“. . . love with no need to pre-empt grievance. . .” (Elizabeth Alexander)

A British travel poster from the 1930s - to visit a place that didn't exist?

A British travel poster from the 1930s – to visit a place that didn’t exist?

Elizabeth Alexander
wrote her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Obama’s first inauguration. In the foreground, the poem is, of course, about the event which few of us had imagined would happen in our lifetimes—the inauguration of our first African American President.

I’m appropriating the poem because I think its background “meaning” is infinitely more complex than simply a marker for one event.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

For the past ten days I have been depressed in a way that is both familiar and unfamiliar to me. I have not managed to write anything organized well enough to warrant posting here or anywhere else. I have written and written, but all of that stuff is either in Word documents with bizarre names on my desktop or—mercifully—in the “recycle bin.”

Most of the depression is, I think, a normal reaction that even those of you who do not have to take Prozac feel. It’s separation anxiety. Some of it is already here (retirement), but some of it is projection. Three of the people I depend on for emotional stability are going away, one temporarily, one permanently, and one either temporarily or permanently. I’m feeling ordinary sadness and fear at being left alone, albeit projected fear because their departures are in the future.

Augusta Victoria Arab (Lutheran) Hospital in Jerusalem

Augusta Victoria Arab (Lutheran) Hospital in Jerusalem

Ordinary sadness.

Then there’s a small item of difficulty in being hired for sure for the part time tutoring job I am already doing at the university. That there can be a problem with my application to teach part time at a university where I have been teaching full time for fifteen years is terrifying to me. What if they don’t, after all of this, hire me? Is my next step applying at Walmart for a job? (After all of my criticism of Alice Walton, that’s not a likely prospect.) I spent three hours sitting in the waiting room at the Social Security office yesterday to get a new Social Security card (I haven’t had one for 30 years at least) to insure the solution to part of the problem, but the rest of it is still uncertain.

This is ordinary fear.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

It is all about words.

Ordinary words.

Goodbye. Employ. Security.


And the one I have not mentioned.

I have not mentioned it because I don’t know for sure which it is.



Or Grief.

In any world of logic (which I seldom inhabit) events taking place 5500 miles from home should not cause depression. Anger, dismay, grief, perhaps, but not depression.

The Israeli project of genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian culture and society in Gaza is, I think, the background meaning of my depression. I cannot fathom it. I cannot accept it. I cannot believe it.

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. . .”

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Elizabeth Alexander is, I know, speaking directly of the experience of African Americans. But every day the experience of the people of Gaza corresponds more closely to the historical experience of African Americans.

The version of Niebuhr’s prayer we all know is, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

There is an enormity of difference between “the grace to accept with serenity” and “the serenity to accept.” I will never have “serenity,” but I can try to find “grace”—or (in Christian theological terms) to accept “grace” [see note below] that is freely given (by whom or what, I do not know, but I believe it’s possible).

I cannot accept with serenity the vicious, warmongering, uncivilized assertion that “Israel has the right to defend itself”—with the extension of that logic to the end that Israel has the right to obliterate an entire society.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

Americans must—yes, I will moralize and even preach—“reconsider” the words that are too easy to repeat as if they were fact.

A shirt purchased in 2003 for the weekly vigil in Jerusalem of the Women in Black

A shirt purchased in 2003 for the weekly vigil in Jerusalem of the Women in Black

Israel’s right to defend itself does not include killing hundreds of children in retaliation for the murder of three teen-agers. Or even retaliation for an almost-completely-nonlethal bombardment with rockets. Israel has experienced nothing to warrant genocide and the destruction of entire cities.

That is, nothing but the words that declare God has given Israel the land that belong(s)(ed) to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians must either leave or be killed. Words for us, as Americans, to REconsider. Because they make no sense for us as the protectors of equality and democracy.

We need to find a place where we are safe—where the ideas of equality and democracy that we want the world to believe define us are safe.

We are duplicitous enough for the entire world to see. We pride ourselves in holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” while we give aid in the amount of $2,000,000,000 per year to a nation that is determined either to subjugate another people in toto or drive them from their land. Are the Palestinian people created equal to the Israeli people or not?

