Visiting Ronald McDonald House

The Ronald McDonald House Charities are a big deal for a regional medical center out in the middle of the south plains of the Texas Panhandle.  Not only is it a remarkable piece of utilitarian architecture, it is full of people working hard for good reasons.

When we closed our little toy store a couple of years ago, there were a lot of toys left.   We’ve managed to give most of them away (except for my own personal stash, and my closet of toys for kids who come to call…) but when we started packing to move, we found another small stash of brand new toys that needed a good hom.  So today — I took stuffed animals, bears with clothes to change, and a few odd baby rattles to Ronald McDonald House here at the TTU Medical Center.  The first time I took them a load of bears, I called and asked what they needed — but today I just showed up — and boy were they excited.  With the holidays right around the corner, they now have a full pantry of Santa.

So here’s the thing.

This is what corporate charitable giving should look like.  McDonalds is the undisputed king of fast food — we all know that.  And however much we make fun of them, they are the reliable place to stop when traveling, and the best fast, nutritious breakfast on the run — period.  They should probably burn the machines that make Chicken McNuggets, but that’s a whole other issue.

The bottom line is that they not only set the bar for consistent, clean, and reliable in fast food prep, they also set the bar for using corporate funds to do something healthy and beneficial to individuals in crisis, and to our society as a whole.  Giving the families of children in critical and long term medical centers a close, safe, clean, and comfortable place to stay is the work of corporate angels.  Whatever else McDonalds does as a company, they did this part right.  They make peoples’ lives better.  And they keep doing it.

This is what corporations should strive for.  Making peoples’ lives better.

As opposed to Chick-fil-a.  Home of using corporate charitable funds to encourage discrimation.  To make distinctions between those who deserve and those who do not.  Whatever else Chick-Fil-A does as a corporation — they got this part wrong.  They could have funded medical research.  They could have funded scholarships, or holiday toy drives, or book-mobiles or traveling dentistry….  But they didn’t.

They could have practiced pure religion — caring for widows and orphans.  The homeless. Veterans.  The handicapped.  The mentally challenged.  Single parents struggling to make ends meet.  People caught in the corporate greed machine that started the financial and home-loan crisis.  People injured in gun accidents.  People who have lost family members to food poisoning or anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

But they didn’t.  The corporation so-o-o-o Christian that they won’t sell chicken sandwiches on Sunday, chose to use their money to try and push their religious beliefs — which evidently they do not put into action — on others.

So bravo, Ronald McDonald House Charities, for demonstrating what good can come of good intentions.

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McDonalds Egg McMuffin

So, go have the best, balanced, lean, and high protein breakfast you can get for cheap through a car window — an Egg McMuffin — and feel good about it.

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Egg McMuffin®

English Muffin
Egg
Pasteurized Process American Chees
Canadian Style Bacon
Liquid Margarine

300  Calories
18g Protein
12g Fat (19%)
30g Carbs (10%)
820mg Sodium (34%)
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SOPA, PIPA, Profits, and Intellectual Property

We have the internet because a bunch of scientists, spread to the 4 winds, wanted to talk to each other and send data regarding their most recent experiments, ideas, projects, and discoveries.

Real science is not a capitalist endeavor. (though capitalism occasionally funds real science with a view toward profits.) But the *real* thing doesn’t care about bottom lines, borders, parties, ownership, or anything but getting its name spelled right in the footnote and on the Nobel Prize.

Real art feels the same way. It’s only the suits, looking to take 15% off the top, that shout “piracy!” All the real artists need is enough pizza to keep going, and a way to send their kids to college. Anything over or beyond that is just gravy. Ask a real artist — they’ll all tell you the same thing. Just like the real scientists, they’d do it for free + necessities. And most of the time, they’d forgo the necessities.

This conflict — a left brain/right brain conflict — is between capitalism and shared human experience.

