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Archive for the ‘america’ Category

political parapraxis / detroit bailout

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When the political actors wrap the potential bailout of the American car companies in language of environmentalism, they aren’t being serious, they’re being cynical. There are reasons – some decent, some horrible – why those that want to save these dying corporations, but first on no one’s list is the prospect of forcing to market low-emissions vehicles and the like. It is a marketing strategy, and one that play on a very strange sense that is perhaps semi-subliminally resident in the minds of some voters and many commentators: If the nation controlled General Motors, General Motors could be forced to design and distribute vehicles that would be at once socially beneficial, attractive to consumers, and sustainably profitable. From the NYT today:

“They’re going to have to restructure,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “And all their stakeholders are going to have restructure. Labor, management, shareholders, creditors — everybody is going to recognize that they have — they do not have a sustainable business model right now, and if they expect taxpayers to help in that adjustment process, then they can’t keep on putting off the kinds of changes that they, frankly, should have made 20 or 30 years ago.”

Even the deployment of the slightly – though not much – more realistic sense that the goal of government intervention is going to return these companies to profitability seems to me fairly cynical and not at all realistic. Jobs and shareholders, not necessarily in that order, are being protected, full stop. The rest is windowdressing.

That said…. Each and every time they dress the windows with this sort of talk, every time the government players offer the argument that General Motors or Chrysler would have been better managed by responsible, sane, and forward-thinking bureaucrats rather than their board and corporate management, they turn the wheel of discursive normativity a click toward state management and the economics of planning. The Environmental Protection Agency together with the Department of Transportation could better manage a car company than the invisible hand of the market and the men it selects for ownership? Talk like this, however cynically deployed, was absolutely unimaginable a few months ago. Of course the chatterers on television and the papers will forget all about these arguments when (if!) things improve. But the voters, an ever larger percentage of whom are about to become unemployed, perhaps won’t if they are startled into attention by the shock of what’s coming in the next few months and years.

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December 8, 2008 at 11:29 am

explaining us to each other, part one

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1. At an American public Christmas festival filled with children’s activites and rides, there will be too few (that is, no) stands selling alcoholic beverages. Why such a problem with drinking?

At a British public Christmas festival filled with children’s activites and rides, there will be too many (today at Hyde Park, one out of three) stands selling alcoholic beverages. Why such a problem with drinking?

2. Americans are baffled and intimidated by these:

Britons are baffled and intimidated by these:

3. On a crowded subway train at rush hour in New York, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person B thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. But person B keeps his mouth shut about it, because to talk shit would be – by social mandate – to force person A to talk shit back, and thus to invite serious escalation.

On a crowded Underground train at rush hour in London, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person B thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. Person B feels license to begin grumbling and vaguely talking shit about person A, since – by social mandate – the surrounding passengers will immediately blame person A if he responds in kind in his own defense, even if he is clearly the innocent party from the first.

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December 6, 2008 at 10:29 pm

Posted in america, britain

saturday morning glimmerings

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For half a second after picking up today’s IHT, I misunderstood the relationship between the top headline and the image below it.

Or I wanted to misunderstand it. Of course the image doesn’t have to do with apartment blocks in Detroit doing Che instead of Santa and his reindeer this year but rather is an illustration for just another internally incoherent piece about Cuba and socialism (not up for link for some reason…) Still, still, thrilling when the paper gives you the chance to imagine a different sort of Saturday morning.

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December 6, 2008 at 9:39 am

in parts (free partial ebook in pdf! fiction! mine!)

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OK. I worked on something all summer, every day. As I said before, Starbucks, Tottenham Court Road, 3-5 pm. Everyday. I am dissatisfied with it, and so it has died. Or been killed. It was to be a sort of novel, a novel composed of single page tearouts from “other novels,” chronicling something like the soon to arrive decline and fall of the nation of my birth. Whatever. I’m going to start something new. Eventually. Maybe tonight. Probably not tonight but maybe tomorrow.

But here, for your edification and entertainment, are the first 25 pages of the thing. Maybe I’ll post more later – we’ll see. Yes, the blank pages are intentional. That’s just the point. And some of it already seems a bit anachronistic, given the (fuckit, yay!) even more rapid descent of things than I expected.

