Archives for category: the new economy

Five straight skinny reasons why *The Wire* is revolutionary, and TV’s best-ever show.

1.) Real People
As with British and Australian films and TV (as well as Euro, Persian, Chinese and world film and TV, which I don’t watch a lot of), the cast looks like real people. Many of them are. It’s not that many of them are black, which they are, it is that the white people and the black people all look like real people, not Meg Ryan’s post-surgery lips. As Liz Taylor used to say, “There are no real tits in Hollywood any more.”

There are in *The Wire*, and it is thrilling to see. No orthodontia. No nose jobs. No videogenic lipstick of a coral shade only seen in nature on blow up dolls. The diversity of peoples’ teeth, noses, skin textures, hands is beautiful to see. Sonia Sohn’s epithelial folds are almost as titanic a thing of beauty to regard as James Gandolfini’s eyes. The sets are natural colors too. Trees, water, blood, ruins.

2.) No Heroes
There is no star system. There are no heroes. The Hollywood/derriere garde/Aristotelian heroic system in which the story is the story of one handsome young guy does not exist in *The Wire*. They kill a protagonist off every season. The one you really love. McNulty, who is less the protagonist than the linking device, is far less attractive a hero than his creators believe (there is a lot of macho shit going on in the writing, a point to which I shall return.) And there is a reason the macho shits have the confidence to do that. And it’s not just in the ensemble player system.

3.) Real Life Mimesis
It is mimesis. Simon and Burns created the stories out of real life, with which, as a reporter and a homicide detective-turned-middle-school teacher, respectively, they were fairly familiar.

You know, of course, that Hollywood scriptwriters are all old Poonies. That is, they wrote for the Harvard Lampoon before they all got jobs writing for the Simpsons.

Cambridge to Hollywood. Not a circuit famous for the intrusion of anything but ideas, some of them wholesome, but quickly forgotten. Hollywood writers don’t know anything. They make stuff up. It’s called diegesis, as I’m sure you recall, which means basically narrative.

Simons is instinctually clear on the difference between making shit up and being a good writer. He also puts his finger on what keeps old reporters from ever really being able to let go of – let’s just call it, The Game. It’s why people who are paying attention to real life, and writing mimesis, will come up with a killa new protagonist – D’Angelo, Stringer, Frank Sobotka, Michael and the lost boys – every season, because they’re all out there. In the city. The major reason Simon’s new effort Treme is a flop is because he doesn’t know that city, and is falling back on tropes and stereotypes. And diegesis, like a Hollywood guy.

“God is not a second-rate novelist,” Simon says. “God knows what he’s doing, and if you just take what actually happened and marry it to where you want to go, it’s better than if you thought of it yourself.”
http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2006/08/wire-money-for-something.html

4.) The Back Channel Economy Is Ruthlessly Capitalist
The sharpest political lesson is not we’re all together in The Game. Many people I respect argue this, eliding the point that ruthless capitalism is an I.Q. test for the underclass, apropos a season four episode in which a hopper repeats state senator Clay Davis’ line about taking the money of people who are giving it, and the disgraced police major Bunny Colvin says goodbye to his superiors in the same terms Stringer Bell faces down his executioners. The egalitarianism of The Game, in which the good guys and the bad guys share values is a good point and an interesting one. The political smarm of the idea that sexist black thugs are capitalists just like Nice People is more easily felt when one recalls that Spielberg dedicated “Schindler’s List”, in which the capitalist saves Jews, to his dead capitalist mentor, Steve Ross.

To me the sharpest political point is not, perhaps, that the back channel economy, The Game, systeme D, is as resistant to the reform efforts of people like Stringer Bell and D’Angelo Barksdale as mainstream politics and economics. It is that the back channel economy is just as ruthless a capitalist system to all who do not conform to the macho shit norm as the mainstream economy. In other words, all the macho shits are playing on a level field and the rest of us can suck eggs.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/28/black_market_global_economy

5.) Cynicism As a Full Employment Mandate for Reporters
I disagree with Simon’s politics, which seem to be that The City is failing because its institutions, including the back channel economy, are incapable of reform, due to the self interest of people like the master politician, the spider seemingly at the center of the web, the police commissioner Ervin Burrell.  The image of a truly powerful black man in Burrell and his performance has gone under-appreciated. I appreciate it. And I disagree with Simon’s apparent politic that no politics can or will save the city, and that only individual action, like Cutty’s, can make a difference in anyone’s life. I reiterate here that Cutty is a character invented by George Pelecanos, not Simon and Burns, to relieve the cataclysm of entropy Simon so enjoys depicting.

The cynicism is pretty much one of self –interest. A broken city is a reporter’s full employment mandate, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have to think some more about the fallacies of cynicism; one of them is bullying. RIP, Hitchens.
http://amphibian7.blogspot.com/2007/09/fallacy-of-cynicism.html

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As a knitter, the Intelligent Craftafarian, as I call Kate Davies, is at the forefront of the British fashion sustainability movement (I say it’s punk, and it is spectacular). She has been asked by the awesome women who grow and shear their own sheep at Juniper Moon Farm in Charlottesville, VA to design a sweater made from heirloom hardy wool suitable for outerwear. (Dr. Davies gently sneers at the little girlie merinos, silk blends yet, that I’m crocheting useless little girlie garments with, which, she assures me, will pill and look ratty before they’re off the needle. So femme, my bad.)

