Thursday, April 21, 2016

Socialist Ideals and Reality


The Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, the Socialist Senator from Vermont, seems to be falling short especially after yesterday’s double-digit loss to front-runner Hillary Clinton in New York. Nevertheless, Sanders continues to attract record-breaking crowds of fervent supporters to his campaign rallies.

One of his supporters, a self-styled “community activist” from Bridgeport, CT penned an op-ed in the CT Post, my local newspaper, urging Americans to get over their irrational fear of Socialism. For him, Socialism “defines the essence of  ‘civilized’ life by human beings.”

Fortunately, it is possible to test his hypothesis in the many laboratories of human experience over the past one hundred years. We have the example of Socialism in Russia that began with the Communist revolution in 1917. We have the example of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany that led to World War II and the Holocaust. We have the example of Maoism in China during the great purge that murdered over 20 Million people. We have the example of the various Socialist “republics” set up in Eastern Europe after World War II.

All of these Socialist experiments began with high-sounding ideals and slogans but all degenerated into police states ruled by a small minority of party bigwigs and their bureaucratic servants. I was reminded of this the other day while viewing a truly great German film, “The Lives of Others.”

Before the collapse of the Berlin wall, East Germany’s population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police or Stasi.  Only a few citizens above suspicion were permitted to lead private lives. The film revolves around a loyal and favored East German playwright and his beautiful actress girlfriend. When a corrupt government official falls for the actress, an ambitious Stasi policeman is ordered to bug the writer’s apartment to gain incriminating evidence against the rival. It is a good story, extremely well told, and it won an Oscar in 2007 for best foreign film.

The story plays out against the background of socialism in the German Democratic Republic or GDR with its ruthless and inhumane interrogation tactics, and its constant spying on and surveillance of an incredible number of ordinary people considered to be potential enemies of the Socialist republic. (Use this link or click on the video below for the five-minute opening scene of a lesson in interrogation.)

However, the film makes it clear that it was not just the secret police and their tactics that were at fault. The whole system was corrupt. Socialist idealism easily gave way to corruption and cronyism. Party bosses ruled with an iron hand. They ruled by fear. They struck fear into their immediate underlings, who in turn struck fear into their own subordinates.  There was no real equality. The workers’ paradise had turned into hell. The film claims that the suicide rate in the GDR was so high, that the government, which counted everything else, just stopped publishing suicide statistics.

Although we have so far been spared a Socialist revolution in the USA, many aspects of Socialism have crept in by the back door. I live next to Bridgeport, the most populous city in Connecticut. For years, Bridgeport has been a one-party city. It’s Democrat Party leaders not only control municipal government, but also usually manage to bring out enough votes to play a key role in state elections.

Last year, the Democrat politicians managed to bring back into office a former Mayor who had spent time in prison for corruption during his first administration. He is now cleaning house to balance the budget but also to get rid of political enemies and find jobs for his own supporters. Here’s a couple of examples.

The Commissioner of Parks, a long time figure in Democrat politics, was told that his position was being eliminated. One of the Mayor’s aides explained that the job was no longer necessary even though the Commissioner had managed to augment his $125000 salary with $50000 of overtime pay in the last year. The Commissioner chose to retire and was given a $15000 bonus, and a couple of years of free medical insurance. I suspect that his already generous pension was augmented by the additional overtime pay in his last year. Another official who was forced out is threatening to sue the City in order to regain his position. He has, however, indicated his willingness to settle out of court for a Million dollars.

How many ordinary people can claim such benefits when their jobs are eliminated? Examples like the above are typical of what is going on throughout the country as politicians and so-called public service employees rack up benefits and pensions that are busting budgets from Connecticut to California. I call this back door Socialism where all are equal, but some are more equal than others.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gender Inequality Day 2016

April 12 this year marked Gender Inequality Day. What does that mean? Apparently, the average woman had to work all of 2015 and right up to April 12 to make as much as the average man made in 2015 alone. To put it another way, it is claimed that the average woman makes only 79% of what the average man earns in any given year.

The 79% figure is apparently based on US Census figures that look at no one in particular, or no occupation in particular, or no industry in particular. One report indicated that the prestigious American Association of University Women is leading the charge for gender equality.                                                                                        

"You can't negotiate your way out of discrimination," says Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the american Association of University Women, a "one-stop shop" for gender equality. and, she notes, April 12 -- or $0.79 -- is the best-case scenario.

