... now gone too, just a few days after Alex Cockburn. Double whammy. I feel so lost. When will we ever see their like again?
Loved 'em both, when they were right and especially when they were wrong. Loved their wonderful breezy confidence, their capacity to follow their own nose trustfully wherever it led, no matter what anybody else thought.
McKibenn's latest has drawn enough comment, but it makes a great launch pad for pointing out that the best way to save the trees, the oceans and the rest of this good green (and not so green) little planet is through a shorter work week. Yes, this smacks of reformism and comes with all the downsides, etc. Nevertheless, leisure that isn't rooted in disemployment is a superb way to reduce industrial emissions. Pair the 20 hour work week with the dear old basic income for best results.
I'm not always a big fan of Jacobin magazine, but my attention
was recently called to a very fine piece online there. As Alex
Cockburn was once kind enough to say about something of mine,
I wish I had written that. Excerpt:
The worldwide revolutionary turmoil of the years just after World War I witnessed the single biggest leap in labor’s long forward march.
At least, it did in most places.
But while general strikes were panicking European elites into making sweeping concessions to their working classes, here in America the Wilson Administration was swiftly re-privatizing the economy and dismantling the progressive wartime labor codes — prompting Felix Frankfurter to render a despairing judgment: the United States, he wrote, appeared to be “the most reactionary country in the world.”
... But why was that so? There were many theories. The patrician editors of The New York Times had given this matter some thought, and on Constitution Day, 1921, they provided one plausible explanation: “If it is true, as there is much evidence to prove, that Americans are showing themselves the most conservative nation in a turbulent world, the largest cause of it lies in our Federal Constitution.”
... There was a brief moment in U.S. history when these truths were acknowledged by the Left. During the Progressive Era, the Socialist Party branded the Constitution a menace to democratic government ...
But unfortunately it was the counterattack that proved far more lasting....
It’s easy to make fun of the Right’s bizarro Constitution fetish.... But what is equally lamentable is that the recent rise (or, rather, return) to prominence of this constitutional crankery has spawned a whole genre of anxious liberal commentary aimed at rescuing the document’s honor from the clutches of uncouth reactionaries. It is an article of faith in this commentary that the Glenn Beck crowd simply misunderstand the Constitution....
Good stuff, eh? Read the whole thing. If I were his editor, there are a few things I would have cut, or at least questioned. But as Oliver Cromwell said, he has the heart of the matter in him.
New here. But this seemed like the kind of place where I could whine
and get a little sympathy.
I'm always reading how great small business is. Let me tell you,
small business sucks. It sucks even worse than big business. The mom and pop shop
is a sweatshop. I know. I've done both.
In a big comapny, your manager is a sick fuck. Every time. No doubt about it. And his manager is an even sicker fuck. That's how they pick 'em. One sick fuck knows another sick fuck.
But in a big corporation, your manager and his manager have to pretend to be reasonable
people. There are rules and they're supposed to follow them. The rules are always tilted toward the sick fucks, naturally, but still, it cramps their style.
Small business, your manager could be Ted Bundy and half the time, he is Ted Bundy. He's under the radar. He doesn't have an HR department and nobody's going to sue him, because sue a beggar and you get a louse.
He'll ask you stuff a big corporation boss would never ask. Like how old are you? Are you going to retire on me? What are your politics?
And he'll never stroke you, the way a big-company boss is trained to do. Every time you tell him what you've been doing today, it's an excuse for him to tel you you're an idiot, you should have been doing something else.
Of course small business is an ideological fetish; it doesn't actually contribute much to the life of that mythical beast, "Theeconomy", as a commenter on barebones' post rightly pointed out.
But I have a certain dividedness of mind about small business myself. I like to shop in the mom-and-pop stores when I can. Not for ideological or political reasons; just because I like them better. There used to be a lot more of them in my nabe, and every time one closes, to be replaced by a Duane Reade or something, I feel a pang.
The most recent loss of this kind was a little hole in the wall on my street, the Americana Deli, improbably run by Palestinian emigres, who were -- as Palestinians mostly are, in my experience -- the most affable haimisch people in the world. I got to know the proprietors and the staff, and it all felt, well, neighborly. Not to get all Mr Rogers about it, but there was a certain personal connection.
