Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Other Cassandra

I spent a big chunk of the day sorting through boxes of paper and and photographs - I had never quite gotten around to organizing all of the stuff I'd brought home from 15 years work at the studio - and once started, I sort of got on a roll. I'd been storing the work material in a little bonus room where I'd stashed a few other boxes of...well, I wasn't sure. They'd been out there for a while. One turned out to be writing and memorabilia from high school up to the point I lit out for China, back when. The other was primarily clippings, as was a good portion of the stuff from work.

I've long been a clipper and a saver, less so an organized filer, unfortunately. The older box of clippings had articles dating from the late eighties up till a few years ago (nowadays I clip less paper and archive a lot of data bits instead). A lot of the material was China-related, but there were a ton of articles about the environment, things like the Pacific Garbage Patch, tree-sitters, estrogenic substances causing gender confusion in frogs; the drug trade (weird, because my new book has that angle, and I hadn't even remembered that I'd been collecting the material), character studies (the world's greatest female sommelier, a man who can speak just about any language), places I might want to travel, strange science, stories about Los Angeles and San Diego, my favorite teams the Padres and the Chargers, and of course, airships. A lot of the articles are related to things I was writing or thought that I might want to write (like, you know, the airship thing). Other subjects were maybe tangentially related to writing but were more reflective of my lifelong interest in politics and how "the system" works.

I had a college-level political science class when I was a senior in high school, and when I reflect on it, I realize that this class influenced me on a profound level, forming the basic frame through which I view politics and institutional organization.

I can't even remember the name of the instructor. She taught at one of San Diego's better community colleges and came to my high school to teach this one "advanced class" for interested students. I remember that she was middle-aged, really ordinary-looking, not particularly distinctive in how she taught - I mean, she didn't jump around or dress up in costumes or use a lot of fancy audio-visual materials. She wore heavy-framed glasses and navy suits. But she must have been a subversive at heart. She chose wonderful textbooks that were well-written and persuasive, and I still remember some of their fundamental arguments. One was that institutions, be they government bureaucracies or corporations, tend to develop institutional imperatives that transcend and frequently conflict with their stated purpose, the most basic of which is that organizations, like any organism, want to survive and perpetuate themselves. Another was that America is run by a collection of "interlocking oligarchies," in which elites shuttle between business and government, and that it is primarily the interests of these elites that the government serves.

So, going through my boxes of clippings, I found articles I'd saved from the late eighties on to Bush II about income inequity in America, the rise in the gap between the rich and the poor, the fall of real wages, corporate malfeasance, financial manipulation, the privatization of risk, the perils of potential global financial crisis, currency meltdown, etc., etc., etc.

I didn't save most of them. I can find plenty of material today that says the same things.

Yeah, "no one could have predicted" our current crisis. Come on. People have been laying out the fundamentals of it for years.

(p.s. Here are some of the textbooks we used in that class....
Karl Deutsch, "Politics and Government: How people decide their fate," Thomas Dye, "Who's running America: institutional leadership in the United States," - the version I used is currently unavailable, but Dye apparently has published updates from Reagan through Bush II).

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