Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"64,928"; a pseudo-intellectual diversion tactic


it was never about stability over chaos
it was always, always, about control


Part the First: a gentleman walks

That one may stare out into the abyss is not, in fact, a given. Taken a face value, one would assume that every man/woman/child may, if they so choose, stare out into the emptiness of creation and contemplate silently on their existence, on the nature of meaning, and on the essence (if one may be so bold as to use a term so fraught with unstable connotation) of self-creation. One would assume. But to do so would be to deny the nature of man (man as animal, man as social creature, man as human creation) and to deny the oppressive power of media. Television is self-creation. Or perhaps that is a mystical reliance upon an outdated means of communication; means of production. The internet is self-creation. This is actually a much more complex statement that it first appears. Yes, one can, with Facebook profiles and their ilk, "create" a web-presence, a digital reflection if you will. But the general belief is that it is merely a refection, that meat space is real space; that reality is still bound to the body. The more pressing and intriguing take on the issue is that digital reflections are often more real that actual life performance. Perhaps it is the general denial that life (real life lived among the filthy, toiling masses) is performance, that perception not only marks reality and shades its details but that perception is reality (with all the baggage such a claim carries with it). As performance strays into the digital realm, as altered reality begins more and more to augment real space (think of life without a cell phone, &c) it become clearer (to those willing to stare into the abyss) that life in the digital is not only equally valid, but equally tainted and fraught with inherent human complication. We are a species bent on self-destruction equal to our efforts towards preservation and creation. It might be noted that it is not bio-engineers who most often seek to play god but warlords. The nature of the human debate is changing along with the nature of that which we may willingly term a "human" subject. As we become more and less human, post-human, trans-human, and humanoid let us not forget that the first step in this, as in any other successful journey, begins with a look out into the abyss.


Second Act: a gentleman talks

I find that the philosophical apparatus given over to your average dilettante is insufficient to my cause. That stated, I shall have to craft my own. Though the bricoleur has long been recognized as the natural state of the modern man, especially the modern man in existential crisis. Let us then continue in this vein so long as we are able...


The Coming of the Third: a gentleman knows


Blissful ignorance is the obvious (if unstated) objective of every "Good American". It is easier. It is safer. It is easier.


Episode IV: a gentleman flees

It is a long way yet to Verona. The Promised Land does not lie just over yonder poppy fields; this is not it, we are not there yet. There are miles to go before we sleep, sleep perchance to dream. Yea though I walk in shadow over the bones of forgotten children, I will not ignore your evil.


A Fifth of the Cheap Stuff: a gentleman dies

Writing the digital present: the future of feeds, digital texts, and human expression. Writing. No mere vulgar "captured speech", writing has come along way from the "origins" of human civilization. But writing now is becoming, in fact, a much more obvious process of becoming. It has long been recognized as an act of creation, and, at times, self-creation. But now writing is no longer the sole purvey of authors and scribes, the cultural elite, &c. There is much to be argued in the loss of the canon, the downfall of style, grammar, and precision. But the fact remains that the Unwashed Masses of the Greater Middle now have within their power digital writing. This is writing in the sense of creating and asserting history even as it seems to be nothing more than idle talk between tweens about movies. This is what gives rise to today's naysayers fears of the downfall of culture/civilization: it is not that the world has become stupider but rather that the stupid have become louder and impossible to ignore. This is a negative consequence of a more democratized writing (though corporate interests and the powers that be are doing everything they can to limit this and all other free expression lest they lose control of the market and the impulse to buy unnecessary goods) but it is not the end of anything. Though nothing really ever is the "end of anything"; not in any true or legitimate sense (a sense unbound by fear mongering and shameless self-interest). That the creative impetus of writing is bringing more and more "bodies" into the fold of self-creation in this increasing post-everything postpost world is naturally a good thing. The sea change comes, though, not as more and more people adopt what can be considered a hip trend, but when those who fail to adopt realize that their reality has finally become untenable (as increasingly evidenced by the globalizing world and the various oppositions to it - not only is the third world being exploited and forced into accepting a world view not their own, but the first world is finally realizing the negative impact of corporations unbound to national ties and subject only to their shareholders). Indeed, then the future comes not by converting the heathens to one monstrosity of a world order but rather allowing for the radical segmentation (unbound often though not always by physical/geographic distance) of humanity based on shared but unfixed affiliations that need not impose their will on anyone. A man can dream. A man can dream.



