Monday, April 7, 2014

Is the Big O really a Big Zero?

As usual, I have to bury an embarrassing post - with another embarrassing post!

But like a lot of us out here among the  populist reality fringe, I've lost enthusiasm for our president. It's the extrajudicial killings. It's the huge and increasing numbers of Americans - just as authentically so as you and me - who have been exiled to parts South just because they lack papers. It's the fracking orgy, and the loss of net neutrality and the campaign finance limit dams all broken. Obama administration policies on education are nightmarish from an educator's perspective. But mainly it's because I've had cause to examine Obamacare up close and personal, and there's almost nothing there to like unless you're an insurance company.

In simple terms, the "markets" do nothing for someone who's not a corporate person. It could be that there's no price transparency in medicine, it could be that just like Chinese restaurants, there's a kind of sliding scale according to how well initiated you are, or it could be just plain rot at the neoliberal core.

I remain confident that President Obama is a nicer fellow than GWB, and I hear his lament that without pressure from the electorate there's very little he can do. But I have removed myself a few times over now from all the incessant mailing lists trying to get me riled up about this or that atrocity committed by the far right. It's certainly not that I don't agree with most or even all of the positions. It's just that the money seems to make everything worse. And I agree a lot of the time with the far right wingers that I know and love.

So, let's say that the moneyed right wing really does have a strangle-hold on our political system, which of course it does. We then have this awfully perverse situation where a bespoke President like GWB can actually be milder in his policies and especially in their implementation than an honest to goodness person like Barack Obama.

It seems that this is because of the compromises which must be made just to be in his position, and a kind of honorable logic which says that we must actually attempt to do whatever it is that we set out to do. So that if we say that we will enforce the borders, then that's exactly what we will do and without all the small time wheeling and dealing which must have gone on under various Republican administrations to preserve the difference between what they say they want and what they actually want. In the case of immigrant labor, they want it abundant and cheap while still needing to maintain the quasi-populist outrage at the illegal entrance.

But in the case of anything at all - education for instance - there simply isn't time and space to get down to anything like real research-based knowledge, and so we get the foul sausage which results from politicking the solution. Bullshit by any other name.

For so long as the electorate is divided, money wins. That's true if you're getting the big money now let loose by SCOTUS, or if you're Organizing for America making your appeals for micro-cash through Twitter.

As anyone knows who's been shopping lately, there's very little difference among ticket-size for items as they get bigger. We buy cars "below invoice" and cheaper than they were a decade ago, and it's apparently worth chasing all over town for pennies on the dollar for whatever tech device du jour we crave.

But when we're buying dongles and breakage insurance and cables and stuff from the drugstore, we hardly notice that the markup may be several hundred percent. It's beneath our notice, even though the same amount of money would have sent us scurrying across town or to the Internet to get a better deal if it were, say, $10 discount on a tablet computer, versus the $20 markup for a USB charger.

As anyone knows who's watched the Wolf of Wallstreet, or has been paying attention however slightly to the news for the past few decades, it's the junk bonds where the real money is to be made and the manipulations to be amplified. It's the velocity of transaction which leaves the rest of us out of the game.

The big stuff which we actually spend time to research comes cheap! As in I sure do wish they had Chinese-made power tools for carpentry when I was rehabbing my old sailboat. But in just the way that our trade deficit gets filled in by Chinese investments in our economy, the "cost of living" (by which I mean how about rent and gasoline and insurance and food) fills in any and all gaps created by the incredible dropping prices for goodies. Mind the income gap, please!

But along with paying for the privilege now of letting banks use our money (if we're not filthy rich) comes the ultimate insult that somehow Twitter can actually make an amazing amount of money on each of our tweets which we think we get for free! Ariana Huffington did the same thing with bloggers. We provide content and market share and someone else owns the title to it because of some language we thoughtlessly clicked our assent to.

When did we go through that looking glass? At what point did each of us stop being responsible for what gets carried out in our names?

These days I can still barely reconstruct myself, though I’m old enough that I can’t remember what I wrote down when. Does that mean absolution? Like on that DVD they granted me of my CAT-scan once because it would be more likely to show up where it’s needed in my hands than if they tried to keep it and file it, I still mostly recognize myself in that ghostly picture inside my head. Like who wouldn't know their own signature?

(But I have no device that can read that DVD anymore, so I left it behind somewhere like DNA on a doorknob. Uh, fingerprints.)

Who knows how many narratives I've cast out, but I can see they’re me. It’s not just the shape of the skull, but even maybe the vague weight of the flesh which surrounds it, the vessels in their squiggles, bloodshot through with tracer fluid. It just looks like me is all. But you wouldn't recognize your own fingerprints, would you? 

There must be some peccadillo there somewhere I’m not thinking about now, though it’s hard to shake the vague certainty of guilt, even when it might only be a dream. 

The normal wear and tear out along the peripheral capillaries that the Doc told me about isn’t where the flaws will be; you don't even need those for recognizance. Just ordinary memory loss.

But you know, when my government does extrajudicial killing in ways secret not just from the people, but from our representatives and when the intelligence committee members are themselves sworn to secrecy about it, what are we out in the capillaries supposed to do?

I feel complicit to any extent that I want some new gadget when the rest of world wants food. What would I do if only God were watching?

What if everyone in the country had the courage not to work for anyone who wasn't interested in their opinion? That would surely break the regime of terror, except that we're all too terrified to try it. Union!

I am winding back to where I must have started. Zero. Mom calls each day now to worry that it’s been a long time since we caught up, and she understands that she must no longer drive. Too sad really that I have no place to house her, though she spends more in a year to be maintained in style sufficient to her expectations than I have or ever will earn. So it must be just desserts.

OK, so turning outward where will I go, and not to end up that way. When will there be a zero at my center? And can I buy some kind of insurance to be certain that some simulacrum of me won't persist after the responsible me is no longer? Who will be making use of me after I'm not?

Doubtful about the insurance. The increments are too small. The progression not smooth. The very moment when Zeno passes my Zenith is harder to track than the price of the latest gizmo. Somebody will have made an awful lot more money on my soul than I was ever willing to sell it for, that much I know for certain.

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