But then -- to Barebones' point -- I worked in one once, when I was a kid, a million years ago, in the tiny Southern town where I grew up. Barebones got it right. The owner was a liminal figure, aspiring to greater things, and he made sure that we all shared his status anxiety. He fired me after about two weeks, as I recall, for not giving a shit -- which was certainly the most just firing I've ever had, and I've had a few.
Fortunately the family had a bit of political pull and got me a job on the grounds crew of a state park. That, I loved.
The other guys were mostly from very blue-collar backgrounds and I had to learn how to fit in. Although I was a weird eccentric bookish sheltered kid, that wasn't as hard as you might think. They didn't really make it very hard. They could have, but they didn't.
It was one of the two or three real turning points in my life, and I remember those guys -- they were all guys, of course, this was back in the day -- with great affection.
One of the things that united us was a determination to do no more work than we could get away with, and a thorough contempt for management. No way were going to internalize our bosses' anxieties and priorities.
We had our own culture, our own private jokes. We referred to the park superintendent -- a very comical figure, who deserves an essay of his own -- as 'Old Whistledick'. Our private signal that Whistledick might be lurking in the vicinity -- he was a sneaky bastard -- was to whistle the first bar of the old Colonel Bogey march, which we knew from Bridge Over The River Kwai.
Somebody would start, and others would take it up, and Whistledick would stroll casually out from behind a venerable oak tree to find us all working like niggers, as we used to say back then.
It's a shocking phrase these days, of course, but thoroughly accurate; because black guys worked the same way. They would take it easy when nobody was watching, and then exhibit a lot of phony enthusiasm as soon as the boss showed up. My colleagues and I -- white, or at least pinkish, rednecks to a man -- had learned from them, or independently discovered, the same technique.
The cruise missile humanitarians, in all their flavors, make extensive use of the same basic syllogism.
Human organization can be a force for good.
Imperialism is a form of human organization.
Therefore it can be a force for good.
I've left out several hundred thousand words in an effort to conserve pixels.
The cruise missile thesis draws on an interpretation of capitalism as an inadvertently and ineluctably progressive means of social organization. From there, the thesis descends into comparative body counts and Gini coefficient wrestling matches. I think it's a bad idea to treat it too seriously. IOZ posed the appropriate line of inquiry:
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Maybe the cruisies have the same problem pwogs and wingnuts do. They can't really see distant people as human beings. So it's okay to eat them, metaphorically speaking.
I don't believe that cruise missile humanitarianism, or opposition to it, amounts to a hill of beans (the side dish, if you will). The cruisies are classic useful idiots and provide a rhetorical stick with which to beat skeptics. Most provide it for the attention it generates. Some get paid or get career benefits, such as points scored in their miserable little faction and fraction struggles. That, alas, is all too human.
New York is full of eccentric undertakings, and surely one of the most eccentric -- but potentially delightful -- is free kayaking on the Hudson River. There are a couple of organizations that offer this; I assume they get some foundation money or something, but hey, kayaking is a big improvement on school reform. I mean, if they're going to have money, and spend it on something, best thing you can do is throw it into the water.
So my daughter and I cycled down to 56th street yesterday -- it was an oppressive hot day -- and took advantage of the Downtown Boathouse's free kayak thing. The kayaks were nice, and the Hudson wasn't too bad -- must have been a lot of rain upstate recently. The water didn't even smell so awful, though my butt came out in hives, as usual, after sitting in a puddle of Hudson water on the kayak seat for half an hour.
But the staff were awful: snide, dismissive, bullying. Like DMV clerks, or functionaries in the passport office. Quite puzzling. They must have been mostly volunteers, committed to the cause, you'd think; eager to get people out on the water; but they acted like, well, schoolteachers, of the least amiable variety. As if their job were were to get as many people as possible in and out of kayaks per unit time, and the ineptitude of the public were a sore trial to them.
Daughter and I gave 'em no problems -- we've spent a fair amount of time in kayaks, in waters more challenging than a little sheltered bay between two piers on the Hudson River -- but they still treated us like poor relations. This seemed peculiar enough, but the worst was the treatment a couple of young black women got.