if you are at peace with the chaos they cannot yell loud enough to disturb you
but El Capitán can still steal your watch and wallet

Thursday, August 20, 2009

THEY HATE OUR FREEDOM!!!: raising a kid in the catastrofuck

"You've thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled fear to bring children into the world"
- Bob Dylan, "Masters of War"

***

There are certain changes brought on by being/becoming a parent. I was compelled to take a look at the world that I have brought this child into, to contemplate his future as well as my own. I have found the world wanting.

Since I am staying at home, I have more time to read, keep up with the news, follow the depressing political forums and think about life, the universe, and everything. Since becoming a father, those topics have trended more towards, if not political, civic and social engagement. I have long harbored tendencies that, when in moods most cynical and capitulating tend towards libertarianism and when in brighter and sunnier moods towards anarchism/anarcho-syndicalism. It really has only been fatherhood and increased opportunity to cogitate that has solidified a depressing need to engage the world on its own terms, for the disaster that it is, and endeavor to do something about it. Or at least clarify what exactly is wrong, why it is wrong, and how I will teach Finn the inherent wrongness of it all.

The issue, it seems, is three-fold: 1. Corporate interests hate our freedom 2. Our Government capitulates to whomever yells loudest (and money talks) & 3. the general public is so ill informed and overwhelmed by the propaganda machine that they are a. not acting in their own self-interest & b. barely aware of their own self-interests.

Let's see if I can tackle them one by one.

1. Corporate interests hate our freedom: This seems to me to be a reprehensible by relatively unavoidable fact of life in a psuedo-capitalism empire. Corporate interests are not, in fact, accountable to their customers. Well, that is a bit over the top. They are accountable to their customers but not primarily. Primarily they are accountable to their shareholders and the bottom line. This is why every car company in the world sells cars that don't last much past the 3-5 years on the warranty. It's not that human ingenuity has been so stumped by the internal combustion engine as to be incapable of making a longer lasting more fuel efficient model. It's that an automaker can't turn a profit if a person only buys one car their entire life. The thing is, corporations make no effort to deny that they are first and foremost responsible to their shareholders. So when they sell snake oil to John Q. Public, no one is surprised even if we are disappointed. Corporations want to keep us buying and so they offer us the unlimited choice of the post-industrial world: you can buy anything you could ever dream of. Or rather, you are not allowed to dream of anything that you can't buy. You are free to make any decision you want so long as you come with cash and leave with shit you don't need.

2. The government capitulates to whomever screams the loudest: This is a two-fold issue taking into account both the duped hayseeds yelling at the heath care town halls (and their like) and the paid lobbyists pretending to be duped hayseeds yelling at the heath care town halls. Corporate lobbies have a lot of pull in Washington because they can afford to. They can grease all the palms they need and buy and bribe votes on key issues. That is what a corporation and their lobbying arm should be doing, that is the most effective way for them to appease their shareholders. At least they are being honest about the fact that they are lying, cheating, heartless bastards. That the politicians are taken in by such offers, bribes, gifts, &c. is far more depressing. Big Business doesn't ever claim to be "of the people, by the people, for the people". Or maybe Lincoln was talking about someone else? The government is meant to be looking out for our best interests. It is established and maintained to ensure our freedoms not to subtly strip them from us for no better reason than campaign contributions.

