January 20, 2017
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Tax Cuts and Entitlements

In an age where not only human agency but actual physical cause and effect are elided and denied, I want to shout as loudly as I can that once we cut taxes radically, of course the government cannot afford to provide its citizens any services. The best way for Republicans to cut "entitlements" is to cut taxes first, then trumpet later we can't afford Social Security or Medicare. But which of us was asked the real question, admitting the linkage: Which would you rather, somewhat higher taxes now and support later, or lower taxes now and being abandoned when you are old and weak?

Denver Airport

I wish someone would write a sociological case study of the design considerations and assumptions underlying the massive Denver airport, where you deplane at Gate 14 and have twenty-five minutes to make your connecting flight at gate 80 by running down hallways with your carry on bags; where there seems to be only a single cart transporting the passengers who can't run; where half the motorized walkways seem to be out of service at any time. It doesn't seem to have been designed for the convenience of the actual travelers.

Train crash

Another interesting and needed case study would be of the new high speed train which on its very first run derailed fatally on a curve. Aren't high speed trains as a design factor not supposed to have to make any dangerous curves? What kind of technology is alpha tested on lives of actual users? If the driver was texting, we need special attention to a culture and mentality where we are so involved with our devices we kill not just ourselves but the others for whom we are responsible.

Sarah Palin

When Sarah Palin's son had a mental breakdown recently and beat his father, an unanalyzed detail in the news report was that Palin and her wounded husband fled the home in separate cars. Was this the result of a rational conversation--"You save the Rolls and I'll rescue the Bentley"-- or did Palin actually try to save her own life by abandoning her husband? I want to know because I am a collector of evidence as to precisely when spouses are willing to give their lives for each other--both Yoko Ono and Jackie Kennedy don't seem to have been courageous, but Lurleen Wallace actually covered George's body with hers in case any more bullets flew in.

Chrome message

On a computer in my public library, when I clicked on a pdf recently, a message popped up that the default browser might degrade the quality of the attachment in displaying it, and would I like to install Chrome? I have become sadly used to this kind of dialog in a direct two paty war between would be monopolies, for example Google's wishful invitation to install Chrome every time I every time I open an attachment in Safari on my IPhone. But on the library computer it occurred to me that Google did not even hold any territory in that battle, because I was working on a Windows computer with Firefox installed as the default. Then I understood that of course I had my Google account open; Google felt entitled to push Chrome on me in a context where it was a third party, an outside player in the underlying competition (Windows v. Firefox).

Billionaires and patriotism

The growing manifestation of Late Capitalism I dubbed "Billionairism" some years ago has taken a remarkable turn: we no longer require actual patriotism from our billionaires. In the McCarthy era, the underlying proposition as to being an American was that you should not even be permitted to be a dentist in the military if suspected of disloyalty ("Who promoted Peress?"). Today, Peter Thiel can be invited to play various roles in government (and even astonishingly be talked up for a Supreme Court appointment by a blithering Donald Trump--Thiel practiced law less than a year) despite the fact that some years ago he bought New Zealand citizenship, and property there, as his own fallback position when the shit hits the fan in his native country, the United States of America. This would seem very equivocal even if Thiel's stated policies, of cutting taxes, eliminating entitlements, and his attacks on equality, did not seem dedicated to advancing that state of crime and anarchy. But why should I be concerned that we are cutting Thiel a break when Donald Trump himself epitomizes that billionaire exceptionalism and disloyalty--and rode that attitude to the Presidency?

The U2 Virus

For most of a year, at unexpected moments when I connected my phone to my car's speaker via Bluetooth, the system started playing an album I did not own, U2's latest. At first I was bewildered and even afraid to mention this to anyone, as it seemed impossible, and I was a little concerned that rationalists, like my brothers, would think I was making shit up, or was completely baffled by the technology. But the explanation turns out to be about as mundane and dirty as you could imagine: Apple made a deal with U2 and in effect inserted a virus into its own systems, imposing music on you you may not even like.

Bannon babbling

In a predictive list I wrote the week after Trump was elected, I included as symptom of incipient fascism Steve Bannon still being very powerful one year into the Trump administration. When he was fired I felt relief, then fear when, backed by Mercer money, he was still warping Republican realities out of shape in primary contests. But my suspicion that the guy, rather than being Machiavelli, was actually a compulsive braggart and babbler who would talk himself to destruction, seems to have ben borne out when he managed recently to get fired by the Mercers and Breitbart. We will see if he keeps twitching and surging up like the dead monster in a movie, but I am hopeful that he will soon assume the mantle of "has-been-ity" he so richly deserves, as in, "Remember that guy Steve Bannon?"

Algorithm movies

Part of the fun in writing the Spectacle is spotting connections between things. My personal best was the discovery that American boys are getting fatter and weaker, while the physique of the G.I. Joe toys they play with is getting buffer. I recently read about popular Youtube content which seems to be an assembled mish-mosh of cartoon excerpts created to attach as many trending hashtags as possible. Then Netflix released the movie Bright, which the critics execrated as one of the worst films of 2017 but which some noted similarly seemed to have been generated by an algorithm so as to include as many elements as possible which would make customers stream it half attentively while eating their breakfast or doing homework. Both are evidence of a doomy trend, in content that no longer needs a consistent story or even a plot at all. The generation raised on impressionistic artificially generated content which washes over you like a mood-bath and doesn't require any mental skills at all will then use that same indoctrination when voting, picking mood-bath candidates without thinking about them. Oh, wait, that's already happened.

The human comedy

I have been reading about cave painting, and looking at pictures of astonishing art, masterpieces painted on remote walls in dark places in the Lascaux caves apparently by torchlight. Then I started reading about the phenomenon of Paleolithic "overkill", humans overhunting and wiping out megafauna such as the mammoths and sabre-tooths portrayed in some of the paintings. Not to mention doing the same to their Neanderthal cousins, who do not seem to have made art themselves. Add an overlay to this, that the dominant explanation of cave art is that it had a shamanistic theme, was intended to promote the hunting of the animals portrayed. Fast forward to the Pope in the sixteenth century celebrating the St. Barthelomew massacre by commissioning from Vasari a painting of the murdered Protestant, Coligny, being thrown from a window: a dark nexus between our most elevated capabilities and our most primitive, between art and killing.