It hasn’t been that long since *music* was the product of social gatherings where everybody who could play an instrument or sing — did.  And they did it for the enjoyment of all, and because musicians just LOVE making music no matter the time or place.  Likewise — art of any kind was something you did because you loved it.  When passersby toss coins in your directions, that’s a plus, but it’s not the heart of the matter.  Think about the cave paintings at Lascaux.  Or the festival dances and tribal dances of early cultures.  Art is an expression of internal emotions and desires.  Science is the questions we can’t ignore.  And neither of them — at their hearts — are about money.

It’s only governments that require documentation and ownership; and only capitalism that wants to turn a profit.  Not people — but entities.  Overlays.

Yes, we want scientists and artists to make a living so they don’t starve in the streets or suffer from illness and poverty.  That’s why almost all the major research scientists in the world are funded by their home civil societies.  We all pay their salaries.  And the ones at the top make enough to keep them quite well, thank you.  They won’t ever be independently Wealthy with a capital W — until they clock up a commercially lucrative patent or two — at which point they’ll leave the government tit and strike out on their own, where no agency is constantly peeking over their shoulder.

What we don’t want is for our art and science to exist solely for the purpose of paying off quarterly dividends.

That’s what the current SOPA and PIPA legislation is all about.

That’s what any fight over intellectual property is all about.  It’s about The Money — the men in the blue suits who put up money to finance the arts and sciences, in exchange for lucre at the finish line.  That what The Money does in Hollywood.  That’s what The Money does on Broadway, and in Nashville, and at Disney, and at Big Pharm, Big Energy, Big Food, Big Tobacco, and just about every other Big you can think of.

Gambling on science and art (and scientists and artists) is exactly as old as capitalism itself.  It’s basically a bookie’s operation — it might as well be run out of the back room of a shady poker game.

And that’s what we don’t need or want.  Middle men.  Ugly.  Greedy.  Greasy.  Slippery.  Middle men.

 

Love, Hate, World Kitchen, and Borosilicate Glass

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Remember Pyrex kitchen tools?  The glass you had to throw on the driveway to break?

Until 1998, when Corning sold its Pyrex consumer division (but not industrial or laboratory applications) to World Kitchen, the same company that now makes the deficient version of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware, and Farberware pots/pans — Pyrex was made of borosilicate glass.  Borosilicate is glass made of boron oxide and silica, and is sought after because it is resistant to thermal shock (like taking a prepared casserole out of the fridge or freezer and sliding it straight into the hot oven.)  Normal glass would burst apart like an exploding firecracker if you took it straight from freezer to oven.)  The borosilicate glass was the difference between Pyrex kitchen tools, and those made by Anchor Hocking — which were designed to look like and often be mistaken for Pyrex.  Anchor Hocking charged half the price and lasted about 10 minutes before breaking under normal use in the kitchen — sometimes showering families, cooks, and their kitchens with shards of exploding glass in the process.

Borosilicate glass is a product developed at the end of the 19th century and used in kitchens for all of the 20th century. It is fairly expensive to produce compared to the cheaper “soda-lime glass” (thus the difference in price between borosilicate glass and jelly-jars.)

Chances are, if you’re using your mom’s old Pyrex casserole dish, it’s made of borosilicate glass.  However, if you bought your Pyrex in the US, your casseroles and measuring cups are made of soda-lime glass.  — the same stuff your soda bottles and spaghetti jars are made of.  So if your new items are “popping” and breaking into chunks of useless, 1/4″ thick glass, THIS IS WHY.  Soda lime glass is cheaper to make because it contains many different chemical components — and many of those can be fudged.  That is, these components can use polluted, or even substituted completely and still produce a product that can be called glass.

In many cases, soda-lime glass is so thick-walled that it can be knocked against a cabinet edge with no harm (think of your Coke-bottle.)  However, it is not resistant to thermal shock in the same way as borosilicate glass.  It doesn’t have the fluid, crystal transparency — and is more suited to being pressed/molded into a shape than blown.  These are aesthetic concerns — something World Kitchens would never give a second thought — as proven with their handling of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware.