These two had gotten themselves into a two-person kayak -- much more difficult to maneuver than a one-person kayak, of course, though nobody realizes that beforehand. Their demeanor suggested they hadn't spent a lot of time in boats, but they were willing to give it a whirl.
They couldn't figure out how to steer, of course -- who can, first time out? -- and ended up being blown by the wind down onto, and then under, the dock.
There was no harm in this; there was ten feet of clearance under the dock; they would just drift under the dock and out the other side. Where an experienced kayaker could meet them and, if necessary, tow them back to the launch ramp.
But the Kayak Dudes went nuts. "Paddle on the right! Don't do anything else until I tell you!" Screaming, cursing -- turning to the onlookers with self-justifying gestures: "Am I speaking a foreign language here? These people! They're idiots."
A disgusting, sadistic spectacle.
Now if this was racism, it was racism of a peculiar kind, since the Kayak Dude behaving most
offensively to the hapless young women was a black guy himself. But the white guys and girls weren't really any better, though perhaps a bit less emphatic; so one felt, actually, that the Race Thing was secondary at best.
What seemed to matter most was the expert/tyro duality, or the staff/public duality, or the controller/controlled duality. A what-the-hell harmless and almost entirely risk-free fun day on the water became an exercise in crowd control -- or just control. Period. As if a couple of dozen idle passersby, taking advantage of a free kayak, had to be watched like towelheads in an airport. Really, you know, there's just no telling what these people might do.
Is this particularly American? Are the Germans worse? Or even as bad? I would like to think
so; but is it true?
MJS wrote a couple of days ago about a nasty encounter with some kayak Dudes. Most of the comments thought the dudes were employees, but he thought they were volunteers. I think he was probably right about that.
Do you know any auxiliary cops. Hospital volunteers, even? They're twice as bossy as the pros. Trying to measure up, run with the big dogs, something. They're not in it for the money. They LIKE it.
"There is a distinction between an admission of events taking place and an admission of guilt."
Quite. Damn those events anyway! Have they no concern? No consideration? This is unfortunately the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. There you are in receipt of a lucrative federal contract. The human resources department has carefully vetted the personnel for participation in circumstances where events may take place. Everyone has done what was needed to ensure a desirable outcome. Of course mistakes may still be made, no one has claimed otherwise, but the responsibility for that clearly lies with the despicable events.
Needless to say, it's never nice to place any blame on the secondary victims, the ones riddled with bullets. It's arguable that their guilt and odious conduct has been handled by the bullets. The Department of Justice, to its credit, isn't going to prosecute them and isn't going to engage in further tawdry finger-pointing at the primary victim, Academi LLC—formerly Xe, formerly Blackwater—which will be able to continue its duties as a U.S. Department of State contractor.
Turns out I've been breezily reassuring people that comments are never -- well, hardly ever -- removed from this here blog, and now I find that OP and Al have been doing exactly that. I didn't even know they *could*.
Nothing I can do about it, apparently; crummy software. So my posts will continue to be promiscuously open, and Al's and Owen's will not.
I can't say whether the speculation is on target or not, or whether any of the likely outcomes are desirable. What I can say, however, is that it's hilariously funny. A technocratic coup is taking shape in ways that infuriate most of the technocrats. They'll never untangle this Gordian Knot—pun intended. The traditional solution to such knots is financial armageddon.
The election season has started in full force in Quebec, and being a Merkin, yours truly cannot vote; but I’m just as happy to watch the horse race, as it is way more entertaining than the one currently going on south of the border.
With the colleges and universities opening next week to continue their winter semester, which was suspended due to the strike, the government found it an opportune time to call an election. They figured if the strike and riots continue, it would be to their advantage because they would play the “law and order” card. Well, so far the student movement seems to have run out of steam and already 3 junior colleges that were previously on strike voted to return back to school. Plus, the guy I’m still holding out to be my future son in law (yeah, dream on!), Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, resigned from the leadership of the most militant student union, citing the government's harassment and intimidation.
At this point, the election is viewed as a referendum on the government’s position on the much-dreaded tuition raise. Optimistically, I want to believe that the students are too busy mobilizing the vote to be bothered with the strike; but then again, they might be just as busy chilling in the last days of summer.
