make up. The plantation system that existed in this country was based entirely on White Male superiority. And attacking slavery was also attacking White Male superiority.

Not only that, those who owned plantations and to an extent those who were just underneath, did not have to do any physical work what so ever. Slaves did it all ! For over 200 years this had been the normal way for southern elites to be elites. I would say even more so than the northern bankers and merchants. Like Wall Street today, slave owners dominated American politics. A little know fact is that is that Slavery was a major bone of contention between the Colonies and England. Not only that but the British and French and Spanish would teach their slaves to read and write and speak proper English, French or Spanish. Where in, in the colonies is forbidden to teach slaves.

One of the first protests against the enslavement of Africans came from German and Dutch Quakers in Pennsylvania in 1688. One of the most significant milestones in the campaign to abolish slavery throughout the world occurred in England in 1772, with British judge Lord Mansfield, whose opinion in Somersett’s Case was widely taken to have held that slavery was illegal in England. This judgement also laid down the principle that slavery contracted in other jurisdictions (such as the American colonies) could not be enforced in England.[206] In 1777, Vermont became the first portion of what would become the United States to abolish slavery (at the time Vermont was an independent nation). In 1794, under the Jacobins, Revolutionary France abolished slavery.[2Wikipedia

This White Male superiority also lead to a belief of White Male entitlement, that they expect and deserve to be treated differently, that they are entitled to their wealth and possessions. So it should come as not surprise that the unions, socialism and communism that was taking over the northern cities in the 1920s and 1930 was almost entirely absent in the south. Some of the strongest anti-communists came from the south. For all of this ran counter to the southern White Male plantation attitude that predominated the south. As it looked to them the same as the reconstruction era instigated by the republican dominated north of the time.

The south lay in ruins for decades. Farms, plantations and factories were destroyed. The economy was in depression. On top of that blacks in the south under radical reconstruction were given land and special treatment in government. Given this, the southern White Male hated, despised and – in more than a few cases – could not stand the sight of a black man. The southern Evangelical church, being the main meeting place for people, was instrumental in  helping to maintain this attitude. And the republican party for a very long time represented an anti-south IE anti-White Male supremacy.

It is hard to believe nowadays but, on social issues, Republicans in 1960 were no worse than Democrats.  With the South already shaky and with their Catholic working class base, Democrats knew they had to watch their step.   Republican liberals and “moderates” felt less constrained.

Their base, in those days, was generally more enlightened and better educated than their rival’s.  Some of their constituents, women especially, were favorably disposed towards women’s equality, birth control, and even abortion rights.  On civil rights, Republicans were generally decent too, though they were seldom ardent; it was not in their nature.

But these republicans were mostly northern republicans and remnants of progressive wing of Teddy Roosevelt.  Just listen to a speech my Wendell Willkie some time. Such a person would never even make it into the democratic party these days.

The democratic party was always pro business and even at the outbreak of the civil war a number of democratic areas up north wished to align themselves with the south. The republicans, having ousted Teddy Roosevelt and his progressives and now embracing business, were ripe to be taken over completely by Wall Street after FDR and his New Deal – which many despised.  With southern blacks now in the democratic camp thanks to FDR, another thorn in the side of the south. Then LBJ signed the civil rights acts, giving southern blacks the vote. The south went solidly republican.

Nowadays, social liberals are all Democrats; in the Republican Party, the species has gone extinct.  However, on the traditional axes of political contestation, both parties have moved far to the right, and there is hardly a sliver of light between them.

They are both dedicated to free market theology; they both worship at the altar of private property.  In a word, they are on the same side in the class struggle.

All centering around White Male superiority as one can see. The current republican party despises non-whites and the democrats just like their voting block.

That the two parties were on the same page was even clearer in the days when Schlesinger was drumming up support for his Prince.  Then, more than now, it was conceded by all that a substantial degree of regulation was a good thing – not just for the general population, but for (most) capitalists too.   FDR had triumphed over Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

However views that appeal to economic elites seldom disappear, no matter how thoroughly they are repudiated; at most, they live on underground until conditions are right for them to burst forth again.  Our Reaganite Presidents and our bought and paid for legislators have made the conditions right.  Accordingly, in this on-going Bush-Obama era, the repressed has returned with a vengeance.

