Monday, November 30, 2009

Nothing sweetens truth better than laughter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why the Rich are Allowed to be Rich

Did you ever ask yourself why some people get paid more than other, sometimes inordinately more; millions and billions of dollars in some cases; while we, the masses of non-rich, let it happen?

I mean do you ever really ask yourself, not just bitch and moan about it?

Perhaps the logic of alowing such seeming excesses (if one wishes to argue there is logic to accumulated wealth beyond power and greed) has to do with humankind's great respect for the human mind. We Americans (and perhaps all of human society) unconsciously believe (or have been taught to believe) that the human mind is the greatest single factor in lifting us from the lower animal realm. Following this logic, we allow multi-million-$$$ salaries to go to those few whose contributions to society are considered primarily mental and imaginative, who seem able to connect dots better than anyone else; albeit these dots that are manufactured by the labor of the lower salaried people. The lowered salaried can build the cars in factories, cook the meals, heal a broken arm, but they cannot conceive of the design of a car, or of building the robotic machines that work side by side with them, and/or maneuver the vast networks of distributing cars. light of this, we accept that riches rightfully accrue to the imaginative and innovative.

We value exceedingly Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Sam Walton and others, those who think of new inventions and/or new systems of production and distribution; and we agree that because of those contributions they are allowed to become obscenely rich. In our democratic society, we--except for die-hard Marxists--seem to agree that a disproportionate share of wealth should rightfully go to them. The rest of us, the lower salaried people who create the dots, who do physical work; and by physical work I mean not only menial work, but even mental chores that can be seen as almost repetitive and certainly not imaginative (work that is, almost physical, in a sense, by rote): the work done by assembly workers, cooks, accountants, dentists, and even doctors or lawyers, are willingly and proportionally considered of much lesser value.

W all--all humankind in general--revere the mind, and accept its transcendence. We pay homage, obeisance to the contribution of the "imaginers". We allow them to be disproportionally rich because we recognize the great value that their creative and imaginative innovation confer on us. We get angry when they get greedy, of course, when they unnecessarily accumulate power and unfairly expand their power positions; but we have great tolerance for their richness. We understand the incentive-producing value of it.

Perhaps that is why there will always be the rich, and they will always be the poor? The allocation of mental ability is disproportionately given by our Creator (or by the unemotional hand of evolution) to a disproportionate few--whom we all envy, but even more tellingly, respect and benefit from. So we bow before the value their scarce human minds, and its capacity to connect the dots, to create a new and better future for us all, and we recognize and respect that the mental power is not equally distributed amongst humankind. Therefore, those not so blessed, are willing to live--economically and financially, and disproportionally--according to that fact of a non-democratic reality.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mr. Maney

Mr. Joseph Maney was principal of my New Jersey high school; that was many years ago.

He was an average man; in size, in looks and in dress. But whenever he made one of his rare excursions outside of his office, walking through the halls of the school, dressed in his nondescript suit, with white shirt and tie, the halls were always quiet.

As he passes by us students, no one would ever look at him, and he in return would never directly look at any student. But we all knew he was paying attention to us; and we in turn paid attention to him.

In four years of school attendance, I never heard him confront or berate a student. He never had to. He engendered automatic respect where ever he went.

We were an inner city school; populated by mostly first and second generation sons and daughters of immigrants; "upper poor," as I've sometimes called us. But in spite of what one might expect in students in such schools, trouble was minimal, and the rules of dress codes and behavior was always adhered to; or the student was sent home if he or she broke the rules; to parents who invariably sided with teachers.

If a parent was called in for a school conference, the first thing said to you was: "What did you do?" And if you started to blame the teacher, such as: "Well, the teacher did..." you were cut off with "You must have given them a reason. What did you do?"

In four years, I never heard Mr. Maney talk, except at assemblies. And I don't remember the sound of his voice, even at these occasions.

I do remember the sound of his voice, however, at the two occasions he spoke to me directly, personally and quietly. Both times spoke softly. His accent was simple American. One time was at graduation, and the other time I shall never forget.

I had been called into the office for a personal visit with Mr. Maney. I was a senior, yet I had never been in his office before. It was the Spring of the year, a few months before graduation. As his secretary guided me into his office, I was more curious than worried. After all, I had been an exemplary student, and was never in trouble.

