July 21

A Capital Idea Part 126: What Kind of World Do You Want?

It occurs to me that the differing world views of progressives and conservatives is not only about what kind of world we have, but also, how the world has been, and how we see its future. Conservatives seem to see world history as a series of conflicts, a manly place in which only the strongest survive, or something like that. It is a world which has been, and still is, fraught with dangers and things to fear, a hierarchically structured place in which the only good place to be, is on top. Progressives, on the other hand, view wars throughout history as spectacular failings of humanity, and as aberrations in an otherwise mostly peaceful ascendance of human culture brought about by cooperation, rule of law and intelligent, coordinated action.

This opposing world views map directly onto our future. The conservative vision is what we are seeing played out now, especially with financial capitalism and corporatism in government. Them that's got, they's keepin' theirs and gittin' sommore. Ta hell with "you people," as Ann Romney referred to people who quite reasonably, want to see the Romney's financial and tax records, as Willard's (his real name, which apparently is the name of a prominant early Mormon after whom Willard Bay on the Great Salt Lake is named) father George pioneered. The results of this "greed is good," "trickle down" mindset are disastrous in the long run, as we are seeing play out now. However, the important point is that this is not just an economic philosophy; it is a world view and way of life that we are talking about.

Consider this: The strongest predictor of the future is the past. Thus, what we are doing now, is the biggest influence on what our future will be like. If we allow our world to be a place where the conservative mindset dominates, or for that matter men dominate women , or privilege trumps merit, we are most likely looking at a future in which these destructive trends continue -- trends which are antithetical to proper human cultural evolution, as I see it. If we, on the other hand, as a people insist on equal opportunity, meritocracy, cooperation, education, expanding knowledge, progress, and fairness, then the future for us looks great despite the daunting challenges we will surely face -- challenges such as global warming and environmental destruction, learning to humanely control our population and keep in balance with nature, and overcoming our inevitable disagreements and differences. It really comes down to what kind of world we want our future to look like, even if we, the current generation, cannot be there to see it take shape in the distant future. We owe it to ourselves, if not to future generations, to leave the best legacy we can -- a progressive world.

From my perspective, the history of the world clearly shows a progressive trend. This is true, whether we consider the biological evolution of life on earth, the particular biological evolution of Homo Sapiens, or our cultural and spiritual evolution. However, there have been great failures of evolution before, most famously, the extinction of the dinosaurs, although there have been others. There have also been disastrous failures of cultures, including at least 2 that I can think of which resulted in human populations completely dying out. One was Easter Island; the other, Greenland's colonization by Nordic peoples. (The Nordic people of Greenland brought their pastoral culture with them and failed to adapt when the weather was too cold for their animals to survive. They also failed to learn from the Eskimo people of Greenland, who knew how to fish the oceans to survive. I saw a documentary about this a few years ago. What happened on Easter Island remains more of a mystery, but most likely, power struggles and war had a lot to do with it.) I suppose humanity's greed ultimately could be its own undoing, but only if the conservative world view prevails over the progressive one. We must continually insist on the progressive vision of the future so that the kind of world we want, eventually can become a reality.

Next time, I plan to write more on the relation between cultural evolution and the economy.


Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

I was a little bit surprised that you included meritocracy in your list of positive trends for the future. Perhaps you have a different definition of it, compared to this author: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201006/the-myths-the-s...

The future will look nothing like the past, if we humans continue on our current path toward global warming. You can pretty much kiss your progressive hopes and dreams good-bye, unless something changes ASAP.

nimblecivet's picture
nimblecivet 5 years 12 weeks ago

Definitely "meritocracy" is a term that has to be reclaimed by the left/progressives! We've gotta reinstill a sense of respect for learning and knowledge about how to do stuff and not buy into the capitalist notion that the most important thing is who "makes" the most money. There are too many ways to make money that have nothing to do with merit is in producing a quality good or service!

Well, I've been a bit busy lately and I have fallen behind on my series of forum posts designed to track the Syria thing. I have to read some articles today and do another entry because the UN mandate was extended a couple days ago. The thing that sticks out to me is the Shabiba militia thing and the accusations of war crimes. On the one hand, its possible that Assad is knowledgeable about their doings. But his role is of the state and so the operations of Shabiba, a paramilitary clique formed within Assad's (Alawite) ethinic community are outside of the state's mode of operation so to speak because they are operating with the intent to retain state power yes, but more fundamentally to assert the power of their ethnic group whatever the outcome. While ethnic rivalries are ubiquitous throughout history, I think in the case of Syria, and Iraq, Sudan, etc., the constant contest for state power is so intense because of the dependence of the economy on a single factor: oil. And that leads to the formation of these ethnic/sectarian factions which are designed to withstand the vicissitudes of this contest for state power. I'll try to explain that better in my post but I probably won't get to posting it until tomorrow since I have at least a couple hours of article reading ahead of me as well as other chores, etc.

Great post though, NL, keep it up!

nimblecivet's picture
nimblecivet 5 years 12 weeks ago

btw, something about Roy makes me turn into a giddy, smirking, drooling imbecile. That's love for ya.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 12 weeks ago

Hello Zenzoe, I was going to email you pretty soon if nobody replied to this one -);

It would be easy for me to say that I made a goof about meritocracy, but in fact, my definition of meritocracy is very different from that in the article, which is based on the conservative myth that anyone can achieve success through "hard work." If I accepted this article's definition of meritocracy, I would agree that it is not a good thing.

My ideas about meritocracy are straightforward and according to the meaning of the word "meritocracy" as I understand it, unlike that presented in the article. People are more productive in doing things that they are good at. You wouldn't want me to be plucked off the street to be an artist, I presume. You clearly make a better artist than I ever would. I make a good teacher, psychologist and author, though. People also do better at things that they enjoy doing. Together, people with their various interests and talents make a strong collective, wouldn't you say? I don't infer any trend toward increasing hierarchical social structure, just because people who are good at something may be rewarded for that. As I inferred, fairness is the most important progressive trait. Social inequalities, inherited privilege and large wealth disparities are not fair. The only role of merit that I can see is to give people the education and opportunities to find roles that they enjoy and thrive in, and give them fair reward of one kind or another for their contributions. This is very different from the inequality described in the article, which is not a true meritocracy at any rate. As the article says, what people believe is economic meritocracy in our society is largely a myth.

Global warming and other ecological changes are going to be a huge challenge to humanity, as I stated in the post. It seems to me that they will most likely lead people toward becoming more progressive, though. I don't see where your idea that global warming will prevent progressivism comes from, although I can see that we will be working with less than a full deck with all the ecological problems we will be dealing with. Crisis generally leads to change. Why would an ecological crisis be any different? Humanity will be motivated to undo the damage done, ameliorate the damage, and prevent future damage. This will mean adopting a more progressive, eco-friendly paradigm.

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

Well, NL, if you want a progressive future, you'd better convince everybody now, because if it doesn't happen by the time global-climate-change-disasters arrive full force, it'll be too late. According to the research, apparently people do not experience/create progressive reforms during ecological disaster-times. For example:

Quote Natural Disasters and the Risk of Violent Civil Conflict:

by Philip Nel, University of Otago and Marjolein Righarts, University of Otago, Intro:

Does the occurrence of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami, flood, hurricane, epidemic, heat wave, and ⁄ or plague increase the risk of violent civil conflict in a society? This study uses available data for 187 political units for the period 1950–2000 to systematically explore this question that has received remarkably little attention in the voluminous literature on civil war. We find that natural disasters significantly increase the risk of violent civil conflict both in the short and medium term, specifically in low-and middle-income countries that have intermediate to high levels of inequality, mixed political regimes, and sluggish economic growth. Rapid-onset disasters related to geology and climate pose the highest overall risk, but different dynamics apply to minor as compared to major conflicts. The findings are robust in terms of the use of different dependent and independent variables, and a variety of model specifications. Given the likelihood that rapid climate change will increase the incidence of some types of natural disasters, more attention should be given to mitigating the social and political risks posed by these cataclysmic events... (more here).

It's already happening, as I'm sure you know: Heaviest Rains in 60 Years, Tens of Thousands Flee Beijing.

I seem to remember that a rather extreme form of privatization and conservative local government took over in New Orleans after Katrina. Right now I don't have time to link to an article, but this is my recollection. Schools that were once public went private; housing that had been low-income was demolished (even if still habitable) and replaced with upscale housing. I didn't have the impression that the city went progressive. Not at all.

Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism, remember?

Humans. Ugh. The Green Deserts of Western Civilization.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 12 weeks ago

I want the World of Thomas Kinkade, painter of light.

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago
Quote leighmf:

I want the World of Thomas Kinkade, painter of light.

You're kidding, right?

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

Back to meritocracy. While I agree with Nimblecivet and Natural Lefty that merit should be based on learning and talent, and that society should be set up to provide equal opportunity for individuals to achieve in areas where they naturally excel, I'm not sure that meritocracy would be the proper term for such an idea. It leaves out the "ocracy" part of the word, the part that means "government by."

The word: One of my dictionaries has the meaning as, "the belief that rulers should be chosen for their superior abilities and not because of their wealth or birth." Another has it as, "...an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth. " These definitions definitely have hierarchical implications, which NL wants to disown. But if he wants to disown those, the word meritocracy won't work to represent his idea.

