Thirteen Observations by Lemony Snicket

This moved me enough to break my blog hiatus. Mr Snicket has artfully articulated what I could not:

Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance

1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.

2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.

3. Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there.

4. People who say money doesn’t matter are like people who say cake doesn’t matter—it’s probably because they’ve already had a few slices.

5. There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.

6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.

7. Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.

8. Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else—a stranger in the street, for example.

9. People gathering in the streets feeling wronged tend to be loud, as it is difficult to make oneself heard on the other side of an impressive edifice.

10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.

12. If you have a large crowd shouting outside your building, there might not be room for a safety net if you’re the one tumbling down when it collapses.

13. 99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.

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On the Supposed Birth of the Altermodern

Adbusters — the de facto magazine of choice for leftist fundamentalists — has an interesting article by Micah White on the (too oft-heralded) death of postmodernism and the birth of “altermodernism.” I think he gets things half-right, and we’ll start with his conception of postmodernism:

“…[A]n essential precept of postmodern philosophy: Western thought has hitherto divided the world into a series of binary oppositions that privilege one side over the other. The political implications of the lesson were clear: Oppression can be traced back to the way we think, and hope of liberation rests on escaping this binary thinking.

The postmodern project of overcoming binary thought, however, is more difficult than it may appear. First of all, one cannot simply flip the terms and privilege what was once diminished – that would merely replicate the binary in inverse. The issue is not which term is privileged but the false belief that existence can be divided into two distinct, competing parts. Thus the task of the postmodern activist became the blurring and problematizing of distinctions in order to destroy dualist thinking. It was all done in the name of political liberation.”

So far I’m fine with this, and he rightly pulls out the political & ethical bent of deconstruction instead of just characterizing it as literary navel-gazing. But I think things fall apart when he starts to spell out how/why postmodernism & deconstruction failed us:

“…[B]y the time the project of deconstructing distinctions was widespread in academia and had filtered down to society at large, oppression lay not in the maintenance of dualism but in the opposite: increasing hybridization. That is the irony of contemporary philosophy: what we take to be a tool of resistance, the application of cutting-edge theory to our contemporary moment, turns out to be a hammer of our oppression. And by rejecting binary thought outright, we were not challenging the status quo … we were helping it along.”

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An Idiotarian Without Imagination

Little Green Footballs named Glenn Beck their Idiotarian-of-the-Year for 2009, which is a fitting, if obvious, selection. It made me wonder about the Idiotarian-of-the-Decade. My nemesis, G. Walker Bush, is perhaps a too-easy candidate. I’ve ultimately decided that such a ignominious award should go to Francis Fukuyama.

Fukuyama is best known for “The End of History,” a 1989 paper based on a lecture that eventually became a full-length book. 20 years after the fact, I’m calling Fukuyama out because the 2000’s saw the clearest implementation of policy based on Fukuyama’s theories, and, simultaneously, the total refutation of these same moronic theories.

Big events in 1989 inspired small ideas in Fukuyama’s head. As you recall, these were the times when the Berlin Wall fell, when the USSR broke up, when the Cold War ostensibly ended. For Fukuyama, these events represented the total triumph of liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Politically speaking, mankind was now at the end of our ideological evolution having successfully reached our “final form of government.” Like all good Modernists, Fukuyama craved a “homogenous state” characterized by “easy access to VCRs and stereos.” It’s very revealing that he considers consumerism to be a hallmark of an advanced society, and not, for example, easy access to healthcare or employment.

Fukuyama is not as well-known in the mainstream as, say, Milton Friedman (or Thomas Friedman for that matter), but he had a profound influence on neo-conservative ideology. If we are literally living at the end of history, if everything from here on out are merely trifling footnotes, what do we make of those who are resisting this history? How do we handle the “various provinces of human civilization” who need to be “brought up to the level of its most advanced outposts?” You wouldn’t be far off if you guessed perpetual war to secure perpetual peace in order that free economies might ineluctably spread to every corner of the globe. In Fukuyama’s old-fashioned metanarrative, those with the wrong ideology are literally backward-looking people, old-fashioned savages stuck in another age. You can justify all sorts of brutal behavior in the name of Progress. Hence the reason, in part, that nuking the shit out of the Japanese was legitimate: for Fukuyama, the nukes literally bombed ideology (not simply, or even primarily, people) so as to permanently erase fascist ideology from their culture. (more…)

What Life Was Like

Maudlin showman Glenn Beck has the blogosphere yapping over a new schlocky spiel that features saccharine eulogizing for a mythical lost era of innocence and sweetness. In a popular YouTube clip from last Thursday’s show, Beck is seen tearing up repeatedly while fondly remembering “what life was like” during “simpler times.”

The insidious nature of nostalgia is on full display here, since Beck’s rose-colored glasses help him forget what life was really like back then. Like most sappy trips down memory lane, Beck’s “life back then” is an ache for his childhood days — ie, late ’60s and through the 70s. Which is what makes his sentimental jibberish confusing, amusing, and sad. When we hear Baby Boomers pine for “the good ol’ days,” they usually have the supposedly-desirable days of the ’50s in mind. I think the clip has gained notoriety for portraying as idyllic two of the most controversial decades in US history. This is the era of Vietnam and the My Lai massacre; of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation; CIA-backed dictatorships and assassinations; peak oil in the US and massive inflation; race riots and the slayings of R.F.K. & M.L.K. Jr. We had Watergate, the introduction of AIDS, passage of Roe v. Wade, and the start of the culture wars, etc ad nauseam… For anyone, especially a Republican, to claim (albeit with a hollow recognition that everything “wasn’t perfect’) that this was a “simpler time” is just laughably ignorant.

