The Corporation -A documentary MY EXPECTATIONS

Is this weird? I am reviewing a movie before I have seen it. But this is one that I’ve been curious about for a while.

This is a documentary that talks about how Corporations have become imbedded into our society.

Now, here is what I bring to the movie:

The Corporation is an economic, social and political entity. They are fairly new, not really addressed by the founders of our country, or Marx in Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto. Granted, those books are more than a hundred years old and the world has changed.

We have a different class system now, and different ways of “getting ahead.” We rely less on who we know and who we are related to. Things like “past performance” and “credit rating” have a lot more to do with what our options are.

America relies heavily on corporations to carry the slack for things that other countries have the government do. Traditionally, Corporations give us health care, and retirement. Our history has been one full of “company men” who worked hard for the corporation that would take care of them.

Other countries have governments to do health care and pensions-Socialized medicine and retirement. But American has worked out this other way of fulfilling those functions. We also tax corporations, because they make the most money. More than individuals do, depending.

Now, because the government relies on business corporations to do these social services, the government has to be nice to them. They have to cut them a little slack. It’s like corporations are the sole supporter of a VERY large family of dependents. I’ve often heard the phrase “Government is in the back pocket of Big Business.”

From my perspective, Big business is in the pocket of government too.

I’d like this movie to address how this interdependency came about.

ALSO, RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND, this interdependency is coming unravelled. Corporations are a little more flexible than government. They were carrying a heavy load, what with all the health care and pensions. They’ve been shrugging it off, to a large extent.

There has been a huge rise in the number of contractors. Contractors work for the corporation but are not part of it, and so the corporation is not responsible for their health care and pensions.

And as far as pensions, aka saving for retirement goes, that’s been largely privatized. Remember the stock boom of the late 90s? That wasn’t just a fluke. Corporations and government worked together to come up with a plan for individuals to be responsible for their own pensions (the 401K is an example). The money that corporations had held in reserve to pay for pensions was now free to be distributed to the individuals themselves and invested willy nilly.

And a lot of money disappeared after that. Enron? There was money in that. And then there wasn’t. That wasn’t imaginary money . It is money that was lent to these corporations and didn’t return to the investors.

Things were changing. The balance is tipping.

And health care. That’s very complicated…Insurance and HMOs and Pharmacuetical companies (all their own form of corporations) are now offering to other corporations new or less expensive ways of dealing with their health care.

These are also things I hope this documentary addresses. Also, the labor movement (unions and female workers).

I am pretty sure that the documentary will talk about how big business is bad, because all documentaries shown in arty movie houses are lefty democrat. I find it amusing that the lefty types don’t seem to think through some of their political agenda. It’s frustrating to get a blank stare when I ask “and what then?” How can you then rail agains the unthinking masses when you are also unthinking?

Anyway, I hope that in the midst of the lefty political agenda, there will be some actual information and facts that will help me better understand the relationship of the american worker to corporations and government. I’ve been wondering about it, thinking about it for a while. Maybe the movie will give me some answers, or at least some new questions.

Scoundrel Time by Lillian Hellman

I’ve read excerpts of this, and always wanted to read the whole thing. I got it on tape and listened to it while driving. I was incredibly interested by the introduction, which lay out the time line and some historic background for the McCarthy era.

Lilian Hellman was famous for standing up to the House Unamerican Activities Committee. What they did was pull people in and get them to tell on all their friends as proof of their own innocence. “Innocence” in this case meant their ideological agreement with the government.

I find this idea reprehensible. So did many people at the time. It was wrong for the government to insist on one set of ideas.

So Lillian Hellman was subpaenaed to testify before the HUAC, and she said that she would not plead the 5th if they didn’t ask her any questions about other people. The remarkable thing was that she didn’t go to jail for contempt, which others had done.

She talked about what it was like to live at that time. One thing I learned was that, even when Daschell Hammet, her longtime friend and one of the first to be blacklisted for his political ideas, was not only blacklisted and jailed, but when he did manage to find some money, the IRS found some loopholes to take all his earnings for the rest of his life. I hadn’t realized that the IRS was in on it too.

The introduction tells us that Hammet based Nora from “The Thin Man” on Lillian. Once I knew that, I could catch the tone of the stories she told. It was a story, about a certain time. Lots of things happened, and there were huge ripple effects of this repressive ideology.

This was well worth checking out. I can’t help but think there are cautionary lessons for now.