I object to any implication that would grant authority, necessarily, to those with learning and expertise in any particular field. Sure, we want to turn to people with educations for reliable information; however, that should never substitute critical thinking. The "experts" are not necessarily correct even in their own areas, and their authority certainly should not extend to areas outside their own fields of expertise, as if being educated in one area means you can be counted on for good information in other areas of knowledge.

While it might be true that an expert's opinion on one subject should be granted credibility, it might also be true that an untrained eye, or mind, might have a credible opinion as well. I guess I'm making a case for democracy, in opposition to meritocracy.

Perhaps Laurie Anderson meant to discredit the notion of meritocracy with her song, Only an Expert:

Quote Laurie Anderson: ...So who are these experts?
Experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials
Or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught
To focus on things that might be identified as problems.
Now sometimes these things are not actually problems.
But the expert is someone who studies the problem
And tries to solve the problem.
The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance.
Because often the solution becomes the problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem...

And sometimes, if it's really really really hot.
And it's July in January.
And there's no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities.
And hurricanes are everywhere.
And everyone knows it's a problem.
But if some of the experts say it's no problem
And other experts claim it's no problem
Or explain why it's no problem
Then it's simply not a problem.
But when an expert says it's a problem
And makes a movie and wins an Oscar about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree that it is most likely a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And even though a county can invade another country.
And flatten it. And ruin it. And create havoc and civil war in that other country
If the experts say that it's not a problem
And everyone agrees that they're experts good at seeing problems
Then invading that country is simply not a problem.
And if a country tortures people
And holds citizens without cause or trial and sets up military tribunals
This is also not a problem.
Unless there's an expert who says it's the beginning of a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And now the experts say that it's not a problem for an individual to purchase a large enough arsenal to equip a SWAT team; it's just not extreme enough to raise a red flag in the face of law enforcement and the FBI. The "experts" have no answers, while the rest of us non-experts can bloody-well see there's a problem! http://news.yahoo.com/alleged-colorado-shooters-arsenal-readily-availabl...

nimblecivet's picture
nimblecivet 5 years 12 weeks ago

Leapin' lizards! I'm not sure if my ability to phase-shift through the temporal vorposphere is becoming augmented or diminishing in capacity as I get older.

Well, upon consideration of the matter mentioned aforewith (if that's a word), "meritocracy" need not be considered of the same category as "democracy," while the former may be enfolded within the latter. That does not escape the conundrum posed by the implication of epistemological rendering as social heirarchy. "Meritocracy" can, giving it a use which salvages the possible utility of the word, be defined as a set of economic relationships described as the function of production as determined by knowledge, will, and intent. As in, an action merits completion, by one with the requisite skill set. The nature of the task has its independant, and specific function and value. These may and often do consist of a relation to other functions within various situations. That's all rather vague and hypothetical, I know, but I think the terms could be thought of as compatible in such a way as to show that at a certain theoretical level (so to speak), "democracy" also has an applicability which does not totally define the range of desireable futures. But, Natural Lefty is making a cogent criticism of the present so I'll leave it up to him to explain why "meritocracy" is on his list.

Since we're all Earth-lovers here, this article caught my eye:



Outside observers may think northern Mexican governments are overburdened trying to contain drug war violence.

But for residents like Armendariz, water is the real security issue.

“Violence? If the rains don’t come, it will only get worse because more people will be out of work. You cannot fix that problem if you don’t secure the water.”

With support from a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago
Quote Nimblecivet:

Leapin' lizards! I'm not sure if my ability to phase-shift through the temporal vorposphere is becoming augmented or diminishing in capacity as I get older.

Well, upon consideration of the matter mentioned aforewith (if that's a word), "meritocracy" need not be considered of the same category as "democracy," while the former may be enfolded within the latter. That does not escape the conundrum posed by the implication of epistemological rendering as social heirarchy. "Meritocracy" can, giving it a use which salvages the possible utility of the word, be defined as a set of economic relationships described as the function of production as determined by knowledge, will, and intent. As in, an action merits completion, by one with the requisite skill set. The nature of the task has its independant, and specific function and value. These may and often do consist of a relation to other functions within various situations. That's all rather vague and hypothetical, I know, but I think the terms could be thought of as compatible in such a way as to show that at a certain theoretical level (so to speak), "democracy" also has an applicability which does not totally define the range of desireable futures. But, Natural Lefty is making a cogent criticism of the present so I'll leave it up to him to explain why "meritocracy" is on his list.

Nimblecivet, whatever it is you're saying there, I'm sure it's valid. However, I did want to say in my own defense that my comment, "I guess I'm making a case for democracy, in opposition to meritocracy" was, while probably stated badly, only meant in the loosest of senses. I understand that meritocracy is not a form of government in the same sense as democracy. All I'm saying is that I'd rather take a more democratic approach to granting status to individuals, at least in the way we listen to each other. And, I still think my other points had validity too.

I'm sure Natural Lefty would want a world where Zenzoe would cut the kvetching, already. So sue me! ;-)

Robindell's picture
Robindell 5 years 12 weeks ago

Your analysis seems to be resting on certain assumptions that are subjective rather than strictly empirically based. It does not automatically follow that an increased use of so-called green technology will result in greater equality. Enjoyment of one's work is not a single, unified concept. There are people who would claim that, even though they get paid for doing what they do for a living, their work for them is a "labor of love." Others may feel a sense of security and familiarity at work, but there are other activities that they would rate more highly if asked how they would compare their job to outside interests in terms of enjoyableness. Some jobs are desirable mostly because of the extrinsic financial rewards or compensation that they provide. Animal shelter employees have to put up with barking dogs, cleaning cages, and changing cat litter boxes, but the the knowledge that they are helping stray animals may motivate them. Some jobs are physically difficult or repetitive and monotonous. I don't think psychologists or anyone else know enough to be able to unequivocally say that certain kinds of personality traits would lead someone to enjoy a job that others would find undesirable. If a job is boring, is that inherent to the job, or is it the person who perceives it that way? Eric Hoffer had no degrees and worked as a longshore worker, but wrote books on society and philosophy.

There are highly educated people who go into fields other than those in which they were trained. In some cases, they could not find employment in their chosen fields, but in other instances, business, including securities trading, pays more than does research and teaching.

The Amish, who are found in certain areas in the East, such as in Pennsylvania, and the Midwest, live a simple, modest lifestyle. Educated people would have difficulty understanding how anyone could be happy without having graduated from high school. The Amish do not attend school beyond the basic grade levels. Some might say that with less pressure and less materialism, and with an emphasis on farming or artistic craft skills, such as quilting or furniture-making, the Amish are happier than are most Americans. America has much poverty, and yet industrialization and mass production has created a larger middle class than is found in underdeveloped, Third World countries. So-called modernization and globalization have created record upward mobility and an increase in middle class people in China and in India, although those countries still have more peasants and lower average wages than in America. A majority of people on this planet live in poverty. Industrialization and mechanization and brought about the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons, but with more scientific knowledge and technological developments, also brought about an increased demand for higher education and jobs for professors such as yourself.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 12 weeks ago

Yesterday was my wife's birthday which turned out to be an impediment to computer use. Sunday was also a day of visiting/checking on my parents.

Since we are scrutinizing a word I chose to use in this post, "meritocracy" here, I just looked up the word "meritocracy" in my two dictionaries. One of them had no definition of the word, and the other defined "meritocracy" so:

"A system or society in which talent, intellectual achievements, and excellence of performance are considered worthier of reward than race, sex, social status, or wealth."

If I knew how to type those words in bold letters or italics on this site, I would, but clearly, this is a far different definition of the word from those provided by Zenzoe, and is much more in line with my meaning in mentioning it in this post. However, I agree that my meaning might be better captured with a phrase than a word, a phrase such as "appropriate division of labor." In any case, there was no intent to promote disparities in wealth through "merit" -- in fact, quite the opposite, as my big giant Webster Dictionary's definition indicates. Also, you make excellent points about democracy and "expertise," Zenzoe. As I am sure you know, I have indicated that more democracy, not less is the way forward. I agree that "expert" status is often misused too. In fact, my ideas about "meritocracy" put intellectual achievement above intellectual qualifications such as degrees or jobs a person might have held in the past. To use a sports analogy -- something which is quite rare for me to do, but appropriate in this case -- top athletes are judged by their performance on the most competitive stages, not by their performance at lower levels. The fact that top athletes are paid obscene amounts of money and far more than less elite athletes is another issue for another time.

The larger point about the concept of "meritocracy" is that, as with just about anything which has political implications, conservatives have been defining the term according to their own biases, and broadcasting their definition so as to influence the public to accept their definitions as valid. It seems to me that the Psychology Today article (a magazine I used to subscribe to back in the day, and I sometimes read this spring while wiating in the library between classes) accepts the conservative definition of the word, "meritocracy." Obviously, neither Nimblecivet nor I accept that definition, although as I have indicated, other phrases or sentences might better convey my meaning. As progressives, we need to take back "family values," "liberalism," and so on, including the idea of "meritocracy" by reframing them properly. At least, we should have a discussion about the role of effort, talent and appropriate reward (not necessarily financial and certainly not promoting large wealth disparities or any sort of system rigging) in society.

