Category Archives: Ideas

Epigrams, Slogans, & Bumperstickers

  • The best things in life are messy.
  • A violent revolution is no revolution at all.
    • The real revolution is against violence itself.
  • If you can’t break your chains, use them.
  • Big Brother is watching: KEEP HIM ENTERTAINED.
  • If it’s falling, push it over.
  • When you make a fool of yourself on purpose on a regular basis, it doesn’t matter so much when it happens by accident.
  • Sex:Liberals::Money:Conservatives
  • Every day is a gift – even if it doesn’t fit.
  • Big Brother loves you SO MUCH… he can’t keep his eyes off you.
  • When the dip is gone, the party is over. When the party is over, it’s time to go home.
  • Education should be dangerous.
  • Unity, not uniformity; diversity, not division.
  • We need some new isms.
  • “Mistah Galt, he dead.”
  • Go with the Greatest Common Factor, not the Lowest Common Denominator

Organizations I’ve made up that ought to be more real

You might have noticed: I like to make stuff up. This includes some organizations of which I am pretty much the only member. (Though others are certainly welcome to claim membership in any or all of them – no dues are involved.)

The PLAUSIBLE NEWS SERVICE is the handle under which I write satirical news stories. My goal with PNS is to write pieces that are just plausible enough that they seem accplausibleeptable, while still including sufficient clues that the observant should catch the joke. (Closer to the work of Andy Borowitz than that of The Onion, say… though I am nowhere near the level of either.)

I am the editor and chief correspondent, though sometimes you may see Plausible News material credited to my esteemed colleague, the noted broadcaster and media analyst Otto B. True.  The best compliment I can get is someone asking, “Wait a minute… Is that for real?”

The SIESTsiesta-partyA PARTY USA (Motto: “Chill Out, America!”) supports the rights of all Americans to enjoy a nice afternoon nap… and encourages folks to get a decent night’s sleep. We also repost news articles about the health and productivity benefits of napping. (I have sleep apnea myself, so some of this stuff is serious!)

The LEAGUE OF MORTAL-AMERICANS (Motto: “You’re Already a Member”) would like to remind you of one thing: you’re gonna die.

The League believes that increased awareness – and acceptance – of mortalitmortal-logo-2y is a good thing. Seriously. Studies have shown that folks who manage to reconcile themselves with the idea of their personal mortality are generally happier, less stressed, and more generous.

Also co-sponsors campaigns like “Die Early” (encouraging Baby Boomers to leave planer before drawing Social Security) and “Ducks in a Row? Ready To Go!” (encouraging EVERYONE to get their wills, powers of attorney, health care directives, etc. set up as soon as possible).

The BUSH REGIME MEMORIAL SOCIETY fights against any efforts to whitewash the dismal and disastrous history of the George W. Bush Administration (2001-2009). It sponsors the annual Shoe Day observance on Dec. 14, when all citizens with functional memories are invited to send worn-out footwear to the George W. Bush Library, in commemoration of the day when an Iraqi reporter chucked a couple of shoes (a huge insult) at the visiting Bush.

I am honored to serve as Chief Researcher for THE INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE HEDONISM, which was established at Harrad College in the late 1960’s.  The IRH engages in extensive studies of things that are fun to do, while (hopefully) avoiding dangerous excesses or unforeseen consequences. (Presenting an IRH business card at a bar or a party might be good for something, but I can make no guarantees.)

The KUMBAYA LIBERATION FRONT seeks to reclaim the song “Kumbaya,” and the sentiments behind it, from folks who think it’s too namby-pakumbayamby to think about people getting along together.

And finally, for now, the ASSORTED SHI(F)TWORKERS OF AMERICA – a superunion of all those folks who are under- or mis-employed, rather than being able to follow their dreams and make a living at the same time. (Our mottos include: “Well, Somebody’s Got To Do It,” and “Actually, I’m Working on My Novel.”) Comments on workplace conditions, the overloading of American workers, and related stuff.

 

 

 

 

VOTE WITH YOUR FEET…?

December 10, 2016…

Does anyone still have any questions or doubts about what is about to happen to us here in the USA? About the kind of historical moment at which we have finally arrived?