Are we caught in a self-contradictory lie of “words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,” or are we so self-deceived that that we are willing to ask for “serenity,” when what we need to seek is “grace?”

We might not need the Prozac of “homeland security” if we stopped lying to ourselves. We are, I think, suffering from separation anxiety—our own separation from the ideals we say we believe.

[Note:  I trust if you listen to this hymn, you will be able to sort out the mild sectarianism and get to the words of the last stanza, “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” The evils we deplore are our “warring madness,” from the third stanza.]

“Praise Song for the Day,” by Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962)
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

“. . . and wild and sweet the words repeat. . . “

No one hungry here

No one hungry here

Christmas comes every year and I think about two of the most common human experiences that will most likely never be mine. The first is being so certain of my religion or my political ideas or my tribal allegiance that I am willing to do anything to defend one or the other by any means necessary. The other is being so poor that I do not know which will come first, a meal or death by starvation.

I know lots of people who have the first experience of certainty. I have never, to my knowledge, met anyone who has experienced the second. My guess is no one who is intimately acquainted with religious, political, or tribal certainty knows anyone who is in danger of starving to death.

It stands to reason. One could not know without doubt that they understand whatever their religion teaches, or that the organization of their society is absolutely the best, or that their clan is the best, strongest, and brightest without being part of a community of knowers. You couldn’t figure those things on your own.

And if you are part of a community that knows these things absolutely, you would never starve to death unless the whole community were in danger of starvation. Some priest or official or cousin would take care of you.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I wouldn’t make my sloppy unprofessional videos of my candles and my Christmas balls with music in the background if I didn’t. I bought my sister’s present in June because I saw it and knew she’d love it. I’m getting on a plane in about three hours to fly to Baton Rouge to spend the holiday with my brother and sister-in-law. And twice I’ve bought a package of over-decorated, empty-caloried sugar cookies at Kroger and eaten the whole package overnight when I don’t even like sugar cookies.

But the whole business makes me terribly uneasy because I don’t believe any of it—any of the “reason for the season,” that is. If

He heard the bells on Christmas Day

He heard the bells on Christmas Day

Jesus really is the King or whatever he’s supposed to be, then he has fallen down on the job. Especially if he’s the Prince of Peace or the Hope of the Poor, or any of those things. His followers are the people most likely in this country to support what we know as Apartheid in a country half-way around the world, the only one left in the world with that system of government. His followers are the most likely people I know who want to expel kids from this country who have never lived anywhere else just because they’re not part of our clan and happened to be with their parents when they crossed the border between our country and another.

Oh, I forgot, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, who say they have no religion, believe all those things about certain people, too.

I guess it’s not only the people who are absolutely sure about their religion who are likely to have those ideas about politics and family.

OK. So you can stop reading. You know where I’m headed. This sounds ever-so-much like the typical I-Hate-Christians sophomoric blah-blah-blah that people who read the Bible and say “See! Look here! It’s not true, it all contradicts itself, it’s all based on magic, blah-blah-blah” drag out all the time, but mostly at Christmas.

I don’t really mind if you or anyone you know is so certain of their religion they’d be willing to, for instance, start a war in Iraq over it. I guess more than anything I’m jealous. I miss that Santa Claus god I used to pray to religiously (pun intended). He was a pretty nice guy, looking out for me and mine all the time. I never got all the fine points of how one is supposed to believe and act towards him, but I was learning.

No, anyone’s belief is their business (even if they hate me because I’m a faggot and do unnatural things that the Santa Claus god says I shouldn’t do).

But here’s what gets me (and I’m not picking on the Baptists—they just happen to have set themselves up for ridicule in Dallas) is things like spending $135 million on a really fancy and world-class church building and then blaring music so loud no one can stand it—to keep the homeless people (who are probably hungry) from sitting in protected areas around the building out of the rain. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t such insipid music—dew-wop Jesus music, as my late friend Anne Gervasi would have said.

But don’t get all smug, you atheists and Methodists, and Muslims, and Hindus We have our own place. The Dallas Public Library does the same thing. At least we have taste at our building. The music is likely to be opera. Nothing worse than hearing Aida singing about her one true love when you’re dirty and hungry.

