Parasites

As a society we do not value working people or work. One of the most important economic measures is productivity – production per unit of labor. What does that mean? The fewer “units of labor” we invest in a product, the better.

The very idea of hard work is denigrated. My father used to tell me “Work smarter, not harder.” The point (originally) was industrial efficiency. (The phrase was coined by an industrial engineer in the 1930s. Industrial engineers are the guys who stand around with a clipboard watching you work and then tell you how to do a job that they’ve never done.) It was often heard as “You are more valuable if you sit behind a desk than if you get your hands dirty.”

You are not a person, you are a unit of labor and therefore a necessary evil until we can replace you with a robot. The very people who produce the goods are considered a drag on the economy.

But who are the real parasites? Who takes money from the economy without producing anything? High on my list is the insurance industry. There was once something called a “mutual aid society”. People realized that any one of us could be wiped out by a disaster and if we pooled our resources, we could take care of each other in times of trouble. That concept was bastardized by the insurance industry – a group of companies that take our money in good times so they can find ways to avoid giving it back in bad times: you contributed to your own loss; you had a pre-existing condition; we have this loophole that says your loss isn’t covered; maybe your loss should be covered but we’ll make you jump through enough hoops that you’ll give up. Even the hospitals have begun to recognize insurance as a parasite: https://www.hfma.org/topics/financial-sustainability/article/front-line-stories–how-today-s-prior-authorization-processes-cr.html

Advertising – an entire industry devoted to convincing you that you need something you don’t really need. Check out the movie The Joneses.

Once you buy it, you must of course buy the newer, bigger, better version. And “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is no accident. If a product lasts too long, you won’t buy the newer, bigger, shinier version. The clothes washer I bought used 27 years ago still works fine. If I’d bought a new one a few years ago when the new highly-efficient front loaders were all the rage, I would have learned only later that a load took more than twice as long, so the savings from less water used are offset by using twice as much electricity. Then I’d have found out that they have a tendency to grow mold. And when they fail, it’s often a motherboard failure and requires a new machine, not just a new part. Or that the new part cost almost as much as the machine – and isn’t in stock so I might as well buy the newer, shinier version instead of waiting for the part. Then maybe I’d get one that solved the mold problem – or not.

If The Joneses is not dark enough for you, try the earlier British film How to Get Ahead in Advertising.

Advertising only works if you continue to buy more stuff. And advertising doesn’t make stuff any better – just more expensive, since the stuff has to pay for the advertising. And we don’t call it “advertising” anymore – it’s “marketing” because that sounds more scientific. The”science” is the science of how to manipulate us more effectively. Parasites, all of ’em.

Real estate sales – another parasitic industry. Since we know that producing more land is rare, the entire industry is devoted to driving up the price of the land that already exists. The concept of private ownership of property results in speculative purchase of land – ownership of land specifically for the purpose of selling it to someone else later at a higher price. The epitome of capitalism: Making money by having money. If you can afford to buy land, you can get rich by doing nothing. Work is for suckers.

You can hire a real estate agent to help you buy a house. By state law (in Wisconsin) a real estate agent always represents the seller. It is in the agent’s best interest (and legal obligation) to get the highest possible price for the house. Since they get paid a percentage of the sale price, their income is directly tied to what you pay. So don’t think there is any such thing as a “buyer’s agent.” If you each hire an agent, they are on the same side – not yours, if you are buying.

Human Resources departments. Once upon a time, we found that companies had this unpleasant tendency to exploit their workers. Bosses just might sexually harass their underlings. We came up with the idea of a personnel department – a place to take your grievances and maybe not lose your job for voicing them. Over time this morphed into a “Human Resources” department – a department devoted to exploiting the “resource” represented by your labor, the way Peabody Coal exploits coal deposits. What is a “resource” other than a profit center? Now we lose benefits we used to have, or they find creative accounting and reporting practices so when you look at your pay stub you can’t really tell if you still have the same benefits you used to have. They can change sick leave, vacation, and holidays into “MTO”. You can have the “freedom” to take vacation OR get sick. And maybe that time off will expire if you don’t use it – so if you get really sick, you don’t have a bank of sick leave to draw on. And maybe, when they combine those into one “bank”, the total number of hours will mysteriously shrink – if you can ever figure out what that total is.

Management – talk about parasites. There is actually a service to be performed by management. There is work that needs to be done behind the scenes to support productive work. That’s management. A job in service to and in support of production. Today, the CEO who makes 320 times what the typical worker makes is the real parasite. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO made 21 times as much as the average worker in 1965 (21:1). By 1989 that had gone to 65:1. In 2018, 293:1. And in the single year from 2018 to 2019, that jumped to 320:1. Does the CEO provide 320 times the value of the worker? Does the CEO provide value? Does the CEO produce anything?

So if you are a production worker, you are not a parasite. It is your labor that produces everything we need (as well as everything we don’t but those noted above convince us we do). So, hats off to the parasites of the world – those who suck money and produce nothing. But when you take that hat off, make sure you hold onto it or they will steal it so they can sell you another.

