Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wallet Politics: The Power of the Cards in America's Pockets.

Targeted Demographic: The Supreme Court primarily but, in a more broad sense, every American over or near the age of eighteen who maintains the delusion that your vote will ever matter again in American politics.

When I look in my wallet, I see a life or death struggle between two diametrically opposed forces: my Washington State ID which proves that I am a US citizen over the age of eighteen and thus eligible to vote and my Debit card, the real representation of my power or lack thereof because my Debit card is attached to my bank account and my bank account is basically empty and thus, I am not worth very much. But the person against whom my every decision and every vote must contend is worth quite a bit, billions of dollars and nearly unlimited resources and that's because the person against whom every American will now contend is not a person at all but a corporation, a conglomeration of individuals who exists for the single purpose of making money, creating capital on capital on capital and the Supreme Court decided last week that corporations have all the rights of the constitution.

Because if, like they have decided, a corporation is guaranteed the right to free speech (which would apparently be violated if the government doesn't let them spend as much money as they want sponsoring political candidates, parties, etc), than they must also be guaranteed the rest of the rights provided by the Bill of Rights. So a corporation can form a militia to protect its interests (won't that be fun); cannot be forced to testify itself (what does this mean for members of the corporation, i.e. employees who would like to testify against another member maybe the CEO, can the corporation claim the fifth Amendment to prevent itself from testifying).
What counts as excessive bail for a corporation worth billions of dollars?
How long until Microsoft has a vote?
Does a company have to have been founded at least eighteen years ago before it gets that vote?

Beyond that absolutely ridiculous nature of this entire idea, the implications for the American people seem rather dire. Advertising for and against political candidates have been notoriously foul, evil-hearted for at least a century and the omnipresence of media in the Twenty-First century has only exacerbated that problem. Fortunately for the American people, the adds have always needed to be sponsored by a candidate who puts their reputation at risk if the ad proves false, dishonest, or simply immoral in the eyes of the public. But now, the gloves are off and the only slight guarantee of honesty or truth in politics has been wiped away completely.

We are only left with on option, we must place our hands into the laymen, the uneducated masses who must be able to see through a torrential downpour of unadulterated deception and be able to make an intelligent, clear-minded, moral, just decision based on their personal values and personal interests.

How do you think its going to go?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why White Guilt?

Targeted Demographic: Individuals of any race who write off acts of generosity or kindness from whites to any other race because "they are obviously just feeling the white guilt! They're obviously not sincere!" Or any other such bull shit relating to the concept of "white guilt."

In case it wasn't obvious from the tone of the TD, I'd like to point out that I fucking despise this entire concept; as someone whose love of literature in part grows from his acknowledgement of its capability to provide a voice to the voiceless and stomped on, I encounter a lot of stories (both fact and fiction) of people who have felt the oppressive hand of the majority who, in most cases, happens to be power-hungry white dudes. And yet, I shouldn't feel guilty? I shouldn't feel sickened by the actions of people with whom I share a common identity? After all, why should I feel embarrassed? I didn't do any of those heinous things? I'm not the oppressor, I just look like him.

The problem with this is I'd feel guilty even if I wasn't white. I'd look at the acts of those people who I inevitably share some commonality with and be ashamed. But because I am white, any action to rectify or repair the cultural damage is nulled, insincere, unimportant.

Well fuck that. I would feel black guilt if I was black for gangster rap, for BET, for a popular culture that demeans woman and rights off any attempt at personal progress as meaningless because "we're disadvantaged;" I would feel woman guilt for feminine-ism (look it up, it's ridiculous), for taking the freedoms and near-equality gained in the sexual revolution and squandering them on the ability to spend your own money on makeup and trampy clothes instead of your husbands, for the modelling industry; I would feel Christian guilt for allowing the Political right to steal a two-thousand year old religion and re-write it for use in their political agenda, for falling into a mindless follower position despite a religion born of anti-conformity; I'd have Islamic guilt for the extremists who feel it necessary to represent their religion through explosives instead of words.