I don’t know who runs “World Kitchen” products — famous for putting great American companies like Pfaltzgraff, Pyrex, and Farberware into outlet malls and dollar stores — but I would bet money that it is not a family that has been making pottery or glassware or flatware, or kitchen tools for generations — improving their product to be the best, most beautiful, and most lasting it can be. This has to be a company run by a CEO who has never made anything original in their life.

This is management by the golden-parachute-crowd that floats from one business to the next, making mergers and acquisitions, hiring cronies, increasing profits by cutting corners, and then moving on the next company to be destroyed by the greed of shareholders and their own philosophy that cheaper is better because it has to be replaced more often. They market based on the power of a brand-name they have acquired — without any hint that they have gutted the company that built the reputation of that brand name.  They charge the same high price that the reputation could charge based on decades of consistent performance — except they have done a bait and switch con along the way.  They sell you a dish labeled PYREX — but it’s really made of  Coke-bottle glass.

We’re being fleeced by professional dismantlers.  They buy a great company, strip it of everything that made it great, destroy its reputation and make decades of work worthless, milk it for every cheating profit they can — then they walk away — leaving an empty factory, lost jobs, and yet another pile of American junk.

Do I sound upset?  Yes.  I am upset.  I’m always upset by this kind of corrupt capitalism.

Should Pennsylvania be upset?  That is where the new Pyrex and the new Pfaltzgraff live.  Previously, it was where quality American goods were made.  Now, after what must have been dramatic tax breaks and financial concessions to keep jobs in Pennsylvania communities — they are producing substandard crap.  The formulae are substandard.  The thickness and quality of the metals is substandard.  The plastics are cheap and prone to crack and crumble after just a few years.  The dinnerware has so much air in it that it crumbles in the dishwasher.  The “heat resistant” glass is just a lie told to sell snake oil.

Borosilicate glass was a brilliant discovery 125 years ago.  It was clever and useful and was just one of the discoveries that made the modern kitchen safe, beautiful and creative.

The problem of greed, however, has become so pervasive in the world of corporate takeovers and acquisitions, golden parachutes, and management by temporary secretaries shuttled from one company to another by high-end headhunters, that Pyrex has lost its position in the American market. Even as recently as 15 years ago, Pyrex was, like Kleenex and Coke — so widely mistaken as a generic category label that hardly any of us realized that not ALL borosilicate glass was made by Pyrex.  We went to the drugstore and got a Coke — even if it was a grape soda.  We used a Kleenex when we sneezed, even if it was made by some other company.  And we used a Pyrex baking dish for our pies — even if they were made by some other borosilicate glass manufacturer.

Since the late 1990’s however, complaint after complaint has been filed with the Consumer Products Safety Commission about the hazards associated with the “new” Pyrex, made by World Kitchens.  It explodes in ovens, pops, cracks and shatters when set on cold or wet countertops and tables — it just isn’t the Pyrex consumers thought they were buying.  It isn’t the Pyrex we’d been led to believe we were buying. World Kitchens is lying to the public by calling its cheap, worthless glass by a name that had become synonymous with — and had become the generic usage name of — high quality, chemically sound, borosilicate glass.  It is today no better than Anchor Hocking, or any “dollar-store” glass dish.  This is yet another case of “take the money and run” corrupt capitalism.  One more reason why we in the US are no longer competitive in the global market.

For the complete report on all this — you can read about the Consumer Reports test of the new Pyrex soda-lime glass that compares it to both Anchor Hocking known-to-be-unsafe wares, older borosilicate Pyrex, and other borosilicate product.  It will break your heart to read how low the standards for American products have gone.

There is still borosilicate glass being made and used.  In fact — in Europe, it is still used to make Pyrex products.  (!)