Driven by ideology or greed or both, capitalism’s class warriors made useful idiots of the GOP’s lunatic fringe.  It worked for a while, but the monster they concocted may by now be beyond their control.

The GOP’s lunatic fringe as he says, is made up us frustrated white males and White Male superiority plays so well into the slave holder mentality of the past as well as the anti-union sentiments past and present. And their Evangelical Christian rhetoric is just the same old segregationist dressed up in religious garb.   With a FOX news host insisting that both Santa and Jesus were white. You really cannot separate economic, religious and racial bigotry. They are all intertwined. They are all part of White Male supremacy. Which both parties embrace.

Both parties love servitude. The difference – if one can call it that – is in how they treat their slaves.

Who Will Answer ?

5:46 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Well we have a cop taking nude photos of a 15 year old and a coach raping an underage girl. The land is sinking in the San Joaquin Valley do to the pumping of water etc. Apparently the old FBI COINTELPRO scheme has been privatized and now corporations are planting spies in activist groups.

And according to Dr. Doom the Global Housing Bubble is back and Walmart, Amazon and others are selling Banksy fakes.

Given all of this and that people are still creating mayhem and chaos trying to get the beast deals on Black Friday like some all consuming school of piranha fish.

Now Anonymous is calling for a day of action that would involve at least 3.5% of the population. Really ? 3.5% ? And this would get somebodies attention ? They even give a list of actions one could take.

Chris Hedges and others calling for the end of capitalism.

Listen I am all for this. I would like nothing better than to see Wall Street as a heap of rubble. And while your at it, you can do the same thing to Madison Av.

But look. I mean really look at who you are talking about. How many people in upper crust suburbia are even going to know – let alone being to be involved with – any of this ? How many Walmart and Macy’s and Sacks 5th Av. shoppers. How many of those you see in downtown Cleveland or Phillie or even and especially NYC ? Or Des Moines Iowa or Gary Indiana or Miami Florida for that matter.  These are the same people who wanted to bomb all the Middle East after 9/11.

Or those who frequent any bar or nightclub. As someone who has spent time in these big box stores and in various burbs as well as the poor side of town, I do not see any revolutionaries in any of those places. I don’t even see any on the college campuses I have spent time on.

What I do see are a lot of people who just want to get on with their lives regardless of how unpleasant these lives may be.

Whether Technology

6:46 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Cell Phones -Scallop Holden/flickr

I just finished doing an electronic restoration on an old Hallicrafters S40 communications receiver circa 1947. Replaced all the old paper capacitors and the electrolytic capacitors and a few resisters. I also replaced the audio output tube and its associated components with an audio amplifier module I had since that particular vacuum tube was pretty pricey and the transformer as well.

Where I currently live I am not to far from the transmitter sites of some local radio stations but this did not seem to bother this radio when I was tuning around, I was able to listen to a station in Toronto Ontario quite well. This was not the case with a much newer Radio Shack DX302 that I had which was overloaded by these close and powerful signals to the point of making it nearly useless trying to receive anything on the AM broadcast band.

With my hearing the way it is, I find the sound from the old Hallicrafters much more pleasing to listen to than my newer high priced receivers for AM and shortwave. But to be fair the old Hallicrafters was not as sensitive on the upper shortwave bands as any of the newer ones I have, including the RS DX302.

This not a diary to bash current technology. After all I have been mucking about in it since I was 10 years old and I am now in my 60s. Also, I enjoy working on and building and modifying radios and such, and have done so for nearly that long. I am concerned, though, about a few aspects of it.

I had a talk the other day with a gentleman who was here to do maintenance on my furnace. He came into my radio room and was fairly impressed – I guess – with my equipment and such. We got to talking about the current electronics and such, and how people just pitch them out when they break rather than getting the items repaired. I said that was the main reason I left the field of repair and went into computers. The occupation just went away. In fact component level repair is just not practical on today’s electronics. The parts are way too small and require specialized tools to replace them — assuming one can even get the replacement parts. In the case of microprocessors and specialized chips, this is quite often very difficult or impossible.