On the issue of whether we can have a decent enough environment to have a progressive future, I must admit that I worry about that too, Zenzoe. Last week, I was telling my class about the world's population explosion and exponential population growth since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which continues despite much reduced birthrates worldwide, and they seemed only vaguely aware of it. Then on Sunday, I saw an article on this exact topic in my parents' copy of the Los Angeles Times. Of course, Thom has often talked about this topic and even written books about it. I am afraid that the vast majority of us don't really comprehend what humanity is doing to soil its own nursery, and there is nobody but us to take care of the situation.

However, humanity is resillient, resourceful, and I think smart enough to make changes when necessary. The information about civil wars is scary. However, Zenzoe's reference says that civil wars are most likely in lower SES, less educated societies without a history of democracy. Perhaps in an "educated," "democratic" and "rich" nation such as the United States, and other industrialized nations, a peaceful transformation is the likely outcome. In either case, the article cited supports my contention that crisis leads to change. This is also true of biological evolution, by the way, as paleontologists inform us. Humanity owes its existence to the extinction of the dinosaurs, and yes, we appear to be far more intelligent than any dinosaur ever was, another example of the increasing complexity and capabilities afforded by evolution.

leighmf, could you please enlighten me regarding who Thomas Kinkaide was? I am sure that Zenzoe knows of him, but I am not up to date on my painters.

Robindell, I did write this post in a hurry and left out a lot of possible details. I tried to keep it succinct, and also, didn't check on any information I included, so I probably made some questionable assumptions in writing it. You mention my assumption/hope that having a greener economy will lead us to be more progressive and equitable as a society. Of course, you are correct that under financial capitalism, we are likely to wind up with monopolies even in a "green economy," such as solar energy monopolies, etc. I guess my untested, intuitive hypothesis regarding that possibility, is that the very concepts of "sustainability" and "environmental friendliness" are antithetical enough to rapacious capitalism, and the population has grown sophisticated enough as a whole in this regard, that we will act collectively to modify the structure of the economy so as not to allow this to happen. Also, more advanced technology actually utilizes extremely widely available resources, such as "sunlight," or "water," which may act to prevent resource hoarding and the formation of monopolies (although "fresh water" is a scarce resource in some areas).

The point about job enjoyment, well... I must admit that this is a part of my utopian vision that I have had ever since I books such as "On Becoming a Person" by Carl Rogers when I was in high school. I think that enjoying one's productive, society-building activities is a key component of a progressive future. There is always a question of, well, "who is going to clean the toilets?" etc. but this is not the quandary for progressivism that it might first appear to be. Consider that an awful lot of parents, although they may not like changing diapers, etc. still like being parents. Most of us gladly do things that we find distasteful, because we are serving a greater purpose in doing them. Perhaps it is a matter more of having everybody chip in and do a bit of the grunt work, rather than assigning lives of servitude and misery to "untouchables" as in India, or "undocumented workers" as here in the U.S. Fortunately, also, different people enjoy different types of activities, so in a technologically advanced, educated type of society, there should be something socially productive and enjoyable for each person to do, with "appropriate division of labor" to quote myself.

That reminds me, Nimblecivet, I did see Arundhati Roy's photos so I can see why she turns you into a giddy, smirking, drooling imbecile, kind of like I am around pretty women -); That includes my wife, of course.

Robindell, I think when my wife and I were in upstate New York, we saw a youing Amish (I think) man driving a horse and carriage the opposite direction along a country highway. It certainly was a quaint experience.

Speaking of workers at animal shelters, I am not sure whether I have mentioned the virtual pet palace that the Riverside Shelter has become. Actually, I think I did mention that on this site. The workers seemed to enjoy their jobs very much, and we gave them very high recommendations.

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

Not to run this horse into the ground, but, your definition of meritocracy came from Websters? So did mine: Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. Earlier, I picked only the first meaning: "1. an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth." But there's also this: "2. a system in which such persons are rewarded and advanced..." and "3. leadership by able and talented persons." I like that last one, and perhaps it fits better with your concept.

But let's go by your definition, "A system or society in which talent, intellectual achievements, and excellence of performance are considered worthier of reward than race, sex, social status, or wealth." What interests me there is this: "considered worthier of reward." What reward? Considered by whom?

It seems to me that the word meritocracy is a problem no matter how you look at it. Your concept, if I understand you correctly, refers to a value system, or a hierarchy of values, where talent, achievement and performance rank higher, by collective agreement, than would wealth and privilege based on class. All very good. But as soon as you insert the words "social status," or sex or race, as being on the lower end of the totem pole, the discussion begins to wobble. For one thing, as soon as a person achieves "rewards" for her achievement within your system, then she also achieves social status.

For another thing, if you bring sex and race into the discussion, all of a sudden we're going to have to jump to a look at how supposed meritocracy actually doesn't, or cannot, work at all, in reality, given the injustice of various factors, such as discrimination, racism, sexism, the charisma of the untalented, subjectivity, the shyness of the talented, or even birth order. Meritocracy, however you define it, will always result in the same ol' same ol' injustices: deserving people, by innate talent and virtue, who get passed over for reward and recognition will always be with us; by the same token, jerks, sociopaths and kitsch artists will always be with us too.

Speaking of kitsch artists— Thomas Kinkade: Now, I could be wrong, but, based on the fact that Leigh is a very clever girl, I say with all respect and sincerity, I'm guessing that Leigh said she'd like a Thomas Kinkade world just to make me crazy. I'm chuckling, but, Leigh, wasn't that bait laid out for me? First of all, I'm surmising, Leigh is herself an expert and authority on botany, or some such scientific field, and she may have disagreed with my earlier statement advocating for "democracy" vs. meritocracy; but, not being one to enjoy an argument, and, perhaps feeling strongly in the authority of the educated opinion, and also knowing my "educated" opinion on Thomas Kinkade and kitsch, she may have wanted to see me jump in to educate everybody about the nature of kitsch (which I've done before), and thereby make a case for meritocracy. Perhaps I'm wrong, but, like I say, my feeling is that she's too clever to be serious about wanting a Thomas Kinkade world, even without an education in art.

Here would be Milan Kundera's answer to the notion of a Thomas Kinkade world:

Quote Milan Kundera in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being":
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground...The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

But, if I'm wrong, and Leigh sincerely longs for a Thomas Kinkade world, then I can't argue with her. Lots of people long for that world.

Bush_Wacker's picture
Bush_Wacker 5 years 12 weeks ago

Meritocracy dwells within a box. It is probably the most natural social system for the "common person". There will however always be those who own and control the box. These owners do not achieve ownership through meritocracy. "A hard days work" and "meritocracy" are now owned and manipulated for the greater good of another entity of mankind. An entity that very few will ever be a part of. They are the ones reap the "rewards".

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 12 weeks ago

Dead serious. If I could live in the cottage on my coffee cup and be able to walk down the lane to my friends and relatives' cottages, I wouldn't want for more.

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

Okay, Leigh. Got it. I guessed wrong.

I take it your comment was not a reflection of your taste in art, though, and only of your taste for the bucolic and the pastoral?

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 12 weeks ago

Clearly, I am short on computer time lately.

Zenzoe brings up several flaws of attempts to practice meritocracy, such as who alloacates the rewards, what the rewards are, and the role of gender and race. Regardless of its flaws, we must still consider the issue of the role of merit and reward in society. How should we engage in division of labor and allocation of rewards/resources? On what basis should people be selected and/or promoted to work in certain contexts, or should we just avoid the issue altogether and hope that things naturally sort themselves out? If one is to be so skeptical of the use of merit, with what is one to replace it? It seems to me that the problem with systems in which people make arbitrary decisions, is that they inevitably rig the system. That seems to me not a problem of meritocracy, but rather, a problem with its implementation. School is essentially a meritocracy, for example, that is run by the relatively objective and valid means if it is any sort of decent school. Scholastic reward is not done capriciously.

Bush_Wacker, in theory, "the people" are the bosses in a democracy. Thus, it's not necessarily the case, it seems to me, that some unmeritorious person or people rig the system through which merit is rewarded. This is a good example of why I keep saying we need more democracy, not less, and need public ownership of anything which is properly considered part of "the commons."

I gather that Thomas Kinkaide's art is bucolic and pastoral kitsch. Not having seen it, I don't know how I would like it. I guess as naive about art as I am, I would probably love it, like Leighmf.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 12 weeks ago

You are right there. For the world I want- bucolic and pastoral are the first words that came to mind- rose-covered cottages, and all that. My taste in art is more in the vein of Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, pressed flowers and plants, old photographs, silhouettes, hand-colored lithographs, and products of old American potteries and glassworks..

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 12 weeks ago

leighmf, that sounds like the stuff that my parents grew up on. My mother used to dry and press large numbers of flowers and leaves, and make cards out of them. I generally like the bucolic, pastoral mindset and the art that goes with it. More importantly, I like self-sufficiency to the extent that we can grow or gather our own food, etc. but I like value humanity working together in a spirit of community, cooperation and philanthropy even more.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 12 weeks ago

Art for the ardent believer:


"The fine-art world overwhelmingly derided Kinkade's work as little more than commercially successful kitsch. Kinkade received criticism for the extent to which he had commercialized his art, for example, selling his prints on the QVC home shopping network. Others have written that his paintings are merely kitsch, without substance, and have described them as chocolate box art and "mall art." In a 2001 interview, Kinkade proclaimed, "I am really the most controversial artist in the world."

Kinkade said he was placing emphasis on the value of simple pleasures and that his intent was to communicate inspirational, life-affirming messages through his work. A self-described "devout Christian" (even giving all 4 of his children the middle name "Christian", Kinkade said he gained his inspiration from his religious beliefs and that his work was intended to contain a larger moral dimension. He has also said that his goal as an artist was to touch people of all faiths, to bring peace and joy into their lives through the images he creates. Many pictures contain specific chapter-and-verse allusions to certain Bible passages."

What kind of world do "we" want? A make-believe world.

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

Leigh, I too love the paintings of Van Gogh, Homer, and Wyeth, even while I recognize that their styles do not fit within any contemporary sense of fine art. As for your other loves, I see those as craft, not fine art, unless you’re talking about an artist such as this one, whose work goes beyond craft, in my opinion (& I think you’ll like her work). Or you might like these.

NL, you have a computer, yes? Ever think of searching Google Images for Kinkade?

Certainly, if true fine-art merit were the standard for success, you'd never have heard of Kinkade. As it is, however, a large number of Americans know next to nothing about fine art, and thus he was able to make a massive success of his hyper-sentimental, illustration-like pictures, which appeal to the escapist leanings of the masses. At best, his pictures belong in a child's fairy-tale book; and that's the reason he never had a retrospective at the Guggenheim. Regardless, because people think "art" means whatever appeals to them, it must be art.

I suppose this is one instance where NL's wish for a meritocracy makes sense: Kinkade's success represents the "democratic" way of reward and validation, a way which can only result in pure crap rising to the top. Popularity is no standard for excellence, though, where art is concerned.

And kitsch is a derogatory term. Don’t forget Milan Kundera’s definition of kitsch: “Kitsch is the inability to admit that shit exists.” This forgetting of shit essentially describes Kinkade’s crimes against art. That is, they’re crimes against Truth.

Not that I would ever deny, in this future best-of-all-possible worlds we’re imagining here, the right of ordinary folks to their tastes. I’m certainly not in favor of a meritocracy that would autocratically ban bad art. Lord help us if the barons of the contemporary art world gained the political power to become our art-police, using warrants to search our houses for art violations! Oh the poor Kinkade hoarders, having their homes invaded and their prohibited “treasures” confiscated and burned in a pile on the front lawn!

To be fair, the formal art establishment today itself reeks of elitism and commercialism on an obscenely stuffy scale, so who would want that mind-set running things? After all, they’ve brought us some pretty awful, ridiculous excuses for fine art as it is.

In short, the word meritocracy still bothers me. Given human nature, as a reliable, just standard for rewards, it plainly sucks.

NL brings up school as an example of benign meritocracy. But is that fair? If you read anything by Jonathan Kozol, you would not use our American schools as examples of meritocracy at its most legitimate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Kozol  I can think of many instances myself, where teachers or administrators used subjective standards for judging performance, or even blocked educational fairness and justice for various individuals. The teachers in my family, for example, could easily tell you about such instances of administrative meddling (You can too, NL, I’m sure.); and, knowing these of my peeps, I would not exactly trust them to be objective observers either. Sheesh, no! ;-)

But NL may be thinking of his future, ideal world, where schools provide perfect, objective and brilliant teachers, where all students come from middle-class families who care. So that’s the question: Are we talking about what’s possible, what’s ideal, or what’s real?

Alberto Ceras 5 years 12 weeks ago

Here's a quaint quintet:

Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Warhol, Duchamp and Christo.

Christo's art killed two people - "The Umbrellas." Has his art been consecrated by death? Doesn't that make it legit?

A world a little less wordy?

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 12 weeks ago

My class just had their final exam today and I am in the midst of the grading process, so I am not spending much time on the internet. If I did, I suppose I would look up Thomas Kinkade, but I was being semi-facetious (actually, flippant would be a more accurate term) about him before and the more I read about him here, the less I like him, especially the devout Christian part. It sounds like make-believe world art I suppose, but it might elicit nice, quaint harmonious feelings. I think I have come a long way, though, from the person who only a few weeks ago thought that kitsch was what real men don't eat. -);

Zenzoe, you never answered my questions: What would you have instead of a meritocracy?

There occur to me, three possible "solutions" to the issue of what I call the appropriate division of labor and distribution of resources:

1. There is the Star Trek solution, in which there is no money and everybody gets as much of anything they need by just asking a replicator machine (speaking of a fantasy land). Even if this scenario of unlimited resources were possible, there is still the question of how to stock the machines, who makes them and how they are regualated;

2. There is the "Commie" solution, in which everybody receives resources according to their needs rather than their contributions. Of course, this is what conservatives keep accusing us liberals of wanting to do. With this approach, there is the issue of who decides who gets what and distributes the goodies, as well as the obvious fairness and motivation issues and the fact that even when people receive the same goods, they have different outcomes. Of course, there is also the problem that sometimes, people's allocations will have to be cut and the nasty repercussions that scenario creates;

3. There is the democratic socialism meritocracy solution, which is what I am suggesting, in which the public has as much democratic control of and decision making power regarding, as possible, the allocation of our resources and how people are able to advance in their careers and/or productive activities. Rewards need not be monetary. Things like "Certificates of Appreciation" or awards can have a powerful effect (as can good grades and praise from one's teachers). People could be ensured certain basic standards of living but still benefit from rewards and promotions due to good performance. I don't see how meritocracy is inconsistent with democracy, as Zenzoe seems to think. Of course, all of the problems as pointed out by Zenzoe will need to be dealt with, including stupid decisions by the majority of people, but I don't see a better way. Electing someone to be President and electing people to Congress is meant to be a meritocracy, too, although the process is very flawed. Nonetheless, would you rather not have elections?

There are some processes which could be under the auspices of elected experts or experts appointed by elected officials, such as decisions regarding people's salaries which could serve the purpose of economic fairness and prevention of large wealth disparities, monopolies and economically and politically rigging the system. But no matter what we do, there will be flaws and difficulties. Just because something is flawed, doesn't mean that it is just as bad as another flawed thing. I think the saying "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" as Obama is fond of saying, applies here. Sometimes, it appears to me as though the human condition is part of a grand design meant as test of our collective morality, intellect and creativity.

Yeah, school isn't always fair, either, but what is? Nonetheless, it is largely effective as a meritocratic system, where decent teachers, at least, attempt to be objective and fair. Of course, I do like to imagine a future, ideal world in which everything functions fairly, harmoniously and life happily hums progressively along for everybody, but I know that is a mere ideal at this point.

Perhaps I have missed some approach, but these are the ones that I recall from my various economic studies over the past couple of years. Perhaps we would be more comfortable with the term "appropriate division of labor and distribution of resources" rather than the word "meritocracy."

Zenzoe 5 years 12 weeks ago

I'm not staying long. I'm having sciatica nerve pain, and it hurts my back to sit here typing.

Anyway, I might try a response to NL's question, "Zenzoe, you never answered my questions: What would you have instead of a meritocracy?"

Well, why do you need hierarchy at all, would be my question back at you. I realize it's what we've always done, but I think it's possible, if you want to create a non-competitive society, you might consider downplaying the whole striving-for-excellence habit. You might instead promote love and the understanding that each human being has his or her areas of excellence, so how about practicing cooperation and the rotating of responsibilities? Who really needs to be lead by a superior, anyway? It's possible to learn, if we're talking about school, in such a way that does not destroy the passion for learning and creativity. Traditional schooling in this country destroys much more than it nurtures, in case you haven't noticed.

Derrick Jensen wrote a lovely little book on the subject of teaching creative writing; Walking on Water. His approach had little resemblance to traditional teaching. He didn't give grades, for one thing, given that giving grades would have the effect of making students work to please him and his tastes, which would be the opposite of his goal. His goal was for his students to connect to their own powers of creativity and thereby please themselves; and giving grades would have destroyed that goal.

I have noticed, when I'm dealing with children, for example, the worst thing you can do is single out one child as having special or superior talents, or intelligence, over the other children. Rewards and praise given to one, or a few, does nothing but create a sense of inferiority in the others. It is always better to find ways to inspire enthusiasm and joy in learning or play in all the children. This works, and it works, because all children are creative. It's the school system that so often turns our children into slaves and conformists, precisely because of the sort of meritocracy that kills souls.

Who knows, I might change my mind. I'm probably in a bad mood, because I've stayed too long already and need to go lie down. It's bedtime anyway. Tah tah...

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

Who penned these lines, words from another time, another place? Remind anyone of the U.S. of NRA, Israel’s 51st state? It must be the world we want, otherwise we’d have another, wouldn’t we?

“…life in this country (the U.S. of NRA?) is so much like life aboard a sinking ship, one of those old-time liners with a lugubrious, drunken captain and a surly crew and leaky lifeboats…”

And from the same source:

“Television. Why do I watch it? The parade of politicians every evening: I have only to see the heavy, blank faces so familiar since childhood to feel gloom and nausea. The bullies in the last row of school-desks, raw-boned, lumpish boys, grown up now and promoted to rule the land. They with their fathers and mothers, their aunts and uncles, their brothers and sisters: a locust horde, a plague of black locusts infesting the country, munching without cease, devouring lives. Why, in a spirit of horror and loathing, do I watch them? Why do I let them into the house? Because the reign of the locust family is the truth of the (U.S. of NRA???) and the truth is what makes me sick? Legitimacy they no longer trouble to claim. Reason they have shrugged off. What absorbs them is power and the stupor of power. Eating and talking, munching lives, belching. Slow, heavy-bellied talk. Sitting in a circle, debating ponderously, issuing decrees like hammer-blows: death, death, death. Untroubled by the stench. Heavy eyelids, piggish eyes, shrewd with the shrewdness of generations of peasants. Plotting against each other too: slow peasant plots that take decades to mature.”

What kind of world do I want? A world less populous where active, engaged people have some semblance of intelligence, of compassion and understanding. In other words, a world that never was and never will be.

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

Who penned those lines? South African novelist and critic J.M. Coetzee.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

Yes, from his fine novel "Age of Iron." Worth reading.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 11 weeks ago

I thought this question "What Kind of World Do You Want? was supposed to elicit insight into our various and diverse personalities.

A picture is worth a thousand words. I used the imagination of Thomas Kinkade, indisputably a commercial artist, because a lot of people would at least know what I meant visually.

I have every Kinkade calendar- they get me through the year. The communities he painted are representative of an already harmonious, working together, genteel existence based on adoration of Nature populated by gentlefolk with respect for one another.

I never researched Kinkade's personal beliefs. However, despite the art critics and belief critics, the Imagination which created the World of Thomas Kinkade appeals to my Imagination. For me, as an individual, he Imagined and expressed what I Imagine as an ideal, so that gives me hope that over the rainbow the World I Want exists.

Others may prefer the world of Frank LLoyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe, Addison Mizner, or I.M. Pei- but I already know I can't afford it.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

A noble Nobel laureate, one of the times that the committee didn't screw up. For those who would like to know something of Coetzee Wikipedia has a fine summary (I've pasted a few lines from that summary below):


Writing about his past in the third person, Coetzee states in Doubling the Point that:

Politically, the raznochinets can go either way. But during his student years he, this person, this subject, my subject, steers clear of the right. As a child in Worcester he has seen enough of the Afrikaner right, enough of its rant, to last him a lifetime. In fact, even before Worcester he has perhaps seen more of cruelty and violence than should have been allowed to a child. So as a student he moves on the fringes of the left without being part of the left. Sympathetic to the human concerns of the left, he is alienated, when the crunch comes, by its language – by all political language, in fact.

Asked about the latter part of this quote in an interview, Coetzee said:

There is no longer a left worth speaking of, and a language of the left. The language of politics, with its new economistic bent, is even more repellent than it was fifteen years ago.*

* Each day the Thom Hartmann broadcast as well as the Member Blogs attest to the truth of this statement by Coetzee.

I didn't know what "raznochinets" meant so I looked it up (see below). It turns out that I'm a raznochinet. You too?

in Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries, a category of the population consisting of individuals who did not belong to a particular class, or estate. It included members of the clergy, merchant class, petite bourgeoisie, peasantry, minor officials, and impoverished noblemen who had received an education and had left their former social milieu. The razno-chintsy stratum emerged because of the development of capitalism, which created a large demand for educated specialists.

Osip Mandelstam - "A raznochinets needs no memory—it is enough for him to tell of the books he has read, and his biography is done."

Not totally off the subject, we only need to read Democracy Now's (July 27th) headlines to understand what sort of world we have.


Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

I'm wondering, Leigh, if you have read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? I know you're an expert in the natural sciences (can't remember exactly which ones), and you're a Christian (?) and a literate, poetic person, and so it occurs to me that you might love that book. But I also bring it up, because I want to use it as an example of a work of art that does not deny "shit," that is, the book is at once reverent toward nature, but also aware and and revealing of its ugly side. It is that example's contrasting world view with that of Kinkade's that makes me wonder why you, as a nature scientist, would tend to prefer Kinkade to a more balanced world view, where the dark side of life is in balance with the light. In your own work, you certainly must have encountered nature's cruelties; isn't that something that we must accept as simply part of the web of life, without which the world would lack the power and brilliance that gives our little lives meaning? If everything is nice and sweet, aren't we going to be made sick by it, just as we would for eating too much candy on Halloween?

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 11 weeks ago

I'm also a landscape designer and I get sick and tired at looking at schlock landscape jobs being done by people who don't know anything, but are making out like bandits.

From a landscape design point of view, Kinkade was a heck of a landscape designer, residential, marine, rural, and commercial.

Let me put it this way. I WANT A WELL-LANDSCAPED WORLD. If we can get that far, everything else will fall into place. I believe in and fight for Community Beautification.

And don't think I don't know and appreciate fine art. I have trudged through plenty of museums and have an original Jacques hanging over the fireplace. I studied classical voice privately for 30 years and I sing Arias and Art Songs of 1905-1930, in 6 languages. I am also in advanced ballet class and perform each winter in the Nutcracker.

I was raised on gourmet food, art, culture, and the finest wines. We were raised to never criticize anyone's taste in art or music.

Now I am a tee-totaler with a preference for brown rice pudding and the country life, and Better Homes and Gardens for all.

Is this so very insipid?

nimblecivet's picture
nimblecivet 5 years 11 weeks ago

I might just take yodeling classes...

btw since Alberto's around I thought I would share this: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hRnI0SJqBgM4j3rlNvyY5KfgZFag?docId=CNG.571322f7040039cce79d83f27585f7b0.21 Celebrated Spanish judge Garzon to head Assange legal team

Creating some notion of meritocracy won't in itself bring it about, but since no system is perfect at least placing choice in the hands of the consumer can decentralize the market process to allow for variation and a wide range of choice which includes various types of subjective criteria. Regional cultures can develop which can preserve what' best and promote creativity. If the market itself can be decentralized to the extent that it remains open at different levels then small-time entrepreneurs can flourish at the local, national, and perhaps even international level. Sussing out how all the different aspects of what we're talking about is complicated and I think needs to be done carefully, but I think that in an economy where people are motivated to produce not by want for basic necessities but to escape or mitigate the drudgery of common labor the better side of people will come out and promote a culture of mutual reinforcement of everybody's unique talents.

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

No, it's not insipid, and I would never use that word in reference to you.

By "schlock landscape jobs," do you mean this at Common Dreams? —Heat and Drought Turn Your Prized Lawn Deathly Brown? Paint It Green. "...for only about 15 cents a square foot, or $150 for 1,000 square feet, your yard can once again be the envy of your neighborhood. You can even have your dried-up shrubs and trees spray-painted back to beauty..."

In my book, now that we're moving into drought-times, lawns and water-needy landscaping ought to be outlawed. Anyway, soon it'll happen by nature's law, so, not to worry. In the meantime, I'm thinking of having the pine needle ground cover in my front yard painted green. What d'ya think? ;-)

To which "Jacques" do you refer, if you dare tell me now?

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago
Quote Nimblecivet:

I might just take yodeling classes...

I'm not sure that will cause Arundhati's heart to flutter, though. Or, maybe it would, if you learn this one, but sing it with an Indian accent. You never can tell... She might have a soft spot for the pathetically earnest suitor. If not, in a pinch you can always resort to your other charms, if you have any. ;-)

Robindell's picture
Robindell 5 years 11 weeks ago

I would say that the late Thomas Kinkade is sort of the Norman Rockwell of his time. To give you an idea of his audience, he once had a store featuring, I'm sure, prints and reproductions of his paintings in a local enclosed shopping mall, along with Sears, Penny's, Macy's, and other chain stores. He was talented, and had a distinctive, easily recognizable style as do many artists, but his work was geared to a mass audience. Fine art is not necessarily elitist, but at the same time, it is not created just to garner the largest audience possible, and sometimes is deliberately ambiguous or difficult to interpret and understand as to what the artist was trying to say. The difference between Kinkade and many other artists is something like the difference between smooth jazz and more serious, contemporary jazz, or between pop music and classical music.

One of the most memorable art installations I ever saw was at the Museum of Contemporary Art which is in the downtown Streeterville neighborhood in Chicago. The installation was entirely by one artist and took up an entire room. It consisted of all kinds of newspaper clippings, reports, and photographs all on the subject of the war in Iraq. As I said, these were all artistically displayed and arranged on the walls by the one artist who created the installation. The entire room, the gestalt, was the work of art. I don't remeber the specific details (other than many references to the Middle East and Persian Gulf), but the overall impression was a powerful one. One time, at that same museum, they had a man who took live videos of patrons as they walked in the front door. He seemingly wanted to get a reaction from people from knowing that they were being recorded in public.

My point about green jobs was partly what Natural Lefty responded to about capitalism being inherently unfair, and also, that at the current time at least, it seems as if many solar panels and giant blades for wind turbines are being made in China, like so many other products, and being imported here and elsewhere. The Democrats would campaign on bringing green technology jobs to America to invigorate the manufacturing sector, but this has not happened to date I don't believe, partly because China has gotten a sizeable chunk of the business.