It is still used to make laboratory equipment, optical devices, and a variety of  temperature specific technologies.  It’s used for most of the products made by the European companies, Bodum (beautiful tea pots, cups, coffee presses etc) and Luigi Bormioli (artfully designed glassware, cups, shot glasses, fruit bowls etc.) — though both Bodum and Bormioli tend to make some of their products so paper-thin that even though they will stand up to an abrupt temperature change, they may not stand up to a teaspoon clacking against their rim.  Both Bodum and Bormioli (and many other designers) have used borosilicate glass to great effect in producing beautiful serving pieces, and a string of double walled-insulated cups and glasses that can serve hot drinks without needing a handle — a design miracle since handles break off so easily with use; and which can be used to prepare and serve iced drinks and frozen desserts without the disadvantage of condensation.

Here are some of my favorite contemporary pieces of Borosilicate glassware.

Sadly, none of them are made in America, or by American Companies.

Luigi Bormioli Teapot with Infuser and Warmer

Luigi Bormioli Teapot with Infuser and Warmer

Bodum Espresso Cups with Silicon Wraps

Bodum Espresso Cups with Silicon Wraps

Bormioli Hot Drink for One

Bormioli Hot Drink for One

Luigi Bormioli 6oz teacup with Stainless Steel Saucer

Luigi Bormioli 6oz teacup with Stainless Steel Saucer

What We Made in America — and then screwed up

When I married Jim 10 years ago, the most emotional purchase we made together (for me) was a set of dishes.

I’d been married before, and the dishes I got as a wedding present so long ago are all still in perfect condition.  They were good quality, called “Ruska” — made in Finland — purchased at Neiman Marcus in Dallas by my father’s business partner.  In 8 years of a first marriage and 14 years as a single mom, only 1 bowl ever broke — and it was because I dropped it into the dishwasher just as the door to the DW was slamming shut, and it broke into 3 very clean, very large pieces.  It was not just ceramic, it’s brochure said — it was ironstone.

But it was dark brown and black and very austere looking pottery.  And it was an emotional anchor to a bad marriage and a lot of really hard years as a single parent.

About 3 years before I met Jim, when my son went off to college, I bought myself a small set of dishes that I dearly loved.  They were bright and pretty, and as warm and homey as the Ruska dishes were hard and cold.  I walked into a Williams Sonoma shop and there they were — waiting for me.  They were porcelain instead of pottery — fine and thin, and light as a feather compared to the old ironstone.  They were translucent.  Called Montgolfiere, the dinner plates were blue skies and puffy clouds over a countryside in rolling hills of farmland. 

The 4 salad plates were covered with 4 different fantastical hot air balloons in soft bright pastels.  The cups and saucers were the hot air balloons’ baskets on a saucer of more puffy clouds.  They were and are wonderful and happy dishes — and marked a kind of liberation from that heavy past I’d survived.

It was these Montgolfiere dishes Jim and I started out with when we first got married.  He had some dishes, but they were, like my Ruska set, anchored to the past. He’d been single a long time.  And my balloon dishes were very special to me because of what they represented — but they didn’t really represent US as much as they did ME.  They were a little “girlie” and fluffy.  And I really wanted some dishes that picked up and started fresh — like we had picked up and started fresh.

I looked a few places trying to find something that was right for us — something utilitarian and interesting without breaking the bank.  I didn’t want Walmart specials.  I didn’t want bone china or gilt.  I didn’t want strict utility like Tupperware or Corningware.  No “ware.”

Then I got a little book from Amazon.  Actually, I got in on a whim.  It purported to be about cooking and southern France, and art.  It was a very thin, hardcover-only book called The Secrets of Pistoulet.

Turns out, Pistoulet is a real Provencial place and a real inn — and looks quite a bit like the artist’s drawing of it.  The drawings were all done with the ochres that come from the nearby mountains (from the softest yellow to the purest earthen red) and ultramarine.  The motifs are olives and sunflowers and all the plants we all associate with southern France — that area where Van Gogh found so many of his paints and subjects.