So how interesting is this election? Well for one thing, we have a 3-way race between two right wing parties and one center-left. The right-wing party in power, aptly named the Liberals, is running a campaign similar to what you see in a banana republic: money for your vote! Their vote-buying schemes range anywhere from $3000 for owners who undertake “green” renovations, $100 for school supplies for every elementary school kid, and $1000 for each business that hires an old fart. As though any self-respecting Quebecois would want to work past the age of 65!
The other right-wing party, CAQ, is rather a new creation (founded in 2011) that appeals to the right-wing separatist Francophones who are sick of the corruption tales of the Liberals.
Speaking of which, our construction related scandals and the government’s collusion with Mafia make a better TV show than the Sopranos! Just two days ago, Radio Canada unearthed a new scandal involving a Mafia boss and our Prime Minister, Jean Charest, which was quite entertaining. The story involves a Mafia boss who was under surveillance by SQ, which is the Quebec version of the FBI. The SQ cops were tailing the guy and their chase took them to where Charest was having a gathering. He barges in and demands to meet with Charest and right after this impromptu meeting, his surveillance suddenly stops. Charest now claims that Radio Canada has a conspiracy against him!
The center-left party, PQ, is running a lackluster campaign. It doesn’t help that the head of the party is a matronly middle-aged woman who came in 3rd in the contest of “who would you rather have a beer with”! Nevertheless, it is widely expected that the two right-wing parties will split the vote, giving the PQ a win; but a win that would only give them a minority government.
Incidentally, there are also true “leftist” parties; one of them, QS (Quebec Solidaire) already has a seat in the parliament and is expected to gain one more this election.
But where does this lead us, and am I hopeful with this election’s outcome? Well, yes and no. No because no matter who wins this election, it’s truly alarming to see the CAQ party, which is a newly founded right wing party with a simplistic neo-liberal platform, becoming a powerhouse so fast. Who knows, they might even win the election, in which case, we’d be really, really fucked! Then again, these days we can only hope for one thing: Libérez nous des Libéraux!
I snuck out of my sweatshop in the garment district the other day for
a quick cheap lunch with an old pal of mine -- call him Georgicus. We had a $10 Sinhalese
buffet, and it was mighty good, though spicy, and my gut is still
feeling the effects.
Old friends have a way of completing each others' sentences, and at one point
I started to say something about people not thinking...
"Oh no!" Georgicus groaned. "Don't, please don't, say 'thinking outside the box'!"
I had not intended to say that, as it happens -- though a lesser man might
have, in the context -- and we quickly agreed that this
was a particularly loathesome phrase, even as cliches go.
But it got me thinking. There's always something to be said for inverting a
cliche -- the locus classicus is surely Oscar's 'nature imitates art'.
I tried it. And it worked. In fact I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time
thinking themselves into a box: ingeniously devising reasons
why their hands are tied, they have no choice, they just have to suck it up and and and.
They start off outside the box, and think themselves into it.
Happened to a lot of old potheads and sexual deviants of my long-toothed
generation. We started out as ruthless critics of everything that exists,
and a lot of us ended up repeating hysterical fear-mongering (The Koch
brothers! Karl Rove! Cthulhu!) on behalf of the Democratic Party.
We thought ourselves into a box.
From now on, I plan to hang out more with young people. They're amazingly forgiving. They
don't mind that I'm an old fart. As long as I listen, and only answer a question when it's been asked.
I thought Obama did pretty well when he picked Biden to be veep. Biden is so full of shit and so confident his shit is believable that the thought of his ascendence to the presidency is enough to inspire concern for Obama's well being. Cheney was smart when he picked himself to be Bush the Lesser's veep. Although in that situation, the concern worked the other way around. Clinton and Gore were always neck and neck, in my book, but both had the potential to be worse than the other. So there was belt and suspenders, reciprocal insurance. And Papa Doc Bush, no slouch himself in the role, had the modern pacesetter for the breed in Dan Quayle.
In the rush of oohs and ahs over Romney's selection of Ryan, the insurance angle is getting limited play, but Ryan has it, bless his heart. He's perfect for the job. Team Romney is to be congratulated. It can't have been easy to find someone so repulsive that prayers for Mitt's safety are understandable. Ryan manages with room to spare. He'll fire up the base, both Democratic and Republican, and if it's the GOP's consensus intent to throw the election, he's got the chops to help make it happen.