The straight skinny on sustainable choices for fashion design. My theory is that the British art and fashion schools developed these curricula from straight edge punk culture. Alexander McQueen was the apotheosis of this.

There’s nothing I love more than a process story, about how things go from the sheep’s back to my back. The women will shear, card and spin the hardy wool, commission sweater designs from masters like Dr. D and then commission master knitters to make them. All by hand, for a sweater of hardy wool, barely twigless, that will outlast hard wear on your herring dinghy in the North Seas, perhaps, or digging peat on top of Ben Bleak, for perhaps three generations. Dr. D’s post touches too on the celebration of 21st century sheep farming as women’s work in the logo the ladies have designed, featuring ladies as both shepherd and shearer. (And sheep, too, I think. No nasty horns there.)

Juniper Moon Farm logo for their sheep-to-sweater project.
http://www.fiberfarm.com/2012/11/the-big-announcement

I can’t wait to see the heirloom/21st century Ninja shepherdess sweaters Kate and her colleagues design. This has set me to thinking about my local heirloom Navajo churro sheep, their hardy wool, and getting somebody to design an undyed fisherman’s type sweater based on Navajo designs.

From To Walk in Beauty: A Navajo Family’s Journey Home, by Stacia Spragg-Braude.

If like me you are a diehard lover of cities and the sidewalk, where democracy is formed, you’ll love Chop Shop,  now streaming at Netflix. Ebert says it’s one of the best movies of the oughties. I wouldn’t know, but it has many virtues.

The 12-year-old actor Alejandro Polanco celebrates Willets Point, Queens, in the 2007 neo-realist movie, Chop Shop.

First, it is neo-Marxist. Modernity, it is argued, began in public space with the uprooting of the cobblestones people used to throw at the Bastille. And democracy itself was invented in the plazas of Athens, where citizens gathered to vote on civic matters. Willets Point is not a planned city – so far from being planned it overlooks Rikers Island, the nexus of New York City chaos – and has no sewage system or streetlights. It is an organic, Systeme D — the back channel economy in which half the world’s workers now labor — explosion of auto parts and repair shops where there used to be junk yards.  Visually, cinematically, it is the opposite of the planned, organized, civilized city and much more in the realm of the visual chaos Robert Venturi first discovered in Las Vegas, and Rem Koolhaas celebrates in Lagos.

Willets Point is the urban version of the vast parking lot in which most suburban Americans live, and which academic architecture, who fancy themselves the avatars of modernity, are just beginning to address.  It is not the architecture of reassurance symbolized by Disneyland and everything else Hollywood builds into a set.

The suburbs – I suppose Queens could be considered a suburb of Manhattan – are where all the entry level immigrants now live. The outer boroughs are no longer for white people only, and that clash and ascendancy of cultures is what Chop Shop is partly about. Shea Stadium is right there; the kids sneak into baseball games; everyone in the world wants to own an American muscle car and comes to Willets Point to get one.

Second, the  neo-realist story idea arose from reality. No member of the chattering classes has ever laid eyes on Willets Point, Queens. No Spielberg or Bruckheimer has the nerve to emerge from un-air-conditioned space to regard actuality.

The Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, guided there by a roadie who’d had his own car chopped there, spent months hanging out in Willets Point.  He didn’t know what his story was going to be. He waited for the neighborhood to tell him. In the visual chaos, he slowly began to see that there were children who lived and worked there.* That children in America live and work in junk yards is something you’d never know unless you just quietly hung around a place, not re-conforming the reality to make it videogenic. Apprehending, I don’t know, reality.

Third, he had no casting director and basically no lines to memorize, only a carefully rehearsed and diligently pre-shot, shot and re-shot improv script. He found the lumniscent young actors who play the orphaned brother and sister himself. Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales epitomize the lure of British television and movies to me – indeed Bollywood, Australian, Spanish movies and movies everywhere else but America – they are real faces. Uncut, unBotoxed, shining out light the way no Hollywood mask can.

Gonzales and Polanco live in a crawl space above the chop shop.

Polanco looks, walks, speaks, and acts everything that is good about boys of all ages, and the poignancy of his being 12 years old, a little man — sometimes trudging like a tiny pigeon-toed old man —  is the heart of the story of the working child. Gonzales has the more unsympathetic part, more difficult, perhaps to play than the beautiful boy, but her face in the scene in which she embraces her little brother and swings his legs around in a kickball game is one I will never forget. Then there’s the pigeon scene at the end. Oh me.

Gonzales and Polaco kick ball in Chop Shop.

Finally, there are scenes in the movie, notably one in the subway where Polanco and his much shorter sidekick sell candy, in which there are no actors whatever. Every candy buyer in the subway cars – mostly hard-looking young African-American men – is a real New Yorker caught by Bahrani’s hand-held camera. Bahrani says, “That’s the great thing about New Yorkers is, they’ve seen so many cameras they don’t really care. (Laughter) I’m amazed still. Like, that woman who—not even once does she look into the camera, or even care! No one asked any questions, either, like, “Why is there a camera and five people following?” They just bought their candy and went… It’s amazing, you know? Thank you, because that was like New Yorkers; they allow these things to happen.”

http://www.movingimagesource.us/files/dialogues/3/81269_programs_transcript_html_302.htm

Totally open, and totally cool. The new Jerusalem, the city on the hill for which we left so much behind. Run, comrade. The old world is behind you.

_____________________________________

*The NYT has a wonderful piece about the single, lone legal resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone,of the auto repair ghetto where so much life goes down.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/nyregion/17willets.html?_r=0)

Cont’d.

By the time I was 40, a small legacy, and  a house painfully acquired in a divorce, made me independently poor.

I quit jobbing, turned myself into a genocide scholar, wrote a 250,000 word manuscript, read some books, talked to some people, walked my two parents each through their deaths, and took up charity work. There  the action was even more brutal than it is in the working world.

Click. I am at a meeting for the Committee of 100, Washington D.C.’s smartest and most effective guardians of public space, in the tradition of Jane Jacobs. You know, like democracy was formed in, and takes place in, the public space.

All you need to know, by the world’s pioneer independent scholar.

The Committee are the only people in the world who got the joke when I called the World War Two Memorial on the national mall “the anti-Farrakhan device.” The memorial would be built smack dab in the center of the Million Man March crowd you see in the video clip link.

The Million Man March, October, 1995, takes place in public space subsequently occupied by the World War Two Memorial, whose siting was vehemently opposed by the Committee of 100 for the Federal City. The national mall was envisioned by L’Enfant as the nation’s gathering place of the democracy, and was the site of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Large crowds are now unable to gather in that spot.

The Committee of 100 see themselves as very refined, as architects and urban designers do. They are. They’re dapper. They’re diverse.  They played a heroic part in resisting a racist highway, a la Robert Moses, through D.C.’s poor neighborhoods. Yet somehow, in the ’90s, a woman who fires a buddy of mine, her personal assistant, for “promoting a homosexual agenda” has risen to the top of the volunteer heap. She’s the president of this worthy organization. It’s in some Ivy League lunch club downtown whose name I can’t recall, emphasizing its old Washington Green Book liberals provenance.

The superintendent of the Washington, D.C. National Parks Service is at my table. She is preparing to speak after lunch. I am chatting her up. We both spent some time as children, as I recall, in Liberia. We have met previously on one occasion, when she came to the neighborhood park on whose board I serve to discuss the installation of a 10-foot wide bicycle path down the middle of the long and skinny park.

Me in Liberia, ca. 1952.

The community and the park board are united, for the first and probably last time in history, in opposition to the installation of the path. It’s basically because there would be no place left for pedestrians, dogs and children in the park. The entire park would effectively be rendered into shoulders for a commuter cyclists’ super highway. A years’ worth of letter-writing campaigns and full neighborhood opposition to the path have not been communicated by the D.C. park guy in charge, who wants to install the path with the white boys’ cyclists’ gravy train money.  This fits in with the theme throughout this saga of the privatization by unscrupulous private corporate interests of the commonweal. The park had been abandoned by the impoverished D.C. government, we had stepped in, and now the D.C. government wanted to kill the park with other peoples’ money.

The D.C. park guy is in the park with us, along with four or five other functionnaires, standing in the park gesticulating with blueprint rolls. He declares the 10-foot-wide bicycle path is “a done deal”.  This is a surprise to me. I beg to differ, on behalf of the park board and the community, whose organization in opposition to the path I led. The National Parks lady simply has not been informed by the D.C. park people that the bicycle path is anathema to the voters. I got to do that. By myself. Because I was the only member of the board and of the entire community who had time to spare in their busy schedules that day to prevent the National Park Service from signing on to the death of the park.

There’s another issue between the National Parks executive and the Friends of Rose Park. Rose Park is contiguous with a national park, along the edge of a cliff which is Rock Creek Park. The police tell me, and the community supports them, that they want to install street lights in a space in which rapes and muggings occur on a monthly basis. The National Parks lady opposes the installation of street lights because her number one priority is protection of the easement along the border between the D.C. park and the national park. Streetlights to save lives would impinge on the National Park easement.

In the secluded downtown university club, at the round luncheon table, I did not raise the issue of the double-cross with her. Nor the life-threatening dysfunction and deliberate depredations of the public health and safety. I’d been shanghai’d, set up and ambushed into confronting her in the park. None of that was mentioned. Only polite luncheon party discourse. What I will never forget is the look of fear in her eyes as she gathered the cards for her speech together after lunch. She looked up, an educated and effective woman executive,  a black champion of urban public space about to address her constituency, the whites showing all around her irises, as if she were about to enter the Roman colosseum in chains. She caught my eye, and I had to look down, at the starched white tablecloth.

Next up: abortion clinic defense, community journalism, the botanical gardens

(Cont’d.)