But the general themes are adswithoutproductsy. So here it is:

in-parts

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October 15, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Posted in america, collapse, fiction, me, meta

central casting

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Oh dear… The video on the right here (sorry – can’t be embedded) does remind of more than one set of film strips that we’d rather we long behind us and elsewhere…

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October 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Posted in america

when i hear the word “narrative”…

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Some of the American whateverocracy caught on tape discussing Sarah Palin:

Peggy Noonan: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this — excuse me– political bullshit about narratives —

Chuck Todd: Yeah they went to a narrative.

Mike Murphy: I totally agree.

PN: Every time the Republicans do that, because that’s not where they live and it’s not what they’re good at, they blow it.

The rise to centrality of narrative as a term of electoral art this time around is interesting. (It’s been there before, but now it’s all over the place). What’s further interesting is that when these people say narrative, this year at least, they actually mean Bildungsroman. There are of course other forms of narrative that can be yoked to a political cause, but when it comes to Obama and Palin, we’re definitely talking about that form, according to Wilhelm Dilthey way back in 1906, in which a

regulated development within the life of the individual is observed, each of its stages has its own intrinsic value and is at the same time the basis for a higher stage. The dissonances and conflicts of life appear as the necessary growth points through which the individual must pass on his way to maturity and harmony.

I won’t rehearse the narratives in question, but both Palin and Obama’s enact one of the standard lines of passage – basically the unlikely beginnings to unlikely ends sort of story. America loves a good Bildungsroman – it’s sort of the founding national mythostructure, which is no wonder given the period when the country was born.

It was hilarious to hear Palin slap at Obama’s memorimania in her acceptance speech

We’ve all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers. And there is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.

– just after she delivered her own memoiristic self-framing as true Daughter of the Redneck Revolution.

At any rate, there’s a lot to say about the political unconscious of the form, but a few things stand out. First of all, it’s always been a form invested (whether consciously or unconsciously) in class legitimation. Whether focused on the emergence of a newly literate bourgeoisie out of the hovels of the artisans (think Great Expecations, Mr Pip learning his letters and the like) or informational workers from the ranks of the selfsame bourgeoisie or petty bourgies (oh, just about all of them – Portrait is a good example), it does the work of showing the work – the work of self-elevation, the rise from meagre roots whether financial or educational or what have you. And while it’s easy to say that every American election has been about class legitimation – or even that the American democratic political form is a form based on annual selling the populace on the virtues of being led by this particular set of betters – it’s clear that the current crisis in capitalism has forced the narrative of meritocratic legitimacy to the absolute foreground of the electoral stage.

Noonan is of course right about Republicans traditionally having a hard time with “narrative.” It’s easy to see why: the stories are generally fucked-up arcless little numbers, or if they have arc, it comes in spots and is hard to synthesize the “dissonances and conflicts” of these priviledged lives into a coherent story. (Once the Democrats realize that they are most certainly going to lose this election, they’ll hopefully go to work, Rove-style a la 2000, on the semi-narrative of McCain’s Vietnam capitivity, begging the question of what sort of longterm psychological effects trauma like this has on an individual, an individual with his finger on the red button and the like). But she’s undoubtedly wrong about Palin herself (who has been drawn from outside the usual lineup of Yale aristrocrats and Haliburton fixers) who will likely win the election for McCain, so long as they negotiate the tricky issue of fronting the VP candidate because the P candidate is so goddamned awful on stage.

At any rate, all of this is basically the superstructual echo of the basic point of this piece by Aziz Rana on n+1’s site about Obama, the election, and meritocracy.

Throughout our history there have always been multiple versions of the American dream. These accounts held in common the hope that hard work, discipline, and self-reliance would allow those recognized as citizens not only to improve their economic lot and achieve personal happiness, but to participate fully in political life. Today, however, only one version of the dream continues to make sense as a sustainable personal project. This is the dream exemplified by Barack and Michelle Obama—as well as by their former rivals Hillary and Bill Clinton—a dream of success through higher education and a life in professional work. It is a vision of social advancement that leaves little room for historically important narratives of blue-collar respectability.

Rana’s piece, when seen in the light of the “narratives” I’ve been discussing here, exposes a foundational contradiction in the American political system. Or, if not a contradiction, at least a fatal blindspot, an entrenched impossibility. In a system that’s weighted (perceptually if not practically, and perception leads the praxis here) toward the president as the embodiment of popular will, it’s very very difficult to imagine how a “narrative of blue-collar respectability” could ever make its way to the definitive foreground of American politics. Obama may be as close as we could ever get, what with the community organizing and the like. The system is attuned to, and has always predicted, rule by meritocracy, which we all know has never been and will never be based on equal-start merit. And even if it were, would it change matters all that much?

