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Entries in corporations (13)

Monday
Oct272008

Henny Penny! Forget Protecting Marriage With Prop 8

There is plenty of talk these days about how if gays are allowed to marry then all of Western Civilization will collapse. So the logic goes that we must "protect marriage" —or else! I take issue with this, not just because it is complete hyperbole, but because the collapse of Western Civ so far probably has more to do with granting rights to those who should not have such rights to exist and thrive. Call me un-American but I think that if we want to legislate controls over an institution that has the power to wreck families, mess up civilization, and perhaps even sign its name to a royally messed up ecosystem that might not recover in several of our lifetimes—effectively ruining civilizations that rely on clean water, fertile soil and renewable resources, then the time has come to rein in the power of corporate capitalism by revoking corporate personhood (or visit POCLAD). Maybe now that capitalism is imploding worldwide due to its very greed-fostering nature, there could be some move toward limiting corporate power by removing its legal protection as if it were a living human being.

I like to think we're moving toward a post-corporate world, but I think it has to get worse before it gets better. It will take some more time and lots more damage to economies, ecosystems, and human dignity before the scoundrels are run out of town. The industrial-capitalist and financial-capitalist world is going to have some 'splainin' to do to those who lost homes and fortunes, fertile soil to toxic waste, or limbs to factory jobs, but for now, there is still plenty of power wielded by bands of robbers known as corporations who have legal rights the same as—and sometimes superior to—yours and mine.

But some would like you to think that gay people who wish to be married brought all this ruin upon us. If you want to talk about legally protecting what is unnatural, why not look into corporate personhood and what woes that has brought?

Saturday
Oct062007

Customer Service 

It is interesting how major companies can be totally unavailable to you when you have a reason to bitch, but if they need to get in touch with you, they will hound you with utmost efficiency and tenacity.

Some time back, I had some fraudulent credit card activity perpetrated through what I believe must have been an open wireless network connection at the house. (I know I was able to see that others were freeloading on the connection; my iTunes list would have foreign names, and it was interesting to see what other people had in their playlists.) So, some year and a half ago, this happened with an order to Columbia House. As soon as I realized there was this activity, I sent off an email declaring it was not my order, and please bury it and never send anything. If anything was sent, it wasn't to me, but I got the emails nonetheless, and each month, I turned down all the monthly selections that they try to ensnare people into getting by forgetfulness, or whatever. That is, when their emails actually provided a link to any space that I could access. A lot of the time, I got dead links that said there was a server error. Yet their email links didn't work to my satisfaction. I ended up calling a few times to reach no living human being.

Anyhow, the year long intro term must have ended, and despite rejecting all their stuff. The bill for the un-bought movies (that would be the full price stuff that you're supposed to buy over the year of the term) finally arrived at my house as a charge on my credit card. They wanted $94 for four movies and shipping. I called CH and again got no one, being perpetually stuck in the seven circles of hell on their phone system. I contested it on my credit card, having already had one of these instances for a missed selection of the month denial. The credit company was willing to take the charge off till things were resolved. I filed a fraud claim as well. Then it all got beyond fucking ridiculous.

I submitted a package of materials consisting of emails that rejected this whole deal from the get go, and a volley of emails between me and CH as I demand that they remove this charge on the grounds that I didn't initiate this order. All I ever got back was a form letter reminding me that when I signed up, I agreed to blah, blah, blah. The idea that maybe I didn't sign up was not of concern to them. I tore them a new asshole when I demanded to know why their website was perpetually not functional for me, and their phone system had no humans to be found. All to no avail. Just form letter responses.

I sent that to my credit company. Finally, when the charge was taken off the account, I paid the last of my balance and closed the account, but the account would have to stay inactive for two months. Then I realized that maybe two things were at work. I told the people that I wanted that account dead and gone, and in a parallel set of conversations, I think the fraud claim opened up a new can of worms. While the account was paid down and set to be abandoned, the fraud claim then cut off that account and opened a new one. And won't you know it, but that was billed from CH, this time at interest! Well, I never have had a card issued from this new account, nor did I ever use the number. The first bill magically arrived with this new and improved sum on it, a charge that was never made except in some deal between companies. So, while the old account is now dead and gone, the new one has a charge on it.

I called the credit company to complain about this. I got no where. I told these monkeys that I had not made that charge, and that I wanted nothing to do with their company, and that they are my service that I signed up for and they should help me, not the merchants that I want nothing to do with. I was told, back in August about two weeks or so before my new account bill was due, that I could talk to an adjuster. I called this woman four times and left the required info. I got no calls back, despite offering her a time to call me. No response, but four messages. My due date came and went, and nothing happened. Then, in the week or so after that due date, I got a form letter from her. I was livid. These pricks can provide crap for customer service and be in a position to stall in such a way that makes me late for a payment, then have my credit record by the balls. So I just blew off two months of payments.

