Archive for December, 2011

The Centrality Of Security

December 27, 2011

            An acquaintance sent holiday greetings in the form of a forwarded email. It was from the OP Ed section of the 12-25-11 New York Times. In an article entitled A Victorian Christmas, Maureen Dowd looks at the life and writings of Charles Dickens through a contemporary lens (comparing the insecurity of his childhood “homeless” experience and society’s economic inequities, and the outcome on his writings, particularly his Christmas variations). Christmas for Dickens (according to Dowd) involved a reflection on what could have been, what didn’t occur, and what was. This led me to reflect on the times of Dickens’ writing, and what was contemporary to it. In other parts of the world was social upheaval. Slavery was on the verge of ending while industry was forming a proletariat. Marx was responding to this. Darwin was of that day. Historians like to say that the writings of Melville, Dickens, Flaubert and others give insight into the times, what moved the age, the workings of society and the individuals that comprised it.

            A punch line that arises in many angst permeated liberal discussions is that “the revolution took place, and we lost”. The joke relies on the lead up conversation advocating for some kind of radical social enterprise. To a limited extent, the “failed” upheavals in Europe and North America of the 1960’s lend credence to this form of gallows humor. Though lacking the enormous historic detachment (necessary for analysis) of events from over a century ago, most agree that something took place in the 60’s, that what occurred failed, that what didn’t occur was relegated to utopian aspirations, and that the outcome of failure led to what it is we have today. One could liken the resolution of that upheaval of a half century ago to the Father Knows Best TV sitcom of roughly that same time period. The upheaval was around how society “ought” to be structured. In the end, something in charge of society (father), as opposed to society itself (the family), determined what became priority and policy. The revolution took place and we lost. The outcome was of an accelerated social inequity, in earnings and worth as well as opportunity, resulting in the contemporary situation that Dowd connects with Dickens’ life and writing.

            Presently there is social upheaval recurring almost globally, with slow but continuous frequency. We do not have the luxury of chronological distance to assist us in grasping its significance or character. In an essay entitled What To Do With Pictures (October 138) David Joselit likens formatting to the art medium of today. Unlike the material mediums of previous art (paint, metal, paper, etc.), formatting permits digital operations in terms of actions and activity through the use of data. Underlying this insight is the consideration that the art of the last 50 years has shifted and become entwined with the market political economy of today. With the end of art, the “romantic” notion of ideas and utopias has been eschewed for the “realism” of economics. Folks created art for the Medici’s, the burghers of Antwerp, and the European bourgeoisie because ultimately it paid the bills (and sent the kids to college), not because it created new forms of knowledge (which version one subscribes to becomes a matter of formatting the data!). According to Joselit, omnipresent is current art’s involvement with market culture. One would look in vain today for writers or artists whose works reflect the “spirit of the age” (in the manner of the 19th century), in contradistinction to the driving force of the age. But then again, maybe that very collaboration is indicative of the spirit of current social upheaval. Analogous to the grammar of nouns and verbs, the art before the end of art was more concerned with nouns, the subjective elements. The art after the end of art is more concerned with the verbs, the action words that predicate a service economy. Perhaps the upheavals of today are about the disappearance of the subject, the emphasis on the predicate, the ultimate mobility and fluidity of labor totally and solely determined by market force. Symptomatic of this is the increasing pressure to always be connected via an individual mobile communication device, so that anywhere, at any time, the bearer is prepared to accommodate any needed change in activity or action required by the market (always available to be accessed or appropriated). A perfunctory review of some of the issues precipitating upheaval- job security, health care, housing as a “home”, reassurance of retirement consideration, the uncertainty of the everyday ecological environment, etc.- reveals the centrality of “security”. For the limited 1% determining priority and policy, security against terrorism and financial chaos supersedes the “security” issues of the 99%.


