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October 1997, Volume 5 Nr.2, Issue 50

Serious Men

"Serious men are running the world." When I first gave these words time for contemplation, I was attending a Bright Morning Star concert in Lincroft, New Jersey in the late 70s. One of their satirical songs, entitled "Serious Men" states, "Serious men are running the world, from the bottom to the top." It appears to me that with all the seriousness, we the people, should be able to sleep easy at night knowing that all is well with the nation, the state, our municipality, the schools, the courts, the government and our society.

A few days ago, a not so distant southern Vermont neighbor, Jody Williams, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for her and her organization's (International Campaign to Ban Landmines) efforts on behalf of getting an International Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.

Williams, age 47, began working on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation in 1991, to bring together a coalition to ban landmines whose express purpose was to maim people.

One of the most serious men in the world, U.S. president Bill Clinton (seriously known as William Jefferson Clinton) did not even telephone Ms. Williams to offer congratulations. It appears that the president's stance on the landmine issue is in opposition to Ms. Williams and that of the vast majority of nations in the world. Serious men do not compromise their serious positions.

Another exhibition of seriousness comes from Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Jesse Helms, taking the Pledge of Allegiance seriously, is incensed that high school students are refusing to say it. After all, if the south as a consequence of its defeat in the Civil War was forced into saying "...to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all", then those high school students will have to say it too. They're part of the republic, aren't they?

Interestingly enough, the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a Christian Socialist by the name of Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931). The Pledge, according to Dr. John W. Baer, expresses.

the ideas of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, author of the American socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897).

The original Pledge as written states,

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The word (to*) was added in October 1892. Baer further states, that Bellamy.

...considered placing the word, 'equality,' in his Pledge, but knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans.

Decades later, in 1954, the Knights of Columbus campaign had the words "under God" added to the pledge. These serious men changed the pledge into not only a patriotic personal political statement, but to a public prayer. God is a serious concept. A quick look throughout history attests to this fact in that millions, if not billions of people have died in mostly his serious name.

Adaptability

What fascinates me is the adaptability of the serious men who are running the world. Their ability to invent, reinvent or reorganize serious situations is cunning. The more serious they are, the more honed is their ability to extricate from a tangled mass of human interplay, the serious from the mundane and inconsequential.

Why should we be surprised? Daily, the media offer lessons by the tens of thousands on how to behave seriously. We are instructed to examine the laundry on our clothesline. It is seriously flawed if not brighter nor whiter than that of the unknown neighbor next door.

Our self esteem seriously suffers if we do not have "tight abs" or false teeth that cannot bite into an apple without falling out. These are serious issues as determined by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, People, Us, etc. Most really serious men work on Madison Avenue – the same ones that produced the commercial advertising that cost $850,000 per second during the serious Superbowl!

Serious Activity

In recent history, serious men have brought us Whitewater, Paula Jones, O.J. Simpson, Whitehouse coffee klatches, HMO's, NAFTA, GATT, agent orange, the Persian Gulf, the gulf war syndrome, Hiroshima, Love Canal, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the Oklahoma bombing, the Unabomber... The list goes on and on.

This is my twenty-seventh year teaching. Over the course of that time, serious people have made serious attempts at making our academic institutions serious centers of education. I remember Madeline Hunter and her "effective instruction model". Many educators seriously embraced Hunter. Some schools even had their staff take three separate courses each week in a serious attempt at implementing the model. Today, I seldom hear Madeline Hunter mentioned by the education community. Why is that? Perhaps, a more serious idea professed by new more serious people is taking hold. Would you believe educational portfolios?

Consider the nature of the typical worker in the United States. (Am I typical? I think so). This serious worker, awakes between 5:30 - 6:30 a.m. and leaves the home between 6:30 - 7:30 a.m. They might commute 15 to 60 minutes to work. They put in a minimum 8-hour day, under conditions which have recently changed in order to maximize efficiency, increase productivity and profit. Many of them get riffed (reduction in force, or laid off). In other words, the workplace is more serious in making profit for those who own the means of production while the downsized employees take a serious hike to the unemployment line (if there is one).

$1,400,000,000,000 (1.4 trillion) serious dollars trades through serious hands electronically each day through "investment instruments". More precisely, a serious finger or two on a keyboard transfers all that wealth through the passage of bits of data as there is no actual exchange of dollars passed between hands.

From time-to-time, attempting to center my place within the broader perspective of the economic relationship between people, I try relating the seriousness of Wall Street to that of the typical working person seriously trying to make a mortgage payment. I become overwhelmed with the serious disparity between haves and have nots, between greed and need, between yachts and cots. The United States now has the greatest spread, an ever increasing chasm, between the rich and the poor.

