Monday, July 26, 2010


While on vacation last week we caught a late night discussion between Bill O'Reilly and John Stossel (both of them well-paid broadcasters and political pundits) that left me with a really bad taste in the mouth, so to speak.
They were discussing some Republicans' reluctance to vote for extending unemployment benefits for out-of-work people. (Granted, part of the issue was the fact that further unfunded benefits add to the national debt.)
Stossel seemed to be saying that during the Great Depression, unemployed workers left their homes and moved to "Hoovervilles" outside of cities. (The picture above is actually the "Bonus Army" encampment outside of Washington, DC, but it's the same general idea. You left home and you're camping out looking for work.)
Stossel said "relief societies" took care of these peoples' wants and needs, and did it in a far more economical manner than any government.
The real facts are that--obviously--neither Stossel or O'Reilly has ever had to draw unemployment. And probabably neither one really knows anyone who has. They're smug and affluent, and their theorizing is in danger of approaching the "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" level.

Unemployment Compensation is one of the best things to come out of the post-Hoover era. An employer pays a small percentage into a fund as Unemployment Compensation Tax. When an employee is laid off, the employee can collect a small amount from the fund for a stipulated period. In this manner, the beneficiary can feed himself and his family, does not have to give up his living quarters, and can retain a modicum of dignity while looking for alternative employment.
The payoff for society is that we don't have families camping in vacant lots or living in vehicles.
Sometimes you wonder if the Chinese didn't have a good idea in rounding up the bureaucrats every few years and making them work in the rice fields. Might be good therapy for some of these pundits who are telling us what is good for us.

And while we're at it, I think we've had enough of this "let's go back to the Twenties" mentality. It's no secret that the "Middle Class" is going bye-bye. And through the magic of compound interest the rich are getting richer. All this is fine if you're talking about creating jobs, and so on, if that's what's really happening.
But now we're hearing that some people who really ought to know better are still touting a "Flat Tax" or "Fair Tax." Despite our national pluralism and diversity we're still in danger of ending with something less than a middle class republic.
Is there anybody out there talking sense these days?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yadkin River Blues

The stock market surged yesterday after aluminum giant Alcoa posted better-than-expected earnings. As Wall Street applauded, more than a few people in North Carolina were scratching their heads. They're in a legal battle with Alcoa over the use of the Yadkin River, which flows south from the Blue Ridge Mountains, through central North Carolina, eventually becoming the Pee Dee River and exiting to the sea in South Carolina.

Years ago Alcoa build four hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin and used the power to run a smelter which is now closed. They would like to renew their fifty-year lease on the river, but some locals and politicians say "no."
If the state misses this chance, it won't get another one for 50 years. Meanwhile, Alcoa will have perfected a perfidious kind of globalism: It still generates power from the Yadkin, and the power is still linked to industrial jobs—only the jobs are in Iceland.
The only certainty is that lawyers in Washington and Raleigh will be haggling about this for a long time to come.

But back to the Yadkin:

Years ago our friend Glen leased a small farm along the banks of the Yadkin. Glen was never a small man, and some say he topped the scales at well over three hundred pounds at times. North Carolina can get hot in the summer, and this year's no exception. It's always cooler in the shade by the river.

One summer I went down by the river to cool off. The fish wasn't biting and after a while I got to feelin' kinda lazy. I said what the hell, ain't nobody around, so I got off all my clothes, left 'em right there on the bank, and got into the river. The water was warm and I just floated on my back lookin' up at the blue sky and the clouds.
It was so relaxin' just floatin' there thinkin' about nothin' and after a while I just drifted off to sleep.

I still don't know how long I was asleep, but some time later I bumped up against something--it was a bridge piling--and I woke up. "Where the hell am I?" I musta floated almost two miles downstream. There was a highway with cars goin' over the bridge!

"Holy s--t! What am I gonna do?" This was gonna be hard to explain. I waited for almost half an hour for the traffic to slow up. Up by the bridge there was a couple of posters for a county fair that was comin' up. In between cars I ran up and got both of 'em, and positioned 'em fore and aft, so to speak.

It took me almost two hours find my way back to where I'd left my clothes. By then it was late, but not dark yet. I still don't know how I made it back there without anybody seeing me.

....Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end....

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Life Examined

The Seablogger has died. Future historians may comment on how, toward the end of the 20th century, the internet changed the nature of human communication through the proliferation of "web logs," now more commonly known as blogs.

A couple of years ago I had the good fortune of stumbling on (another internet-coined phrase) Alan Sullivan's blog Fresh Bilge, immediately recognizing him as a Zeitgenosse: same age, same education, raised in the same region of the country, with some of the same interests. There was one critical difference, however. Three years earlier, still in the prime of life, he'd been diagnosed with a dangerous and ultimately fatal illnesss.

It's said that man is the only animal that has awareness of his own mortality and the ability to contemplate it. Alan had already laid out much of his life story on his blog site, along with his photos, writings, musings and poetry.
His daily observations of things which interested him attracted a huge following of internet users, many of whom joined in a lively on-line discussion of facts and opinions.

His ongoing web Chatauqua soon became a daily habit with me, joining probably a couple hundred other "lurkers" and, as he termed them, "rare readers." The subjects under discussion included current events, politics, geology, weather, volcanism, travel, weather, poetry, medicine, his own health, and later, after an "epiphany on the beach," his transition from agnosticism to Christianity.

The man's knowledge and energy amazed us, as he contined his daily postings and his final work--a retranslation of some of the book of Psalms-- right up to his final trip to the hospital. Alan's friends and rare readers have eulogized him far better--and in more ways--than I could. I never met the man in person, and if I had, quite possibly might not have gotten along with him. But somehow, through cyberspace, I think he has shown us a little glimpse of heaven.

"The unexamined life in not a life worth living," said Socrates.(ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ.) You examined yours well, Seablogger, and we are all the richer for it.