In the mean time, the credit company, seeing that I was behind in payments, began a daily campaign to call me. I think they called me 20 times or so in a week or so. Many times a day. I blew it off. Finally, after the second bill came, proclaiming my tardiness, I answered and gave the pathetic rep a piece of my mind. I told her it was ethically unjust to make me pay for nothing, an exchange made more corrupt by CH not providing me with service, and more so by the credit company failing me when I needed an adjuster to talk to. It was like she either could not understand my words or she was programmed to ignore them. How many times do I need to tell this broad that I refuse to pay, and that I want this off my record, and all my business with this credit company closed up and put behind me forever? How can there be a charge to a card that I have never used and to which I know the number only from a bill? Where did I sign my name on anything with this account? WTF? She said, the account can only be closed when the balance is zero. So I demanded that they make it zero—because as I said, credit is only imaginary money on computer ledger lines—and get CH to eat shit on it. I told her I wanted a supervisor to call me that day (since she couldn't patch me over to one—yeah, right). None called that Thursday. None called Friday. Funny, they hassled me on a weekend, but their supervisors aren't there to field questions on weekdays? Their system is geared up for vacuuming (imaginary) money out of pockets but not for customer service?

FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!

Saturday
Dec102005

Have I Told You Lately?

Have I told you lately how much I hate the corporate mindset and method?

Lots.

Tuesday
Oct112005

What A Difference A Decade And A Half Makes

Fascistfest!

An event that used to be the high point of my year in the mid-late 80s is now seen by the present me to be a fascist freeforall. I'm a little surprised and maybe saddened for it to taken me this long to figure it out. Sometimes I'm a little slow.

Ah, Miramar Air Show! There are big billboards along the freeways that surround Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. They offer businesses the chance to watch their business "take off" if these businesses want to get a booth at the show right in the midst of the F-18s, C-130s and whatever helicopters they have up there right now. Finally, this week, it hit me! Duh! Fascism is the mingling of state and corporate power. Duh. And here it was right in front of all our eyes!

When I was a kid, I idolized the Blue Angels. As a display of flying prowess, they are still at the top of their league, and taken solely as a superhuman feat of coordination and technology, I still get shivers watching them from my dad's rooftop. (He is within a few miles of regular ops at Miramar, but gets some good flyovers during airshow season.) But I've come to assess airshows differently than when I was 12. Especially now that we are at and about to pass peak oil. One has to wonder, while the rest of us are paying unheard of prices to get to work and the grocery store, the government can still fly a half dozen F-18s for show??? While our government can't be bothered to help people in New Orleans, it can afford to not only fly these jets to the show, do three or four shows in a weekend (one strictly for press and VIPs), but it can also get all the other planes and hardware to the same show—all from scattered bases in the region, across the 5 services. Multiply times the number of shows of this sort, all for show!

No redeeming value except to give companies a place to advertise, and to glorify the machines and methods of war. And it's a good thing, because you know, Americans are getting a little fed up with this war business, so it's time to kick the PR machine into overdrive. Americans are forgetting how to love war, so the air shows are here to remind them of what a great thing we've got going.

Just think—in one weekend, Americans will have these things happen so cleverly to them that they might never know it.

First, they will be oooohing and aaaaahhhhing over machines they paid for which are used to kill people with utmost efficiency. Somehow the speed, turning radius, paintjobs, and other distinguishing features will help people forget their government really is out to suck the money from their pockets while taking their liberties and getting other nations to submit or die. Or, as Ray Charles would have said, the government is "pissing in their face and calling it spring rain." They will also forget that every gallon of fuel used to fly all those planes and copters, and to move the armored vehicles and tanks is another gallon of petrofuel that won't be coming back. It won't be available for their ride to work, or to take their children to school, hospital, or on vacation to New York. Or, every gallon of fuel used for tha air show is one less gallon that can be used to save a victim of a Gulf Coast hurricane. Gone. And the government positively doesn't give a flying fuck because they decided they needed this air show more than any one of us need to live our lives. Let's not forget the amazing waste of fuel it is for all those people to drive their SUVs and trucks to the show, often in stop and go traffic, with the line going for a mile or more out to and sometimes well beyond the front gates of the base.

From the Blue Angels FAQ page:

How far can the F/A-18 fly on a full load of fuel or with external fuel tanks?

The F/A-18 can travel approximately 1,000 miles on a full load of fuel without external tanks. Adding the external tanks extends the range to approximately 1,200 miles.

How much fuel does an F/A-18 Hornet use in a show?

On the average, one F/A-18 uses approximately 8,000 pounds or 1,300 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel at a cost of roughly $1,378.

How much fuel is used over the course of a year, including transportation, training, etc.?

Over a one-year period, the squadron, including Fat Albert, burns approximately 3.1 million gallons of fuel.

Do we have that kind of fuel to just chuck away on this shit?

Second, they will be advertised to while more or less captive. As if Clear Channel did not have enough advertising under its control, their radio stations will be out in force along the tarmac, vying for listeners with their gimmicky prize giveaways. Banners for home improvement, banks, cycles, cars, mortgages, and who knows, maybe even Viagra! Like we need to go to a fucking air show to be exposed to this? Well, what could be better? You make the public flock to a closed perimeter military base and while they are getting the sunburn of their lives, you pummel them with the same garbage that already adorns the sides of buses, billboards, magazine ads, and is plastered all over parts of the internet! Ah, the genius of advertising.

Third, the young men and women will be approached by recruiters. For recruiters, it's like shooting fish in a barrel! Hell, I've been to airshows before. It's all PR. That much I understood years ago, but I didn't understand the layers of what was behind the appeal. Once upon a time I wanted nothing more than to be an F-14 pilot. Good thing I have poor vision and a bad attitude which pretty much blew my qualifications by the end of ninth grade. (Now I get to serve my country by being a polemical watchdog.) But another generation of young men are turning up for the war machine, their options limited by their ethnicity, geography, income (or lack of). They will certainly be oooohed and ahhhhed by the gear on display. Too many (even if it's only one) will be in the recruiters office by Monday to give their lives over to the world's most dangerous job. Sad.

Well, so much for government regulating business. Hell, now it's in the business of helping business. Just think, the businesses get consumer dollars when they get back to the shop, and later on they get a nice break from the government too. The airshow is one big circus to extract money from the unsuspecting public so that government and business can get in the back room and suck each other off and then trade hi fives with cigars in their mouths.

Monday
May302005

Making The World Safe For Democracy

Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 American dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast. Our morning rush through crowded streets is not to cry murder but to hit that trough before somebody else gobbles our share.

An equation: 40,000 dead young men = 3,000 tons of bone and flesh, 124,000 pounds of brain matter, 50,000 gallons of blood, 1,840,000 years of life that will never be lived, 100,000 children who will never be born. —Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun (Introduction to 1970 edition)

dead heroes in a flag draped coffin, being flown in over night so no one knows

Well, it's Memorial day again. It's a day when in order to remember the fallen heroes, we drink and grill steaks. We shop. We drive huge gas guzzling SUVs to the national cemeteries. We watch sappy TV specials with hazy images of the brave men and women who fought for our fast food joints, big box retailers, and parking lots. The people doing the recollecting say what a good kid they had and how he loved his country and how they would do it a hundred times over, blah, blah, blah. I think the only thing we need to bother to remember on Memorial day is how wretched war is and how it should absolutely be the last resort.

One thing I want to make sure everyone remembers on Memorial day is a book and movie by Dalton Trumbo called Johnny Got His Gun. I read that about a year ago and it was stirring. Disturbing. Prophetic. The story, for those not in the know, is about a good ol' American boy from a farm who went off to war in WW I. ("The Great War" "the war to end all wars" "the war that would make the world safe for democracy" et cetera.) He was injured beyond belief, maimed in the battlefield in such a way to supposedly warrant the amputation of all his limbs, and a near total destruction of his head, leaving him with nothing more than a brain and torso, essentially. He had no eyes, ears, mouth, nose, or jaw. The entire book is about his thoughts running amok with memories and new sensations of being essentially a thinking stump, or as he eventually considers himself, a living dead man.

With no eyes or ears, he has no way to form an awareness of the world around him, which he finally establishes by fine tuning his sensitivity to vibrations of foot steps, and the nuances of sunlight on the little bit of skin that is exposed. But all of this takes years to develop. He wants to die but can't, and can not even communicate to his nurse except through the morse code he knows, which can only be tapped out by his head bobbing on his pillow, which his keepers interpret as a seizure which is put down with drugs. So his time is spent not even aware of if he is awake or asleep, or whether the sensations he has and the images in his mind are real or imagined, or memories. Memories are frequent and serve to ease him away from the anxiety and depression. His life is let to continue on despite being a living dead man. He sarcastically entertains the idea of being a circus freak taken on tours to show the wretchedness of war. His thoughts are a blur. He senses a rat crawling on him and doesn't know if it is real or a dream. If nothing else, it reminds him of a Prussian soldier he saw who had been dead for days and was having his face eaten off by rats.

The rats take on a metaphorical meaning; he finds his politics in instances like these when he realizes the loss to the soldiers on both side of the war is the real loss, and the real gain is being had by the men who use these soldiers as pawns in their games of power and prestige. Some years later, George Orwell would echo this notion that a war has to be waged against a population just to maintain the hierarchy of society. Joe, our living dead man realizes that the notions of liberty, democracy, and justice all have meanings that are vague and can be used by different people for different ends. He much prefers the concrete appeal of a house, or the sunlight, or his girlfriend, or anything that was his home life before the war. That was what men thought of and cherished, and could fight for, but not some abstraction that was sold them in order to go fight wars that they themselves would not benefit from.

He ruminates: there are a lot of laws on the books but none that say a man's life is his own. Dead men don't cherish the sunshine and the pastoral life. Dead men are not happy. Dead men can't enjoy liberty. Dead men can't reap the benefits of their war labor. Men are herded off to battle to work for others with plans for new social orders that don't include them. He realizes he can't even die as he would want to. He can't even commit suicide. He can't rail against his captors because none but his nurse can remotely understand him.

Finally he does get the morse code across, sending repeated SOS messages. The doctors don't know what to do. The military doesn't know what to do. So they let him live on. He wants to commit suicide, or to have them pull the plug on him, but he is told "what you ask is against regulations." He is kept alive to suit the egos of the medical and military establishments, to see how bad off a human can be and still be alive. Trapped in a body that isn't even nimble enough to roll off the bed and crash to the floor, he waits for years and years, not knowing what his fate will ever be, but knowing that death would have been better.

suv truck with the national cemetery in the backgroundSo on Memorial day, I think we have to remember that things are not all that different now in the wars we wage and the damage the men receive in doing work for other powers that really could not care in the least for them if it were up to them. As in Joe Bonham's case, he was kept alive when he should have been dead. He went from being a living breathing young man to being a science experiment with an existential crisis the size of Jupiter. But what of today's soldiers? Some are maimed pretty badly, losing a limb or two or perhaps like Max Cleland, three limbs. Or some are blinded. Some will be cut in two by hemicorporectomies to salvage their upper halves. Some are brain damaged. Some have nerve damage. If not from a terrible blast, now we have such wretched stuff like depleted uranium which is the gift that keeps on giving.

