Tag Archives: capitalism

My Mother Made Me a Commie

My mother and I watched lots of old movies in the 1950s on a tiny TV screen in our tiny winterized screened in breezeway.  My mother knew all the supporting players by name.  Her own sisters had been MGM contract players.  She was never political and always voted Republican except for George McGovern.  But without her knowing it, the movies we watched left a deep impression on me.  They reinforced the idea of “getting in other people’s shoes whether they were worn out with holes in the bottom or velvet ones studded with pearls. I could feel for the “down and out” while coveting the lacy ball gowns, crystal goblets, and fox furs. It nurtured my love of contradiction that persists to this day.

The economist, Milton Friedman, was right in one respect. He once said, “When a crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas lying around.” This statement became the basis for Naomi Klein’s frightening book “The Shock Doctrine.” In it, she chronicles the ways his followers jammed his free market ideas down the throats of citizens in various countries when a crisis, man made or natural, occurred. Some of the ideas lying around during the 1930s and 1940s that produced movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) were often anti-capitalist, labor friendly and surprisingly saturated with feminism.  I watched “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947) this past Christmas. It’s about a hobo who occupies (YES, Occupies!) a rich man’s mansion every winter when the rich guy goes to his winter home in Virginia.   The hobo wears his clothes, smokes his cigars, and drinks his wine. Year after year nobody noticed anything awry.

One day on his daily stroll through Central Park. The hobo happens upon a homeless WWII vet (YES, veterans are always treated like crap even after [1]“the good war”.) Against his better judgment the hobo takes in the veteran. The daughter of the rich man runs away from her snooty college and decides to hide in her father’s mansion. She overhears the hobo confessing that he’s a hobo to the vet. She decides to pretend to be poor so she can stay there too and cuz the Vet is cute. Turns out that the vet has a bunch of ex GI buddies and their wives and kids who also need housing, so, somewhat reluctantly, the hobo takes in all of them. The vet and his buddies then hatch a plan to purchase an army barracks and turn it into communal housing. Well there are many more complications when the rich man (who started out poor) comes back to New York to look for his missing daughter. When they finally meet, the spunky girl confronts her father. She tells him that she doesn’t understand why they should have big empty houses when there are people who need them. Then she convinces him to disguise himself as a bum and join the merry band of people inhabiting his mansion. And soon her divorced socialite mother joins up disguised as a poor cook.

Other movies of that era also have spunky females like Barbara Stanwyck in “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) who writes a Martha Stewart-like column in a NY newspaper about her Connecticut stately farm. Truth is she’s a poorly paid journalist who lives in a one bedroom flat in NYC.  “Holiday Affair” (1949) is about a war widow raising her son and trying to find a good father while trying to maintain her dignity and independence. “My Man Godfrey” (1936) is my favorite film. Filmed at the height of the Depression, it opens with a bunch of rich people going on a scavenger hunt. One of the “items” they must find is a “forgotten man”. So they go to where all the homeless are shacked up tin order to find one. And audiences loved these stories of people struggling together in an often dog eat dog world. They still do if given the chance. “The Devil Wears Prada” is in this tradition, but not quite as subversive as the old movies.

Besides giving people work on sewer systems and dams in the 1930s, the WPA funded writers, artists and photographers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another WPA type deal in order to have writers and artists come up with other ideas.  Margaret Thatcher once famously said about financial capitalism  aka Milton Friedman’s“free market” that “there is no alternative,” referred to as TINA.  But there must be.  There were other ideas not so very long ago.  Time to dig them up and repot them.  We need to  “imagine” a better world that we can actually Occupy rather than watch on the TV.  I was lucky to watch old movies with my mother.  No, she didn’t make me a Commie, but she did help make me a Contrarian.

[1] “The Good War” was the name of the 1985 book by Studs Terkel. It is composed of first hand accounts of veterans of World War II.

Coops to Co-Ops and what it has to do with The Hunger Games

A Note:  I am going to try like heck to take a break from this kind of writing and am going to post stories of my life that some people think are worth jotting down, like the time the boys in 6th grade locked me in a pit.  So look for that short story called “The Pit and the Playground.”  Or the time Roger O hit me with a baseball bat (although it wasn’t his fault.  I was chasing after Johnny M. and ran across home plate.)  Or when Qwenny R pushed me over the bridge into Tinley Creek and why I deserved it.  Or when Barbara Van hit me over the head with a rock and why I deserved it.  Or why Miss Bloemendal kicked me out of my 3rd grade classroom every week for things like marching in the opposite direction to “Onward Christian Soldiers and why I didn’t deserve it.” Or why 30 years later I got kicked out of a Hollywood talent agency for having the Puck Syndrome and why I didn’t deserve it or maybe I did.  Or why after a meteoric rise in politics  I left the Democratic Party because I saw it was a coop and not a co-op and more like a Roach Motel.  Why like a Cicada I lay low for awhile and then go all buzzy ape sh*t crazy every 17 years.  Find out how this Hollywood agent ended up on a cattle ranch in Montana.  Join me on the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” that has been my life. ©

Most of us at one time or another experience a cooperative organization as opposed to one of hierarchy.  In smaller cities especially in rural America there are food cooperatives and banking cooperatives.  There are also insurance cooperatives.  That’s how “insurance” started hundreds of years ago amongst merchants who sailed the seas and had to worry about shipwrecks.  Farmers would lend each other seed if one’s own crop was destroyed. They pooled their machines. Continue reading

A Commoning Ditty

Who does the rain belong to? 
Is it the lord or is it thee? 
Who does the mist belong to?
Is it the master or the tree?

Whoever owns the tree and plain,
Will own the water and the rain.
The rain should belong to all of life
And not the owner and his wife.