Then I realized from the related links on Amazon that Pfaltzgraff — the gold standard for pottery/dishes in Pennsylvania for decades — had taken the author and artist’s artwork, created a palette, and produced an ever-expanding “match by mismatching” set of dishes.  A ceramic quilted pastiche of color.

In fact — it wasn’t a new set for Pfaltzgraff when I bought mine — this is/was one of their most popular lines of dishes.  And for good reason.  Bright.  Sunny yellows velvety custard yellows, and clear ultramarines.  Intense color.  Really lovely.  And with different designs from one end of the line to the other.

The bowls (and there are many) are all in different patterns and designs and sizes and shapes — because the bulk of the recipes in the little book are for soups.  Soup and bread is the meal at the little Inn at PIstoulet — and so there is a mix and match quality to everything Pfaltzgraff made(makes) under that name.  It’s part of the point and structure of the story.  So there are a dozen or more shapes and kinds of bowls to serve in!  And a variety of turine sizes and shapes and designs.

But they match because of the palette.

Or they did.

I have a good selection of bowls and medium-sized plates in this pattern from Pfaltzgraff. I really like the French green earth color and the olive and tiny five-petal flowers.  Even the occasional aubergine or beet.  There are platters with the inn in the bright sunshine, and cups surrounded by sunflowers.  There’s even a cheese plate with goblets of wine painted into it.  Swirls of blue and intense red ochre and egg-yolk yellow clay.  And a shallow pasta bowl with a pocket watch keeping time under whatever pasta you decide to put there.

And they make me happy.  They’re fun to eat hot soup and home-made bread from because so much thought and intention went into producing them.  And because I’ve read the book, they also carry the intention of the story with them.  They are like eating off the illustrations in a child’s storybook.

Then a couple of years ago, the owners of Pfaltzgraff — for whatever reason — decided to get out of the dish business.  I don’t know if they died off, or if the economy chased them off, or whatever else may have happened.  But they sold their business.  And they sold it to people who had no intention of keeping up the high quality of Pfaltzgraff’s brand.

And it shows most in the Pistoulet dishes………………………………………………….

The palette is no longer true to the natural ochres from the mountains and hillsides of Provence.  I know ochre — and these dishes are painted with chemical imitations of natural ochre.  Even the ultramarine isn’t ultramarine — but instead is a garish substitute.

And they stopped using the paintings from the book as the source for what is painted onto the dishes.

The pottery is thicker but lighter — that means more porous and thus easier to break.  The reason my ironstone and my porcelain were so hard to break was because there is so little air to weaken then internal structure of the piece.  The glazes were hard fired and sturdy.  But the new Pfaltzgraff Pistoulet dishes chip and ding just going in and out of the dishwasher.  It overheats (very quickly) in the microwave — which means there are metals either in the paints, the glaze, or the pottery itself.

And the new designs are created by someone with absolutely no artistic sensibility.  The shapes are bulky and off balance.  The lids make pieces top-heavy and the pottery is just — cheap.  In the worse sense of the word.

Pfaltzgraff has been part of the landscape of dinner tables in this country for several generations.  It was made here, designed here, and used here. I don’t know if they were nice people, but I suspect they must have been.  Family business only lasts if it takes care of its employees and neighbors.  And customers.

Now, the original formulas have gone the way of so many other family recipes and businesses.  People half-a-world away don’t care if their product lasts because they want us to replace often.  People half a world away don’t care if the paint or glaze is brittle or ugly or even unhealthy.  Their concern is with fast, cheap, and $$$.

Once again, my bottom line is that I’m tired of unhealthy capitalism.  I’m tire of just making quantity without making quality.  I’m tired of the buyer and the seller being so dissociated from each other that the seller stops caring what we want, and tries to force us to want what they have to sell.  I’m tired of pushy, greedy, snake-oil.  I’m tired of corporations rather than people.

I’m tired of “it’s not personal — it’s business.”

I want to be able to buy a piece or two of Pistoulet without having it break or chip the first time I use it or wash it.