The 79% figure has by now become etched in stone and is one of the many mantras that liberal activists must pray daily. It is one of those bogus claims that cannot be disputed by anyone, much less politicians like President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton must kowtow to at every opportunity. In fact, the very actions that the Obama administration is taking to deal with gender inequality prove that the 79% figure has no real basis. The government is actually proposing new regulations that would require companies to fill out massive questionnaires to ensure that they are providing equal pay for equal work. In other words, the government now wants to find hard data to support its bogus 79% claim.

I did a little analysis of some gender inequality claims in 2013 and repeat it here. I looked a little deeply into the census figures for Connecticut's Fairfield County and found that the 79% figure was a meaningless statistic, and that there was no wage discrimination at all. One is led to question the credibility, the honesty, and even the sanity of groups like the American Association of University Women, and the politicians who bow to them. Here is the post from 2013.

A recent front-page article in the Connecticut Post, Bridgeport Connecticut’s local newspaper, highlighted the so-called gender gap in wages between men and women in prosperous Fairfield County. The article featured two columns of statistics indicating the different wages of men and women in various towns in the county. The article was based on a report by the American Association of University Women that used figures from the US Census bureau.

Interestingly, the article did not list even one incident of wage discrimination and even quoted a spokesman for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities who said, “the number of women who complain about not getting as much as their male counterparts is small.” Moreover, the article did mention that the figures did not actually compare salaries of full time employees working the same job. The report just used averages based on the salaries of men and women “across companies, industries and job titles.” Nevertheless, as a headline proclaimed, “Wage Gap still exists in region.”

The report’s statistics could lead to some laughable conclusions. It would seem that the best place for a woman to work would be Bridgeport, a city where the average woman makes $35932 per year or about 90% of what the average man makes. Compare that to her poor sister in nearby Westport whose average pay of $82052 is only about 50% of what a Westport man earns.

There is an old saying: “Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.” I would venture to guess that there is little wage discrimination in Connecticut and that the disparities in income are largely based on choices that people choose to make. All government employees, for example, work on gender-neutral pay scales. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, all get the same pay for the same work. Even the high priced occupations that the article and accompanying editorial mentioned as going mainly to men are no longer the exclusive male bastions of the past. The medical and financial professions have become increasingly open to women and will become more so since the majority of college graduates today are women. No modern company would dare to have differing wage scales for men and women.

Why did the editorial complain about the disparity in incomes in well-to-do communities like New Canaan and Darien? Obviously, talented well-educated woman choose to live there because of the beautiful homes, excellent school systems, and crime free streets. To hold the city of Bridgeport up as a kind of gender paradigm is ludicrous. It is one of the murder capitols of the state, and its school system is in shambles. Politicians in Bridgeport should be looking at New Canaan and Darien and ask themselves what they can do to emulate them.

One of the statistics noted that in both New Canaan and Darien the number of married women in the work force is only about 40% compared to a national average of about 60%. While one of the “experts” quoted in the article referred to the “nostalgic idea of what the family is supposed to look like,” and called it a “romantic notion,” it still seems to be working very well in New Canaan and Darien. Compare that romantic notion with the one espoused years ago by Murphy Brown and see the devastation that single motherhood has brought to the lives of so many single mothers and their children in cities like Bridgeport.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Who was Shakespeare?

This year England is celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist in the English language. I think that the celebration is twelve years too late. At the risk of losing what little credibility the Weekly Bystander might possess, I confess that I am a Shakespeare denier. I believe that the great plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare, the man of that name from Stratford on Avon, were not written by him, but by an aristocratic contemporary, Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, one of the most prominent and notorious noblemen in Elizabethan England.
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 1575
In other words, I am an advocate of the theory that the true identity of the greatest writer in the English language has been hidden for more than 400 years. I am not alone. Great writers like Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Henry James, as well as great Shakespearean actors like Orson Welles and Derek Jacobi believed that the plays and poems were written by someone other than the simple commoner from Stratford. Even Sigmund Freud agreed.

While many names have been put forward as the true author, I believe that the aristocratic background, unique education, and life experience of the Earl of Oxford makes him the prime candidate for the true author of the Shakesperean canon. When it comes to Shakespeare, I agree with those who are called by scholars, with a certain degree of contempt, “Oxfordians”. These would include the unfortunately named J. Thomas Looney an English high school teacher whose groundbreaking 1919 book, Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, has never received the attention it deserves.