Which brings up another aspect of our current technology. The old vacuum tube equipment, though some it was pretty cheaply made, it was still quite robust. It was not as affected by voltage spikes or lightning or heat and humidity as current equipment is. It was much more repairable and less complex, to the point that you did not need much training or specialized tools to maintain it. Also we were not nearly so dependent on it in our lives.

Like the old cars with carburetors and distributors and such, that if they died on the road you could do some kind of quick fix to get you to a gas station to do a more complete repair. Nowadays that simply is not possible. Nearly every part is controlled by a computer.

Speaking of computers, I helped a friend last night with her’s because it had some unwanted software on it and getting rid of it was a considerable task. Computers are beyond most people to maintain, even the software can become unusable pretty quickly. With our dependence on them, this is becoming a major hassle.

Not simply computers but nearly everything we do now requires some sort of high tech to accomplish. There are processors in nearly everything now  and the infrastructure as well. And little of it is protected from anything. From simple communications to every financial transaction and even many medical tasks. And all this data runs on fiber optic cable that has little protection from the the environment or from sabotage. Our electric infrastructure is right out in the open  and as we have seen a number of times, can be brought to halt rather quickly.

We know how much pandemonium is caused if we lose electricity for a week. Imagine what it would be like if we lost it for a month or more. Or if we lost our data communications for a month or more, which can happen. It is nearly impossible to protect as it is so vast. But the loss of a few key sites could bring the whole thing down.

The fact that this has not occurred yet does not mean if would not or could not happen. And it’s a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to disable than flying planes into buildings. Weapons have already been developed to disable the electrical grid or parts of it.

One of the main reasons for this is the centralized control that is maintained by private monopolies, making our infrastructure very vulnerable. So while we sit back at our computers…sipping on our electrically brewed coffee…remember this the next time you use your cell phone.

The Decline and Fall of an American Empire

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Abandoned church - Lars K. Christensen/flickr creative commons

The American Empire was not like other historical empires, for from the very first it has been made up of various different ethnic and cultural groups. Initially French and Spanish. Then Dutch and British. With other nationalities coming later. Irish and German and Russian and (in my case) Finnish.

Like all other empires though it was doomed to fall at some point. History as well as statistics tell us so. As Chris Hedges points out here – citing such figures in the the field as anthropologist Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress”.

“There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’ We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”

Hedges essay deals with what he calls the Myth of Human Progress but I see it as very key to empire itself. That the bigger myth is that of a single American culture. We see evidence of it especially today with the fracturing of even the right wing movement. That what has bound people together was not some American history but rather a myth of American history built around some mythical culture.

Dmitri Orlov brings this up in this interview he did lat last year on Businessmatters radio. You can download and listen to it here. One of the things he (Orlov) brings up is the lack of community and the collapse of community standard,s as it were, in especially those areas that were hit hardest by Sandy last year. This is not surprising since community was weak at best even in those more upscale areas that were hit and was organized almost entirely around economic status and materialistic values. So when those were destroyed, so were the symbols of the “community”.

Communities as we here knew them in the past were organized almost entirely around some ethnic or cultural group. Sometimes religious but mostly ethnicity and culture of those who live there. The Italian or German or Irish or Chinese or etc. sections of nearly every metro area. This was also the case in the rural areas. The farmers were of similar cultural groups.

But as these people had children, fewer and fewer of these children would cling onto the cultural heritage of the parents and grandparents. Because of this the sense of community began to be lost or at best was some superficial aspect, such as their financial status or the suburban area or car they drove. It has no real roots. It was manufactured and sold by the media. The generic white anglo saxon male dominated family. Leave it to Beaver. My Three Sons. The Brady Bunch. Etc. And it was based almost completely on some personal self-centered agenda rather than the greater good. A product of Madison Ave. and Hollywood.

Orlov in this interview and his previous entries on his blog likes to compare the ex-Soviet Union with the US but I think he misses a key point. That is that the Soviet Union was make up of ethnic and cultural Russians for a large part. It was Russians fighting for other Russians during WWII, which is why they won it. This deep clan or tribal bond. Very like a family bond that America really does not have.