I’m tired of brand-names being bought up by “investors” who have no interest in capitalism except the bottom line — to the extent that they make the reputation and hard work of the generations who built the company — worthless.  Just bloody worthless.

I’m tired of golden parachuted CEOs hitch-hiking from one brand name to another — squeezing all the $$$ they can get from past glory and past reputation and the goodwill with customers they never had anything to do with… only to jump ship or move on as soon as the current state of the goods is so bad that the $$$ dries up.

Better to just let a brand name die than to let it be run into the ground by corporate greed, or lost in the shuffle of so many other merged and acquired –and acquired again — small but worthwhile businesses.

I’m getting tired of worn out and sickly versions of capitalism.

Instead of creating something wonderful and strong and beautiful and useful and selling it for a fair and honest price — so much of what we now know as capitalism is based on how many people can be hustled before the truth gets out.  Whether it’s prescription drugs that have circumvented the needed testing, or foreign made baby toys with lead paint and sharp edges, or dog food full of ground up melamine (plastic) — the point has become to cheat and trick consumers into buying what they don’t need, don’t want, can’t afford, and can’t expect to last.  The point has become to lie to as many people as possible as fast as possible and then run with the money. Capitalism hasn’t always been a pyramid or a ponzee scheme — but that’s what we’ve made it into.

The US didn’t invent capitalism — but we sure found the fast track to corrupting it.  Pfaltzgraff used to make dishes like The Finnish company, Arabia made dishes — someting unique and different and creative.  Now Pfaltzgraff shares its brand name with the corrupted version of Farberware pots and pans and a dozen un-named labels of kitsch and kitchen gadgets — the stuff you get from dollar stores and outlet mall house-ware stores.

It’s not that we’re now making stuff badly — it’s that we opted out of making anything at all, and turned that dirty work over to countries that can “make it cheaper” — and we work very hard to not know how and why it’s cheaper.

Shame on us.

Top 5 Things I Want Back (orig 10/08)

1.  The cerulean sky.  When I was a child (it sucks to be old enough to say that…) the sky was actually a different color than it has been for the last couple of decades.     It truely was cerulean — rathar than the washed out, faded denim, slightly-chromed-metalic-gray-blue color it has been since the late 80’s.   Between 9-11-01 and 9-13-01, they gathered enough data do prove Global Dimming was/is actually happening because the skies were empty of aircraft.   So doubt is down to zero that it really is getting darker, even at noon; and the color really has changed.  And there has already been enough change since the number of commercial aircraft has been reduced in the last 10 months, that it makes me anxious for this one.  I want my cerulean sky back.

2.  I want my religion back.  My problem is not with Christianity, or with any of the religions that influence our daily lives.  In general, they do individuals a lot of good — and have some positive impact on the societies and cultures where they are.  My problem is with the people who hijack religion for their own agenda.  Capitalism hijacked fundamentalist Christianity to gain the carte blanche support of well-meaning people who default to trust over skepticism.  What they got, in addition to that trust, was the power of the pulpit.  “What is said from the pulpit is as inspired by God as the Bible is…” is both faulty reasoning based on no Biblical claims, but it is also one more nail in the coffin of free will and personal responsibility.  Those who give up their right and ability to think for themselves, probably deserve what they get.

I, on the other hand, am not willing to accept the directives from the pulpit concerning public policy, but I am also not willing to accept that the cornerstone of faith is is ignorance and blind submission to any man or woman who takes the microphone in a building that is distinguished only by a sign on the curb claiminng to be “God’s House.”    Regardless of which God the sign professes to represent — it was still hammered into the ground by a man or woman.
And as far as I know, it is only men and women who have ever tried to make blind, uninformed, and unquestioning faith a tenant of religion.  And I want people of all faiths to stay out of the “I know what God wants you to do” and “I know who God favors” business.

