WALL STREET: Money never sleeps
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WALL STREET: Money never sleeps

I liked this movie. Michael Douglas is at the top of his game: creepy, smart, likable, predictably unpredictable as slithery, unrepentant Gordon Gekko. I even like Shia LeBeouf. This current generation of 20 year olds adores him, and I sort of understand it–way more than I understand their fascination with Michael Cera.

The movie didn’t break any new ground. But it did portray the interesting tensions between the need to make money, the desire to make lots of money, the honor in work that pays enough but not lavishly, and the seduction of astronomical amounts of money, of MORE money, without end or purpose except in itself. These tensions are much in the collective consciousness right now.
One friend claims that derivatives trading is the root of the current economic wobbling. She’s a smart lady, so I tend to think carefully about what she says. “Nothing is created,” she says.
But I’m not sure it’s as simple as what is or isn’t created. Take pharmaceutical companies. They create things. They create drugs. And then they lie about their test results, test illegally on unwitting people in 3rd world countries, and go to extreme and slimy lengths to get their drugs approved by the FDA and to knock out the competition. Take the CODEX initiatives, sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.
Those initiatives are strangling Europe’s rights to buy vitamins, minerals, and supplements, initiatives which will surely sweep over the US because so many Americans are unthinking sheep who think that as long as we have a president of color, we will be okay. In fact, Obama is in bed with Monsanto–check out the way Secretary Tom Vilsack jetted around in Monsanto’s private jets. The point is: big pharma talks a good game, but what they really want is to prevent people from healing and treating themselves with vitamins. That might cut into big pharma’s profit$.
Is there any business more corrupt than big pharma? Other than big government? Americans have bought the line that “the business of America is business,” and, in so doing, they have set themselves up to be screwed. Because the government is big business, big pharma is big business, and they care more about their own agenda$ than about the welfare of human beings. The FDA, often staffed by scientists on temporary leave from their employers the pharmaceutical companies, is nothing but a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical establishment companies.
But I digress. Back to the movie. Which is about the corruption rampant within business, even within ‘good people.’ It was a sweet notion that cold fusion might be possible and the evil empire shut it down because of that very real possibility.
I keep thinking about Martin Seligman’s work with positive psychology, and his notes on living a life of meaningful purpose, based on doing something we’re good at. But does that really mean that Susan Sarandon’s character has to give up her dream of affluence and return to nursing? Even though it’s an absolutely crucial field of work, and her character is obviously a wonderfully people-oriented soul.
Why have we as a culture given more monetary value to things like stockbroking and real estate than to nursing?
I know, I know, we can’t live without water, and diamonds cost more.
So is it human nature to devalue what we need, and to obscenely over-value what is essentially frivolous?
All questions provoked by the movie.
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I am a fortunate woman: my four daughters, three biological and one step, are among my most favorite people. They are such wonderful fun to be with, each in her particular way.
Last week afforded a few days for me to spend quality alone time with my eldest daughter, who is now an anarchist. She spent a lot of time quoting Foucault, Lacan, and George Carlin to me. She stayed up all one night reading Obama’s DREAMS FROM MY FATHER and then spent the next day haranguing me mercilessly about the evils of racial disparity. I was stuck by her despair at ever rectifying the terrible wrong of racial inequality. She’s completely correct, of course, that it is a foundational evil. But I think we can restructure things for the betterment of all humans. I am bolstered in this opinion by her passion.
Years ago I took her to see MUNICH, starring the amazingly gorgeous Eric Bana. “Your generation will both inherit and solve this conflict,” I told her, when we walked out. She gave me a stricken look, but she seemed to agree.
And when they do, the solution will arise out of the passion that she and her peers have for true equality, for real tolerance.
Over a lavish dinner one night: “And what is the sociological implication of this meal?” I asked.
“That we have so much, that this kind of luxury exists, only because there exists people who have so little, who live in unimaginable poverty,” she said, flatly. She described a ghetto in Africa. I tried not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the meal.
“I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction,” she quoted Carlin. But, with four children, I am invested in the survival of the species. So we fell into a debate about humanity: Are we worth saving?
“No,” she said, fiercely. The politics of power and inequality are too deeply ingrained for us ever to create a just society without the toxicity of racial inequality. “Maybe if 90% of us are killed off and the rest of us start over from scratch, that’s the only way,” she insisted.
But I beg to differ. Not because I believe in masses of humanity. Pretty much, from what I’ve seen, groups are evil, institutions are codifications of, at best, apathy, and at worst, vindictive Naziesque murder. Think of the Catholic church and the Inquisition. Think of McCarthyism. Actually, there’s no end of institutional evils to think about. Nope, I don’t like institutions.
But I do like individuals. I don’t know if society will change itself. But I do think that impassioned individuals–like my daughter–will stand forth to proclaim a new and better way of being, a more just way of cooperating, and that humanity will resonate with that better way.
I believe in the power of the individual to effect change. As an example, a friend of mine is the investigative journalist who, decades ago, broke the story about the dangers of asbestos. This he did despite threats and persecution from asbestos companies who had billions of dollars at stake. Thanks to his courage, fewer people now die of asbestosis.
It requires a refusal to go along with herd-thinking. It takes the resourcefulness, the stubbornness, to filter out the chaff, think for oneself, and hold onto unpopular ideals. One person, or a small group, is all it takes. In this thinking, I am like Abraham. Abraham bargained with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah: and if Abraham can find ten good men, God will spare the cities.
Of course, it didn’t work out so well for those two cities. That doesn’t diminish my faith in the individual.
My beautiful daughter and I went to some museums. She was delighted by Odilon Redon. He’s not the kind of artist of whom my Renaissance-obsessed husband approves, but I get it. Redon with his fantastical creatures and renditions of mythos was aiming for another universe, another realm: akin to the kabbalistic realm of Beriah, the world of thought and creation that comes from the realm of Atzilut, which is changeless. In Beriah, which is a kind of heaven, we find duality. It’s a world of essences, principles, and ideas. It’s a realm that can effect rectification.
So perhaps my daughter’s anarchy is inspired in Beriah. And it is individuals like her and Redon who can access those higher realms who will bring transformation to the rest of us.
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Celebrity Social Contracts

