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Archive for August 31st, 2009

overheard

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So the order comes down to sublimate all of the brackish, churning stuff into the work. Sounds like a great idea; I’ve thought the same thing or at least something similar often enough. So then you rear back, perhaps you sit down, rest your forehand on your hand, stare deeply into the dark bit inside yourself (only a metaphor) and try, by the magic pulsion of interior eyebeams to move cargo X from pile Y to pile Z. You picture the boxes of Stuff lifting out of the big stacks by little stacks and levitating automagically over across the warehouse floor and into another place, a place marked Z: The Work. You repeat until almost all of the stuff has shifted.

There. Done.

And so you take your forehead off your hand, you elbow off the table, you open your eyes and click on the Microsoft Word icon in your Dock. A blank page. You type and bit and then erase a bit. Repeat this gesture a few times. Nope. Nope. Looking in again, the boxes have slipped back. The floor must be skewed, the bottom of the boxes greased. Perhaps it’s subsidence, the dreaded discovery that the ground beneath your beautiful warehouse has shifted in the thiry some years since it was built.

So you pick up the house phone that’s hanging there on the wall of the warehouse nearest the door. Sometimes you know you’re connected to the boss (really, only ever the boss’s paid consultant) but generally you leave what you have to say on her voicemail.

You tell the story, this story, except it’s told in the first person instead of the second, the past tense rather than the present. I tried, by the magic pulsion of my eyebeams and as you suggested, to move cargo X from pile Y to pile Z, but…

There won’t be a response tonight. Tomorrow there will be another consultation with the consultant. You will have to tell the story again, right from the beginning, and again in first person and again in the past tense.

One day, everyone agrees, you’ll get the boxes moved and the boxes will stay where they’re meant to sit.

As you wait for the call, you distractedly wonder whether the single word written on the side of the boxes – the word PERISHABLE – is the name of the company that makes the items or a description of the items inside until you realise how stupid you’re being. Next you wonder if you are getting enough sleep and enough to eat.

And then you come back from inside to here, the kitchen table, close the Word doc, open Firefox, and then you write this post.

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August 31, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Posted in overheard

costa theatre

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Writing a piece about the place I used to live, due Tuesday, so there I was at Costa Coffee of a Sunday, yesterday:

Hipster-hippieish type comes in, with his red t-shirt and woollen cap, tries to game the girl at the counter with the “I gave you a tenner, not a fiver” routine. She insists. He says what one says: “I know what I had in my pocket and it’s impossible that I could have…”

She heads back to the back to review the CCTV. He sits in a corner with this latte. She never even stops on her way back, walks right past him with out comment or glance, back to work at the till, and he sits in a funk of awkwardness – a lazy decadent twit, not as clever as he thought, who’s just tried to game the Bangladeshi girl out of £5 that she’d end up replacing out of her own pocket, tried to steal an hour of her life but failed. Fuck this. Fuck her. I’ll sit out my coffee and hit another one. Fuck all of this. I’m not going to leave and let her see that it matters to me, any of this.

Then a young couple, baby hung in a harness which in turn is hung on the petite her of the her and him, come in, order. She lectures, in great detail and with increasing frustration, the barista on a better way to make the drinks that the barista makes all day, makes for a living. It is a matter of technique; perhaps the communication of better technique to employees of chain coffee houses is how this one does her share of world improvement. Knowledge transfer, the art of living.

Then, just as before, the turn. The creepy guy who is here all the time, incredibly skinny, dressed all in black and with a pointed beard and a cane (one might think junky, or even HIV-infected junky, but I am actually going to go with MS afflict, like my mom, from the way he walks…. There’s a softness to the way MS-types move through the world, and he has it in spades…) lurches over to her and begins to coo and cack and their precious one. Mom is forced to lock her feet and smile nervously. These are the things that one deals with living in the city, and I must bear it, I must be tolerant, though I’m increasingly unsure just why that is the case. At least something like that.

Street theatre. Love it. It’s like nature but with money and words. Like the best sort of tv but on all the time and for the price of a single cup of coffee or even for free.

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August 31, 2009 at 8:24 am

Posted in coffee places

our enclosures and theirs

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From the front page of Saturday’s Guardian:

James Murdoch repeated his call for the BBC to be reined in today, saying that the corporation should have its licence fee funding reduced by government so that it becomes “much, much smaller”.

In a question and answer session at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival following last night’s MacTaggart lecture, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia suggested the licence fee should be reduced significantly.

“If you simply constrained the expenses – with plenty of advance warning – the next [licence fee] settlement or something like that – [you say] the number is ‘X’. We have got a huge debt pile in this country. We have financial issues. I think the BBC would prioritise pretty fast,” Murdoch said.

He added that the corporation’s 24-hour news channels and website were inhibiting the ability of commercial competitors to invest in news. “The news operation is creating enormous problems for the independent news business and it has to be dealt with,” he said.

“The BBC should not be in the business of competing with professional journalists. The consequences [for] independent journalists is probably the most urgent one to deal with.”

So the point would seem to be that any public provisioning of goods or services, whether efficient or not, crowd pleasing or not, must be considered first and foremosts as an enclosure of a space where profit could have been and should be harvested. I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing quite a lot of this argument in the next few years – we already are, both here with the BBC and in the US with health care reform. The problem is that according to the rules of the game as currently constituted – in the political structures and ideological atmospherics of our time – Murdoch and the like have their point. If GDP is the only metric that matters, of course they are right.

Perhaps nothing illustrates so clearly the inefficient efficiency and aggregate brutality of markets as a means to distibute things we need than the fact that if there’s something we can with relative ease give out for free we, following our logic, allow someone, set up a tollbooth, and charge a premium for access to it. Just because it’s better for someone to turn a profit than for no one to turn one.

What’s left? Those public sidewalks (called pavement here, which is something different, though similar, at home). Why should everyone happily walk around on those nicely paved paths, all for nothing, when they represent a massive opportunity to grow profit. Why not distribute contracts for corporations to build very fine wooden boardwalks, one inch above the public ground, complete with coin operated turnstiles at the begininng of every block? Perhaps just a micropayment, a penny per go.

Not only would it be a tremendous boost to the economy, but these boardwalks would foster the efficient delivery of sidewalk access, as those who didn’t really really need to go for a walk would stay off the public thoroghfares, especially during peak hours, when we might well charge more.

And once we had the boardwalks-over-sidewalks system running, I’m sure we would find lots of other opportunities for this sort of economy boosting operation. There are the obvious candidates of course – socialized systems of medical care, public or even private not-for-profit education provision (Princeton University as an infringement of the right of the University of Phoenix to operate a high-end profit-based university in central New Jersey), public libraries (could save a flagging Blockbuster Co.), police and fire protection, etc.

Perhaps when all of this was done, we could move on to the truly large untapped markets, such as that which would be generated by enclosing our living spaces in impermeable plastic bubbles, from which the air is systematically withdrawn and then reintroduced. Perhaps some state subsidy would be available for the poor, but there’s no reason that most of us should be simply breathing when we could be boosting GDP by paying for breathing rights, paying for breath on our debit cards or by bank direct deposit.

At any rate, they’re right – even the mildest, most customer friendly forms of socialism are inimicable to the efficient operation of markets. This is because public goods, in the end, tend to win. Can’t have people voting with their eyes, feet, minds, and bodies when we could have them voting with their wallets.

Written by adswithoutproducts

August 31, 2009 at 8:16 am