Tuesday, January 21, 2020
We are often in a hurry to point the finger of blame. Hey, it's what people do, it's very typical human behavior. Animal behavior, even! I've seen those funny dog videos where there's a mess of torn up couch cushions and the dog owner/ film maker asks two or three dogs who did it, and the innocent dogs put their paws on the dog that's covered in stuffing. I'm certainly guilty myself. I complain about the comically mislabeled “Greatest Generation” mercilessly.
All that is required to put all of this into its proper perspective is greater empathy in general and a much deeper understanding of the historical background of the age-group to be examined. That, unfortunately, is too much to ask for. It calls for a person who is a saint to begin with, and a tireless researcher besides. Those people are rare.
I complain about my parents' generation. That is a simple statement that could easily be made by anyone who has ever walked the earth. I try to keep it fact based. Not just personal observations and anecdotal notes, but historical perspective derived from reading books coupled with a broader base of observation. I will admit that the “Greatest Generation” had it pretty tough. They were born into a rough life, and they were little boys and girls when the depression hit. It hit a lot of them very hard. Then they graduated from high school and somebody started a World War. Sixteen million of them did military service during that mess; twelve million were still in uniform at the end of it. If they came home with little patience for their own children and an over-fondness for alcohol and cigarettes, or perhaps a quick temper and the firm belief that nothing really mattered, there was a reason. God bless the ones who hid those feelings well, and thanks for that.
Trials of the Baby Boomers
It's easy to look back and believe that true Baby Boomers* were born into a perfect world, some sort of Disney movie paradise of princesses and talking hedge hogs. Those photos and post cards of the 1950s make it all look like so much fun! The big, brightly colored cars with the tall fins. Pretty girls everywhere. MGM musicals, movies about giant monsters or adventures in space, and sanitized Hollywood war movies where there was very little shooting and the few soldiers that died did so bloodlessly and quickly, almost peacefully. One of the tricks to understanding anything is learning how to look at the reality behind the photographs.
I was raised in Queens, New York. The house that I lived in up to the age of ten, the upstairs unit of a worn-out, two family house, brother, you wouldn't let your dog sleep in that house. Between the coal furnace and the ancient, unpainted wooden surfaces, the place was a monument to dust. The food that my mother put on the table, man, if you fed your child like that in modern Los Angeles, Social Services would come and remove the child from the house. My mother did not believe in fruit, and for vegetables we saw only the occasional potato.
People forget the illness and disease that we had to endure. In these anti-vax times, people almost act like measles, the chicken pox, and the mumps, were good for children. They were not, but even our parents were blasé about the phenomenon. It was simply the way things were. It was common for them to bring a healthy child over to play with a friend who had the measles. Might as well get it over with! Whooping cough was no joke, babies died from that. Every heard of scarlet fever? That one kept you out of school for a year and left you with a permanently weakened immune system.
Polio! Try and laugh that one off, I dare you. I was seven years old before I got the polio shots, and that was the first year they were available. Dodged a bullet there.
The filth caused all kinds of smaller indignities. Skin infections; styes in the eyes; boils. On top of it all, most of us had poor hygiene. It was the age of the “Saturday Night Bath.” That's when we washed our hair as well. Two baths per week was plenty. The other days we just wore the same underwear and added some more Brylcreem to our hair.
The 1960s remind me of the opening paragraph of Dicken's “A Tale of Two Cities.” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” It's so easy now to recall only the pretty, suddenly sexually available girls, and the wonderful factory hot-rods, and the brilliant music that characterized the late 1960s. But can we take a moment and recall that the entire decade was alive with social upheaval at home, and half of the decade was overshadowed by a terrible, deadly war overseas? The racism, The Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the police riots, the burning of entire neighborhoods, the assassinations. We true Baby Boomers began high school at the dawn of the 1960s, followed by either university, the draft, alternative military arrangements, or some kind of plan to avoid that whole thing. Many terrible things are happening today, but it's all more abstract now. We had been lulled into a false sense of security in the 1950s, and then, after Kennedy got shot, we were bombarded for an entire decade by non-stop bad news on high-boil, life-threatening developments, and existential threats. There was no censorship of the news back then. The riots and the war were all over the TV news, such as it was. Real battlefield footage, with hundreds of guys a week getting killed. Plus the off-screen suffering of the Vietnamese, which many of us intuited and were disturbed by. There were a few horrific years in a row.
