A Key Difference between the Seventies and Today: William Shattner & ‘Rocketman’

At the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, William Shattner performed Elton John’s song, “Rocket Man,” in spoken word while smoking a cigarette … and no one in attendance apparently thought it was funny enough to laugh out loud. I have to believe that many people in the audience wanted to laugh, but they didn’t, not so much because it would have embarrassed Shattner, but because it would have embarrassed them. Today we are so conditioned to be voyeuristic that life can seem like a movie to be watched and critiqued. Thanks to our collective post-doctorate levels of mass media consumption, we have become expert observers and shamelessly outspoken analysts. This performance today would result in spasms and waves of loud and uncontrollable laughter.  The man who immortalized Captain Kirk is laughing all the way to the bank in 2011, with an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion thanks to his role as a self-mocking pitchman for Priceline.com. Now Shattner is in on the joke, and it’s paying off. 



You Have More in Common with Strangers than You Know

I find this short film by Luke Rudkowski to be very moving. He asks random people on the New York City subway some pretty heavy questions about life, success, what it means to be happy, and the meaning of life itself. Their answers are powerful in their wisdom and humanity. 

I appreciate the opportunity to talk to strangers because it almost always makes me feel a lot better about the human race.  You’d think we were all selfish, cold-hearted cretins by the way people are portrayed in the market-driven media, or by how “success” is so commonly and erroneously defined. People who get rich by driving banks over cliffs, or by building nuclear reactors that cut corners on safety, or by peddling pharmaceutical concoctions they know cause more harm than good  – these are deemed “the winners” when materialism is the measure and “selfishness pays” is the message. The fact is that most people don’t buy this garbage. We are naturally inclined to care about each other. In our hearts we know the true measure of success, of what it means to be human. It’s a pretty simple formula, and people everywhere are much smarter about this stuff than we sometimes realize. 

We’re all spinning around on the big blue ball at the same time and occasionally it overwhelms me how close we all are in time and space, no matter who we are or where we live, regardless of whether we know each other or not.  

Go ahead, just ask anybody on the subway. There are heroes all around us. 




Have You Heard? McDonald’s Is the New New Deal

In case you haven’t heard, we have a new jobs program in the United States. It’s called McDonald’s.

The fast food giant will hold its first national hiring day April 19 to fill 50,000 openings at its restaurants nationwide. The company says it is making a concerted effort to add staff as its business improves and as more of its restaurants stay open 24 hours a day.

Wall Street cheered the news on Monday, bidding the company’s stock up more than half a percent.

Perhaps traders were thinking that now with the McDonald’s jobs day and its dollar menu, the welfare state can be completely demolished altogether.

Most people in the US are still struggling to get back on their feet after what’s often been described as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, but differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession remain stark.

Bankers of that jumped out of skyscrapers as they came to realize that fortunes can come and go in a flash. Bankers of 2011 jump up and down with joy after winning huge bonuses, comfortable with their delusions that they are the best and the brightest of their generation, that their entrepreneural spirit and hard work got them where they are today.

Back then, it was “easy come, easy go.” Today it’s “easy come, easy come.”

In reality, anybody who has made money over the past ten years from one of the many institutions that received billions of dollars in bailout money is on the winning end of the biggest single welfare program in US history, the Wall Street bailout.

Whether or not they actively participated in this Ponzi scheme, they have certainly benefited from it.

These financial institutions were utterly wreckless in how they “invested” money, using leverage of 40 to one and spending it on mortgage derivatives they knew were crap. (Similarly wreckless leveraging was made illegal after the crash of 1929, only to be brought back to life by one of Wall Street’s favorite presidents, Bill Clinton. After the so-called Wall Street “reforms,” 40 to one leveraging remains alive and well.)

The people at the institutions who did the “investing” certainly knew better. They knew that securitized subprime mortage derivatives should not be rewarded with A ratings. Nevertheless they made huge profits off of this scam for years, because they knew they would never be held personally liable, proof that it’s possible to be completely lawful and completely unethical at the same time.

Under Franklin Roosevelt we had the New Deal. Today, we have McDonalds.

In this new Feudal Age, 400 people control 50 percent of the wealth in our country. It’s a shocking figure. Even more dismaying is the widespread belief  that this is due more to intelligence and hard work than to nepotism and cronyism.

Contrary to popular myth, democracy and capitalism are not different words for the same thing, nor is enormous wealth frequently the result of either hard work, planning or frugality. It is more often than not inherited by people who did nothing virtuous to earn it aside from joining sperm and egg. 

The perpetual myth of low inflation is one of the most outrageous, longest living wool-over-the-eyes tricks ever played on a population.

Certainly you are able to purchase television sets and other electronics made overseas at historically low prices. You are able to drown your economic sorrows in a tsnunami of free and low cost media.

But the cost of the things that are most critical in the pursuit of happiness  – housing, health care, higher education – has never been higher, nor have these costs risen so quickly in so short a time.

In the 1930’s, Roosevelt’s New Deal demonstrated that the democracy and laizzez-faire capitalism are not in fact one and the same. The capitalists of the day hated Roosevelt, yet he was still elected and then relected by landslide margins four times in a row. 

Historical revisionists like to argue that the New Deal kept the economy from growing as fast as it would have with laissez-faire capitalism. But growing for whom? And if it’s just for the top 400 or 4,000, or 400,000 or 4 million, who the hell cares?

People are struggling across the land just to make ends meet, and it’s been like that for a long time. The opium of the masses is online media these days, but even when opium was legal, back in the gilded days of the robber barons, there was still outrage.

Where is the outrage today?