Thursday, January 30, 2014

A short open letter to the Atlantic, HuffPo, NYT, and the rest of the east coast media establishment:

A short open letter to the Atlantic, HuffPo, NYT, and the rest of the east coast media establishment:
Please, get out of your offices some. Please, take a deep breath. Leave your urban outlets. Put down that cappuchino. Get out of your parochial environment, and go meet people with bloodstreams. Get out to flyover country some, however distasteful that may be. Get to know your Saidian "Other". Stop coming up with ridiculous rewrites of your master's thesis in sociology. Stop imagining that bowling leagues are precursors to Nazi rallies, or that beards are signifiers of the power structure. Please burst that bubble. Develop a sense of humor. If you do this, your articles will look less like Onion parodies.

Non-intervention: Learning to Look the Other Way

Folks I know seem to really appreciate countries like Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and  the Czech Republic.  In our hemisphere, Chile and Argentina often get a shout out.  What’s something that these places have in common?  One thing is that they usually aren’t on the imperialist running dog list of foreign intervention.  That means that they prefer diplomacy to boots on the ground, and can in most cases spend what would be a military budget on social welfare programs.  In other words, when some wild and crazy civil war breaks out in the latest failed state, they largely look the other way.

As does China, Japan, and all the other Asian Tigers.  As does most of the world.  For when it’s UN Humanitarian Intervention time, anything passing above the token contingent is often the same players, France, Britain, often Canada, and of course the US.   All but Canada are old hands at empire, though the US never got into the colonial aspect of it, instead preferring bombs and briefcases of cash.  Complexity and nuance are not America’s strong suits.  

The problem with modern imperialism is that it doesn’t resemble that of, say, Genghis Khan’s Mongols, who erased any moral qualms they might have had by annihilating and enslaving its victims. For us, it’s always a mixture of brute calculation and na├»ve idealism.  Bombing people into modernity and liberal democracy is the peculiar heritage of our Jacobin era.  And guilt, guilt, guilt. 

So, let’s close those bases.  Let’s withdraw those troops.  Tell those petty dictators, no more briefcases or bitcoins: we’re out of the empire business.  

But can “we” do it?  Can you do it?  Can you look the other way?  Can we mind our own business? 
Our own business. Is there really any such thing anymore?  With all that global, interconnectedness, this neo-feudal web of obligations and ties.  Not very sexy is it, isolationism.

Of course, we can’t.  Part of Jacobin morality is, “you break it, you own it.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bachelor of Barista?

Today, a friend of mine posted this question: “Education for the new economy...Bachelors of Barista?” 
Good question.  Heck, why not?  You see all these twentysomethings these days pour coffee after ringing up five and six-figure debt getting some fatuous degree. 

Another friend who did a couple of years in Asheville told me that he was blown away when he first moved there by how all the sweatiest jobs like picking up rubbish and trimming hedges were done by dudes with degrees. Places like Asheville, though, have tuned into keeping their people's self-esteem high, so they've invented professions like Artisan Plumbing.  That’s a college town for you, but you’re starting to see that more and more in average towns as economic downturn dovetailing with market saturation for liberal arts majors begins to take its toll.  

There’s this dude in my town whose hook is that he delivers his hand-roasted, micro-batch coffee by bicycle.  Well, why not?  Somebody should do it.  If delivering arugula by wheelbarrow pays the bills (you are free to steal this idea), go for it.  There’s a lot of folks who tingle at the idea of an urban scene filled with the kind of street hawkers and micro markets that they pay to look at on vacations to Europe, and they revere it accordingly, much like the way the EU government gets worked up in debates about the terroir.  I don’t blame them.  When my son and I went to the Euro outpost of Quebec, my gluttonous self was in nirvana at all the fromageries and fruiteries I saw, with not a one of their storefronts more than twenty feet wide.  Micro indeed.

One way today’s young deal with finding out their true market value is to get an internship at an organic farm or "institute".  You could be swinging a hoe all day, but if the dirt’s organic and the payoff includes smoking a bowl  at the end of the day, then you are interning.  I’ve seen one place not only hire interns rather than “laborers”, but even charge folks for the experience of feeding their goats and spreading mud on a daub hut. When I was a kid reading Tom Sawyer, I thought it was nuts that boys were lining up to pay Tom to whitewash his fence for him, but now I know that he was just clever at marketing.

Meanwhile, there’s other proletarian work out there that pays a whole lot more, though it’s short on cool.  If you’ve got the stones to work with 84,000 volts of alternating current, the International Brotherhood of ElectricalWorkers might be for you.  $74,200 Transgender Studies bill? Heck,  my friend Cary will clear that and then some this year as he hooks himself to a high voltage cable that delivers the power that’s running my laptop right now.  It’s enough to make an ironic moustache curl even harder.   It takes serious delayed gratification, with a five year apprenticeship program, and has some genuine safety hazards, but the pay and benefits are good, and the IBEW is better at organizing than your affinity group is.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Universalism is the pantheist neo-Gnostic creed of the era, where the children of speed and telecommunications find techno-rapture in the illusion that they can be anywhere, anything, at anytime- a kind of simulacra of the singularity. Far from marking them the sophisticates that they imagine being, their disdain for the parochial is the inverse of the nation-state that they imagine they are transcending. Instead of the slavishisness of nationalism, there is a petty narcissism, a Whitmanian "Song of Myself" that imagines that they can love everyone, and by extension, everyone should love them.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Housing Startups

Using housing startups as a marker of economic health is a kind of American cargo cult.

When I was 19, I was wandering around a Western city, and stumbled into a neighborhood that was essentially unfinished.  You know the kind:  Peach Orchard Street, Peach Orchard Lane, Peach Orchard Circle.  There's probably now some software for developers that churns out this stuff, but then it was a revelation.  Coming from an "undynamic" area, I'd never seen this kind of stuff.  And it had never been occupied, save by an unlucky few who already had signs out.  I'll spare the suburban cul-de-sac inferno culture critique.  The area was in a downturn, I guess, and there were acres and acres of unmet success all around me.

Creative destruction is the spin: if  a city isn't growing, it's dying.  That's probably true, as we just don't have any other economic model.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."