Thursday, December 31, 2009


For it is written:

When your planes blow up their people, their people blow up your planes. Peace!

Dreaming of Mars

New York Times:

The incident raises the immediate question of whether this country and others should now buy and widely deploy so-called whole body imagers, which can detect the presence of nonmetallic objects, including lethal chemicals, plastic explosives and ceramic knives.

I thought the incident raised the immediate question of why people are so desirous to make Americans explode! As an American, that is a much more interesting question for me personally than whether or not we should aspire to the same security infrastructure as Total Recall.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The listening station

Religious practice, as a social activity not wholly subordinated to commercial exchange, defies simple characterization in the political sense. It is well known for its authoritarian examples -- but these are never exhaustive; counter trends exist. The fact that we don't know about them can't be surprising under conditions of social estrangement: we don't know much about most things when it comes other people.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is Christmas Christian?

by Richard Rohr, Order of Friars Minor
Center for Action and Contemplation

As a Franciscan priest, I think I have the right to ask that question. Frankly, it is much easier to ask in a non-Christian owned magazine! We from the Catholic tradition too easily presume that because the title is right, the train following it is on the right track. We are not often open to asking if the train has anything to do with the direction of the original engine. In this case, the birth and message of Jesus of Nazareth.

We all know that the date of December 25 is not derived from Christian tradition. It instead traces back to the third-century Roman feast of the Rebirth of the Sun -- normally celebrated as soon as they could observe the same, sometime after the Winter Solstice. Right away, that tells us that the first few centuries of the Common Era had no interest in knowing when Jesus was born or even celebrating it. That came with calendars and the demarcating of precise time.

Frankly, we must confess that it was likely our founder, St. Francis (1182-1226), who began to make Christmas the sentimental celebration that it has become, although his intention was never at all in the direction it has taken. He was the great lover of poverty and simplicity, and would be aghast at the consumer- and group-defining feast that Christmas has become. He merely replicated the drama of the stable with live animals and music.

For Francis and the early Franciscans, "incarnation was already redemption" and the feast of Christmas said that God was saying yes to humanity in the enfleshment of his Son in our midst. If that were true, then all questions of inherent dignity, worthiness, and belovedness were resolved once and forever -- and for everything that was human, material, physical, and in the whole of creation. That's why Francis liked animals and nature, praising the sun, moon, and stars, like some New Ager from California. It was all good and chosen and beautiful if God came among us "as Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

But groups need and create their identity symbols, and the celebration of Christmas became the big one for Christian Europe, just as Jewish people need Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Muslims need Ramadan and pilgrimage. The trouble is that the meaning became group-defining instead of life-transforming. As we say today, it got "off message"! It was no longer God's choice of the whole, but God's choice of us! (In fairness, most religions make the same mistake at lower levels of transformation).

At those lower levels of civil religion or any religion as a "belonging system" the original meaning is always lost and often even morphs into its exact opposite. Strange and sad, isn't it? In this case, the self-emptying of God into humble and poor humanity (Philippians 2:7) became an excuse for us to fill, consume, dominate, use, and spend at staggering levels for ourselves. In fact, the days leading up to December 25 are the economic engine around which the entire business economy measures itself in Christian-influenced countries. One might think that the fasting of Ramadan and Yom Kippur might have been a much clearer act of solidarity with the actual mystery celebrated.

Well, this year we might be forced under duress to celebrate the feast of Jesus' humble birth with honesty! Our economic meltdown is showing for all to see what our real gods have been. It is not the Lord of Israel or his Son that we love, nearly as much as we do our limitless growth, our right to empire, our actual obligation to consume, and our sense of entitlement to this clearly limited planet.

In Christian circles, when I call these false gods into question, I am invariably criticized on other grounds of heresy and church protocols, almost so we do not have to look at what our real loyalties have been and are. "Let's keep talking about Biblical interpretation or papal infallibility so we never have to look at our lifestyle." For far too many of us, our final loyalties have been to the system of America, to the free market, to the protecting of the top and not the bottom where Jesus was, and to what Pope John Paul II called "rigid capitalism." He said in several of his encyclical letters that capitalism had to be critiqued and regulated just as much as socialist communism (e.g., Loborem Exercens). Strange that most western Catholics never quoted him on that theme!

So, come, let us celebrate the feast anew! May we who have consumed the mystery of Jesus now consume his whole meal, and may it free us from needing to consume so much of everything else. If you really have the One, you should not need more and more of the other. Maybe our humble Jesus is stealing our idols from us, and inviting us back into his Bethlehem stable.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health, profit, and power

Financial Times:

[Barack Obama] is set next month to sign into law a bill that, while dramatically expanding health insurance coverage, will largely leave insurance in the hands of private companies.

This would be cool if private companies were in the business of covering people's health care expenses, rather than dodging them as a rule. Given the choice between shelving the legislative goal of affordable health care for all and nationalizing the market of the very industry that precludes it, one marvels at the pointlessness of our "representative" form of governance altogether. With success like this, who needs Democrats anyway?

Monday, December 21, 2009

What will you do with your degree?

Witold Walczak; Legal Director, ACLU PA; Jurist:

In the eeriest parallel to my experiences in martial law Poland, on two consecutive evenings the police inexplicably deemed assemblies of people peacefully gathered in a large, grassy University of Pittsburgh plaza to be “unlawful” and ordered everyone to disperse immediately. Police used an “LRAD” (first-ever civilian use of a military sonic weapon that can cause permanent hearing loss), shot pepper spray into dormitory stairwells, and fired rubber bullets and beanbags at fleeing students and curiosity seekers.

When those assembled tried to follow dispersal orders, many ran into the nearly 1000 riot police that encircled the group. The 100-plus arrestees included many curious, non-participating Pitt students and a few journalists. In this police state, apparently, government-sanctioned assemblies are allowed, but spontaneous demonstrations or gatherings, even peaceful ones, are not.

Well, at least somebody's getting an education!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The "Get Shanked!" Redemption

David Graeber, Direct Action:

In Philadelphia, [2000 Republican National Convention] activists were constantly being threatened with being distributed among the "general population," regular inmates who, guards explained in often graphic terms, would terrorize and brutalize and rape them. When the authorities, at one point, made good on their threats, the ploy completely backfired. The general population proved quite sympathetic, and above all, extremely interested in learning activist tactics. Ordinary prisoners rapidly began giving each other action names, refusing cooperation, and coordinating collective demands -- so quickly, in fact, that within twenty-four hours the activists had been taken out and segregated once again. Almost all of the arrestees, however, came out with long stories of inmates they had met among the "general population" who had been picked up for minor or harmless nonviolent offenses (marijuana possession, trespassing for taking a short-cut through a deserted lot) and, like them, subjected to continual violence and brutality. For that moment, anyway, there was the recognition of an analogous situation: the fact that the laws operate entirely differently for certain categories of people, whether these be poor African Americans, or (at least during an action) political idealists who dare to take to the streets.

I recently attended a benefit for Palestinian unions where I encountered someone who had formerly been active with Marxist groups in pre-revolutionary Iran. One of the points he made was that the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East were very careful to separate "political" prisoners from the "general population," precisely for this reason.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

You're my favorite book

Jimmy T. Hand, Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction:

One thing I've been thinking about recently is fiction and ... not really anarchism, but about living your life fully. ... I still read fantasy books, sci-fi books, but I don't do it with the same sense of longing that I used to. Do you know what I mean? I used to read books like the MYTH Inc. series [by Robert Asprin], or even Lord of the Rings [by J.R.R. Tolkien]. Or the Borderlands books by Will Shetterly. I used to read those books and feel like I would give anything to live that way, to have some kind of motivation, to live in a time of fantasy and mystique. But then, when I ran away from home, I discovered that fantastic world, and it was the real world.

Intuitively, I must have always felt that school was a piss-poor way of acquiring an education about the real world. That is why I was much happier working in a menial capacity: as a course of study, it spoke to my interests. Schooling was ultimately oriented toward career, and career became an end in itself; it had nothing to say about anybody else. You paid a lot of money for the opportunity to impress people you frequently didn't like or had no respect for, because their values were not your own, but rather what you were advised to make your own. You went into debt for the benefit of your own alienation!

Like school, work could also seem like a prison sentence. But the conflict between the inmate and the institution was much less obscured. In school, one is free to believe whatever they want, because they are paying through the nose for it: You will have a respectable degree, social status, and meaningful work which conforms to your values, because you have done everything humanly possible to achieve it. The reality is very few people have work which conforms to their values, interests, and talents -- and they are acknowledged as being very lucky if they do. Generally speaking, work fails people in this regard, and that is why so many people are unhappy with it.

There is a lot at stake in the real world -- just as much, probably more, than in many of the most exciting fictional accounts. The conflicts inform our everyday experiences. To the degree that we understand them, we can play the role we would hope to see a protagonist play in our favorite narratives. One might say this is the very process of self-realization that is our purpose altogether. But that means looking everywhere and at every thing, including the places where we aren't supposed to see battles of enormous importance.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Horizons of the anarchist


Anarchism, as a system based on cooperation, addresses the weaknesses in both liberal and conservative philosophies.

Like conservatives, anarchists think we should be taking personal responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities. But where conservatives want to put up a wall, beyond which their responsibilities don’t go, anarchists have always understood that resolving our problems requires taking responsibility on a worldwide scale.

Like liberals, anarchists are concerned with the vast majority of people who struggle to have even the basic necessities of life. But anarchists don’t want to install themselves in positions of power where they can met out drips and drabs of whatever liberals have been willing to give up. Anarchists want to work side by side with people, questioning the hierarchies and privileges that cause those inequities. We are not creating dependency, we are recognizing interdependency.

Looked at in this way, anarchism is nothing less than the ability to extend oneself in fellowship to others, regardless of their "political" views. It celebrates what is liberating about every perspective, and condemns everything that is not.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Words < actions

Wall Street Journal:

Chief executives of the largest U.S. banks acknowledged Monday the "disconnect" between their expressed support for re-regulating financial markets and the work of their lobbyists to weaken any new rules.

It's funny the kinds of things you can be honest about when being honest about them makes no difference whatsoever!

Their system

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What makes work meaningful is rebellion

Marshall and Kelly Goldsmith, BusinessWeek:

Since work and home are very different environments, our experience of happiness and meaning in life appears to have more to do with who we are than where we are. Rather than blaming our jobs, our managers, and our customers ... for our negative worklife experience, we might be better served by looking in the mirror.
What can companies do differently? They might stop asking, "What can the company do to increase employees' experience of happiness and meaning at work?" which encourages dependency. Instead, managers can encourage employees to ask themselves, "What can I do to increase my experience of happiness and meaning at work?" This strategy may produce a higher return in employee commitment -- and do so at a lower cost.

Companies can conform to the needs and expectations of their employees and the communities they serve. Failing this basic test of legitimacy does not put one in an ideal position to preach introspection to the aggrieved. Asking employees what they can do to increase their "experience of happiness and meaning" at the same time they are being asked to fall on their swords for institutions that have no feeling for them beyond the bottom line is not a "strategy" likely to "produce a higher return" in anything other than an "employee commitment" to open revolt. It is the stupidity of corporate thinking that this should go wholly unconsidered, assuming as it does that what is imposed on others is also what they will inevitably accept.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reading the words of professional authors: An internet exclusive

6th or 7th:

When I first started ... I wasn't sure I would be able to take it, because of the very high level of corporate behavioral indoctrination involved in the training -- videos of inspirational speakers managing to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., next to B.C. Forbes, on the importance of not aspiring to anything above your shitty station, before launching into descriptions of horrible methods of "going above and beyond" (for no additional pay, of course), inspired by the actions of quite frankly a creepily over-involved mailman....

Perhaps the bulliest, the shittiest, of all the bullshit was the book whose title might be rendered QBQ!: The Question Behind the Quesion®: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life: What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Complaining, and Procrastinating, written by professional white asshole John G. Miller. This 115 page, 39 chapter (work out that impressive average if you dare!) wonder is a marvel of idiocy honestly unrivaled in my experience by anything short of The Barenaked Ladies.

Needless to say, there's a lot more where that came from! As part of an ongoing series, your host at 6th or 7th will read from John G. Miller's motivational bestseller, rendering the professional Author/Speaker's insights into a language that everyone can understand.

Seen but not heard

Wall Street Journal:

Sometimes even the best training can't keep Santa from being caught off guard. Mike Smith, who works as Santa at the Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Ohio, says a 5-year-old girl wearing a Dora the Explorer sweat shirt last month hopped in his lap and asked, "Can you turn my daddy into an elf?" "Why?" he asked.

"Because my daddy's out of work, and we're about to lose our house," she said.

The girl's mother, standing by her little brother's stroller, burst into tears. A stunned Mr. Smith asked the girl if her father was good with a hammer, and the girl said yes. "I didn't know what to say after that, so we just took the picture," he says with regret.

Well, sure: but what can a 5-year-old tell you about export growth? They think the whole world revolves around them!

Only in America!

David Hale, Financial Times:

Other countries have not enjoyed the US’s success in sustaining productivity. Germany has restrained unemployment with subsidies for part-time workers. The subsidies protected jobs, but caused productivity to fall 7 per cent after six years in which Germany dramatically boosted productivity in order to regain competitiveness lost from the creation of the euro. Japanese unemployment has increased to only 5.1 per cent, as companies tend to fire only part-time workers, not permanent employees. As a result of restraint on firing, labour’s share of value-added in manufacturing has skyrocketed to 78.6 per cent from 58.9 per cent a year ago. Japanese corporate profits fell nearly 80 per cent.

Have you enjoyed the benefits of high unemployment lately?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Burning bright

If only Americans could stop worrying so much about other people's lives, and take solace from the task of running other people's countries!

Friday, December 11, 2009


C.L.R. James, You Don't Play With Revolution:

All right my friends, there we are. I wanted to get something clear: in your studies of Capital, as you read, never lose sight of the worker in the process of production. Alfie, you never lose sight of him. If you lose sight of that, you are losing sight of Marxism. Now Marx wrote a lot about the selling of this and pricing and all that, but that is where he began and that is where he stayed all through. He went into various aspects of production, commodity exchanges, prices, the level of prices, ownership, and so forth -- he went into all of this, but he never lost sight of what is happening to the worker. The increase of capitalist production meant the greater suppression of the worker, and Marx says you cannot keep doing that to human beings.

Many of the people I know don't sleep on a daily basis. They sleep on a weekly basis. They work two or three jobs, with several-hour breaks in between. No single employer will overwork them because no single employer wants to court health insurance or overtime. So they underwork everybody, rotating the bodies 24/7.

Being "underworked" means squeezing the maximum out of a person in an abbreviated block of time, while denying them the "hours" needed to live. Such hours must be accumulated elsewhere, often by employers similarly predisposed. This produces remarkable incongruities within any single operation: for example, as concerns the alertness of those operating heavy machinery around aircraft. One might think this important! Instead, it is merely the cost of doing business in a competitive way.

It's pretty clear what this does to people, insofar as people deserve consideration -- which in contemporary economics they do not. People are inputs, and they serve a purpose exterior to themselves. What happens to them matters only insofar as the law says it matters; otherwise, what happens to people is just another part of "how things are."

Insisting that what happens to people matters regardless of what the law says, is to take a step toward the kind of perspective that Marx embodied. It is instructive to consider the ways in which we are daily discouraged from doing so, and to ask ourselves who benefits.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Marx and alienation

James Generic, The Wooden Shoe:

[I]t sometimes enormously angers me how far off the regular workplace functions vs. how organizations I'm involved in work. Basically, at the job, what the boss says goes, damn your opinion or what you think. While in [the Wooden Shoe] collective or [Jobs with Justice], what you think actually matters and I end up being a whole lot more productive in those groups because I'm not trying to get away with shit like I do in my regular job. My loyalty is to those who offer mutual respect and do simple things like help me through tough times, because I'll do the same for them when they're in trouble. As well as having a common fuel that there's something really wrong with the world and you want to change it (or give it a black eye).

I know I'm 27 and I should know that this is simply the way the world works especially in a capitalist economy by now. But damn does it make me angry on a daily basis.  Blatant disrespect and me being wrong no matter what just because I'm not management. Or that all the time everyday someone's trying to get a one-up on ya. It really makes me mad when people play the politics game, sucking up or ambushing you in a meeting with something they could of easily talked to you about one-on-one, but its more advantageous to publicly embarrass you in front of other people.

I know I don't have it that bad. I make $25k a year which is way more than I ever made before and don't have any kids or anything like that. I think one of my biggest pet peeves though, is people assuming I'm stupid, which seems to be built into the boss-worker relationship. So maybe I'm not really meant to live in this world. Its frustrating.

It's useful to consider Marx's notion of alienation. In capitalism, alienation is not so much impoverishment or oppression per se, but rather a kind of impoverishment and oppression which relates to the experience of work. Mr. Generic hits the high notes -- and it would be hard to find a person alive today who is not in some way familiar with them.

For Marx, alienation is the real story behind capitalism, not poverty or repression. Capitalism is obviously capable of generating great wealth, and the coercive force of the state is not deployed in every instance. White collar workers in the West don't have the same problems as sweatshop workers in Asia, for example. But for Marx, alienation is the common thread that binds them all, and which strikes so fundamentally at the potential for human fulfillment in each case.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The way we were

Wall Street Journal:

These books were clearly conceived in better times, when choosing a fulfilling job or opting out to pursue full-time motherhood was the luxury of a booming economy.