What I learned in those 32 years will never go on my resume. Tell the real truth and old friends step away as the pastoral counsellor asks — as he did a friend of mine — if he can video your story. Shrinks cry and tell you their problems. You are radioactive, baby. Welcome to the underclass.

Freelancing, for example, for the great civil rights think tank, one learns that freelancers are responsible for three things. Cooking statistics, which can later be denied as the work product of a freelancer; fielding gross sexual harassment as freelancers are eponymously without protectors; and being told after the fact that the number one job requirement is contacting one’s friends, and former colleagues, at the great metropolitan daily newspaper and asking them to come to the think tank annual dinner. Dear reader, I declined.

Stokely Carmichael: The only position for a woman in the movement is prone.

The Women’s Business Center class of the Small Business Administration taught accounting by inviting an accounting firm to come in and give us their pitch, as well as the tip to buy $500 worth of accounting software. This was the correct advice for two of the 15 women in the class. The rest of us had worked high-expense account jobs, elaborate divorce settlements, investments, household finances and honest tax returns with a pencil, a shoebox full of receipts, and a calculator if we were numerate.  Though I can spot a cooked statistic at 5,000 paces, I can neither add or subtract. They taught us how to write a business plan by inviting a banker in to give us her pitch, never explaining that a business plan is the document banks require to give you a loan to start a business. If you’re not applying for a loan, you don’t need to do this. Finally, after eight weeks of sales pitches from Beltway bandits, we were awarded pink certificates with AVON emblazoned on them as if we’d just learned to become door-to-door cosmetics saleswomen. At no time during the previous eight weeks had we seen or heard of any Avon connection or interest in our micro-finance businesses.

Show me your business plan, bitch.

The continuing education department at the university offered a $2000 course in paralegalling, connected, as many second career continuing education systems are with the state vocational rehabilitation system. Professor X calls it America’s biggest Ponzi scheme.

A community college professor reveals the connections between “job readiness” scams and institutions of continuing education.

Asked what the hourly wage for paralegals was, the retired and widowered lawyer teaching the course would reply only that one of her former students made $18 an hour. The gravy started to get wavy with that answer and I checked her out on one of the rate-my-professor websites. Previous students in Colorado noticed she knew nothing about Constitutional law. And so it proved; she had a retired Tea Party cop come in and teach us Con law. Such as it is here in the land of enchantment.

Having paid the $2000 class fee and the $1000-plus internship fee, one graduate — a former teacher terribly injured in an automobile accident — told me the only jobs she was being offered paid $10 an hour. I can’t make it on $10 an hour, she said. Me, I don’t need to, because I paid out of my own pocket, worked like an animal, and flunked the class with a C. It’s not your niche, the non-practicing lawyer told me. I could see her point.

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce here in Macondo was offering computer literacy and resume writing classes, funded by a big fat grant. We all trooped over to get brushed up on the latest Microsoft permutations. The resume class was taught by a former special education teacher and cage fighting champion, a charming young person apparently hired for an ability to persuade felons and computer-truculent old black and brown ladies to apply for work online. We all sat there as he took us to the resume template website, and then through the long aptitude and morals test that is part of the Walmart job application. He never said we were applying for jobs at Walmart,even though the HCC has long been funded by Walmart. I personally helped my podmate on the left, the felon, get through the morals part. He bought me coffee. The podmate on my right was a black woman nearly 80 years old, who kept sharp believing that computers were part of The Plan.

You will apply for a $7-an-hour, non-union job at Walmart. Viva la raza.

We all applied for jobs at Walmart, me with a fake address. Every three weeks for the next six months, the cage fighter would call and ask me if I found work. Once he called me in for some kind of medical guinea pig job. I arrived and enraged the director by ascertaining that in fact they did not have my resume on file, and that I was not qualified for the guinea pig work. I stared him down, in the vida loca style I learned hanging out with Cambodian gangsters in Long Beach, and he apologized.

Three extended volunteer gigs with civic groups taught me a whole ‘nother boondoggle.

To be continued.

Shrewd subalterns rise to the top of the meritocracy by telling us about the lie, and living it large. By being Eddie Said, tall, tan, and terrific in Savile Row tweeds, throwing stones at the Israelis’ wall, stifling Carolyn Heilbrun, and conferring an agency on Jane Austen never imagined by the generations of white sexist professors when Said, the brown one, said The Gentle Author was a tool of British imperialism. The lie, for women of my class, is more easily apprehensible than it is for the men, and if it comes through, it is apprehended in epiphanies about life at the top.

Said’s revolutionary 1978 book, which invented post-colonial and subaltern studies.

The lie is basically that progress is inevitable, and that if you work hard enough, keep all your teeth, speak business English, dress like them in chinos, blue button downs, and Top Siders, you will get a good job. Which will procure a trophy woman and trophy children. You will keep both the good job and the expensive woman and the talented children. This isn’t a lie. It happens. The lie is that if you do everything right, you will feel as if you are in the flow, and capitalist society, if not the god of Protestant money management and the prosperity Gospel, will inevitably make you rich and fill your life with abundance. This works for basketball players the way it does for George W. Bush, the benchmark of whose white privilege, lest you forget, was being handed his presidency on a silver platter by the Supreme Court majority his father had confected. God gives you these things if your grandfather was a Senator and you have the stones to run for president on an anti-Washington platform.

