by Reid Fitzsimons
by Reid Fitzsimons
A bit of historical stipulation first. The post WWll era left the US in an incomparable global position in terms of economics and power, having become an industrial and technological titan out of necessity and unscathed by direct destruction by geography. Enormous wealth and its associated leisure were the natural consequences. The generation labeled “Baby Boomers” enjoyed, if you will, this leisure at an unprecedented level, resulting in the first truly widespread separation of survival requirements from life- no more milking the cows by 5 am before heading off to the one-room school house. Perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not, this opportunity did not always lead to greatness but often to self-indulgence, as exemplified by 1960’s catch phrases, masquerading as deep philosophy, such as “Do your own thing,” “Don’t lay a guilt trip on me man,” and the like.
While as a rule conservatives are disinclined to a worldview based on racial and gender identities we need to be honest and admit that by “Baby Boomer” we’re really talking about privileged white people. People whom, decades later, are clapping their arthritic hands in attempted rhythm with the ancient Doo-Wop stars on PBS fundraisers and thinking Bernie Sanders is "with it." White people in million dollar homes in the Boston suburbs with Black Lives Matter signs conspicuously posted on their well-coiffed lawns maintained by Mexicans who arrive every week or so in the back of pick-up trucks.
by Reid Fitzsimons
Now and then the usual suspects of the Republican establishment- the Mitch McConnell’s, John Kasich’s, etc- make meaningful, principled, and at times intelligent statements about any given issue or topic. Hence, it is generally disheartening, though occasionally amusing when, like a dog yanked back on a leash, they have to modify or retract them when faced with the accusations we’ve come to know so well: misogynist, various prefixes followed by “phobe,” and of course racist. One such phrase we have heard for years, usually during faux budget negotiations, is “They want to kill Big Bird.”
The origin the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and its entities of PBS and NPR extends back only to the 1960s and can be succinctly described as the product of Lyndon Johnson’s conflicted emotions. He viewed himself largely as an unsophisticated hick and, especially when associated with the cosmopolitan Kennedy’s, yearned for acceptance by the elites. From a policy standpoint this translated to a perhaps noble albeit Quixotic goal of “bringing the arts to the masses,” but in reality has meant decades of heavily subsidized entertainment for the educated and wealthy. Since inception tax dollars given to this therapy for Lyndon Johnson’s inner turmoil has probably totaled in the billions- for 2014 CPB alone received close to half a billion in tax dollars.
Not surprisingly, to be “for” tax funding of CPB, etc imparts an aura of lover of the “arts,” broadmindedness, sophistication, compassion, and humanity. To be “against” stigmatizes one as an uneducated right-wing nut who has an unnatural attraction to pick-up trucks and lives in fear of fluoridated water.
I am a little too old to have watched Sesame Street (premiered in 1969) and I’m ambivalent as to whether it has been truly educational without indoctrination or more of a guilt-free way to plop your kids down in front of the TV. One can state with a clear conscience, however, that the Sesame Street franchise has been shamelessly marketed for decades with great remunerative success (from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales; I not sure if this includes the exorbitant admission price I paid to see Sesame Street on Ice in 1988 when my son was two). Nevertheless, the accusation that “they want to kill Big Bird” recurrently engenders night sweats and tremors in congressional Republicans.
Certainly over 50 years PBS has provided us with some fine upscale programming (though the only time I saw any of Conan the Barbarian was curiously on a PBS station; I think there was some nudity, thank goodness). The issue is not whether they have some fine programming, the issue is who benefits. Let us be honest: people residing in Section 8 housing, various urban projects, and trailer parks aren’t glued to their radios listening to the Splendid Table (“…public radio's culinary culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone”) or animatedly guessing the value of that painting found in grandma’s attic on the Antiques Roadshow. The audience and demographic for the vast majority of PBS/NPR programming is certainly composed primarily of the wealthy and educated. Hence, a reasonable question is, are the rich deserving of tax-subsidized entertainment?
Last week I was up in the Adirondack Mountains south of Canada doing some house renovation work and was not well “connected.” On Thursday morning I did check e-mail and news and learned of the very newsworthy shooting of the house Republican Majority Whip and others. Seeking updates in an area of sparse radio coverage I reluctantly tuned in to the dreaded NPR morning programming, with the nauseatingly saccharine timbre, tone, and cadence of the announcers; as obnoxious as any equally saccharine pre-recorded Bible studies one hears on Christian radio. The half hour news summary finally came on and, just 24 hours after the shooting, the lead story was not the shooting but the continuing saga of the Trump/Russia investigation. The NPR editors placed the story of the attempted assassination of the Majority Whip in the second slot and pointedly emphasized authorities were examining possible motivations, failing to even mention the perpetrator wore his leftist progressive angst on his sleeve for all to see.