So I guess I’m going to go to my grave (well, perhaps not if John Boehner and Ted Cruz cut Social Security) without ever experiencing those two things, certainty that I know God (and, more important, he knows me back) and certainty that I’m hungry and likely to stay so.

Funny about Christmas in this country. We’ve made it a celebration out of both.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow thought sort of the same thing, I think.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“. . . Wop bop a lula wop bam boom. . .”

sheb in 'high noon'

sheb in ‘high noon’

In 1991 I was teaching a music appreciation course—a general survey of American music—at bunker hill community college in Boston.  Several of my students were older émigrés from the Soviet Union, given entrance to the u.s. because adult children of theirs were already permanent residents here. Their main goal at BHCC was to learn English.

One unit of the course plan was on film scores and TV theme songs. I thought the immigrant students especially could “relate” to music they might have heard on TV.

I began the unit with quintessentially American music, the theme song to “Rawhide,” which all Americans – at least all I knew – watched devotedly every Friday evening, 1959 to 1966. The score was composed by one of Hollywood’s most honored composers, Dimitri Tiomkin, with lyrics by another Hollywood legend, Ned Washington.

Imagine my surprise—no, shock!—when the Russian students began singing along in Russian.

It was, they assured me, a Russian folk song. I had read many secondary sources about Tiomkin which said he was “influenced by” Russian folk music, but I have yet to read anywhere that the “rawhide” tune is a Russian folk song. All I can say is my students were singing some Russian words to a tune they all knew, and it—apparently by coincidence was the same as TV music composed by another émigré from the soviet union—this barely a decade after McCarthy! I could compose a hit theme song, too, if I knew a body of folk music no one else knew

–note: I’m giving up on capital letters right now; I’m typing with one hand because my left arm’s in this sling from shoulder surgery; if Word makes a cap automatically, fine. capital letters are an affectation, anyway. After today I’ll be using dragon and talking to you. We’ll see if that can satisfy my tle writing compulsion. Is talking the same as writing? doubtful–

Clint eastwood (rowdy Yates), the star of the show, sultry, macho, and handsome as he was, did not capture my imagination as did his drover sidekick, sheb wooley (Pete Nolan). Eastwood was too sexy, too perfect a male image for me. I couldn’t go for his stellar qualities. His less flamboyant, more realistic—but equally seductive—friend was just hot enough for me.

We all knew sheb before rawhide. He was a pop singer. Country western, that is. Except for his one great hit, ‘the flying purple people eater,’ from 1958. This song sounds the way popular music should sound! Memorable tune, steady rhythm, not so loud and filled with electronic tracks you can’t hear the main melody. Oh, yes, and sensible words.

sheb wooley typifies much of the understanding of culture—both real and pop—that floats unbidden in my mind, of course, and my grandnephews might not say it, but they would think, ‘eeeeeeeeeeeeeew’ if they knew how much there is—and how much lingers also in their parents’ minds.

sheb with  Sharon Leighton Joyner- watch out for the bees!

sheb with Sharon Leighton Joyner- watch out for the bees!

Hair styles, for example. Need I say a word of explanation about the sensible coif of wooley’s friend, Sharon Leighton Joyner?

And blue jeans. Does anyone really think sagging your pants is sexy? As sexy as sheb with his tight jeans and chaps? Does anyone in the world –anyone with brains or normal sexual urges—really want to see Justin bieber’s bare ass? Certainly not his mother.

So I think I’m an old bore without a lick of pop culture sense. A fuddy-duddy –the smu students I spend so much time with surely have an au courant word for it—who can’t possibly have anything to say to the Millennials or their successors.

Then why are my o-so-up-to-date and technologically ept and sophisticated students unable to handle their assignment to research and write about the French performance artist ORLAN? unable to decide if they think her work is grotesque? Unable when their old professor who is unbearably lonely and immanently terrified of the death he is looking in the face can not only handle it but seeks out to ponder the questions ORLAN wants to raise.

