Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So here's the scene: My Yale Law grad daughter and her new Yale Law grad husband gave me this book for Christmas - hardcover, even though they know I'm moving down the social scale and plan to boondock in the flyover states and won't have weight margins for bookshelves, nevermind hardcover. I think maybe it's like bear-bating, that I'll offer back an incisive complaint about some aspect that bugs me. They know me well. And they'll get it back to read, along with a handy readers guide.

I'm in a state, sure, staying safe in Canada in the family's deteriorating one-time summer home which I put in shape some eons ago when my parents were more vital, and perhaps younger than I am now. I feel out of place here, since the whole business of summer places is way above my pay grade, and I'm annoyed that nature is taking her course with something whose value is between me and retirement one step above trailer trash. I want to wash my hands of the whole dirty business, though the family was never wealthy. Hard-working lawyers, scientists, engineers and only a few ne'er do wells on any side.

I got myself ready for my read - mostly beneath consciousness - by resolving not to provision the house which should have been shuttered by now. Pipes should be drained and antifreeze applied, but what with global warming and my cheapness it's been kept open at least partly on my behalf; Too cheap to come "home" otherwise, and no other family home with beds not spoken for or boundaries of intimacy I'd be willing cross. We are not hillbillys, alas, at least not anymore.

Somehow eggs remain in the fridge, of utterly indeterminate age, a few hot dog buns, some processed cheese in shrink-wrap of some sort, and miraculously a bag of plain oatmeal. At least regarding the latter, I feel secure. The rest of it proves to be a collective miracle of food preservation chemistry, since as far as I can tell it all tastes the same as it would on day one. God knows how I survived the eggs - I know them to be naturally durable like hillbillys are, tatum! I confess some self-conscious complicity in my unplanned diet as I get into the book.

See, this guy, J.D., is pulling himself up by bootstraps, and I'm dragging myself down, maybe by WASP-guilt, I don't know. But I have more legitimate study of the the sociology he glancingly references than he does, and I've chosen away from personal success, and I see in processed cheese which was - I'm not making this up - invented on the very street where I now write - some glowing metaphor of evil. Ditto Peter Thiel, who he lists as a reader.

So, is he trying to maintain some pride in his accomplishment when he exposes social flaws in the thinking of his peers? Their laziness, their self-destruction. He doesn't quite mention their annoyance with identity politics, because I don't quite get the feeling that this author is informed about real class politics, and Marx's money as a life-force. I don't sense close awareness of history's sweep, and the larger significance of this moment in it.

But I'm not in a great position to be critical. And I have to say that the book is much more than the viral title - good timing with Trump - which I was pretty sure composed the sum total of its best-seller status.

I just didn't learn all that much here. I've lived among Hillbillys of the Western New York variety, and I have a branch of my own nuclear family which was kidnapped by arriviste Hillbillys of a lower and more fallen sort than described here - which is a stunning claim if you read the book - and I have therefore some acquaintance with the dangerous undertow about which Vance writes.

What I quibble with is what he lays out implicitly as constituting success. A bit too much Christianity as though its undoubted social good negates the need for truth value. A bit too much American Dream writ real-estate, but still I take his point.

My neighbor in the hills was a teaparty founder, plenty intelligent, Airforce captian, full of his certainties which sure weren't mine. I still can't just shrug off earnest bearded do-gooder wannabes who maybe swallow conspiracy theory whole too much, the way that Vance does, when the whole power structure plays out to some dimensions of caricature beyond even conspiracy delusions. I mean Trump is going to be our next president, so buy this particular book to understand it?? I guess you could do worse.

I think the better buy might be to document sociologically the insular quality of those who come to their Yale law pedigree by birthright, and then take that to the Council on Foreign Relations and then decide the fate of the hapless Hillbilly masses, not just within our borders, but across the globe, and glibly assume that our current arrangements, including arms sales and deployments to defend our military-industrial-might cannot be tampered with. The emoluments on the inside must be pretty darned nice. Even co-conspirator Hillary got addicted to those drugs. On balance, is heroin worse?

