Saturday, March 10, 2007

I Am The Middle Class

No more games. No more bombs. No more walking. No more fun. No more swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No fun---for anybody. 67. You are getting greedy. Act your old age. Relax---This won't hurt.
---Hunter Thompson's suicide note (1937-2005)
It often happens that I awake at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the pope.
---Pope John XXIII
Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: "Does this path have a heart?" If it does, the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.
---Don Juan
The photo is the unfinished and unsold "House of the Day" at a website where a caption reads: "I was thinking maybe I wanted a bigger backyard, more privacy and more closet space." [link]
I, on the other hand, was thinking of writing a deep, philosophical essay today on what it feels like to turn 67, especially given what Hunter Thompson had to say and do at that age. But the Pisces swims up and down the stream, and wriggles out of hand just when you think you've got him. And so, as on many Saturdays, I've run across some stuff to read that could not be denied...and just didn't get to it. So? I can do whatever I want to on my birthday!
I did spend a long time this morning writing some friends about the Ed Schultz Show, which is a progressive radio call-in format on the AM dial out of Fargo, North Dakota. A rightwing radio station in Athens is trying it out suddenly, and I'm attempting to drum up support. If you live somewhere in the States or elsewhere around the world where you don't receive or haven't heard of Big Eddie, let me introduce you. This guy is on the vanguard of turning AM radio around and back to the way things used to be in this country: balanced broadcasting with an interest in neither left nor right but JUSTICE instead. Here was his guest list this week: Barack Obama, Howard Dean, John Edwards, John Conyers, Joe Wilson, and yesterday Henry Waxman. Hillary was on last week. You want to talk to those people, or have Eddie ask them a question? He'll do it for you. Just call or email him. You can download his shows or parts of them that interest you at [link] . In Athens he's on live from 3 until 6 in the afternoon on WAIS, 770 AM.
But then, just as I was about to tackle my deep, philosophical essay, I ran across the excerpt AlterNet put up of a speech Paul Krugman gave recently about the theft of the middle class by the rich, and I had to get into it.
"If you look back across the past 80 years or so of the United States, what you see is that in the 1920s, we were for practical purposes still in the gilded age. That may not be the way the historians cut it, but in terms of the actual distribution of income, so far as we can measure it in terms of the role of status and general feel of the society, we were still an extremely unequal royalist society.
"By the time World War II was over, we had become the middle-class society that the baby boomers in this audience grew up in. We had become a much more equal society. That high degree of equality began to go away -- depending on exactly which numbers you look at -- during the late 70's, maybe a little earlier than that. And at this point we're basically back to pre-tax and transfer to the levels of inequality that we had in 1929.
"So there is this great arc to the middle class, away from gilded age to middle-class society and then back to the new gilded age, which is now what we're living in."
The real take-off for the middle class, I suppose, was the US entry into World War II, which came on top of the urgent reconstruction of many economies following the Depression. My generation was born in the late '30s and early '40s, and so we have lived completely through that flight of paradise that finally began its nosedive with Reagan. Many of us in the '60s, of course, deplored "middle class values" and did all we could to attack them. Sometimes I think we felt responsible and ashamed for much of the disruption that ensued, and so spent the '70s in the meditation halls repenting. Oops, now I'm wandering into allow me to refer you to the speech itself AND the 150 comments already~~~ [link]
We're also shopping around right now for a college or university for our daughter to attend in a couple years. For some unknown reason she's doing really well with her studies and wants to go on. The process ain't what it was in the late '50s (when I applied to exactly ONE college, and got in with scholarship) and it's not too early to start worrying. Yeah. Professor Krugman isn't the only one wondering if all that's left is a rich-poor society. The March 29th issue of The New York Review of Books is carrying a review entitled Scandals of Higher Education written by Andrew Delbanco, Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities and Director of American Studies at Columbia.
"It is hardly surprising that lots of rich kids go to America's richest colleges. It has always been so. But today's students are richer on average than their predecessors. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, in a sample of eleven prestigious colleges, the percentage of students from families in the bottom quartile of national family income remained roughly steady— around 10 percent. During the same period the percentage of students from the top quartile rose sharply, from a little more than one third to fully half. If the upscale shops and restaurants near campus are any indication, the trend has continued if not accelerated. And if the sample is broadened to include the top 150 colleges, the percentage of students from the bottom quartile drops to 3 percent. In short, there are very few poor students at America's top colleges, and a large and growing number of rich ones."
Well, we got a rich kid with a C average as President right now. Anybody still think this is a healthy trend?
"Our richest colleges could and should do a better job of recruiting needy students, which would require spending more money on the effort to find and support them. They could cut back on lounges in the library and luxuries in the dorms—features of college life designed to please coddled students and attract more of the same. They could demand more from faculty and reward coaches and administrators less lavishly. And just as they scout for athletes across the nation and the world, they could hire more admissions professionals and assign them to inner-city and rural schools."
Anyone doubting Delbanco's lounge theory of education should come here to Athens and take a look at the new Baker Student Center Ohio University just built. I call it Taj Mahal on the Hocking (which is the name of the river that runs through here). Four or five floors (with escalators AND elevators) of luxury beyond the imagination of anyone who went to college in the 20th century! Write OU's president and ask him what the electricity bill is for the thing per year. Professor Delbanco's article is online and I recommend it without reservation. [link] Now, is there some cake around here somewhere?

No comments: