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Entries in capitalism (5)


No Joke

As I was making a delivery one morning, the kitchen staff were not there and I had to go to a young lady who I guess is a manager or something, sitting up front in the restaurant, laptop and iPhone nearby. She had some textbooks along too. One was called "Abnormal Psychology." Always quick with a one liner in such instances, I asked her if it said anything about capitalism in there. Then rather to my surprise, from another textbook, she pointed to a section dealing in Karl Marx talking about the kinds of characters drawn to capitalism. Whoa. I thought I was making a joke.


The Gamble—Losing To Win

Last weekend I did a gig as monitor mixer for a Vietnamese concert out at Barona Casino east of San Diego. The nature of the event was so that the casino could woo some Vietnamese high rollers into the casino, and to urge them to bring their friends. I'm told this sort of thing happens a lot—casinos will butter anyone up to get them to come play. Gotcha. I just never found it myself, being staunchly anti-gambling. Anyhow, here are some reflections.

As you approach Barona, after a few miles driving in the mountainous region that surrounds the valley, you see the casino in all its glory. In the valley, it appears just outsized and huge, almost like a cartoon image drawn into a picture. All around its periphery is a white ranch fence, gleamingly pure. The campus is sprawling—it has a hotel which grabs your eye first, and a casino, and a convention center, as well as several outbuildings. And the parking garage? Oh, the parking garage—bound to be nearly useless within a few years as people lose their love of driving due to skyrocketing gas prices, and furthermore as they lose any money they would have to gamble, unless of course, they gambled with more determination because its their last hope for getting something for nothing in America! At any rate, the garage is huge, maybe five levels tall, and could not be more out of place in that valley.

I have long joked that the wealth of the white man was once the wealth of the Indian (native American, of course), and now the greed of the white man, once the destroyer of the Indian, will now be the Indian's best hope for restoring any of their previous prestige and control over the affairs of this land. Yup, Barona is one instrument of such a transfer of wealth back to the Indian population. But the Indian tribes have to adopt the European-modeled ways. And it appears that some of them put them at cross-odds with their own history!

Back to the fence. First off, wasn't it the natives that had no idea of enclosure of the commons? The land could not be owned, only revered and shared? Figure A here in my commentary is this: the fence surely is a white person's creation, especially this design—post after post, with 3 levels of horizontal slats ringing the whole place! And, to deepen the irony, the fence itself is made of plastic! And, going even further, on the inside of the white fence is a barbed wire fence! Two fences to protect the private property of the native American tribe? Whatever happened to the commons?

Going inside, into the casino and further into the buffet, rather hungry after the hours of work on each night, I got another idea of how the Indian adopted the white man just enough to separate him from his money, but in doing so sold out his own cultural values again. In the buffet restaurant, there are all sorts of old timey signs and advertisements that pretty much date from about 1880-1920 or so—the heyday of Americans closing the gap between the coasts, expanding west and pressing the natives out of the land, giving them these little postage stamp sized reservations, such as Barona has now. All these ads glorify the white man's work in agriculture, domestic conveniences, automobiles, and other things that were the hallmark of the time. They had farm and forestry implements hung on the wall (a huge two man saw for cutting down old growth forests), and more such instances which declared the white man's arrival on Indian land, and the submission that resulted. And, the buffet itself is contrary to the communal and conservative (in the real sense of the word—to ensure sustainability) ethic that governed life before the white men arrived—eat as much as possible until you explode and don't worry about how it will be provided in the future. Just think about how much energy and land it takes to ensure that just one casino can keep providing all-you-can-eat food for thousands of people each day. It's hardly the economics of "enough" that indigenous people have to live by when their resources are few and dear. It doesn't even retain an echo of the ethic of concern for how future generations would live.

So the Indian tribes now adopt the white man's corporate style of enclosing property, declaring it as owned and worthy of fences, security cameras and guards. They buy machines from the white men so that they might let the white men's greed fuel their attempts to preserve their culture. They adopt parking garages with no aesthetic appeal and let them be placed next to buildings that clearly come from the design sensibilities of the white man. They allow themselves to forget the sustainable ethic by having enough food to feed already fat people, and yet there is so much that gets thrown away still. They sacrificed their reverence for the natural world by laying down acres of asphalt to park on and widening roads to drive on.

Who then is really making the ultimate gamble? The white men who are going on as being white men, with their rampant lust for cheap gains? Or the natives who had to play by the white man's rules, even when they did so to ostensibly do damage control to limit the earlier damage of centuries past? What will become of the natives when their best hope for being autonomous and culturally relevant again means they must play by the white man's rules, and to be more cutthroat while doing so? And then of course, what is their economy going to amount to when their land has been paved over, their people trained in the ways of white economics models, and then the corporate/industrialized white world finally sputters out due to the centuries of greed and exploitation that will finally bring everyone down with the decline of reliable energy and resources? Unless the Indian populations are bracing for the fall of the economic infrastructure of the white man's world, they are in the same boat! Right now, they depend on greed for their economic power. Same as the white man. It reminds me of the end of Animal Farm when the pigs and the humans could not be told from one another because the pigs learned how to walk on two legs, like humans, once their sworn enemies, a far cry from when the motto of the farm was "four legs good, two legs bad!!!"


Free At Last! Free At Last!

It finally came through loud and clear. I am now officially not working for AV Concepts. After a three and a half week mini-layoff—modeled no doubt on the six week version that spanned half of December and all of January—I am now free of the job I never wanted to accept, but sorta had to since nothing else came through in time for the move last summer. This time, I was not worked up over the loss. I had been gone for several weeks and had only done a single four hour shift one day and that was only to take a piss test and take the van for an oil change. No, this wasn't the crisis that December was. I was asked to come in to the shop to talk, but only found this out for sure that I was getting canned just as it was happening. I'd been waiting for something to come down regarding the damaged truck from early March. It's not that I didn't pass my piss test; it would be hard for me to fail it, being the square that I am who never even smoked a cigarette, let alone anything else. No, the expense in fixing the truck box was something like $4000, but they were looking to hang me anyway—December was all about the fact that I didn't let them boss my life around as well as they are accustomed, and that was brought up once again today, despite the fact that there was not one gig they offered that I turned down this time, the sum of which kept me working all of the 24 hours at one point or another. No, flexibility was not the issue, but to add it in there seemed to add some weight for what they wanted to accomplish. I guess I got too expensive for them. It's hard for me to lose any sleep over the whole issue. I mean, shit, I am moving in an ever more anti-corporate direction, and more so even now as I am aligning myself with a program that seeks to urge people away from the prevailing system, the corporate system. Oh, I can't tell you how it was conflicting to realize that my company was the cutting edge for a range of corporate giants—Yahoo, GSK, NIKE, Skechers, and so many others that just rub me the wrong way. Yup, I was living the Kafka life, working for the Man by day, and subverting him by night.

But in a really practical way, I am glad to separate from that place because it got to be a physical burden. I came home with more aches than any other job I ever had. Sometimes I apparently strained fingers and only found out the next morning when things just didn't work right. I really had my reservations about the physicality of the work. Pushing roadcases isn't the problem as much as loading trucks in different ways for every load. It could be harrowing at times. Add to that there was this one prick of a young punk there who loved to be sarcastic about my reservations. To which, I mutter something like, Hey, if you want to sling cases over your head and be dumb, that's your business. I can't get paid enough to want to let myself get hurt. Man, day after day, it was usually a fine way to wreck fingers and hands. But usually, just walking on the concrete all day hurt enough. Then, when I was a driver, things got easier except for the fact that I was not doing it all the time like when in the shop, so I sometimes fell out of fitness for it—slower responses, got sore easier, and I just had no real drive to do it as if I wanted to be there. It was clear that I was barely needed there for the last couple months.

I offered to get a class B license if that would help, but never got any clear answer. Then the truck incident happened. That was added to an earlier one that happened in the first week I came back in February when I damaged a rain gutter while backing up. Hey, I didn't ASK to be a truck driver. I was just fine as a shop guy. It seems to exemplify the logic of you get what you pay for. I was just a part timer who doesn't get taken for serious, isn't given any training in this sort of driving, and who also got the odd jobs not done by the main drivers.

Oh well, all that place really meant to me was a short lived way to get out of an awful bind last year when I needed something that paid reasonably well. I didn't want to reenter the field of event production, I didn't want to work around the clock, I didn't want to break my back moving heavy shit. I really was at odds with the place all the way. Given that my July 2005 film presentation featured the movie The Corporation, and that only a month later, I was working for AVC, you can see how I was biting my tongue the whole time. Oh, my interviews were an exercise in outright lying, but I don't care. It was hard to even be there nodding my head in agreement like I was going to be their best employee. It was hard to feign interest in the new gear they talked about. The audio gear wasn't even stuff I was used to. It took me six weeks from the time I applied to the time I set foot on the shop floor as an employee. Jeeze! I "connected" with only maybe three or four guys. The rest were either just "there" or people who irritated me. I was glad to get the driving jobs so I could get out and not sweat having the boom drop on me when the manager walked onto the floor. Many times he would do that and it drove me nuts. He was the total corporate stiff—out for his own ass. In the time I was in their employ, I see that several positions seem to have been slashed—an internal project manager, a site project manager, a salesman, and maybe others I don't know of. So it's no long stretch of the imagination why I got cut. If they don't have any compunction in slashing a $60,000 job or three, what is it to ditch me, who got a measly $11 an hour and tried to defend his time off? Yeah, this ops manager got his gig a few months before I got there. I see he has a shiny new Lexus, dresses in nice threads, and seems to have been able to keep his job well enough—made possible by being all decisive in that classic cutthroat corporate way—fire people so he may advance. I hear he is so bent on pinching pennies that he shuts off the Coke machine at night to save energy.

The great joke on AV Concepts, (and hardly a soul there would entertain the notion—the ones who did were pee-ons like me) is of peak oil reversing that company's fortune. Yup, more than once, I looked at that inventory, the one they so proudly pimp as "the best in the biz" and thought, totally fucking worthless in a few years! One by one, corporations across the country are going to fold up and won't be throwing hi-spectacle product launches for the media, or won't be holding super-classroom Powerpoint presentations for their expanding workforce. They won't be looking in San Diego for a production company if their gig is in San Francisco. Yup. Just wait. AVC is not looking at the growth they think they will achieve. I sat through the meeting last year just before Thanksgiving. The owners (private company) bought us Quizno's food. Forget the fucking turkey and stuffing and mash-taters, we get fast food and Cokes. Then we went upstairs and listened to corporate drivel for two hours about how the company is growing. Funny, I only see people getting fired.

There was this one dude (who I actually got along with best) who was 25 or so, and he hired on as an intern for something like minimum wage for a few weeks. Interestingly, it was the week I got laid off back in December. Hmm, could it be? I get laid off for the darkest winter months just as they find a guy who will bend over backwards to get his foot in the door and won't say no to any work? Mebbe. Consider: when I came back in February, he was working 6 and 7 day weeks. By then he'd gotten his raise to $9 an hour. I was working for $11 an hour. By any guage, he was getting gypped by $2 anyway, since it seems that $11 is the opening wage for us throwaway hands. I've heard it said a few times at this company, if you don't hire on at the wage you want, you better get used to it or get out. Later on, this guy and me got a chance to work together a few times and trade stories. Since I was out of the shop most of the time, I had not been up on all the gossip. But by the time he was due his review, he got nothing. No review. Sort of like me. Finally, I got a "90 day review" on day 120, only to get a layoff for my patience. I never got my review at the end of my extended probation, unless you consider today to be that review. It is, after all, the third month after I restarted back on the first of February. He got a review but it got him essentially nowhere. And the clincher? He wasn't the slacker that I seemed to be. He worked like mad. He learned how to do a lot of stuff. He was actually a good employee, but he seems to have gotten signed up at the real piss-on rate. Sad. I told him to know his limits and get out as soon as he could.

So farewell, AV Concepts, the stopgap job that placed me in contradiction with myself. It's not so much that I hate you. I just am sort of glad you're out of my life.


Orwells That Ends Well

I just saw a movie called Orwell Rolls In His Grave. It is quite a lot like some of the other movies I have seen this year: Outfoxed, The Corporation, The End of Suburbia, Fahrenheit 9/11. This movie, as you may be able to tell, is about the realization of the Orwellian state in modern America. The website says "1984 is no longer a date in the future." The thing about this movie and the others I mentioned is that they all sort of have one thread that runs through them. Each movie cites the media as the ultimate co-conspirator in just about anything that is reported as news. The megaconglomerates of the media world are literally ruining our democratic institutions. They have not just fallen asleep at the wheel, they have drugged themselves before getting into the car! But what matters to you and I is that the car is about to go careening off a cliff.

The media is supposed to be our protector. Their job is to give us information we need so that we can make informed decisions. Period. These informed decisions are what makes our country run. Notice today our country is barely running anymore. Entropy has set in. Every day, we hear about corporate scandal and bankruptcy, mismanagement, morally corrupt warmongering, negative political ad swipes, depression, partisanship, fundamentalism, corporate/political buddy system (aka fascism), cover ups. You name it, we got it. Not all of it will make it to the news. And that which does make it to the news is bound to be watered down and nearly useless under any current popular outlet, and at worst, it would be slanderous or outright lying.

Someone in this movie said that Josef Goebbels would be proud of the mind control we have established here in America through the collusion of politicians and media outlets. Wait a minute. Since when did the Nazis become our role models? Or since when did we eclipse even their elaborate and overt political propagandizing? Some would say that was a bad thing. There is this saying I see in these liberally-biased circles of which I find myself a part: "if you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention." Bingo. It's more than just a bumper sticker slogan. Like I said, any of these movies I listed have a common thread. In fact, you could slice and dice parts of them into a single film and make a real convincing film that way. They are all telling a similar story. The media and the politicians are in bed with each other, sucking each others' dicks. And the people pay. They don't just pay money. They lose the nation they cherish. And the irony? They get behind it! All this Orwellian shit plays on patriotism. You can tell a lot of lies to people and they will believe you if your wrap yourself in the flag. As Goebbels said, tell a lie often enough and it will become truth. There are people who believe some really lame but disproven shit. Stuff like Bush "winning" the 2000 election, or thinking there was a connection between Al-qaeda and Iraq. These things simply just are false, but people actually like to believe it because believing otherwise would somehow signify their failure as an American, and what could be more un-American than not believing your president?

Well, ever since my brain turned on a few years ago, I have been outraged. Kelli and I were reflecting on the state of things. All this collusion between media and corporations and politicians has been around since about the time we were born. And we marveled at how we have never really known a world where this wasn't the case. It makes it really hard to reflect back on critical times in our lives, as we would then question everything we were told. Not that that is a bad thing; this sort of stuff needs to be done all the time. I had a fourth grade teacher who was reading "1984" in my classroom. This was in 1982-83. I was nine. I had no idea what the book was about. Of course, had I known and maybe even read it, I may have been more awake for the last 20 years or so. For me now, even reading things about what happened while I was a 25 year old is a risky proposal. History can get rewritten. Well, you know what the official story will be when it comes to telling the 2000 election story. I was 27 then. The facts are already skewed in favor of the liars and cheats. What do you think has been changed since I was a boy? Shit, before all this history of mine goes missing or rewritten by fascists and totalitarianists, I had better get a grip on it. You too. This is one reason why I am glad I work with/for old timers. It is one of the last opportunities to talk to Americans from an age when this stuff was not the standard MO.

I think I actually want to smash my television. I have already gone seven years without really relying on it for entertainment or news. Some cable will suit me, but I refuse to pay for it. The TV really is mind control, pure and simple. It requires no imagination or response (except to go buy stuff). It only wants you to worship it. It's a one way deal. People ask me why I don't just lighten up and chill out and get off my high horse about all this political shit. Well, to do so would be to cave in. And that is exactly what Big Media wants. People who stop thinking are easy to make into drones. And, since TV is so damned alluring with all its series and cliffhangers, people give into it all too willingly while real life slips on by. You want to see reality TV? Go watch all these movies I listed (and a few more). That is the state of things. That is how life is really being lived. The content in these movies is exactly the stuff you and I should be seeing on the nightly news. This is the true journalism of today. It's a bummer that we need to pay to see it, but see it we must. The newspapers, TV, movies, and even some parts of the internet have totally rolled over. They are failing us big time. Don't take the bait. Don't settle for the censorship and revisionism. Democracy is only possible when informed citizens take part. There is a lot of stuff that you or I didn't vote for because we didn't know about it.


Capital-ist Punishment

Today I was asked by one of the many people who force me to be a leftist (by showing their rather idiotic devotion to the right) what I thought of capital punishment.

Capital punishment? Well, I haven't formed an opinion yet. As far as I am concerned there are more important things to worry about, like what the hell makes us such a crime ridden nation. My response to this dude's question was this:

Capital punishment? Hell, I'm all for capital-IST punishment!

I think that dudes like Ken Lay should be burned at the stake and stoned simultaneously. Okay, maybe not, but a couple weeks of aversion therapy at Abu Ghraib might help. Okay, I don't know what really should become the fate of these modern day men of biblical scale evil. Make that MORE than biblical scale evil. Murder sucks, but so does stealing the livelihoods from hundreds or thousands of people at a time, which may indeed lead to some crime down the road. But such is our way of dealing with things in this fine land. Wait till too late, then pay more for a substandard "solution."

There is talk I have heard about the costs of helping people learn to read, get jobs, develop self-esteem, etc. One would think, one would HOPE that maybe that cost would be justified in the results that are bound to come back. Some people need more help than others, and if it took $10,000 to get a person through any of a number of courses that would improve their lot in life, allowing them to become valuable citizens, I think it would be a good thing to do at a good price.

But no, how do we handle this stuff? We get some crazy politicians in who got elected because they promised smaller government, and with that promise, so went the various social services that actually help people. Yes, the government is out of the business of providing care and nurturing services to citizens. I have heard that, in California now, the state's leading mental health care provider is the PRISON system. The prisons house more mentally ill than hospitals or other treatment centers. Now is it just me, or is that a little fishy?

Michael Moore has done a few movies now that sort of trace the paths of the modern American worker. Roughly speaking, the path goes from small corporation that needs all the dedicated employees it can get, then a long boom period for the whole company, leading everyone to think it will be a utopia, then the plant closes down because the company "needs to stay competitive," and this leads to depression, uncertainty, financial woes, family breakdown, and some to a life of survival crime, and worse. Some simultaneously become mentally ill AND criminal at once. What is going on here that crime is so rampant? My feeling is that these people feel it is the only way to survive in a world that has chewed them up and spit them out. And, with the social services pared back, there is more untreated mental illness, less literacy, less sense of purpose in life. There are so many things that can fail when people are let to fall through the cracks. Drug use and crime are mostly the result of some other series of events and decisions. Locking people up has now become the de facto response to these offenses.

But a prison is not a mental ward. You wanna know where the money went once it left the state, county, and community services? It went to build and staff prisons. Prisons are inelegant but effective ways to keep the mentally ill out of society. The prison guard union is one of the most powerful lobbies in Sacramento now. But look at this... the cost to keep a prisoner fed, clothed, and showered is somewhere upwards of $60,000 per year per inmate. And, there is hardly any good evidence that that course of action does ANYTHING to make the prisoner any more prepared to be a functioning citizen on the outside, should that day come. Prison guards are paid rather well—some over $100,000 with overtime rolled in. Hmmm, we have a lot of money to pay guards and keep prisons afloat, but dwindling resources to fight the crime where it matters most: before there is a population of lost and confused citizens. Some might need help from childhood, some might need it from adolescence, and some when they lose their jobs and have to fight for their dignity when their lives are shattered because they can't hold their finances and families together.

The prison guards have no incentive to actually rehabilitate people. Hell, business is good and, instead of there being less and less work to do, there is more and more! There seems to be a symbiotic thing going on here: Companies get to pull all sorts of shenanigans like downsizing workforces, depressing local economies (Wal Mart style), and generally creating instability in the name of making a buck. The unstable atmosphere is one that creates crime, drug use, and other social ills. The notoriety of the crime eclipses the work done to prevent it, and in this stealing of the show, the answer to the question of what to do about crime is to put everyone in jail. There are a lot of petty drug offenses that are just totally uncalled for. I suppose a lot of them are small time users who try to use enough so they can forget what a crappy life they lead at dead end jobs, and the hopelessness of it all. There have got to be thousands upon thousands of dollars tied up in the prosecution of these petty offenses. But no one has prioritized the cheaper solution to fight the trend: give people a life worth living. No, its easier to just lock people up for $60,000 a year than it is to counsel them, teach them to read, help get them jobs, etc. at a far lower cost, as a preemptive measure against the crimes that would happen, and DO happen as a result of the ABSENCE of these services.

For some criminals, life is better on the inside than on the outside—at least basic needs are met more consistently than on the outside. But realize this one thing: if we are all on the inside one day, we will not have that freedom stuff we say we like so well. And what a shame, that we chose to pinch pennies where they are needed most. Or what a shame that we wanted Wal Mart here so we could save a few bucks on Chinese crap, only to find many employees can't survive on the wages, and a number of other locally owned shops were put out of business. Either way, it is a great problem for the community. Sometimes being out of work altogether is easier to reason with than working 40 or 60 hours a week and not being able to make ends meet, unless you go peddle some meth on the side.

It's greed at work, I tell you. Greed (otherwise known as capitalism) is what is sending our society down the shitter. Capital punishment is just a band aid on a chest wound. In some cases, we are killing the worst criminals for being victims themselves of a criminal class that is celebrated as the foundation of our way of life. The real problem is what happens when the bottom line comes first and foremost before the well being of the citizenry. This is a dangerous trend. Corporations give no reason why they should be trusted. They steal, they pillage, they abuse people and the environment and yet they are more powerful than politicians! If government lets go of the reigns with regard to social services AND prisons, we will literally be up shit creek without a paddle. The government, criticized by many conservatives to be too big and bloated, actually serves a purpose: to keep people working. What bailed the nation out in the New Deal era? The government putting people to work, to build their communities and the nation. The government, as an employer, has a role to fulfill, and that is to keep the nation on track when times get hard. But a corporation looks the other way; when times get hard, they put people OUT of work (and sometimes times don't even need to be bad for this to happen), which leads to even more hard times because people can't afford to live the way they did. Now that Bush has let all his corporate buddies run free, and record numbers of people are out of work, the government is a lame duck. They got elected on the strength of letting free enterprise be free, but is now stuck holding the bag of unemployment thanks to the companies deciding to offshore, lay off, close plants, etc. I think if the government can afford a war, it can afford to put some people to use in rebuilding our failed cities and towns, and restoring some dignity to citizens.

Capital-IST punishment. It will attack the heart of the problem.