The most controversial part of the idea of a meritocracy is that some people are able to live without having a job or doing work for others, and thus the objection is that their lack of action is without merit. The right wing conservatives commonly resent anyone who is unemployed, either because of the inability to find a job or because of disability or illness. They especially don't like it when people receive some form of public assistance, even if the program is temporary and is a form of social insurance, such as unemployment compensation. Progressives, on the other hand, are angry that you have people like Mitt Romney who can fritter away their time and live off of their wealth and their investments. I once knew a man who used to say that rich people spend most of their time sitting next to swimming pools, sucking on mint juleps. He was exaggerating and being sardonic, but he wasn't that far from the truth. Of course, some people volunteer their time to worthy causes whether they are rich or not, and some rich people such as Bill Gates spend much of their time on philanthropy.

Progressives and Democrats have to find better ways of not only raising money for campaigns, but of pointing out the unethical nature of business and of policies that are based on nothing but shear greed and hate-mongering. Too many people across the country either don't know what they are talking about most of the time, or -- and this may be where social psychology comes in to some extent -- are so fearful of change and of losing their precious money that they feel it necessary to deliberately exaggerate or lie to protect their turf. A lot of it reminds me of the old justifications for slavery and racial prejudice which presisted for so many years.

In higher education, so many people were revulsed by the scandal in the Penn State football program because it was a situation of someone powerful preying others who were weak. Too many people in education these days just don't get it. I would like to send general letters of complaint to some universities about the moral failure in our society being somewhat reflected in the breakdown of academic, athletic, and professional ethics. The government just recently arrested something like 100 doctors, other health care professionals, many of whom were in mental health, and clinic administrators for fraud. They were all trained at universities.

It would be good to point out some of the details to conservatives of the Libor interest rate banking scandal which is international in scope, or the commodities futures brokerage scandal, in which the CEO of the Peragrine Finance Group in Cedar Falls, Iowa tried to committ suicide after leaving a suicide note which said that he forged documents and embezzled millions of dollars from customers over two decades, so much so that $200 million is missing. The Commodies Futures Trading Commission, the federal regulatory agency, had no idea that this had been happening for all those years. Interestingly, the CME Group, which ownes the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Board of Trade, has proposed that brokerage houses no longer be allowed to have any of the customer's money at all, and that instead that it be all held by the clearning company which clears the futures trades. One reason I mention this is because about 20 years ago, when the FBI had just finished an undercover investigation of the two Chicago futures exchanges, I called a commodities brokerage company which had a help wanted ad in the Tribune. The guy who answered the phone quite boldly and arrogantly went on about how much money sales brokers in his company could make. He concluded by saying, "So if you want to become rich, come down to the office and apply for a job." Well, about a month or two later, I read in the paper that this same company had been busted by the FBI for fraud, and like Peragrine/PFB Best, had been put out of business by the government. So much for my big chance to become a miillionaire in the commodities futures business! These are the people who these conservatives, including Romeny, are defending.

By the way Thomas Kinkade called himself "The Painter of Light." The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner was a choir boy as a child and was the only famous classical composer who was a devote Catholic all of his life. His symphonies can be listened to by an atheist such as myself or by a religous person, but they can be inspirational to listen to. When Pope John Paul II visited Chicago, the Chicago Symphony performed two movements of Bruckner's Fifth for the pope in Holy Name Cathedral. Woody Allen, who likes to poke fun at intellectuals, once had characters in one of his comedies who listened to Bruckner. An artist said that listening to Bruckner helped the creative process. I recently heard went to hear his Sixth Symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony conducted by Ricardo Muti, the Music Director. He died before completing a fourth movement for his final symphony, his ninth, but the quiet ending in a way is more profound than anything else and seems perfect for a very serious and moving work. Leighmf mentioned musical ability and interest, and I have somewhat of a similar interest, so I included it in my post.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 11 weeks ago

I hadn't thought of yodeling lessons-

My oil is just Jacques. It caught my eye in the window of a side street Palm Beach art dealer's shop. It was summer and things were slow on the Island, so I got a bargain. Jacques studied in Paris and is "in the book."

Schlock, on the other hand, is just disorganized, impractical, poorly selected, over-crowded, misch-masch high maintenance, high requirement plants barbarically stuck in the ground, often ruining the architectural or natural features of the surroundings. If a landscape is dried up, it was poorly planned from the start, or really neglected.

If you want a professional opinion, I'd rather see loose stone (not Quik-crete, not interlocking blocks) and boulders than painted shrubs and astro turf. That in itself generates more pollution just in the manufacturing of materials. I have seen something innovative that I like, for emergency situations. It is a filmy fabric which attaches to chain link. It can be printed with shrub or flower beds. It is like a holographic garden, faded, not garish, and adds privacy to chain link without destroying air-flow. Could be useful while waiting to grow in a privacy hedge.

When I say A Well Landscaped World, that represents a big reversal in American values. Who spends on their garden what they do on cars, appliances, electronics, furniture, personal adornments, and unnatural things? I've already done the math, and it's out of balance.

Creating beauty for others around us, for those whom we might not even know or ever meet, and for our own satisfaction, is a nice habit to cultivate.

So, in the World I Want, people would be universally concerned with the comfort and pleasure of their fellows.

(Now, hopefully the car gang won't turn that into something ridiculous...)

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks, nimblecivet. I've been following the good judges move. I'd been afraid that Assange would end up in a cell right next to Manning but now that he's got the best (my opinion) defense on the planet the odds that he'll get a fair trial, even get away clean, have improved exponentially.

How great is Bruckner's music, and Muti - the very conductor to bring out all its passion. I envy you. But no pairing can equal that of Mahler under Walter's baton - a marriage made in heaven (we were talking religion?).

Interestingly this article neatly ties Bruckner, Mahler and Muti together:


Sidestepping Mahler, Muti points toward Bruckner and plans that will stretch the CSO

If there's no passion in the artist there's no art. Obviously, some of the most magnificent, enduring art has come from the hands and minds of passionately religious artists. But there are other kinds of passion. I'm a great fan of Prokofieff (his music, not his politics) a politically passionate artist who poured all his passionate political fervor into his music. I've never let his politics dampen my enjoyment of his music - music that I blast away at all the volume my neighbors will tolerate.

Oh, yes. A world with no skyscrapers, no cell phones, no video games.

Another quote, out of place here but what the heck:

When madness climbs the throne, who in the land escapes contagion?

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

Leigh, don't worry. I wasn't planning on actually painting the pine needles. I like them brown just fine. And I already have a slope covered with large, beautiful stones, some like small boulders, in my yard, and they fit together naturally, as in a dry riverbed.

You didn't answer my question about Annie Dillard's book, so I guess you weren't familiar with it. If you like creative non-fiction, and poetry, you'll like it. Actually, she's a poet first and foremost and won the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. You know that I'm not especially religious, but her prose was nearly enough to make a believer of me.

I still can't find your "Jacques." And he's in what "book?"

I like Prokofiev's music too, Alberto, if that's the one you mean. My other classical music favorite is Rachmaninoff. I still have recordings of his piano concertos performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on vinyl. But then, I have Bob Dylan on vinyl too... and Joan Baez... I guess passion comes in all sizes and shapes.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

Yes, Sergei Prokofieff. We anglasize at our peril. I do like it when he thunders but he goes the full range. This site has a bio and list of his greatest hits:


Russian music, Russian literature - incomparable.

And Richter performing Prokofieff. It's to die. For example:


This 1958 recording of Richter playing Prokofieff's 5th:


Now I can't stop thinking of Richter. Here he is playing Schubert's "Wanderer." I put this on the turntable while courting my one-time wife. She jumped up, exclaimed: "My god, I played that for a Canadian competition!" then sat down and played it for me. As you might imagine we married soon after. I still have Richter's (78) recording but not that particular wife.


And now there's Lang Lang. As fine - as great - a pianist as he surely is he doesn't do Prokofieff justice, in my mind. Nothing like Richter. But then, was - is - there ever anyone like Richter?


Here's Lang Lang playing "Wanderer." Some people might think it's even better than Richter's. A different interpretation, surely. They're both - Richter and Lang Lang - fantastic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WmABGMV3tw (part 1)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=octMIGYn5kc (part 2)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10qxkVL4e08 (part 3)

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 11 weeks ago

I am teasing you. Actually, I have not read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but I will. Then we'll talk.

I don't know what book Jacques is in- he was sold by a very smooth art dealer and I was a gullible young lady. I still knew a beautiful oil painting when I saw one. I think it would be a book of contemporary French artists or those from French schools. Jacques was still alive when I bought the painting. It is of a mandolin, roses and sheet music-

everyone in ballet or who plays piano loves Rachmaninoff too.

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks, Leigh.