Which is why nearly all the war propaganda was about either fighting against something or some one. IE Nazis or Japs or Commies. Or for some vague ideal. Freedom. liberty…etc. Rarely – if ever – for America. That attitude or belief in always helping your fellows has never really existed in this country outside of one’s ethnic/cultural enclave. The superficial suburban groups never had it since it was based almost entirely on material standing. And once one lost this, one was out, so by definition there would be no help.

So with this economic grouping quickly falling by the wayside as the downturn accelerates, what we are seeing with the gun nutz and tea party right wing is a last desperate attempt to maintain some kind of cultural identity where none actually exists.

It’s this lack of any real cultural identity that the Washington/Wall Street cartel is taking advantage of and to an extent trying desperately to preserve. It’s also why the coming collapse of the American Empire will not look like those in the past as there is little to bond us together in it except mutual hardship.

Whether this will eventually bring people together as a whole and when this will occur is anybody’s guess. I am sure there will be more and more communities formed on an isolated and small scale, but a larger unification is at this time doubtful. It would take a great deal of time. This culture of personal gain and benefit over the greater good will be difficult at best to overcome.

Disposable America

8:31 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

I remember watching part of a movie a while back with David Ogden Stiers as a musician and this young lady who came to audition her violin with him. When she finished he told her that the she played the piece flawlessly but that her performance lacked feeling. Lacked soul. Lacked emotion.

I feel that this country has lost it’s feeling and soul. It’s emotion.

Before the industrial revolution everything you got was made by hand one at a time. There very likely were apprentices and helpers involved but it was one at a time. Each unique in some way from the the others. made by craftsman an artisans who learned and honed their skills and trade over the years.

Then the industrial revolution got underway big time. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, most things were being built in factories and thanks to people like Henry Ford – on some kind of assembly line. But even with assembly line techniques and interchangeable parts, most of what was made was of fairly high quality. As you can see with this 1938 Philco floor model or this Model A Ford.

Some were of very high quality indeed. Like the E. H. Scott or this high end Zenith Stratosphere. Not only did they make the radios, they made a lot of the parts inside as well. Even the vacuum tubes. And the mechanical tuning assemblies were also complex and well made. As you can see in the photos above, the cabinetry was of very high quality as well. With fine detail work and wood inlays and a fine finish.

This attention to detail carried over to WWII. With nearly everything made for the war effort. For the time they used the best available parts. I myself have owned a number of pieces of equipment and radios from that time period and am still impressed with some of the designs and workmanship used. Even small radio receives and transmitters made for bombers by the millions and by different manufacturers had were of the highest quality available at the time. Using precision gear reduction tuning and heavy shielding and other things.

There are those who are of the opinion that this attention to quality was also part of what lead to the depression of the 1930s. That the car makers and electronics makers of the time did too much of a good thing. The products lasted too long and the newer models were not enough improved for people to want to buy new ones. So sales slowed down, inventory remained unsold and people began to be laid off. All this before the bank failures and what not.

This kind of craftsmanship could still be seen up through the early 1950s but some time around the middle of the 1950s and onward things began to change. All of this long before the Japanese and German imports began to appear in any numbers. The fancy cabinetry was going as was the inside quality as well. Early television sets had nice cabinets and well well designed for their day. But by the mid 1960s the cabinetry there was pretty much gone and the electronics inside got cheaper and cheaper.

New and improved was not so much since the electronics inside did not change much from year to year. I know I used to repair them. No real change came in the electronics until the manufactures began to offer solid state television sets. And RCA and Zenith and GE and the rest did not do this until SONY began selling their new TRINITRON sets here which made our stuff look like stone knives and bear skins by comparison.

And by the late 1970s even RCA and Philco were pretty much gone. Zenith followed soon there after. Only the names remained. And the jobs went with them. Quality electronics along with quality furniture and cars became a niche area. Mostly for high end audio equipment and sports cars.

Along the way personal physicians who made house calls and spent time with their patients and milkmen who delivered the milk and left notes in case the cows got into the alfalfa. Local TV shops and corner markets as well.

And we began to just throw things out. Not because they could not be repaired, but because they were out of fashion some how. We started to be a disposable society. Doctors who treated cases instead of people and civilian deaths became collateral damage. And now there are those who seem to think we have a disposable planet as well.

So here is an example of what we were once capable of.

