Review and Comment: Accretions

KEEPERS? An old athletic shoe box, a small cardboard carton, a shopping bag from a departed department store, a Tiffany box, ornamented tins, a poster-sized announcement, a fancy cognac bottle, and a jam jar are among items the editor and his wife find hard to throw away. At left, Henrik Krogius ruminates on a world in which so many attractive or usable things are produced only to be disposed of. Photo by Henrik Krogius.

By Henrik Krogius

It often seems weird to live in a world that produces so much stuff only to have most of it thrown away. Almost everything is disposable, even – though perhaps not quite as much just now – houses that are scrapped for larger McMansions. It often seems a shame to discard something that is either quite beautiful or has the possibility of future use. I have a brother who is very good at throwing things away, and I once had a neighbor in whose house no table top or other flat surface had any item left on it. Some people can keep a completely clear desk. No doubt a sign of efficiency. But my wife and I find it hard to let go of a number of things.

A favorite keepsake is a holiday shopping bag from that last of truly civilized department stores, B. Altman & Co. It is adorned with apples and pears. It sits in the back of a closet, hidden and unused, but we know it’s there, and it reminds us of a time that, at least in retrospect, feels to us to have been less insistently pressing. Then there’s a not-quite-finished bottle of Hine cognac that is too elegantly shaped for us to want to junk it when its contents are gone. Jam and marmalade jars, maybe not equally elegant but also made of actual glass, could yet have some use. And then there are the boxes and cartons of all sizes. No objects of beauty, but who knows when one of them might be just right for some purpose? In fact, I was happy just this past week for the existence a couple of small cardboard containers that perfectly suited the packing of manuscript content and illustrations to be shipped to a publisher, for a book on the history of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade that I’ve been working on. They saved having to go out to the UPS Store or somewhere else to buy suitable cartons. So you never know.

There are other items. Tiffany boxes, with their famous robin’s egg blue, have a cachet that protects them from the garbage can. Some people feel the same way about shopping bags, or any kinds of bags, with labels from such as Gucci or Hermes. Or perfume bottles. Ornamented tins that have held cookies or Droste cocoa defy us to throw them away. Some announcements and posters, like one for the Jane’s Carousel opening party, are both too attractive and generative of nostalgia to be consigned to oblivion.

As a longtime newsman I also have too many old newspaper clips. The photographs I’ve taken are stored in more or less retrievable order (which has often been helpful for illustrating some item in the Heights Press). Books – we don’t want to get rid of books. Still, altogether, the tide of things accumulating has to be confronted, and we reluctantly throw away much (not enough) that we have some fondness for. We can only wish it goes to a recycling heaven that will cherish its Platonic thingness.

That Tax Issue

“Should the rich pay more?” the Christian Science Monitor asked across its October 17 cover. A lengthy article inside took into account all kinds of considerations, financial, political, moral. Too much of the argument has devolved into which tax rates actually produce the most revenue for the government, and whether the share paid by the rich (and corporations) covers a sufficient share.

What this country has largely gotten away from is the true implication of “all men are created equal” – an ideal to which lip service is paid. Conservatives construe this as meaning that equalizing the percentage rate for all amounts to equality, and in particular to equality of opportunity. A flat tax does no such thing. It works a hardship on those at the lower end that is not felt at the upper end. Our present tax system and its loopholes have created a situation in which the poor are far from being “created equal” and in which the wealthy maintain and expand their advantage over the rest of the population.

We are not the relatively egalitarian society we once were, and we are getting progressively farther from it. Hence the “we are the 99 percent” of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. As Dennis Holt observed on this page last week, the issue is one of basic fairness. Those who can afford to pay more, should pay more. A system that promotes an ever widening gulf between the rich and those who are not will in the long run only breed revolutionary ferment. What we are seeing now is only mild. We are still the land of opportunity, even if the economy right now is bad, but we need to have a progressive tax code, as well as a better financed public education system, for equality of opportunity to have an honest meaning.

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