Imagine just 1968! Opening with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; the assassination of Martin Luther King; punctuated by urban riots, often instigated by the police or the FBI; the assassination of Bobby Kennedy; the wholesale chaos of the Democratic National Convention; leading up to the election of Richard Nixon. Even lacking the deeper understanding of the even more terrible things that were happening behind the scenes, 1968 was a rough ride.
All of that was against the background of the Cold War! MAD, “Mutually Assured Destruction.” I was strangely at peace with the prospect of nuclear war, but that might have been to mask my terror of it. I read novels about it, and books about war in general, and novels where humanity was wiped out. Those helped to settle me down.
You may grudge us some of the advantages that we did, in fact, enjoy. I probably would, in a younger man's shoes. Getting an education and a start at a decent working life was definitely much easier for us. All of that is nearly impossible today. I do not like that fact any more than young people do, because what hurts American citizens, any of us, hurts me. Whatever makes life harder for young people and young families in America weakens the nation and all of us. I would love to see much of that wonderful old deal reinstated for the benefit of young Americans today. But only Bernie Sanders, alone among politicians, is interested in doing such a thing, and I don't think that he has much of a chance. I think that he could have an outside chance of becoming president, but getting all of that legislation passed? Nope. Not a snowball's chance in hell.
Speaking of Elections
For there to be any energy in “Baby Boomers ruined the world,” either one of two things must have happened. Either Baby Boomers must be personally responsible for the ruinous policies and legislation that have led us to this sorry state, or they must at least have elected the public officials who are personally responsible for it.
The first proposition doesn't really work, because most Baby Boomers, most by a wide margin, are simple, ordinary working people. Look, I'm a lawyer and an itinerant university lecturer, big deal, I include myself in the simple working stiff category. If there is a core group of evil geniuses at the heart of this chaos, I doubt if there could be more than half a dozen Baby Boomers among them.
That leaves the election angle. It's amazingly easy to look that stuff up now. All of the following statistics come from the web site:
This is when the real trouble started. Reagan was the candidate of the Conservative backlash against the 1960s, which to Conservatives was a matter of uppity blacks and filthy hippies overturning everything that was sacred about American culture and traditions at the instigation of a bunch of communist university professors. You may be laughing now, but that is actually a simple statement of what self-identified Conservatives believed, and most people over thirty were very conservative.
Older, white voters elected Reagan. The 18-29 age group, not a large segment of the voters, was evenly split. Of all voters over the age of thirty, Reagan was fifteen points ahead of Carter.
N.B. Voters over thirty years of age in 1980 had been born before 1950, so almost none of them were Baby Boomers.
In a pattern that will repeat itself, Reagan took the white vote by a factor of 56-36. Carter took the black vote (83-14) and the Hispanic vote (56-37).
Reagan took all voters by a factor of 59-41. Mondale only showed well among voters from union households, black voters, and Hispanic voters. This was a walk-over.
Dukakis for the Democrats. Another walk-over.
George H.W. Bush saw his biggest scores in the 45-59 age group. Those voters would have been born between 1929 and 1943, so no Baby Boomers to blame here.
As time marches through these elections, financial demographics become more important. From here on out, Republicans have overwhelming energy in the upper income brackets, and Democrats take almost all of the votes in the lowest brackets.
This election was fascinating, mostly due to the presence of H. Ross Perot. Perot took a whopping 19% of the vote; Bush 37%; and Clinton 43%.