The fate of Feta

Feta-I loved it the first time I tasted it. White, salty, and a taste unlike anything I could describe. It became part of my pantheon of cheeses. I discovered it was healthier than a lot of other cheeses, too. Lower fat.

When I moved to Sunnyvale, I found a local deli (Attari) that sold a ethnic type of feta that put the supermarket Athenos brand of feta to shame. This deli feta was so much more powerful, the difference was like the difference between american cheese and sharp cheddar. Wow! I found out that the feta I was buying (because it was the cheapest of the three the deli sold) was BULGARIAN feta.

Attari sold Greek, French and Bulgarian Feta. I tried them all, and the Bulgarian remained my favorite. Of course, two years ago I moved to North Central Los Angeles. There is an even bigger ethnic market here. It’s big enough to be a supermarket chain: Jon’s. The Eastern meditterian population here is such that can maintain a chain like that. Even the gas station snack counters have olives, feta, and Halvah for sale. These folks know feta.

Now, at the deli counter at Jon’s supermarket, they have more than Greek, French and Bulgarian feta. They have Roumanian, and I think 2 other varieties too. What a selection! I’ve been sticking to my Bulgarian, but I thought maybe the others might have merit.

I bought a half-pound of the Greek once, but my previous opinion was confirmed. It was chalkier, drier, and certainly not as powerful a flavor as the Bulgarian. I didn’t even finish the half pound.

With that disappointment in mind, I thought I would find out more before I wasted money on the other types of feta. I looked up feta on the internet to find out what some other cheese-lover might have to say about feta from different regions.

This is the first thing I found. It’s about feta, written by Bulgarians. Naturally, they agree with my assessment about the deliciousness of their cheese.

But this didn’t tell me about the other varieties of feta. I looked further and was surprised to find that feta was a source of international conflict.
Now, this is interesting. The French, the Danes and the Germans are all arguing with Greece about who gets to make feta. Or at least who gets to call it feta. Where is Bulgaria, the winner of my taste test, in this debate?

Exactly nowhere. Bulgaria is not part of the European Union. Nor is Roumania, one of the feta varieties I have not tried yet. They have no place at the table for this debate.

Now, if I were to give my two cents to the cheese beaurocrats at the EU, I would say that it would be nice to know where the feta originates. The taste is completely different, coming for different palces. I haven’t tried German or Danish feta, but I am sure they taste different. I’d like to know where my feta comes from, since it affects the taste. Naturally, you shouldn’t tell those countries that they can’t make feta at all (that seems to be what Greece wants to say). But if their feta is not as good as the others, then it will naturally not do so well as the other varieties. Free market will dictate the winner.

Except there is a problem. Free market isn’t the market we are using over there. The purveyors of the tastiest cheese are excluded. They aren’t part of the EU. They were part of the Eastern Block, with a history of a socialist market.

Now, I’ll tell you. I worry about the intellectual property rights of the former communist countries. They do not have a history of protecting the ideas of geniuses who come up with them. I’ve seen this go to work in Russia when I lived there.

I knew this guy in the town I lived in. He was a geologist. There were a lot of geologists in that town, because the town had a diamond mine. This geologist had a breakthrough in how to extract diamonds from the ore. He found this solution that would extract (according to him) 90% more diamonds than current methods. Holy Crap! That’s a lot more diamonds. Sounds too good to be true. But he and his geologist buddies had the proof.

They took their new method to Mother Russia, the owner of the diamond mine. Mother Russia said she couldn’t be bothered to change everything now. Don’t rock the boat; things were going along fine.
Now, even if Mother Russia approved of their genius idea, you have to realize, this giant leap in production would not have resulted in additional money for the geologists. No extra bonus to buy diamonds for their mothers and wives. Just maybe a commendation at the yearly review.

So the geologists were stifled. But this idea was too good to just leave alone. They wanted to see it implemented. They called Debeers. Debeers took a little more notice than Mother Russia did. And actually, the geologists had a chance to make some money on the deal if they took it elsewhere. Except they were relying on the lawyers that Debeers brought with them. There were not any copyright or patents lawyers in the town. Or anywhere in Russia, as far as I know.

Now, I don’t know the end of the story because I left Russia and lost track of this geologist. But this story, along with a lot of other things I saw and experienced in Russia, made me realize how foriegn copyright and intellectual property rights were to this country.

I worry about the former communist countries. I think they need to get on the bandwagon with selling ideas.

And this whole feta thing brings that up again. Those Bulgarians have the best way of making this cheese, but the rest of the world is missing out. Free the feta!

