Are Corporations Socialist?

Wandering about the web on a Sunday morning, pondering (well, trying to ponder – pondering is probably calmer than my current thought processes) Bill O’Reilly’s definition of what Occupy Wall Street is about

In other words, these folks want our stuff.

Throughout history, there have been human beings who did not want to compete in the marketplace. That sentiment drives a hatred of capitalism. The American economic system is a meritocracy. If you work hard and do well in your job, you usually will prosper providing you practice patience. If you don’t work hard and smart, you will be out on your keister — unless a union saves you.

Well, no.  We want a fair share of the increased American productivity over the last 30 years.  Most people in this country have worked hard and smart over that time, and very few of them – the top 1%, and, really, the top one-tenth of 1% – have gotten the gains. Do people really believe that every currently unemployed construction worker in the country was a lazy SOB who didn’t work hard – or is the implication that they are all stupid? Perhaps if they were smarter, they would have been hedge fund managers in the first place.  And, while it is relatively easy to move up and down in the middle class, it is very hard to move up out of the bottom 20%, and very unlikely that you will fall out of the top 20%.  Pick your parents well.

At any rate, I went to look up the definitions of “capitalism” and “socialism”.

1: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Collective caught my eye.
6: shared or assumed by all members of the group <collective responsibility>

Aha! A corporation is ownership by a group.  Must be socialist!

But then I looked up corporate
1a : formed into an association and endowed by law with the rights and liabilities of an individual : incorporated

All of which brought me back to something I have known for decades:  the key is responsibility.

An individual or collective of individuals – a sole proprietorship or a partnership – can be sued for something the business does and lose everything they own individually, and can be criminally convicted for the actions of their business.  Enter the corporation, which protects those individuals.

Stockholders in a corporation have limited liability. They can only lose their original investment.  They cannot be sued or arrested for anything the corporation does.

A group which jointly owns a business and has shared responsibility is a collective, and therefore that awful thing, socialist.  A group which jointly owns a business and is, by law, incorporated and therefore exempt from responsibility as individuals, is a corporation, and therefore, that wonderful thing, capitalist.

So we have a situation where a collective of individuals are responsible for the actions of the business. But the owners – stockholders – of a corporation are not responsible for the actions of the business, and the board and employees are only responsible for making a profit for the shareholders.

It is indeed a wonderful world in which people demand individual responsibility while praising a system where no-one is responsible and condemning a system where people are.


I’ve been using almost all my writing energy for months on other sites and Facebook.  But yesterday I ran across something I want to share my (lengthy) thoughts on here – this UU minister’s thoughts on why he is not joining or even supporting the Occupy movement, entitled Occupation?  I am not picking on Rev. Matt; I just happened to run across his post which is typical of some ideas I disagree with.

My first thoughts are on his objection to the word “occupy,” which he associates with “the language and symbolic practice of the violence and oppression that we oppose” and “the militaristic language and practice of occupation.”  I think that today we more often think, not of occupied Europe or even the occupied West Bank, but of the occupation of Tiananmen Square by non-violent student demonstrators for democracy.

And the first definition of “occupy” in Merriam-Webster is “to engage the attention or energies of .”

The misunderstanding of the name leads to another misunderstanding – many people, like Rev. Matt, think the purpose of the movement is

To try to topple our own nation’s economic infrastructure through an admittedly anarchic strategy of occupation is to commit social and cultural suicide. It is knocking down our own house of cards rather than building it stronger. If these efforts are successful, we will all suffer.

What I see is not an “anarchist” strategy; anarchy, being “a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority” is much closer to libertarianism than to the democratic consensus process that is being used in the occupations.  Likewise, it is the Tea Party, the right wing, and corporations who are calling for the defunding of government and lessening of its authority.  The Occupy movement is calling for taking back our democratic government from rule by corporate interests.

Others have commented that the movement wants to tear down the system with nothing to replace it, which would indeed be anarchy.  But you don’t have to be a tailor to see that the Emperor is naked, and pointing it out without being able to design and sew a suit of clothes is not to say that you want the Emperor to remain naked.