Think of all of those countless numbnuts Hollywood films about unlikely characters bumbling their way into Washington power – the donut eating prole, the dumb blonde, the black dude who didn’t go to Columbia… The tagline of the one pictured above: “In a country in which anybody can become president, anybody just did…” Their disneyfied absurdity, their thumb-sucking popcorn munch, is a register of the fact that none of us, down deep, believes that another narrative is possible here, not at least given the system that we have.

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September 6, 2008 at 11:18 pm

did you get that on record or what?

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We all, today, walk around with a portable archive of Historical Video Clips in our heads. Without checking, we can picture a secondary explosion on the doomed space shuttle challenger, Germans swinging torches and axes as they exuberantly tear down that wall. We all have that green lit gamescape of the anti-aircraft guns firing aimlessly and ineffectively into the Baghdad sky the first night of the first war on Iraq. Perhaps we have Clinton and Hilary swaying to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Thinkin’ Bout Tomorrow,” though we definitely all possess a whole panoply of views and perspectives on the day that the World Trade Center fell – we have two towers burning, we have the cloud of dust, we have Bush at Ground Zero.

But in this line what do we have – all of us, or even most of us – of the new Iraq War? The firework displays of the first moments of Shock and Awe? And then the day that the huge statue of Saddam fell? Saddam as he was about to die? For a present day, ongoing event, I am willing to bet that most of us carry around precious little in the way of those little mental mpegs that start running the moment the concept comes up. The reports of the embedded journalists at the start of the war were too banal to fix in the soft gray spot, and the ugly remainder of the war seems to be strangely (is that the right word?) under-represented on the nightly news, aside from the days death toll, and, in certain situations, accompanying photographs of dead soldiers when they were clean and young and alive.

No, the current war has not been, in the way that both of the previous major US engagements were, a television war. Bad news and ugly scenes make it difficult to sell retirement services to the increasingly elderly viewers of the network’s programs and CNN alike, and from the first days of the conflict the military has done all that it can to keep its arms tightly around the shoulders of the dwindling number of journalists actually working anywhere outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad. And even if the poll numbers have changed dramatically, the news organizations still seem to be extremely hesitant to do anything at all that would provoke the “Support Our Troops!” crowd.

But even if the images and streams never quite make it to our television screens, it is not the case that we have seen nothing or that there is nothing to see. In a perverse fulfillment of some of the irrationally exuberant predictions of the late nineties and early part of this decade, the scenes that are most pressing, the most real, appear via the efforts of what in a somewhat more hopeful time we used to call “citizen journalists.” They arrive, that is, via YouTube and similar video hosting sites. There is something incredibly strange about the fact that many of the most vivid and terrifying images that I’ve seen arrive via a site whose architecture and design seem ideally suited to dumb pet videos, teenagers glamming against the backdrop of their favorite song, or collections of rim shots from yesterday’s already obsolescent sitcom. These videos are forwarded to us, bloglinked, or, especially when we’ve grown a taste for them, we search them out. We view them during stolen moments at the office, late at night in our sleeping clothes – anytime but at an pre-ordained time. They are, true to the time and its habits of consumption, on demand.

The videos are at once, in general, incredibly simple and dauntingly complex to read. They solicit from us prefabricated modes of critical approach, the automatic and issueless discovery of the message in the media and a whole series of parallel pomo-lotry. Or they simply make us cry – for the dead civilians, for the soldiers that are doing the killing, for ourselves. This has happened to me a few times, viewing them in my office. (It is an unlikely scene – I’m a large guy, I don’t look like a crier…) I get choked up, the tears come, and then, eventually, I stop crying and eventually, I do something else.

I remember having this reaction, for instance, after watching this one in my office. It was one of my first.