My work is a fight against nature and the idea of God… the inexorability of life, DNA-based representation. And that’s why I went into cosmetic surgery; not looking to enhance or rejuvenate, but to create a total change of image and identity. I claim that I gave my body to art. The idea is to raise the issue of the body, its role in society and in future generations, via genetic engineering, to mentally prepare ourselves for this problem (Orlan, from ‘Synthetic Pleasures’) (1).

ORLAN’s ‘fight against nature and the idea of God… the inexorability of life’ is ‘anti-conformist’ enough to captivate the mind of the old professor.

Carnal Art loves the baroque and parody; the grotesque, and the other such styles that have been left behind, because Art opposes the social pressures that are exerted upon both human body and the corpus of art. Carnal art is anti-formalist and anti-conformist (2).

no se  no sagging here (thank goodness!)

no sagging here (thank goodness!)

The flying purple people eater. Bee-hive hairdos. A Russian folksong as the theme for an American western. My inability to type capital letters. Sagging pants.

One thing seems undeniable: the human desire to fight death wherever possible is too deeply rooted to be eradicated in any way. Body modification, plastic surgery, and the attempt to shape our bodies in the image of our desires to me seems one of the more benign manifestations of the denial of death. . . . (3)

Watch out! you purple people!
(1) ‘Orlan and Body Art.’ Imaging the Body. The Evergreen State College, Olympia Washington. Winter 06. Web.
(2) Akman, Kubilay. ‘Orlan and the Work of Art in the Age of Hyper-mechanical Organic Reproduction.’ International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 3.1 (January 2006). Web.
(3) Strenger, Carlo. “Body Modification and the Enlightenment Project of Struggling Against Death.” Studies in Gender & Sexuality 10.3 (2009): 166-171.

“Do the impossible. Restore life. . . “

[This is not, by the way, an attempt to mimic the poetry style of Mark Jarman.
I started writing this several days ago and only today decided to post it here—
yes, after I stumbled upon his poem—below. ]

Nicer than his or mine.

Nicer than his or mine.

Getting old (look—I know sixty-eight isn’t old these days
[sixty is the new forty and all that nonsense], but wait until you’re there)
leaves you wondering—if you have any sense at all—about things
you never thought about when you were young.

It’s possible I’ll live twenty-nine more years.
My father did.
Live to be ninety-seven, that is.
And my mother to ninety-two.
Whenever whatever however I write these days
it’s really the same notion,
a notion I bet you can’t understand
if you’re not at least, oh, say, sixty
and thinking about retiring or about living out your life
in some way you never thought would happen.

Eighteen years ago—
for a class on the history of Dallas I was taking
when I thought a second PhD would be a good idea
(which it turned out not to be)—
I found a half dozen “old” gay men to interview
about what the lives of gay men in Dallas were like
before Stonewall
(in case you don’t know, Stonewall was a gay club
the New York police raided in 1969—
I guess to show the faggots and drag queens they couldn’t
live with impunity
because their very being was an affront to society—
and for once the faggots and drag queens fought back.
It was ugly, Rose who was there told me.
It was not a wonderful liberating moment in the
history of civil rights, or even gay rights.
It was a brutal fight, Rose said.
People were brutalized even if they were not hurt.)

 —for a class on the history of Dallas I was taking—
I found a half dozen “old” gay men to interview
about what the lives of gay men were like
before Stonewall, as I said,
and what happened was that I found out more
about myself than about them.
I was—I am—humbled at the thought  (and wary)
of ending up like those dear men.
They were alone. The oldest was eighty.
The youngest sixty-seven as I recall.
But at forty-six or whatever age I was then,
I thought they were ancient.

1950s cement and steel.

1950s cement and steel.

One of them offered me a cup of coffee, which I accepted
more to humor him than to satisfy any need or desire of my own.
I didn’t really want to accept it because he made it in a pot
(one of those metal electric percolators that you plug into the
wall socket above your kitchen counter, and it bubbles
the life out of whatever Folgers grounds you happen to have on hand)
from which he dumped the grounds,
swished it out with water from the tap and no detergent
and refilled the basket with new grounds
and more water from the tap,
and it began to gurgle and make new coffee
without really having been washed and with
fewer grounds than he could possibly expect
would make a decent cup of coffee.
And I thought it was pathetic that the old man
lived that way on the umpteenth floor of a
high rise retirement community owned—I think—
by the Methodists somewhere down near Baylor Hospital
and he told me he couldn’t afford to live even there
if the Methodists didn’t subsidize him.