December 18, 2011

            The global warming-Al Gore-environmental science-Kyoto Treaty-save the penguins hyper engagement of previous years appears to have given way to the convenience and comfort of Happy Feet, the sequel. The denial of scientific prognostication today is at a level unparalleled even by fundamental creationism. In the event of a heart attack or breast cancer, the global science infidels become the born again faithful of the righteousness of scientific study and research. Our president and legislative leaders have opted for addressing our children’s future by promising their parents jobs today. What these jobs create is of no consequence, be it liquid gold from tar sands or golden opportunity at the neighborhood gambling casino. “Job creator” is present day code for entrepreneurial innovators. Some of these capitalize on their business savvy by rewarding themselves the bonus (er, “performance pay”) of wonderful ocean front summer homes or year round residency- postcard views, fresh air and the endless sound of surf. Our present financial crisis was precipitated by folks finding themselves “under water” in terms of the debt to equity ratio of their owner-occupied real estate. Many have chosen to walk away rather than drown. It is mind boggling to try to imagine the financial crisis that will be precipitated when actual real estate finds itself literally under water. Escaping such inundated investment will require the skills of a sailor or swimmer. No amount of job creation will hold back what is now rapidly melting all over the planet. Even the man made islands of Dubai will be hard pressed to stay afloat. What kind of inheritance is that for our children?


December 12, 2011

The big news out of the recent Iowa GOP debate is that Mitt Romney wagered 20% of an Iowan’s median income. What no one bothered to point out is that anyone at a podium on that stage could have made that bet.

While on the subject of the GOP candidates, those with any previous reading of Palestinians about Palestinians realize how offensively derogatory Newt Gingrich’s description of Palestinians as an “invented people” is. I guess for Newt, Native Americans are an “invented people”. Post colonialism finds many “invented people” now governing themselves after being invented by their colonizers. Even non-colonized parts of the world like the Czech and Slovak republics resist being termed “invented”. I guess Newt will side with the Chinese government; that the Tibetans are an “invented people”.  In terms of globalism, what Mr. Gingrich says is analogous to what many said about Afro-Americans in the 1950’s (and they also made various historic claims to substantiate those views).

This year found the passing of Steve Jobs. This past week found news of Apple opening a super store in NYC. Couple that with Bill Gates’ association with nuclear power plant construction and Microsoft’s co founder Paul Allen’s venture into space, and one begins to sense the waning of the hyper celebrity of technology. Could it possibly be that innovation ownership no longer produces the phenomenal return on investment that it once did?

The Most Varied Things May Happen

December 8, 2011

“Create great holiday memories.” So tout all the current ads for electronics and travel destinations (hard to tell them apart). Going through the mountains the fuel gauge showed E. It was at a quarter when I passed the last civilized outpost of motels and truck stops. Oh well, whatever comes up here in the wilderness will have to do since I also need to go. The only gas station in this desolation had a restroom with a flooded floor where one literally needed to roll up one’s pants to “access” it. A memory I’d love to permanently delete if I could, certainly not re-create. “if I say, rightly, ‘I remember it’ the most varied things may happen; perhaps just that I say it.” (Wittgenstein Philosophical Grammar courtesy Mark Seltzer/The Official World, Critical Inquiry Summer 2011 pg.746). But I digress.

Oh yes, I was thinking of an author, someone who wrote a half century ago regarding colonialism. I remembered what he wrote about, his description of colonialism from the colonist’s standpoint. It had to do with Algeria under the French; the memory of descriptions of how the colonizer, by definition, is in all intent and action focused on deriving the greatest wealth from the colonized without necessarily consuming the colonized in total. The colonizer always must remember to allocate some residual vestige of wealth for the colonized to maintain the semblance of existence and autonomy in order to simultaneously facilitate the colonial process (much as one remembers to feed the horse that enables transit); all for the one, with only the least bit of the one for the all. So the colonizer recognizes the need for hospitals, institutions of learning, orphanages and charitable institutions to be maintained. The colonized are given the autonomy and authority amongst themselves to maintain and manage these from the residual resources allowed them for their everyday continuance (though the colonizers always retain the memory of all the wealth that has passed through their fingers and emphasize that it is their wealth that makes these charities possible).  I remembered the years this covered and the writer having been a doctor or psychiatrist, but I couldn’t remember the author’s name, only vague vocalizations of phonetic association.