The secretary gestured me to sit, and then she left. My Maney was seated his desk, and I sat in the chair opposite. Finishing off a piece of paperwork, he smiled. nodded, said: "Hello, Clifford." "Hello, Mr. Maney." He smiled at me more broadly, then: A frown creased his forehead. He said: "I've got a problem here that I thought you could help me with. I've just been totalling up the grade point averages for Valedictorian and Salutatorian, and you just miss the mark. Your 96.5 is third behind Carol and Albert." "Yes, I know," I said. "I received the note from your office." "Well, Mr. Maney continued, "Today, in reviewing my work, I noticed that you took both Chemistry and Physics in one semester when only one course was required. You got a "B" in Physics--one of the few "B's" you got in the four years. And according to the rules, since Physics could be considered an additional elective, you don't have to include the Physics grade in your grade point average . And, if you choose to drop Physics from your Grade point average, you would pass Albert in overall average and become Salutatorian. You see my dilemma," he said: He stopped for along moment...then said: "What do you think?"

An even longer pause ensued. I've always been competitive in my life. I've always like winning. I played football and basketball in high school, ran for President of several school clubs and I was Editor of the Senior Yearbook.

Moreover, I've always like public speaking. And the Salutatorian gave a graduation address. Whereas the rest of the graduation group sat onstage behind them, listening.

Mr. Maney stared at me. I stared back. Then: "Mr. Maney," I said. "I didn't take Physics for the grade. I got a "B". That's my fault. I stand with the average I got: 96.5." Mr. Maney nodded. He didn't try to change my mind, or even give me a second chance to reconsider. I was surprised. But not troubled. I had made up mind. (And to this day I always wondered why I made that decision--but I've never regretted it.)

I got up and started out. "Clifford," Mr. Maney said. "All your college applications in?" "Yes," I said. "Well, I haven't completed my references and recommendations yet. I guess I should get cracking." He nodded. I left.

On graduation day, one hundred and thirty of us (at least that's my recollection) were gathered onstage. All the boys were dressed in rented tuxedos, and the girls in graduation dresses. Our proud parents were gathered before is, seated in the auditorium, dressed to the nines, beaming, applauding, often chatting away with each other, many of them with Italian and Greek and Irish and German accents of the countries they had left to some to America.

I gave a speech. I had been informed me a few weeks before by the high school speech teacher, Mr. Morganti, that Mr. Maney had decided I should give a speech apart from the Valedictorian's and Salutatorian's. I could write about anything I wanted. I entitled the speech: "Gone, but Not Forgotten." It was about Abraham Lincoln.

After the speech, as the formal graduation proceedings continued, I spoke to Mr. Maney for the second and final time in my life. When he shook my hand giving me my diploma, he said nothing, but later, when he gave me a few graduation award: "Most Likely to Succeed," he spoke. His obligatory handshake was strong, He locked eyes with me and said: "Deserved, Clifford. Deserved."

In the next few weeks and months I was admitted into every school I applied to. I received scholarships to all of them: Rutgers, Lehigh, Stanford, Cornell and Dartmouth.

I've always wondered what Mr. Maney wrote about me in those recommendations. I'd like to think they are still around, buried somewhere, browning with age, in the archives of the various schools. But I'm afraid to research. The truth is: I'd rather imagine than know.

Mr. Manet is also long gone now. He is buried somewhere in New Jersey, and in my heart and mind.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Road to be Taken

Republicans are great at producing things; but they don't share very well. Democrats are great at sharing; but sometimes they forget that you can't share what you don't produce.

What ever happened to the good old days, when people and politicians (like Liberal Republicans and Democratic Conservatives) found a way to balance productivity and noblesse oblige? Dwight Eisenhower's working hand in hand with Lyndon Johnson to make more and share more? Increase the pie and give greater pieces to everyone? Those politicians oversaw the greatest increase in middle-class prosperity and equity in the American experience.

Are those days over forever?

I think the personal greed excesses set in in the late sixties, when we stopped the Protestant work ethic, and two things occurred: the Right and Rich started making money the new-fashioned way: focusing on financial services rather than production services. The left turned all their energies with social reform for blacks, browns, women and gays and the right to rigging the financial system in their social favor.

These Democrats created a necessary revolution, to be sure, but no one wanted to work hard and pay for it. The Left became more interested identity politics and "do your own thing"; and less and less with consensus or community. Securing credit (cards and otherwise)for everyone replaced hard work and savings. So while the Democrats taxed (all right, "fees") and spent, Republicans created new financial instruments (and attached great earning bonuses to them for themselves).