When times were better, women had fulfilling jobs and the luxury of pursuing full-time parenthood, all thanks to the booming economy!  Personally, I remember this well, having always enjoyed these perquisites on account of my being a man.

American labor's PR problem

Your voice, their choice

David Graeber, Direct Action:

Democracy, one constantly hears, means that people get to make choices. They choose between different parties or candidates. They might even choose to vote yes or no on a referendum. Almost always, though, they themselves have played little or no part in shaping the things between which this choice is made. It's this ideology of choice...which makes it possible to see democracy and the market as equivalents: consumer choice, as well, means selecting from a range of options designed by somebody else.

...[T]he conception of "opinion" -- personal opinions, public opinion -- also follows from the absence of any real experience in participatory decision-making. In American schools, children are always being asked to express their opinions. ... The problem is that these opinions generally have no effect. ... This continues throughout life. This is, I think, what tends to give so many "personal opinions" one hears voiced in America their oddly free-floating quality, their frequent tone of arbitrariness, self-enclosure, intolerance -- the very qualities that make many assume that participatory democracy would not really be possible. The phrase "everyone's entitled to their opinion" is generally used as a brush-off. They are entitled to their opinions because opinions don't matter. Those in power do not have opinions. They make policy.

In the first case, what I like to tell people on the subject of national politics is that Wall Street chooses the candidates, and the public elects the winners. Policy just follows the dollars. This dispenses with arguments about parties and platforms, and seems to resonate with people whatever their personal leanings. (As for "democracy at the point of consumption," see Stump Lane.)

It would be hard to overstate the significance of the second point as it relates to the United States (a country where speech is free, unless paid for). Divorced from any creative application, rational thought yields no particular benefit. And if opinions make no particular difference in one's life, then it makes no particular difference what those opinions are, as there is no disincentive for being wrong, only for departing from the social norm. To my mind, such concerns are to a large extent what animates the skepticism of analysts as perceptive as IOZ toward any social project; but it nevertheless strikes me as problem that can be resolved, whether or not it will.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Automatic for the people

Tony Jackson, Financial Times:

When times are good, the bosses get more than the workers, and when they are bad, they settle for the same.

The stomach has a long memory, and mine registers a query: When are times good? I have worked for Fortune 500 companies all of my adult life; and in the meantime aspired to something more in personal affairs than to exercise my individuality via the savvy consumer purchase.  

But it takes resources to make an investment; and what is undertaken on behalf of survival does not contribute to the project of living, as long as the boss stands in between.  Nietzche writes:

No one can finally spend more than he has.  That holds good for individuals; it holds good for peoples.  If one spends oneself for power, for high politics, for husbandry, for commerce, Parliamentarism, military interests -- if one gives away that amount of reason, earnestness, will, self-mastery, which constitutes his real self, for the one thing, he will not have it for the other.

What we give away must conform to our values. "Paying da bills" is not a value -- it is a necessity. It follows, then, that if there is to be scope for what "constitutes our real selves," it can't exist in conflict with the task of basic survival. But because we surrender that potential to the boss in exchange for "a living," we hope to anesthetize the spiritual agony which ensues with material accumulation in excess.

This is the compact of a consumer society. When times are good, many are invited along the single path which makes it work. When times are bad, fewer are admitted. But in neither case can one hope to make that investment in one's real self without, on some level, rejecting its terms.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Vote every day

"The anarchy that I've followed and practiced all of that time came to me through Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, through Ammon Hennacy, the great Catholic anarchist and pacifist. Ammond taught me, as he did, to treat his body like a ballot. My body is my ballot. And he said, 'Cast that body ballot on behalf of the people around you every day of your life, every day. And don't let anybody ever tell you you haven't voted.' You just didn't assign responsibility to other people to do things. You accept responsibility and see to it that something gets done. That's the way he lived and that's the way the past forty, going on fifty, years that I have lived. It's a way to vote without caving in to the civil authority I'm committed to dissolving." -- Utah Phillips

Thursday, December 03, 2009

SEPTA strike commentary

Walt Weber, Industrial Worker:

To make the strike more effective, the union should have taken the resources that it dedicated to the 2008 presidential election and gone door to door across the city to educate the community about their issues and try to gain the community's support.  This should have been followed with community meetings, joint meetings with other unions, resolutions at churches, community groups, and the central labor council, just as a start.