Celebrity Social Contracts

Someone in my life peripherally associated with me erupted recently to spew fantasies, lies, projections and malice about me. It was done first in a private forum, and then the person sought a more public venue.

This isn’t the first time it happened, and given the nature of the person’s hatred, it probably won’t be the last.

I find it baffling that this person is so intent on attacking me. What’s the point? I’m not famous, I’m not rich, I don’t own any islands in the Pacific, and I haven’t invented either a cure for cancer or a safe and plentiful energy alternative to fossil fuel oil. I cry easily, I laugh easily, I get mad quick, I get over it quick, I don’t hold grudges, and I can’t find a great-fitting pair of blue jeans. There’s nothing that stands out about me to draw forth such venom. Musing this way led me down other pathways, wondering about the extreme examples of projection and slander that famous people experience. Remember Richard Gere and the gerbils?

Years ago, I heard those rodent jokes. I confess, I snickered. A really kinky bizarro image formed in my head. It was all so juicy and salacious that I was hooked in. Now, with what I’ve experienced from someone telling lies about me, I feel a little ashamed. Was I colluding in slanderous gossip? That’s not the person I want to be.

The person who spreads lies about me invents pretty damning stories. I always feel a little sorry for people who have to put others down to pump themselves up; I’m also secure in knowing that the people who know me, the people involved in the truth of the matter, know that it’s false and malicious nonsense, spread by a vindictive person. But still, it’s painful. Lies hurt. And it’s potentially damaging to my reputation and to the hearts of people close to me.

In a larger way, I have to wonder, is this what celebrities experience, when the most outrageous and intimate stories are published about them? When their privacy is violated with sly and cozening falsehoods? If so, I feel for them–even if they do own islands in the Pacific and have sussed out the perfect pair of Levi’s. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through.

