While in Chicago with my lovely wife, I had the pleasure of hearing Jim Hightower expound on all that's wrong with the world.
Author, syndicated columnist, raconteur, Jim's great with a quip. He was Texas Agriculture Commissioner before Rick Perry and now runs his own business spreading his opinions.
He was speaking at a conference of rural sociologists, of which my wife is one. Utah still has much rural, so sociologists find lots here to ponder. If you live near Great Salt Lake, my wife studied you for her Ph.D. dissertation, and you were all very interesting.
Jim is a typical Texan: big hat, big ideas, big mouth. He's all about a lot of the things Utahns hold dear, too: taking the country back, self-reliance, organizing from the grass roots and so on.
His current book combines Western rugged individualism and grass-roots troublemaking.
Called "Swim Against the Current; Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow," it's a guidebook for dealing with life in an America where big businesses rule everything and folks like you and me have little voice.
Go to www.fec.gov and check out which corporations give money to members of Congress.
Take a chair, it's a long list: oil companies, defense industries, health insurance conglomerates, drug producers, the works. The amounts are mind-boggling.
People who want to take control of their lives, even if they just sell at farmers markets, set up a discount pharmacy or form an employee-owned co-op strip joint (really!) can find inspiration in Jim's book.
Anyone who hates Wall Street shenanigans as much as Jim does -- "They get to thinking they're top dogs and we're just a bunch of fire hydrants" -- ought to be a hero to everyone.
And he is fun to listen to:
* On self awareness: "Be yourself; everyone else is taken." He credits this one to Oscar Wilde.
* He told of an executive at a giant food corporation that developed a tomato that stored and traveled well, but didn't have any flavor.
Reportedly the executive said a bland tomato was OK because, as local farms disappear, "your children will never know the difference."
"You look at someone like that," Hightower said, "and you think, 'Out of 100,000 sperm, you were the fastest?' "
* Rural sociologists' data uncovers much that needs to be changed, so he told them, "You do represent the spirit of George Bernard Shaw, who said, 'You don't make progress by standing your ground.' "
* He disdained "America's corporate and political powers -- excuse that redundancy -- who feel entitled to run roughshod over the middle class as well as the poor." The concentration of power and money in high places is "the undoing of the American ideal, the idea that we're all in this together."
* Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday would have been this year. Woody wrote labor organizing music in the 1930s -- admit it, "This Land is Your Land" is downright socialistic -- that is popular today.
Jim said "the truth is, Woody would not have to write a single new song" today and quoted Guthrie's song about Pretty Boy Floyd, the outlaw:
"Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen."
Anyone who lost their home to mortgage tomfoolery in the housing bust can testify to that.
* And, finally, a motto for those trying to break loose of the corporate world who find the going hard:
"I'm still poor, but I'm poor on my own terms."