For NPR News, as with what is collectively called the mainstream media, maintaining the progressive narrative takes precedence over actual news reporting. Therefore it can only be Republicans and conservatives strutting about like Brown Shirts in 1920’s Munich looking to beat down people who look, sound, or think differently from themselves. The minds of progressives are so filled with happy thoughts that Love is Love and Love Trumps Hate that James Hodgkinson certainly could not have been motivated to murder by his progressive politics; there must have been another reason. Needless to say, if the victim had been a Democrat and the shooter politically motivated by right wing leanings, it would have consumed the NPR news cycle, with emphasis on the right wing part.
We’ve entered an unfortunate age where gross slanting of news by organizations traditionally considered objective is common. Nevertheless, subtle slanting- nuanced prioritizing of stories, things deftly said, implied, or omitted so as to obfuscate the facts at hand, etc, remains effective. It doesn’t take great talent to do this but somehow its practitioners are held in high esteem, much like Miley Cyrus is heralded as a “music artist.” PBS and NPR are exceedingly adept at this and understandably so: their biases are shared by their target audience, wealthy and educated progressives, who prefer to remain comfortable in the warm bosom of their cultural and political narratives.
The CPB/PBS/NPR franchise is like the Christian who fornicates on Saturday night then shouts “Praise Jesus” louder than anyone else in church the next morning. It’s not the adultery that is so exasperating per se, it’s the hypocrisy:
The myth that they are commercial free when in fact they run ads just like everyone else, with sponsors including massively wealthy corporations, elite progressive foundations and, depending on the program, local businesses. That they usually run the ads preceding or following their shows doesn’t mean they are not crass commercials, despite always being capped off by the quaint, “and viewers like you."
Undeniably they have at times aired excellent programs, including child oriented shows such as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and perhaps Sesame Street. While I admittedly have not had success researching PBS/NPR demographics (one related stat I found is interesting- Thomas Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits Of Wealthy Individuals,” found only 6% of the wealthy watch reality shows, while 78% of the poor do), it is doubtful the ostensible targeted audience- the masses- are significant consumers. Rather, support and occasional watching or listening to PBS/NPR has become essentially a litmus test for progressive acceptance.
While our cultural mindset is that receiving government funding somehow imparts legitimacy, PBS/NPR should be able to stand on its own or be fully propped up by its vocal and wealthy proponents. Let’s not fool ourselves- rich people, including the many who refuse to acknowledge their wealth, like to spend money on Self, generally to the exclusion of Others. The tax monies received by the CPB are not insignificant but could easily be replaced by its supporters, if they really believed in action versus utterances, and we could blessedly be free of this tedious funding debate. What the heck, if we finally end government funding I’ll make a pledge at the $60 level, and they don’t even have to send me the Kings of Dew-Wop CD collection.
It is a fantasy that CPB/PBS/NPR, being “non-profits,” are operated by benevolent people who are willing to sacrifice their material wealth for the greater good of their mission. Like televangelism, there is serious money to be had in the world of “non-profits.” Rather than taking the effort to place financial stats in prose form, I simply end with a listing of some examples of salaries-
Gary Knell, recently made the CEO of National Geographic, first began working for Sesame Street Workshop in 1989, became the COO in 1998, and CEO in 2000 until 2011, then CEO of NPR until 2013. In 2008 he was paid $956,513, and according to the 2013 IRS form 990 $743,575 for the covered year.
The form 990 for 2014 shows the CEO of the CPB was compensated with $418,574 during the pertinent year. Additionally, there were at least 15 other CPB officers that made at least $200,000 per year.
The PBS CEO was paid $962,594 for the period covered by the 2013 990.
Note these are compensation amounts at just the national level. There are hundreds of affiliate stations paying generous salaries: the 2014 990 for the Detroit PBS local shows the CEO making $378,343 and the Assistant Secretary $215,823; in 2010 or 2011 14 employees at the Boston affiliate WGBH made more than $200,000.
Lastly, a headline from the March 20, 2017 edition of USA Today:
Could Trump's 2018 budget kill Sesame Street's beloved Big Bird?
by Reid Fitzsimons
Nobody knows how the Trump presidency will unfold. Perhaps he’ll enjoy the celebrity aspects of the office and leave the actual governing to (hopefully capable) advisors and administrators. Certainly there are conservatives who worry he’s in reality an in-the-closet progressive. He might prove to be erratic in word and action and need to be constrained by constitutional check and balances that all but disappeared during the Obama years, facilitated by feckless Republicans. Or perhaps he’ll prove to be a principled conservative, holding a gentle but steady hand on the rudder of state. Nobody knows at this moment, perhaps not even Trump himself.