Anyhow, I'm proud that my variously blue and alien-red blooded familiars work for human rights and international legal reform away from the nativism gripping the globe. I think I might know China better than Amy Chua does - not sure - but I hear echos of Tiger Mom mentality here. I am so utterly done with rugged individualistic identity politics as a disguise for blatant lottery arrangements for who gets the prizes, in or out of school, not to mention the costs of membership. I'll take a bit more wealth redistribution and social infrastructure investment, thank you very much. It just doesn't look to me as though grit can get a person all that far, and academic grinds just don't seem all that well-trained in helping the world to a better place.

How about let's redistribute productivity gains to the workers who earned them, and not only to the intellectual property privateers who rake the piles high behind club barriers where the bar for entry is a certain kind of trustworthiness regarding the arrangements. Where supermanager salaries represent the cost of our soul to the rest of us, which just makes them trailer trash too, viz Donald, less the hillbilly honor, of course.

I will eagerly await Vance's next book, after he grows a bit more, and after some closer encounters with those of us headed in the other direction. I think he may not be acquainted with the value of public sanctuary that is not owed - the thing he got from his grandma, and the thing which we withhold from so many and to such an extent that we hardly deserve to be called a nation in any meaningful sense of that word. We sure are powerful though, for the moment.

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I feel bad about this one, since the fellow is so nice and honest in his writing. I think he just simply doesn't notice how fully he's been co-opted by the structure which allowed him, grace SAT perhaps, into the elite circle. He hasn't the discernment, yet, to tell the difference between and among kind professors and gatekeepers. He hasn't quite become the sociologist for the "other" that he has for his own background, though one can forgive him his seduction, forgive the plays made for his sweet soul even, and forgive his repudiation of his native ground. We all commit those same sins all the time. We are all abstractable from our selves, and I don't even believe in a self, abstracted or otherwise.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

An Utterly Pragmatic Platform for the New Era

No ideology here, although I presently write from Canada, so my thoughts may be suspect. In no particular order then, here is a list of non-partisan, utterly practical positions to take, cutting through the messy and moribund political processes:

