Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sonhar com Sangue

I

Blood, blood, innumerable arms
All of the people yielding
at once to the force
of these feral stones
Brain? a blowfish, a squash, but knotted with blood
that threads round after beating is done
Not the bloody days of books and years
I fascinate the man on the street, 'Of course,' he says
'You curved your body to be played and trounced'

II

Once in awhile we'll idealize
It is what it is, we don't get it yet
We reshape to fit
an identity cast in agony

III

At the bargaining table
Be artless and demure
Let your arms quake 
If we don't get what I want

IV

Blood, blood, innumerate terms
The views of another
found lifeless out of many
one brain chasing itself through open doors and windows
just as we were about to close them
The paroxysm had begun. 'Give in, give in.'
'We're doing this for you' I said with one voice
'I can't bear disobedience'
His face black as Macbeth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Myth About Globalization

Over at Digby's place, David Atkins has argued against any cuts to Medicare or Medicaid as part of a laughably unnecessary "grand bargain" meant to avoid the largely mythological "fiscal cliff," by referring to increasingly depressed wages of working people in the U.S. But in a recent post, he repeated a myth about how globalization has factored into the downward pressure on the livelihood of the vast majority of Americans:
Now, it's certainly true that we live in a brave new world that structurally advantages the wealthy: labor is global and expendable, jobs are increasingly mechanized, the world is flattened, vertical integration and economies of scale are commonplace. But as Hacker and Pierson persuasively argue, this is also a product of intentional public policy, including (as I have frequently argued) an obsession with inflating assets over wages.
Atkins correctly points out that a major part of the story that explains the stagnation of median incomes has to do with wealthy elites using their effective capture of the U.S. government's policymaking powers to advantage the ownership of assets over the earning of wages. I would add that they have also sought to advantage certain types of wage earning that occur only in the upper echelons of the income ladder (the carried interest loophole for hedge fund managers is one example).

In effect, a whole political movement that has often characterized itself as group of small government conservatives has in reality enacted a Great Wealth Transfer to benefit the rich and politically well-connected. Writers like Jacob Hacker, Harold Meyerson and Dean Baker have carefully articulated the specific big government policy mechanisms by which the Great Wealth Transfer of the last three decades has taken place. The mechanisms include everything from highly dramatic union busting to extremely dry changes in tax and trade policy.

But Atkins' makes a mistake when he repeats a well-worn canard about globalization's role in creating a "brave new world" where high income inequality and working class insecurity happen as a result of the magical workings of the free market.  This appears to be a serious misapprehension of the facts even among the well informed who are aware of the real story.

Harold Meyerson recently wrote an article about the current state of American labor movement that makes it eminently clear that globalization was not actually a significant factor contributing to the decline in median incomes in the U.S. in recent decades. There are two key ways to understand this. First, the vast majority of U.S. jobs can't actually be outsourced. And if globalization were a major factor, we would expect to see less of a contrast between the economic experiences of the U.S. and Germany, both of which cannot compete with the low wages of the developing world, but have very different stories when it comes to the trajectories of working people's wages.

There is simply no need for thinking people to invoke globalization to explain the Great Wealth Transfer. The evidence suggests that the Great Wealth Transfer is almost entirely the result of the policies of the U.S. government, as lobbied for by organized cliques of the wealthy and well-connected. And notice that I use the plural, 'cliques,' because this is far from being a single grand conspiracy. It's merely a matter of a bunch of different people with converging interests having an enormous effect in the aggregate on lawmakers in Washington.

It's time to bury this myth about globalization once and for all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dispatch from Barsoom

John Carter
2012.  132 minutes. USA. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Watchdate: 3/10/2012.
John Carter was a lot of fun. It's much more engaging than Avatar even if the visual spectacle of its world isn't nearly as fantastic. The Disney marketing wizards really screwed up, their advertisements seemed weirdly confused and even ashamed of the movie's story. The movie is just a really well-executed adaptation of the precursor to Star Wars, Avatar, Indiana Jones and all those kinds of adventures. That shouldn't be hard to market. Instead, they removed everything distinctive about the title and went as generic as possible with the trailers. Dumb move, Disney. Dumb move.

But anyway, leaving aside this obsession with money that often consumes mainstream "entertainment journalism" (if you can think of a more odious term please don't let me know), I probably would have suggested cutting or refashioning the opening scene but other than that I have no complaints. It's largely flawless as far as these sorts of mythic adventures go and I would commend it especially for the super jumping (must be seen to be appreciated) and the pig-dog-thing (pictured above).

I was also very pleased with the Civil War era frame narrative. It's like you get to learn about some of the  American mythology that lies beneath the surface of so much modern action adventure entertainment, but you don't even notice since it's such a fun ride.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Other National Popular Vote

Many political junkies are fond of a modest proposal for electoral reform known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, often referred to as NPV for short. NPV evolved out of consternation at the result of the 2000 Presidential Election, in which George W. Bush famously won the presidency even though he didn't receive the most votes due to an archaic feature of our democracy known as the Electoral College along with a friendly ruling from the Supreme Court.