And I live on the fourth floor of a mid-rise apartment building
constructed in the 1950s out of concrete and steel
the way they build nothing these days,
but it’s too old to be fashionable—or even beautiful—
and it’s owned by the family of one of the old guys
who lives downstairs,
a gay man older than I am,
and this morning—except my coffee maker is a
French press and I use more coffee than I should
and it’s not Folgers—I made myself coffee
pretty much the way that old queen
living in the not-so-good neighborhood near Baylor
in that high rise with all those other old people
made coffee without thoroughly washing the pot
I thought of him and was shocked that I’ve turned out
to be more like him than I would ever have predicted
except he had been a Methodist preacher and had
grandchildren living in California who had not been
to seem him for a couple of years,
and he couldn’t afford to go to California to see them.

. . . living out your life in some way you never thought would happen. . .

. . . living out your life
in some way you never thought would happen. . .

I have so much in common with the old Reverend
I am simply stunned.
It’s not the coffee pot or the lack of funds to travel
to California or living in an old building instead of
one of those luxury apartments downtown in some
spiffy restored high rise like the Joule Hotel.
I do have those things in common with him,
but what is truly amazing
is that I remember him talking about
his loss of belief in the religion he preached all of his life,
and that what he thought about most was that
it didn’t matter if he died today or five years from today
because he would be the same dead
whenever it happened,
and he wasn’t sure what his life added up to so far.
That would have been the same whether
he was an old queen or not, he said, but he wished
he’d gotten on with the business
of being gay sooner
so there was enough of him left to find
the man he wanted to be with whenever he died.

I understand all of that now
even though I never was a Methodist preacher,
and I’ve been on with the business of being gay forever.
This is not depressing. And if you think it is,
you can’t understand just as I said at the top.
I want to
“. . . do the impossible.  Restore life to those you have killed.”
Beginning with me.

If I Were Paul
by Mark Jarman     

[Note: the reference is, I’m pretty sure, to the Apostle Paul writing an epistle. HK]

Consider how you were made.

Consider the loving geometry that sketched your bones, the passionate symmetry that sewed
flesh to your skeleton, and the cloudy zenith whence your soul descended in shimmering rivulets
across pure granite to pour as a single braided stream into the skull’s cup.

Consider the first time you conceived of justice, engendered mercy, brought parity into being,
coaxed liberty like a marten from its den to uncoil its limber spine in a sunny clearing, how you
understood the inheritance of first principles, the legacy of noble thought, and built a city like a
forest in the forest, and erected temples like thunderheads.

Consider, as if it were penicillin or the speed of light, the discovery of another’s hands, his oval
field of vision, her muscular back and hips, his nerve-jarred neck and shoulders, her bleeding
gums and dry elbows and knees, his baldness and cauterized skin cancers, her lucid and
forgiving gaze, his healing touch, her mind like a prairie.  Consider the first knowledge of
otherness.  How it felt.

Consider what you were meant to be in the egg, in your parents’ arms, under a sky full of stars.

Now imagine what I have to say when I learn of your enterprising viciousness, the discipline
with which one of you turns another into a robot or a parasite or a maniac or a body strapped to a
chair.  Imagine what I have to say.

Do the impossible.  Restore life to those you have killed, wholeness to those you have maimed,
goodness to what you have poisoned, trust to those you have betrayed.

Bless each other with the heart and soul, the hand and eye, the head and foot, the lips, tongue,
and teeth, the inner ear and the outer ear, the flesh and spirit, the brain and bowels, the blood and
lymph, the heel and toe, the muscle and bone, the waist and hips, the chest and shoulders, the
whole body, clothed and naked, young and old, aging and growing up.

I send you this not knowing if you will receive it, or if having received it, you will read it, or if
having read it, you will know that it contains my blessing.