3. the general public is so ill informed and overwhelmed by the propaganda machine that they are a. not acting in their own self-interest & b. barely aware of their own self-interests: This brings us back to the screamers at the town halls, the insulated bubbles that most of us live in, and the newest Great Disenfranchising Swindle. I don't know whether this is the case elsewhere, or perhaps just in "civilized" Western nations, but it is far too easy in America to live oblivious of the world. And by that I don't even mean oblivious of the current events in foreign countries (which it obviously includes). We are oblivious to the goings on in our own great nation. Most people care little about what is going on around them unless it will directly affect them or their family or the trifecta of American Values (despising the poor, fearing the minorities/foreigners, buying new things). And this is really the problem. It is the central flaw in the American character; a certain narrow-mindedness unrelated to the vaguely positive attributes represented by Adam Smith's "self-interest" or Ayn Rand's forgotten selfishness. Rather a blindness that is complicit in our own tragic downfall. If the general public were informed, were truly aware of what was going on and, more importantly, how that impacted their own lives and the lives of their peers we likely wouldn't have to worry about corporate interests influencing the government - there would be no way Congress would vote for anything against the public interest if the public were actually interested in what they were voting on. But people are stupid and lazy. We like what is easy, what comes naturally. We don't want to have to work hard (at least not outside of work, not when we are meant to be relaxing in front of the tv) and staying informed is hard work. Especially considering that the Main Stream Media is a big business that has no interest in seeing us that way.

Take health care, Fox News, and Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is the figurehead for a Big Business conspiracy to disenfranchise her precious "real america". She provides the face and a couple of choice rants, Fox News writes the script and whips their viewers into a fury about whatever (immigration, health care, it doesn't even matter) and their viewers (angry, ill informed, and afraid that the world they live in doesn't look like the whitewashed world they "remember") go out and scream down whatever issue it is at the time regardless of the fact that most of them would benefit from universal heath care, higher taxes for the rich to provide for stronger social programs, better funding for education, &c. And it isn't like this is just a problem faced by conservatives, that all other voters are fully informed. Because they are equally limited, it is just that the "real america" is the most obviously having their fear exploited to serve interests counter to their own. Indeed, so long as citizens stay angry and ill-informed, corporate interests can exploit their fear and maintain the Big Business strangle hold on the government. It's our own damn fault.

So I am going to make sure Finn knows the score, keeps up on his reading, and becomes a right proud dissident. It seems the best I can do. That Gandhi line about "being the change you want to see in the world" seems to apply. The rest of you are responsible for yourselves. Because there is no one left to blame.

Yes, the government is working contrary to the interests of the many and should be held to a higher standard. And yes, corporations are fucked up and looking out only for their shareholders and the bottom line no matter how bad it is for consumers, the environment, the world at large, but if the people weren't so goddamn stupid and uninformed they wouldn't be able to get away with it. Maybe. If not, at least we would realize that they hate our freedom.

***

sic semper stultus

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

healthcareless

I have never been an overly political man. I like to stay fairly informed about the world at large - I read several news sources online and keep up with current events but I am not overly political. Mostly it's cynicism. Take a dive into politics and it's hard not to come out angry, bitter, disillusioned, and resentful. The system is well past broken on it's best days and these aren't really it's best days. There are some people that give hope (Lawrence Lessig and the Change Congress movement is a shining light) but for the most part I prefer to stay out of the fray entirely.

I figured it was time though that I finally weighed in on this heath care debate. The apartment was too hot last night and I wasn't able to sleep much and that led me to spend the dark hours working over the argument. It's something I normally do with story ideas but I was none so lucky last night. Now I am not overly informed about the intricacies of the 1,000+ pages of the actual bill (though it seems that that makes me more qualified to have an opinion on it) but the problem seems pretty simple to me. And when it came down to it, I just can't support this debate at all. There is nothing about it that is right from word one.

I don't understand what is so difficult for people. And this is likely because of my hated of halfway measures, but still. Either you support universal free health care or you don't care about other people. It is just that simple. Universal free health care or wanting poor people to die. Maybe the bill would be under less violent opposition if it were couched in such simple and plain language (but I doubt it). Now if you want the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly to be without health care - fine, admit it and resign from office. People are entitled to their bigoted opinions but they should not be able to claim to use them for the public good. (And to think that the opponents of this halfass bill think that they are arguing against euthanasia).