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Unconscionable Math

Post-of-the-week is an entry by “Taunter” that’s blowing up the internets. His must-read essay entitled “Unconscionable Math” explains the healthcare industry’s practice of canceling your policy — known as “rescission” — right when you need it most. The money quote:

If, as I suspect, rescission is targeted toward the truly bankrupting cases – the top 1%, the folks with over $35,000 of annual claims who could never be profitable for the carrier – then the probability of having your policy torn up given a massively expensive condition is pushing 50%. One in two.  You have three times better odds playing Russian Roulette.

I don’t have much to add to Taunter’s post, it’s really worth reading all the way through. But it’s scary to think that we’re not even talking about the millions of people who can’t get insurance — these are people who’ve done everything right. So even if you have a great plan, the profit motive requires these corporations to maximize earnings by denying care to people — like Shelly Andrews-Buta or Nataline Sarkisyan — who desperately need life-saving help.

Crisis of Confidence

Listen to what this crazy nutjob has to say:

…In a nation [America] that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose…

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path… that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

Suffice to say, we ignored this yokel and chose the path of self-indulgence. We bought into Faustian economics and the seductive myth of MORE. The above speaker, one Jimmy Carter, went on to ask us Americans to re-think the need for more, more, more. This speech is from July 15, 1979. Carter’s ass was soon soundly kicked by an ex-actor who told us that our unsustainable lifestyles were sustainable after all, that boundless prosperity was our God-given right, that this so-called city on a hill of ours had a moral obligation to spread the shining ideal of consumption. He who dies with the most toys wins.

I began re-thinking consumerism over three years ago. I’m still addicted. I’m still addicted to consumptive habits that console and comfort (currently, coffee). I think one of the things I loved most about hitchhiking was the freedom to stop being such a savage consumer. As Marcuse might say, perhaps “economic freedom” is freedom from the economy — from the grind of “turbo capitalism.” From the mistaken belief that owning things and consuming things will satisfy my longing for meaning.


On an almost entirely separate note: go read “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama” by Christopher Buckley, son of the late William F. Buckley. It’s a very well-written piece with a compelling case.
TGIF.

“Democracy is always a hindrance to the market plan.”

That title is a quote from Naomi Klein, whose Shock Doctrine perfectly explains what is currently going on America right now viz. our incredible economic upheaval. According to Milton Friedman, “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” The ideas lying around are accurately described by Klein as “disaster capitalism,” which is the modus operandi of neo-conservatives who love to capitalize on crises – actual or perceived – to implement policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Even Newt Gingrich seems taken aback: “Watching Washington rush to throw taxpayer money at Wall Street has been sobering and a little frightening.”

They’re throwing taxpayer money at Wall Street via the “Paulson Plan,” a plan so enormous (851 words) that as of Tuesday Sen. John McCain still hadn’t even read it. When he gets around to it (a timeout might help), I suggest he pay particular attention to:
Sections 6 and 10: raise our debt limit by 3 trillion and hands Sec. Paulson $700 billion to play with. Where’d they get this number from? According to a Treasury spokeswoman, “”It’s not based on any particular data point. We just wanted to choose a really large number” (emphasis mine).
Section 8: lets Sec. Paulson do as he wishes without any real oversight – “Decisions by [Paulson] pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency” (emphasis mine). Comforting, eh?

In other words, we supposedly can’t afford $150 billion for universal healthcare but $700 billion for Wall Street fatcats is simply A-OK (not to mention the $400 million per day we’re spending on the unjust Iraq War). I swear off credit cards and my only debts are from school… I get no help whatsoever, but Washington’s corporate drinking buddies can have whatever they need when their own sorry asses get in trouble. It’s enough to convince me that when Vermont secedes I’m definitely going with ’em.

I opened with Naomi Klein and so I’ll leave you with the full text of her analysis of our market meltdown: (more…)

Dear GM

I read in a recent Wired article that General Motors has an annual TV ad budget of $2.9 billion, second only to Proctor & Gamble (I don’t even want to think about how sick their budget must be). Aren’t these figures just digusting? The $2.9 billion excludes radio, internet, newspapers, etc — just television. That $2.9B is just such a stunning number when you think what could be done with that if GM cut out tv ads for just one year. Several organizations seems to suggest that it costs $240 to feed an impoverished child for a year: $2.9B feeds 12 million kids. This happens to be the same number of children “in need of assistance” in the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, etc) according to Concern.net. The cost/year is $363 according to LifeLine South Africa — $2.9B still feeds 8 million children! Other sites suggest slightly different figures on the cost to feed the severely malnourished and starving… no matter how you add it up, $2,900,000,000 is a really absurd number. I have severe doubts about whether a one-year moratorium on GM ads would hurt their bottom line, especially considering the publicity boost a $2.9B charitable gift would provide. Plus they’d still have all their other advertising mediums.

Dear General Motors,
Don’t be stupid: less SUV ads, more food for dying kids. KTHXBAI.
Love,
Kevin