Saturday, June 14, 2014

Jupiter Morgan

I’m now reading Ron Chernow’s 800-page The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. I so enjoyed his biography of John D. Rockefeller, recommended by my father, that I plan to read all or most of Chernow’s other books. The House of Morgan covers four generations of Morgans. It was John Pierpont Morgan, known as Pierpont, who was sometimes called “Jupiter” for his massive influence in the financial sphere.

I once read a biography of Henry Ford that I really liked while I was reading it—my mother was regaled with many an anecdote about Henry Ford in that era—but now I couldn’t tell you much about him other than that he made cars, and about the factories with vertical integration (everything needed is made right there, such as glass), and I may have learned the latter from touring the River Rouge factory with my father and not from reading the book, whereas I remember a lot of stuff about John D. Rockefeller. Chernow is an excellent writer and has a gift for details that stick in the mind. Actually, I also remember that Ford gave his workers good salaries so they could buy his cars, including on credit, so I blame him for giving consumer culture and consumer debt a big boost. Also, I think there was a period when his company nosed into the private lives of its employees, checking for moral fitness.

I also lately read David Barsamian’s eye-opening interview with Noam Chomsky in the June 2014 issue of The Sun. Chomsky says, “If you are deeply totalitarian, you identify the society with its rulers. … The U.S. is about the only nondictatorship where this is common. You’re anti-American if you criticize U.S. rulers. In Italy you aren’t called anti-Italian if you criticize the Italian president.” Highly recommended. It might be on their website.

I also skimmed and then went back and read every word of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ superb “The Case for Reparations” for African-Americans, in the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic. When the Federal Housing Administration was created, it put home ownership within reach of many citizens, because banks could make loans that required no more than 10 percent down—as long as you were white: “[T]he Federal Housing Administration initially insisted on restrictive covenants, which helped bar blacks and other ethnic undesirables from receiving federally backed home loans.”

In more modern times—the past several years—Wells Fargo was sued by the Justice Department for “[shunting] blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. … [A]ffidavits found loan officers referring to their black customers as ‘mud people.’”

Particularly well put: “One cannot escape the question by hand-waving at the past, disavowing the acts of one’s ancestors. … The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.”

Coates makes it clear that white American wealth from the beginning depended on the oppression and mistreatment of blacks, and aspects of this continue to this minute.

I needed a small book for a BART trip, so I plucked What Makes You Not a Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, off my own shelf and ended up reading the whole thing over the next few days. He explains four basic truths of Buddhism and is very convincing that it’s futile to try to get things arranged so as to guarantee permanent comfort.

He is also a filmmaker and has a gift for the startling turn of phrase: In some people’s conception of heaven, “Small babies without sex organs fly around doing our ironing.”

On perceptions of time: “Imagine a week’s holiday with your best beloved—it goes like a snap of the fingers. On the other hand, one night in prison with a rowdy rapist seems to last forever.” I imagine so.

“This is true Buddhist meditation and practice, not just sitting still as if you were a paperweight.”

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