For all that he gives Romney, the major beneficiary is nevertheless Obama. Ryan's policy posturing fame comes from his "courage" to take on Social Security and Medicare. The Ryan-Wyden plan is vicious and crazy. Obama can draw on Catfood Commission proposals and look "reasonable" in comparison. The liberal poindexters and ichabods will eat it up, however much it chokes them. They're already primed to fall back on Supreme Court appointment arguments, the last refuge of increasingly less useful idiots.
Yes indeed. Step right up, folks. Step right up and don't crowd each other now. There's plenty of room. Circus SMBIVA has a treat for you. From the wilds of the untamed Beltway, by way of the intertubes, we have a genuine geek, who is prepared to bite the heads off chickens for your entertainment and edification.
Color me surprised. The last time I read FDL, it was page after page of 'lookit teh wingnut!' The ankle biting squads, nader-baiters and moderators went batshit over lese majeste. They gassed their own people, if you will. So what's the deal with this? Is it real?
The Church of St. Dichotomy is preparing for the quadrennial celebration of its first congregation's horrific yet blesséd martyrdom. According to the familiar legend, St. Dichotomy appeared before them, leading two giant weevils, and offered them a choice. "Pick one," he said, "and I will bless it for you."
To make this section of long story short, they picked the wrong weevil. St. Dichotomy blessed it anyway. Once it had eaten its fill, he urged them to examine their individual opportunities and moral character and on that basis determine which weevil was most entitled to eat them. There was some muttering about seriously fucked up choices, but the saint pointed out that one of the weevils had yet to be fed. That led to even more muttering. Threats were made, but the cops showed up with pepper spray and an aura of sanctity was restored.
In the midst of the fantastically overblown witch hunt, what would happen if the hunters assigned to the task came to their senses? Maybe not all, or not many of them, but more than one; just walked right out in the middle of a "planning" session. Got up. Left. Hopefully with a scathing parting shot, but even a mocking smile would be cool.
For a special dose of irony, there is one person who, for real, bases economic decisions and policies on the Lump of Labor Fallacy: President Obama, who believes there is a fixed and finite amount of work, so any gains in productivity will necessarily reduce the number of employable workers.
I've seen some seriously nasty efforts to bully people into voting for the Blue Plate Special, but this year's Democratic hystrionics are way off the scale. The surface problem is obvious. As Bill Fletcher, Jr. observed, advocacy based on the Democratic record collapses under the weight of its own stench. There's no positive record to work with. The "nice" brand of advocacy has to take the form of pleas to participate in deranged comparison shopping. This is not just any lemon, ladies and gentlemen, this is a genuine proletarian lemon, certified by veterans of Students for a Democratic Society. It's far superior to the bourgeois wingnut lemon. It enhances your unique sense of self. The neighbors will feel like fools when you drive off the cliff in style.
Does it matter how you look when you drive off a cliff?!
As a diversion from our regular deprogramming, here's how to write a Malcolm Gladwell column and/or produce a Freakonomic insight. Trawl through the public health stats to find something morbidly provocative and, from that, pick the areas with the highest and lowest incidences of it. Trawl through completely unrelated stats, such as numbers of baseball players or jazz musicians, and insinuate a correlation. But be careful! It has to be allusive.
Once that's done, it's time to change the topic. You need three anecdotes that show an interest in the human condition. Basically, anything will do. You can tie it all in to diabetic baseball-playing jazz musicians later on. Throw in something about leprosy and nightclub trends, if you can manage it, and switch back to the datamining.
Still with me? Good. You've reached the place where it's time for a "more in sorrow than anger" paragraph. It explains that your topic is one of the social phenomena few people have the time to research. Feel badly about it. Make sure to elaborately not blame anything specific. Keep not blaming until you're sure your targets are indicted.
That's it. Half-bake the results, serve cold and live large.
PS: you can produce publishable socio-biology this way too. Work in something about attractiveness and drop prurient hints if you want to make it really publishable.