  • No more arms sales, period. Build whatever we need for our national defense, and gradually return its use to within our own borders, and never against our own citizens.
  • Stop being concerned about rifle and handgun sales, but be very concerned about open or concealed carry in congested places. Gradually remove guns from police on the beat and in patrol cars, and gradually reduce the size, number and armaments of SWAT teams, who can be deployed as needed.
  • End the theatrics of border crossings, and require registration in advance.
  • Require true identity for all Internet publishing (this also resolves border crossing issues) and institute micropayments for re-publication of one's own free expression, 
  • Assert privacy and ownership of all data at its origin, allowing government to request decryption of public security monitoring devices only with subpoena. The government cannot require the decryption of private data. Ever.
  • End not-for-profit and religious tax-deductability. This allows end run destruction of church/state separation, and allows for self-brand aggrandizement for political or other purposes beyond the reach of regulation. Most particularly, it allows for wealthy-elite clubs like the Ivy League and so forth to be enriched at ordinary people's expense. 
  • Stop subsidizing College study at the individual level, but instead subsidize institutions, perhaps according to the socioeconomic makeup of their student bodies. Even better, tie subsidies inversely to median SAT scores, combined with retention to graduation, and perhaps inversely on expenditures on marketing and real-estate. Encourage difference, and not competition for pre-proven success stories.
  • Always counter arms-race style vicious cycles of any and all sorts which encourage Pareto peaks of elite winners against the masses. 
  • Deconstruct definitions for genius and even intelligence, which legitimate a skewed reward system by the internalization of deficiencies and surpluses far in excess of reality's spread. If you read and write and speak intelligibly, you get to be counted as fully human.
  • Robots can't be human, as they are by definition slaves.
  • Deconstruct mythology surrounding meritocracy, mostly by requiring equality of legal expense burden for prosecution and defense.
  • Allow and require only public funding for all elections at all levels.
  • Re-instate distinctions between commercial banking and savings and loan. Revert savings and loan to a model based on the former Spanish caja, where the bank is owned by its depositors.
  • Tax non-productive financial gains at the highest rate (let's say never over 50%), prove productivity by per-worker compensation in relation to productivity.
  • Gradually remove tax-deductability of mortgage payments. 
  • Remove state boundaries for all health insurance.
  • Make health-care providers accountable for coverage at point of admission, instead of consumers who cannot understand the fine print. 
  • Require true and level pricing for all health-care (remove from insurance companies the ability to negotiate discounts).
  • Abolish law suits to recover healthcare payments except in cases of fraud.
  • Establish national healthcare insurance for catastrophic accident or illness at some percentage of income and wealth holdings to define catastrophe, and legislated agreement about the difference between required and elective.
  • Calculate the external (socially born) costs for energy and mineral extraction and for manufacturing effluent, strictly according to an econometric environmental model, which includes all related healthcare, cleanup, and barrier costs.
  • Repeal zoning laws.
  • Dissassemble interstate highways.
  • Require all new structures to demonstrate structural durability in excess of the cost to demolish and rebuild.
  • Nationally allow nomadic existence, without distinction regarding citizenship, healthcare, and create public sanctuary in all municipal jurisdictions.
  • Allow all citizens to vote, regardless of criminal record, and expunge criminal record upon release from prison or payment of penalty.
  • Permanently outlaw any payments for use of courts, prisons, emergency rescue, or other forms of economic discrimination against the poor.
  • Nationally require that 10% of architectural expenses be devoted to public art installations, accepted as such by citizen boards accountable to elected officials.
  • Revise patent and copyright law toward open-source software and hardware (true identity can also dis-assemble distribution agencies as profit skimming aggregators). 
  • Dis-allow the purchase or re-assignment of patent rights.
  • Devise Internet search as a public utility, and disallow keyword auctioning by taxing it directly at a rate to approach 100% over a relatively short period of time. 
  • Allow Internet commercial postings in designated virtual "real-estate", removing such signage from the landscape as has been the case in Vermont for a long time.
  • Disallow all *push* advertisement.
  • Disallow individualized tracking of search and internet perusal.
  • Publish the true carbon-content for all foods.
  • Tax oil according to the model for cigarettes, where true external costs, including future value, are incorporated into the price. 
  • Establish public ownership for all land below some certain depth and all air above some certain height.
  • Allow contracting of extraction and cleanup on a cost-plus basis.
  • Institute some combination of term-limits against higher pay and better protection for civil servants in politically responsive office. 
  • Require voting, and make it trivially simple by declaring election day a holiday.
  • Create population districts by some silly algorithm relating to alphabetic order or a random number generator (once people learn to game naming). This will end geographic gerrymandering, and indeed all sorts of geographic boundaries which are without administrative meaning.
  •  Level school funding at whatever administrative regional level (up to state level) incorporates the full range of socio-economic distinction, with additional social services funded according to socio-economic need.
Well, I suppose that's enough - it just goes crazy from here, but maybe some principle emerges. I mean if Trump can get elected, surely I can dream, right? The absurdity quotient is in my favor, I think.

Anyhow, the goal is subtly to reconstrue the economics of our lives so that the incentive structure no longer encourages us to screw our fellow man according to the internals of our corporate team, and where the real incentive is something other than greed at the top. I wouldn't mind a rule limiting executive compensation, but I'd rather that come through more organically. 

After all, I would like to contribute to the preservation of the good life, and I don't mind a bit of elite if it can guide us. Just stay away, please, from the crass of the various military industrial complexes and the inbreeding of power. 

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Solstice Rant

Can we all just shut the fuck up? As though something has happened, as though there were some system failure, as though this massive trainwreck over a century in the making could have been derailed (what?) by some onetime righteous lazy vote. As though people give a shit enough, as though we could be educated out from slumber, as though we did actually believe that our fine wet dream of a Republic could be jerk-tugged out from under us, protected as it was by sacred constitutional Word.