After the election, there was a certain amount of hopeful “let’s give him a chance” rhetoric – but Trump’s Cabinet choices and public statements soon made the absurdity of such optimism very clear.

To be sure, there is one small glimmer of hope on the horizon: the idea that the Electoral College may actually fulfill the function for which the Founding Fathers designed it, and deny Trump the Presidency. (The recent news about possible Russian intervention in the election may make this possibility more likely.)

But I’m not betting on that. Nor do I expect the Sweet Meteor of Death to come to our rescue.

[UPDATE (Dec. 20, 2016): Sure enough, by all reports the Electoral College has failed. So far, so has the Sweet Meteor of Death.]

[Further update (January 6, 2017): Congress, despite attempted objections, has certified the Electoral College results. Still no sign of the Sweet Meteor of Death, either.]

So the question becomes: what, exactly, do we intend to do about the situation?

This is a matter of individual conscience, of course, and all sorts of suggestions are being put forward, from passive acceptance to guerrilla resistance. The experience of pre-WWII Germany is being examined and re-examined for clues and guidance, but the differences between the rise of Nazism and the rise of Trumpism are significant enough to render such comparisons less than useful.

Here are some of the options suggested so far:

(There are many more of these kinds of articles out there. As I find more, I’ll add them to the list… or comment below with links to similar articles you have found.)

So one can stay and fight, in whatever way, whatever that means to you – or one can flee. I’m suggesting the latter, and I seriously think that others might want to consider the possibility. As the saying goes: “Vote with your feet.”

vote-feet

Now, for myself, I should say that at this point I’m not planning on moving permanently – but I am going to go on an extended trip abroad, six months to a year, maybe more. (I’m heading to Europe to see if I can help with refugee assistance in some way.) I’m thinking that might be enough time for things to sort themselves out.

It’s a privileged option, I know. Not everyone has this choice. The only reason I can even consider it is because I just became old enough to draw funds from my woefully inadequate “retirement” money.

But more folks might be able to pull off a miniaturized version – namely, a symbolic crossing of the border on Inauguration Day, as a protest against the installation of The Donald. (Or as I like to call it, the “Dysauguration.”) Just find your nearest border crossing, and be there by 11 AM Eastern time on January 20, 2017. crowd-control

We would then cross over just before the Oath of Office is administered, and then stay for the rest of the day (or perhaps longer) before crossing back over to take up the fight.

A large enough crowd showing up at one or more of these sites, even if they cross over for only a few hours, would send a powerful message of non-support to the incoming Administration.

If you’re not near a border but you are near the coast, consider a one-day boat trip into international waters. Or maybe turn the occasion into a brief vacation to the Bahamas. Let’s create a large enough blip in border-crossing statistics to give Donald the clear signal that not everyone is ecstatic about his enthronement.

So, what do you say? See you at the Border?

 

 

 

The 2017 “PICK A FIGHT WITH THE DONALD!” Contest

The recent flap between Trump and that Steelworkers leader shows that Trump takes his politics very personally, and he seems to prefer going mano-a-mano with anyone who disses him.

I therefore propose a contest:

The 2017 “PICK A FIGHT WITH THE DONALD” Contest!!

The goal is to get The Donald’s attention (& ire) directed at you personally. The theory is that the more distracted and flustered he is, the less damage he’s likely to do by actually paying attention to matters of importance.

Prizes will be given for:

  •  Longest Twitter feud (by number of tweets)
  • Pettiest subject of debate
  • Greatest number of RTs generated (by bots or humans)
  • Best meme generated as a result of the feud
  • Most mentions of feud on major “mainstream” media

Special recognition if the feud leads to:

  • Actual mention of the feud by Trump in a public appearance
  • A lawsuit
  • A benefit concert for the poster’s Legal Defense Fund
  • A Supreme Court case
  • Impeachment

So let’s get crackin’ out there!! Winners will be announced in early 2018, if we’re still around that long.

Plutocracy Resolution

Things being what they are, I think the time has come for someone to bring forward the following resolution, or something like it, on the floors of the House and Senate:

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
recognizing Plutocracy, not Democracy, as the guiding principle of the Government of the United States of America.