This post by Rich Yeselson, The four habits of highly successful social movements, points out that the movement needs sustained organization, people  to “teach the less experienced and expand the circle of competent leadership”, doable solutions that will “have an organic connection to the pressing concerns of millions of people”, and people “explaining and defending the Wall Street demonstrators to curious Americans.”

Now that those in the streets have engaged the attention and energies of more and more people, those of us who have the skills and experience to help should do all of the above as we are able.

I think it is overly optimistic to think, as Rev. Matt says, that “Those of us with some leverage CAN make a rapid difference by rapidly changing our spending and voting habits with which we feed the system.”  We need to do that, but it is not nearly enough.  Many of us who were activist in the 1960s and 1970s have been trying to live lightly, sustainably, and lovingly our whole adult lives.  It has made a difference, but not enough.  I agree with what he says next, but it is not enough to “want” it – we need to help.

I want the “occupiers” to be successful in tearing down oppression. I just want them to be smart, careful, clever, and creatively subversive. Much like Jesus was. Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables too. But that was a small part of his revolution. His was a revolution of the mind, body, and spirit. I see people taking to the streets. I want to see people occupying hearts and minds with justice, equity, and compassion.

The now-nationwide demonstrations, with their long hours together and their General Assemblies (sound like town hall meetings to me) are opportunities not only to gain attention for the issues, but for the demonstrators to discuss and learn from each other.  Those who can be there in person should be.  But that can go on virtually, too.  So, my contribution to the cause is to occupy my little area of the web on this blog and others, and on Facebook.

I think most people truly don’t know how much of the wealth this country has produced in the last 30 years has been diverted to the top 1% rather than being shared among everyone who made it possible.  Clearly Americans don’t know that wealth is distributed less fairly than they think it is, and far less fairly than they think it should be.

Distribution of Wealth, Real, Percieved, Desired

from a  study by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely

Men in Their 30s Today Earn Less Than Men in Their Fathers’ Generation and Family Income Growth Has Slowed

Other misconceptions come up continually, and I’ll be doing my bit to research, contradict, and educate.


Three posts across my desktop:

Remove the wild from our outer lives and in our hearts and souls we suffer, our compass goes awry. All who still revere the wild know this, as Henry did; he recognized it as the greater part of the soul. So now, some 150 years later, where has it gone? Is it out on the lawn? On the hiking trail? In the Winnebago window, the satellite image, nature video, national park, endangered species, inner child, urban shaman, modern warrior, rabid zealot? Is it caught on the Net? Can it be seen with commuter eyes?

– Robert  Brady, “Where is the Wild?”, from a mountainside in Japan

Those who regularly play in outdoor settings with lots of green (grass and trees, for example) have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments, the researchers found.

– Science Daily, For Kids With ADHD, Regular ‘Green Time’ Is Linked to Milder Symptoms

And “Unchurched“, a poem from Dave Bonta, who lives in the woods on the eastern edge of western Pennsylvania.


Time to start posting our adventures again, but first some housekeeping and updates.

Long ago, our first home Internet connection (not counting Compuserv) was a dial-up with a shell account at Illuminati Online, which had started, before the public Internet, as a dial-up bulletin board for Steve Jackson Games in Austin.  SJG had been famously busted and equipment confiscated by the Secret Service, and was part of the inspiration for the first local chapter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  It gave us a wonderfully short email address,, and I built a family website which eventually expanded to include hundreds of pages of family trees for both of our lines.

Alas, IO was sold to Prismnet years ago, but remained, until this month.  In June, we were informed that the domain was going away July 1; it had apparently only been on loan.  Now, we have had a DSL account, in Austin and then here, for at least 5 years, so a dial-up account to an Austin phone number was a bit silly, especially since our only land-line is a Skype account with a local number (so that local people don’t have to call our cell-phones long-distance – they are still Texas numbers for complicated reasons having to do with a family plan for people living in three states – the calls forward to our mobiles if we don’t answer at the house.)

Where was I? Oh yes, despite the redundancy of the account, I was attached to IO, and moving the website seemed like work.  But with the loss of the domain, I gritted my teeth and moved it to the website that came with our Frontier account (which had been Verizon when we got it, which complicated things no end.)  So, the site has moved to, and I had fun learning to build a site map to give to Google so it would be indexed right away.  I still need to dig out my old Perl scripts and update the family trees – we’ve done a good bit more research since I generated them years ago.

In other developments, an on-line friend shared a Google+ invite with me, and Robert and I are now set up.  So far it seems to suit me better than Facebook, where I don’t post or look much anyway, beyond linking this blog to it.  I will be using G+ rather than Facebook for any sudden urges to share things with the world (or smaller circles, since an attraction of G+ is that I can limit who gets something – I’m sure many people are not interested in every single thing I have to say).  I think I have managed to set it up so that my blog posts appear there, and my public G+ comments will appear  in the sidebar here. (I hope it doesn’t go into an infinite loop.)

And while I was doing all that, I mistakenly updated my Thunderbird mail reader, even though a key add-on, Thunderbrowse, wasn’t updated yet.  Things are a bit broken, but I managed to set things up so that G+ appears in a tab, I can check out links that appear in mail and news, I cleaned up my RSS feeds, which is how I read news and the blogs I follow, and finally figured out how to easily share posts I’m reading there in Google Reader (which then appear in the sidebar here, and I think will appear in G+ – I haven’t seen anything the last couple days I think is worth sharing.)

So, my virtual life is reorganized.  We’ve been reorganizing the yard and garden, too, but that’s another post.

Where the Woods Are

The first time I came home from Chicago in the spring, after spending most of a year among gray limestone and very little green, I was overwhelmed by plants that seemed to be taking over.  The Woods Hole Institute has analyzed satellite data and produced this image of where the woods are in the United States.  Having grown up in the midst of the large swathe of dark green in the East, which is the Appalachian mountains and foothills, I think of the woods as normal.  Looking at the map, it is clear how unusual it is.

The Appalachians are a billion years old.  There are more kinds of plants and animals here than anywhere except the tropics.  I am so privileged to be here for another Appalachian spring.

True Love

My father’s favorite scripture, which we had read at our wedding:

I may speak in the tongues of men or angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.  I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.

Love is patient, love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offense.  Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth.  There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7, New English Bible

The second part is what is most often quoted, but I think the opening is more important to remember: no matter what we do, if it is not done from love, it is useless.

Here is the Buddhist equivalent, the Metta Sutra.  Metta means “loving kindness.”

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Translated from Pali by John Richards

The People=Corporations

Skimming through the West Virginia news this morning, I came across this gem from our Congressman:

“As we come out with Plan B, the alternative to Obama Care, I want to make sure it really answers more of the needs of the people,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-First Congressional District.

“Thousands of dollars are being charged back to corporations and it’s inhibiting their potential for growth,” said McKinley.

He also planned to sit down with representatives from Mylan Pharmaceuticals Friday afternoon.

I’m shocked – usually our politicians say “business” to give the illusion that they mean those small businesses run by real people, and make some pretense that they are concerned because businesses provide jobs.

The heavily ironic comment on the article by RobbyA from Trailer County is worth reading.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Yesterday I checked my email and RSS feeds while letting lime-remover soak on the 70-year-old hexagonal tile shower floor.

The shower, which had not drained while we had company last August, and then, without intervention, behaved itself quite nicely, started draining very slowly last week.  Robert had spent some time trying to remove the cleanout, accessible in the basement ceiling, to no avail.  This morning,  after trying baking soda and vinegar, which made satisfactory bubbling and gurgling noises, but failed to improve matters much, I managed to remove the drain cover, once I figured out the screws were missing and the holes filled with grout, and Robert snaked it out.

We went off to our ACE hardware to look for a new cover, since the old brass one had large holes and the chrome was wearing off.  They didn’t have one, somewhat surprisingly, since they are an old-fashioned hardware store with many fascinating things that the big box stores don’t carry, and lots of clerks who come up and ask you how they can help.  “It’s a very old shower,” I said, and the hardware guy said, hefting the cover, “They don’t make ’em like that anymore. They’re all flimsy now.”  We got an aluminum cover that clips over the old one, hiding the flaking chrome, and, I hope, keeping hair from clogging the drain.