In the Middle Ages the word was “oligarchy”

When I was a kid, all of us were given to believe that we could grow up to be President (well, the white boys, at any rate). At the very least we knew our single little solitary vote counted in elections. I remember the election of 1966 as vividly as any other in my lifetime. I remember standing on the steps of Watchorn Hall at the University of Redlands talking with two of my favorite people, all of us students in the School of Music

We were going to vote for Governor Brown for reelection, of course, rather than Ronald Reagan. It was the first vote of my life. It counted for very little. I lived in California through the entire reactionary (anti-intellectual, anti-middle class, anti-freedom of expression) eight years of Ronald Reagan’s magisterial term as governor.

Edwin Meese was Reagan’s “chief of staff.” He ran the executive branch of the state government. He told Reagan what to think (or at least what to say).

Then there was the Reagan White House. The same arrangement. That is, until Meese became Attorney General. He was implicated in all of the scandals of the Reagan administration.

Now Edwin Meese is in charge of the shutdown of the federal government.


1.       a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

Meese has never been elected to public office, only anointed to various overlord positions, most of them by Ronald Reagan.

He seems to be the brains behind the power of the new American Oligarchy—those few, the dominant class, the clique who are running our country. The coup d’état is a fait accompli. The takeover of the government is finished. We have let it happen. We have only ourselves to blame.

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which is designed to end all constraints on the amount of money a person can contribute to a political campaign. The Court, with its majority led by Antonin Scalia, the Edwin Meese of jurisprudence, will almost certainly throw out fifty years of its own decisions and allow Edwin Meese’s friends to contribute as much as they like to their far right-wing candidates.

We are living in the time of oligarchy. The few.

The few of those who are hiding behind the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision declaring that, in our oligarchy at any rate, corporations are persons and PACs are no more influential or dangerous than your local PTA, but PACs don’t have to reveal the sources of their money.

I want to go back to the days when any (white boy) kid could become President.

I’m sick and tired of hearing people talk about “entitlements” and other obfuscations of reality and morality –such as their irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act

Is this reprobate giving back his Social Security check every month?

Is this reprobate giving back his Social Security check every month? Oh, and by the way, as an example of his generosity, did you know he sued his brothers to gyp them out of their inheritance?

** Please see the NYT link at the end.

I don’t want to hear that my Social Security check or my use of Medicare is an “entitlement”—especially hear it with that sneer that our ridiculous politicians and some of my Republican friends plant on their upper lips when they say it.

I’ve been paying into SS since I was 12, and I deserve the modicum of return on my investment that I’m getting.  And I’ve been paying into Medicare since it was established.


The politicians who sneer at entitlements are – in case you hadn’t noticed – totally incompetent. They are a bunch of losers that somehow we have been bribed and hoodwinked into electing (if you voted for a Tea Bagger, don’t complain to me when you discover that you don’t get to start SS until you’re 80).

We have no one but ourselves to blame. But don’t you – if you want to remain my friend – use the word “entitlement” in my presence,

He's so incompetent he doesn't deserve any of the multiple pensions he will be given.

He’s so incompetent he doesn’t deserve any of the multiple pensions he will be given.


If you use the word, you are implying (no, saying outright) that my 56 years of work is not worth the paltry $1350 a month I get from SS. If it’s not, it’s because the geniuses who have shut down the government for the last week through their own selfishness and incompetence (especially the newest members of the lot) have managed my “contributions” badly.

Can you tell I’m furious. This whole business is a crock of shit. I mean that literally. I am not swearing. The shutdown of the government is fecal matter. And the Republicans, especially but not exclusively, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

New York Times


Who’s got my $3 to $4 million?

Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein and C.O.O. Gary Cohn, in the boardroom of Goldman’s headquarters, in New York City.

Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein and C.O.O. Gary Cohn, in the boardroom of Goldman’s headquarters, in New York City.

The young women in my classes are as likely to be economics or pre-med or engineering majors as the young men sitting next to them (many surveys bear this out–you can google them).

Early in each semester, I ask my students to chat in pairs for a couple of minutes and then introduce each other to the class. I ask them to tell us their major.