I look forward to your reaction to the book. Here are a couple of excerpts I love:

Quote Annie Dillard in "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek":

A rosy, complex light fills my kitchen at the end of these lengthening June days. From an explosion on a nearby star eight minutes ago, the light zips through space, particle-wave, strikes the planet, angles on the continent, and filters through a mesh of land dust: clay bits, sod bits, tiny wind-borne insects, bacteria, shreds of wing and leg, gravel dust, grits of carbon, and dried cells of grass, bark, and leaves. Reddened, the light inclines into this valley over the green western mountains; it sifts between pine needles on northern slopes, and through all the mountain black-jack oak and haw, whose leaves are unclenching, one by one, and making an intricate, toothed and lobed haze. The light crosses the valley, threads through the screen on my open kitchen window, and gilds the painted wall. A plank of brightness bends from the wall and extends over the goldfish bowl on the table where I sit. The goldfish’s side catches the light and bats it my way; I’ve an eyeful of fish-scale and star.


Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. The surface of mystery is not smooth, any more than the planet is smooth; not even a single hydrogen atom is smooth, let alone a pine. Nor does it fit together; nor even the chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules are a perfect match, for, even after the atom of iron replaces the magnesium, long streamers of disparate atoms trail disjointedly from the rims of the molecules' loops. Freedom cuts both ways. Mystery itself is as fringed and intricate as the shape of the air in time. Forays into mystery cut bays and fine fiords, but the forested mainland itself is implacable both in its bulk and in its most filigreed fringe of detail. "Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden," said Pascal flatly, "is not true."

I tried ballet once. It didn't take. And I don't play the piano, but, yeah, Rachmaninoff. When my friends A. and D. came here from Russia, they wanted to listen to my record of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing R.'s 3rd piano concerto. D. was a professor of music in Russia and a great pianist himself. Now he gives private piano lessons, and A. does his advertising and also sells real estate. A. is to capitalism like bears are to honey, as it turns out. Such a deal.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 11 weeks ago

Seventeen replies between my response is another new record for my blog posts, but my absence may have something to do with that. I don't think a lot of the posts have much to do with my original topic, though, about which I still have much to say. Between grading and my wife's feline care and maintenance project, and her attempts to turn our front yard into a fruit orchard, I am not finding much time to be online.

But first, leighmf, you might be able to help us with our fruit orchard project. The most glaring lack in my knowledge is that my wife bought a little tree which appears to be some type of Guava, and my wife insisted that it is a "Red Guava" which is something that she wants. (I know that we have already had at least 2 or 3 red or pink Guava trees that have died here, since it's too hot and dry in the summers here for them, and too cold in the winters.) Well, the label called it an "Osmanthus," and when I searched for "Osmanthus" on the internet, there was no mention of any relation between them and Guavas, but they sure do look like Guavas. Our even has little green fruit on it that look like Guavas. Do you know the relation between Guavas and Osmanthus? The other problem I had was in searching Passion Fruit varieties. We had something labelled as a "Frederick" Passion Fruit before, which had a lot of fruit for a few years then suddenly died. I think I found out what killed it at least -- some sort of fungal root infection which was mentioned as a problem. Anyway, we recently bought something labelled as a Maracuya Passion Fruit, which turns out to simply be a native name for Passion Fruit in general, and one labelled as a "Passiflora Edulis" which is simply the scientific name of the species. Each of them have one fruit on apiece so I know that they have fruit. I was wondering if you knew anything more specific.

I was wondering what my Facebook friends Poor Richard and Ria would think of this thread, but they haven't responded. Richard generally agrees with my approach, but he has Bipolar and doesn't believe in medication. He had been very active on the internet for months until this past week or so, but his activity has waned, so I am afraid that he is going into a depressive phase. Ria is a painter, and apparently a very successful one. I am pretty sure that her artwork would not be considered "kitsch" by anyone. However, she seems to be doing a project where she uploads strange and interesting photos on Facebook, and asks for humorous responses to them. She had even asked me to work on something a few weeks ago, which I did, but she has never responded to what I did.

Anyway, Zenzoe, you are certainly a talented writer and social critic as well as artist. You make an excellent point about hierarchy. I think that all of us progressives want a less hierarchical, less competitive society, but we may disagree on just how unhierarchical a society can be or how to achieve it.

It seems to me that your noncompetitive society solution is actually closest to an offshoot of the Star Trek approach. This offshoot is what is advocated by the people of The Venus Project, which I wrote about near the beginning of this Capital Ideas series. They believe that we can all have a world of plenty, in which people creatively work on their pet projects and invent things, and stuff we need is basically there for the asking. Their solution to the issue of who gets to do what is that everybody gets to "do their own thing," and there will be no such thing as money or government. The problem is, I don't think that not having a government is an option. I think that division of labor is necessary in a complex society, and that includes government as well as various other functions. That may imply a hierarchy of one sort or another, but that seems unavoidable to me. I also think it's impossible to have a technologically advanced society without some form of "money," although there could be numerous types of "money" and it could be allocated in specific ways to allow for people's needs.

The question then becomes something like this: How do we maximize fairness and freedom while minimizing wealth disparities or allowing people to have their way simply because of their gender, race, social status or wealth?

It seems to me that this calls for a system which:

1. Results in the best available persons to be in positions of authority, without regard to gender, race, social status or wealth;

2. Has democratically imposed rules which minimize wealth disparities and ensure some standards of fairness;

3. Has compassionate, democratically imposed rules which ensure as decent a standard of living for all as can be afforded;

4. Has equal access to a fair, impartial and modern education for all;

5. Encourages people to develop and pursue their own interests and talents, as long as they contribute the the general welfare, and;

6. Has various levels of organization and government, so that power is diluted among various agencies.

All of this needs to be done in as democratic a manner as possible. I may have missed a few points, but this is what I can think of for now.

It seems to me that all I have been doing in my posts is working toward these goals, on a conceptual level at least. The meritocracy I mentioned relates to the first criteria, and thus is actually intended to reduce hierarchy as well as arbitrariness in our society, rather than exacerbate it. It is related to the appropriate division of labor to the benefit of the greater good, and the appropriate allocation of resources for the greater good as well, as I see it. It seems to me that some power differentials between people are inevitable. If there is any way around that, I would like to know. Sometimes, children raise their parents, but that is not normal. Sometimes, students teach the teacher, but that is unusual, too. We have varying roles according to our experience, talents and likes and dislikes.

"in the World I Want, people would be universally concerned with the comfort and pleasure of their fellows."

Well stated, leigh. I am a tea-totaller too, by the way, and somewhat like you, I am a disenfranchised member of the professional upper middle class. Most of my family members are doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, psychologists, professors -- various types of "smart," well paid but not rich people. I suspect your family may be richer than mine, and we have seen the erosion of our financial status over the years due to the growing world corporatocracy and devaluation of education and intellectual talent, but most of us still have a lot of financial resources. I do, even though I really don't believe in the way we use money.

By the way, it looks like I will finally be getting high speed internet on Monday.

Sorry I didn't get to everybody's comments, but I generally agree with Robindell's and Nimblecivet's comments on the meritocracy topic.

By the way, there is a song that goes with this post. I believe it was from about 10 years ago, it was called "What Kind of World Do You Want?" just like the title of this post, and it was by, I think "Five for Fighting" or something like that. The guy who wrote it is from So-Cal and went to UCLA I think. I haven't heard the song in a few years, though.

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks for the compliment, Natural Lefty. After having been addressed yesterday at the "Women's Issues" thread as "Peabrain" by our anti-abortion friend Camaroman, such praise is entirely welcome. ;-)

So, back to your subject. I don't know if my thinking fits within the "Star Trek approach;" I don't even know if I want to fit into any category, or box, at all. Anyway, I haven't thought about your question enough to develop all the details of the kind of world I want, so nothing's set in stone for me yet.

My problem with your question from the get-go is in its primary assumption, that is, that there will even be a world for us to shape to our liking in the next fifty years, rather than the world as it is, the world that appears to be evolving at a speed beyond our control on its way to disaster.

This brings me to simple wishes: I want a world where my children and grandchildren have clean, non-radiated air to breathe, and plenty of pure water to drink; I want them to live in a humane, non-corporate and privatized world, where the food they eat is cruelty-free, locally-grown and organic. Whether they have access to free, higher education or to proper careers would have to be lower on my list, because without those primary things, what meaning can success have? Perhaps they'll become farmers and give up the idea of competing for grades and status. I would call that a success.

The question of how to wrest power out of the hands of the aggressively stupid few who run things today, and pronto, escapes me now. I see you're working on it, but I'm not so hopeful. I don't think there's much hope in changing minds at the top, and that's a problem. I'm not sure the planet's health can wait, while we futz around with progressive movements at the grass roots. Somebody in charge is going to have to decide ASAP to put a halt to global warming. Otherwise, forget it.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

Naturallefty, all this doesn't seem to me so far off topic. I’m trying to portray the world I want just as I believe leighmf and Zenzoe are doing. A world where our passions lead us to create beauty and to celebrate those creations, not a world where passions incite us to destroy and to glorify that destruction. As William Congreve wrote: “Music (all great art?) has charms to soothe the savage breast.” Then, too, if you notice at the end of several of my comments I include a short statement about the sort of world I want.

For passion made visible, emotion frozen in stone, what better examples that these?