I used to think that celebrities set themselves up for rumors and gossip by entering the limelight. That is, by seeking out fame, by accepting the adulation and positive projections we heap upon them, and the money and social status that accompany fame, then celebrities are also tacitly accepting derogation, slander, and the inevitable negative projections. Because the edge between perception and projection is a fine and tricky thing, more like the play of figure and ground than like a big iron gate between two yards, so we are all always sliding into vomiting forth what’s inside us–exactly at the moment we think we’re taking in truth with exquisite sensitivity. And a person who has sought a world stage must be prepared for this fact of human nature: to be out in the public is to invite other people’s stuff.

But now I think that simply to be alive is to invite other people’s stuff. Objectification for unconscious reasons simply occurs, all the time, like the ocean ebbs and then rushes back. So I think twice about giggling at certain jokes. I can’t always prevent myself from seeing a really funny, sicko image in my head. I’m not the Buddha. I don’t pretend to be. But I think maybe our public figures deserve the benefit of the doubt.

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I’ve been preaching about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup for years, and finally, The Times Online verifies: “Scientists have proved for the first time that a cheap form of sugar used in thousands of food products and soft drinks can damage human metabolism and is fuelling the obesity crisis.” www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article6954603.ece

For years I’ve been trying to stringently avoid highly processed foods in general, and foods with high fructose corn syrup in particular. I steer my children away from it. It’s a relief to see the scientific community rallying around what we in the natural health fields have known for years:

Fructose bypasses the digestive process that breaks down other forms of sugar. It arrives intact in the liver where it causes a variety of abnormal reactions, including the disruption of mechanisms that instruct the body whether to burn or store fat.”


My question is, knowing that the US FDA is only a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies, will the FDA finally now warn people against high fructose corn syrup, which is potentially as dangerous to people as cigarettes?

Or will the FDA continue to turn a blind eye to the crippling and sickening of the American people by the aforementioned chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies?

Because those companies do not have Americans’ best interests at heart. They have their cash influx at heart. And the FDA has pandered to that, probably because there is a constant flux of scientists and researchers from companies seeking FDA approval to the FDA, and then back to their original companies, when they’ve gotten their products approved. Yep, it’s true: scientists will, say for example, leave Monsanto to work at the FDA when they want the use of bovine growth hormone approved in milk; then, when the FDA has approved the adulterated milk so that Monsanto can get richer, those scientists return to Monsanto. This is of course purely a hypothetical situation: at least, I present it that way, though I read that it happened.

(See NEXUS Magazine, several articles including June/July 2001, vol. 8 #4, “Milking the Truth with GE Hormones” by Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, also Aug/Sept 1998, vol. 5 #5, “The Health Dangers of Dairy Products,” by Robert Cohen, regarding scientist Dr. Margaret Miller.)

So, how soon before the big $$ who profit over high fructose corn syrup can be silenced so that Americans can be healthy?

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Post Modern Irony isn’t worth the toilet paper to wipe it off our collective tushie…

Post Modern Irony isn’t worth the toilet paper to wipe it off our collective tushie…

A sub-title could be, “How to make money off people who are afraid to appear stupid.”

There is an art movement afoot. It is a movement to bring back values to art. It is a movement to bring artistry back into art, artistry founded first on an aesthetic of beauty and truth, second on real craftsmanship, and third on an extraordinary grounding in, and comprehension of, the history of art and the great, seminal problems of form that were last faced with integrity by the likes of Gauguin. By “craftsmanship” I mean years of training, apprenticeship, focus, and hard work.

An artist should be better trained than a lawyer before he or she starts selling his creations.

The art movement is tentatively called “the new realists.” My husband Sabin Howard is one of them. There’s an off-shoot called “the slow art movement,” patterned on the “slow food movement,” which affirms the quality of food and the dining experience in a restaurant that doesn’t take shortcuts but takes the real time required to make the ultimate reduction, for example.