Full-Time Economics

Recently, I was driving through Wells, Vermont, my small home town, when I noticed school children on their way home. All of them were carrying large white cardboard boxes containing a school fund-raising kit. The kit contains samples of incredible junk that these young and future entrepreneurs are to sell to their family, friends and neighbors in order for the school to have enough money to buy supplies or to pay for field trips, etc. Many of these children do not have relatives who live in the area. In a town of 880 residents spread over many miles, it is difficult for schools over 100 hundred students to find enough customers to make their ordeal worthwhile. Imagine the sense of failure on the part of those who were encouraged to sell the junk but could not.

I have stopped counting the number of days (in a row) where an economic or money issue does not take center stage nor clamor as serious importance in the community, workplace, media, school, home or my personal life. Beside the bills that arrive daily, there is the quickly increasing clamor for making the upcoming holiday shopping season a success. We are being told, through the mechanisms of full-time economics, that it is our patriotic duty and responsibility to buy things in order to increase consumer confidence, spending and profit. We must do our part in making the economy grow. Seriously.

It never ends. It appears, or at least we are made to believe, that the seriousness of our personal situation is economic. The seriousness of their personal situation depends upon how serious we envision our own. The idea is to foster the belief that our economic state of affairs is necessarily due to some individual failure on our part to succeed within their system.

I was recently told by a colleague that any person deeply in debt with their credit cards deserves the consequences of their stupidity. The suggestion here is that people are unaffected by the mass culture that caters to our self-serving sensitivities while assuming that people are sophisticated enough in refraining from falling into the endemic trap of taking the easy way out, that is, borrowing too much.

Conjecture

I offer a conjecture, the possibility of an evolving challenge to the seriousness paradigm. If we are held captive by the debt that we owe through the depravity of our own thinking and the worry caused by buying into the Madison Avenue engineered mindset, then there is great opportunity. We can transform seriousness from us to them. For the sake of this discussion, I define us as the debtors and them to be the debtees, the creditors that urge us to seriously spend money we do not have so that they can lend it to us at upwards of 21%. Herein lies the weakness of their seriousness and the strength of ours.

At any given moment, we the appointed consumers and suckers in the process, owe some serious bucks to the banks through mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other lending mechanisms. Allan Greenspan, chair of the Federal Reserve, recently reported that the sum total of consumer debt which includes government, business and consumer borrowing is about $15 trillion, with each group sharing approximately 1/3 of the debt each.

The following scenario presents merely a focus around which to speculate and discuss. What would the effect be, if, en masse, all the serious debtors suddenly stopped paying? Imagine mortgages not being paid, credit card institutions and banks ignored, collection agency correspondence trashed, etc. Imagine saving accounts emptied and pension plans withdrawn. Imagine a run on hospital emergency rooms all over the country where the inability to pay cannot be an excuse for non-treatment. (This is, in effect, what has been happening in our bigger cities). The serious lenders might have a serious situation on their hands of their own making.

Though government officials report that the consumer debt has little impact on the overall stability of the economic system, I beg to differ. Wall Street performance rises and falls in great leaps and bounds whenever economists so much as sneeze in the wrong direction. Acknowledging a lack of faith in the U.S. economic system would have intense repercussions. The people have already given up on the electoral process with the majority choosing not to vote.

It is the people who produce all the wealth. When working people decide not to take their debt so seriously, the lenders will. Many working class people already have adopted this point of view. This is why personal bankruptcies have reached an all-time high with little change in sight. In 1996, in the United States, there were 4.22 bankruptcies per 1,000 people in the population. In 1997, the bankruptcy figure are dramatically higher. The Bankruptcy Institute reports that bankruptcy filings in the United States rose 10 percent in the second quarter of the year as compared with the first. This was the sixth consecutive quarterly increase.

More and more elderly people are amassing debt and then leaving debtors holding the bag at their demise with no-one left to pass the debt onto. More and more people see their elder years, after working a lifetime, not as a secure time, a period of reward that a society offers for a lifetime of work well done, but rather as years of hopelessness and warehousing.

Recently, I followed an elderly woman who was placed into a nursing home. In order for her to be "accepted" there she had to sell her home with the proceeds going into escrow and appropriate amounts periodically deducted for the privilege of being there. This woman's serious life investment and assets were placed at the mercy of the nursing care industry. Healthcare and Elder Law Programs Corporation reports that the average (California) cost for long term nursing care in the United States is $43,200 per year.

The old paradigm of greed used to be "Those with the most toys at death wins." This is quickly being replaced by a counter-greed paradigm of survival which states, "Those with the most debt at death wins."

Serious challenges to the system will continue to develop until people receive the security of having the basic necessities of life which they are entitled to by virtue of their entrance into the community of the human fellowship. Perhaps, this is not the "American way". It is however, the loving Christian way.

Close to the Brink

Recently, more John F. Kennedy tape recordings have been made public showing the inner machinations of just how close the United States and the then Soviet Union came to nuclear war. Thirty-five years ago this month, the more serious of President Kennedy's advisers were adamantly pushing for the full-scale invasion of Cuba.

