Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The Nature of Opposition to Some Things

As a preface to this essay I state that my assertions do not cover all "conservatives," but only most of them. I have friends and relatives who voted for Republicans in the last Presidential Election and who would probably classify themselves as conservatives in the present popular meaning of the term. I believe that at least some of these friends and relatives are people of principle and do not vote for merely selfish concerns.

But many people do. Not only conservatives but many "moderates" and "liberals" also make political choices based on what they perceive as economic advantage to themselves. It's this "selfish" voting that is the target of my following essay.

Consider the vocal opposition to the recently enacted health care law. Why are the opponents against it? A few of them, persons who incline toward socialism like me, don't like it because it is complicated and because it leave the big insurance companies in charge of the system. We socialists prefer a much simpler plan: provide good medical care to all residents as a matter of right or public good. Tax everyone fairly to pay for this care. That's the way we provide police protection and fire protection and street repair and garbage collection and all the other services that government provides. The rest of the opponents oppose the new plan, if you can call it that, because they don't like the way it is paid for, or, because they happen to worship the belief in "small government." Actually, the belief in small government is motivated by economic considerations: small government equals low taxes.

Nobody claims that our present system of health care provides equal care to everyone. It provides the best care in the world for those who can pay. As to the rest, well, too bad. In effect, the successful people are saying to the others, "I've got mine, so screw you."

It has occurred to me that this attitude is behind most "conservative" opposition to any reform that promises to provide equality or fairness to an oppressed class of resident. One example is the opposition to reform and liberalization of our immigration laws to allow more immigration, a path for "illegal" immigrants to become legal and the right to apply for citizenship, and the like. Apparently a majority of the American public approves of the law recently enacted in Arizona to encourage the police to round up illegal immigrants, sequester them, and have them turned over to the federal agency that ships them to Mexico - correction, to the country they came from. Many legal immigrants favor the Arizona law and approaches like that of Arizona. They've made it, so screw the newcomers.

This attitude of smug contempt for those less fortunate is pervasive among voters and is not confined to conservatives. It is especially prevalent during hard times, when unemployment is high, jobs are scarce, and the social net isn't covering all those in need.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My Musical Week-end

One of my many talents is an ear for music. I love music. The musical instrument that I play these days is the recorder (also called a thipple flute). The recorder is a sort of glorified penny whistle made of some beautiful material, such as pear wood, with holes for the fingers positioned so as to play a two-octave chromatic scale. Good players can achieve an extra half step or two above the second octave.

Knowing all of this, one of my daughters, the one who lives near Berkeley, persuaded me to sign up for a week-end recorder workshop, sponsored by the East Bay Recorder Society. I obtained the sign-up form from the society's web site, filled it in, and mailed it along with a check to the person who serves as the treasurer for the event. Both daughters urged me to send my three recorders to a repair shop where a skilled artisan would inspect them for any damage, clean them, replace any leaking corks or springs, and the like. I did so and for a week worried about whether I would ever see my instruments again.

I had taken the instrumets without cases to the local UPS store to be packed and shipped to the shop in San Francisco. When they arrived, the man who did the repair phoned me to tell me that they arrived safely. He was impressed with how well UPS and packaged them. They returned, as promised, on the Monday before the week-end of the workshop. The man who repaired them spoke to me by telephone to tell me that they were in excellent shape and that all he had to do was clean the breath hole on one, replace a spring on one of the two keys on the tenor recorder, and replace a cork on a joint of the alto.

The handles on two of the cases had broken some time ago. I cut off the remaining ends and manufactured new handles out of an old belt. Considering that the instruments and the cases were all at least 40 years old, I didn't think it was an unreasonable task.

Finally, on the appointed day, last Friday, May 14, I packed the recorders in a back-pack and some clothes and a music stand in a suitcase and drove my car to the Burbank Bob Hope Airport and parked in one of the nine dollar a day parking lots. I arrived at the street check-in and sent the suitcase on its way and obtained my boarding pass. Getting through security was easy and fast. Because I carry a trekking pole I was allowed to skip the waiting line and go directly into the area where I removed my shoes and belt and put other metal objects in a tray (cell phone, coin purse, keys) and walked through the metal detector. Soon I had my shoes back on and was heading for the terminal for my flight to Oakland on Southwest Airlines. I still had 90 minutes to wait before the plane was scheduled to leave. Actually, it hadn't arrived at the terminal yet.