I think I can explain. I'd parked my van at the address I'd been given by the landscaping company and was getting out the gear for treating sick fruit trees. This crazy old coot came running over to me. He was yelling something that sounded a lot like, "Delenda est Carthago!" and he was carrying, of all things, a blunderbuss. The situation would have been comical, but he tripped, the blunderbuss went off and the windshield of the van exploded into fragments.
"You asshole!", I shouted. He glared at me and hobbled back into his house. I called the dispatcher, who laughed and said, "Yeah, that's the right address. He's always doing something crazy. We'll bill him for the windshield. Just treat the trees and I'll send someone to come pick you up." So I did, and I figured that was the end of it.
But now I'm a "passerby" who was trying to steal his peaches. What an asshole.
Once more into the Lump! Today's humps are to be found in the filthy precincts of the NY Times. They humped the Lump with a claim that productivity increases occur in a fantasy continuum. Read the Sandwichman and follow his link to Baker, one of the few credentialed economists who doesn't hate labor.
Just got fired from what will have been, with luck, the last job I shall ever have. Though there's a mountain of debt and a lot of money worries, I feel as chipper as an eight-year-old whose school just burned down, with no loss of life -- apart from the assistant principal, a person whom one could live quite well without, anyway.
When I first went into the corporate world, years ago, it actually seemed like a nice change from graduate school. Yes, of course, you had some of the same nit-pickers and petty tyrants, and being a Red then as now, I was well aware that the corporation was not essentially a benign institution. But one had to pay the rent, and there was a certain air of purposefulness and shared endeavor quite lacking in Academia, at least as I had experienced it. And of course, inside pissing out was better than outside and pissed on.
Over the years, however, I found the corporate workplace becoming ever more brutish and bosses ever more depraved. One was increasingly more pissed upon than pissing. Even so, I was not prepared at all for my most recent boss, a ferrety sly-eyed rat-faced runt who rapidly became known to my family as Buffalo Bill, after the memorable character in Silence Of The Lambs.
Many -- okay, most -- of my bosses over the years have objected to various aspects of my character, most frequently a certain want of deference and a definite tendency to goldbricking, charges to which I cheerfully plead guilty. Bill, however, was the first one who tried to tell me that I was also stupid and incompetent.
It was really an extraordinary experience working for the guy: everything you did was wrong. If you asked a question, it was a stupid question. If you didn't ask a question, you should have asked it. Perhaps bosses like this are more abundant than I realized; if so, clearly I've been lucky so far, though I would have said that I had seen some doozies in my time.
I wasn't the only person down there in the well, getting the hose, of course; there were a half-dozen or so others in my particular well. Never worked in a place where there was so little idle chat, badinage, persiflage, razzola, bonhomie. We would sit around at the bottom of the well -- a rather small well, too; individual offices are a thing of the past -- for hours, sometimes, without a word being said. When people did speak, it was in a curious tight-lipped Laconic style, as if any chance word might provoke the hose, and so the fewer said the better. Even when Bill wasn't physically present, the air of repression remained thick, as if each of us carried a little eidolon of Bill around in his own head.
My short run at Bill's shop -- let's call it Punish, Inc. -- was terminated, I think, largely because of my lack of zeal. Bill himself was very 'into' the business of Punish, very invested, cathected, what you will; and he wanted everybody else to care as deeply as he did. This is something I can't do, and wouldn't want to. Oh, I'll put in the hours, and do the assignments; but you would have to be a very obtuse person to confuse me with somebody who gives a shit.
One used to be able to get away with this attitude; in fact, an excess of zeal would earn you the deserved loathing of your colleagues. That culture of quiet passive resistance among the Munchkins seems to have been broken down. I fear that the Stockholm syndrome of Punish, Inc. has become rather general, and most cubicle rats are carrying around a sneering, contemptuous, accusatory little Bill in their heads these days.
It's hard to believe that this state of affairs can last, particularly since the Bills of the world will never be satisfied that the wells over which they preside are brutish enough; they will never stop installing higher-pressure hoses, with colder water in them. I would like to believe that though people don't prize their autonomy, self-respect, and pleasure nearly as much as they should, there will still come a point when the Bills take their project of hosing, starvation and flaying too far.