You can eat at MacDonalds, if you wish–but we all know it’s going to make you sick.

Speaking of MacDonalds. We’ve all been victimized by the scam artists of post-modernism. One hundred years ago, Marcel Duchamp did us all a disservice by foisting a urinal on us. Okay, for 2 seconds, there’s a surprising juxtaposition, a shock. Intellectual chicanery. But “they” are still doing urinals, one hundred years later. Shock value is over, guys. I guess it’s just hard to leave the ponzi scheme.

All these post modernist pieces that have garnered acclaim–Piss Christ, Dung Madonna, anything by Julian Schnabel–they have a few seconds of shock value. And nothing else. They have no sub-stratum of meaning or value, no connection to a historical continuum and the crucial dilemmas of composition and structure and light, to rest on. HOWEVER, art critics, PhDs, and museum curators like post modernist pieces because they can blather on about how important they are and RACK UP SALES. Folks, it’s about money–scam art–not real art.

Koons worked at the Met and saw how the trend was going. He’s a smart businessman, I’ll gladly give him that.  But he’s no artist, and he’s not creating art. And not just because he doesn’t actually make the stuff, he hires NY Academy students and kids in Italy to do it, either. (I hear he pays them $15 – $18 an hour.) It’s because the expensive chotchki’s he’s putting out there aren’t art.

Is it big business? Yes, but so was Bernie Madoff.

I congratulate Mary Boone and that ilk on their rat-like street cunning; I can admire a pickpocket with the best of them. They created a movement that they were able to perpetrate on people who were afraid to say, “The emperor has no clothes.” So many people have been afraid to denounce this crap for the crap that it is because those gallery owners and PhD students could BLAH BLAH BLAH them under the table. No one wants to look ignorant. And boy oh boy them salesmen and dissertation wonks can really talk! But the impact of visual art is visceral. The point is–the silent truthful ones weren’t ignorant. They were being railroaded by mercenaries.

Yes, your five year old kid can do something equally worthy.

There are no masterpieces of post modern art because the stuff isn’t worth the cardboard, dung, condoms, or lucite case that are used to make it. It’s ugly and valueless. The banal is only worth about five seconds of our time; Marcel Duchamp took up those five seconds. The fact that the National Endowment for the Arts funded this junk on the basis of freedom of expression is one of the great idiocies of our time.

Freedom of expression does not validate the ugly, the meaningless, the valueless. It’s still junk. It’s just junk that the NEA funded–to the shame of the USA.

Specifically, post modern art lacks beauty and truth. It lacks transformational power. It lacks the capacity to vault us out of the coma of our everyday life into a state of heightened awareness, heightened consciousness, greater compassion for the human condition, increased seeking for what is higher. Yes, it makes money for the brokers and museums who pawn it off on people. (I heard that the director of the Brooklyn Museum got a kickback for showing some of the junk; can’t say if it’s true, but it was told to me by an art critic who runs a foundation in Manhattan.)

Look for the new realists. Look for the guys like my husband Sabin Howard, and I guess Jacob Collins is one of them, and I really love John Morra’s work, who are taking the long road around to create something meaningful and real, something that addresses art with integrity. Something founded on an aesthetic of beauty and truth. They may not be the most popular people around, but hey, the doctor who told everyone to wash their hands before delivering babies got railroaded out of medicine. Go look at Frederick Hart’s work on the National Cathedral. I admire Burt Silverman’s portraits, too. Check out Daniel Sprick. I personally find Judy Fox’s sculptures cartoonish, but they’re cute. Worth looking at. She seems to be engaged in it and she’s competent.

Go find the artists who have studied their crafts for years, who are engaged in what art means on a daily basis. They’re there. One thing is for sure: your five year old can’t do anything REMOTELY like what they do.