Trump is not alive, he's not a man, he's not even the Rump the ass end of this angry masculinist Leviathan, not even the fingernail he's the horn where the third eye should be, outgrowth of missing hair maybe, where there is no feeling, numb, but tweak it and Leviathan grows angry, claws and murders more innocents, draws blood across the planet, cares not for women, children, only for inside the globo incorporated body public or private as though there were some difference anymore where team spirit means screw your fellow man for the good of the bosses' wealth because you let them believe they are better than you. Fuck that. Einstein the first superstar, been downhill from there, public man celebrity I don't fucking care about Brad Pitt's children I care about mine.

We've watched it grow, done nothing as, let's just say, Republicanism morphs into Brand without ideology without heart without soul without meaning only HOWLing for power, power to masculinist strange-haired slick people with like for brylcreem neatness maybe, polyester foundations, warrior faces on the women too hot to touch. As though it makes the other side look good, red blue red white blue go team! And they dare to abuse Jesus' Name that way, against the women the children, against the Man who was in touch with his softer side, as though crystal towers raised into our darkest night could cause the idiot winds to vortex into their one spot.

These days will grow longer and you will read Lionel Trilling on Sincerity and Authenticity maybe in the shortened nights and you will read Julian Drunken Jaynes maybe and the Closing of the American Mind if you're on the other side, OK Margaret, OK Ursula Philip K?, strangers in my land I will love you always and you will read the Bible if you care to, the idiot winds of Mormon Mammon Moloch, have it your way Koran, but you will form the stronger Spaceship Earth who is our Mother Fucking Mother, and not separate and disconnected. Not some Fucking Machine. You will form the Uprise of the Feminine and stop complaining about China where they consign now a quarter of their own to a pack o' Luckys a day, which was meant to be the target on our backs, slicked shoe blackened hair red ties where do these silly memes come from?

We have won, OK, game over, we have always looked like Donald to the World, he was always our blondered mascot, his behavior is consistent with the body politic, OK, so get over it, you cannot disown him because you have been complicit, you have seen him cumming which is all that he is about the lowest the most common the denominator for our collective power, and we have manipulated more elections deposed more honest brokers than anyone cares to count, we feel only the life-force of Money, so says Honest Karl. More Hate Just Makes it Grow. More Amazon acquisition to mock the women warriors ever lowering our most common, there are no jobs but for sellouts, and we jail the ones who have only nothing to keep them safe from our want. What, they have black skin? Is that all you've got, MoFo??

This is not an Uncle Sam thing this is a Global thing, and we've already seen how quickly our Silicon Valley techno masters will jump in line to kiss the hem behind the Republican sellouts thinking that their world must go on, not ours, not the one where my softer side lives, excluded by club rules, excluded, there was a human in the White House and he was whited out by history somehow, believing in the system now, hoping that the surveillance state can home in on individual nasties the same way that Google homes in on your desires, that Facebook fans the idiot winds that Dylan is our only honorable soul who resists a brand on his white work, resists temptation to be that celebrity face on that escalating power of destruction TNT, nukes, the blood flows, the blood is vaporized, the pain is fleeting, fuck. Keep the Snowden Crash in check, keep those images coming, keep the man down, boot on neck.

Awake and be good unto your fellow man, for Christ's sake awake if you don't care enough for you and yours! This is no time to feed our baser self. The days will grow longer and we fear it but there is no need to melt the species and make ourselves just one voice. There is no need to project such control freakish power of our fears into the void. That just makes us as cosmically dead as that doornailinourwilliamsloanfuckingfaulknercoffin Big Fucking Deal! So we elected Noboddady. Let's unravel it, OK? One strand at a time, and Bighorn will go limp, deconstructed, right, with language not geared toward academic advance KISS MY ASS it's only hair, Hillaryous hair. No choices were ever on offer on the right side. We gave up flyaway hair we cannot sleep. Awake too early every fucking morning this is happening all over. Parted neatly, half by half, it were never gendered it were never neutral it were never so sad, the Gift of the Magi, Baby Jesus.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I Know These Things are True or The Santa Clause

I inhabit a bad set of habits now. I find myself always entertaining the contrarian point of view. Watchng events unfold in Aleppo, I ask myself what about Allied bombing of Dresden, which got Vonnegut started? What about dropping the atomic bomb? Who are we to judge? If someone simply knows that something is right, don't they have some sort of obligation to convince? Kissinger certainly thinks so.