The Show So Far ………

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

That I am no fan of capitalism or any of the Abrahamic religions should come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of my essays. To me capitalism is merely a reworking of feudalism where one can become a lord by buying the lordship and the serfs under him/her besides being born into it.

The results are generally the same. A few elites at the top of the heap making hey of the miserable lives of those underneath. “Any difference that makes no difference is no difference.”

That the Abrahamic religions go so well with feudalism and capitalism should come as no surprise either. Truly a codependent relationship. Or that the constitution says separation of church and state but nothing about church and commerce or commerce and state. Which makes the sate and the church second cousins, as it were.

Nor do I like any kind of hierarchical for of government. Leaders – whether you call them presidents, prime ministers, premiers or what have you – will invariably become dictators and/or absolute rulers, however benign they may appear. And will nearly always kowtow to those with the most monetary influence.

There are those who think the answer to this is to just let everything run amuck and it will take care of itself. They also seem to think that they themselves would some how be immune to the consequences of this. Interestingly enough, they are also the same ones who want to stock pile the equivalence of Fort Dicks in weapons. I guess their immunity comes from Smith and Wesson.

Then there are those who think we can regulate this to get a kinder and gentler version of feudalism. With kinder and gentler robber baron scum bags at the top. That these people at the top will “see the light’ and “the error of their ways” and not try to change the rules once again. And that worked so well last time. Problem with regulations is, who regulates the regulators ?

And then there are those who think everything is just fine, lets not rock the boat. These are the ones who were called bourgeoisie, who are all chummy with the elites and are more than willing to lick the elites rear ends clan when required. What these people refuse to accept – along with right – is that they too could and probably would – become victims as well. Tolerated until replace by a computerized but washer.

The third act will be a lot more of a noire troisième acte. Desperate and brutal. There are those who seem to think that the end of this act will culminate is a rising up of the people in revolt somehow and cause a capitulation of the PTB. With visions of France and Russia in the early 19th century, forgetting that the PTB have them horribly out gunned. That any stand could – and most likely would – become suicidal. In those earlier revolutions, the people and the PTB were pretty well matched. That has ceased to be the case for quite some time. For what should be obvious reasons. Like those on the right and the preppers who seem to be living under the delusion that they too could fight off a government assault. Not bloody likely. This is not Syria where rebel forces would have access to the kinds of armament needed to be successful. All supplied by sympathetic outsiders. As those same outsiders are part of the PTB.

Nor is this Egypt where the military was supportive of the protestors, but only up to a point. Remember that the military – any military – is highly structured and hierarchical and ordered. And is little concerned with how this is maintained. The situation will become more oppressive and more desperate as time goes on.

The good news is that the last act can turn out much better but will require more work and more sacrifice and a completely different view of the world and community and interpersonal relationships there in. More of an anarchist view with little or no central government. Either locally or regionally. A consensus approach not unlike OWS. As viewed by such visionaries as Peter Kropotkin and Emma Goldman . Or even Dimity Orlov. Small groups who come together by desire rather than by any decree. But it will not be easy by a long shot.

The tentacles of the system reach far. Consider real estate taxes. Even if you own the land you are living on out right and choose not to even engage in commerce and use the monetary system, you still have to pay them or you lose you land. And this sort of thing will become more and more draconian. Count on it.

The answer may even be to relocate to a smaller and yet more corrupt country. Where the corruption on a local level can be of use in this way. Ironic but maybe necessary. For large countries – like here – have the corruption institutionalized and are a closed system in this respect.

And those who choose to live outside it will be view by the PTB more and more as some kind of threat to them. Which they are, but not necessarily in the way they imagine. For the real threat would be to their status and the dependency there upon. Not wishing to be part of, or supporting of the status quo would be seen as subversive.

Working toward the kind of society we envision is never a lost cause. And passing on this vision – even in the family structure – is what will bring about any real and lasting change. And put a halt to this sick, dark comedy we have been living for the last few thousand years. Where teachers and guides replace leaders, and wisdom and enlightenment and virtue and altruism are cherished and valued.

And the blood continues to flow…….

7:36 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Empty face - flickr creative commons

But what do you expect in a country where gratuitous violence, blood and mayhem make up the vast majority of the entertainment.