Bill Clinton was, of course, our first Baby Boomer president. Did he ruin the world? He was a mixed blessing. He kept the economy humming, and he managed to balance the budget. He also passed some odious legislation that made mass incarceration worse and made it almost impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. If the Boomers are my generation, Clinton did not represent our best. Neither was he the worst. That will come later.
Perot seems to have taken votes almost equally from Clinton and Bush, and the age demographics are all over the place. It's easier to point out that Clinton walked away with most of the black and Hispanic vote, and the low income vote too. This is the election where the votes of “self-declared Conservatives” begins to really show. 64% of them voted for Bush. There is no breakdown for the ages of the “Conservatives,” but there's a clue coming up.
(Let's skip 1996 as uninteresting, and 2000 as a bold and successful criminal enterprise including the Supreme Court, Governor John Bush of Florida, and Ralph Nader. 1996 was a nothing-burger; 2000 would require a shelf full of books. W. Bush was also a Baby Boomer president. He was an unambiguous stain on our brand.)
Very interesting because Obama won even in the high-end income groups. Obama was our first “Post Baby Boom” president. McCain's slim successes came among white voters and voters over 65 years of age. His only high percentage win was the over 65s. Let the record show that anyone over sixty-five in 2008 had been born before 1943, so very few Baby Boomers voted for McCain. Baby Boomers voted for Obama.
Trump is our third Baby Boomer president, and, like W. Bush, the result of a Boomer v. Boomer election. Trump is a stain not only on the Boomer brand, but also on his family, and the country in general.
Here we may be able to ascribe some mischief to Baby Boomers, but I suggest that it would be hard to focus on this one group at this late date as far as ruining the world goes. It was pretty much ruined already. By older Americans, I'll admit it, but not all older Americans are Baby Boomers. White voters over the age of 45 elected Trump. That group would be born before 1971, so it would include many Baby Boomers. It also includes part of Gen-X, and a lot of births that I consider too late for real Baby Boomer status.
Hillary made a very good showing with the under 44 group, and it's worth remembering that she did win the popular vote by almost three million votes.
The fascinating thing here is that Trump did not do well in the high income groups. All financial demographics were very close.
Those “Self Identified Conservatives” were hard at work in 2016, for Trump. He took that group by a factor of 81-16.
The Roper Center included some issues for this election. Voters declaring themselves to be motivated by immigration went for Trump 64-33. By terrorism, for Trump 57-40.
Trump's big rally crowds do appear to include a lot of potential Baby Boomers, but honestly, if you are looking for things to hang on Baby Boomers, wouldn't you agree that the world didn't just fall into ruin within the last ten or even twenty years? It's been a long process, a long, often hard road. Older Americans are leading the Trump charge off of the cliff, but Americans “over fifty” is a big, diverse group. Have the trouble makers all along been older Americans? If so, much of that time it would have been the Greatest Generation. Nixon and Reagan sure raised a lot of hell that we are still paying for, and their age-mates elected them.
America has gone from the relative prosperity and narrower income gap of the mid-century to the current chaos of debt slavery, the gig economy, increasing racism, domestic terrorism, rampant anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, and intolerance. It has taken us seventy years to come to this ruin. And the chaos is not limited to the United States. I think it would be quite a stretch to say that any particular group is responsible for the chaos that is rampant in North and South America, half of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Europe and East Asia. That's leaving climate change completely aside for the moment, except for mentioning that we'll have to wait for the fires to burn themselves out before we know what has happened to Australia.
We need solutions, not finger pointing.
*Born at least one year after the end of the war, and before 1956.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Friday, January 10, 2020
Bearing in mind my total true love for "New Rose," this song perfectly illustrates my membership in the "Curse of the Complex Personality" club. There are twelve or fifteen songs that I cannot listen to, or sing, without crying. This is one of them.
BTW, this is a song from the musical, "Most Happy Fella," which has a lot to recommend it.
