Monthly Archives: February 2013

Life Is (A Poem)

Life is a quick transaction.

Life is a confidence game.

Life is a lengthy quotation.

Life is the sun clinging to the horizon endlessly and then suddenly vanishing.

Life is an ugly riddle.

Life is a punch line, the last stop, and the Minotaur guarding the Maze.

…Bereft of pretension, and utterly soaked by it.

Life is living the contradictions.

…Your unrequited dream, excusing yourself as you walk through, a half-buried longing that refuses to stay put.

Life is a cooling cup of coffee.

Life is biting the fingernails to the quick out of sheer panic at the thought of a day job.

Life is despairing of ever finding one.

…On another level of consciousness, in which all of our preconceived ideas about what Life Is are dashed to oblivion.

Life is self-referential and irreverent.

…Playing with words to see what sounds profound and what sounds like garbage, and taking out the trash.

…Tearing off the fringes of a wash cloth before dusting off the floorboards and windowsills and don’t forget the attic.

…The nagging self-doubt that undermines creative effort every single time.

Life is perfectionism and the triumph of style over substance.

Life does not know when to quit until inevitably it does.

…not only the bounced check but the bounced-check fee, and the subsequent phone call in a vain attempt to waive it.

…Scribbling madness at a Euro-style bohemian café in the shadow of housing projects.

…Not being able to know anything for certain, and to be certain only of the fact that what you have at best are educated guesses.

Life is the guesswork and conjecture.

Life is a display of polysyllabic words effusively thrown about so cute girls will fuck you.

Life is knowing yourself and knowing others.

…wants you to think that you’re an untalented hack wasting his time, but rest assured that Life is wrong on that score, and is awfully right on many others.

Life is the phone that cannot be willed into ringing, nor is it the article that will write itself.

…asking a stranger to watch your stuff.

…enjoying an oversized, overpriced cookie because, after all, everything in moderation.

Life is quoting Benjamin Franklin, who said or is said to have said that he and the other founders gave us “a Republic, if [we] can keep it.”

Life is, quite literally, a stream of consciousness, upon which we are confined to metaphysical rowboats.

…The rapid current that flips us over, holding us under the raging water, then lets go so we emerge gasping for air.

Life is a dog that licks itself because it can.

Life is a finite series of random encounters of varying intensity and duration.

Life likes to get technical.

…Creating a magazine in 24 hours.

…Recharging an ever-draining battery.

…Packing up to leave.

…Holding on.

Life is All for one and one for all even when no one believes in trite sayings.

Life is “just saying.”

…Accepting the immutability of the past and unknowability of the future, leaving only the present moment which is being devoted to drawing scenes of coffeehouses where people come to work and not to discover each other.

Life is appreciating what underpaid wage slaves do to make this city work.

Life is not a test.


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Put the Cash Mountain to Good Use

Peter Lattman noted today that the top S&P-rated 500 corporations in this supposedly bankrupt country of ours are sitting on a “mountain of cash” reserves said to be worth more than one trillion dollars, which still ought to be an inconceivably large amount of money. It ought also go without saying, but will say anyway, that millions of people across this land are unemployed, under-employed, or simply counted out entirely from the workforce. One possible remedy for the jobs crisis becomes readily apparent…

The arithmetic is simple even though the numbers are massive when answering the natural question, How many jobs could that cash pile go toward as opposed to all the mergers and acquisitions going on? After all, as Lattman records, that is what that money is being spent on (for example the Heinz-Buffett deal that has already gotten the glare of the Securities and Exchange Commission). Say that these companies were to devote 40 percent to acquiring other firms and doing deals and that sort of thing, and $400 billion is far from chump change.

So that only leaves some six hundred billion dollars left over for hiring, say, entry-level workers who are two, three, or four years out of college with no steady income, working like factotums and losing hope. The economy is often delineated along the private and public sectors, and if the public sector balks, as it will, at the idea of public works projects that would create mass employment, it is up to the captains of post-industrial America to fill the gap. They cannot credibly claim they lack funds to make it happen. (Network TV companies with revenues in the hundreds of millions, for instance, can easily afford to pay their interns.)

Anyway, and these calculations are not from an economist so caveat emptor, but let us wager that a middle-class salary is about 60k. But we are talking about entry-level, so 30k is more realistic, if not exactly luxurious. Also suppose that five years would be enough time to get enough people to get work making enough to live somewhat comfortably at least, which rounds out to $150,000 per head. How much is 150k compared with the hundreds of billions that the S&P 500 is sitting on? And how many people would get a leg up this ladder of opportunity so many talk about?

Simple math says that 60% of their cash reserves could create at least four million entry-level jobs over a five-year period. My math may be wrong, but it sounds like a reasonable idea for corporate America to set aside at most two-fifths of their cash earmarked for acquisitions and the like, and still make cruise ship-size amounts of money in the process, while helping their fellow citizens make ends meet. The motives of the managerial class would not be altruistic but purely rational, and since it is in their interest to make the employee-consumer cycle stronger, investing 60 percent of their reserves for this five-year project is a no-brainer.

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“The Fundamental Rights of All People”

The other night, during the State of the Union address, President Obama said something quite remarkable — entirely by omission. In the course of his boilerplate foreign policy remarks, filled with the usual tension between hard-headed realism and mushy idealism, the great orator uttered the following…

[W]e can — and will — insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We’ll keep pressure on a Syrian regime [note that Assad is not mentioned by name] that has murdered its own people [or, as Damascus would put it, defended itself from terrorists] and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian [presumably ruling out the Nusra faction, which the State Dept. has recently designated a terrorist organization].

From that point, which as you can see has been peppered with my annotations in brackets, Obama added, as if he were stepping over the Golan Heights, “And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.” The transcript from the Washington Post dutifully notes that applause breaks out at this point.

“Likewise, the Palestinian people, most of whom want security and peace as well, deserve our support,” the president did not go on to say, because that’s crazy. He has come a long way since declaring that Palestinians are “suffering” without equal in the world — an exaggeration, for sure, but mostly accurate. But saying so was too much and he was forced to retract his gaffe. Now it’s in the distant past.

And, after four years of hearing the moronic incantation that he has somehow “thrown Israel under the bus,” the president has spared no rhetorical expense to demonstrate that, though he may have some brittleness with Bibi, he is the most “pro-Israel” American leader in history. That just keeps to his words.

Even the reactionary Jerusalem Post could not help but notice that only one half of the most vexing issue in the Middle East could be spoken about. President Obama “has actually never uttered the word ‘Palestinian’ in his annual address to Congress,” the article pointed out.

As a matter of fact, the last time an American president even said the word “Palestine” was in 2003, when President Bush declared: “In the Middle East, we will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine.” Imagine for a moment if the current occupant of the White House dared to mimic that. What a terrible comment that he could not.

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On the Oil Fields of Progress

Chip Brown, writing about the oil boom underway in North Dakota (“The Luckiest Place on Earth”), unleashed this truly epic breakdown of Manifest Destiny:

The westward march of American industry was written in the quarters of plowed earth and section line roads, in the power-transmission towers and smoke-signal steam puffs drifting from a Tesoro refinery; it was visible even on the far horizon, at the edge of a fretted but still bracing emptiness, in the shape of giant windmills and the silhouette of a coal gasification plant. Each and all were contemporary manifestations of an economic imperative that dates back to the triumph of the treaty breakers who usurped the Native Americans and commodified the land, and to the waves that came in their wake, the great white hunters who cleaned out the buffallo, the agents of the bone boom that followed who sent trainloads of buffalo skeletons back East to be used to refine sugar, the iron-horse magnates, the immigrant farmers and pioneer ranchers ruined by the “dirty ’30s,” and later the first oil and lignite coal barons and the government dam builders who tamed the Missouri.

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