Where a wholly unrealistic portrayal of the Wild West™ on TV and in the movies is still very popular and there are those who not only believe it to be real but also think it should be design for how this country should be living. Albeit updated a bit.

Where massive killings in this country are a major tragedy but only until they leave the media cycle. But even more massive killings by our military of civilians – even children – are considered unfortunate but necessary.

Where everyone believes they will eventually “strike it rich” and are entitled too. Just look at how many buy lottery tickets and hold them like they just found the map to the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. Even though the chances of anyone actually winning are somewhat less than getting struck by lightning in Grand Central Station. Where there are those on the left who feel just entitled to their ill gotten gains as those on the right.

Where personal property trumps all else and protecting it is the highest priority. And how you acquire it is of little importance.

Where everything is put in monetary terms and everything has a price. And this idea is drummed into your heads from the time your are very young. “Do you think money grows on trees ?!” “You need a good education so you can make good money.” “Why do you want to do that ? There’s no money in it.”

Where the same people who rail about the banks and Wall Street and lazy poor and ethnic people also brag how they avoided paying tax and got “some sucker” to buy that broken down old car, house, lawn mower…etc for far more than it was worth. Or how they got that promotion at work partly by spreading rumors and gossip about those who were also in line. All within earshot of the children, there by giving them the message that cheating is actually OK as long as you don’t get caught.

Where government actions on fraud and theft and lies depends on how much money you have.

Or as a friend of mine put it. “A culture of violence.” And of mental & emotional breakdown. The culture is empty.

Hooray for Capitalism !

10:45 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Battle strike 1934

I thought I would list all the benefits we have experienced since feudalism was replaced by capitalism as the main economic model.

Feudalism exploited and enslaved the general populace – to one extent or another – to benefit a select few. Either through birthright or armed power. Quite often both. Under feudalism the means of production – both agricultural and industrial – were in the hands of the few. Acquired either from birthright or by force.

The end of feudalism was ostensibly to change this. It however did not. In fact empires grew the strongest under capitalism. Slavery and indentured servitude flourished under it. Countries and natives were colonized to acquire their wealth and resources to benefit the capitalist owners in the mother country. Displaced and quite often eliminated or enslaved.

Personal gain was the driving force behind nearly all endeavors. From adventurism to conquest. The monarchies that would continuously wage war with one another were replaced by capitalist and industrialists – who through their government servants – waged even bigger and bloodier wars. And in all cases it was the general populace that bore the brunt of the fighting and killing.

Banks and financial institutions began risky practices. Investing in and loaning money to anyone or anything that they were told was a sure money making enterprise. Profit was all and the quicker the better. Resulting in a long line of financial failures and economic crisis.

Capitalism’s quest for more and more wealth and gain. For continued expansion. Disregards any and all environmental and ecological concerns. Endangering the planet and those that live there. Capitalism requires continued growth in order to function.

Capitalists put monetary gain ahead of everything. Which is why the worst dictators in history were put in place and supported by capitalists – who also make the most from them. With total and complete disregard for what these people did to their citizens.

Contrary to popular believe capitalism does not encourage discovery, it stifles it. Unless a great deal of money can be made from it. And from the very start it will try to co-opt, defraud and steal ideas and inventions from those who make them. Such as RCA with Major Edwin Armstrong and Philo Farnsworth.

It will cut corners on everything to ensure greater profits. From wages to the workers, their working conditions and even the raw materials and designs. Knowingly marketing and producing items that are dangerous and even lethal. Like DDT, the Ford Pinto, numerous toys…to name but a few.

Capitalists are know to delay, sabotage and even kill any idea and/or product that may hurt their bottom line. Or attempt to gain exclusive ownership of it. The pharmaceutical industry is known for this. They will not develop a cure for anything they can make more money on by developing a continued treatment for.

They will use any means they can to get the consumer to buy into something and then blame them when it goes sour.

And contrary to popular belief, capitalists hate competition and will do what ever is necessary to eliminate it. Forming trusts and monopolies and fixing prices.

Yes people ow a lot to capitalism. Especially people like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Anastasio Somoz, Augusto Pinochet, Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad ……….. and various CEOS, Bankers, Stock Brokers, Military leaders and weapons developers.

You and me…not so much.