It would be admirable to institute the NPV and move to a system in which getting the most votes guarantees a victory in the presidential election. But why stop with the presidency? Last week, Democrats won more votes than Republicans in the elections for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans will maintain a solid majority in the "people's house." And this is not an uncommon result: in 1996, the same thing happened. Democrats won the House elections in terms of votes but were still in the minority in the next Congress. There were three other similar instances in the 20th century.

This is completely crazy. The House of Representatives was specifically designed to reflect the will of the people. But if a majority of Americans can't return the majority of their choice to represent them the House, that purpose has been seriously perverted.

Some argue that this result reflects gerrymandering undertaken by Republicans in many state legislatures after the 2010 census. But if you actually look carefully at the data, gerrymandering only accounts for a portion of the result. In any case, if we changed our electoral system to elect the House of Representatives based on something like proportional voting, we could eliminate the problem altogether, gerrymandering and all. We would also get the added bonus of attenuating the incentive for representatives to seek out earmarks and other special benefits for their home districts.

Might this reform damage the geographical diversity of the House of Representatives? Perhaps, but we already have a Congress that doesn't represent most forms of the diversity of our country's population. Most egregiously, women are severely underrepresented in Congress. We are nowhere near the 50-50 gender split that would reflect the population accurately. Congress also heavily overrepresents millionaires and tends to underrepresent racial and religious minorities. I would hope that people would evaluate geographical diversity as a desirable outcome alongside the other forms of desirable diversity, but this is no reason to avoid moving toward an electoral system that allows the people with the most votes to win.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mistranslation of a Tale of Barbaric Adventure

It's that Eissales was ambushed by abstract warriors
in the dead of a dog
on a foray (Yilmaz told me it was a visit to kin)
Their plan was to sell Eissales to his mortal enemies
(for a price, of course)
Stripped down to the body, tied with leather and stuck in tents
(with only a greenhorn guard idling outside)
Eissales chewed through the straps
Knocked over the guard with a two-finger jab between his head
Stole the knife and scalped the youth
and cut off one of the boy's legs
(all in what Yilmaz related to me as "one swift movement")
After escaping into the Dark Forest
Eissales survived on the leg
'til he reached the cabin of his strapping partner
(a sojourney that would have been two hundred miles in those years)

Monday, November 12, 2012

From the Daily Report of the People’s Attitudes

17.4.22

Today confusion and cynicism are at a high level. There is little mention of the Manufacturing Warrens. A great deal of neurotic chatter is focused on the rumor of further shortages.

1. Today the reaction is probably darker than at any time since the Collapse.

2. There are signs of desperation appearing, for the first time a definite sense among some quite ordinary people that now we cannot possibly recover. As always, many people are trying to be optimistic. They express their faith in an ultimate redemption. Only a few still express that it will be possible to emerge from recent events back to a higher level.

3. It is on the whole assumed by most people that the network backbone will fall. There is doubt and anxiety as to whether or not this would indicate the total breakdown of communication. As usual, there is a lack of opinion leadership from above to guide the people in this grave affair.

4. The Manufacturing Warrens are scarcely mentioned today. Nearly everyone is so unhappy about the situation with the network backbone.

5. In Echelon, people are in a nervous state. But only about 7% are using biomodification. Exceptional attention is being paid to the current, and in recent days it has been a challenge to buy provisions after sunrise, so rapid has the demand been (seven borehole settlements studied regularly).

6. In Aquinas, people seem to be more placid, adopting a wait-and-see approach.

7. In Borehole 4, people are worried about the failure of the network backbone. But they reacted in a relatively reserved manner to periodic bombing heard during the night.

8. Consternation after the current last night could be accessed by relatively few people. A considerable number lost access soon after it started. Those who accessed it wholly seem to have liked it for the most part but rather vaguely. Objections included: the subject addressed lacked sufficient topicality, and the people did not know anything about the speakers - the Secretariat did not make any attempt to introduce the speakers, because of the false assumption that everybody "already knew."

9. Method note for Audience Research: Our recent surveys suggest that many people turn off post-current programming after “giving them a try” or “seeing what it’s like,” etc.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Noisy Puppetry

Alice
1988.  84 minutes. Czechoslovakia. Directed by Jan Švankmajer. Watchdate: 5/7/2012.
The sound effects in this movie might be the most unpleasant noises I've ever experienced. Even if I leave that aside, along with the annoying device of showing Alice's lips speaking "he said, she said" every few moments for the entire running time, I still find that I like this movie better in theory than in practice. Sure, there's some inspired bits of stop motion animation, sure, this story deserves a dark, fucked up interpretation like what Svankmajer attempted, but it's faint praise to say this is much more interesting than the mostly disastrous Tim Burton version. I did absolutely love when Alice crawled into the desk though.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Whining White Pieces of Shit