In the interest of disclosure, I have worked as a manager (including management consultant), plumber, maintenance worker, grocery buyer and stocker (including produce manager), cashier, restaurant worker, occupational therapist, temp worker, and others if you count unpaid workand I do – but I won’t enumerate them here. I have served on the Board of Directors of a co-operative, a non-profit day care center, and a non-profit theatre company. I have been a member of two unions. My “careers” have been in co-operative management, plumbing, and health care. Nobody pays me to ride a bike.)

Patriotic Music

Today we celebrate the declaration of freedom of one group of white, male, landowning imperialists from the tyranny of another group of white, male landowning imperialists. (I’m writing this on 4 July, but you won’t see it until the 5th, since everything goes live at midnight. As usual, if you just read your email you won’t see/hear the music links, so click the title and open the page.)

Samuel Johnson has been quoted (by Boswell) as saying that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Our current president hugging and kissing a flag immediately comes to mind.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

In the 1960s, the people who were the equivalent of Trump’s base today had a bumper sticker that said, “America: Love it or Leave it”. Soon another bumpersticker appeared reading, “America: Love is not Enough”. The triumvirate concluded with, “America: Fix it or Fuck it”. I wrote an essay in high school in which I chose the third and concluded, “In my life, I want to be the fixer.” The elderly version of me would say, “I don’t trust any philosophy that can fit on a bumper sticker.”

I have seen other blogs listing “patriotic music” we should listen to today. As I rambled through 50 miles of countryside this morning, a few patriotic tunes ran through my head, so here is my contribution to the day. First, a potential alternate national anthem. I am far from the first to suggest that.

Much music has been written for “important” people. Aaron Copland decided it was time for a fanfare for the common people. (The imagery in the video seems to have been chosen by someone who had a totally different idea of what Copland meant.)

When I heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee perform this song I had a new appreciation for the song and the harmonica, and of the benefits of growing up in a college town so I could see and hear them.

Even presidents who accomplished great things in their tenure can ultimately fail. I always liked this intro, even though the song had nothing to do with LBJ. With a band name like “The Electric Flag” (with the subtitle “An American Music Band”) I had to squeeze them in, with their rendition of this Howlin’ Wolf tune.

Bob Dylan had to make this posting, and this one, while always timely, seems especially so again, with a new generation taking the lead.

Too often in Dylan’s shadow, Phil Ochs was a genius in his own right. It’s hard to pick one song, but this is one that those who don’t listen closely can misconstrue (kinda like “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen).

Richard and Mimi Fariña sang of (not) testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A live version was recorded at the Newport Folk Festival. I have it on vinyl (the posthumous album “Memories” – beware – the CD version is not the same) but all other versions I can find are a vastly inferior recording, so this is the original studio version, since digitizing my album is beyond my capability. The album was a Christmas present from my sister, who heard it playing at a record store. She told me that if I didn’t want it, she’d keep it. No way was I going to let her have it. It grew on me quickly and I still have it 53(?) years later.

Antonin Dvořák showed that European classical composers can be influenced by the US, not just vice versa. And who can resist a piece that opens with viola?

Much is made of the American Dream. I grew up learning about America as a melting pot; a rich stew enlivened by new additions. But the longer the stew steeps, the smaller the influence of those additions. My kids learned a song in elementary school that told them “My town is not a melting pot/My town is a salad bowl” – that our identities are lost if they are melted together. Folksinger Charlie King taught me that America truly is a melting pot – “The scum rises to the top and those on the bottom get burned.” (One might conclude that we have to stir things up every now and then.)

We tend to forget that “America” includes a huge land mass stretching from about 70 degrees north latitude to about 55 degrees south latitude. The United States is but a small part of America. In Spanish there is a term for people from the US – “estadounidense”, roughly “United Statesian”. English lacks such a term which encourages us to forget the rest of America and think of ourselves as Americans and everyone else as Other. And we conveniently forget that people were already here when it was “discovered”. Not to mention that many think of American as meaning “light-skinned and of European origin”.

Whose version of that dream will be realized? Whose version is snuffed out too soon? Los Lobos asks the question.

Early readers will miss the next link. I forgot it yesterday when I got home. Leadbelly sang of hypocrisy and segregation in “Bourgeois Blues”.

Before hip hop there was Gil Scott-Heron, who taught us that “The Revolution Will Not be Televised”. Sitting back and watching is not enough.

Now that I’m home and can look things up, this list could keep growing. I realize women are under-represented. But I will stay true to the theme (this being a bike blog, not a music blog) of what I thought of and sang on today’s ride – with this one exception. What if we had a president who sang along with the Freedom Singers instead of retweeting White Power? (Oh yeah, we did once.)

I don’t know which should close – Gil Scott-Heron or Sam Cooke – but it’s gonna be Cooke. He started as a gospel singer, became famous to white folks as a pop singer, but I think this was his greatest achievement. It continues to send chills down my spine.

A real American – an oak tree on this morning’s ride

Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said: