Saturday, August 28, 2021

Poem by Karen Chamisso


Not to have been born at all

Was never on the menu,

Oedipus. As you may recall

A little patience, a little tenue


Maybe waiving the right of way

And you would have stubbed

Through your day

Just fine. But you flubbed


Your road rage, buddy.

Not Jocasta’s error.

The queen could have studied

Her newborn’s terror


screaming down the shadowed halls,

then landed a knife in her hubby’s neck –

but here you are without eyeballs

waiting for the check


with your greatest hits behind you.

No regrets. Even in my brief

untidy life, I too

may come to taste similar grief.






Tuesday, August 24, 2021

the ductus of the zeitgeist: we are all fucked here

 the ductus of the zeitgeist

Every social order depends on a social mystery. The conservative wants to preserve that mystery. The liberal wants to palpate it a bit, but will go on long detours never to get to the root of it. The Marxist wants to expose it.
The mystery in our current social order that we knock our heads against at every corner is this: although Western economies are getting wealthier and wealthier, in comparison to, say, the economies of the 1950s, we are constantly told that we are too poor to maintain even the social welfare programs that we once took for granted, much less add new ones. If for instance you tweet something like, we should have free higher public education, you are bound to get a responding tweet that reads, how are we going to pay for it. In vain one points out that actually, we used to have a practically free higher public education system. State universities and colleges in the postwar period were almost tuition free. At the same time, the taxes charged the middle class – the working blue collar and white collar class – were less. How could this be? But you will never find out who killed Colonel Mustard if the board game clue is being played by hired shills of the murderer. To put this in other words: according to the figures, our total wealth is immensely more than it was when the public universities were founded, but somehow we have become collectively poorer and poorer so that we can’t afford what our great grandparents had. Now, one doesn’t even have to be an ardent Marxist to question this story. Instead, one might ponder how we expect to maintain a social system in which the multiple of greater wealth taken home by upper management versus the average worker has zoomed from 12 times to about 200 times in Fortune 500 Corporations. The increase in collective poverty is, of course, relative, and it must be broken down by way of class. In the seventies, the top 1 percent took in 8- 9 percent of the nation’s income. They now take in 22 percent.
The response to this effect of class warfare on the liberal-left spectrum is to call for higher taxes on the wealthy. This is a sensible suggestion, but it certainly doesn’t address what has been happening to the system since, for convenience sake, 1980. It doesn’t address, in other words, the deregulation, the attack on organized labor, the financialization of the economy, the enormous increase in IP law, or the particulars of globalization, which has fed into the fortunes of an astonishingly small class of global wealthy people – the Davos set.
Since this mystery has a readily understandable social cause, i.e. as inequality soars, the people on the lower end find themselves paying higher prices at relatively lower wages, while the people on the higher end invest and “save” more and more, giving them a much greater power over the layout of the socio-economic system - we should expect that the apologists of this particular social order will do their traditional work. Their traditional work is to blame the natural order, and to try to make the state seem illicit, as long as the state is not guarding their property, so called, but trying to sustain its social welfare commitments. The apologists present the money made by the wealthiest as something that they have “earned”, in defiance of classical economics, which would define their wealth as a derivative of non-productive labor. The apologists are always on the prowl to put up one or another plutocrat as a hero and to erect a cult around him or her. In this way, one can keep an exploitative system going until it … goes to the dogs. So, it turns out that demographics are the thing to blame for liquidating private and public pension plans, for zooming medical entitlement costs that are locked into a for profit medical and drug system, and so on.
Back in 2005, I wrote a series of columns about the private pension crisis – of now blessed memory. That was back when there were pensions. Imagine! During the Bush boom years, corporation after corporation decided that there was too much honey in that pot, and through the magic of bankruptcy laws stole it, brazenly breaking their contract with their workers and getting away with it in the courtroom, and being applauded for it in the press. One case attracted my attention in particular: Delphi Corporation, an auto parts maker that was spun off from GM. Delphi was run by a man named J.T. Battenberg III’ in the 1999-2002 period, and he luckily was able to afford any hits to his pension, because for those three years – years that in retrospect led to bankruptcy in 2005 – he made 13.4 million dollars. He had an upper management team that did well too: for instance, V.P. D. L. Runkle made 6.4 million dollars. The press was unimpressed when the shit came down, cause what they saw were assembly line workers taking home bagfuls of the ready, 50 thou per year here, 60 thou there. Shocking amounts for those mere plebes, as was noted at the time by such well known “resistance” heroes as George Will.
From 2005 - sixteen years ago: The WSJ article about the looming default of Delphi’s pension plan is a sort of map to the way the chattering classes give cover to the investment class’s big lie: the lie of our increasing collective poverty. The beginning is classic bizspeak:
“Delphi Corp.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing represents more than just another Midwest metal-bender facing harsh reality. It marks a true reckoning for the traditional auto industry and the end of a 75-year-old way of life in America: that of the highly paid but unskilled worker. It was a noble concept, established largely by the United Auto Workers union in the 1930s. But it cannot withstand a global economy that has ended the UAW's labor monopoly in the auto industry, and a consumer body that won't pay more to subsidize costly employee benefits that most consumers themselves don't have.”
You will notice that the squeeze here is in the traditional rhetorical pattern: the consumers won’t pay because they don’t have benefits themselves. In an odd turn, the cost of production becomes a subsidy. Interestingly, this idea has a cousinship to surplus labor value. But in the capitalist apologetic, “subsidy” has a limited substitution value. For instance, the idea that the workers at Delphi are subsidizing the management or the investors is strictly verboten. We don’t go down that dark alley at the WSJ.
For the past thirty years, our social order – or at least the economic dimension – has depended on reversing the ductus of the zeitgeist. Where we once read from right to left, from new deal to the social welfare state, we now read from left to right, from the social welfare state to gilded age levels of inequality. The current CEO of Delphi, R.S. "Steve" Miller, is getting huge amounts of love in the business press because he has made tons of money taking companies into bankruptcy and dumping their pension obligations. Every once in a while, the oracles speak, and they reveal the ugly little truth that capitalism is class warfare. Warfare, of course, doesn’t have to be total. In the Keynesian order that lasted until the eighties, the truce that obtained allowed the investment class to accrue an advantage, but a smaller advantage, in the economy. This truce has been destroyed piecemeal since, but the price of that destruction has been delayed. We are going to be seeing what it means at a narrower distance to our own flesh in the coming decade, since the devil’s deal of the Reagan era is essentially unworkable: you cannot make a system in which the top one percent of households own 38 percent of the wealth and expect to continue to provide services based on a time when that upper one percent owned around fifteen percent. Obviously, the upper class knows this, and so its heroes are the innovators who draw the logical conclusion: let the dead bury their own dead, or: we can dump the costs of pensions for the workers on the workers and get away with it, cause nobody is going to call for some kind of giveback of upper management’s compensation packages, circa 1970 – 2000. Miller is a hero among business journalists because he’s up front about his thievery. The job, now, is to translate that thievery into inevitability. That, after all, is why we have a business section in the newspaper.
Ainsi Sprach 2005. The news is: it just keeps getting worse.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Thumbsuckers: a collective distemper

 There's an excellent little book by Italian researcher Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini , "Inevitable Illusions." P.P contends that our usual cognitive mechanism suffers from certain mental "tunnels," especially when it comes to probability, causal inference, and what I would call the narrative urge -- the drive to create, out of events, stories that are consonant with the pattern of stories we like. P.P's section on Predictability in Hindsight seems particularly apposite as tv gives acres of camera time to warhawks ranting about Afghanistan. Since the case goes something like: how could the Taliban be so strong? The Taliban isn't that strong. Thus, evil Biden musta done something. Or - the Afghanistans have themselves to blame! which is an easy position for the liberal hawks to attack, you simply have to identify the bribetakers in Afghanistan - the gov and its friends - with those forced to give bribes - Afghan peasants, soldiers and stuff - and you have your story. Like most stories, it needs unified characters, and damn the divisions that might actually fragment them.

P.P reports an interesting experiment, comparing two cases. In one case, a real result, and real prior data leading up to the result, was given to the subjects of the experiment, who were then asked if they could have predicted the result from the prior data. In a second case, they gave the same data, but an opposite result (in other words, they lied). In both cases, the subjects were confident, from the data, that they could have predicted the result. As long as we think we have a certain result, we immediately create a plausible backstory; and in the creation of that backstory we become confident of our power to correctly appraise each piece of evidence.
This is an experiment that should be practiced on thumbsuckers before they ever get a seat opinionating on any media venue.
But it won't be.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...