WHEREAS, a 2014 Princeton study has shown that the USA is not a democracy, but a plutocratic oligarchy; and

WHEREAS, former President Jimmy Carter has stated that America has become “now an oligarchy”; and

WHEREAS, over 50% of the members of Congress are millionaires, as opposed to 3.5% of the American public; and

WHEREAS, years of effort to create and enforce meaningful campaign finance reforms have been mostly fruitless; and

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court has done its best to render such reforms moot anyway, through its rulings in Citizens United v. FEC and other cases; and

WHEREAS, let’s face it, wealthy donors get our attention much more easily than our less-endowed constituents; and

WHEREAS, the American people seem to have given their tacit approval to the whole arrangement by repeatedly re-electing most of us; and

WHEREAS, it will be a cold day in Hell before we here in Congress would actually do something about a system from which we profit so handsomely; now,

THEREFORE, we, the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring, do officially declare and establish what everyone knows to be the truth, that Plutocracy, not Democracy, is the underlying and governing principle of the Federal Government of the United States of America.

The Challenges of Inequality

(Adapted from an article in ON TRACK: Transition Honesdale Newsletter, October 2013)

Let me state this explicitly at the outset: I am by no means an egalitarian. I don’t expect, or even desire, that everyone should enjoy exactly the same kind of economic situation. I understand that society, at any level, will always have some degree of stratification. I accept that some folks – those who take on particularly great responsibilities, for example, or skilled and highly trained professionals like doctors, lawyers, and teachers – will have, and rightfully deserve, a greater level of compensation than, say, a mere first-line manager and part-time scribbler such as me.

But let’s face it: when it comes to economic inequality in the United States, things are starting to get out of hand.

I won’t go through the laundry list of statistics. It’s easy enough to find any number of sources, from the US Census Bureau to the Institute for Policy Studies to the excellent website for Robert Reich’s critically-acclaimed film “Inequality for All”, that will illustrate the extent of the problem, and how quickly it is growing. Let it suffice to say that the distribution of wealth and income in the United States is now the most imbalanced since – well, 1929.

And we all know how that turned out.

The general effects of this imbalance on our political and economic landscape are widespread and well-known. Members of the lower socioeconomic classes lose power and gain debt, and find themselves working harder while facing increasing insecurity. From the specific point of view of Transition, though, inequality poses additional challenges, particularly if we consider its effects on community cohesion, a key factor of community resilience.

The Transition philosophy takes as one of its starting points the notion that business-as-usual will not – indeed, cannot – continue much longer. At some point, we believe, the fundamental underpinnings of our society will begin to give way (whether gradually or catastrophically), to be supplanted by a different and more sustainable way of life.  In this new economy, the ethos of excess, individual accumulation, narrow self-interest, and competition will be replaced by one of lower consumption, community well-being, mutual aid, and cooperation.

But if we have a class of people accustomed to always having the “best of the best,” we have to wonder whether they will be able, not to mention willing, to make that transition gracefully.  We may see the well-to-do withdraw into their own heavily guarded and well-supplied enclaves, leaving the rest of us to squabble over their leftovers, or they may try to keep the status quo in place through increasingly coercive measures.

As wealth and power continue to concentrate at the top, the spirit of community splinters – not just between classes, but within and between different groups, as they struggle to secure their share of a dwindling supply of resources and opportunities.  Tensions between groups are likely to be manipulated to protect sheltered interests.

Even now, inequality is undermining community – right out from under our feet, in fact.  As society becomes more stratified, we see casual contact and meaningful communication between members of different classes becoming more and more uncommon.  Suspicions, resentments, and fears increase, as stereotypes and prejudices blossom.  Eventually, we might end up with something like a caste system, where social mobility is strictly regulated.

And worst of all, in my opinion, inequality undermines two of the main foundations of American society. One is the ideal of “equality before the law.”  As inequality increases, it becomes harder for poor defendants or litigants to get the legal assistance they need – and much easier for wealthy miscreants to avoid detection or punishment, particularly for financial crimes.

The other is the sense that every human life has an innate dignity and value – what some might call the notion of “equality before God.”  Studies have shown that as income disparity increases, the rich find it easier and easier to dismiss not only the complaints and sufferings of the poor, but eventually their very humanity.

