Poore Richard's Really Poore Almanack

Being an introductory & explanatory note for those first visiting the almanack.

Part One: How Poore Richard Came To Make An Almanack

Once upon a time, there was this guy – he was over-sensitive, over-educated, over-worked, maybe overly paranoid, but certainly not overly thrilled with the direction his country had taken: a hard right on the road to Fascist Land.

He wasn’t overly enamored with the way his hometown and home state were trying to outdo the rest of the nation in crossing the finish line. He wasn’t happy the poor not only grew poorer, but that over the first six years of the 21st century many more people steadily fell into poverty than before, in significant numbers, while the rich became, not only more wealthy, but super-wealthy.

One in five children lived in poverty. Millions went without healthcare coverage, and of those who had it, many more couldn’t really afford the deductibles and co-pays, especially those with chronic illnesses. Let’s not forget the cost of medications, either.

Most people, it seemed to this man, could have cared less. It wasn’t their problem, or else they believed they deserved to live in such misery because “the market” demanded it – their misery was “good for the economy.”

Now, the economy was doing fine, it was quite healthy even if the people who worked to sustain it weren’t. Unemployment was around 4%, as low as it gets. People were working, but still poor or on the verge of becoming so, and the middle class was shrinking. According to economists, if you drew a picture of the society, it increasingly would look like an hour glass as those at the upper end of the middle class ascended into the ranks of the wealthy, the lower middle class descended into poverty, and the average American, the ranks of the middle-middle class, shrank and became strangely uncommon.

Oil companies raked in obscene profits, using every excuse from terrorism to uncertainty in the Middle East to hurricane damage to con people into believing their hikes in fuel prices were justified. Despite a disaster like Katrina, the oil companies showed greater profits than ever, yet claimed they were so affected by the hurricane they needed the extra money to repair the derricks. And then, after they repaired everything, they still made historically huge profits. The people didn’t blink. They swallowed it. It was “good for the economy.”

Then, just before the major Congressional elections of ’06, gas prices mysteriously began to fall, by as much as a dollar a gallon. Was this done in hopes of keeping Big Oil’s bought and paid for Republicans in office? Certainly, immediately after the election the prices began to creep up by 10 to 25 cents inside a month – at least, in the town where I work, that was the rise. What did this mean?

(Of course, as of this writing, the price dropped again – but not for long. Travel season will be here soon or some disaster will be a good excuse to jack it back up; not to mention, we’re so conditioned to high gas prices, we’re now overjoyed to see it hover around $2.00 a gallon . . ..)

You might call the guy I’m talking about “cynical” as he believed that Big Oil was just trying to protect its interests, which apparently are different than the average citizen’s.

He was cynical about other things besides. He believed the Bush White House & their Far Right cronies in Congress and on the Bench had used a “War On Terror” as an excuse to make the Executive Branch practically Imperial, to reach heights only hoped for in the reign of Nixon.

The subject of our scrutiny certainly was cynical; he believed that certain things had been the Administration’s heart’s desire from day one: a roll-back in Civil Liberties; empowerment of the Religious Right; implementation of dogmatic laissez-faire economic policies at the expense of Economic Justice; and an attack on Social Progress and Tolerance. But the events of 9/11 and the ensuing terror that addled the brains of the populace were simply the fortuitous events that allowed the Radical Right to ram through, in one fell swoop, what they had probably assumed at the start would require legislative maneuvering and years of piecemeal policy implementation.

Passion weakens minds not trained to remain utterly rational and fear is perhaps the strongest passion. America, after 2001, was marinating in horror, and that horror flavored every decision from the highest to the lowest level. People gladly surrendered their individual freedoms and rights to the Bush Administration, and all Mr. Bush had to do was claim he needed to “borrow” those rights awhile in order to make “The Homeland” (whatever that is) “SAFE.”

As one Republican Congressman used to say every time he got near a microphone, “I’d rather have Big Brother than dead brother.”

The person we’re writing about here had a problem, though: He’d rather have dead brother than Big Brother and thought that was the entire point of America. He’d made the mistake of reading all those historical documents and listening in Civics Classes and History Classes and Political Science Classes – and taking the ideas seriously, taking the Founders at their word.

By and large, however, the people seemed quite happy with the notion that Big Brother is better than dead brother. They probably always had, really. Our subject found himself in a lonely spot in one of the most conservative areas of one of the most reactionary states in the union.