"Comic opera." - Lancaster Dodd
From left to right: Whining White Pieces of Shit
Behold the outrage generated by that most outlandish breed of reactionary, the Whining White Piece of Shit:
When I'm at the Wal-mart or grocery story I typically pay with my debit card. On the pad it comes up, "EBT, Debit, Credit, Cash." I make it a point to say loudly to the check-out clerk, "EBT, what is that for?" She inevitably says, "it's government assistance." I respond, "Oh, you mean welfare? Great. I work for a living. I'm paying for my food with my own hard-earned dollars. And other people get their food for free." And I look around with disgust, making sure others in line have heard me.
In response to President Obama's reelection yesterday, the Whining White Piece of Shit quoted above plans to boycott any business that accepts food stamps among other measures intending to show his absolute contempt for all Obama supporters and for the government programs with which this Whining White Piece of Shit disagrees. If this Whining White Piece of Shit meets any Obama voter in the street, he will shun that person immediately and spit at the ground to register his disgust.

Last night, another Whining White Piece of Shit sat down across from me on the train and proceeded to open his laptop and blare tuneless metal songs to everyone sitting in his vicinity. At one point, the Whining White Piece of Shit carefully withdrew a dollar bil and proceeded to wipe his forehead and face with it. Initially confused by his abnormal behavior, I realized he was a Whining White Piece of Shit only when I stood up to leave the train and glanced back in his direction to read giant black capital letters spelling out "Ryan Rubio 2016 Save Us" filling the entirety of his laptop screen. This Whining White Piece of Shit was having a quasi-psychotic tantrum due to Obama's reelection. The particulars were different but the condition was much the same as in previous case.

Whining White Pieces of Shit believe that undocumented immigrants ("illegals," in their parlance) get free health care and all sorts of other handouts from the government. They believe that fully half of the country is shiftless and irresponsible. In the words of their recently fallen standard bearer, this massive cohort of parasitic Americans has the temerity to feel "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

This is not just a series of anecdotes. One of the two major political parties in the United States now bases its entire political appeal on feeding the feelings of resentment, victimization and self-pity that course through the veins of Whining White Pieces of Shit all over this great land. The Supreme Court has just heard a case brought by a Whining White Piece of Shit who is convinced that the undue privileges of racial minorities, and not her subpar SAT scores, were what prevented her from attending the University of Texas. And there's hilarious pictorial evidence of this phenomenon as well.

But in addition to being pretty funny and undeniably pathetic, it's also the main reason we can't have a serious conversation about climate change even as the effects of global warming become ever more apparent. It's the reason we aren't employing the massive idle resources in our depressed economy to rebuild our decaying infrastructure. It's the reason we have to talk seriously about the trivialization of rape. It's the reason we have to fight for our right to vote. In short, it really blows to be stuck in the same real world as Whining White Pieces of Shit who spend most of their time living in a fantasy world where they lack all privilege and African-Americans, Latinos and young people have everything handed to them on a silver platter.

I just hope and pray that I never become a Whining White Piece of Shit myself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Also Known As Book Lust

Larry McMurty recently auctioned off a sizable portion of his collection of 450,000 books, most of which resided in Booked Up, the book shop he owns in Archer City, Texas. This has inspired me to confess to my increasingly unstable obsession with book stores in general, and finding all the good ones in the San Francisco Bay Area in particular. This syndrome is closely related to a condition known as book lust.

The motherlode book shop in the Bay Area, so far as I've encountered thus far, is Green Apple Books on Clement Street in the Richmond District of San Francisco. I finally made it over to Green Apple over the summer and was quite overwhelmed by their vast and varied collection. I felt some anguish when I had to leave before being able to explore their second floor.

Green Apple is not quite as historically or culturally important as City Lights Books in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, but somehow it feels even better to browse Green Apple's seemingly endless stacks. City Lights also publishes books, including lots of translations that bring exposure to international literature that otherwise wouldn't have any readership at all in the Anglophone world. Aside from City Lights' own publications, it appears to me that Green Apple has a slightly better selection, as well as having the advantage of being less of a tourist destination.

I would also like to give honorable mention to Modern Times Books and Dogeared Books in the Mission District of San Francisco, and Moe's, Shakespeare & Co., Half Price Books, and Pegasus Books in Berkeley.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Turkish Travels No. 6

FETHIYE 5/30/12 - We are on a dolmuş, a small, cramped, hot little rocket to Kayakoyu. Kayakoyu is a Greek village in southern Turkey that was abandoned after a 1923 "population exchange." We are with Brandon, an Asian-Australian fellow who had been living in London for the last couple of years. Shortly after Turkey, he's taking a 5 month trip to South America. He's been out of university for at least five years now, so it sounds like it's possible to do such things after starting a career.
Kayakoyu, Turkey
Sitting in the ruins of this 17th century Greek Orthodox High Church, I am reminded of the pictures I have seen of the bombed ruins of World War II era Europe. Yet this city wasn't bombed, rather its population was deported almost ninety years ago. Since then, nature has taken its toll. Staggering.
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