Inequality, Slavery, and Declining Quality of Life

I have never found it hard to believe that as inequality in wealth grows, the general quality of life for everyone, rich and poor inversely declines.  Today I was reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and read a comparison between North and South, during slavery.  This part of the book was about William Henry Seward,  who was in Lincoln’s cabinet.  I should mention that Seward had no ill feelings for the South before his trip, and was actually looking forward to traveling, only to cut his trip short:

At the time of their journey,  three decades of immigration,  commercial enterprise, and industrial production had invigorated Northern society,  creating thriving cities and towns.  The historian Kenneth Stampp well describes how the North of this period “teemed with bustling, restless men and women who believed passionately in ‘progress’ and equated it with growth and change;  the air was filled with excitement of intellectual ferment and with the schemes of entrepreneurs;  and the land was honeycombed with societies aiming at nothing less than the total reform of mankind. “

Yet, crossing into Virginia, the Sewards entered a world virtually unchanged since 1800.  “We no longer passed frequent farm-houses,  taverns, and shops,” Henry wrote as the family carriage wound its way through Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, “but our rough road conducted us…[past] low log-huts, the habitations of slaves.”  They rarely encountered other travelers, finding instead “a waste, broken tract of land, with here and there and old decaying habitation.”  Seward lamented:  “How deeply the curse of slavery is set upon this venerated and storied region of the old dominion.  Of all the countries I have seen France only whose energies have for forty years been expended in war and whose population has been more decimated by the sword is as much decayed as Virginia.”

I wanted to use this as an example as slavery is as unequal an economic system as one can have.  However, at this point in our history the inequality between rich and poor is growing.  Despite this, rich people,  as well as poor obviously, are very uneasy.  Our country is becoming less of a harmonious community. 

Meanwhile, being in Australia, which certainly has its own problems, one notices how at least in the city, where more people make a living wage and are taken care of by a larger social safety net than in the US, that the quality of life is quite high.  Despite walking for about five hours through various parts of the city yesterday, I saw not one homeless person. 

This is obviously a personal observation, but history and data seem to back it up.  The country does best overall economically when there is a thriving middle class that can purchase goods.  Why so many can’t seem to grasp this I don’t understand.  

Thanksgiving in Australia

It is already Friday here, but they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia,  so Thanksgiving is only really happening at home.  At least that is my reasoning why I am celebrating today.  I spent all morning listening to the Eagles destroy the Cowboys.  I come from Pennsylvania and my Dad is from Philly, so I was quite happy about that.  Still it is quite surreal listening to a football game at 7:30am.  

There is so much we take for granted that would be totally different if we were born somewhere else.  In the states we think of November as the end of fall and the beginning of winter, but here in Australia it is actually the end of spring and the beginning of summer.  Christmas happens in the summer.  They drive on the left side of the road, which even weirder seems to make people walk on the left side of the sidewalk.  For over half the day I am also in the future as Brisbane is 14 hours ahead of Austin. 

So well someone back home is celebrating Thanksgiving, with winter coming down, walking on the right hand of the street on Thursday, I am in increasingly warm weather, walking down the left hand side of the street on Friday, with no sign of Thanksgiving at all. 

How much do these differences change one’s perception of the world?  These are obvious differences, but so much of what we assume to be normal is an accident of birth.  It’s a strange world. 

However, the Eagles beating the Cowboys is definitely real.  There is much to be thankful for! 

7 Great New Albums By Career Artists

I am sorry my posts have been few and far between since reaching Australia.   This really has more to do with the fact that I left my computer behind more than anything.  I couldn’t justify traveling to the other side of the globe with it when I am only in country for 10 days.  Writing on one’s phone isn’t quite as appealing. 

I spent the afternoon walking around Brisbane exploring the city and taking pictures.  One of the albums I listened to was Weezer’s newest.  It struck me that not only have a bunch of great artists that have been around 20 or more years released albums this year, but that many have released records showing that they are still at the top of their game.  It has been a really great year for music so far.  Here are some records that came out this year that any music fan should own.   Also, if you are a fan of any of the following artists, but lost track somewhere along the way, I believe all of these records belong in a best of for each artist (In no particular order):

1.  Morrissey:  World Peace is None of Your Business

2.  Jackson Browne:  Standing in the Breach

3.  Marianne Faithfull:  Give My Love to London

4.  Leonard Cohen:  Popular Problems

5.  Bryan Ferry:  Avonmore

6.  U2:  Songs of Innocence

7.  Weezer:  Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Morrissey and Leonard Cohen have really never been in artistic decline.  Marianne Faithfull has always put out good work, but as a complete album I think this is her best since Broken English.   Jackson Browne’s Time the Conqueror was phenomenal, but before that album, ever since the 90’s, his records were too slick overall.  This new album is as good as his 70’s work, but updated for modern concerns.  I think this is U2’s best complete work since their 90’s trilogy, which has always been a favorite period of mine.  Although I really love Bryan Ferry’s Olympia,  I think this new one is front to back stronger.  I also think this is his best work since definitely the 80’s and probably even since Roxy Music’s Avalon.   As for Weezer, I felt that Hurley got a bum wrap, even if the production was a bit too slick, but this is without a doubt their best since their classic Pinkerton.  I would even put it ahead of the Green Album.  