Bush v. Gore, 2000.

Creating and getting into the flow of white privilege is what all of us who want to make a living need to do. Your grandpa needs to be a Senator, and I wish you the best of luck with that. For women or people of color, the ’60s generation who intervened in the flow, or just tried to get good jobs, the apprehension of the lie, it seems to me, came in little doses.

Click, as Jane O’Reilly defined, forty years ago,  the moment of revolutionary insight for feminists. I am looking at the typewriter font and pixelated red margins of the six-ply newspaper copy paper on which the editor at the great metropolitan daily newspaper wrote and posted office memos. Between the inch and a half-wide red stripes, with the white silhouettes of spectral sixes glowing in them, he has typed the schedule of who is working weekends. My name is on the list maybe three times more often than the two white boys who were hired the same time I was.

Click. Jane O’Reilly’s cover story for the inaugural issue of Ms. magazine.

Click. I am in the White House press room, which Nixon built over JFK’s notorious swimming pool. I am feeding quarters into the Coca Cola machine and staring at the framed black and white photographs on the wall opposite. They’re of the White House press corps of bygone days, this one sometime during World War Two. Maybe 60 men in fedoras are sitting on a bleacher in front of the Capitol. Their names are written underneath. I read them all, and think, I haven’t heard of any of these people except Merriman Smith. The great UPI reporter had just committed suicide.

Click. The newshens, women who had become reporters in the ’30s. ’40s. and ’50s, who fought like tigers to edit copy at night or cover Pat Nixon, gave all of us our start in the newspaper business. Literally. One of them took me to the White House for the first time to show me how to cover Pat Nixon. Dorothy McCardle was then in her seventies, and had started out in life covering the Lindbergh baby trial and the explosion of the Hindenberg. I once watched her, like Baryshnikov doing sleight-of-body in The Dybbuk, slip through the Secret Service, police and other protection lines to follow Jackie Kennedy on her private tour of the Kennedy Center on the night of its opening. I went to Dorothy’s dentist for 15 years, until an emergency visit to the periodontist revealed he hadn’t been cleaning my teeth, every four months, properly, for nearly a generation.

Click. Another one of the newshens got me good assignments and a $5,000 raise. And one day, may God forgive me, I raised my eyes from my typewriter, and saw her, across the newsroom, approaching 60, breaking her ass over some other Pat Nixon story, and said, if I stay here another minute, I will turn into that. My brilliant black friend, who finally got the job at the New York Times, looked up from her computer one day at a little grey man in a little grey suit killing himself over some other Pat Nixon story, and said to herself, that’s the famous reporter pundit William Boot. This is all there is.

Nixon resigns, by Harry Benson. They also serve who only stand and wait.

And so, when the laid-off executives and retired moguls and the redundant electricians, all those guys who bought it, start complaining that no one invites them out to dinner any more, that people look through them at cocktail parties, that they feel like their cocks fell off, that all their friends departed once they lost the driver/the access/the money/the juice and that bitch of a gold-digging wife, that they know how the n*****s and the s***s feel when they are turned down for the hundreds of jobs they’re applying for, that the charities they volunteer for offer them work picking up dog shit, that they claim, in their eponymous geezer websites, now to be “making art”, though the jay pegs posted show little evidence of it, despite all those weekends off that my ass worked instead of theirs, or, like Leonard Woolf, the radiant stoic, calculate that over the 90 years of his highly productive life he had, in 200,000 hours of labor, produced nothing of lasting value, you know what I think?

I think click.

That’s all there is.

My BBF and I knew it when we were 30 years old. Grow the fuck up.  My BBF also showed me that a real woman pays her own mortgage, through thick and thin. It will make a man of you.  Writes Woolf,

Looking back at the age of eighty-eight over the fifty-seven years of my political work in England, knowing what I aimed at and the results, meditating on the history of Britain and the world since 1914, I see clearly that I achieved practically nothing. The world today and the history of the human anthill during the last fifty-seven years would be exactly the same as it is if I had played pingpong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda. I have therefore to make the rather ignominious confession to myself and to anyone who may read this book that I must have in a long life ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.
— The Journey Not the Arrival Matters, 158.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Poignant, to me, is the book store sticker on the faded paper cover of this hardback book. It says Savile Book Shop, 3236 P St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. The Savile closed in 1978;  I was reading Leonard’s observations about work shortly after the publication of the foruth volume of his biography in 1970, and quoting the old socialist in the newspaper by the early ’70s. Working weekends. And nights. Not the best prescription for a marriage.

So it seems as if there would be no surprises, no damage done, to such a person when I started, thirty-two years later, aged 62, to look for work. Again.

To be continued.

I’ve started reading from its beginning the blog of a young father and artist, who makes his living being one, who is also a big foodie. I’ve known two other fine artists well who also lived to cook, and who were wonderful gardeners. I think it’s the same engagement with materiality rather, I submit, than sensuality. Hmm. Marxist materialism?