On one hand, we can praise modern medicine for allowing various parts of humans to carry on somewhat like regular humans. But what if these soldiers are living anything like Joe Bonham? I do not wish them dead; but let us just be reminded that even the silver lining of high tech medical care in the battle zones could be an oppressive thing because it allows people to endure things that would have killed them. It is another facet of the insanity of modern warfare that even those who are on the edge of death and facing a severe cut in the quality of life are kept around. I've heard it said that this Iraq war was even worse than Vietnam in that regard—men and women who "should be dead" from their massive injuries are still around, with the massive drain on resources, patience, and emotions. Is that more humane?

The overwhelmingly sick thing is not the matter of the tragically injured living or dying, but that the war itself is morally bankrupt and for the most part, none of these people should have been there in the first place! So I would think it a terrible case of literally adding insult to injury that these fighters are out there risking their lives and coming back with essentially fatal injuries for no reason but to help people live shallow lives devoid of conscience for the world or its inhabitants, or of a higher spiritual life that we have abandoned, if ever we had one. As Jim Kunstler says, when a soldier is laying there bleeding in the battlefield, is he thinking of what he is really fighting for? Parking lots, fast food, and big box shops? Would he think it was worth the sacrifice as his blood runs from his body into the street?

original poster with three images: 87 octane gas loses a soldier an arm; 89 loses a leg, and 91 loses a lifeThe miracle of modern medicine should not be coupled with the savagery of war to add up to maimed and permanently injured men and women who went to war in good faith that they were preserving something great. How would they feel if their real mission was billed as "fight for the right to use natural resources in a careless and shortsighted fashion so that men of power can be made richer than sin, and the earth can be left a poisoned cesspool for your children." If that was up on the recruitment commercials and posters, would we still have our ostensibly "all volunteer" army? Of course not! But if you say that liberty, democracy, truth, justice, and the American Way are at stake, then people will line up to defend all those things even though they are all vague abstractions that mean one thing for a captain of industry or a room of stockholders, and something wildly different for the poor schmucks who have to do the grunt work to make that possible.

I am done with soft focus television features about our fallen men and women. It is insulting. It's propaganda. It's fascismo—glorifying the war machine. Last year I rode my bike around Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary to see where my grandfather was buried, and to pay my respects to his sacrifice. Sadly, I had to avoid being run over by the others there who drove SUVs, seemingly in direct contradiction to our present war effort. Cluelessly, they pay tribute to their war dead while driving at least one example of the very things that made our Iraq war "necessary": conspicuous consumption. Make that "crassly conspicuous consumption."

I would like to also say that I have no enemies in Iraq, and neither do any of you. Our enemy is our way of life, and the powers that have sold it to us, and have provided us with little or no option but to buy this one package they have been selling for a couple generations now. If you want to launch a "war on XXXX" then launch a war on capitalism, corporate dominance, fascism and the suburban way of life we all enjoy. Forget the war on drugs, or the war on terror. We need a war on perverse and pathological pursuits of power and profit. That is our enemy.

Saturday
May212005

EONSNOW

I have been working feverishly on my new project called EONS NOW which is the place where my legit attempts to bring peak oil to the public will be conducted. I suppose that I will still be annoying all you faithful readers with commentary on the matter as it springs to my head; I don't regard it as being solely an academic sort of pursuit, and the solution is one that could only come from having one's brain on and encouraging others to do the same. This particular blog has done a lot to help me find my way with the range of topics that interest me.

EONSNOW.org home page, late 2005EONSNOW.orgThe new site will be self expanatory enough so once you check it out, you can see what I am trying to accomplish. If any of you are interested in the range of topics that peak oil encompasses, or those that would be solutions to such a dilemma, now is the time to step forward and help me out. Even if you know of people of like mind, at least send them my way.

My new site is one part of a fuller program that I am involved with. There is an organization called the Post Carbon Institute that is a think tank and motivational organization to get people to take this stuff to the local level. They have an international presence, and on their web site, they have a new program similar to Meetup.com with a number of localized groups who converge on sub sites to plan and discuss. I am also part of a beta testing period for that project. I think that I'll let that place go do what it does, and try not to do too much redundant stuff on my site, using EONS NOW for more localized stuff. Right now the formation of these two sites is sort of like amoebas having gymnastic sex, so the ideas are fluttering about and sooner or later will settle down.

The theme of EONS NOW is contained within its name; End Oppressive Non-Sustainability Now. It came to me as I was looking for a short name that would be easy to remember, and the notion of "eons" struck me as a handy word, as it depicts a division of time in earth history, and if the fading days of oil energy and the industrial world are not indicative of a new division of time in earth's history, I don't know what is. But before I even got that philosophical, I really had been thinking of how non-sustainable oppression is, and oppression is a key part of all our lives in the way that modern commercial culture is akin to an abusive, addicted husband in a marriage, and we civilians are the wives who can't just get up and leave without sheer force of will. We have been abused by advertising for so long we have handed over our faith in our own abilities to entities that are out for profit. They have convinced us that we can't clothe ourselves, feed ourselves, shelter ourselves, or entertain ourselves without their might and influence. So they have crafted a good or service that will do it for us. Insecurity is at the root of most of our problems in society now, and a lot of it has to do with our collective emasculation—stripped of pride in our own work and efforts to define our world in our image and not that of what a company wants to sell us.