There was a time when I had a room dedicated to what could generously be called "music." Some amps and guitars, a bass with an amp, a keyboard, a drum kit. If there was no one around, which was the usual if it was a weekday, I'd play along with records. I had a Technics turntable that I'd plug into the left channel of my Roland Jazz Chorus 120, lots of energy there. I usually played my Telecaster hybrid, a "transition" job made in mid-1966. The factory was already CBS, but they were still making guitars with components made when Fender was Leo's. I'd put a Gibson pickup in the neck, and I liked that sound. You could still get some quack in it from the maple fingerboard. My main amp was a Soldano Atomic 16. All tube, with four knobs: master volume; pre-amp volume; treble; and bass. I loved to play along with this song. Guitar or with the bass rig, nice and loud.
I'd play so loud sometimes that my ears would be ringing for two days. That, plus all of my high-voltage headphone listening, plus all of the concerts that I attended, I'm amazed that I can hear at all. Very little apparent damage, though. Like most geezers, I have trouble picking individual voices out of the ambient noise in a mall or something. Very little whistling, no pain at all, and in clear conditions I can hear very well. It's a rock and roll miracle!
I still put the Damned in first place for "Greatest Band Name," and "Damned, Damned, Damned" is the clear winner for "Best Album Name." This is one of my favorite songs.
Friday, January 3, 2020
Please recall that I do not bother people about their lack of interest in history, literature, or current events. Those are lost causes. Almost everybody, however, displays some kind of interest in music. So it is always a puzzlement to me that something like this can be up on YouTube for two years and only get 300 hits. What the hell is wrong with people?
Thursday, January 2, 2020
First of all, everybody can just relax. Intergenerational relations are fine. We see a lot of click-bait articles to the contrary, but most of those articles reveal their prejudices within the first few sentences. Always keep in mind that all generalizations are wrong, so if someone begins a sentence with a phrase like, “Baby-Boomers,” or, “Millennials,” whatever follows can be discounted as a generalization. That's just one of the fallacies that people are throwing around these days. It's a rhetorical jungle out there!
All talk of “generations” is unreliable to begin with. Babies are born every year, and it is generally true that even a few years makes a big difference in that individual's experience of life. Grouping birth years into generations is something that appeals to journalists and social scientists. Having been identified as a “generation” by Life magazine did not change the experience of so-called Baby-Boomers. It was simply a convenient way to catalog some annoying articles. The bracketed years are never really useful. For instance, the definition of Baby-Boomers may begin in 1945 or 1946, both years are fine, but it always ends with babies born in the early 1960s, often 1965. Those later births may indeed be part of the high birth-count years after the war, but those children shared none of the post-war Baby-Boomer experience. Anyone born after 1954 would graduate from high school after 1972, thereby avoiding the draft for the war in Vietnam. After 1958 and they would know full well as high school freshmen that the draft was off the table. Children born after 1955 were culturally totally different from true post-war Baby-Boomers, because their experience of music, race, sports, the police, magazines, politics, drugs, literature, TV, and the cinema, was totally different. It's hard to find anything useful in characterizing individuals into generations.
Having said that, let's take a look at a typical grouping of recent generations:
- Generation Z. (Born after 2005.)
- Millennials. (Born between 1985 and 2005.)
- Generation X. (Born between 1965 and 1985.)
- The Baby Boom. (Born between 1945 and 1965.)
- The “Silent Generation.” (Born between the Greatest Generation and the Baby-Boomers.)
- The “Greatest Generation.” (The guys and girls who came of age during the Great Depression and got stuck with World War II.)
The Silent Generation is often overlooked in these discussions, and it's not 100% fair. Many of them did get stuck fighting the Korean War, which was awful while the pot was really boiling. They had a lot of advantages, though. They graduated high school in the 1950s, when you could get a decent job right away, get set up very easily, and start a family without anything in particular to worry about. For that matter, you could get into a free university very easily, and even the best universities were surprisingly affordable. So they had it pretty good, as long as they avoided the one year when Korea was a hot ticket.
The Greatest Generation, a ridiculous and hyperbolic description of a bunch of average Joes, is beyond blame for anything, since they are all dead.