I was inspired to read this guy’s blog through Punk Domestics, which concept I’m much interested in. The PD blog is basically about DIY preserving — meat, jam, canning. I was hoping it would have more home-made household cleansers and tips. I am interested to know how it differs from the Gen X peak oil survivalist bunkerites and the competitive tiger moms intent on banning all germs, toxins, and vaccinations from the lives of their autistic children before they give up the SUV. One clue is the punks are urban and arguably exogamous.

Artisanal Brooklyn is strongly implied, with rooftop gardening and urban farming , food coops like Rainbow Grocery run by the grey spikes rather than the grey ponytails, ghetto green guerrillas and communitarian gardens implicated. As opposed to bunkers far away from the scary black people.

An Oakland guerrilla green tells her tale.

I am much concerned about humane meat and am pretty much not reassured by Jamie Oliver’s snuff films, the allegation that that famous empath,  Zuckerberg, kills all his own meat and became a man eating chicken gizzards. Now it is alleged he wants to learn to hunt.

I am not reassured by urban farmers growing turkeys and pigs in their own tiny rowhouse back yards. I am often horrified in the punk/survivalist blogs at the ignorant inhumanity with which domestic animals are treated, exposed to every disease and predator by people who don’t have the money for proper feed, fences, pasture, waste management, and veterinarians. And brag about it. I actually called the humane society in a rural Montana county to sic them on people shamelessly abusing goats. I’m trying to figure out how to do it in France.

I am curious about the punk canning mentality.

This young man now makes his own salami and Edam or Gouda cheese, in the tradition of the hippie generation of chefs like Paul Bertolli, who Italified Chez Panisse,  and the Gen X granny chefs like Mario Batali, Manhattan’s hot chef, whose father retired after 30 years at Boeing to make salami. Punk Domestics had a year-long Charcutepalooza based on Ruhlman’s new meat-curing Bible. These are not your hippie grandpa’s peace-to-all-beings vegetarians. I would suspect their ethics less if they were nicer to their ghetto rowhouse animals, and if they ate more tripe.

I am reassured that Ruhlman et al., if not the punk domestics, have engaged with, and give recipes for, the Marxist materiality of pig’s blood, heads, and ears. It’s not just about the killing, Zuckerberg, or the Ozzy Osbourne machismo of biting the head off  something besides a Whopper. It’s about the dead and respecting every part. It’s about authenticity.

The earliest parts of the young man’s food blog are interestingly concerned with the transformation of leftovers into something else, vegan onion soup into calzones, for example. There was a brief post on the composition and color of the plating of the leftover risotto balls he’d made into arancini. This suggests more an upcycling, hoarding, thrifting, transsubstantiation, magpie, collageur mentality than an actually discriminating palate.

We’ll see. The question is, how much salami do you need in the apocalypse, and whether or not this DIY everything is a full employment mandate scam, as I suspect attachment parenting/breastfeeding the ambulatory is for SAHMs.

I am all about a new profit model and  System D. My father was a big Green, and I grew up composting and recycling and worrying about the archipelagoes of pellets floating on the surface of the Atlantic, which he started talking about  in the 1950s, composed of shit and petroleum emulsified with detergent.

Me, my father, and the ocean. Puerto Rico, ca. 1950.

I am still researching the piece on Edward Espe Brown as the most influential cook of the 20th century. I am encouraged by my research into the source of his recipes — forensic evidence noone else has — that research into the ripoff use of his recipes by Waters, Tower, Katzen and Batali will reveal similar unarguable lines of descent, Waters being the alleged most influential chef of the 20th century, Tower being her main early influence and employee, Katzen being the east coast hippie chef who now serves on Harvard nutrition panels, and Batali the current rage of Manhattan chefs. Like Brown’s,  Katzen’s hippie chef/vegetarian books were and are massive best-sellers. Unlike Brown, she did not sign all her profits over to the Moosewood collective. (Maybe she did. I have to check that out. I bet she didn’t.)

Always been a foodie, worked in a restaurant for a couple of years, avid reader of a wide range of cookbooks. With EEB, I’m getting to the place where it’s all porn and what I eat is simpler. Last night I had cantalope, smoked local Tucumcari Gouda, artisanal sourdough and Costco butter for dinner. (Got to check that out and go for the humane butter.)

So I was very interested to see people I suspect of the punk, straighter edge, food distribution, Gen X Gordon Edgar  and Rainbow Grocery ilk, pace old hippies, featured in the NYT piece on small farmers. Some of them are now former migrant workers who have been taught organic microfarming by awesome organizations like Viva Farms. http://www.vivafarms.org/p/our-farmers.html

And some of them are Lena Dunham dead-end urban job Gen Z refugees, living in an RV without internets and television, doting upon the doggie their rural setting now permits them to keep. They’re 25 and they met in college.

Jenny and Alex Smith, Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times.