My whole life up to now, I've maintained a conjecture; a kind of bet with myself. There are certainties I hang on to, that I can't imagine ever overturning, and so I ask myself what if there were a way to overturn these?

Not what if there were a Santa Claus, more like can I even imagine that there is a God? The proposition has been made so utterly ridiculous by apologists for godism, which is so blatantly a front for patriarchy, it would feel almost like believing in Santa Claus. Merry Christmas!

But I hedge, and so as with the spirit of Christmas where the Santa clause might as well be true, since it feels true and I like that my kids can be made to believe it, I take God down from engendered being, remove the "He" pronoun, take the whole thing to ultimate ends, and find myself, surprisingly really, a new believer.

How I got here is quite the story. It may even be edifying. But how would I tell it? As protagonist of my own life, I wonder at all the marvelous activities fate has turned my way, and yet there is scant adventure. I live mostly in shadow, out of the fire, out of the limelight, away from recognition, away from danger if I can afford that.

I say protagonist because Lionel Trilling lately reminds me that heroes don't populate novels. Novels have didactic intent, while heroic epics, more like the Bible, aim to inspire belief. Something like that. Anyhow, it does strike me that any young black male not in jail is a hero, endowed with supernatural talents and looks to accompany those, in the negative perhaps, but nonetheless the right heroic look. I myself cannot even endure expulsion from the workplace from where my identity arises, so imagine what it must feel like never to have had such privilege. To belong. I am organization man, which is what makes it easier to imagine that the wrong is right and who are we to say?

I would like my organization to win, my College, and lately I think that's no different than to want Verizon, were I to work there, to make lots of money off the backs of ordinary stiffs like me if I weren't inside the organization and potentially enjoying some esoteric structure of reward and fear which in-forms my identity during waking hours. No wonder that cynicism is the only honest stance.

The mystery I will never uncover is why we so willingly throw fellow man under the bus for such little gain. I think it cannot be the incentives, since no matter how many times we play whatever lottery we already know we cannot be in the bosses' range. And yet it still hurts when he slights us. When he moves to greet a properly subservient fellow-worker, and the messaging back on me is that I don't even exist, though I do continue to work hard for the good of the organization.

It must be fear. It must be hardwired. Connection to alpha male for safety.

It's the promoting of my own inner circle of friends and family which leaves the young black men apart. I have only the most corrected thoughts and yet they will never get my endorsement because I do not know them. I would love them if only they would let me, is what I think, which sounds a lot like "fuck you" internally and I know it.

So I will have to try to find a way to tell my story this unhappy Christmas, when so many of us are trying to calm ourselves that who are we to say since Hillary was so very hard to believe and to trust. It was the money, it was the low common of wanting that so much, and Trump somehow that much more frank about it and about wanting hot women and so we trusted him because there is so little to trust, fake news, fake stories we tell ourselves to sanitize self-image since there is no truth anymore anyhow, and I have no idea what I can do about it. Any of it.

But must we normalize this? Really??!! I feel my character tested. How far am I willing to go, and I don't even have that many incentives to keep on going, since I'm old and without prospect of any sort at all beyond winning some lottery, which I already did win by being born white and male and even that is not enough to keep the fear at bay.

The fear is composed of little bits of knowledge that I did internalize. About those times I would have died were there not technologies to keep me going. Which is our way of putting fate in the background and human intention in the foreground, and that just foregrounds fear since strokes of God were always available before, and evermore. There is terror now to be without them, these bits of support, sometimes taken in pill form, trusting, sometimes taken in body scans, in going along with this theater of the absurd where my part is better than no part.