What we do know is that on January 20, 2017 we will not have to be subjected to a shrill voice proclaiming, “We are women, and from shore to shore the entire world heard us roar,” or some such inanity that flows so readily from the mouth of Hillary Clinton. We can take pleasure in the knowledge that any number of despots and obscure manipulators of money and power will not be receiving the return on their investment: “for a ‘donation’ of xx million dollars to the Clinton Foundation, I can assure you when I’m in the White House I will…” Hillary and Bill will always have enormous amounts of money and with it will maintain a cadre of people to tell them they are wonderful, but absent power no one will have to listen to them.
by Barry King, November 28 2015
Thanks to Reid's son Forest for introducing me to this book. If you buy it, or buy anything else from amazon.com, please shop at smile.amazon.com instead of www.amazon.com, and select The Virunga Fund as your beneficiary. It won't increase your price, but amazon will make a donation to Virunga.
Book review: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, by James C. Scott.
Prototypical scheme: A wild forest was designed by God, or by Darwinian evolution, to "succeed" as an ecosystem capable of sustaining a bio-diverse assortment of plant, animal, insect and bird species (and many other kinds). Modern "scientific" forestry, on the other hand, in its early stages, focused on maximizing board-feet of lumber produced, and chose mono-culture: a whole forest of trees of a single species, planted in rows. Many such projects worked for a few years, then failed as the whole forest ecosystem collapsed for unforeseen reasons involving complex interdependencies. The key insight is: these projects, and many others like them, were promoted as "modern", "scientific" and "rational", but were nevertheless unsustainable.
by Reid Fitzsimons
(Warning: this article includes gender stereotypes, which might be viewed as microaggressive)
One day, 30 plus years ago, a guy I worked with (we were friendly if not exactly friends) kind of blurted out, “We do IT once a week, straight missionary, over in five minutes.” Obviously he needed to express some frustrations pertaining to this aspect of his marriage. Often marriage is described as a series of compromises, which is probably true in many cases, and doesn’t necessarily imply problems beyond resolution. In regards to intimacy, typically or perhaps stereotypically, the husband wants IT more frequently or adventurously while the wife is looking for more cuddling and romance. Neither is wrong, and within the foundational concept of marriage, compromise may well enhance the relationship for both. True compromise, however, requires working within a mutual framework.
Say a husband is a selfish ass who read one Penthouse Forum (is that still around?) too many, you know- “You might not believe it, but my wife caught me looking at the hot young divorcee who moved in next door. Instead of being angry she told me to go ahead, as long as she could watch!” He’s not thinking of trying to be more affectionate if maybe his wife would be willing to experiment with this or that. Rather he pictures himself as some swinging orgy guy, which inconveniently falls outside the bounds of marriage, even if he begins to convince himself otherwise. Compromise becomes coercion, though he still presents it as the former. “Come on honey, why can’t you be reasonable- if I’m satisfied I’ll be a better husband to you.” Perhaps the wife is strong and deftly disabuses him of his fantasy or tells him to get lost, but perhaps she is not. For some reason she is capable of submitting herself to humiliation: maybe being with him offers her a desired social standing, or she can’t overcome deep personal insecurities, or she has evolved some less-than-healthy concept of love. She’s grasping for anything to justify an acceptance of this situation she knows is wrong and unfair to her. If he says, “I may be having sex with a lot of different girls, but you’re the only one I truly love,” it is enough. It has to be enough, because it’s the best he’s going to give.
by Reid Fitzsimons
Note: The following appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Times-Leader newspaper on Sep 17, 2015 with the title "Sen. Bob Casey Parrots Planned Parenthood's Dubious Statistics." Below that (“Follow-up”) reflects a discussion subsequent to when the letter was written (early August 2015) with one of Sen. Casey’s policy staffers in his Washington office on Sept. 10, 2015.