They remind me a lot of the permaculture hustlers blog of young Australians I read. They make a living by inviting people to come and learn permaculture on their farm — while paying to farm it.
http://milkwood.net/

Planting freedom is a burgeoning idea, and not just at Viva Farms, which seems to be specializing in training former migrant workers. Black Americans returning to the south and planting Juneteenth emancipation gardens is one thread. Another is the discovery, preservation, and promulgation of nearly waterless vegetable crops and techniques, like pre-Colombian water catchment structures, developed by Native Americans in the southwest and sold as Noah’s ark crops, standing tall and dry against genetically engineered, faraway, water rights war-inspiring, unsustainable agribusiness.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/garden/juneteenth-gardens-planting-the-seeds-of-survival.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.nativeseeds.org/

I keep wondering if I plant the Tohono O’odham garden, will they prosper? I did plant their melons this year and await them with pleasure.
https://nativeseeds.org/index.php/store/992/2/seeds/seed-buckets-and-collections/sc003/P-tohono-oodham-seed-collection
http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/

On the EEB research, one of the key pieces of the puzzle is Sibella Kraus, Alice Waters’ first forager, who was a line cook at Chez Panisse and went on to study agricultural economics and become a food activist.

This is one of the punk, System D, locavore jobs of the future. My father spent his life teaching sustainable fish farming in the Third World. Now it comes down to doing the same in the New World.

Ever since I read this vignette, in 2000, about Bill Gates’ great Eureka, in which he finally ceases to be an entirely white boy, I have been thinking.

Gates looks back with some amusement at his belated realization that access to technological information might not be the answer to the world’s most serious problems. Microsoft was donating computers to poor communities in Africa in the mid-90’s, and during a visit to Johannesburg, Gates went to Soweto where he was proudly shown the town’s single computer. As he took in his surroundings, he recalls, he said to himself: ”Hey, wait a minute — there’s only one electrical outlet in this whole place.’ And yup, they had plugged in that computer, and when I was there, man, that thing was running and everybody was very thankful. But I looked around and thought, Hmm, computers may not be the highest priority in this particular place. I wondered, Who the heck is going to be really using this thing?”
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/16/magazine/how-to-give-away-21.8-billion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

I’ve been collecting a number of pieces of string around this, one being that Gates was so overwhelmed by actually being able to See something among all the invisible men and sockets in Soweto that he missed the picture of Tupac taped to the wall. I imagine the wall to be made of flattened 25-liter cooking oil tins. Maybe the picture is of Diddy or Little Richard or Snoop or Afrika Bambaataa or L’il Kim’s plastic breasts. Maybe it is affixed to the wall with a magnet, or wired to the wall through holes drilled in the tins. Whoever the picture is of, it is not a picture of anything Americans promulgate as American culture. American culture would be the socket they don’t have. The software Gates is trying to sell them.

From that moment, I realized that African Americans are the arbiters of American and thus global popular culture. Just finished reading a book called An Empire  of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. I await the sequel, about how African Americans — and System D — invented popular culture. And I do believe, as a very old school fan of the O’Jays and their love train, that the hip hop love train energy is what is moving through System D — what the African Francophones call the back channel economy, which now employs half the world’s workers and is the second-largest economy (after ours)  — to save the world. Out of the garbage pile that is Lagos it comes, slouching toward Bethlehem Wall fucking Street.


As usual, the comments on this clip are as important as the clip itself, if not more so.

Now comes this stunning profile of Kuk Harrell, a  black man who is Justin Bieber’s and Rihanna’s vocal producer. He is now my template for culture czar. First thought. It’s all pastiche and technology. Second thought, Romare Bearden is all pastiche and he did it, he sliced up America, Justin Bieber, Bill Gates and Rihanna, listening, as many African American fine artists do, to jazz.

Kuk Harrell, culture arbiter.

Jazz is way too intellectual for me. I suspect it has to do with the heroin-like abstractions of bone-deep existential Cool. I am not cool. I do lurk late though, and so I nearly passed out staring at Bearden’s Tomorrow I May Be Far Away at the National Gallery’s great 2003 retrospective when I saw fragments of wood siding samples pasted into the [entirely modernist] cubist melange. (Was Picasso the first black president?)

I immediately connected them to the collageurs and pastiche masters of African American yard art, in which hub caps are transformed into mandalas and geomancy energy changers, and drive shafts driven into graves into axes mundi. This Bearden did with advertising images he clipped and re-imagined from white Life or black Ebony magazine.

Romare Bearden. Tomorrow I May Be Far Away. 1967

Finally, there’s nothing post-modern about the pastiche. I need to think some more about that. It’s totes modern, and totes Marxist in its deconstruction, or explosion, and synthesis (as Harrell’s biographer puts it) into a Frankensteinian work of cobbled System D art. It’s a total reappropriation by Harrell/Bearden/Frankenstein. I need to think a whole lot more about that, and the interpolation of technology — the mastery of recording technology — with which Harrell mediates, collages, and pastiches a song. You think it’s Bieber? Think again.

For now, hear this. African Americans and Kuk Harrell are your popular cultural arbiters. Nothin’ post-racial about it.

I have to get some more System D and Frenchie philosophy under my belt. I’m still flipping out around the idea that Lacan was a Freudian psychoanalyst. Nothin’ Afro pomo homo about that.

