Saturday, December 17, 2011

Counter this Culture!

The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac, 1958

Jack Kerouac wrote a bunch of books in the fifties, using his ‘automatic’ writing style, like a jazzman. No re-writes, only one time to get it right. The Dharma Bums (‘dharma’ means ‘truth’) is one of these books, which included “On the Road.” Kerouac’s writing style inspired a younger poet named Gary Snyder to adopt that same zen. Some critics would call Kerouac an amateur, but when you think of it, laboring over each word or sentence with a nail file might be easier than letting it all come out well the first time. Ask John Coltrane.

Gary Snyder, under the pseudonym “Japhy Ryder,” is Kerouac’s fellow ‘bum’ in this book – along with other pseudo-nonymous fellows like Allen Ginsberg (“Alvah Goldbook”); Michael McClure (“Ike Oshay”); Neal Cassady who appears in “On the Road” too (here as “Cody Pomeroy); Kenneth Rexroth (“Reinhold Cacoethes” – don’t laugh); Alan Watts (“Arthur Whane”) and John Montgomery (“Henry Morley” – a truly eruditely odd individual and Berkley librarian). And who knows, maybe Ferlinghetti or William Burroughs are buried in here too somewhere, under some verbal rock.

The younger Snyder actually teaches Kerouac a thing or two. Like orthodox Buddhism, which was in fashion among the literati of San Francisco in the 50s. They’d done got sick of Jesus evidently. And mountain-climbing. And camping. Both had a thing for nature, and really the ‘high’ points of this book are Kerouac’s meditations on mountain-tops, in deserts, under trees and on the beach. Snyder gets Kerouac to buy a little tent, sleeping bag and cook set. Kerouac eventually sleeps more in the sleeping bag outdoors than inside his shack at Cortes Madera in Marin County, just over the hill from Muir Woods.

The book has a simple layout. First the greatest poetry reading of American time - the October 13, 1955 Six Gallery poetry reading in San Francisco. Ginsberg read “Howl” and Snyder read “A Berry Feast.” Kerouac encouraged the crowd and bought wine for all. Then Snyder, Kerouac and Montgomery go up and down 'Matterhorn' Mountain in 2 days – and that says something for amateurs. Snyder finally makes it, while Kerouac enjoys the Buddha of quitting just before the peak. Kerouac follows that with a cross-country hitch-hiking and hopping-trains trip back to North Carolina, where his family lives, to test his camping skills. And if you’ve ever let yourself be guided by the accidents of the road while hitching, you will enjoy his description.

After that, Kerouac and Snyder settle into a shack at Cortes Madera, have naked, drunk bongo parties, savor their simple foods and do that Buddhist thing, or at least talk the Buddhist talk. You see, Snyder is scheduled to go to Japan and join a Zen monastery of some sort, and that hangs over most of the book. Snyder encouraged Kerouac to become a fire lookout as he had done, so Kerouac gets a job on Desolation Mountain up in the Cascades near the Canadian border, the same place as Snyder. Kerouac spends two months alone on a mountain above the clouds doing everything but seeing fires – mostly getting close to nature and satori. There the book ends.

How real was Kerouac’s Buddhism? Kerouac is really a very American soul, and his Catholicism saturated his Buddhism, which he saw as one thing. Watts, the ortho-Buddha-boy, said Kerouac had “Zen flesh but no Zen bones.” Even in the Dharma Bums, Kerouac (who’s pseudonym in this book is “Ray Smith”) gives Snyder’s Buddhism a running critique. Later, of course, Kerouac dropped the Buddha talk and walk. He later died of alcoholism, which is a sub-note lurking in this book like an infestation of ants.

Kerouac’s writing, if you’ve never read the beast, veers between colloquialism and poetry, in long drawn-out sentences. It is always accessible. He’s child-like and childless. This book gives a good picture of American life in the artsy margins. A bunch of refugees from capitalism - like Snyder, who was basically an anarchist - refuse to do an honest day’s work if they can help it, and live to enjoy life instead. When money, perhaps, was not the only thing. A lost time, indeed. When regular people had some standing, and simplicity was not a curse-word.

And I bought it at Mayday Books.
"HOWL" is also on sale at the Mayday.
(written with as few edits as possible, K-style.)
Red Frog, December 17, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Look Who We’re Calling 'Comrade!'

The 5% and the 10% and the 20%

The well known 1% figure used by Occupy Wall Street was first popularized by Joseph Stiglitz, a Keynesian. He said the 1% own 35-40% of the U.S. economy. That, however, is not the majority of the economy, nor the only people who made money over the last 30 years from Wall Street. A 35% stake in a company is not the same as outright control. That would be 51%. Nor is it overwhelming control – 70%-80%. The U.S. is quite frankly 'owned' just like a large corporation. Thinking that our problem is only the 1% obscures the allies of the 1%.