Praxiteles’ Apollo Sauroktonos or his Aphrodite of Cnidus (perhaps copies, maybe originals, debatable)

---and the passionate topper:

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Theresa

Not to forget the distaff: The Works and Passion of Camille Claudel - Goddess Art. If her epic work of sculpture L'Âge Mûr doesn’t convey passion nothing does. What a tragic end to a brilliant life. Maybe some of you have seen the movie “Camille Claudel?” I watched it a few years ago and still haven't forgotten. Here are two parts from Youtube that may be the entire film, I don't know.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA8pHSr_irY (Part 1)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ1e0KSgXn4&feature=relmfu (Part 2)

And this Thomas Moore disciple (Jock Hilderbrand) talks about his passion:

Thus I often look to ancient sculpture in my sculpture-making, incorporating and examining them in reference to my own artwork. Although I am passionate about the creation of any size sculpture, public spaces have been an ideal venue for me, as they allow my work ongoing access to a broad audience, as well as the opportunity to work with large-scale pieces. Placing sculpture in public settings needs sensitivity to location and immediate cultural reference. With a passion for form – Jock Hilderbrand

A world where plumbers do proper work and charge reasonably (I've just had to re-plumb a bath).

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

I wanted to add a slight dissent to NL's #5: Encourages people to develop and pursue their own interests and talents, as long as they contribute the the general welfare..."

The thing is, NL, if artistic motivation had to be restricted to a concern for the "general welfare," I doubt you'd create a world where the art produced was anything but kitsch. I mean, that seems to me like a recipe to kill passion and originality in the arts. And it may do the same for other areas of invention. How many innovations came about simply because somebody tinkered around with an idea that pleased themselves alone?

I've posted this quote before, but it doesn't hurt to repeat myself:

Quote Ran Ortner: Art is not a skill contest, nor an innovation contest. Art is an honesty contest. If we can be precisely who we are, in the most intimate and candid and courageous way, we will start to connect to the universal. Our job as artists is to become powerfully personal in our work, and if we touch the source, the most central wound, the deepest of wells, then we actually touch the universal. In the compression of the intensely personal, heat is generated, and at a certain point it becomes expansive. The work goes from the intimately personal to what’s personal to all of us.

And besides, who's to say what is in the general welfare?

I'm not convinced that art contributes anything to the general welfare of the general population, anyway. Most people couldn't care less about art; it's not covered in the mainstream media, nor the alternative media, for that matter, and most of what goes on in the arts goes on outside the awareness of ordinary people. Of course, I believe that art must be a part of any culture, but I think it plays a bigger, direct role in more simple, or primitive, societies. In ours, sometimes I think it might as well not exist, for all the influence it has on the consciousness of the masses or on policy. Thus, I don't do it for any such general welfare, I do it selfishly, and unapologetically so.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago

A world in which all adults are able to express themselves, both in writing and orally - if not elegantly then at least simply and correctly - in their native language. In the case of the U.S., adults who at the very least know the difference between possessives and contractions, who know when to use your, when to use you’re, when to use there, when to use their or they’re. Adults who don’t say or write “..he do” or “…they does.” In the U.S. such gross ignorance of the very rudiments of the language can’t be blamed entirely on the schools.

A world where sport is what people do for pleasure, not for pay.

Above all, a world free of thinking creatures.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 11 weeks ago

Of course, this community is abundantly blessed with talented citizens, including all contributors on this thread to this point, who are all friends of mine. I think we each have different talents, and utilizing everybody's unique talents is basically what we have been discussing here. I mentioned Zenzoe specifically because she seems to have a sort of radar for people's weakest points, or anytime one of us approaches B.S. territory. -);

I should have said as long as they aren't doing anything that is clearly contrary to the general welfare. Considered loosely, anything with aesthetic value contributes to the general welfare, but if its value is not considered objective enough to be verifiable, at least it is not counterproductive.

If and when I finally get around to rewriting this whole Capital Ideas series, of course I will rerwrite much of this material.

I knew I had forgotten something in my previous list. We need a world to work with in the first place before we can talk about what kind of world we want. Obviously, keeping the human population from spiraling further out of control, and sustaining a good ecological environment must be of paramount importance.

As I have stated before, I am afraid that Gaia is in the process of waking up and yelling "Rape! Get off me!" to humanity.

I agree, Alberto. A world which nurtures our aesthetic passions is a huge part of the kind of world we want for our future. The problem from my standpoint is that I am sadly lacking in artistic, literary or cinematic knowledge, and it is hard for me to comment on people I have never heard of.

"A world where sport is what people do for pleasure, not for pay.

Above all, a world free of thinking creatures."

I wholeheartedly agree, Alberto. Of course, I long ago realized that ideals of the Olympics, which are currently underway, had been perverted by money, when top professional athletes started showing up at the Olympics in sports such as basketball, and when big winners in much less lucrative sports suddenly started to become millionnaires by doing celebrity endorsements.

We need to be free thinking,as well as tolerant and nurturant of others' free thoughts.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 11 weeks ago
Quote Natural Lefty:

I agree, Alberto. A world which nurtures our aesthetic passions is a huge part of the kind of world we want for our future. The problem from my standpoint is that I am sadly lacking in artistic, literary or cinematic knowledge, and it is hard for me to comment on people I have never heard of.

But, Natural Lefty, artistic, literary and cinematic knowledge is there for the taking, all you have to do is reach out. On various blogs and comments I have posted internet addresses of a good many web sites as well as the titles of several books, not for self-preening but in the hopes that some might visit them, might begin to appreciate decent art and literature. I suspect that few, if any, have bothered to go to them. Did you, for example, take time out to listen to Richter? All it takes is a click on the URL that I posted. Is it that you and others aren't just lacking in knowledge but also lacking in interest? The sad thing about the ignorant is that they are often smugly complacent in their ignorance. There's no valid excuse for those who truly want to learn, these days these things are available at our fingertips.

Here's one Richter address again, just a couple minutes of one's time to listen to a short recording of perhaps the greatest pianist of all time playing music of one of the world's most celebrated composers::


I pasted this quote earlier, here it is again:

Osip Mandelstam - "A raznochinets needs no memory—it is enough for him to tell of the books he has read, and his biography is done."

Maybe biographies are also done when people tell of the books they haven't read.

Zenzoe 5 years 11 weeks ago

Natural Lefty, perhaps you hadn't noticed that Alberto said, "Above all, a world free of thinking creatures," not a world of free-thinking creatures, when you said, "We need to be free thinking, as well as tolerant and nurturant of others' free thoughts." Or maybe you did notice. Anyway, I'm not sure which perspective I prefer; a case could be made for either, or both, whichever. Sometimes the thinking elite can mess things up horribly, just to put it mildly.

In regard to free-thinkers, I just indulged my inner child the past two hours and watched the movie, Harriet the Spy, which makes a beautiful case for the independent, free spirit. It's a story from the child's perspective, but it has lessons for everyone. It's a good example of how movies can contribute to the better, more nurturing and kinder world we would all like to see. So now I'm going to order it for my grandchildren.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 5 years 11 weeks ago

Wow, N Lefty, you hit me in my soft spot just when I was about to reveal the Not So Blind Congressional Trust and its Eaton Vance ties to Bain Capital!

Plants! Common names are the culprits. How many plants do you know of called "Jacob's Coat?"

First, try and avoid planting things which keep dying. You need to find things which will thrive with minimum effort in your conditions.

There is no relationship between Osmanthus and Psidium (Guavas). There is one native American Osmanthus and the rest come from Asia, highly prized as temperate zone ornamental shrubs and small trees. Os. fragrans, called "sweet olive," was transferred out of the genus Olea but still remains in the olive family, the Oleaceae. The Oleaceae are in the order Lamiales to which also belong the mints, Lamiaceae.

Psidium (Guava) are strictly tropical shrubs and trees, in the myrtle family, or Myrtaceae. Just to add to the confusion, Psidium means "pomegranate." Pomegranate is actually in the genus Punica, is in the same Order as Psidium, the Myrtales, but has been assigned its own family, the Lythraceae.

The guava which is delicious is your basic Psidium guajava which has been hybridized into improved or more ornamental forms.

Passiflora edulis is another sub-tropical or tropical plant, a vine, called "Maracuya" or "Maracuja" in Puerto Rico. It is the edible passion fruit, but the plants has also been hybridized for showy flowers, bigger fruits, insect resistance, and so forth.

You will know you are buying a hybrid when you see a name in apostrophes following the genus and species of a plant. You might find a Passiflora edulis 'Franny's Delight' which means someone has made a hybrid and gets the honor of naming it and collecting a royalty.

(Martha would want me to remind you that the beautiful waxy flowers of Passiflora edulis make a stunning floral centerpiece floated in a clear crystal bowl. You may add goldfish for kinetics).

Not to open a can of worms, but hybrids are not the same as genetically engineered plants. Hybridization occurs between at least two parties, naturally by insect, animal or by human hand cross-pollination. It is a natural part of gene pool development.

Genetic engineering means pumping up certain numbers of chromosomes in an individual which is bred to itself and patented.

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Conservatives supposedly hate freeloading. So why are they trying to legalize it?

Conservatives supposedly hate freeloaders.

So why do they support right to work laws - which literally legalize freeloading?

Our nation's nine unelected monarchs on the Supreme Court are poised to deal yet another blow to organized labor.