But I wouldn't be written off for those types of guilt because all of those demographics help form people's identities. White can't be an identity; being white is the lack of racial identity because by forming your identity in part as "a white man," you are siding with the KKK, with the Aryan Nation, with everybody's worst imaginings of an oppressive being, with Bill O'Reilly. Screw that. I am left without a racial identity but I'm still clustered with a bunch of numb-nut assholes who have been lording over (in spite of a number of size issues) every other race on the planet for too many god-damned years.

I'm not asking anybody to feel bad for white folks because they're not allowed to relate to their race unless they happen to be heartless bigots. I don't expect anybody to feel sorry for the majority. But I expect the damn right to do whatever I can to change the common perception of what it means to be white without being written off by a bunch of fucking pricks who feel the need to compensate their inability to do anything productive in society by claiming I'm just feeling white guilt which, incidentally, they probably feel too but feel the need to repress because they're secretly (or not) just really glad they didn't draw the racial short-stick in American society so they don't have to worry about minorities. Or other people at all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WEED Inc.: When corporate evil gets high.

"WEED: American owned and grown since 2009" or
"WEED: The best dime at the best price, now available at Wal-Mart"

Target: Any American who has smoked pot from the terrified pre-teens with connections that smoked it once and spent most of their time coughing up their lungs to the adults-who-don't-give-a-damn-that-its-illegal and have waked-and-baked since they were thirteen and everybody in between.

Disclaimer: I am in all ways tolerant of smoking pot so don't worry! Just keep this scenario in mind when a vote inevitably comes around that could legalize it.

Tomorrow, in a surprise decision and questionable political move, President Obama decides to completely legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana in America effective immediately (bare with me, the rest is more possible). The President's opponents are livid and Nixon rolls over in his grave but millions of Americans call in sick and December 16th becomes the new 4/20 (and next April, most companies just give up and close for the day--fast food chains and grocers are the sole exception). All in all, the day goes down in history.

A year passes. Within that year a young woman named Mary Jane (because I'm trying to make a point, I don't have to be creative) sees dollar signs a mile high. By 12/25/2009, WEED Inc. is formed. She has the legal rights to the name (important! brand loyalty built in from decades), a huge start up loan and a fuck-ton of land in whatever state is most conducive to growing pot. On 3/20 WEED hits the shelves of retailers nationwide after three months of viral advertisement, moving in on as many markets as possible by starting in the center of every major city and spreading outward from there, and most importantly, growing a metric ass-ton of marijuana; within three months the it has become the number one crop in the country. Mary has made sales goals at every turn.
On April 15th, WEED Inc. and Wal-Mart announce a multi-million dollar deal that makes WEED the only marijuana sold in Wal-Marts across the country. Finally, pot is made available to every American over the age of 18 in beautiful packaging from behind the counter at every Wal-Mart in the country.

Two more years pass, Obama is re-elected by a land-slide (his opponent ran on a platform of returning to American values and waging the seemingly lost war on drugs: it didn't work). But the war on drugs hasn't been lost, it just isn't a problem anymore. Tentative studies from the United States Office on Drugs and Crime suggest that the sale and use of all hard drugs has declined dramatically. The arrest rate for distribution of heroine alone has dropped 65 percent. Over-crowding in jails has become a problem of the past. The authors of the gateway drug theory are publicly ridiculed on a constant basis. Crime in general has fallen. A recent Reuters polls suggests that general happiness has increased by 55 percent, job satisfaction by 85.