You cry and you think. You wonder in what possible scenario these people in the car could have be, beyond any doubt, fair targets. There is the body on the road, another that we cannot see but only hear about just inside the door of the building. Perhaps there are others, also invisible, encased in the cars. Unfortunately, perhaps irresponsibly, you think perhaps what a great title or tagline that magic utterance, the Did you get that on record or what? would be. In order to hold off the tears, or maybe just in spite of them, you wrap yourself in this little puzzle of representational intention, in the contradictions and inconsistencies of the piece. It is a trophy on digital media, today’s ear necklace or captured Luger, but how did it reach the web and why? What do we make of the almost altogether unconvincing claim at the end – that no unarmed people were hurt during the shooting, despite the fact that the dead bodies don’t appear to have been armed.

There is a large subgenre of Iraq videos on YouTube that focus on children. Fortunately they are, from what I have seen, less bloody than the ambush above, but in a distinct sense they are even more disturbing. More dangerous to say, they are perhaps the most interesting of the videos available on-line.

It sometimes seems like a generic mandate that the videos include a self-referential phrase, a mention of the fact that the video is being made…. Are you getting this? Can you see this? But what exactly is this anyway? Is it, simply put, a slice of hideous if halfhearted cruelty informed by a viciously instrumental relationship to the occupied other? Or, are we getting it wrong if our readiness to assume the worst? Is it just a game, a moment of absurd interaction between the soldiers and the children? Children do love to run, to race, after all. We are left in a bind, unable to confidently read the clip, and inevitably turn again to the meta-issues. What about this scene made it camera worthy? And what about this video, once captured and, perhaps, sent along to its initial audience, inspired the wider dissemination of it, a dissemination wide enough that we – you and I – can watch it today?

The playful humiliation of children is in fact one of the dominant themes of the posted videos.

The videos stage and restage the intersection of everyday life – and do children ever have anything other than an everyday life, whatever the circumstances? – and the very different tedium, the anxious and defensive routine, of the US soldiers as they attempt to entertain themselves away from identification with the Iraqis least like to assume the position of antagonists. They all wanna be on video. Like they’re gonna see it ever. Like they’re gonna see themselves ever on video. But they all wanna be on it. Fuckers. Recording these moments is an act of cruelty that parallels the cruelty of the soldier’s actions themselves, but both acts share

At times, and despite their brevity, the videos featuring kids threaten to evolve into semi-allegories of the situation of the whole. The never quite fit the bill, but they come close. And in the closeness, they reveal, like some of the better known iconic images of the conflict, the way that patterns of thought and behavior circle up and down the ladder of rank, the hierarchy of violence.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

To be sure there are lots of other clips that feature sunnier moments of contact, soldiers who haven’t been (haven’t allowed themselves to be?), distorted enough by their context to treat children in ways that would land one in prison almost instantly back home. But even in these softer moments, violence or the playful relaxation of violence seem to be the only options available on the menu.

My collection of clips, of course is selective, but is still, I believe, representative of a large number of similar videos available for viewing on YouTube and the like. And perhaps it is just my idiosyncratic way of approaching texts (I teach literature, I am something of a formalist) that tells me so, but it seems to me that the specificities of the medium in question – the very short video clip – has everything to do with the complex feelings and questions that these pieces engender. Or, of course, it is the close synchronization, the uncanny affiliation, between the formal organization of these pieces and the content that fills the container of the form that makes me feel that they are somehow

That is these clips, because of their atomic, episodic nature, the fact that they are too short to allow for backstory or substantive development, too narrow to permit even a glance at context, and the world surrounding the shot. They bring us right up close to where the action is, the real stuff that evades the propaganda strips, only to end abruptly – always abruptly – and, quite literally, provide us only with another set of videos that the formula has deemed “related.”

At moments, I feel like these YouTube videos are the distinctive aesthetic form of our time and place. They show us what we know, and hide what we cannot know. Often what is revealed during these disjunctive moments is a dead body, innocence or guilt unknown, there is no time for that. Or a smiling child who should be crying, or a crying child who should be smiling, but we have to go – there isn’t the bandwidth or server space to stay. And what would we do if we could stay?

They are like episodes, one starts to feel, in some sort of inchoate dystopian work, one which borrows extra intensity from the fact that it is composed of nothing that isn’t drawn from the real world, the world that we share with the children in the videos. Considered together, watched in a sequence, as I have had you do (if with a few interruptions) they come to seem a slow montage rather than a collection of autonomous shorts. As such, we might well expect them to have the disruptive effect that we have long heard arrives of such starting juxtapositions.