On the plane, a few minutes before the scheduled time of departure (10:20 AM) the plane tilted and righted itself, as though it were already in the air and had run into some turbulence. I don't know what caused the tilt, but whatever it was, it caused a delay of an hour before the plane left the gate. I recall years ago when my wife and I were waiting to board a flight from Burbank to Oakland a fork-lift was hoisting passengers in wheel chairs to the entrance door of the plane. After the passenger was inside the plane, the fork-lift driver didn't steer his vehicle very well and it hit the side of the plane and made a dent in it. That dent was enough to delay the take-off for about an hour. I figure something similar happened to the flight I was on.

My daughter had arranged for transportation for me from the Oakland Airport to the Marin Headlands, where the workshop was held. The transportation was provided by Jody, the organizer of the workshop. I had taken an early flight so that she could pick me up at the airport at noon and arrive at the place of the workshop in time to get things set up. She took advantage of my late arrival to do some shopping.

We arrived at the Marin Headlands at about 2 PM. The facility, operated by the YMCA, included several one-story buildings with bedrooms, three large rooms for the workshop sessions, and a cafeteria. I noticed that the bedrooms were all equipped with bunk beds to accommodate seven sleepers. The bunk beds had mattresses covered with thick transparent plastic sheets. There were no blankes. I asked about blankets and learned that I should have brought with me a sleeping bag! Jody was able to telephone a member who hadn't yet left home; the member (Wendy) brought an extra sleeping bag. I was also able to obtain some towels from the representative of the facility (Eddie).

Bill was at the room in the barracks building for the men when we arrived. He is a dealer in recorders and he brought a good part of his inventory: recorders of many sizes all the way from the tiny sopraninos to a huge contrabass. It was a real treat for me to look at them all and to pick up and hold some of them. Jody had brought some snacks and we enjoyed munching after the tables had been arranged along the walls of the room.

I wish I could remember every session in which I participated. I can't. The music was mostly in the Renaissance and Baroque styles. Some of the composers were Lully, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Corelli, and some whose names were not familiar to me. There was music by a modern composer who happened to be a member of the society and who was present. Friday night after the regular sessions were over he directed the group in one of his compositions. We played until 11:30 PM. He himself is also an advanced recorder player and played in many of the sessions that I attended.

On Saturday we had music all day. There were two sessions in the morning, two in the afternoon, and one in the evening. The Saturday evening session involved rehearsing and then performing an entire concerto by Corelli. I was allowd to participate even though I had classified myself as a beginner. After the session was over I realized that I had actually been able to play nearly all the notes correctly and I promoted myself from "Rank Beginner" to "Intermediate."

There was one session Sunday morning. I rolled up the sleeping bag and stuffed it and the pillow that Wendy had also provided. Wendy had left Saturday night but had arranged for Glen, the composer, to bring it to her house on Sunday. I left the sleeping bag in Glen's bedroom, returned the towels to the dining hall, and packed my own things. A lady named Pat drove me from the YMCA facility to my daughter's house in Albany so that I could visit with her for a while and have dinner with her and family. After dinner her husband drove me to the Oakland Airport for my flight back home.

Playing with other musicians, most of them better than I, was a treat that I have not enjoyed since I left Michigan State College (now University) where I had played clarinet in the marching band. The recorder people were very friendly and tolerant. I may attend the workshop again next year.

Aside from the music, the accommodations were rather spartan. I mentioned the requirement of bringing my own bedding and towels. The food in the dining hall was so-so at best. The best items were those that had not been cooked or otherwise processed in the kitchen: the fruit. There were bananas, apples, grapes, pineapple chunks, and other kinds of fruit. The cooked food was rather tasteless, designed to be good enough for some high-school kids who were more interested in hiking around the many trails in the Marin Headlands than in eating.

However, I look forward to another workshop at the same place with the same sleeping arrangements and the same bland food but with beautiful and thrilling music that I will be able to help create.


Monday, May 17, 2010


About Arizona (Continued)

In my previous post I made some comments about the new anti-immigrant law in Arizona, especially that it doesn't address the problem that one of its supporters cited as the reason for her support. The law is an example of opportunistic politicians conflating two evils that are not logically related and enacting a law directed at one in the hope that the voters will think that the law addresses both. Thus, the worse of the two evils in Arizona is the drug smuggling. The law is specifically aimed at the lesser evil, which is the presence of illegal immigrants from Mexico and points south. Supporters of the law include those Arizonans who are terrified by the armed and dangerous smugglers as well as those who resent what they view as an intrusion of dark-skinned Spanish-speaking invaders into a region populated by light-skinned English-speaking natives.