I forgot to mention that all this was precipitated by recent criticism of Occupy, that it is misdirected and ineffective. That it would be better positioned to utilize its energy in actually doing “good” through some social or charitable work, like a walk for diabetes, or canned food drive, or maybe some colored ribbons of support. That these activities better reflect solving problems than the occupation of critical expression through performance; something more in line with Newt Gingrich’s “Take a shower and get a job”, maybe at Walmarts, thereby enabling that company to continue to be the number one business donor in America. All this created memories of Empire. I had forgotten that I actually owned a copy (instead of using the library’s as I am want). Certainly Hardt and Negri would have remembered to reference this 20th century African writer. My phonetic pronunciations proved pertinent. There it was in the index.

The titles of his work had escaped my memory but having the name allowed me to search the online interlibrary resources.  My memory of Franz Fanon’s work was of his writings being readily available, with little interest except for the marginal few. Now I noticed that a number of the volumes were listed as missing or checked out.  Truly “the most varied things may happen”.

The 99 and the 1

December 1, 2011

            Earlier this year the newly elected governor and legislature of the State of Ohio passed a law determining state and local government’s interaction with organized public employees (SB5). The reasoning given was simple and straight forward. Hey, we’re broke (the governor). It will give state and local governments greater flexibility to manage their tax payer funded and hard pressed budgets (the legislators). The law was challenged by a referendum resulting in ugly insinuations that unionized public workers get paid too much, do too little, and in no way reflect the conditions of the “real” world. Based on the governor’s pithy assessment, state and local government needs to spend less. One area, accessible and doable, is employee wages and benefits. This past month’s national hiring/firing/first time unemployment figures showed that government’s cutting jobs accounted for the greatest part of the “recently unemployed” statistics. SB5 proponents pointed out that working for less was a step up from being unemployed. A few days after the new law (SB5) was overturned by an almost 2 to 1 margin, new legislative stirrings began to implement a “right to work” law in Ohio. Opponents describe it as a “right to work for less” law.

            Just shy of three weeks after this barometric, controversial and divisive election, Urban Meyer was announced as head coach of the Ohio State University football program. This announcement was similar to others given since the passing of the Woody Hayes dynasty. Each new replacement is heralded as significant, overqualified, and deserving of a greater compensation package than his predecessor. (John Cooper, who received a very substantial contract as well as severance, had the same 6 : 6 win loss record as rookie, crisis-replacement, interim coach Luke Fickell. But I digress). Coach Meyer’s contract pays him $4 million per year for 6 years in addition to $2.4 million in retention payments (Meyer takes Ohio State Job, Newark Advocate November 28, 2011). My Polish calculator (5 fingers plus a string for memory) shows that to be over $7.00 for every minute he breaths if coach is considered as a “salary” employee of the state, or over $18.00 per minute if considered as an “hourly” wage earner (average 70 hours per week, no vacation or holidays – over 120 times what “real” world folk make working two jobs at minimum wage). Whether seated at the training table with his team or relieving himself in the men’s room, the coach will be getting compensated for every minute of it.

            In the November 30, 2011 Newark Advocate guest column entitled Occupy Crackdowns Are Limited By First Amendment, Gene Policinski, VP and executive director of the First Amendment Center, cites Justice Owen Roberts writing in the 1939 Supreme Court ruling of Hague V CIO that “streets, parks and public places belong to citizens”. This is pretty clear with regard to matters of public real estate. Does it also extend to public institutions like a state university, where the employees, including the president and the various sports coaches whose wages are ultimately paid for by the taxpayers of the state, are considered “public” employees?

            “Standing or sitting, 10,000 I’ll be getting” was the sarcastic description of workers under Communist rule in Poland 50 years ago. Today only 1 % of the folks in the State of Ohio can make such a boast.