So what EONS NOW wants to do is to do a lot of what you see here already: shine a light on how we have allowed someone else to sell us our daily needs and our dreams, and to show how that is destructive to the entire society, making people dependent on psychopathic corporations in the same way as a woman is beaten and scared into submission because the alternative is supposedly worse. Oppression is violence because it denies people of their potential. Advertising is psychological abuse because it tells us we are not as good as whatever they have to sell, or our lives will amount to nothing if we don't take the presribed bait. Or maybe now that a 60 year old man's cock isn't going to work without a couple of these pills. The last thing we need is shit like that and the denial of legal and safe contraception. That isn't even the pinko commie liberal in me talking. That is the side of me that knows that the current system of exploitation of all resources and most of humanity is a system doomed to fail, and will make us eat collective shit for the greed of others.

There is a site called Dieoff dot org that takes on the extreme end of the peak oil scenario. It still can scare me like little else has, but I refuse to let it slip away under the rug. My mentor JDL has said that a culture of success will collapse of its own weight, and the ultimate collapse is human collapse itself. If the threat of that is not oppressive, I do not know what else is. Now is not the time to outlaw selective fertility under the guise of preserving all life for God's glory, at the same time as we wage ill-justified wars. No, we don't need more population in a time of great misery. The terrible bind we are in is one of facing oppression in our food choices—do you want GM food or do you want chemical-pumped fare? In maybe two generations or less, I think we could face oppression at the other end: not having food choice at all when the suicidal seeds now made and sold by corporate agribusiness fail us, and the earth itself is too toxic a place to grow enough to support our population. Either it has been paved over, or it has been pumped with chemicals, or is home to suicidal seeds that last the one year they are intended to last. Stripping the earth of its own ability to reproduce and feed itself and its creatures is a fine definition of oppressive tyranny. I've heard it called "intergenerational tyranny." I believe it was the Cherokee nation of American natives that would ask if their decisions would also be good for the seventh generation. Now the dominant question is something approximating 'will this earn us double digit profits for the next quarter?' Popular western and transnational corporations planning for three months away or the Cherokees who are thinking of what will happen in 150 years as a result of their decisions today. What do you think is a more prudent course?

Anyhow, themes such as these are what will constitute at least my share of EONS NOW dot org. Peak oil will undermine most of the notions we have now regarding wealth, property, growth, economy, and community. We can either be devastated by it or we can consider that maybe the time in which we live is actually the period that is plagued with problems, and that maybe it's a good thing to see these already-damaging systems dissolve.

Monday
May162005

Loss Of Self Empowerment

Peak Oil is daunting. We face the loss of the goods and services we use every day. We face having to do work that someone else has done for us. That might sound unnerving, and for a while, it will be. But indulge me for a while as I suggest that maybe it has done more harm than good to turn all our work and play over to them.

poster: made in china, because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsMade in China: Because we needed cheap shit instead of good jobsCorporations are unrelenting in convincing us that we need their goods or services, else our lives will fall apart. Actually, that may not be so because people had lives before corporations (B.C., I guess) and will continue to have lives after they fade away and lose their grip on most every aspect of our lives. Corporate practices have unsustainability written into their very nature. What you and I must do is imagine a life where we don't buy something because we are told to, or because our neighbor bought the same thing first. If we can be conditioned to buy, we can be conditioned to not buy. We were conditioned to buy on flimsy grounds, and we can recondition ourselves away from that for reasons that resonate in us for pure reasons of trying to preserve our humanity above all else. As the saying goes, a journey starts with the first step.

First off, let us remember American culture and corporate practices thrive on an assumption that people are stupid and can be herded like cattle. They thrive on people's desire to be part of the new and exciting. They thrive on people forgetting their integrity. They thrive on a culture they helped create: disposable culture. Seventy years ago, products were made to last because that is how things were done because it made the best sense. It still makes sense, but for a long time now, things have been made to be disposable. The euphemism we now hear and accept is "planned obsolescence." Things are made now that have little potential of being preserved for more than their planned lifespans. None of us would think of sharpening the blades on our disposable razors. We wouldn't think of reusing paper towels (or the more realistic option: use cloth towels once again). Most things are made cheaply now in part because the economy demands it. There has to be a reason for us to buy more of whatever we are using, or to get next year's model, etc. If goods were made durably in the first place, there would be less need to perpetually replace these widgets.

Even houses are made this way. One of the earlier steps away from the community based living patterns of old was to make the house itself a commodity that could be made cheaply by experts and sold to the everyman. But even in the early days, these houses were made in stylish and appealing ways, and now are regarded to be some of the most valued designs around at any price. But the house I live in is the perfectly boring standard issue suburban box. And it is not even made well! The useful lifespan of a property like mine is about 50 years. How do I know? Drive around my neighborhood and look at all the houses with significant remodel projects going on. Then compare them to the ones with no remodel work being done. My house and neighborhood were built in 1957. Coincidence? No. Not at all. These houses are not made with the same care as ones from 50 years before them. These houses were made quick and dirty all across San Diego during a boom time when we had more wealth than sense, and a desire to throw out the old simply because it was "old."

Another aspect of corporate control over our lives is the way corporations convince us that we are unable to do our own work, and that they have a solution that can do better for us. They breed the insecurity in us that leads us to trust them enough to turn over our dollars for whatever good or service they offer. One one hand, it is good for the economy because more widgets are made, and more people are employed, but what is lost is people's ability to trust themselves in their own homes. I am as victimized as anyone; I call a plumber too. I call an electrician for anything more than the most basic stuff. I hire a mechanic because I don't trust myself to do the work competently. I don't mind hiring guys because peace of mind is a good thing, but I do reflect on how somehow I have been scared by someone or something into thinking I can not do this work myself. Think for a minute about all the things you hire someone else to do that you could do yourself. And then ponder whether maybe you are losing a bit of personal pride and satisfaction by not learning to do this work yourself. Not everything out there for sale or for hire is necessarily something we need to pay for. But we are told that we should if we want it done well.

Entertainment is another centerpiece of real human living that has been distorted. I think each of us have heard grandma say "when I was your age, we didn't have television. We had to make our own fun!" Well, in a post carbon world, we might not be looking at so many films and listening to so many CDs. It will take oil to make the films and disks, and with entertainment being so slick now, it will take a lot of expense to move entertainers to far flung places to film or do tours. It will be harder to move mass produced " product." We can't rely on Jennifer Lopez or whatever popstarflavoroftheweek is to entertain us forever. We can't allow our culture to utterly fold up and disappear when all the lowest-common-denominator entertainment goes away. We might want to learn how to sing from our hearts again. We might want to learn how to express ourselves through our own efforts in the arts and drama and music. We need to know that what is in our hearts and minds is just as valid (and more so) than what we can buy at Tower, or what we can download from the iTunes Music Store. We need to relearn how to preserve our works of art on tangible media or in our community's collective memory because we can't trust that there will always be computers and the Internet to create and distribute such material around the world in a blink of an eye.

Another part of the corporate domination that flies right over most of our heads is the matter of what we throw out every day, after we have bought and paid for it. My own "a-ha!" moment came when I realized the sheer number of small plastic containers that got chucked into the trash maybe minutes after I opened them and consumed their yummy contents. I watched as small cups for yogurt, lided containers, or partitioned dishes for dips or other foods were just heaved into the bin. I shop at Costco and rarely cart my groceries home in 15 bags, but many of them come in what actually are good containers that can be reused. Well, each time I buy this stuff, I have more, so I needed to find a use for the stuff. My wife and I started to buy bulk foods more. She took a liking to baking bread from scratch. All these little containers helped store flour, seasonings, sugar, seeds, nuts, and whatever else came to mind. With her interest in baking, we cut out the need for store bought bread, and also cut out the "need" to buy the brand name Ziplock or Glad or Rubbermaid containers that do the same thing as our cast off yogurt and sour cream containers now do. And frankly, these product containers are actually better products than the stuff that can be bought from a brand name. Pardon the misleading labels, but it's working fine for me.

Corporations and their practices rely on us to forget our own inventiveness, resourcefulness, community potential, and the worth of our own labor or thought. I don't stall for a minute in thinking that maybe that business ethic of making people feel helpless has contributed to a range of social problems. We could watch how people are made to feel they must pay for all of their daily needs and wants, and must run to keep up with that system by struggling to get a "good" job that gives them the money to do all this stuff. Well, slowly, people are going to have to rediscover their own potential, and the shared potential of their community. What do we work for if not to meet our needs? And why did we let big business tell us we could not meet our own needs without their "help"? If our economy is founded on pressing more and more people into debilitating insecurity and self doubt, then what are we really asking for when we say we want economic growth? I don't think we can keep this up for much longer. Our system is already taxed beyond belief, and is already in decay in many places. America was not built on insecurity and self loathing, but it could fall apart if we have too much of the stuff.

Monday
Apr042005

Uh, Like, Don't You Get It?

One is dangerous enoughOkay, so I was watching a little news this weekend and saw that in Arizona, there are some concerned citizens who want to do something about the illegal immigration problem. So they have banded together and formed some vigilante group that supposedly would do directly the things that the government has not done to protect the leaky border. They say they aren't out there to hurn anyone, only to be spotters, but seriously.

The Minutemen, as they were called, all fit real squarely into the mold of the post-9/11 George Bush redneck America. You know the look—Wal Mart/NASCAR nation dressed in T shirts with "We Will Never Forget" and "These Colors Don't Run" and all that other jingoistic shit that totally misses the point. (When I see bumper stickers with "We will never forget" I automatically adjust it to reality: "We will never GET IT.") The joke is on them—they believe in and support the illusion of small government on one hand but curse the government not offering them the protection they feel is due them. They love to say they want a valuable service such as protection at the borders so that 9/11 doesn't happen again. But they also vote for the guy who claims that he wants to give every one tax breaks (and makes only a nominal effort for the huge majority of the population).

Well, let's remember that 9/11 didn't happen because of Mexicans crossing the borders. And let's remember that those Mexicans who do cross the border are taking our throwaway jobs. And let's remember that those throwaway jobs are the ones that make our lifestyle possible. You know, getting fat and driving around senselessly. I wouldn't diss the Mexicans who come over and grow our crops. One day we will be begging them to share what they know. Besides, usually the Mexicans are pretty benign. They aren't here to destroy our economy, and I don't think that the money they send home to family is really robbing us of much.