This is of course why I don't understand why the debate is worried about insurance (why would we want to inflict that mess on more people? It's bad enough as it is.), big pharmaceutical interests and their prescription price fixing, and SOCIALISM!!!!! as if caring were somehow antithetical to the American character. Now, the argument can be made that the free market (not that we have seen one of those in a long damn time, free means no regulation at all) does not care about poor or sick people and that it is completely within the character of Free Market Capitalism to deny health care or health insurance to anyone who cannot be trusted to make the corporate interests money. And if you want to take that line when denying sick people medicine or just pricing it out of their means, feel free. If you are comfortable letting people die, that will be on your conscience. But don't try to sound like the good guy looking out for the little guy when you do it. If a small businessman can't afford to provide his employees insurance then he's kind of a dick for hiring them at all. But if health care was free to anyone who walked into a hospital or clinic needing it, well that would solve the issue there.

The insurance issue really seems to be the thing that is clouding the debate. People are afraid of the specter of "Government Run Healthcare" and not having choice of their own doctor and being operated on by a Mad Russian with a Soviet nuke in his back pocket: "Natasha, vould you pleez pass ze scalpel." My way seems much simpler - medicine = free, hospitals = free, check-ups = free. You go to your doctor or any doctor and there are no bills or co-pays at the end.

So now we get to the point where everyone screams at me for being a useless idealist. As if I could reasonably expect the Average American to care about his Neighbor. That's only something that Christians are meant to do (and a couple of those other religions where you are meant to follow that golden rule or whatever). And of course, where does the money come from.

Well, I am no economist. Just a guy tired of the bullshit of modern living but here is a tentative plan:

1. revise tax law entirely: As it is, raising taxes just pisses people off and raising taxes on the rich just makes more creative accountants. Maybe a flat tax would help.

2. legalize everything: By that I mean prostitution, gambling, and all illicit drugs. Under strict control and heavy taxation there is no telling how much money will be made. Plus the amount saved by eliminating the need to police, prosecute, and imprison perpetrators of victimless crimes would be a godsend.

3. tax the offenders: Raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and begin taxing fast food, junk food, soda, and all processed foods. These are the things that are making us sick (diabetes, heart disease, various cancers) and if we want to continue to enjoy them, we should begin defraying the cost of their consequences.

4. raise gas taxes until it hits $5/gallon: While not directly related to health care there is no way that all that pollution is good for anyone. Plus it would lead to lower carbon emissions, reduced dependence on oil (both foreign and domestic) and hopefully cause an increase in new technology and public transportation.

5. legalize gay marriage: It is somewhat surprising how much money it actually brings in, but clearly there is no downside to treating all people as equal. There was some important document that stipulated that equality as a first principle.

Now before all you criticize my excellent plan with all your mindless jibberjabber about how American's can't afford more taxes or how we will turn into Sweden or "dear god, there will be heathens and junkies run amok in our schools! Think of the children, think of the children!" maybe take a moment and think about it. The legalization issues can still be decried as immoral from every pulpit in every sanitized, liminal-free megachurch. But it is not the business of the government to legislate morality. What people choose to do to their own bodies is their business. It's the government's job to make sure that everyone else doesn't die from treatable disease. And as for what American can and cannot afford; like I said before, if you want to admit to yourself that it is too expensive to care about poor and sick people, you be the asshole.

Friday, August 7, 2009

on hospitality: work, service, life, and the collapse of everything

"The time is out of joint:--O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to bitch about it!--
"

- Hamlet, Act I, Scene V


***

So we have recently returned from the Great East Coast Road Trip. Which wasn't much of a road trip and really more of an effort to keep a 3 month old baby out of an airplane and its foul recirculated air. Anyway, on our first night we stayed at a chain motel booked on Hotels.com and had requested there be a crib in his room. Gina actually called the hotel (Days Inn West Broad, Richmond, VA) and spoke to someone who assured us that there would be a crib in our room. There was no crib.


We asked at the front desk when we arrived and she rudely informed us that there was nothing on her printout of our reservation and since she had only been in the hotel for a year, there was no way she could find where they kept the cribs. We headed up to the room to see if there was someway that we could jury-rig a bed from our luggage and those depressing hotel comforters. We eventually did. But first Gina got fed up with the prospect of having to and went back to the front desk to demand from the surly incompetent that she provide us with the crib we had ordered. After what I was informed were strong words and a competent manager on the phone it was discovered that this hotel did not, in fact, possess any cribs. Despite offering them to guests, allowing them to be reserved and counted upon, there were no cribs in the whole of the establishment and we were shit out of luck.


