Tag Archives: philosophy

We Need Money!

Largest private university donations (2009): 
Stanford $640.1 million
Harvard $601.6 million   — LA Times February 4, 2010

 Kennedy Center receives $22.5 million in single gift.
— Jim Handly, NBS News May 4, 2010

U.S. Treasury Department operating balance: $73.76 billion
Apple Corporation operating balance: $76.156 billion
–Matt Hartley, The Financial Post July 28, 2011

Health club membership: $1,238.56; Hair care: $333.87; Gift shop allowance: $1,666.73; Use of Foreign Currency: $44,164; Miscellaneous costs: $135,249.22.  A few of the perks for each U.S. Senator which, coupled with salary, benefits, retirement, total $8,162,000 per Senator each year!
–Joshua M. Brown, The Christian Science Monitor July 29. 2011

Since The Hill and Lake Press is a monthly newspaper, pressing issues of the day may resolve themselves, which is why I tend to write about garage sales and dogs.  At the risk of belaboring old news, as I write, the debt ceiling has been grudgingly and sloppily raised with the result being Standard and Poor’s downgrading the U.S. economy from a AAA rating to AA+.  S&P warns that we may lose our + and possibly an A if we do not figure out a way to increase our revenue.  In the meantime Americans have been ordered to tighten their belts, stop talking smack about Uruguay, and put away their giant foam fingers that proclaim “We’re # 1.”

In spite of evidence to the contrary I have always believed that a nation capable of producing Abraham Lincoln, Silly Putty, and baseball cards will prevail.  Lately I am having serious doubts.  We seem hopelessly paralyzed politically and philosophically between militant, uncompromising forces that decry as treasonous even the mention of shifting the tax burden toward the wealthy, and more moderate Americans who spend much of their time seeking deductions, underreporting income, and searching for loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

We need money, and unless the government can quickly create a better iPad it appears our economy is in for very difficult times.  Searching for ways to cut spending, we against all logic turn to the people who have the least to sacrifice.  We blithely raise the public transportation fees for those who cannot afford cars, cut back on free and reduced lunch programs (ketchup as a vegetable is ready for a revival), reduce aid to dependent children, and trim Medicare for seniors.  There are relative pennies to be saved.

As first-hand survivors of The Great Depression dwindle, there are too many public officials who seem to have no sense of history.  Their simplistic ideas are at best naive and more likely mean-spirited.  They seem inured to the number of lives their rhetoric could effect.  Aside for money for foreign wars, they believe in a small “g” government in providing aid to our citizens.  Their take on A Christmas Carol is that if Jacob Marley had only lived, he and Ebenezer Scrooge could have taken the company public, moved it to Belize, inflated stock prices and sold short before Tiny Tim died of consumption.  For a final touch, they have persuaded contemporary Bob Cratchit to refuse government medical aid as socialism, even as Tim’s leg is deemed a preexisting condition and therefore not covered by insurance.

How can we raise revenue and get back on par with Finland when we have so little trust in the politicians that allowed this to happen? Who can blame us?  Our hard earned money seems to go for unpopular wars, even less popular defense contractors, bank bailouts, and Senate haircuts.

If Apple won’t lend us the money, we can only cut expenditures so far.  The poor and the middle class have done more than their share.  On the whole we are a generous people.  Some of the most fervent opponents of raising taxes privately spend more than their progressive tax share would be in funding organizations and candidates to beat back the dreaded tax man.   A further irony is that many hardline tax opponents give very generously (and tax deductably) to their alma mater, the arts, hospitals, disease research, the disadvantaged, and religious organizations.

Many of us believe in helping others but resent paying taxes to the weasels in Washington.

If we are unable to get the Bush tax cuts eliminated, can we at least find appealing ways to interest the super wealthy in helping to support their government?  Hospital wings, art museums, opera houses, and college buildings are named for their benefactors.  The local Kiwanis club sponsors a mile of highway clean up. We need a few philanthropists to step forward and adopt an underfunded federal government Department in exchange for naming rights.  Imagine The Warren Buffet Department of Commerce. The Mark Zuckerberg Department of Education or, my favorite, The Steve Jobs Department of Labor.

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer who remains in exile.  He will be returning home and reading stuff like this with the poet Tom Cassidy on September 17th at Black Forest Inn (26th and Nicollet).








Ben and Tom Hiking

The Road Not Taken

There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.
–Erich Fromm

I am from Iowa.  I lived there until I was 24…  I didn’t know you were allowed to leave.
–Jake Johannsen (San Francisco comic)

I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time, they probably shouldn’t
–Marge Simpson

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both                                  —Robert Frost   (The Road Not Taken) 

Free will is a terrifying notion especially when you exercise it.  I hesitate to broach the subject because the odds are astronomically high that I will come off sounding clueless and self serving, a departure from my petty and ingracious nature.  Coming back to Minnesota brings out deeply conflicted feelings I harbor about leaving my adopted home.  When I talk with friends whose families made huge life changing moves, there were usually Cossacks involved in the decision.  For JoAnne and me, it was a heart wrenching choice that was not influenced by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.  My new life (eight years already) is filled with friends, activities, and as much meaning as I am likely to find in southern California.