But it's not about Mexicans, is it? No. It's about fear. More fear. And, like Michael Moore said in Bowling For Columbine, it might not be a great idea to have guns everywhere if the whole nation is neurotic with fear. Shit, I wonder what percentage of our economy owes itself to fear. Security systems, locks, car alarms, CC video, security guards at strip malls, secret shoppers, guns & ammo, literature, martial arts lessons, insurance, gated communities. Jeeze, is there much of anything that we do that doesn't somehow show our fear of not just the unknown but of each other?

I saw this email going around a while back that if nothing else served as a reminder that all the stuff we expect to have in our lives comes at a price. The infrastructure that brings us water and food and takes our shit away to some hidden locale comes at a price. Fresh water, good roads, and legal protection comes at a price. Social Security comes at a price. Border protection comes at a price. So what's up with these people who want it both ways? Don't tax me but give me the border patrol? Don't tax me but keep 9/11 from happening? Don't tax me but go liberate Iraq? Don't tax me but give me clean air, water, and renewable resources? Don't tax me but give me well paved roads, bridges, sewers, and power grids? Don't tax me but give me cheap gas? Don't take my money as a young worker but don't let me starve and die penniless at 72?

I wonder if these people ever stop to think that getting their $1000 tax refund (or cut or whatever it is) does as much for them as it would if the government hung on to it so that it would be available for a viable border patrol program, and maybe other worthwhile programs. Some would be convinced that reforming Social Security would be a good idea, doing the Bush thing with private accounts. I think that is the most pathetic thing. Social Security would be neither social nor security! It is one of the few insurance plans I could embrace, because it is actually designed to be of real use. I think part of the Bush plan to eliminate SS and to progress with the idea of a so-called "ownership society" is to not only help their corporate buddies, but to make it so that people have to work longer, thereby supposedly keeping the economy stronger by keeping more people working. Well, that is pretty vacuous an argument, especially if it means that people will be in charge of their own retirement funds, a proposition that is put in jeopardy if the economy gets hard and people have to tap into those funds prematurely. It doesn't take into account the part about corporations downsizing or even eliminating their domestic workforce. There is nothing redeemable about the Bush SS plan because it is scheduled to be implemented in a period that will be defined by a failure of global capitalism, economic recession (if not global war and depression), and the promise of more of the same until oil supplies dwindle to a point where the stuff is hardly worth pursuing anymore. Not depletion, just to the point where it is more expensive to hunt and extract the stuff than the economic benefits it can return.

Any Social Security plan really looks doomed, be it the current one or the Bush plan. But I think the Bush plan has malicious intent in it because it stands to help some profit off a program that should be more or less altruistic. Social Security now is a revolving door program—money comes in and gets paid out. But even in its current arrangement, the shifting ratio of workers paying in to retirees collecting benefits is a sign that things could get worse, no matter what. The way I see it is this: Social Security could go bust not just because there are too many retirees, but because these days, and in the days to come when the oil based economy starts to decline, there won't be much work to be done, and it will generally decline as there is less available energy to do work, and keep economies afloat, let alone grow. Unfortunately, the baby boomers will be expecting payments at the same time as the economy tanks because of their lifetimes' very work! Millions of boomers will be collecting the dwindling funds, due in part to their efficiency. You know, a boomer aged CEO or small business owner who benefitted off the cheap foreign labor was directly to blame for putting a few Social Security paying Americans out of work, or at least out of well paying, meaningful work that would put more money into the SS system, or the government that should be protecting our borders. You know, the sort of work that made America great in the middle of the 20th century, when companies AND unions got along and had some symbiosis at work. Oh yeah, the sort of arrangement we had that also gave America a high degree of respect in the world, and the means and courage to stave off the Soviet army.

But now, some years later, we can't even protect ourselves from a group of guys that wouldn't even fill a high school classroom. They have done more damage to this nation than the Soviets did in 50 year of Cold War. Actually, I think we have done most of the damage. Call me a socialist if you will, but I think that the drive for individual profits has destroyed us. What else can explain Enron, Ticoh, World Com, and others? What justification is there for a CEO getting paid 500 times what his shop worker is paid, when in our glory days, and even as recently as 1980, CEOs averaged about 40 times the shop worker's salary? (AFL-CIO website stats.) If I made $10,000 for doing grunt work on the shop floor, and my boss made $400,000, what justifies his need to put me out of work for someone who will work for 60 cents an hour so that he can make $5 million? Or $50 million? And that is only his own benefit—not everyone will get that sort of deal. I can't for the life of me understand it. And I certainly can't understand how it can last. Of course, it won't last. It can't last. But no one making absurd amounts of money today will willfully trade that in just to do the right thing. So it's going to have to break. This won't be graceful.

Bush talks about wanting people to have more of their own money, and he carries on like his $1000 tax cut will do the trick. Sorry George, but I think the average American worker had more of his own money 40 years ago when he worked hard at a job that maybe actually mattered in life, not this silly shit that passes for an economy now, like WalMart, Taco Bell, ARCO, and everything else we surround ourselves with. I think 40 years ago people were willing to make the tax sacrifice because they understood that it takes that sort of trade off to get the services that individuals can't possibly provide themselves.