But such nightmarish scenarios can be avoided.  The primary challenge is for all of us, in all sectors of the community, to see that in the long run, too much inequality harms everyone.  Then we can begin to explore how we might work together to create and sustain shared prosperity.  This process starts simply, locally, through pilot programs and economic experiments designed to embody the values of a more sustainable society.

As soon as we can, we need to begin that process, and bring our lives, our relationships, and our communities back into balance.

CIVILIZATION

(This is an updated version of a column that was first published in 2006.)

While listening to the news one day, I suddenly realized that I’ve been operating under a false assumption all these years. I had been taking for granted that I was born into a civilized period of human history.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You may remember that in the early 1990’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the repressive regimes of Eastern Europe, a conservative wag named Francis Fukuyama had the temerity to come out with a book entitled The End of History – as in, that’s it, everything is settled, capitalism has triumphed, there’s nothing else to be decided, game over. Subsequent events, of course, have proved him wrong on that score, and the author, to his credit, has since recanted his thesis.

“End of History”? Heck, we’re not even out of the Dark Ages yet.

Now, before you try to refute that assertion with a litany of our advances in such areas as dental medicine and indoor plumbing, let me explain what I mean by “civilized.” Here is my definition: we can be said to be more or less “civilized” as a society, culture, or species to the extent that intentional acts of violence are seen as unnecessary – that is, one would never come to a moment where one feels that one has to resort to inflicting harm or suffering on another human being. Violence might still happen accidentally, of course, or as an unforeseen consequence of a decision, but not by intention or desire… or because it seems there is no other choice.

Some reflection will show the implications of this definition. For such a society to exist in the first place, any motivation for violence would have to have been eliminated. Crime? Want? Poverty? Human needs would be sufficiently addressed, including the understanding and treatment of substance abuse and mental illness. People would have access to the resources they need. War? Conflict? Our communication skills, and cross-cultural awareness, would have been well enough developed that conflicts would no longer arise from interpersonal or intercultural misunderstandings. All theologies would have disavowed violence as a justified means of carrying out their missions. Problems of resource availability and distribution would have been sorted out, and the idea of separate “national interests” would have been permanently shelved. (Can you think of other root causes for violence? Imagine how they might be solved in a “civilized” society. Discuss. Give examples.)

By such a definition, humanity obviously has a long way to go – but to be fair, we have made some considerable strides. In most cultures violence is now regarded as a last resort, rather than the first. We managed to get rid of dueling a while ago, and fisticuffs are not generally accepted as a means of conflict resolution any more (except on the Jerry Springer show, of course). In fact, we’ve actually become a very pacifistic species in many ways. (For more examples, and the statistics to back them up, see Dr. Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.)

I think it might be accurate to say that we are beginning to get a slight glimmer of what actual “civilization” might look like – and yes, I mean to include every single one of those wimpy qualifiers – but we are also still close enough to the edge of the abyss of absolute savagery to hear its echoes. What veneer of civilization we have managed to develop is still quite thin, and is looking a bit threadbare in many places at the moment. In fact, as I write these words the headlines are full of tales of extremist groups that seem quite determined to reverse this progress and march cheerfully and resolutely back into the bloodier times of the past.

Some people might think a truly civilized society is unattainable – and maybe it is. But what I’m really talking about here is the proper application of a word. Let’s not call ourselves “civilized” if we’re not – and let’s not prematurely call ourselves “more civilized” than any other given bunch of humans.

If I’m honest with myself, after all, I can’t help but see that my own veneer of civilization is itself pretty thin. There’s not as much distance as I’d like to think between me and my “barbarian” ancestors, plasma-screen televisions and ultrasonic toothbrushes notwithstanding. I haven’t completely purged the violence out my own system yet. So again, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we’re further along the road than we actually are, or pretend that we are significantly ahead of others.

But at the same time, we should not abandon ourselves to the supposed inevitability of human violence – rather, let us keep in mind that this development is an ongoing process, a journey that can at least be undertaken, and possibly even completed successfully.

Someone once asked Gandhi, “So, sir, what do you think of Western civilization?”

And as he famously replied, “I think it would be a wonderful idea.”