3.  I want my money back.  I want all that money the US Govt. spent on private contractors, Haliburton, and tribal pay-offs back.  I want all the money funneled into the bank accounts of Republican cronies and pork to go back into the US coffers.  I want all the money spent so that politicians could “look busy”, “appear hardworking” or take a cushy trip around the world returned to my own personal account.

4. I want conversation without irony back.  Just that.  Not a big request, really.  Just plain, straight talk.  Words with no manipulation behind them.  Compliments without agenda.  Truth, without a joke to mask our low expectations.

5.  I want community back.  Everyone is so caught up in the quest to get ahead (a personal quest), to show a profit (a personal quest), to present the desired image (a personal quest), and to “play smart” (a personal quest), that neighbors have slipped out of focus.  We are persuaded to strive to be our own personal best.  To fulfill our own potential.

And self sacrifice, being our brother’s keeper, giving more than we take (or even as much as we take) have all fallen into disuse and then atrophy.   This is not to say that we aren’t all equally to blame for this phenomenon.  The temptation is to say “this is my time — don’t ask for it” and “this is my future I’m giving up if I stop to help you.”  Those are sentiments that the time and place where we are living have worked very hard to vanish.  “This is my money you’re asking for.”  “These are my emotions you are asking me to invest.”   Mine.  Nobody else’s.

I want what is ours back.  It’s a pendulum.  I know.  This has happened before in history.  I just want it back.

Greed-is-Good Capitalism (orig date 3/3/09)

So the word of the hour is, lobbyists no longer get to write the legislation.  How do we know this has already begun?  Because Big HMO, Big Pharm, Big Oil, and Big Banks are all standing outside in the snow, scrambling to get back inside and back at the table.  So think about how you would react if you were Big Oil or Big HMO, or Big Banks.  You’d pull out your best and most persuasive voices and start finding them a forum.  A microphone.  You’d buy time where the biggest audiences are watching and then hire the best and the brightest advertising agencies.  You’d call up all those physicians, experts, researchers, and scientists — you know — the one’s you’ve been paying off and employing for all these years — and you’d get as many of them as possible on the air, in print, on the blogs, in the editorials and out on the street as you possibly could — and you’d do it fast.

Never mind that this administration is only 32 days old.  Never mind that it took at least 35 years, and probably closer to 55 to put this economy into the condition it is now in.  Never mind that they sound like whining, spoiled, sore-losers that they lost their allies in Washington — all those politicians, aids, advisors, assistants, speech writers, and misc. bureaucrats they’ve been paying to take their side for decades.  In those 32 days their position has gone from comfortable and secure to flapping in the breeze — and they are pissed as hell and twice as panicked.

Pick up any of the financial newspapers and without looking, I can guarantee they are crying SOCIALISM.  Pick up any in-house publication of the HMO’s or pharmaceutical, and I guarantee they are crying the same thing.  Pick up any publication or cable/TV network with ties to the “Good Ol’ Boy Network” comprised of Friends of OPEC, Friends of Fossil Fuels, Friends of No-Bid Contracts, or Friends of US-trained Mercenaries — and they will be crying the same thing.  SOCIALISM.  The biggest bug-a-boo they can think of.  Oooooo.  Scary words.  Scary unfathomable words.  Scary un-American words.  Scary McCarthism words.  Scary Marxist words.  Scary Communist words.   Oooooooooo.   And we all shake in our boots and cry NO!  Capitalism!  We want capitalism!  Capitalism will save us!  Capitalism will save us all!  Capitalism is the engine that runs the American Dream!

Except for when it isn’t.  Capitalism — reallllllly unhealthy capitalism — is what started this.  Not in the Bush administration.  Or the other Bush administration.  Or the other Bush Sr. administration.  Or Clinton.  Or Reagan.  Or Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, or Kennedy.  This unhealthy form of capitalism is a viral mutation that’s been cooking on the stove through all those decades.  It is the lazy American’s American Dream.  The one that says “you don’t have to work that hard or that many hours.  You don’t have to scrimp on luxury.  You don’t have to do business in a way that is fair, or benefits all your employees.  You don’t have to stand behind your product or give people their money’s worth. You don’t have to be your brother’s keeper — because your brother will sink or swim on his own — let the free market decide.