And poverty in America has reached record levels. Karl Marx rises from the dead out of pure spite at the unparalleled gap between the rich and the poor. The economy as a whole rides on the diminishing middle class and the super rich while the percentage of employed people in poverty has quadrupled. After three years of a satisfied high the political activists who four years earlier fought equally hard for legalization of marijuana as they did for the restriction and control of corporate greed and power hungriness wake up. WEED possesses absolute control over the drug market in America. Acting completely within the law, the company monopolized the new market and Lady Jane, despite her young age, has become one of the most powerful and rich woman in the world. In doing so, she succeeded in putting the entire drug industry out of business. By taking legal control of the marijuana market, she cut out every small-time dealer who made their living off illegal drugs. When you can buy pot (with a quality guarantee) at the same place you buy your groceries and cigarettes you're not going to buy it from shifty dealer down the street and more crucially, you would need to be much more desperate and miserable to be willing to search out harder drugs. The criminal market for marijuana can't exist and the demand for harder drugs has dropped off to its lowest rate in history. And in the process, a lot more people lost their livelihood than the people who did in 2008 when the sub-prime market situation went tits up.

When the politicians and the activists finally realized what the hell was going on (due in part to a revealing documentary on the pre-legalization drug business and its positive effects on the inter-city economy), it was far too late because WEED Inc. had lobbyists now. Think about the difficulty activists and politicians have had trying to make the tobacco companies responsible for their actions. How hard has it been to reign in Big Oil? This situation would only be different in the specifics. A different corporate evil, one that nobody expected to become a corporation at all when they were clambering for the legalization of the product it sells but once the corporation is formed and cemented there is no majority, no mass of people that could stop it because while we do live in a country where one person still equals one vote, we live in a country where the vote of the majority is in all ways secondary to the money of the corporation that would be put down like a rabid beast by that vote.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Death and the Media.

Target: Anybody that watches the news on a regular basis.

This is not the blog I have been meaning to write since about two days after the last one but I've been writing a poem (I'm an English major, we do that sometime, don't worry you'll never have to read it) lately that seems to have turned into a rant against the twenty four hour media cycle in iambic pentameter. As I was moving along with the poem, I noted that death is everywhere in the news these days but then I said it is only presented in tiny segments. And after I finished the neat lines and made sure I had my rhyme scheme together I stopped and though, "oh shit, I've talked myself into a corner. How can death be everywhere on TV and still be compressed into sound bites and video clips?"

And then it hit me: this is a problem. I would say "the" problem but we all know damn well that I am not going to unlock the key dysfunction with 21st century media. One problem (and I think a major one) revolves around this idea, however: although death pervades modern media, little or no context is given, we don't get any reflection (unless you count pointing the finger and playing political games). When was the last time you were able to take a moment of silence following a death without spending it contemplating the political maneuvering that must have motivated whatever person just called for the moment? It's been quite a damn long time for me. Beyond that, when was the last time any body even thought to take a moment of silence?

But that isn't my point. I'm not telling people they have to stop and think every time they find out somebody got shot from the evening news. I do think however that the news should be responsible enough to spend a moment reflecting on the significance of the lost lives that they report on even when that life didn't belong to fucking Michael "Probably fiddled with little boys but now that he's dead we're all bat shit crazy about him" Jackson.

Seriously, news is not supposed to be entertaining and I don't even think it needs to be politically motivated. But of course, the only time something important is ever going to be covered is if somebody gives it a political spin and yells at you about it. If naked or nearly naked women/famous people are not involved or nobody is foaming at the mouth, sending spittle flying all over their desk with righteous fury, nobody wants to pay any attention. Which is why every solemn moment of reflection over the death of somebody that didn't make shitty music or spend lots and lots of money to enjoy a political career during which they probably didn't get much done, would lose precious ratings for the news channel that included such an idiotic notion while their competitors took the brainy route and got past the death in a car accident (unless there was alcohol involved because that would require a nice little preachy moment afterward) in the thirty seconds they were supposed to and moved on to the next tramp flashing her pussy for the cameras.