These are the guys who deserve millions of dollars. I am convinced they will reach those heights–Michelangelo died a millionaire–and that the tide will turn as people get sick of meaninglessness and search again for values, meaning, beauty, and truth. We’ll find the Koons balloons in the garbage where they belong.

Last note: my husband looked at this blog and exclaimed, I’m not a realist. Then he said, Oh lord, they’re going to sue you. Just to clarify, this blog contains my personal opinions.

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Money is good and I like it.

That’s one of my mottos. It has arisen out of my observation of the good uses of money: good health care, great education, travel that uplifts and inspires, the ability to charitably help others, good food, beautiful objects that enrich the environment and exalt the soul. Having abundant resources allows life to have a certain ease and facility that relieves stress and facilitates self actualization. Money gives free time in which art, sport, charity, and conviviality can be pursued. Money can be a great blessing.

It can also be a source of evil, cruelty, and pain. I’ve seen parents use it as a weapon against their own  children, such as in families where one child is disinherited as an act of destructive communication; inevitably such acts cause lingering pain and bitterness. Parents who do that are always remembered through the taint of their unkindness. Money can be used as a drug to keep people dependent. It can be used to bribe, manipulate, or exploit people. Money is power in and of itself, and there will always be people who abuse power. This doesn’t even take into account what the lack of money causes people to do.

Money can also be used to make people feel special. I know a man who inherited great wealth, and was consistently helped by his mother before her death, so he never had to live exclusively on what he earned. Because he votes Democratic instead of Republican as so many recipients of ‘old money’ do, he cherishes a self image that he is profoundly ethically correct. He sees himself as morally right and superior all the time. Meantime, his family has fallen apart and he pays no attention to the disintegrated emotional bonds, how siblings don’t relate, his wife doesn’t talk to his son, his granddaughter wants nothing to do with her grandparents–because she saw them reject and act parsimoniously toward her little sister, after they had been loving and generous to her. But he is morally superior, because he’s rich and he still campaigned for Obama.

This isn’t the only example of the hypocrisy and self-delusion that money engenders. Living in New York, I have met a lot of Wall Street types. Bankers, brokers, and the wives of such. What struck me about so many of them (not all!) was how convinced they were that having a lot of money made them special. Especially the successful ones. The bigger their bonus, the more special they were. I suppose we all need to feel special and every human finds qualities about themselves to designate as special.

Having met so many Wall Street people, I can say categorically that Wall Street used to nurture a culture in which people prided themselves on being assholes. They were convinced that being an asshole was valid because they were so rich and successful. There was even a term some people used: “BSD,” which stands for “Big Swinging Dick.” They were proud of being BSD’s. I can remember a conversation I had with someone about a man who was then a partner at Goldman Sachs.

“He’s a jerk, his own wife has to take valium to go on vacation with him,” I pointed out.

“Who cares, he’s rich,” said the other person.

I would like to point out that, by all appearances, the man in question has reformed. He’s much kinder to his wife and has mellowed in the years since retiring from Goldman. Everyone can pursue better paths; each of us has the ultimate freedom to pursue our better self.

But there was definitely this swaggering, self-congratulatory arrogance about Wall Street. However much Wall Street helps Main Street, Wall Street was convinced that it was better than Main Street. That’s what the New York Times article this morning about the antipathy from Main Street toward Wall Street failed to mention: the air of superiority with which Wall Street indulged itself. We in Main Street tolerated it when Wall Street was helping us, even though we weren’t as stupid as Wall Street assumed: we KNEW that Wall Street was helping itself $100 for every $1 that it helped us. It’s that quality of condescension that has made us loathe Wall Street now, when our tax dollars are rescuing them from their runaway greed.

Which brings me to a great new TV show, LEVERAGE. It airs on TNT. It’s a Robin Hood show of the most satisfying kind. We get to watch greedy bankers, greedy real estate types, greedy corporate types of all kinds GET THEIR COMEUPPANCE. It’s a show for this moment, now. It’s enjoyable to see the greedy, selfish bastards take a fall.

Too bad it’s only a television show…..