What we saw instead was a union preparing to go it alone, into a strike that is probably only one notch more popular than a garbage strike.  Without a proper inoculation campaign in the community, the union was successfully demonized as a bunch of greedy thugs who would defend their fiefdom with force, despite all logic and reason.
The true problem, however, is that this strike was organized by a trade union, and not along industrial lines. Under [the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority], there are currently several different divisions, all working under different contracts and with different unions.  While the SEPTA strike was on in the City Division, all of the other divisions continued to work, under different unions, with different contracts and a similar no-strike clause.
[A]n industrial union would never let workers at the same company be divided.  One Big Union means just that: all SEPTA workers, no matter what division, in the city, suburbs, or running regional rail trains hundreds of miles away, all united.  When there is a problem in one division, everything stops.

Unions do well to take their lead from communities, highlighting workplace concerns alongside other issues relating to local industry, because it is ultimately from communities that unions secure the kind of legitimacy which always prefigures their power.

The American labor movement made a compact with employers in the mid-20th century to forgo the social legitimacy of communities in exchange for the political legitimacy of the state. This left a new class of labor bureaucrats with just as much power as the courts, the legislature, and the executive saw fit. In a democracy where capital always casts the largest vote, labor leaders have spent more and more of their members' dues to attend fewer and fewer important dinners ever since! Their candidates have won Congress and the presidency -- and their agenda is dead!

Labor has no claim to legitimacy within a state beholden to capital. Legitimacy only comes from the threat that working people will finally fold their arms, and advance their concerns without lifting a finger.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Work is the curse of the drinking classes

Wall Street Journal:

In late 2007, he took a job at Lowe's while working at a series of fast-food jobs on the side, as well as a stint at Pathmark supermarket. He still works at Lowe's, earning $15.96 an hour selling lawnmowers, outdoor furniture and Christmas ornaments. At night, he pumps gas at a Quick Check for $13.70 an hour.

Typically, he works between 61 and 63 hours per week. It wouldn't be so bad, he says, if the hours were consecutive. But with the gap between jobs, he can only sleep a few hours a night now -- sometimes just an hour. Last week, he managed to clock 87 hours and barely saw his son.

"That's all I do -- every day -- I just keep working," he says. "I've got to. I'm not going to lose everything I have."

Speaking for myself: my part-time, unionized job has excellent benefits, but no hours.  Shifts tend to run 3-4 hours, unless you don't have the driver's license required to operate equipment.  Typically, this means you are a person from Philadelphia who can claim higher levels of melanin in your skin.  Your shift will be 2 hours of modern day field work in the back of a tractor trailer or sorting station: parcels will rain on you at maximum capacity -- then you will be asked if you want your contractually guaranteed third hour doing something even worse.  After three hours you are off the clock. 

My part-time, non-unionized gig is comprised of eight hour blocks at night, various days of the week.  This means breaking down pallets of Pellegrino and bulk dog food when my body would prefer to be shutting down for the night.  Instead, your brain shuts down.  What is interesting, however, is that one's body can continue working for a long time afterward, provided it only calls upon basic motor skills.  Why did I take the four cases of marshmallows to the back instead of leaving them for the morning supervisor to make his holiday marshmallow mountain display, he wants to know.  Because the brain doesn't work like that, fuck face!  But alas: three write ups and I am out of a job -- so I do my best to determine whether the constant over-ordering of product should be interpreted as "new display" or just incompetence which deserves to be tidied up on my end.

Theoretically, these jobs are meant to be the stepping stones to something -- anything -- else.  But in a system premised on the idea that employers aren't obligated to their employees' long-term welfare, every job carries the prospect of becoming a stepping stone to nowhere.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What women can do for your country

New Yorker:

In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it “would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing” and undermine “the family-centered approach.”

If the Comprehensive Child Development Act was alive today, would it be dead by now? No sooner than the ink hits paper do the rights won today become the entitlements "reformed" tomorrow -- unless the very social unrest which won them in the first place is perennially renewed.

Today we are as far from affordable child-care for all as we are from employers ponying up the compensation necessary to sustain the single-income, "family-centered approach." After the second world war, unions brought the country closest to the latter; in the 70's, women brought us nearest to the former.  In neither case has the movement been sustained; in both have victories yielded under incessant attack.

The outcome, predictably, has been bad.  Two wage-earners raising a child on television is not a viable scheme, to say nothing of the parent who goes it alone. Whether the solution is "communal" or "family-centered," those groups currently subsidized by the breakdown of family life deserve to be put on notice. Much like the success of the labor and women's movements, this promises to be as "divisive" as it ever was -- by today's standards, even if it is done half as well.