One of the persistent tropes of the “speculative” literary works and films involves the fantasy of the subject transformed by the forced viewing of images. Whether the object is reformation or ruin, submission or transformation, nightmares about the idea that somehow we might be reached and altered, or even controlled, by locking our eyes to a series of disjunctive images, a montage.

And in a sense the reach of this trope extends far beyond the realms of speculative and science-fiction and art film into media theory and notions of ideology, as well as more vulgar conceptions about the relationship between, say, represented violence and violent actions, school shootings and the like.

We wait for the image, the conjunction, that will blind us or make us at last see, that will reset the operating system and let us move under a power “not our own” but all our own, just differently, newly, once and for all.

But the right image, the effective conjunction, never comes. We have flags and mothers and cheerleaders, we have the soft core and the hard core, the lynchings, the bombings, and the children. We have the ambush and the dead and the dirty jokes about tiny girls and the flag, and we pang and parallax, but we do not snap.

These film clips lend us access to a world that has passed. The YouTube videos bring us back to the present. We see them, you have seen them, and they will stick, but they will not transform. Nothing does the trick anymore. It is hardly an appropriate message to draw from the digital stuff that we’ve just watched and the bodies that we can barely imagine behind it, but I am not sure what else there is to say.

Just as Theodor Adorno once argued for the reduction of speculation about emancipated society to a basic, simple demand – “There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more” – perhaps we need to develop an aesthetic, a form, that could ground itself in the coarse demand to stay close to children like these, to follow them from start to finish, and not look away in shame and boredom. We must, in short, find an aesthetic with which to break ourselves into compliance with our baser, animalian, that is to say human, enlightened, imperatives.

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September 5, 2008 at 11:10 pm

fragments of a belated bildungsroman

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Nothing better, especially when the drink is out of reach for the night, than to have a nice intense talk about the estate tax, what it means to come from nothing and what it means to come from the ones who came from nothing, the “unfairness” of progressive taxation, rising inequality, working class roots, and elite, parentally-provisioned, university education, with your fucking dad right after Obama’s DNC speech. This is especially true when you can hear the ocean rustling in the mid-distance just beyond the window.

One feels like shreiking (in a little boy’s shriek, the shriek of a three-year old deprived of a goddamned cookie or action figure or something) that yes, one knows, one thinks about this shit all of the fucking time! No kidding! Basically this stuff we’re getting upset about, it’s my life, it’s my job, it’s my vocation, it’s what I eat instead of breakfast and the chaser that follows my nighttime drinks!

Instead, instead, you try to sound like an adult male, and yell something like But dad, there is no more welfare in this country of ours! Clinton took it all away! No black woman is going to get cable tv with your hard earned and “double taxed” dollars. I promise! Obama didn’t mention the reinstitution of social welfare during his speech – believe me, if he had, I woulda heard it!

I think I slipped an ideological disc just now.

Imma see how angry I can get this blog till it fucking breaks.

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August 29, 2008 at 4:16 am

Posted in america, me

angry / american

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People keep telling me they like my angry posts. Of course it’s dawned on me that they might be telling me this to keep me from being angry at them. Or even writing an angry post about them. Or perhaps they simply pity me, bathed as I am in pathetic anger, or maybe they all get together sometimes to laugh at what a bad blogger am I.

Did I mention I’m back in the States. That should be explanation enough, I think. Angryish notes on my travels so far:

Strange to learn today that there are currently no privatized airports in the US. Stewart International in the Hudson Valley was privatized only to be returned to the Port Authority of NY/NJ, and it looks like Midway in Chicago will go private very soon. This is especially interesting to learn once you’ve spent some time living in the UK, where basically they’ve all been privatized, and redesigned to suit their new purpose, profit-generation. I probably should do this in an independent post, but Heathrow’s terminal 4 (which I flew out of) is perfect materialization of the microtortures of everyday life in an evermore privatized world. Long story short: I think we’re all becoming fairly familiar with these terminals that are basically just shopping malls with little doors hidden amongst the shitty shops where at some point, swooning from all your duty-free deals, you stumble onto your plane. That’s no surprise. It’s no surprise, the whole elimination of seating so that passenger-consumers are basically forced to wander around buying things rather than oh-so-unproductively sitting and waiting for their flight.

