Saturday, October 23, 2010

Three Easy Pieces

Ross Perot reminds me of Henry Wallace, FDR's Agriculture Secretary and Vice-President; both were high achievers from the heartland, brilliant and erratic. Both faded from prominence due to being perceived as off-kilter. They were willing to suffer career eclipse and leave the halls of power rather than abandon their ideas and principles.
When Perot was warning about the proposed NAFTA free-trade agreement in the '90s (with that perfect sound bite, "a giant sucking sound"), I remember the columnists dismissing his prediction of jobs flowing to other shores in the millions; they uniformly said that one of free trade's benefits would be better, higher-tech jobs here and polluting old style industries and occupations being made to move or modernize.
And so, our cranky prophet has lived to see each new WalMart destroy family businesses and local jobs while filling ten acres of paved fluorescent hell with a hundred thousand tons of Chinese junk that lasts a week. Every single thing we see at Kohl's, Staples, the hardware store, any shoe store, anywhere you can think of, is from China. The mainstay of every small Pennsylvania town was a dress factory, followed by shoes and furniture. All gone. Nothing left but pizza and hair shops.
Perot has all the charisma of one of the Perdues, but he has been right about so many things he must have that fine combination of intelligence and insight that is totally lacking in all the standard conservative figures from Coolidge to Gingrich. And despite what I thought, his support was broad-based, his populist supporters coming evenly from across the spectrum. Erratically pulling out of the second election try and the organizational squabbles that ensued have obscured that, if he had held onto his sense and miraculously won, opposed to the first Gulf War he wouldn't have started another, would not have approved the disastrous repeal of the Glass-Steagal act which had separated investment and regular banks, would have tried to increase the gas tax (political suicide but necessary), and tried some serious work on Social Security. How a president could end the massive outsourcing of jobs other than killing NAFTA and China's Favored Nation trade-partner status, I do not know. But how I wish both those things had been done.


Right after I read Oscar Lewis' 1959 classic, Five Families, I read a suggestion that we could learn sustainability (after pigs fly) from the slums of the "developing" or Third World. All but one (Americanized, wealthy) family in this study set in and around Mexico City during the '50s was practicing it from necessity. The housing is high density and just affordable, what was not walkable was reachable by numerous private bus lines, each comunidad was mixed residential and commercial, and communal endeavors in food and livestock production were a real source of income and well-being.
Can it be done 60 years later, here, in a very different world ? I had just also read Farm City, by a young couple in the rough urban environment of Oakland doing the same thing, recycling restaurant waste to their pigs and chickens, bartering their products locally, developing a tiny economy that worked in one dead-end block. They got away with it because they were just as marginal as the Mexicans were to their local governments or big businesses.


I like second-hand things much more than new ones. If something was designed and built to last, it already has good inherent qualities; older designs often reflect more thought than some quick mass-market item rushed out before it is copied or surpassed. Safety is the one thing that is sometimes better; steam irons, cars and tires certainly. But can a current box- or jellybean-styled car touch an old Buick or a '66 GTO? The Mustang got its mojo back when it returned to old school.
I don't use it due to the certainty that the airlines would destroy it, but I have my father's leather suitcase from WWII. It has brass lockable snaps and two leather belts around it; I had it restored quite a while ago not to re-use it but to acknowledge its value. I like the era of wood, brass, leather and canvas -- people can make useful and durable items with these materials; you can't make an ABS plastic computer case. But the known and unknown human connections as well as some thing's survival through time adds depth and richness.
Oh, yeah, and vinyl records! I really enjoy being in the circulation; mine go to someone who will really value them and I pick up someone else's at the thrift shop, thanking that unknown person for keeping them in great condition.
As the Germans say, das ding an zeit -- the thing in itself.

1 comment:

  1. Don't get frustrated about things you can not control. Yes, there are some who see the future, but the masses don't listen because the banks want to use your money, the manufactures want to make products which decay so you have to buy more, and why does everyone eat fast food? but vinyl that skips is still frustrating.