So now, in new century, after twenty five years of spending and not saving (for one recent year there was a negative savings rate in the US!) we have a much smaller pie (the Chinese, who saved, own a big slice of the American pie now)); but ther is less economic equity from top to bottom. The middle, of course, has been crushed between the two.

Maybe (and this is my fervent prayer for my granddaughter and her coming generation) when the baby boomers, the generation that began the Revolution of democratizing self-involvement and self-interest, right and left will gone, and the center will dominate once again, as it did in the 50's. We'll get back to listening to someone else--maybe even sometimes agreeing with them--rather than only listening to our own narrow self-interests. We will blend mutual viewpoints together to produce a fuller, more nuanced understanding of, and richer point of departure to, solving American problems.

I hope it comes soon. We'll get rid of MSNBC and Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Meadows, and their hardened right and left points of view, and get back to Walter Cronkite days, a man who worked hard the squelch his own bias and like him, present the news "That's the way it was", and vote for Presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, who wasn't quite sure if he was a Democrat or a Republican (in fact both parties chased after him to be their standard-bearer). We can settle one again on being Americans, and remember that the major word in our beloved hyphenates--African-American, Hispanic-American, Female-American; Gay-American--is American, the noun, the central emphasis in the phrase.

Peace is not based on everyone agreeing, but rather everyone agreeing to agree; peace is following the middle road; and remember that prosperity is based on hard work...and a reasonable amount of spending and saving and sharing. Or as the Greeks used to call it: living the Golden Mean.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Humble Pie

The great late writer/dircetor Billy Wilder, once, recalling during an interview the diffculting the great composer conductor Andre Previn (who later became conductor of the London Symphany) had in teaching yours truly how to sing a song during the filming of Billy's film "Kiss Me, Stupid," said: "Cliff Omond? Yes, yes. Wonderful actor. He has the musical ear of Van Gogh."

Illegal Immigrants

My wise cynical friend has returned to my world again. He drove into town yesterday and met at me at my favorite coffe shop, Over coffee, he said: "You know how you can spot an illegal immigrant. S/he is the only one driving at or below the speed limit."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I've been noticing lately that people in my neighborhood are building big new houses without having much front yard or backyard space anymore. All the newly built space is inside. Big houses; the whole lot being taken up with the house. Which makes me think: where are the kids going to play? Inside, I guess... bigger playrooms and computer rooms, I sometimes think these new houses are portents of a changing (changed) society? We are more inner oriented, our senses focused more on our own selves and families; rather outer directed toward others.

I remember when my wife and I were raising our children, there were twenty-five kids running the streets within the two blocks of our suburban house, playing in the front and backyards, Now there are none. In fact, whole days go by without the sounds of children outside and playing (maybe there are being replaced by twenty five neighborhood children in a chat room on their computers? But computers don't laugh, though, and shout and giggle and scream with delight when a ball is thrown far or caught one-handed.)

James Mitchner, in his big book "Texas", said that Texas as a territory developed more rapidly when it moved from the insular home-building of the Spanish, with their outer walls and inner facing home sites, walled-off inner courtyards all built in towns with centrally enclosed plazas, to German immigrant flows who rejected tightly compacted town life, moved out to far-removed places, with house placed amidst expansive fields and farms, with room and space or everyone.

Is Los Angeles, my home, with its influx of Hispanic people (half the town now), is it losing its Germanic (read: European) desire for space and neighborhood breathing-room? Oh, well, we can enjoy our take-out and delivered tacos and other delicious Spanish food inside, not on our outside and/or front yard barbecues and porches.

And we can all sit inside with our paranoia I (I can't blame Spanish culture for's very much more WASP-ish) about safety for our kids, keeping them away from rapists and kidnappers. In this regard, I offer a memory: No kids were raped or kidnapped among the twenty five kids who played outdoors on the street in front of my house everyday in the 60s and early 70s; without major adult supervision, by the way.

Which reminds me of my youth (Eastern inner city lower middle class) in the late
40's and early 50's: we not only played safely outside, but no neighborhood home or car door was ever locked...and I don't remember any house being burglarized or kid being raped or absconded.