So, let's see, the world is in a mess, young people are getting screwed into the ground by cynical governments and market forces that are stacked against the young people, behaviors that no one ever gave a thought to, like having a lawn, accepting plastic bags at the market, or eating steak, are now identified as having destroyed the world, yes, let's see, whom can we hang this mess on? And we need an answer in a hurry, too, because the world only has thirty or forty years left to figure out who is responsible for this situation. Hey Sherlock! Analysis, please!
The world was doing fine up until about 1965, so the guilty parties must be (drum roll), the Baby-Boomers!
I find it revolting that so many people buy into this dubious analysis. It is the hat-trick of fallacies, a triple-header: a generalization; an oversimplification; and a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. That last one means, “after, therefore because of.” Applied to the Baby-Boomers, it means things were fine until they came along, now things are screwed up, therefore the Baby-Boomers screwed it all up. You'd think that people would be smart enough to see the error in that thinking, but you'd be wrong.
The evil forces at the heart of this kerfuffle have not only deployed public relations forces to drive these bad feelings towards Baby-Boomers, but also are the very people who screwed up the world in the first place. Not wishing to be blamed for their selfish disregard for the public good when it was they who had their hands on the tillers of power all this time, they seek to focus blame on an easily identifiable group that is not able to defend itself: Baby-Boomers.
We old-timers cooperate in our derision, we play into their hands. Whenever a geezer on Facebook says, “nowadays people want free stuff! Nobody gave me anything! I worked hard for everything I've got!” a Millennial recalls that young people in the 1960, 1970s, and even into the 1980s, got lots of free stuff. We got free stuff, like university educations and health insurance, and more importantly we got AFFORDABLE stuff, which was damn near everything else. Sure, we worked hard to make a living and provide for our families, but it was possible in the first place because things were much easier then. Today's young people need to work multiple jobs to afford any kind of life at all, they need to double up to afford the rent, and the odds are that they are foregoing health care because they just cannot afford it. Get married? Buy a house? Have kids? Sorry, no, they are sufficiently challenged to deal with their student loans, much less worry about planning for the future.
But are today's young people so royally screwed because the Baby-Boomers had an easier time of it? No, not in any way, shape, or form. That was the investment class taking over the world while no one was paying attention. Everyday people from every generation should be burning luxury cars outside the mansions of the investment class, and not harping at each other about the minutia of our problems.
Most importantly, what I actually see is people from these different generations getting along fine. Sure, you see some, “okay, Boomer” on the Internet, but not as a general attack, and usually quite appropriately deployed. Old people complaining about young people has been a thing literally forever, and its existence can be proven beyond a doubt from at least the dawn of written language. (“All that we have built will come to nothing because young people today are lazy, privileged little shits.” Written in hieroglyphics on a hidden wall surface inside a pyramid by a worker. I paraphrase.)
In real life, the majority of individuals in both camps, the old and the young, understand very well the old maxim, “as you are, I once was; as I am, so will you be.” We're all on the same road, and it doesn't take a genius to figure that out.
Takeaway time: First, hey, you journos out there! Find some click-bait that isn't hurtful to beloved members of your own families. Lay off the Fake-News style “Baby-Boomers Ruined Everything” articles. Second, everybody, get out there and do more to get to know people outside of your own age group. Learn their problems; walk in their shoes.
Third, and most importantly, know that your anger at the condition of the world is righteous, and focus it where it belongs: on the investment class, what we used to call the “power elite.” As we are having this pleasant conversation, they are out there Hoovering up the last of the dimes and nickels that are within our reach. We, the workers, the drones, the have-littles and the have-nothings, we need to lay off all of the counterproductive behaviors and start pulling together. Age, race, gender, politics, please remember that the problems that we face are much more important than any of these characterizations. Either we do this together or it doesn't get done.
Only together will we have a chance to steer the world back onto a path that includes some measure of social justice. To fail will be to accept the only offer that is on the table: death in the gutter. I'm not ready to accept that failure as inevitable.