During the period, called "The 14 Days in October", the world teetered on the edge of commencing World War III. General Curtis LeMay (who later ran for Vice President on a ticket with presidential candidate Governor George Wallace) urged an all out assault on Cuba. LeMay recommended 500 air sorties per day for seven days attacking the missile sites and other military installations to be followed by a all-out troop invasion. Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, who later would run for president as a dove, was consistently hawkish throughout the crisis. Robert McNamara, secretary of defense, was as well. Unbeknownst to all of the serious men at the time was the presence of 40,000 hidden Soviet troops whose function was to protect the missile sites

The October 19, 1997 issue of The Sunday Rutland Herald in a story entitled, "Kennedy Ignored Advisers In Cuban Missile Crisis", reports how the Kennedy tapes reveal the president to be calm, opting for a tit-for-tat trade with Nikita Krushchev instead: the U.S. would pull out its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviet withdrawal of missiles from Cuba. What the public saw however was a withdrawal of missiles in exchange for a promise to never invade Cuba. President Kennedy insisted that the trade not be made public. Don't we all feel safer knowing that serious men are just as prone to error as the rest of us. Substantial opposition to serious men is often necessary to prevent serious mistakes with serious consequences from happening.

Closed and Opened Doors

We've all heard the phrase, "Every gray cloud has a silver lining." Other variants of this saying include "Every experience is a learning experience" and "When one door closes another opens." Perhaps, we take life too seriously. Perhaps, we take serious men a bit too seriously. Finally, perhaps we take ourselves seriously, easily forgetting that things, events and circumstances are seldom as bad or as difficult as we make them out to be. Perhaps, we can be a little less serious.

Song

On the Bright Morning Star Album, " Arisin' ", Court Dorsey, singer, harmonica, tenor guitar, piano, bells, maracas, conga and recorder player writes the following about the Greg Brown song, "Serious Men" – "Science Fiction: a space age remedy for one of the world's oldest toothaches."

Serious Men
(Greg Brown)

Serious men are running the world
     from the bottom to the top.
Telling all those slaves who work work work
     to go out and shop shop shop.
And there ain't no way to get away.
You can't raise enough to pay your way out and
     there's only one thing you can do: get serious too.

Serious men are running the world high up in towers of
     glass and they get a whole lot of sub-serious men
     just waiting to kiss some ass

And there ain't no way to get away.
     You can't raise enough to pay your way out and
     there's only one thing you can do: get serious too.

Now our president is a serious man he always thinks
     before he speaks
maybe now you'll understand why he says nothing for weeks

And there ain't no way to get away.
You can't raise enough to pay your way out and
     there's only one thing you can do: try to get serious too.

Serious men are running the world high up in the mountains
     putting condominiums up and they get a kid to sing a
     protest song about a condominium who makes a million
      bucks and goes out buys himself a condominium.

And there ain't no way to get away
     you can't raise enough to get away and
     there's only one thing you can do: try to get serious too.

Serious men are running the world
just as they have throughout the ages
taking all the fools and animals and anything that
moves sticking them in cages
Let's take all those serious men that try to sell us
the moon and the stars and put them all in a serious rocket
     ship and send them seriously off to Mars!

Quotes

The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn't want to go bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, 55 BC

The first myth of management is that it exists. The second myth of management is that success equals skill.

Robert Heller

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

William James

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.

Adlai Stevenson

Without education, we are in the horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

G. K. Chesterfield

The mind is like a TV set - when it goes blank, it's a good idea to turn off the sound.

Communication Briefings

Bibliography

Baer, John W. The Pledge of Allegiance. "A Short History" 
http://www.vineyard.net/vineyard/history/pledge.htm
 
Internet. Accessed 16-October-97.

Cool Fire Technology. "Large Consumer Debt is Really Benign." 
[http://www.cftech.com/BrainBank/SPECIAL REPORTS/ BenignConsumDebt.html
Internet. Accessed 16-October-97.

Healthcare and Elder Law Programs Corporation. "Planning For Long-Term Nursing Care Costs." 
[http://www.palosverdes.com/helpcorp/plan.htmI
Internet. Accessed, 19-October-97.

Kaplan, Fred The Sunday Rutland Herald and The Sunday Times Argus. "Kennedy Ignored Advisers In Cuban Crisis." October 19, 1997. Section C: Perspective. Pg. C-1.

Nando Times News. "Bankruptcy Filings Increase 10 Percent."
[http://wedge.nando.net/newsroom/ntn/biz/ 081597/biz20_29393.html
Internet. Accessed, 18-October-97.

Shea, Griffin & Monti, Lisa. Sun Herald On-Line. "Reasons for Filing Stump Lawyers." 
[http://www.sunherald.com/news/docs/bankruptcy 0908.htm] I
nternet. Accessed 16-October-97.

Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. "United States Campaign to Ban Landmines." 
[http://www.vvaf.org/ landmine.html/us/updates/ events97/news10_10a.html]
Internet. Accessed 16-October-97.

1997 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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