This most unhealthy form of capitalism is what got us to the point where already 1 of 10 of us will be out of work OUT OF WORK as in NO MONEY BEING EARNED by summer.  NO MONEY to pay rent, mortgage, buy groceries or gas, NO MONEY for shoes or books for college.  NO MONEY for education or to see a doctor.  NO MONEY to pay property tax. Or sales tax.  Or income tax.  Out of work is just that — out of work.  No longer part of the GNP.  No safety net.  Unless you’re really lucky and have family or friends to take you in.  And you can pray with them every night that they don’t lose their job or their savings or benefits….

What distinguishes unhealthy capitalism from the HEALTHY kind?  Greed.

Remember Gordon Gekko?  Contrary to all those wide-eyed and drooling Wall Streeters who idolized that character — Gordon Gekko’s GREED is what got us here.  Make it big, make it fast, make it without reservations and without conscience.  Strip a company, a community, or a family dry — take it all — and then move on.  Which is exactly what the CEOs of all those companies we now condemn — Enron? All those fat cats flying to Washington in their private jets to beg congress to give them OUR money?  How about EXXON and it’s record profits for 28 straight quarters?  Or any of the pharmaceuticals who plead “research research!” when challenged on how much Americans have to pay for their medications compared to the rest of the world….

But it’s not just the Gordon Gekkos on Wall Street who got greedy — it’s every one of us who demanded higher profits every quarter in order for us to be happy and contented enough to stick with a company.

I’ve got news for you.  Pure capitalism does not demand a new record for percent of profit every quarter to be successful.  Only Gordon Gekko’s capitalism does that.  And that is the only kind of capitalism that has existed in the US for a very long time.  At least the last 16 years, and I would guess that it goes back to the 8 years of Ronald Reagan.  It’s no coincidence that Wall Street was written, produced, and released during RR’s 2nd administration — they had to get the idea from somewhere.  It was an idea whose time had come.

So before you go joining in with Big Oil, Big Pharm, Big HMO, and Big Banks, crying SOCIALISM to try and scare the bloody Jesus out of good, hard working, solid Americans — you might want to cry GEKKO CAPITALISM first.  That’s the boogie-man that brought us to this dance, and for my money — and my American Dream — those are the really scary words.  We got to this dance on the arm of a monster wearing a mask that says Greed is Good across the forehead.  CAPITALISM WILL SAVE US.

The truth is, most of us squirmed a little the first dozen times we heard Gordon Gekko say those scary words.  We knew from the beginning it was a lie.  –that it could only result in nightmares and a fast decent into hell.  We knew Gordon Gekko was not the man we wanted to be when we grew up.  Greed driving an economy can only result in the trampling of huge numbers of those on the bottom — because the structure is that those on top win, and everybody else loses.   Greed driving a country has the same result.

That’s the model we built and that’s the model we’ve been living.

And now — here we are.

And I would suggest that we have to treat all those Gordon Gekkos (and Bernie Madoffs, and Ken Lays…) out there like bottle-hugging, swerving, weeping, alcoholics.  It has to be cold turkey or a padded cell in a hospital for the “Capitalistically Damaged”.  They can’t “mend their ways” and suddenly start running a healthy model of capitalism.  They wouldn’t last 5 minutes alone with the temptation to cheat, steal, con, or otherwise screw their employees, shareholders, friends, fellow Americans, relatives and investors.  It has to be cold turkey for them — and for all of us who bought into the Greed is Good Capitalism of the last 40 years.

So, until there is a new generation, not corrupted by our twisted version of the sacred economic religion — there has to be another way to live.  To survive.  To do penance.  To nurse our social conscience back to health.

The truth?  Truth with a capital T?  Greed is a bad thing.  Always.  And we are our brother’s keeper.  Always.
Where have I read that before?