“Look to Your Betters”

This morning I was discussing rich people with my husband; specifically the rich who own and race horses.  My husband likes to bet on the ponies.  A few times a year I join him in the action.  Yesterday was “The Breeders’ Cup” where rich people bring their best horses from all over the world to try and win gobs of money and get lots of prestige in a win or two.  One rich guy rented a whole 737 to transport just one horse.  This in the same week the satraps in Congress refused to extend the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program of 2009 aka food stamps for hungry people.

In yesterday’s comments there was a link to a video called “The Four Horseman”.  In it a scholar mentions that one of the marks of the end of empire is the raising up of the chef to celebrity status.  That happened in the Roman empire.  And yesterday, as I watched chef Bobby Flay interviewed about his race horse, I commented that the end might really be nigh.  I like Bobby Flay, by the way, and use a lot of his recipes.   He’s really good at what he does and came from the working class, so I’d rather see him with a fancy schmancy horse than some rich fracking heiress.  But the whole bread and circus aspect of it coupled with poor folks betting in the hopes of sitting in the box seats is just too much for me to enjoy the day. Continue reading

Revolution Starts with the Fence

Is there revolution in the air?  Russell Brand is talking about it. Yves Smith at “Naked Capitalism” asks if it’s time to look at alternatives to capitalism.  She cites Brand’s writings and recent essays by Ian Welsh as examples of whiffs of revolutionary expressions.

Where to start?  I am reminded of one of Gary Larson’s great cow cartoon entitled “Cow Poetry” in which the beatnik cow laments the confines of the electric fence.

by A Far Side Cow

 The distant hills call to me.
Their rolling waves seduce my heart.
Oh, how I want to graze in their lush valleys.
Oh, how I want to run down their green slopes.
Alas, I cannot.
Damn the electric fence!
Damn the electric fence!

Don’t be afraid of the electric fence.  Roam free on the free range.

Notes:  Russell Brand doesn’t vote.  He never has.  It took me awhile to get to that place, but I wrote about it last year in “Power to the Apathetic”.  And as Brand points out, it’s not apathy but more like righteous indignation and not wanting to be complicit in the wrong doing of the corrupt system.

The Feeling is Mutual

This afternoon I’m starting my next series called “Ruminating with the Ruminants:  Conversations with the Cows.”  I’ve been chewing my cud  for the last 4 weeks on the notion of charity and philanthropy.

I’ve been going to various summer fundraisers and appreciation picnics.  Here in beautiful Big Sky country with its rivers running through it, the summer residents have arrived.  Summer is the perfect time for community groups to invite these people to partake in the community by giving them an opportunity to rub elbows with the locals and to contribute monetarily to the various non-profits that vie for scarce dollars in a county that has only 3500 people in it and is the size of the state of Rhode Island.

I often sigh a lot when I’m eating my plate full of food at these affairs.  By and large, the people that run these organizations and those that sit on their boards  are dedicated and goodhearted folks.  The reason that I sigh is that I wish we didn’t need these charities.  I wish everyone made a living wage so we didn’t have to help people get decent food to eat.  I wish everyone made a decent living with short work hours and work weeks so that they could spend time with their kids instead of having after school volunteers take care of them.  If we had free college education, we wouldn’t need to have fundraisers for scholarships or to buy a kid a tuba.  If we banned chemicals and other crap from our crops and our cows,  we wouldn’t need as many cancer care groups.  If we really embraced community, we would take care of our retirees and respect their wisdom and reward their work years with decent pensions.  In a my wishful world, everybody would be at the picnic because everything would be done in mutual support of each other. There would be no classes of the haves and have nots.

Summer Sweet Grass Picnics Continue reading

Vegetable Medley

In my last entry I described a dish I made this week, Tikka Masala.  It’s an Indian dish with a rich blend of flavors.  As I stirred in the spices to the simmering onions and tomato paste and waved my hand over the pan and towards my nostrils just like I’ve seen chefs do on The Food Network,  I sighed, “Ahhhh”. Already the meal was satisfying.  And later when we ate it, we sighed again and commented on the complexity and the surprises in this exotic dish.

But if I go out to dinner in this tiny Montana town, “The steak (chop, fish, chicken) comes with either a baked potato or “our vegetable medley.”  The vegetable medley is so bland that I can hardly tell you what’s in it.  I think it’s got some zucchini, carrots, and those odd tasteless things with the odd texture, the sugar snap pea.  The spice is butter with a little salt.  Ho hum.

It came to me the other night that the “vegetable medley” is the apt description for the people that inhabit this place.  Having lived in New York City for over fifteen years with its rich blend of peoples, I often long for the sound of foreign accents, strange headgear, and different skin tones.

This is not to say we don’t have our local eccentrics (and by now I’m sure I’m considered one of them with my hats,  horn rimmed glasses, and big scarves).  IMG_0558 - Version 2

There is some satisfaction here in conformity and the sameness of even the vegetables with your entree.  There is comfort in the same Parmesan cream sauce over penne and the cream of mushroom soup. The ideas and the conversation can be much like that bowl of soup or that vegetable medley; a little weather conversation and concern about rain mixed with news of old Sally tripping over a frozen cowpie and breaking her hip while sorting cows.

When I long to talk about the protests in Taksim Square or the NSA spying crimes, I bite my tongue and talk of how to make the perfect Manhattan or why Hendriks gin is better than Bombay sapphire as an alternative to the endless discussions of drought and how the tomatoes are growing.  Instead of talking about Booz Allen Hamilton, I talk just booze.

Fortunately with summer comes the summer tourists.  Every once in awhile somebody slightly more like Tikka Masala than Vegetable Medley comes through the door and we engage in asking questions about each others’ countries and customs.   I savor these conversations like I do a good Chimichurri sauce accompanying my flank steak.