Not only are these artists putting out vital work in relationship to their own careers, but I have trouble thinking of many new artists that have put out albums this year that are as front to back strong as these releases.  

I still need to get around to hearing Chuck D’s new album, as well as the Wu-Tang Clan’s.   I am also excited to hear the new AC/DC album that comes out next week. 

Ferguson From Afar

I am surprised at how much the media is covering the Ferguson case in Australia.   I left the news on last night while reading and must have seen four or five different segments on it.  I also read Officer Wilson’s testimony as well as Browns friend’s testimony as well this morning. 

I am biased against the police from my own personal interactions with them.  Also, the disparity in the accounts seems wide enough that I would have liked to have seen a trial.  But this is all mere speculation.  My dad is a lawyer and he has taught me that unless you have all of the facts one cannot really have more than a biased opinion about a case. 

However, whether Wilson is guilty or not, I completely understand the anger of the black community.  This does not mean that any kind of violence is warranted, only that if you know how the criminal justice system treats minorities, one can see how this case has taken on symbolic underpinnings.  

If you have no idea why people are angry, I highly recommend reading Matt Taibbi’s The Divide for starters.  He goes into depth in this book about how unjust our criminal justice system really is.  Taibbi is an excellent writer who makes great use of language to highlight the absurdity that is part of everyday American life for many.  What many people are put through would not seem out of place in a Kafka novel. 

Hopefully the violence will cease soon, but that a close examination of our criminal justice system will go on for a long time, until we can approach something close to equal justice for all.  

The Balls of Advertisers

The balls that advertisers have:  Nothing says Australian Cricket like Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In Brisbane reading with the TV on in the background.  A KFC commercial has come on twice that shows a family from the 70’s to the present eating fried chicken while watching cricket.   One is supposed to take away the idea that KFC is as much a part of Australian tradition as cricket.  Think about it, shitty fried chicken from an American company that originated in Kentucky is boldly claiming to be part of cultural tradition in a foreign country.  It is delivered with total sincerity.  The commercial is meant to pull on the heart strings.  When this kind of distortion,  or bold faced lie, can be delivered without blinking an eye during casual viewing, is it any wonder that companies and their politicians can get away with murder? 

Bryan Ferry’s Avonmore

Bryan Ferry has a new album out called Avonmore.   The album sounds like somewhere in between Roxy Music’s Avalon and his 80’s output, however it does feature enough modern touches to no be stuck in the past.  I have always liked Bryan Ferry, from his early Roxy Music days until now.  Although I don’t think anyone thinks Bryan Ferry sings as well as Bryan Ferry does, which is actually part of his charm, his voice has always been distinctive enough to be interesting to me as a listener. 

I know that there are some of you who probably view his music as too slick, but if you think of music as being visual it has the ability to create it’s own world.  I can’t help but think of some kind of futuristic film noir when I put one of his records on. His music would fit perfectly in the Alan Rudolph film Trouble in Mind.  Even his lesser songs have interesting textures and atmosphere.   He has consistently done his own thing outside of the trends of the day.  Even during the glam era, Roxy Music were much stranger than most of the competition.  Their album For Your Pleasure is a beautifully unique oddity. 

If you are someone that likes latter period Roxy Music, or his early solo career, then this album will please you.  He is still out there painting his own universe, for which I am grateful. 

Fun at the Airport

In LAX waiting to fly to Australia.   I realized today that there was no way I could blow up a plane, aside from any moral misgivings I might have.  Under no circumstances could I ever choose to have an airport be the last place I see.  How depressing is that shit?!!!  Not only do you have to blow yourself up, but you have to agree to an airport being the last place your feet touch the ground. 

Kevin Russell once said that an airport was, “a mall, a jail, and a bus stop”, all added together.  But like one of those great bands where the sum is infinitely bigger than the sound of the members, an airport might be worse.  I’ve spent a night in jail.  It made me want to kill someone, but not myself. 

At what point did Americans become such a pussified fear ridden country?   One dude has explosives in his shoes that don’t even go off, and we take our shoes off when entering an airport for the rest of eternity.  

And when did we start having stores in airports which have items that cost more than the GDP of some third world countries?  Why do they hate us?  Because when Muhammed is the first from his village to study abroad, the first thing he sees is a purse that costs more than every hut in his village combined. 

And does fear of flying turn everyone on a plane into rambling idiots?  I have never heard one conversation on a plane that didn’t sound like the adults in Charlie Brown.  Do you know what the sound of crushed souls combined with the failure of the test driven American education system is like?  And let’s not even talk about the babies.

Oh, don’t go getting your panties in a bunch, I am just having fun.