While Gina was downstairs finding all this out, I happened to notice that the trash had not be emptied since the last guest and, to cap off this absurd farce, there was a half finished bottle of Budweiser Select in the fridge. Needless to say I gave the hotel a bad review online, and we didn't stay there on the way back. [Note: the following night we stayed in a Days Inn in Port Wentworth, GA and it was far superior, so this is in no way a condemnation of the chain.]


Anyway, the whole experience got me thinking about hospitality, about service. About the hospitality and service industries and about the industrialization of hospitality and service. I have come to realize that we (the post-industrial West) have lost our sense of hospitality, the meaning of service. We have disassociated the act from its essence. I imagine that there are plenty of people who think of retiring to the country, opening a b&b and offering to the world their measure of genteel hospitality. But I highly doubt the majority of employees at chain hotels consider themselves innkeepers and I doubt that many who consider themselves innkeepers would want to locate their establishment across the street from the corporate headquarters of Altria [you know, that company that used to be Philip Morris].


Now, I am not going to discount the whole of the hospitality industry just because of one surly night manager, but it does raise some issues that I have been thinking about for a while. It isn't that people don't want to serve, don't want to offer hospitality, don't want to fill those jobs that exist to help others. It's that the positions have all become industrialized, sanitized, and sterilized in the worst possible ways. (And this from a man who questions the legitimacy of authenticity as a possibility in the postpost world.)


Everything has become a means to something else. There are no longer any ends. We work a job not for the job but for the paycheck, the paycheck for the rent on the apartment we keep because it is close to the schools or that coffee shop or its cheap, for the food that is completely divorced from the plants and animals that (might have) given rise to it. There are no longer any ends. A night manager at a chain hotel isn't an innkeeper, just a lady who found a job that pays that she can (almost) handle. And I don't really begrudge her for that. She wasn't the one who promised us the crib that didn't exist. She wasn't the one who turned innkeeping into the commodified disaster that it is. People take to the roads and airways, capitalism demands it whether for business or the pleasure of spending. People need places to stay. Those places need people to perform the menial tasks. Because someone who keeps an inn out of love doesn't want anything to do with this kind of hotel. And you can't really blame someone caught in the system for the ills of the system.


It's the "take pride in your work" nonsense left over from the protestant ethic that says "any work is good work" and "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well". I disagree. Why should a cog worry about how well the machine runs if the cog doesn't stand to benefit either way? I recently read The Hacker Ethic (hacker here used mainly as a stand-in for anyone running counter to the norm with a few nominal ties back to its computer roots) which makes the claim for doing what you love and that it has become more commonplace and more readily possible to get away with it. Personally I don't agree with the pride in your work nonsense. Not unless you really do love you job, are actually proud of what you do and the impact it has on the world. And I think that employers should recognize and accept that an employee can and will do a good job at whatever task they are assigned and performance is not necessarily related to whether or not one cares about what that task is. Pretending to love a job you hate is the worst kind of employee morale. What a god awful expectation. So it's not that I believe that beleaguered hotel night managers should have more pride in their work, should endeavor to offer the height of hospitality, but rather that people who are not prepared or willing or desiring to offer the height of hospitality shouldn't be hotel managers.


There is merit to the claim that some may raise that they do not hate (and in fact even like what they do, they enjoy their jobs, their homes, their lives and lifestyles) and that very well may be true. Some people are lucky. But there is a vast abyss between enjoying what you do and doing what you love. It's like that oh so catchy but oh so depressing Creedence lyric "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." Enjoying your life seems, in this case, to be making the best of a bad situation, adapting the ever adaptable human spirit to a condition imposed externally. The world got out of our control (if we ever really had any and I don't much think we did) and the dissociative power of capitalism ran away with everything. In the past, it was just work that was the commodity. The workers could rise up to take control of the means and modes of production. Marx had it easy. Nowadays life is a commodity. There is no use value left in anything, just exchange value. And it's goddamn depressing.