I make it harder by visiting in early October (note to self, come back in February).  There is nothing more enjoyable than wandering the streets of Minneapolis on a beautiful fall day. I walked Lake of the Isles, the Greenway, and the newest incarnation of Calhoun Square.  For those who take HLP land for granted as I once did, the bustle of young people, the abundance of dogs, and the leaves beginning to turn can’t help but imbued one with a sense of optimism.

Even my friends with little interest in sports have been to the new Twins stadium.  Their joy and civic pride is so evident that I couldn’t help but smile.   Minnesotans look for ways to build community, and Target Field is a good example.  After I went to a game (a 13-2 drubbing by Toronto) I was so in awe of the experience, I happily leaped on the bandwagon.  Still challenges abound.  Which highway entrances and exits are not under construction?  How do you get across town without Crosstown?  There are many, many houses for sale, yet coming from bankrupt California, the local economy looks fairly healthy.

I sense I am avoiding the existential question.  Should a decision of the magnitude of where to live be left to someone so quixotic, and ill informed?  I was a (very) young Republican.  I attended a Mamas and Papas concert.  I bought Circuit City stock at 42.   I wore bell bottoms for goodness sake.  I didn’t install it, but I lived with orange shag carpeting.  What would suggest that I am an informed decision maker?

The more I consider it, the question is not happiness or fulfillment.  JoAnne and I love our life in California while we miss our old house, friends, and the spirit of the neighborhood.  I am occasionally (all right daily) dwarfed by the decision.  I am not suggesting a Politburo, or even a 5.2 computer software update to guide our major life choices, comrade.  It is just difficult having no one to blame.  Moving states doesn’t compare to religious conversion, changing genders, launching a new career, or enlisting in the military. Where do people with options find the strength to roll the dice and commit to a new life?  After eight years I am still whining about missing the fall colors.


  Tom H. Cook was disappointed to see the Twins season end so ignobly.  After eight years he is still whining about missing the fall colors.  







Benny Two-Fingers

Benny Two-Fingers

“In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.  For years I was smart, and I recommend pleasant.”  –Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) quoting his mother in Harvey

Our friend and Lake Calhoun neighbor Lance Lavine got it mostly right twenty years ago.  He observed our reticent infant son, urged us not to worry, and proclaimed that one day Benny would be a philosopher.  “Little Benny Two-fingers” spoke early and in complete sentences.  He would listen carefully to the discussion around him.  When he was ready to speak, he would remove his two middle fingers from his mouth and gesture with them much like a tweedy Humanities professor waving a pipe.  Then, point made, the two fingers would go back into his mouth for further contemplation and sucking.  Little Benny 2 fingers

Other children used the neighborhood swings to play and release excess energy.  For adventure they would pump hard and it seemed attempt to defy gravity.  While Ben seemed to enjoy being pushed, when the adult (usually me) gave out he would contentedly lean back in the swing and stare up at the sky.  I asked him why he didn’t want to go faster or in later years stand up on the swing.  He replied that he “liked it peaceful.”   When he was five, JoAnne and I quizzed him on his refusal of a play date with a friend.  Ben confided that the boy was “too frisky” for his taste.   As a child he frequently sought the company of his fairly sedentary parents.  His standard greeting on entering a room was “Where are you guys gonna be?”

Granted I am cheap, but I can not imagine a private education benefiting Ben more than what Minneapolis Public Schools provided at Barton Open. Ben was able to attend for nine years (K-8) including three years with the sainted teacher Mary Ann Fabel.  The friendships and social skills he acquired were as important as the whole-brain academic curriculum.  Since Barton does not give letter grades, I would get frustrated attempting to measure Ben’s ability.  In sixth grade he would come home with radish stickers on his work.  I remember some fairly bizarre parent conferences with me grilling his teachers on why Ben wasn’t getting more broccoli stickers and would a tutor help him to do cauliflower work.

Thanks to excellent support at Barton, Ben was ready for the Open Program at South High School. At last there were letter grades and in Garrison Keillor tradition we discovered that Ben was above average, and that a college fund would have been a good idea.  Ben enjoyed soccer but seemed to feel that after he had kicked the ball it was someone else’s turn.  Consequently he played on the freshman-sophomore team through his junior year.  His strong logic skills helped him find success on the school’s mock trial team.

Leaping ahead, Ben chose the University of California Santa Cruz.  He did well there but I occasionally felt like I was back at Barton.  I had finally mastered the vegetable grading system only to receive an evaluation from one of his film courses which read in part…”His memoir described his childhood experiences at the disjunction between action films and real childhood threats.  Ben sought to explore the resonances of hypertextuality, identifying key tensions such as the relationship between Memex and hypertext, databases vs. hypertext and the author-reader-text relation…”  There were some nice words about him that I could understand, but the instructor seemed most impressed by Ben’s “…focusing on the tension between a bounded CD-ROM and the more fluid and ephemeral Internet…”.

We attended his graduation last week in Santa Cruz staring out at the Pacific Ocean during the ceremony.  Our little Benny “Two fingers” is a film major who wants to go to Hollywood and represent writers.  Like all parents we want our children to exceed us.  Even though he is currently unemployed and driving the nine year old Mazda we gave him he is already very close to eclipsing me.  He is a young man of principle, balance, and common sense.  We are enormously proud of him.Benny

Tom H. Cook is delighted to have his whole family in southern California clogging up the freeways.