Archive for March, 2013

Defining Greed

March 28, 2013

Recently, I developed a perception of how many Americans, particularly right-wing Americans, look at greed. Just last night I had my perception confirmed. I think it’s simple and pretty obvious, but we have to make these things clear if we’re ever going to deal with them.

I read an article in the New York Times about some multi-millionaire hedge fund manager who has been on a buying binge. New houses, a painting by Picasso, etc. I and a bunch of others saw him as being an example of the grotesque excess that characterizes those with obscene amounts of wealth today. One person suggested in a comment on the article that it would be a good thing to be able to confiscate some of that wealth. A reader responded to that, saying:

“By what right would you or anyone confiscate the property of another? And how would you decide what is ‘excess’?”

I felt like responding to the response and, in a slightly prickly mood, I wrote:

“In a sane world excess is taking more than you need to live a decent life. Let’s amend the constitution if need be.”

This motivated yet another reader to respond to me:

“Mark, your ‘sane world,’ where those who work to earn are ‘takers,’ must be one heck of a horror show.”

My response, which I’m making only here, is that we are already living in a horror show. And it’s largely because of those “earners.” This is right at the heart of my perception. They say it’s not greed if you’ve earned it. But greed is, precisely, working to obtain great wealth. Morally, no one is entitled to go after as much as they can “earn.” “Earn” is a self-deceptive term here. If you insert the word “get,” the meaning changes. And it’s more honest. You cannot earn a billion dollars. Invariably, someone will ask, “So, how much do you think one should morally be able to earn?” I think enough to make a living, but not a killing.

Calling Me Back

March 21, 2013

I start every morning by turning on the computer and checking email, reading the news, sometimes doing a little bit of research regarding something that came up while I was writing. Occasionally, I will rent a movie and watch it at night. But I’ve come to despise computers and the Internet. I’m convinced that staring at a computer is bad for me. I know that my vision is more shallow since I started using them (not eyesight, but vision). This morning I was giving myself a little talking-to about how I need to stop using the damn thing. Stop reading the news for starters. I don’t need to know the details of how ugly the world is getting. It’s never harmed me in the past to get away from the daily assault of news stories.  I wasn’t thinking “every now and then,”  “a day or two,” or even a week. I was thinking months. I need months away from it to get healed.

Immediately after my little talking-to, and just prior to getting down to work on Street Song, I checked email. Only one came through, a blast from Tammy Baldwin, the new senator from Wisconsin, whose campaign I’d given money to. The subject line read “Hibernation=not an option.” I’m not sure I agree, but it was a pretty strong coincidence. Sometimes I steer by them; sometimes I don’t.

My Uncompromising Positions

March 14, 2013

The Republican Party has a bunch of positions that, come hell or high water, it refuses to compromise on. I have some positions like that, too, and I thought I’d list three of them. These are all positions I’ve never backed away from and never will.

  1. Cut military spending drastically. Begin by eliminating all overseas bases.
  2. Raise taxes on the wealthy.
  3. Raise spending for social services, particularly for the poor. Free health care for everybody.

A Clever Rejoinder

March 10, 2013

I’ve been edging toward putting up a more serious post on a subject that, since my return from Santa Barbara Island, has been taking up a lot space in my head. But I’m not quite ready to write it. So in the meantime…

I love clever rejoinders. We probably all do. This week I was reminded of one of my favorites. It’s a well-known rejoinder, but I repeat it out of affection for its humor and for those who might never have heard it.

Steve Earle is a singer-songwriter whose big inspiration was the singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. (Singer-songwriters were once extremely important to me. I wanted to be one.) Steve Earle was asked to write a blurb for a Townes Van Zandt album and came up with this: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” When Van Zandt was asked about Earle’s blurb he replied (spontaneously, I hope), “I’ve met Bob Dylan’s bodyguards, and if Steve Earle thinks he can stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table, he is sadly mistaken.”