People all over the world? Join hands. Join hands.

1. Is the left really the “working class”? And is that working class really liberal? Was it ever? Has the working class — qua organizable by unions — disappeared with smokestack industry?

2. Did the post-industrial economy, the Internet, create this finance economy implosion? (I was thinking of the industries it has decimated: newspapers, recording industry, network TV and I wish I knew more about how insta-trading created the financial implosion.) Has it gutted collective bargaining?

3. Read Chekhov and George Steiner’s “Proofs” for insights into the actual character of the Russian proletariat, which is different from Communism, and the Italian, which I think is perhaps closer to the 19th century Platonic concept of Marxism.

I think Gogol is also essential to the understanding of the mystic Slav dealio, which is also different from Communism (rather more than from Marx and his humanism). The mystic Slav’s amazing powers of abstraction, surrealism, modernity, explosive nihilism (all that is solid melts into air), apocalypse, and flame-colored satin tablecloths in the nightclubs along the Brighton Beach boardwalk — Russian orthodox bling.

Chekhov

Steiner profiles the fortunes of an Italian Communist cell at the fall of the Berlin Wall — the literate artisan class, the only U.S. parallel to which I can think of is the dear, departed International Typographers’ Union. They made hot lead type for — how you say in English — newspapers, I think they were called. Back in my Newspaper Guild shop steward days, when we argued for a week in the AME church at 15th and M whether or not we should cross the pressmens’ racist, sexist, violent Irish ahole picket line, the ITU, as I remember — basically, deaf graduates of Gallaudet — was the only one of the newspaper unions to be retraining their guys for the computer age.

Steiner

4. For forty years I have been encountering the educated serf class in socialist Third World countries. The waiter at Luxor has a degree in economics. The butcher boy in Havana was an Olympic basketball contender and has a Master’s degree in kinesiology.

5. When I was in Egypt, in the beginning of the 1980s, all the coeds were wearing black burkas and black wool gloves over their skintight jeans and silver lame baseball jackets. The average salary of a policeman was $9 a month.

6. The result of this is that the only economy which works is the back channel or Blade Runner economy. You go to the Cairo Museum and see many, many curatorial tragedies due to the world’s heritage objects being displayed in padlocked cases humidified with empty Petri dishes and fumigated with visible moth balls. The guard in the room where the Rosetta Stone — the Rosetta Stone, people — is displayed by itself has roped it off and permits no entry unless baksheesh is extorted.

7. I see us, that is Americans, now joining those Third World places who missed pre-industrial and went straight to post-industrial, as having been educated for a different economy. All the supermarket checkout people will be former reporters, punk musicians, and classified ad sales people. The black people, who have, for various reasons, been on to the back channel economy for the past 400 years, have already sewed up all the well-paying, post-industrial, “proletarian” but now upper middle class jobs, like UPS driver. I think the unions — who hate brown people the way the Irish pressmen hated everybody else — now call themselves “progressives”, having carefully chosen to avoid anything that smacks of “liberal”.

8. A friend, who is 37, just paid off the last of her med school loans. I’ve been talking about the university lately as the predatory lender who has landed the average college graduate with $25,000 in debt. Average means 50 per cent of them have more.

A professor, who labored both in the Ivy League and elsewhere, said, Oh yes! Those terrible predatory lender schools like the University of Phoenix! No, dude, that would include the predatory student loan officers at Princeton and the big fat state university at which one has spent one’s career.

9. What is a leftist? Someone who believes that there is a commonweal the government needs to pay for? A simple version of the social contract I like is, I pay taxes, you protect me. This strikes me as the social contract and not the position of a wild-eyed anti-capitalist anarcho slacker or The Communist Manifesto.

10. Is this a hint of what a leftist might could, for one brief shining moment, in the summer of love, have been? Someone who believed Love itself was to be found in the democracy of public space?

More and more young people were flooding the Haight, including four beautiful girls from Antioch College, in Ohio. A sexy anarchist movement, the Diggers, had sprung up, and the girls joined in. One day two of them, Cindy Read and Phyllis Wilner, “were walking down Haight Street,” Cindy recalls, “and Phyllis said, ‘Isn’t this how you thought the world would be, except it wasn’t? But now, for us, it is!’ ”

San Francisco Diggers poster, ca. 1968, from the Diggers’ Archive

….“The Summer of Love became the template: the Arab Spring is related to the Summer of Love; Occupy Wall Street is related to the Summer of Love,” says Joe McDonald, the creator and lead singer of Country Joe and the Fish and a boyfriend of one of that summer’s two queens, Janis Joplin. “And it became the new status quo,” he continues. “The Aquarian Age! They all want sex. They all want to have fun. Everyone wants hope. We opened the door, and everybody went through it, and everything changed after that. Sir Edward Cook, the biographer of Florence Nightingale, said that when the success of an idea of past generations is ingrained in the public and taken for granted the source is forgotten.” http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/07/lsd-drugs-summer-of-love-sixties

11. Still alive, after all these years. Go on, Joe.

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