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blind assasin by margaret atwood

This was highly recommended to me, but it took two tries to get through it.

Yes, by the time I got past the first 60 pages, I was starting to enjoy it. But it annoyed me a lot right off the bat. I HATE it when the person telling the story knows something but won’t tell you. Atwood dragged it on and on, and you knew that the man character knew more than she was telling, but she took a long time to tell it.

All these flashbacks and flash forwards, interpolated with news stories. Let’s just say that if you like mysteries, this is a really good one. Fine writing for that. But I hate mysteries. I always feel like someone is trying to pull one over me.

It was a good book, but it annoyed me a lot.

By request…

Here is another picture I have taken. I think it is interesting that the cactus’s pokey bits were formed while it was still a tight bud. It left traces on the younger leaves.

What do you thinK?

Write On

I’ve been working steadily on writing a book. It is not a novel, which is what everyone assumes. It is a memoir. I’m trying to write about what it was like to be with my family and go over to Russia to teach English in a private school with a Christian curriculum in 1991-1993.

I started out, and in January, I had about 100 pages written. THen I realized that I had to stop TELLING the story and I had to start writing the experiences. What I had been doing with the first 100 pages was being my current self, the ironic cosmopolitan with PERSPECTIVE on what happened back then.

Absolutely NOT the way to tell a real story. If I distance myself from my own story, how can I expect to draw in a reader? But the fact is, I didn’t want to dive in. To call these memories painful would only be the tip of the iceberg. Nothing is just as simple as pain. Pain is such a flat word. I needed to dive right back in to THEN and write what it was like to live it.

It is not easy to do that. I’ve now re-written to the point of having 140 pages.


My mind panics when I think about (think about writing about) going to Russia. And that is exactly how I felt during the time I was getting ready to go. That is the time I am writing about, that getting-ready period.

Right now, I am filled with those feelings I had then. And I am missing those people I knew then. I am SO missing them.

I had to do a little cyber-stalking. God bless Google. What’s Dean up to? What about Alex? Tommy Piper?

They say you can never go home again. I say, you can never go anywhere again. Some things never change, but I am not some things. It’s very sad to me, to realize that I can’t ever recapture the closeness of a friendship. Or realize the closeness that I once wanted.

People change. I change. It makes me sad.

Not that I would have it any other way. You couldn’t pay me enough to stay the way I was back then.

Anyway, I am surprised at how real these people are to me. It is like they just walked out of the room. I’ve had to struggle to remember their personalities and their speech patterns. I have to try to create dialogue with them…I say create…But it is more like remembering…And I remember up scraps of things I’ve done and said with them…And there they are. Like I could reach out and touch them. Like I could give them one more hug goodbye.

And I wish I could.

Welcome to July

How’re we all doing?

The year is halfway gone. I have gotten my paycheck, which gives me YTD totals…

That gets my calculator finger itching. If present trends continue, I will have worked 560 hours of overtime in 2004. 32 of those hours will be counted as double time, because they were in excess of 12 hours in one day.

Working hard. Getting paid.

That’s what the 30s are about, aren’t they?

“Prime of your life”

Maybe. So, subtracting the 2 weeks and 2.5 days I was out on vacation and illness, I have worked 9.88 hours every day I was at work.

That’s sort of interesting to know.

Also, for the 6 months of this year, my company has paid out 1590 bucks in health & life insurance and stuff for this single, prime-of-her-life healthy person. That’s going be 3180 for the year. Holy smokes.

Naturally, though, that’s not my money. It’s benefits. I could get a better deal on my health insurance if I paid Kaiser directly, but the company won’t give me back the money if I said I would bargain shop.

Of course, the minute anything went wrong with me, Kaiser would no longer offer the $125 a month deal they’d give me now. If I suddenly got diabetes or some wierd disease, forget me! “That will be $900 a month please, and you understand we won’t cover the treatments for the illness you’ve disclosed to us.”

I once was denied Kaiser coverage, on a personal plan, because I told them I had back problems when I was 18 and worked at a bagger for Safeway. Groceries are heavy if you don’t carry them right.

Lesson learned:

These sorts of things roll around in my head as I consider other ways to spend the hours of my life’s prime. I can think of some alternatives to the current routine of 9.88 work hours plus commute time. But I have to say, insurance considerations put a big damper on my entrepenuerial and creative plans.

Anyway, just some thoughts on the half-year mark. Happy summer everyone!