The man spent some time marveling at the spectacle of an ostensibly free people simply throwing up their hands and giving away their birthright, not only as citizens of our country, but as citizens of the world. He was appalled by these people whose Declaration of Independence and Constitution were bought with the blood of their ancestors, ancestors who opposed every form of tyranny: they seemed willing to turn their backs on this inheritance and their responsibility to preserve and transmit it to the next generation, all for some ridiculous, non-existent, undefined thing called “safety.”

For the first time in his life, the man could see how great historical disasters such as Nazi Germany must have begun, with common people willing to do anything in the name of an imaginary “Absolute Safety.”

“Yes, we are doing harsh things, nearly incomprehensibly cruel things today, but in the long run, in the Eyes of History, all of this apparently terrible work will be shown to have been in your best interest.”

In the long run...” “In the Eyes of History...” “It may look wrong, questionable, even evil now, but what we’re doing will produce more good than harm – one day.”

When? The answer with these things is always, “One day.”

The Soviet Union promised a Worker’s Paradise would emerge from its dictatorship – one day. Those people waited over 70 years for “one day” to arrive, but it never came. The only thing that came were 70 years of a brutal dictatorship and millions dead or imprisoned in gulags and insane asylums, 70 years, not of “one days,” but of “todays” that looked an awful lot like “yesterdays.”

So, this man developed a gnawing doubt that, ethically, if something is questionable, wrong, evil today, no amount of time will transmute it into goodness. He kept hearing St. Paul’s admonition: “Do not do evil that good may come of it.”

If we do evil, overly clever things today, “in the long run” the best thing that will happen is some of us may survive and engage in a bit of denial about how bad our actions actually were, or we will rationalize them away, or even lie about what happened. That’s what the man grew to believe – he was, after all, a cynic.

When the Defense Department Memos on Torture were leaked, the man’s guts turned – White House lawyers were redefining torture so it would be “legal.” We were reassured nothing of the sort was being done – and then the photos from Abu Ghraib leaked. And stories of CIA kidnappings of “detainees” subsequently smuggled to concentration camps in other countries where the governments are known to torture prisoners; and, finally, stories about Guantanamo Bay, the Administration’s attempt to hold people indefinitely without charge, without honoring the basic human rights enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, and on and on. The man was beyond appalled at this point – he was unwilling to have it known that he sat by while these evils were being carried out in his name as a citizen of the United States, even though he had no power, little influence, and was, for all intents and purposes, no one in particular.

He had a freelance newspaper column in the local paper, The Dahlonega Nugget, he’d written for a few years, and as his thoughts and feelings about the Far Right’s engineering of a completely un-American direction became stronger and clearer, so did the tone of his columns. He’d never been fearful of taking a stand in the columns – he had done so from day one, facing everything from white supremacy to creationism, never writing fluff. He always said what he needed to say, as strongly, appropriately, and accurately as possible, as well as he could.

Though he was “no one in particular,” it became apparent in the last year and a half that his words meant something to many people – people either liked what he had to say because it urged deeper consideration of issues, or they hated what he had to say because it was clearly an attack on their dogmatic brand of anti-intellectual politics and immorality masquerading as morality. Opponents “answered” him in the editorial pages of the paper, not by facing his ideas and arguments, but by assassinating his character, slandering his extended family, trying to change the subject away from the issues towards something wholly pointless.

He did not defend his character or that of his family – that would have satisfied his opponents by wasting precious column inches talking about matters of no importance. The paper had enough of that as it was. Instead, he spent his time in a sustained attack on the economic and social injustices of the Radical Right and the torture policies of the Republican White House. He made rational, philosophical arguments, and he used humor, satire, sarcasm, and irony all in hopes of exposing the true nature of the ideas he opposed. He did this because he knew, sooner or later, that his column was likely to get pulled, such was the hateful atmosphere of a certain vocal element within the town of Dahlonega.

And so it came to pass. The editor had a “poll” about the contents of the paper – without much warning or advertisement. One of the results was this: Our friend, the writer, picked up the paper one day to find he’d been thrown out after only the initial week’s worth of voting out of an eventual four or five weeks, total. In the end, this “overwhelming lack of support” for his column turned out to be something like three or four whiney complaints – at least, this was all that was published. He received no e-mail or mail from the editor telling him of her decision to sever ties, no explanation. He found out just as everyone else who read the small print in the paper did.