Nearly half (47%) of all members of Congress are millionaires - and two-thirds of the Senate. Democrats are actually wealthier than Republicans in both houses. Al Franken has assets of nearly $13M. Even Michelle Bachmann is a millionaire, but not on that level -Yahoo News, 11/16/2011 and Center for Responsive Politics.

“The average income of the richest tenth of the world population is now about nine times that of the poorest tenth, the Paris- based OECD said today in a report. The gap has increased about 10 percent since the mid 1980s. Mexico, the U.S., Israel and the U.K. are among the countries with the biggest divide between rich and poor, while Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic are among those with the smallest gap. – Bloomberg, 12-5-2010

In the world, 10% of the population owns 85% of the wealth – Wikipedia

The top 10% owns 71% of the U.S. economy – Ron Paul, Think Progress and Fairfield Academy.
The top 10% own 66% - Oberlin Revue.
The top 20% own 85% - Domhoff.

Academics favor looking only at the 1%, the ‘400 individuals’ of the 1% and the quintile (20%) methodology. I think, frankly, this obscures a more accurate analysis of the U.S. class structure. But it comes up with gems like this: 6 members of the Walton family (Wal-Mart) own as much as the bottom 30% of the U.S. population - Sylvia Allegretto, an economist from UC – Berkeley, 12/8/2011

“President Bush said during the third election debate last October that most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans. In fact, most - 53 percent - will go to people with incomes in the top 10 percent over the first 15 years of the cuts,” - Primer-Wealth

“The top ten percent of households owned 82 percent of all stock-market wealth... The top ten percent of the U.S. population owns 81.8 percent of the real estate, 81.2 percent of the stock, and 88 percent of the bonds. (Federal Reserve Bank data in Left Business Observer, No. 72, Apr. 3, 1996, p. 5)”. - Primer-Wealth. Also Richard Wolff.

The top 9% increased their earnings in the last 25 years, while all other groups lost. – 673Bn increase for top 1%; $140bn increase for top 4%; $29Bn increase for top 9%. - Mother Jones, “It’s the Inequality, Stupid.”

Everyone but the top 10% has lost an average of $900 on pre-tax income -Wikipedia

In 1998 the top 5% owned 59% of the wealth – Richard Wolff

Bottom 90% of population have 73% of debt. – My Budget 360. At least we lead in something!


“In 2006, 7% of all households were millionaires - 9.3 million people were in these households.” – Wikipedia.

What is the number of millionaires now? (based on net worth over $1M - Financial Assets - minus household value, car/household goods value) There are 3.1 individual millionaires re financial assets - High Net Worth Individuals - in the U.S. If each household is 4 people, that means 12.4% of the population; 3 people, 9.3%. Some are children, of course. And remember – this is a MINIMUM of a $1M. Most have over that.
- based on Wikipedia 2010 / WSJ 2011 figures.

Re: Blacks and Hispanics – since 2006, wealth fell 66% among Latino families and 53% among black families. So the wealth ‘gap’ is also an ethnic / national origin gap. – PEW Center.

“There are about 5.5 million U.S. households with at least $1 million in assets (excluding home, etc.), or about 5 percent of the population. Millionaires control 56 percent of the country’s wealth” - Fidelity, second-largest U.S. mutual- fund company. – Bloomberg, 11/6/2011

The Millionaire "Next Door"?

From Obama, yesterday pretending to be Teddy Roosevelt, all the while never having busted a trust: “Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year.” – Obama, 12/7/2011

Note the distinction between those who earn a million a year, and those who ‘have’ a million dollars in some form. Bloomberg noticed this right away. Obama does not use the method of most analysts who look at this metric. These analysts do not include the value of the house, car, furnishings or contents when they estimate millionaires. Only capital from other sources. Having a real million in assets is not the same as earning a million a year either. Evidently both kinds of millionaires - those who have a real million and those who have a million in all assets - are in Obama's desired base. Only those, rhetorically at least, who make a million a year are not. I won't go into a description of the Democrat's donor base at this point - suffice it to say many make a million a year. Obama and the Democrats are still #1 in donations from Wall Street this year, or perhaps a near #2.

Here Obama makes a play for the upper middle and upper class vote – you know, people who are lawyers, managers, doctors, professors, some small businessmen, even teachers, but who aren’t quite in the real millionaire club. And even the real millionaires. This has been a solid voting base for the Democrats. Obama himself is actually in the not-quite-a-true-millionaire club, if you include the value of his large home in Chicago's Hyde Park. And evidently he's also making a play for the real millionaire' next door.' The one 90% of the population probably don't live next to.

December 8, 2011
A Tip of the Hat to Rick and his Wonder Dog
Red Frog