But Heathrow’s terminal 4, in a subtle way, exposes just how far we’ve gone, and gives a experiental sample of where things are headed. There are a few seats scattered around the terminal. A rough estimate suggests that there are enough seats to accomodate maybe one-twentieth of the total passenger load on a moderately busy day. But what is a bit surprising, even mildly shocking, is a cynical step that the designers have taken that rubs in just how bad things have gotten. In short: there are a few seats, and there are a few screens where you can see what gate you’re supposed to use when they finally, as late as possible, let you know where your plane will be boarding. (In most cases, from what I can tell, they know which gate it will be long before it’s called – these are long-haul flights, the airlines seem to rent the spots. Continental to Newark probably always uses the same gate, etc etc etc). The cynical, disgusting step that they’ve taken is that under no circumstances, in no instance, are the departure boards visible from a single seat anywhere in the terminal. I know this is true because I was bored and had an hour to kill so I checked. You can sit, but if you sit, you’ll eventually have to get up. And probably more than once. It would be very easy in many cases to position the screens so that the passengers can see them from where they’re sitting. The planners have deliberately made this impossible. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a chair, you will soon enough have to give it up to check. You will then lose your seat, and thus be forced to wander the mall again until your gate is called.

This, to me, is an emblem of just what life is like, and promises to be ever more like, as finance capital swallows the last bits of the public and the useful. Life will continue to move from capital’s provisioning of a wonderful set of opportunities toward a stunstick on your ass, keeping you moving as you negotiate the space that once was collectively yours.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to describe how dense my feelings are for Newark airport. It’d be soppy to go into just why, but they are. I haven’t been there in years, but was there the other day. And one of the most interesting things about having a consistent, long-term relationship with an airport is that a lot of the history of the place where you’ve lived is fossilized there. I remember when you could park right up at the door of the bottom level, and then, during the early eighties, when they started to push the cars back out from under the airport and road ramps for fear of truck bombs a la Beirut. The security infrastructure, the gate access or lack thereof, the slow then fast dissolve of smoking areas from everywhere to just the bars to nowhere at all… The flapping Budweiser eagle in the parking lot, now on its way to being owned by ImBev, much to the chagrin of the locals…

I could go on and on about EWR, and perhaps will on my way back…

We have lunch everyday at a place by the beach which is entirely stocked with people just like us, well sorta like us anyway: youngish couples with kids visiting parents and in-laws. All the women look exactly the same. My wife and I were talking about it and, elitist twat that I am, I tried to do it in pigFrench so that we will not be understood by the targets of our bile. Elles sont minces, avont les seins tres petits, et les visages pinchees, angulair, carees, et autres choses comme ca qu’on regarde dans les WASPs… That sort of thing.  A minute later, I realized that the thin, breast-less, angular faced waspy-looking woman sitting next to us was in fact French. Ah, c’est la vie, right class comrades? All in gest, and it’s inevitable that your mari amarican is a trader of some sort, so I’m sure you’ll have the last laff on us.

Of course the men all look the same too, but even less interestingly so…

Starbucks at the nearby Barnes and Noble isn’t, um, the same as the one on Tottenham Court Road where (as I keep saying) you can find me from 3-5 PM each day tapping away. I’m sure the employees are mistreated and generally exploited at both, but the fucking boss here is breaking in two new employees during my daily thirdspace break. She criticizes every single move they make, and does so while looking at the customers with a “what are you gonna do with these fucking semi-legals, eh? Hard to find good help, even during the recession.” I want to lean into them and call their boss a bitch in spanish, but I don’t have the words. It’s puta, right? Es una puta grande. If you reply with the right phrase (please, no fucking around and giving me like some sort of noxious pickup line – I will def google translate before I try) I’ll give it a shot.

I went to get a new drivers’ license yesterday (and in doing so officially “homesteaded” in Florida… huh?) You should get one while you’re here, wherever you’re visiting from. $25.25 and no questions asked. Only one thing. If you go to the one I do, when it comes time for them to take your money, the woman behind the desk may bizarrely adopt a blackface patois and ask for twenay faaave dollah n’ twenay faave cent. (Hard to understand if you’re not American, but trust me – this was pure Eddie Murphyism she was schticking, not southern belletism. At home, just folks, other shit comes after it – trust me.) It may not help to admit that you’re a democrat (sorta, of course) when she’s filling out your voter registration card. You’ll know you’re at the right counter when you see the placard on her desk that reads Calling an illegal immigrant an undocumented worker is like calling a drug-dealer an unlicensed pharmcist.