Oddly enough, it was on my first trip to Italy back in 1997 that I saw the light. My wife and I attended a little symposium on the Renaissance held that year in Gardone Riviera, a resort town on the coast of beautiful Lake Garda. We stayed in an old pensione up the hill from Gardone that had a spectacular view of the lake.

Before the trip I had happened to read a book by Joseph Sobran* that also questioned the authorship of the man from Stratford, and promoted the cause of the Earl of Oxford, but I found it hard to believe given the overwhelming scholarly tradition. Italy changed my mind. Many of the plays are set in Italy, and the playwright seems to have a first hand knowledge of the customs, language, and geography of the country.

The man from Stratford never traveled outside of England. Scholars are reduced to saying that he got his extensive knowledge of things Italian by listening to Italian seamen in London pubs. On the other hand, shortly after he turned 21 and took his seat in the House of Lords, the young Earl of Oxford left England to spend a year and a half traveling on a kind of grand tour, most of which was spent in Italy. Is it a coincidence that practically every town he visited in Italy is featured or at least mentioned in the plays? Venice, Verona, and Padua come immediately to mind. Places he did not visit, like Turin and Bologna, receive no mention in the plays.

Moreover, my own brief first visit to Italy convinced me that it would be impossible to describe the beautiful countryside, and the fabled cities without having actually seen them. Even today, after many subsequent visits, I find it almost impossible to describe the breathtaking scene of the Tuscan countryside, or a ride in a water taxi down Venice’s Grand Canal.

The young Edward de Vere spent a fortune on his Italian journey and had to borrow heavily to pay his enormous bills. He arrived back in England deeply in debt and even stark naked, having been stripped of his clothes by pirates in the English Channel, in the same manner as Prince Hamlet in the famous play. This incident is just one of many where the life of the Earl of Oxford is mirrored in the plays and poems of Shakespeare.**

Edward de Vere was born in 1550, fourteen years before the man from Avon.  The de Vere’s were one of England’s great aristocratic families, and could trace their lineage back over 400 years. After the death of his father, when Edward was only twelve, he was taken from his mother and made a ward of the Crown. His property and wealth were managed by Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley, and his education and upbringing were put into the hands of Sir Robert Cecil the Queen’s chief minister, who even non-Oxfordians believe to be the prototype of Polonius in Hamlet. Edward de Vere grew up in the highest circles of English society, and studied under some of the greatest scholars of his time.

On the other hand, it would appear that the man from Stratford on Avon received no more than the barest elementary education. His father was a butcher and his family was illiterate. Scholars are hard pressed to find any evidence that he received even an elementary education. He left no books or manuscripts behind but only a handful of copies of his signature on legal documents that indicate that he could hardly write his own name.

Throughout his life Edward de Vere was associated with the theater. He sponsored and promoted plays and companies of players. However, at the time it was considered disgraceful for someone of his status to associate with plays and players. For this reason Oxfordians believe that he used the name of the man from Avon to cover his tracks. There is evidence that the young man from Avon was amply compensated. After all, what’s in a name?

The greatest objection to the authorship of de Vere is the fact that he died in 1604. Although it is difficult to date the plays, the traditional belief has been that some, like the Tempest, were written between 1604 and 1616, the date of the death of the man from Stratford. However, in recent years scholars have reduced the number of post-1604 plays to one or two and even their dates are questionable. One recent author has even argued that the whole “Shakespeare project” seems to shut down after 1604.

The other objection involves a kind of reverse snobbery. We live in the age of the underdog and people like to believe that the greatest author in the English language was a common man possessed with great natural genius. We do not like aristocrats and shows like Downton Abbey make us aware of their follies and weaknesses. Nevertheless, greatness in any field still requires education and life experience. Every author writes himself. The plays of Shakespeare are all about Kings, Queens, and other aristocrats. In those plays Edward de Vere wrote about a world of which he was intimately acquainted and in which he played a major role.

Written around 1604, Hamlet was one of the last plays. The dying words of Hamlet could well apply to Edward de Vere.

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.

* Joseph Sobran, Alias Shakespeare, 1997.

**Mark Anderson, Shakespeare by Another Name, 2005, provides an exhaustive account of the similarities between the life of Edward de Vere and the characters in both the plays and poems of Shakespeare.