“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, January 05, 2018

As I was going from Montpellier to Paris: comparison of capitalist cultures

Last night, we took the train from Montpellier to Paris. About 50 kilometers from Lyon, we stopped. Somebody had been on the tracks and was hit. This meant that our train trip was extended about 3 hours, so we got to Paris around 1. Here's what SNCF did. 1. People went through the train while we waited finding people who had connecting tickets from Paris and found them hotels - which were complementary; 2. when we got to Paris, the company had set up a stand to give debarking passengers food and drink; 3. when we got home, they notified us by computer of a refund of our return ticket. Immediately. Now here's what happened when our Spirit airplane was a no show in Kansas City last year. 1. The announcement was made after an hour as the airport vendors closed down; 2. no information was given about what to do next; 3. the number of employees to handle the problems of about 500 people were precisely 2 in number. 3. After a three hour wait in the line, these people were instructed to offer you a big 50 dollar discount on your next Spirit flight.
The difference here is a sort of little sample of the differences in capitalist cultures. The capitalist culture in the U.S. pre-Reagan days was very affected by the countervailing forces of labor and an activist government. These two features have died, leaving corporations in the happy position of "regulating" themselves. Hence, the screw the customer ethos after the transaction has been completed, in contrast with the great customer service before the transaction is completed. In France, customer service before you buy things can be bad; but after you buy things, it is pretty superb. SNCF of course is partly, I believe, owned by the gov.
Travelling in the U.S. is either a cheap nightmare or a crap shoot. It doesn't have to be that way.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Thinking from the sixties: Pasolini

Pasolini’s essays are now viewed, with condescension, as typically over the top products of the sixties, when everybody was on drugs. Or something. We are all so much better now.
I myself indulged in the old punk disdain for hippies in times gone by. But my sixties contempt was negated in recent years by the internet habit of archiving – for instance, archiving newspapers. As I go through what, for instance, the NYT was reporting in the sixties, I am amazed at the street brilliance that seems, now, to have so sadly disappeared. In the sixties, the demand for the absolute had not become the demented fundamentalists hope for Jesus’s return – it was the reasonable counterclaim to a world in which nations – the U.S., the Soviet Union – had so elevated their claim to historical importance that they’d stockpiled weapons to end the world if they were attacked. It was all done, of course, without any discussion – better Dead for ever than Red being about as far as the discussion went.

Russia and the U.S. are still dangerously equipped with those weapons, but we have so routinized the hubris that we don’t even notice it anymore.

So the New Left in the developed world was not, really, the product of wackiness – or rather, it was the counter to the ruling, the inutterable and murderous wackiness of the governing class.
Pasolini’s best essays, it should be said, were written after the sixty’s demand for total change ran into the seventy’s administered world of oil shocks and tax breaks for the wealthy. The crisis of capitalism – which is always underneath a political crisis, a crack in the order that ordains the exploitation of the many for the gain of a few – became much too serious, and the intellectual fashionistas, sensing this, went on to discover, like some acid flashback, that the really bad thing was the Gulag. It was either the Gulag or tax breaks for the wealthy, y’all! And so downhill we went, and peeps stopped voting accept for contestants on TV entertainment shows, where, at least, there were a few real issues.
Anyway, Pasolini kept his eye on the total cultural change he saw going on around him. His crow’s eye, the eye he borrowed from the Raven in Poe’s poem. So here’s something to meditate about, from Pasolini’s Corsair writings.

“At present, when the social model being realized is no longer that of class, but an other imposed by power, many people are not in the position to realize it. And this is terribly humiliating for them. I will take a very humble example: in the past, the baker’s delivery boy, or « cascherino » — as we named him here in rome, was always, eternally joyous, with a true and radiant joy. He went through the streets whistling and throwing out wisecracks. His vitality was irresistable. He was clothed much more poorly than today, with patched up pants and a shirt that was often in rags, However, all this was a part of a model which, in his neighborhood, had a value, a sense – and he was proud of it. To the world of wealth he could oppose one equally as valid, and he entered into the homes of the wealthy with a naturally anarchic smile, which discredited everything, even if he was respectful. But it was the respect of a deeply different person, a stranger.  And finally, what counted was that this person, this boy, was happy. 

Isn’t it the happiness that counts? Don’t we make the revolution in the name of happiness? ? The peasants’ and sub-proletariats’ condition could express, in the persons who lived it, a certain real happiness. Today – with economic development – this happiness has been lost. This means that that economic development is by no means revolutionary, even when it is reformist. It only gives us anguish, anxiety. In our days, there are adults of my age feckless enough to think that it is better to be serious   (quasi tragic) with which the e « cascherino », with his long ha ir and little moustache, carries his package enveloped with plastic, than to have the “infantile” joy of the past. They believe that to prefer the serious to laughter is a virile means of confronting  life.
In reality, these are vampires happy to see that their innocent victims have become vampires too. To be serious, to be dignified, are  horrible tasks that the petit bourgeoisie imposes on itself, and the petit bourgeoisie are thus happy to see to it that the children of the people are also serious and dignified.  It never crosses their minds that this is a true degredation, that the children of the people are sad because they have become conscious of their social inferiority, given that their values and cultural models have been destroyed."

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The press wants so much to kiss Trump's ass: why oh why won't he let them?

The strangest thing about Trump’s war on the press is that he is attacking something so systematically sycophantic that it would have embarrassed the courtiers in Louis XIV’s Versailles. The press, of course, would like you to think otherwise, and thus loves to hark back to when it wasn’t sycophantic – almost fifty years ago, during the administration of Richard Nixon. While this is accurate, the corollary that is never explained is that the Democratic party had been in power in the legislative branch almost without interruption since Roosevelt’s time. In other words, the establishment style in DC was set by the aging New Dealers and their kids.

Since 1980, this has not been the case. Although the old idea that the establishment media is “liberal” might even have some merit in a purely sociological way – the chance that a journalist will be more liberal than, say, a middle management person in the petroleum industry is pretty high – that liberalism has been confined, for decades, to a euphemistic approval of diversity, with a blind eye towards the racism inherent in our economy, our system of justice, etc., etc.

There is abundant proof that no matter how abhorrent and mendacious a president’s actions, the white house and D.C. press corps will be there for him. I offer up, as proof, the period between 2000 and 2006. George Bush was so obviously favored by the press corps (which found him the kind of guy that you could have a beer with, against Gore, the kind of guy who claimed to have invented the internet – really, the press loved this false charge) that when he won, there was a sort of holiday of profile pieces. Then 9/11 happened, Bush showed what it was like to panic under pressure, and the press regrouped to laud him as the leader we needed in troubled times. No questions asked for years about how a nation that had spent, conservatively, in the neighborhood of 20 trillion dollars building up a military force that could repel any attack on the “homeland” failed to prevent a handful of Saudi rednecks from hijacking planes and using them as missiles. No question about what the Bush administration knew and did nothing about. Rather, the press spread the idea, which has now become fixed, that there was no way to prevent 9/11. A common sport among liberals is to ask about how Al Gore would have responded to the attack, would he have invaded Iraq, etc. – as if another administration would not have rolled up the hijackers before the ink on their pilot licences was dry.

But the press was just getting started on providing a pretorian guard of publicists for the Bushies. From Soviet style press conferences in which Bush pretended to pick questions from reporters when, in actuality, he and they knew the reporters had been handpicked previously, to the wonderful rapport between the press and the president when he mocked the whole idea of that there were WMDs in Iraq (the video of this is still shocking), the press was “in on the joke”.

The NYT and the Washington Post signal, every day, that they would love to be loved by the President. To take a notorious example, it is pretty unlikely that, under President Hillary Clinton, the NYT would send a reporter out to do a soft soap portrait of a neo-Nazi. That was surely a rose thrown at Trump. It was in a sense a pledge that the press would go as low as he wanted as long as he tweeted something respectful.

Personally, I think Trump is making a huge political mistake. Bush’s people knew very well that the press is oriented towards thinking that the GOP is the natural party of political power. They played the press is liberal card, but professionally, in a way that the press could respect. Trump though seems as convinced as any Fox viewing retiree that the rest of the press is liberal as the Daily Worker. It is hard to kiss the ass of this president. The press will, however, keep trying.

Watch and laugh! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O35NA6TywAg