One thing leads to another, of course, and I decided that the stains and sloppy grouting job needed to be fixed.  I was pleased with myself for figuring out that the yellow patches, which had bothered me since we moved in, were hard-water stains, and having a good time scrubbing them off.  Then I saw a post on a sociology blog, where people were absolutely incredulous over a survey by the Scrubbing Bubbles people that concluded a large majority of American women of all ages like cleaning house, to the point of accusations that the survey was rigged, or just plain “made up.”

Since I was, in fact, at that moment, enjoying cleaning house, and not exactly someone who has ever believed “a woman’s place is (just) in the home” or that my identity depended on my housekeeping abilities, I was a bit ticked.  Cooking and cleaning are crafts, as well as being essential, and just as satisfying, in performance as in results, as any other craft.  I replied with the Zen saying,  “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” One young woman thanked me for the different perspective, but another asserted her right to hate housework.  Well, yes, but hating anything is generally a waste of time and energy; better to focus on the experience and doing the job skillfully.


CyclamenThe day we packed to move from Austin, New Year’s two years ago, we went to Lowe’s for some packing materials, and these cyclamen were there, 99 cents each, meant for bedding plants for winter color in Austin, where it never (well, hardly ever) freezes.  They reminded me of miniature geraniums, and the geraniums on the windowsills in the Scandinavian country style I was thinking of for the new old house.  Our house does not have generous windowsills, and they were just the right size.  They traveled north in the cab of the moving van.

They bloomed cheerily until about June, in the terra-cotta-colored plastic pots they came in.  The warm sun come summer didn’t suit them, and they looked decidedly unhappy until about November, when they perked right up and began blooming.  Eventually I found the red-glazed miniature planters they live in now, and here they are, in their third winter, brightening up the kitchen against a background of the bare maple and snowy spruces.

Peace, Joy, and Love

GreensHere we are again at what I have always thought of as the bottom of the year, the trough of a great sine wave. From here, we start the long slow climb to July, as the sun comes back a bit more each day. We have always thought more of the season as Yule, the ancient Germanic and Norse holiday, a holiday of warmth, light, tradition, and fellowship, in the dark of winter.  The halls are decked with evergreens, and the windows lit with candles.

We woke this morning to new snow, the sparkly sort which coats the evergreens and bare branches. It came after we went to bed last night, long after we had come back on dry highways from my brother’s, where my parent’s ornaments, older than I, hung on the tree among cookies, popcorn garlands, and twig stars newly made. The ancient Santa candle, in Norman Rockwell style, that sat on the edge of my parent’s mantle, is there too.  On the drive back, we listened to Dylan Thomas’s reading of his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a tradition started long ago when we spent days on the road at Christmas.

TreeMantleOur own tree has paper snowflakes, cut from dissertation bond, cotton rag paper meant to last forever, or at least a long as anyone would want to read your dissertation, by graduate school friends at a tree-trimming party, precursor to our annual open houses, on our first Christmas.  There are Victorian cardboard ornaments, bought on a trip to the Smithsonian, German candleholders from my Aunt Elizabeth, and various ornaments made and given over the years.

On the mantle are more evergreens from the yard, with cousin Øyvind Kjølsrud’s box and a Julekniss we got in Norway.  We have email greetings from his son Arne, whose big-band music we listened to yesterday.

And every year, the rituals, old but evolving – grapefruit and black bean soup for Christmas Eve supper, Julekage and grapefruit for Christmas breakfast.  My mother served an angel food birthday cake, with grapefruit, for Christmas breakfast, to which her brother-in-law famously asked, the first time he encountered it, “Whose birthday is it?”  The top was decorated with tiny Nativity scene candles.  We have substituted Robert’s grandmother’s Norwegian Christmas sweet bread.

Dylan Thomas says

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”

“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”


One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

The generations pass, the years roll around, and come to the dark again, and we light the lights and bring in the Yule log, the holly and the ivy, a few bits of green, hope and remembrance, give each other bits of delight, and the snow falls.