A majority in the US Senate recently voted to terminate Federal funding of Planned Parenthood (PP), but a “supermajority” was not obtained, hence the motion failed. Among those voting in support of the half billion dollar plus subsidy of PP was Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. Those who follow such things know that Sen. Casey frequently declares himself to be “pro-life,” but of course he is not- his obsequiousness when it comes to the severe progressive liberalism of Barak Obama disallows whatever independent thought he might possess. Perhaps claiming to be “pro-life” buys him few votes or, less cynically, it helps assuage a sense of inadequacy in his inability to live up to his father’s moral standard.
by Barry King
For lovers of science and of nature, parasitism is a fascinating topic. An important detail is the complexity of the definition of "success" for the parasite, who prefers to rely on the productivity of others rather than on his own productivity (the cuckoo prefers not to be bothered by the hard work of building a nest, incubating eggs, and feeding chicks, so she just lays her eggs in someone else's nest.) The "success" of parasitism has an obvious strategic limitation in this consequence, that if the parasite is too "successful" the host is overwhelmed and goes extinct. Then the parasite goes extinct because it had become fatally dependent on a now-extinct host. Cuckoos can get away with it sustainably because they are parasitic only gently and on a wide variety of other species rather than on just one. A forest with cuckoos is more (bio)diverse than one without, but if the cuckoos collectively are not careful they will end up subtracting both their hosts and themselves from the biodiversity gene pool. That's why infectious organisms that cause 100% fatality in their hosts are extremely rare: their evolutionary tactic is strategically suicidal within just 1 or 2 generations. In human politics and economics, the analog to parasitism is misleadingly called "rent-seeking" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent-seeking) I guess it's a good thing that we humans are not aggressively parasitic organisms - or are we?
by Barry King
I have Mennonite relatives who travel all over North America without paying for hotel rooms, by staying in the homes of a network of relatives of relatives or friends of friends. In so doing, they fail to support the hotel industry and perhaps contribute to slow job growth in that sector. I have Amish relatives who, when they suffer fire damage to a barn, will accept the volunteer help of neighbors for rebuilding, instead of hiring unionized construction workers for that job. In so doing, they take jobs away from those unionized workers. Further: the working conditions at the Amish Barn raising might possibly be OSHA-non-compliant. The Amish also plow their fields with mule teams instead of tractors, and drive horse-drawn carriages on the roads, instead of cars.
It wonders me (that’s a Pennsylvania Dutch phrase) how I should understand Anabaptist attitudes toward innovation. Anabaptists until very recently have been counter-cultural in a variety of ways, which is kind of innovative, but on the other hand, plowing with a mule team in the 21st century seems old-fashioned. Now comes another data point: modern internet-based ride sharing via Uber looks a lot like “Mennonite-Your-Way” travel arrangements and like the Amish approach to barn-raising, and the Uber economic model is considered innovative rather than reactionary, whereas, the growing backlash against it looks pretty darn reactionary. Sixty years after Bill Buckley coined the phrase, who is it now who is standing athwart history and yelling “Stop!”? (Hint: read Hillary’s recent speech in which she scolded Uber, without mentioning it by name. If the guy in Seinfeld who withheld soup was a “Soup Nazi”, does that mean Hillary is now an “Uber Nazi”? Just wondering...) Bill Clinton wanted to build a bridge to the 21st century, which at the time was a forward-looking idea. Now here we are, and Hillary apparently wants to build the same bridge, but she plans on using it to go the other way.
So why exactly is Hillary staking out a position as an Uber Nazi? Well, she counts on union support, and the unions hate Uber, and she likes tax revenues and regulation, while Uber drivers and customers tend to dislike those things. How much do unions and government regulators hate the Uber-style economy? In France, Hillary’s fellow travelers (mobs of taxi drivers) “went full Luddite”, destroying Uber cars, and the French government joined them by arresting Uber managers.
Bottom line: the fundamental difference between the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Uber drivers on the one hand, v. the Uber Nazis on the other is this: the former are content to do their economics via free contracts voluntarily entered, while leaving the rest of the world also free to do whatever they want, whereas, the Uber Nazis want to impose their preferred models on other people by means of government coercion or violence.
http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4542228%2Fpresident-obama-eulogy-clementa-pinckney-funeral-service President Obama at his best, drawing on 2000 years of Christian tradition, also recently demonstrated by Rwandan Christians after their 1994 genocide and by Lancaster County Amish folks after their 2006 Nickel Mines school massacre (an example of forgiveness also explicitly followed by the survivors at Emmanuel AME church). The President here has kept a tight rein on his inclination to exploit crises for political advantage (limiting it to between about 25:00 and 30:00 in this 38 minute speech). That's progress, but he is still missing that part of the Christian tradition, which some Rwandan survivors have also missed, but which the Amish understand, and which Jesus himself clearly understood and articulated: that there is a possibility for Christians to do forgiveness and reconciliation, and experience Amazing Grace, without at the same time yielding to the temptation to lay their hands on political power which amounts to violence and coercion in another form.