Times change, I guess; and living styles change. As my mother used to say: "It's all relative; and to each his own." So big houses now mean more rooms, and more inner space. That's good, I guess. More room for everybody to "do their thing", as they used to say in the 1970's. However, I must admit I miss the sounds of kids (I even like the sound of kids crying on an airplane); although perhaps I've changed too: maybe I wouldn't be so nostalgic for their screams and hollers, both on the streets outside, if they were coming in and out of the house twenty times a day, if my two grown-up kids were four and five years old again. But no. I could handle the chaos; I first wanted children when I was twelve years of age; and nothing's changed there,

I miss kids playing outside. In fact, I miss outside itself. I miss unobstructed views. Which these big houses don't allow me anymore. I guess I'm just an old man missing my youth. Or maybe I'm right. Unenclosed space, and seeing others, neighbors and their kids, their sights and sounds, everyday is important to a functioning, happy and successful society.

What do you think?

Monday, November 16, 2009

America Bracho: "You can always train the mind,; but you can not train the heart."

A vacation a day keeps the doctor away.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

No More Moon

Grammy was talking to Sofia on the telephone when she announced to Grammy that she wanted to talk to Grandpa. No sooner did I get on the phone that she announced "I don't want you ever to send the moon to me again!" "OK," I said. "Why?" "Because it came to Washington last night and I don't ever want to see it again in my life. Stop sending it!" I was a bit flabbergasted. I turned to Grammy. She whispered: "Sofia woke up last night after having a nightmare, and full moon was out her window and it scared her." Sofia said to me over the phone: "Do you hear me more moon."

(Some time ago, when Sofia was at our house, we couldn't see the moon outside my house, so we went and chased up high on a hill and found it low and shiny on the horizon. For the next few nights we did that. Soon we became known around the house as the "moon chasers". And before she left Sofia made me promise to send the moon to Washington, DC were she lived. And I promised that I would.)

"No more moon, Grandpa," Sofia reiterated over the phone.

"Well, I don't know," I replied. "The moon's got a mind of it's own. Now that I've been sending it to Washington, it might like going there. I'll talk to it, though. And when you come out her for Christmas, we'll go out in the car together, we'll find the moon together, and we'll hug and we'll talk to it. Sometimes when you're hugging someone, the big, bright moon doesn't seem so scary."

There was a pause at the other end of the phone.

"No more moon," she said. But her voice had softened and her tone seemed so much less urgent.

I wanted to hug her right there and then.

But the distance allowed only a voice: "I love you," I said.

"I love you, too, Grandpa," she said. Pause. "But no more moon."

Postscript: Two nights later, Sofia changed her mind when talking with Grammy again. Grammy sang several times "I watch the moon, the moon watches me...." Sofia joined in for several more choruses. All is well again in Sofia'a relationship with the moon.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of a Bitch

I feel bitchy tonight.

What is "bitchy"; anyway?

I tell my students its unwarranted hostility aimed indiscriminately outward.

I told an acting student once I didn't like his work, his approach, his attitude in a scene. He accused me of homophobia. I just stared at him a moment, then retorted: "No. I just don't like bitches whether they're men or women."

And that includes myself. Especially tonight.

You know how sometimes you want to climb a mountain just because its there. Well, I might be bitchy to you tonight just because you're there...whoever the hell you are. And wherever you are. Just be glad I'm home alone now at the computer.

Bitchy is attacking something or someone just because you want to; not have to.

Some bitches like their bitching subtle; attacking with a pin prick rather than blunt object. I'm generally do that; often with my wife. Let's say I'm in a bad mood with my work and I take it out on her. So subtly that she doesn't even know she's bleeding from the bitch-attack until an hour later.

However, when she attacks me back, that's not bitchiness, that's justifiable self-defense. Until she's keep doing it all day and night. Then it's overwhelming bitchiness. Oh boy. is it ever bitchiness.

Sometimes I kick the dog because there's no frozen yogurt in the refrigerator. (Just an example. I don't have a dog.) Or I blow fallen leaves into the neighbor's yard just because I can get away with it. (I have a neighbor)

I could go on and on with examples (I have hundreds of them, most true; most I've done) but I know longer feel bitchy. That's the benefit of writing. You can take it out on the computer.

But do it gently though; it might have a meltdown. Come to think of it; there is no greater bitch than your computer. It often takes things out on you--like freezing up, or long updates--just because you're there.

Bitchy computer.