I suppose this also raises the point about what the American Dream has become, what the average person most desires from life. Given the profusion of celebrity magazines, celebrity tv shows, celebrity websites, celebrity gossip, celebrity impersonators, celebrity worship and the fact that people just want to be famous these days (who the fuck cares what for) it is no wonder that life has become the dreary means of accepting failure. If our dreams no longer contain "ends", if our deepest desires (what we would do if money were no object & if rejection were not on the table) are only to be recognized in public places and automatic entry into VIP rooms, no wonder everything else is falling apart. Does no one want to create anymore? Hell, does no one want to destroy even? No? Just to be and be famous? How mind-numbingly dull and insidious. I don't feel sorry for your misery, for your obvious failure, and less obvious failure to realize.


OK, so that is really the bleak "repent, sinners" forecast of the day's weather. And while I am no weatherman ...

It's not that there is no hope, there is. The Hacker Ethic and various other books are all about that hope. About that hope for normal people really being able to do what they love instead of having to pretend to love what they do. You can get out, opt out of the system and make a go at turning your life back to something with ends rather than just means. If you are lucky. Or have enough money, have exploited enough people, treated them as commodities for long enough to have amassed enough wealth to tell the world to fuck off. But it ain't easy even then. Opening up an inn or a restaurant or a coffee shop or a bar because you really love serving people that perfect cocktail, that amazing 3-course meal, that perfect cappuccino, that comforting experience of home away from home is no easy game. Ever. It has broken a great many people. But I suppose the options in the end become: choose one or the other and learn to live with your decision. Otherwise you are just another cog in an ever more boring machine that is long overdue for a tune up.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

and put to rout all that was not life

There is a certain secondary character to being a stay-at-home parent. One that I didn't want to accept and still hope not to entirely accede to. It is a matter of routines. I have mine. He has his. His always take precedence.

I haven't quite adapted to his routines. Haven't quite figured out how to make mine fit into the cracks, breaks, and pauses. Luckily, I'm used to this sort of thing. Sort of. I am, for the most part, a very lazy man. And a regular part of my vacation ritual is spending nearly the entirety of the first few days in front of a television while I sort myself out. The unfortunate part about this was that vacations were never long enough and I would end up spending most of them on the couch and by the time I got bored of tv and ready to get back to writing or painting or doing something productive it was time to get back to school or back to work or both. I have adopted this same practice again. Since Monday I have watched the whole of season one of Leverage on Netflix streaming plus a few other things. It was excellent. I do so enjoy a show with criminals as the antiheroes. [Like Hustle. "You can't cheat an honest man."]

Streaming tv is a surprisingly good means of adapting to an infant's routines. I can pause the show at will whenever he needs me, start it back up without losing much context, and not get in too deep that I would mind an interruption. In fact, I am hoping, that by the time I get tired of whatever shows I choose to watch next or the concept of a day of just television (it is already starting, I was restless enough to take the time to compose these thoughts) I will have figured out his routines, adapted myself to them, and will be able to get down to doing the things that make me who I am (writing, reading, painting, *watching tv and movies, and thinking about life, the universe and everything and then refracting it through a back story saturated with pop culture and putting it all it down here for your amusement and edification). Also, I'm going to try to start doing some part-time work-from-home gigs (so if any of you have anything interesting ...) to make some extra money, pay down those student loans.

It's weird (though I'm sure it's the first comment that every stay-at-home confessional makes) how the little things matter. In college, on vacation, I wouldn't think twice about going the better part of a week neither showering nor shaving. Staying in the same clothes because there was no one around to care or notice. So it isn't a personal desire for absolute cleanliness that drives me into the shower every day now while he naps. Or to do any of the other small things that I would have avoided or procrastinated on before. Maybe it's because it's a manageable escape. One of the few things I can do to have a moment to myself that seems like he can't interrupt though clearly he can. But at least I stay clean and springtime fresh and clad in something other than pajamas. The kid is slowly leading me towards more responsibility that I would have ever previously accepted. While still letting me act like a child and make fart noises to make him laugh. Perhaps he is already making me a better man. Maybe I just needed someone to hold my hand in order to get anything done. Though it doesn't hurt that he needs me to hold his hand too.