My humanities class recently had a long section devoted to Athenian polis—someone who either does not need to live within civilized society or cannot live within it is either god or beast, respectively. So these Minutemen patrolling the border in Arizona? Are they gods or beasts? Do they either not need the cooperation of others, or can they not live within such a system? The entire nature of civilized society is built on detailed, structured systems of mutuality and cooperation to achieve common goals. It's one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. Paying a tax is just one part of that. Not paying a tax, or otherwise not contributing to the system in thought and deed is, as the Athenians believed, a hallmark of uselessness. Aristotle said that a man who takes no interest in public affairs is not harmless, but useless. Vigilante justice is not a particularly civilized thing, especially when there is an organized system that it would supposedly replace. We have a system that just doesn't work, but instead of actually getting inside of the system and fixing it, these minutemen wish to operate outside of the system. Going it alone, according to the Aristotle, is part of a man's worst nature.

But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous. Wherefore; if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.

Let me remind you, the Soviet Union collapsed about three years after its oil production peaked, and also because of their massive military defense budget and closed borders. Sound familiar? Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere?

Saturday
Sep252004

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.

Tuesday
Jul272004

The Corporation

We went to see this movie tonight with a Canadian friend of ours. Man, if I had seen this in high school, I would have gotten a head start on this leftist career of mine. There are just so many things that you don't learn in school, like how the world works. This movie was an endurance test. It would have been an endurance test if it were ONLY 2 hours and 25 minutes long, but the true test of endurance was watching one bit of film after another showing the state of the world as it is plundered and turned into a battle ground in the name of making money. All the evidence is there; some chief dude at the FBI went on record by saying that the corporation, as a "person" (the status that it has found its way into in order to gain certain legal favors) has a psychological profile identical to that of a classic psychopath. No shit.

Of course my recent blogs have been about this sort of stuff, and even one called "Big Government" was almost too close to what I just saw. Many of my points were pretty well backed up. The government is actually the corporate world's bitch. Corporations don't need much justification for anything they do. Their sole interest, and indeed their sole purpose, is to make money for their controlling interests, and any means to that end is acceptable. There was one case where a Liz Claiborne blouse sold for $178, but the labor cost was under $1 in a third world sweatshop. Or that Nike sells a piece of clothing for $22 that took six minutes to make—meaning the cost for production was less than one percent. Now, it might just be me, but that sounds a little funny.

Or, on a separate example of how the business is more important than everything else, I heard on NPR today that some restaurants have been making their waiters pay credit card service charges out of their tips! Apparently the rationale is that since the server gets free money for being a smiley dude, they should be able and willing to pay for the transaction fees on the credit card payments. Now, for those not really in the know, you gotta realize that restaurants ALREADY have a loophole for how to pay waiters less. They pay about half of minimum wage for the base hourly wage, with the remainder supposedly being made up by the tips that the waiter gets. So, if federal minimum wage is $5.15, the restaurant need only pay its waiters $2.15 an hour, unless the tips don't end up leveling off at minimum wage or higher. So, restaurants are already robbing their employees, by skirting good taste and ethics by paying waiters less than MINIMUM wage. Now, there are some who want the waiters to dip into their own cash and cover the service costs. Wretched. See, it is these small steps, very small ones, that allow the companies to get bigger and more reckless. It's sort of a creeping death. Hey, look how far Hitler got in his European vacation before anyone really took him seriously. It happens this way.

I worked for about two years as a pizza delivery dude (Pizza Slut and Dominos). My wage was minimum, but my tips often doubled that, even tripled that. Now, that seemed fair to me. I made more money doing that than all my previous jobs. I just hated the corporate bullshit. They wanted me to please customers, and I did, if my average night's tips were any indication. But they wanted me to conform by wearing stupid uniforms, flying their flag on my vehicle, and so forth. BUT, if I were to get into ANY accident, my ass would have been grass, and they would take me off the road. It happened to one of the most reliable drivers. He stayed for a couple weeks as a regular employee, but after making minumum wage instead of three times that, he left. Apparently we are only an asset to the company while we make money and not controversy or trouble, or bring any notoriety to the company. As soon as that happens, they drop you like a hot potato. Anything to ensure the flow of money into shareholder pockets—that's all they are about. And they will pull any trick in the book, or even write new books, to achieve that.

Anyhow, back to the movie. The business of privatization is basically evil. Don't believe otherwise. The world is NOT for sale. The people of Bolivia had to fight like mad to keep rights to the water that is naturally theirs, but had been privatized (including the RAIN WATER). The people of India are having to defend their ability to keep their own seeds, in opposition to Archer Daniels Midland, the biotech firm that basically has created single season suicidal seeds. Yup. They are fighting for their food. Farmers now have to buy seeds from ADM so they can carry on doing what they have done for millenia. And what happens when ADM fails and the farmer's organic seeds are all gone?

This movie was an endurance test. There were some hilarious moments too, but by and large, it is just one scathing indictment after another of how all the world is under the influence of corporations of one sort or another. Environmental damage, social catastrophe, political corruption and collusion (sort of like IBM selling the Nazis their punch card systems that allowed for the tracking of prisoners and the dead), and genomic patents on the most basic building blocks of all life. It is just an overwhelming thing to watch. It really leaves you with nowhere to go. And, as I said, it seems that the only thing to do is to not buy stuff you don't need, and really challenge yourself to find more ethical suppliers of the stuff you do need. You can't eat, think, walk, breathe, drive, or even shit without there being some sort of corporation making it possible.

I wish this movie and others like it were the blockbusters, instead of the pabulum that passes for entertainment. That at least would give me some hope.