On the other hand, what could anybody do about this? They can't spend any more time than they already do focusing on death and they definitely can't start thinking about the significance of those deaths, even thinking about it enough to write this blog makes me sick to my stomach. People don't really need any more negative shit on TV, right? Thirty seconds of death crammed in between whatever political nonsense is happening is already a lot to deal with after a long day, the only reason some of us still feel the need to get up in the morning is because the nice folks at the nightly news throw us all a bone and ramble about sports and the weather for a while in between real news stories. The really great thing about those topics (other than the fact that they are constant and a lot of people care about them so they keep the ratings up) is no matter how shitty the local sports team did this afternoon and no matter how much snow is going to be fucking with your commute in the morning, there is always hope that things are going to get better on the weather and sports front. Even the political arena offers the occasional ray of sunshine when a bill gets passed that you've been hoping for since you were thirteen and realized you had opinions.

It's too bad when somebody falls down dead for no apparent reason or gets shot in a war zone or loses a battle with cancer there is no hope of a reversal. There is no good trade to improve your teams chances and there is no warm air front that is going to get you to work on time tomorrow. And the only thing any of us can do is bare with it but the least we could do instead of jockeying for political position or carting Michael's corpse around the country is try to prevent the next one.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why a Cigar is Never Just a Cigar

Target: Anybody that does not study literature or has ever wondered why people who do pay so much attention to nit-noid details.

Freud once suggested, in a wry, old man's voice that "sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar." And this is absolutely true... In psychology. It is never true in literature and I imagine people wonder why that is.

Nobody has ever asked me this question but I remember sitting in high school surrounded by people who I think would have loved an answer. I also remember wondering how any teacher could stand at the front of a room with twenty five faces staring up (if he happened to have their attention) at him and never wonder why twenty of those faces demonstrated a lost and bewildered expression as he went on about the significance of a conk shell to a bunch of stranded children. It always made sense to me and I recognized the few other students who also got it but I wonder what it would have taken for the whole room to be in on it. Of course, I am not so much of an idealist to really imagine that possible but I think a simple explanation of why English Majors--which I mean to be anybody that reads literature for things like theme, symbolism, figurative language, etc.--do what they do would have really helped people not hate the subject.

So, what do I think the reason is? The long and the short of it for me is that (1)language leads inevitably to questions and (2)literature is controlled and manipulated language. But does language always lead to questions? It's possible to make a statement that does not leave any ambiguity, right? I don't think there is but why don't we try. I'm going to grab a book and choose any line and see what questions present themselves.

The closest book at hand happens to be a text book "The Norton Anthology: American Literature 1820-1865" and I turned to the first page of an excerpt from Moby Dick. The novel starts with the famous line, "Call me Ishmael." You might think there isn't much to this beyond the obvious: the narrator is named Ishmael. But who is he other than that? Where is he from? Ishmael isn't a common name. Which also begs the question, when is he from? Is there a reason for his ambiguity? He doesn't say concretely that his name is Ishmael, that's just what he wants you to call him that.

Three words and a handful of questions. Melville continues, "Some years ago--nevermind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world." You can imagine how many more questions you can ask of this.

Why is this relevent, though? So, language might lead to questions, why does that mean English teachers everywhere have to stretch everything so far? Why can't the cigar or conk shell or what have you just be whatever it is? The reason for this lies in the second argument above: Literature is language controlled and manipulated to tell a story. But that story goes deeper than the plot because if it didn't nobody would read it. Initially that means character development and the emotional arc(s) that gives the plot meaning. And this is where the symbolism and tone and metaphors come in. When an author puts the cigar into her story (or emphasizes it in a non-fiction work) she expects it to bring certain things to your mind. A cigar has certain connotations and cultural significance. For instance, when I think of a cigar I think of a movie from when I was a kid called "All Dogs Go to Heaven" where the villain-dog wore a business suit and smoked a huge cigar. And I bring this mental image to a text. Obviously the author might not expect this exact image but she understands the general effect it will have on you.

So then, the real goal of a close reading of a text (which is what English majors do) is to get as much into the story as we possibly can. By reading (no pun intended) into the connotations and symbolism and figurative language (metaphors and similes) we can develop a more complete understanding of the story including the characters, plot and philosophy therein.