I ask them to do this because much of the work they will do is “collaborative.” At least my loose interpretation of “collaborative.”  That was the buzz-word in English Composition teaching a few years back. Even back then I didn’t have my students work “collaboratively” in the complex sense of the word the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) uses.

My students talk together to come up with ideas for writing, to discuss differing opinions about whatever topic is at hand, and to critique each other’s’ work before they submit it for evaluation.

This kind of working-together requires at least superficial acquaintance.

The point I started to make before I sidetracked myself was about women students and their career choices. It turns out an inordinate number of those young women who are pursuing double majors in, let’s say, international economics and statistics are likely to end up teaching world geography in a middle school somewhere or being a counselor in a non-profit organization for battered women. Some such “caring” profession.

I heard a discussion of this phenomenon on “Marketplace” on NPR recently.

Make $3 to $4 million here?

Make $3 to $4 million here?

I was shocked. Anthony  Carnavale, Economist at Georgetown University,  says that a pitifully small percentage of the women who major in subjects that should prepare them for high end professions use their education when they join the work force. Over their lifetimes they end up making $3 to $4 million less than they would have had they stuck to their guns.

I thought feminism had changed all of that. I guess not.

If you’re doing something menial like counseling battered women, you’ve cheated yourself out of one helluva lot of money, according to Prof. Carnavale. “’Oh, you left a lot of money on the table,’ [Carnavale] told me. ‘You left probably as much as $3 to $4 million on the table’” says Lisa Chow in the NPR piece. Chow continues,

A typical journalist’s lifetime earnings will be somewhere in the $2 million range. Not bad! But someone with math skills and an MBA [which Chow has] could get a management job and make $5 million or $6 million over the course of a career.

What does one’s annual income have to be to make $3 to $4 million over the course of one’s lifetime? Not that much. When you’re 25, if you go to work for Goldman Sachs at $100,000 per year (NO ONE at Goldman Sachs gets only $100,000 per year—to say anyone there “earns” their pay stretches a point so far I can’t say it—they “get” that dough) and you stay at that job until you’re 65, you earn a total of $4 million. In 2011, according to Forbes Magazine, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs got (earned? Give me a break!) $16,164,405, eight times the amount Lisa Chow can expect to earn in her entire life as a journalist.

If you never had a full time job in the profession for which you earned a PhD until you were 42 years old, you’ve probably left $3 or $4 million on the table, too.

That’s me.

In reality, except for a two-year stint as a shipping clerk at the now-defunct Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, CA, I didn’t have a full-time job in any profession until I was 42.

I’m not kvetching. I paid my money and I took my chances. The job I got when I was 42 was possible only because I got sober when I was 41. By that time a career at Goldman Sachs had long-since passed me by, but I’ve been fully employed as a professor since then. Those positions have under-utilized my skills, but I have supported myself moderately well since I sobered up.

Let’s say I’ve earned an average of $40,000 a year (to stretch another point almost to breaking) since I was 42, that is, 26 years ago. I’ve made just over $1 million. I would have made $3 or $4 million more if I’d worked at Kaiser Steel all this time. Of course, someone in China is doing that job now.

Do you have any concept how little money it’s possible to save for “retirement” when you’ve earned a mythical $40,000 a year for 26 years?

Lisa Chow - is she worth 2% as much as Lloyd Blankfein?

Lisa Chow – is she worth 2% as much as Lloyd Blankfein?

Think about those people who’ve worked as security guards at McDonald’s their entire lives. Or at the “customer service” desk at Walmart. Or in the city clerk’s office in Detroit. Or as a maintenance man at your apartment house. And think about your neighbor who has had a catastrophic illness and lost everything she owns. Or the mentally ill brother of the guy you work with who has been homeless since he was 25.

We haven’t done a very good job of working collaboratively to make sure our neighbors survive, much less flourish. (Our friends, yours if you’re reading this, and mine, are OK—we’re that kind of folks.)

I have a PhD. I’m fairly bright and (at this point) healthy. Gloria Gaynor sings my theme song (applied to all areas of my life, the one the song is about as well as to my having food on the table and a place to live). I will survive the poverty of my senescence. I’ll probably even survive the aloneness. But most Americans won’t do so well.

Got that? MOST Americans. I’m not making that up.