Many people wrote in on his behalf and by the time the newspaper poll was done, he amassed a great number of e-mails, poll sheets, and so on in his behalf, more than was presented in the paper, for whatever reason. He personally received letters and cards from people who were incredulous and disappointed; people stopped him and talked to him in the street. Why would his column be taken out of the paper? It was read and appreciated by many people from all sorts of backgrounds, even conservatives – it was the only thing in the paper that even vaguely represented an alternative point of view to the dominant ones, and it was not wishy-washy about what it meant.

Besides, it only appeared bi-monthly, at most.

In the end, it was promised that if there was an “overwhelming” call for its return, the column would be allowed to return, but exactly how much response qualified as “overwhelming” wasn’t defined. He eventually wrote a brief farewell letter that was published without comment and that was that.

And so, he was without a place to publish his essays and continue to stand up as one voice civilly speaking his piece as an American citizen whether heard or not, liked or not, effective or not. Freedom of the press, as the cliché goes, only applies to those who own a press. Anyone else can be silenced and any number of “reasons” can be trumped up to excuse it. There are always reasons to shut someone up and many involve dollar signs.

Of course, this person of whom we speak is just me, Richard Van Ingram. It could have been anyone – including you. For some people in Dahlonega, Georgia it may as well have been themselves personally told to shut up and go away: My columns said things they wished they could say, wanted to say, but they either did not have time or the words to say it with. That, or they feared the retaliation speaking out in a relatively small community can bring on. I only say this because I was repeatedly told it. Obviously, look at the impression left by my dismissal and the manner of it all: “He spoke his mind, now where is he?”

The editor does not practice censorship, but ask yourself: Doesn’t this type of example tend to stifle free speech? Even if unintended, isn’t this the effect, especially in a small town? America is, significantly, still just a collection of small towns made up of people who are no one in particular, just like me – and we depend on people who are “someone,” like a newspaper editor, to broadcast our thoughts, should we have any, and participate fully in democracy.

I am not an extraordinarily brave person, but I am tenacious; I didn’t stop writing in the paper for four and a half years even though, socially, it cost me in ways I don’t really wish to discuss beyond saying I paid my dues and someone else’s for the privilege of my “free speech.” Being publicly thrown out of the town’s only organ of news, opinion, and information like a panhandling wino at The Ritz was the least of the damage I have suffered. Most people are not as stubborn as I am. Most have better things to do with their time. Even in a democracy, the everyday price of free speech can be made so high most won’t even consider paying it or openly support those who do.

As I said, my literary demise was only a matter of time and I knew it. Like most small towns in the south, Dahlonega isn’t exactly the most tolerant of places in the best of times, and a writer who faces down a majority paradoxically has to depend on that same majority tolerating his abuse. It’s one of the cornerstones of a democracy, this willingness to allow a minority to speak and think differently than the rest, even to criticize and upbraid the majority for its beliefs.

But these are not times congenial to democratic ideas or traditions; certainly not in the small southern town where I grew up, the one that never had much use for its outsiders, even when they were insiders.

So, I had two choices: stay down and remain silent or get back up and find a way to independently raise Hell. Hence, Poore Richard’s Really Poore Almanack, or The Almanack for short. For those who can’t put their finger on it, I’m conjuring the aid of a powerful ghost, the original Poor Richard himself, Ben Franklin (a Hell raiser if there ever was one), and his own Poor Richard’s Almanack. Ben had this free press thing figured out and he certainly wasn’t one to mince his words – he didn’t have an aversion to satire and humor when useful, either.

In the same spirit as Benjamin Franklin, this Almanack is my own virtual free press here on the internet; doubtless, I won’t have the audience I once enjoyed in the print world, but at least I’ll have the freedom to publicly speak again, and in a wider variety of ways including the use of political cartoons, art, fiction, and so on. And maybe what I miss in readership numbers, I will make up in diversity within the audience.

Whether The Almanack is worth visiting and re-visiting for its regular updates and features is up to me, my willingness to work and the level my abilities, such as they are. Whether its readership grows, though, is largely up to you and whether you spread news of this site and its address by “word of mouth.” This is an underground operation. I am “a man of means by no means,” as the song goes.

One of the ways I was so easily overtaken at the local paper was that my supporters only wrote and spoke to me – not others, not the editor of the paper, not the paper’s owners, and so on. Over the coming weeks, I hope I can win your attention and support as I did the readers of the paper simply by saying what I think needs to be said. In return, I only ask that you spread the word, link to this page, reprint or quote from essays, giving me full credit and links, and so on (see below).





Richard Van Ingram
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