Individualism or Interdependence?

Long ago, most Americans lived as Laura Ingalls Wilder chronicled in the “Little House” series.  Pa Ingalls and family were out in the wilderness, living with the rhythm of the land and putting away what they could to survive long winters and perhaps beyond.  The family’s net worth was what they had around them.

That life has been replaced with interdependence based on a dollar value assigned to absolutely everything.  We all get by with any extra scratch, should there be some, not stored up to get through the winter but properly invested in convertible assets.  This means everyone is subject to  the “free market”, which determines the value of all assets including experience, talent, and work.

That interdependence has changed our world to one with much less hard work or struggles against nature, and yet to many it has become as hostile as any winter on the Great Plains.
Continue reading

The Vastness of America

For the first time in the 12 years of Barataria, a week went by without a post. I was busy, driving a Budget rent-a-truck with everything Raquel and I owned, along with August the westie and Tony the tiger-cat, to San Francisco. But that’s not as important as what we saw or how it is consecrated on Memorial Day.

In South San Francisco. Where I actually live, there is a Chinese cemetery. It was started at a time when Chinese could not be buried with “white” people, but kept up as such long after the racism abated. Today, it flutters with red, white, and blue like any other hallowed ground.

How big is America? It it as big as Wyoming, measured out by Interstate 80? Is it as big as a new start, a new career with a new wife in a new city? It is all of that and more, so much more. It is as big as the hearts that imagined and created and defended it, despite rejection and scorn. America is bigger than any of us can imagine.

Continue reading

A New Life

Life has a way of happening. Sometimes, you can make it happen, despite what the inertia of the world is hurdling you towards.

This is about the start of a personal journey. I am now married to a wonderful woman, Raquel, who is from Shenyang, China. We will be moving together to San Francisco next week. I do not want to dwell on personal details, especially given that Raquel is even more private than I am.

But it’s a great adventure all the same. And there are some aspects of it that I think the world might be interested in.

Continue reading

If We Count Our Blessings

While discussing a useful politics that actually points to ownership of the future developing around us, it’s useful to discuss what’s really wrong with what we have now.  This piece from two years ago does just that.

My concern is no longer with politics, per se. “Politics,” as we know it, has come to be so totally divorced from policy it is largely meaningless anyway. It’s primarily about identity, which is what far too much of language is actually about.

So let’s instead talk about politics, the art and science of human interaction.

I am far more interested in anger as the primary response to … well, everything. Every interaction, artful or not, seems to produce a lot of anger. The pathology of this pathological response is worth thinking through in many ways – if for no other reason than to cool it down.

Continue reading

French Across the Water

This piece first ran six years ago.  It’s a worthy repeat on a day when I am very tied up in other things.  I will explain shortly.

Comprenez-vous? Since language is equal parts communication of ideas and status, conversational bits of French have long been a handy way to say, “I am educated.”  French was used as the court language of England from the Norman Conquest in 1066 until Henry V in 1413 (which, as the father of high English, has a lot to do with why Shakespeare gave him a good treatment).  An estimated 28% of English words are French in origin, but the words and phrases absorbed directly are the ones that set you apart.  They’re still used in the UK, at least in high-toned magazines like the Economist, but in the US it’s more likely to come off as obnoxious.

I have at times called this “Gentlemen’s French”, or what you have to know to read old or educated books.  Naturally, fine ladies can use them for the same purpose, so the term seems rather stale.  I’m leaning towards “Cross-Channel French” or “French Across the Water” to include Americans, even if we rarely use it as the British upper class still do.

You may prefer to think of these words and phrases as “Cocktail French”, so pour something into stemware and grab a piece of cheese to get into the mood.  Here is my list of French words I think every English speaker should know – for the fun, if not the hoity-toit.

Continue reading

On a Personal Note

This is a dark time for America. There is an ongoing attempt to obstruct justice, led by the Attorney General himself. Congress will have to act one way or the other in what is likely to become the worst constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

Meanwhile, damage is being done constantly. It what appears to be a last-ditch effort, as if they know what is coming, Georgia and other states are passing highly restrictive abortion bans which are clearly unconstitutional. They seem to know that they will never have another chance.

For me to say, “Hang on, we’ll get through this” would betray the obvious privilege I have as a person who is not directly affected by all of this. And yet we know that this will pass one day, especially if we band together and make sure that it passes. On this, I assure you, I am with you. But I am also concerned by what might come next.

Continue reading

Corporate Rule?

The Honourable East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth to represent the crown in all matters of trade with the nations of the far east in 1600. It was a simple beginning to what evolved two and half centuries later into the worst possible anecdote for corporate power unchecked. With its own army, it subdued the Indian subcontinent and forced China to import vast quantities of opium.

Corporations have a unique ability to transcend national boundaries. They represent opportunity as well immediate cash on the table. In a world opening up as never before they have the first foot in the door and an opportunity to create quick profits for everyone. They rarely set out to do evil, but with their unique position largely unchecked temptation lurks just behind every fair deal.

The example of the East India Company is not antique. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.

Continue reading