I’m not enjoying the DNC on TV. Step away from the superbowlic reversion of everything to Charles Barkleyite profundity for a few months and it all just seems so, you know, unwatchable. But my wife and I both agreed and disagreed about Hillary’s speech last night. I won’t go into the disagreement, but we agree she did tilt a bit left, didn’t she? The promotion of unionism? That’s not a phrase I’ve heard lately from the mouths of the dems or anyone. Just for now: interesting that the tilt to the left can function as an in-your-face parting shot, stirring up discontent in the party faithful, but can’t be allowed to be mobilized during, you know, an actual campaign, where it’s all home invasions at 6 AM and Iran nuking bluster. It’s like a parting shot after a breakup, when you pull out the impossibly good material you’ve not been saying all along, stuff that might not even be true, but now, just as it ends, you fire for effect and it stings.

Anyway, off to gotham tomorrow for a long-stretch and all by my lonesome, lucky dog that I am. (Payback for missing the first half of the trip taking care of a cat with a UTI. Yeah…) I’m generally more reverent than angry about NYC when I’m actually there, but I’ll try to scare up some shit from the Southerners at the bar at the (goddamm) Sheraton Midtown for you.

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August 28, 2008 at 7:00 pm

helpful advice from fucking americans

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Lovely country:

To the Editor:

As I read of Diane McLeod’s unfortunate financial plight, I was struck by the photograph of her with cigarette in hand and ashtray on table. I wonder if Ms. McLeod has considered how much she could increase her cash flow if she were to quit smoking. $100 a month? $300 a month?

Jonathan Ballon

Darnestown, Md., July 20, 2008

That’s right, doc. Given that Diane’s now $280,000 in debt, is about to lose her house, has fucked her son’s credit rating, and has been downsized by one of the two jobs that she has, it sounds like an absolutely perfect time to take up the walk in the park that is smoking-cessation. After all, if she’s on a pack a day, she would actually be able to pay off that debt (not counting the compounding interest) in a mere 153 years. Good call!

There is no more American attitude than glancing at an image of a person in great distress and wondering aloud things like (taking the present example) Is that Snapple she’s drinking there? Awfully extravagant. You can bet if I were in her shoes, I’d be making my own iced tea, and with thrice boiled teabags to boot. And a Coke rather than a store-brand cola? How about water? It comes out of the tap, dear, and it’s free. Gee, wouldn’t I love to have a cordless phone. Must be nice not being tethered to the wall, girl chatting on the back porch in the sun with a smoke in your hand… My my my, I’m sure we know what happened here…

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July 22, 2008 at 8:14 pm

Posted in america, distraction

act now to save our chubby children

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MoveOn.org’s latest ad is tailor-made to fuel the usual semi-automatic exchange of fire about “hating our troops,” “loving our troops by hating the war,” and the rest of the dreary playout. But you don’t have to be a right-winger to think this ad is awful. Could the organization have come up with a clearer materialization of the class gap that undergirds any ideological question in this country? Is it possible to show more clearly that the sides of the struggle have formed, that that the game is played between the right and the wealthy center?

(I’m afraid that Obama is yet another vivid materialization of the situation… But let’s hope for the best as we take what we got…)

Alex, I’m afraid, will never fight this war. Not in eighteen years, not ever. He and his mom have been cast as relatively well-to-do (see the hardwood floors, and her BKLYN yummie mummie-ness, and the antique-ish chair in the corner), and the well-to-do will never fight wars again, not in America. There are, however, lots and lots and lots of people with more immediate reasons to worry about what is going on – among other things, their kids are there now. It’s a bit like one of those Save the Children ads, except recast with chubby American kids. “What would happen if the food supply ran out? What would become of young Timmy here? Where would he find his daily bag of Cheez Doodles, his four liters of Mountain Dew? What if, in eighteen years, Timmy can’t afford his snacks?”

It would be an offensive ad, of course. But really, not much more offensive than this one.

