May 9, 2021
This issue's contents Current issue My Back Pages Search The Ethical Spectacle

Derek Chauvin

I happened to be watching as the jury verdict was announced live, and felt a huge sense of relief wash over me when they convicted him. I would like to live in an America in which unarmed black men are not murdered by police every week; as a first step those cops must go to prison. This is more or less a Litmus Test, as to what kind of country we have.

Cop on cop violence

Almost lost in the Noise was a jury's acquittal recently of white police who beat a black protester, unaware he undercover cop. That has been a sub-genre of police violence my entire life: cops beating or shooting black cops in plain clothes. This radiates the dilemma of the marginalized person who gains entrance, or thinks she has, to the power-hierarchy: how do you know you're really inside? It is a sort of Horror Movie Trope.

Crap products on Amazon

About ten years ago in my writing, I adopted the phrase "Late Capitalism" where most writers would say "Neoliberalism". I have a theory that early capitalism invents the steamship; mid-capitalism discovers routes, ticketing, fuel depots, effective advertising, and ways of building a relationship with the customer; Late Capitalism chops up the decks and railings to feed the boiler, and also believes it has a right to throw the customer overboard when convenient.

There was a day, lasting into the 1990's, when it suddenly became possible to buy very high quality technology products for not much money. That day is long past, and tech monopolies-- Amazon's, Google's, Verizon's-- are responsible. I just read Alec Macgillis' book, Fulfillment (recommended), which includes an instructive anecdote about a wholesaler wondering how Amazon Marketplace prices could undercut his so radically. He discovered Amazon was full of counterfeits. A rather delightful ancient anecdote involves the tyrant of Syracuse who mounted a complicated, year long contest to choose a husband for his daughter. One of the last tests was dancing, and the lead contestant, Hippocleides, showing off his mad skills, got so carried away he began dancing on his head on a table. The autocrat warned him, "You are dancing yourself out of a marriage". "Hippocleides does not care", was the answer. Amazon is our Hippocleides.

During the 1990's, when I worked in the business world and avidly read business philosophy books, I understood and approved the idea of developing a brand which honestly communicated quality: Brooks Brothers suits, FAO Schwartz for toys, Sharper Image for $3,000 gadgets. Amazon, which has contributed to driving all of them out of business, is a monstrously trashy convenience store which sells a lot of stuff that doesn't actually work, the kind of everyday stuff, like humidifiers and CD players, which you throw away after trying to use them a few times. Convenience rules all: you can get something defective, delivered to your front door in a day. But I remember a time not all that many years ago, when more or less everything did what it was supposed to, right out of the box: a Walkman played your CD all the way through; a printer printed every time you sent it a document; you could reliably read your email on a tablet. Today, I can hardly get through a workout listening to music (sometimes my headset-via Bluetooth-to-tablet-to Amazon connection fails in the very first song); I buy printers which only work every third job or so; my tablet sometimes won't display Gmail. And these are products from HP and Samsung, not fly by night manufacturers like the humidifier. So much for Capitalist competition leading to better products.

My Octopus Teacher

It seems Scroogelike to criticize this extraordinary documentary, which gives you a view into the life and personality of an octopus (in what I found the most remarkable moment, she clearly appears to be at play, goofily waving her tentacles to chase fish, when, as the narrator notes, hunting them involves coiling, concentration, and ambush). Yet sadly this film, which I really wanted to declare an Epiphany, perpetrates the oldest, cheapest Documentary Scam of all, which I was smart enough to notice at age 10, watching Cousteau's World Without Sun in a movie theater: (this is from ancient memory so results may vary:) Cousteau emerges from his diving saucer, blinking and looking around, in an air-filled undersea cavern no other human has ever visited...but wait! The cameraman somehow got there and set up ahead of him to film Cousteau blinking! Though the human protagonist of Octopus , James Reed, did some filming himself, there are many scenes where, supposedly swimming out alone to visit his friend, he is obviously trailed by a cameraperson...who is never mentioned, let alone interacted with as a member of the team or a participant in the experience. This breach of trust leads to questioning whether another one, the Disney Scam, is happening:is it always even the same octopus? It seems suspicious that every important even in the animal's life, including a shark attack, mating, and its death, occurred while Reed was randomly visiting. The film at least avoids the Disney Dance, in which a film loop of an animal lifting or loweing its head or waving its limbs is set to a rock beat.In a sense, any scammery in documentaries is itself a product of Late Capitalism. All my topics converge.