I didn't finish my previous post. The question is, what is to be done? My answer, nothing. There is nothing that I or any other person outside of Arizona can do to change the mind-set of those Arizonans who support the law. They will have to see for themselves what effect the law will have and decide for themselves what to do about it. Right now anything that we outsiders do, such as organizing boycotts and public protests, will only make the Arizonans more stubbornly determined to enforce the law and prove to us that it works. Only when they see that it doesn't work the way they want it to work will they change their minds and change the law.


Thursday, May 13, 2010


What to do about Arizona

My liberal friends are all agog about the new Arizona anti-immigrant law. The Los Angeles City Council has voted in favor of boycotting firms that do business in Arizona. Many organizations are rescheduling events that had been planned to take place in the Grand Canyon State. We're gonna show those ignorant bigoted rednecks that we don't approve of their immigrant bashing. Etc., etc., etc.

I am writing about an article in the Tucson Citizen in which State Senator Sylvia Allen explains why she voted for SB1070. I intended to insert a ling here to the article, but the link didn't work. You can find the article by going to Google and typing "Sylvia Allen: Arizona state senator." One of the items displayed is the article in the newspaper.

As you can see, she conflates two distinct phenomena: (1) Illegal immigration from Mexico; and (2) Illegal smuggling of drugs from Mexico. If you read her explanation it is clear that the big problem is the drug smuggling. The impetus for enacting the law was the murder of a rancher. It seems very likely that the rancher was murdered by a member of a smuggling gang. No matter; his death is blamed on an illegal immigrant, so let's go after all the illegal immigrants. In that way the Arizona Legislature (and the governor) were able to appease two separate factions: (1) those who have a visceral hatred of Mexican immigrants, especially the illegal ones; (2) those who are angry at the murder of the rancher.

It would appear to me from Senator Allen's letter that the big problem is the smuggling operation that goes on. A more logical and fruitful approach, in my opinion, would have been to mount a police action against the smugglers. Involve the FBI, the Drug and Firearms Agency, the State National Guard, and other organizations designed to deal with dangerous criminals in stopping the smugglers and putting them in prison. No additional law is necessary to mount such an operation. All it takes is some extra money to recruit more members to the National Guard, FBI, etc. Money is hard to find. It's easier to pass a law that appeals to the group that hates Mexicans.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010



This little article is about big things: big government, big business. It's also about how I, a liberal, view conservative philosophy and conservative actions. I think I've hit on an important difference between conservatives and liberals. They both distrust big institutions. Liberals distrust big business. Conservatives distrust big government.

I distrust big business. Big business does not follow Adam Smith's theory of how free markets impose discipline on the activity of buying and selling. It is implicit in the theory that each entity in the market, whether it be an individual, a small group of individuals (e.g., a family business), or a large group (e.g., a corporation) is motivated to continue existing as well as to make a profit. We have seen that in some large corporations, particularly banks, the individual managers have acted in ways that bring themselves more wealth and at the same time lead to the ruin of the corporation. It seems as though that although our courts have done as much as they can to endow corporations with all of the rights and obligations of humanhood they have failed to recognize that corporations lack a sense of self-preservation. The bankers at Bear Stearns and at Lehman Brothers were making out handsomely with bonuses while their banks were going broke.

Unlike corporations, governments all have a strong sense of self-preservation. A government will fight like hell to keep from being destroyed or overthrown. Unlike a corporation, a government is able to enlist fierce loyalty among the people it governs. Even a repressive government can count on citizen loyalty if it is attacked by outsiders. Corporations often have the loyal support of the workers; they lack the same spirit of support among the stockholders and officers. It is the officers and stockholders who make the decisions that can lead to the demise of the corporation.

Both governments and corporations do mean or cruel things. Governments are motivated both by the fear of being overthrown by outsiders and by the need to maintain the support of a majority of the population. Corporations are motivated to provide profit to their managers and owners. These motivations can led to great cruelty and grievous mistakes. If a government makes a mistake, it is possible for the people to cause the government, or its successor, to atone for the mistake. The American government has atoned for the imprisonment of citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. The German government has atoned for the mass execution of Jews during the same war. Corporations are not under the pressure of public judgment to correct and atone for their mistakes. Laws can be enacted that require them to do so; they can evade the laws by simply going out of business.

I expect and welcome expressions of contrary points of view from my conservative friends.


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