(Actually, there is probably a simple fix. Think of how much more sneakily effective an ad would be with a different mom and kid, this time from the sticks, and he’s seventeen, and he wants to enlist because he’s a patriot and there’s shit all else to do in Nowheresville, the plant closed long ago, and now there’s just the hotdog stand at Walmart etc etc. But he can’t enlist, or mom doesn’t want him to, because rather than actually defending the country, he’ll be sent into some quixotic imperialist meat-grinder, come back scarred psychologically like his cousin or in little pieces, and for what??? Wow, that’d be fucking amazing – make that ad MoveOn. Or just Obama – you could be properly dialectical for once, and do a turn on the “against our troops” flag wavers. And then we can talk about my consulting rates…)

Obviously, the well-to-do have just as much reason, and perhaps even a greater duty, to resist the war. But it might be helpful to think through the gut reaction semiotics of your response, what it signals about you and your investments, and what it tells others about where your head and heart really are.

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June 24, 2008 at 11:19 am

Posted in ads, america, uspolitics, video

nervous country

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What is somewhat interesting about this video, to my ears, is the absence of Tennessee accents. Why can’t they find any real drawlers for this vid? Just the one guy with his pool table and his rack o’ rifles? You gotta love, though, the Tennessee GOP pressing the takeaway as: “What I love about my country is the great number of afghan immigrants! they’re so entrepreneurial!”

Also, this, god…

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May 19, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Posted in ads, america

an “iPod government” vs. the EITC

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From the New York Times this weekend:

On many budget matters, Mrs. Clinton’s instincts seem similar to her husband’s. Both favor carefully crafted tax credits that can help people who most need it, that come with relatively modest price tags and that seem likely to survive a divided Congress.

Mr. Obama sometimes talks of his vision of an “iPod government,” with simple programs that people can understand. He also talks of persuading voters and members of Congress, including Republicans, to support his plans.

Ah, whether through coyly rendered insight or dumb luck, the reporter here is on to something in the arrangement of these two paragraphs. The policy opposite of an “iPod government,” in the best possible case of what that might mean is in fact the system (a mainstay of neo-liberal regimes of the last decade or so) of shifting from direct social disbursements to the tax credit form of funds delivery. Google around for “unrecovered tax credits” and you’ll see why this might be the case.

You might start with the wikipedia article on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which includes the following paragraphs:

Millions of American families who are eligible for the EITC do not receive it, leaving billions of additional tax credit dollars unclaimed. Research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Internal Revenue Service indicates that between 15% and 25% of households who are entitled to the EITC do not claim their credit, or between 3.5 million and 7 million households.

The average EITC amount received per family in 2002 was $1,766. Using this figure and a 15% unclaimed rate would mean that low-wage workers and their families lost out on more than $6.5 billion, or more than $12 billion if the unclaimed rate is 25%.

To translate this into UKese, look here. And here’s a graphical representation (what else?) of just why the EITC is a symptom of a politics of neo-liberal complexity, rather than true socialist simplicity:

Easy enough to figure out what’s coming to you, eh? Try it yourself to see. This is the “survival of the fittest” version of the welfare state, designed to fail. Born of actuarial anticipation rather than humane and good faith efforts to help. Perhaps most important of all, even if it does work, it’s designed in such a way that almost no one can understand how it works, or even what it is in the first place. But this too is the point, for if the citizenry was to move about with a sense that they in any sense are thought to be entitled to a living, well…. we simply can’t have that, those are waters that we don’t dare to sail into, etc etc…

Sadly, I’ve not really seen any signs that Obama actually means to take the project of (best case) iPod governmentality up. I suppose there’s more to say – about the difference between best and worst case simplicity, what lies between those poles, and what in the end I think all this might mean… As always more to come…

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May 5, 2008 at 1:16 am

hilary goes dystopian

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April 23, 2008 at 11:42 am

Posted in america

notelitism

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Beyond even Mr Centerpiece here, just the look at the shot. I remember, back when I was in college and we did the eurail-pass thing, we ponied up for a deluxer room in Roma once because we wanted the air conditioning. Deluxe came with a tv too. The shit on it though – Berlusconi’s channels, I suppose, or maybe RAI too. All guys in chicken-suits surrounded by bimbettinos, all chortling, and a dude in a bad suit serenading a pig with the spotlight on. Forty midgets in a phone booth, my secret secret talent, look at what my neighbors dog or daughter can do.

Felt like the end of everything, watching it. The final lurch back in to the marsh. 

And now that’s home and everywhere. Except, in the US, the president begs onto it rather than simply owning the network. Or I guess it depends what the definition of “own” is.  

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April 22, 2008 at 1:46 am

Posted in america, distraction, teevee