And still the Fates are always in charge, and the fabric of my trust in fellow man is frayed, and even the composition of those pills is in doubt. I would trust the brand the FDA regarding generic identity the doctor as an honest broker and still it mostly all does work and only very rarely does some other driver disobey the basic rules of the road.

Was it Lionel Trilling also who called the automobile what it is, that steering wheel down into the soul of reality, and now human intentionality inhabits self-driving cars, the auto-automobile, and no wonder we've lost our trust in systems so fully now, the wheel removed from our grasp and Google recording our voice-print the better to know you my pretty, so that I can obey your every command who needs a wheel to grasp? I know your personal desires and history better than even you do yourself, just try answering an automated credit bureau derived identity quiz and be that reassured that it is only machine anonymous knowledge that no one person could ever use against you.

They say now that there are well over one million top security cleared operatives in our nation counting officials and contractor hangers-on and so why is there only one Snowden, exactly? I'd like to know. And how many can access our credit history, and how many are sworn to machine secrecy, and could they cheat as easily as some Chinese kid taking the Gaokao. Why not, I'd like to know.

I suppose that the worst to happen would be that the self-driving G-car would calmly slow and pull to side of road when the entire cyber-system crashes, as it inevitably will and must, and that won't be so bad, not like falling out of the sky when the pilot isn't skilled enough anymore to second-guess the autopilot doing something really stupid programmed in.

The skills we will need then at that moment will all be social, as in how to get together with all the other stranded passengers and how to reconcile some truth worth living by and for, at least just to get us home, at least just to get us somewhere not stuck by the side of some road where we are not technically lost, but just simply haven't been paying attention and can't even navigate north and can't even tell which way home might be.

Which all puts me in the mind of God, this true North perhaps in moral terms which was the source of life in the first place, did you think it arose by random? A striving for centers for hearth for home for things to trust which are not things but actual people who have been trued over time who know us who know me who hate no-one that I even don't know because I don't know them I can't hate them.

The trick is to trust the scholars, even though they have their own causes for organizational advancement which can make them needlessly inscrutable, but they are that much closer to the truths of history, say, and science and mustering evidence instead of just those feelings we have of in or out. The trick is to render up the best of us, which we have certainly not now done in promoting the Donald beyond even his own wildest dreams of his own self-importance. He is by far the least of us, never cracking a book and that's why we like him because we are not made the fool. Nevermore.

The trick is to promote the best among us, not the ones with the strongest feelings and the greatest loudest need to convince you of their truths, the trick is to find and trust those who have invested that much effort in trying to understand and to make sense and guess what you won't find them working for global corporations vying in power with federal governments of various stripes. You won't find them wielding armies, promoted up the ranks of killing machinery, and you won't find them at the pinnacle of money making schemes of any sort. There is a difference between making and making money.

To the extent that we know not how to be we acquire things and give money a life of its own and invoke the very Santa clause which is the antithesis of baby Jesus. Which makes me pretty much a Marxist, but can we at least agree that it must be post-post-Marxism. Yes it is capitalism which makes it all bad, but never on the local scale.

We confer our identity anonymous to the Internet and somehow thought that this would make things better? So that those who own the plumbing can aggregate value not from our alienated labor but from knowing our wants and selling those to highest bidder and no matter what me might have to say it will never get enough clicks to avoid feeding this beast this life-form the Moloch (is that what Ginsberg called it, he knew Trilling, he was anointed by knowledge of a certain stripe) which lives off our backs on our blood so much has been spilled across this most recent century I will never apologize for Aleppo this evil cannot stand.

The Godhead its opposite in all ways. Trump in meltdown looks like the decent among us, running amok in love having relinquished the wheel having taken our bewilderment about just what it is we must and shall do next and leaving it on the road and talking to one another and finding our way together and no one will pay attention no matter what he Tweets and twitters into his own eternal night for he never did be in the first place. Authentic precisely nothing.