An answer to a kind responder

After my scathing dismissal of a Fox News commentator’s comment that we’re wishing ourselves into a depression (unstated directly, but it’s the gist of his comments), the person behind the “Name Your Fear” blog put down some interesting comments worth responding to:

Me: “…Well, economists are the stupidest people in the world.”
Responder: “or, economists stick to objective measurable definitions (that hopefully haven’t been messed with, as they’ve been with the inflation numbers), and in this case the conditions for a recession have not been met, so it’s not a recession. it’s just not, not yet anyhow… part of the problem is that you can’t measure a quarter until it’s over, and you have to wait at least 6 months to measure two quarters, so you only know you’ve been in a recession months later. so we may be in a recession right now, and when the numbers are reported in 6 months you can say “I told you so”. but it doesn’t validate your reasoning…”

Fair enough on the economist sticking to objective measurable definitions. However, one would think that they would figure out a way to get past the six-month delay to see what’s going on RIGHT NOW. I don’t know how often the MainStream Media (which is getting dodgier and dodgier by the day; I swear they’re trying to kill off Obama’s chances at a nomination so that Clinton can lose to McCain) catches on to troubles while the talking economist heads tell us “everything is OK.” Go through that enough times, and you learn to doubt the talking heads and look around at what people are talking about.

This is especially galling to me because we’re talking about one of the “new wave of economists” who supposedly go out from the academic/corporate world into the real world. People who hang out with prostitutes and gang-bangers and figure out how value works. I can deal with their extreme laissez-faire world-view or their belief in the innate evil of government, but this basing their thoughts on six-months old information is hardly something I would expect of these guys.

And to be honest, I hope it’s this. I’d very much hate to see them buying into “The Secret/What The #&##@” version of Karma.

Responder: I don’t think anyone would argue that economic growth has slowed, so call it a slowdown, but don’t hijack and redefine the word ‘recession’. it seems that everyone across the political spectrum does this — the right tries to redefine Liberty to mean “Free from Fear” and therefore subject to more restrictions; Hillary tried to redefine Change to mean “same old Clinton politics”… it’s all doublespeak. yes Fox is often guilty of it; but you’re perpetuating it too.

Well, I try to keep things steady. Maybe trying to catch things early might mean I’m renaming things.

There’s also the problem of where I’m at. After all, I’m a lower working class person, one who earns close to the de facto minimum wage (though not close enough to be affected by the rising minimum wage) who consorts with people who are likely to spend months unemployed despite (or because of) their education (and what they studied). Which means I see things that others closer to “the median/middle” would view as noise. I may just be catching the people who would suffer from the random slings, those bits of data (aka facts) that would make Economists impossible to do because they gum up the works.

But to defend myself, I also see certain things. Like Gas tripling in less than seven years. And various dairy products (non-meat items from animals) shooting up in triple digits over a few years. And SUVs being replaced by cars, the appearance of mopeds on the streets, and cars getting older. That’s the stuff even I can’t fake. And when I hear young, shapely natural blondes (the ones whom our society seems overly eager to cocoon to prosperity) bemoaning their fate in the nation’s economy, I know it’s not just me.

Me: “The people on the block can tell when their world is being messed with,”
Responder: if they can tell, why wouldn’t they do something about it? and who, specifically, are these ‘people on the block’ — I’d like to tap their knowledge and foresight to let me know when my world is being messed with, since I’m clearly in the dark.

Knowing stuff is going on and doing something about it is two different things:

  • When you’re stuck with $35,000 owed to two SUVs which you can only get $15,000 from if you’re lucky, you do what you can. Especially when bankruptcy laws won’t allow you to write off your debts.
  • When you’re wildly upside-down with your house, the temptation is to simply walk away. Other temptations include ripping shit up and burning the house down.
  • Higher food and gas prices imply less driving and buying cheaper stuff. Ergo, Goodbye Dominics, hello Aldi. Goodbye road trip, hello in-home vacation.

Thing is, there’s a need for some sort of communal activism, even if it’s just people getting together and educating themselves on what they can do. But with people still buying into the present political/economic system it’s hard to convince people to do anything other than “more of the same, hoping to make it.”

And sometimes, all the foresight in the world isn’t going to help. Try saving money now that inflation is finally beginning to eat into your “must-spend” money. Try getting a college education now that it costs double ten years ago and gives you lower wages than before. Try fleeing when the laws of the world tell you you can only stay put (Remember the Holocaust? millions stuck, waiting to get hauled to the ovens.).

I can save money, but if the guys on top want to make the dollar worth nothing (Zimbabwe, anyone? Maybe 1920’s Germany?) I can save all the greenbacks I want, and all I look is stupid. I try education and there’s no jobs around, the doofus who bought the Labor Union’s card will laugh at my ass all the way to the bank, then laugh at me next time he saw me on the street.

And when all MY actions are limited to the personal and the forces against me are principalities, corporations and armed with weapons and the wherewithal to rearm, who’s to say I CAN act? And multiply that by millions of isolated workers, and you get the issue that’s causing our problems today.

Another rambling post, alas. But hopefully the questions are answered.

Let’s Look at a Fox News Article and Sweep Up the Untruths, Shall We?

First, here’s the Fox News Article: “The Recession Is A Media Myth” by John Lott Jr., an author of the book “Freakonomics.”

This is actually a good place to do a deconstruction of Fox News and figure out what’s true and what’s disinformation (quotations in bold):

  • “The average unemployment rate during President Clinton was 5.2 percent. The average under President George W. Bush is just slightly below 5.2. The current unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, almost half a percentage point lower than these averages.” Of course, the question becomes “what do you mean by unemployment?” Lots of people are off the rolls because they’ve given up, and unemployment is defined as “still looking via specific channels.” And of course, someone working part-time jobs isn’t counted as unemployed. Used to be there was a term called “Overqualified” which was used for college graduates looking for work “beneath their dignity.” You don’t hear that term anymore, do you?
  • “The average inflation rate under Clinton was 2.6 percent, under Bush it is 2.7 percent. Indeed, one has to go back to the Kennedy administration to find a lower average rate.” Yes, but what rate are you talking about. They’ve changed the inflation rate, amongst other things to throw in items made to shove the rate lower. Like changing steak to hamburger when steak seems to rise too fast in price.
    This, of course, leads to the question of whether inflation numbers during the Clinton Era were fixed to be lower than they were. I would say “yes” to that question.
  • Gas prices are indeed up 33 percent over the last year, but to get an average of 4 percent means that lots of other prices must have stayed the same or gone down.” Or the inflation numbers were set up to ignore certain items, like fuel and food prices. They now have a fiction called the “Core Inflation Rate” which is more along the lines of what I’d call the “Corporate Inflation Rate.” The fact is, food and fuel have more of an immediate impact on people than metal prices or “Car Prices.” Gas prices affect vacations, food prices affect what people buy; between the two there’s a lot less stuff being bought.
  • “Yet, as any economist knows, a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth, and we haven’t even had one single quarter of negative growth reported.” Well, economists are the stupidest people in the world. The people on the block can tell when their world is being messed with, and it has nothing to do with what a bunch of talking heads sucking up to the rich (Let’s not forget: the rich favor abortion. So do the authors of Freakonomics. Their research may be true and honest, but let’s not forget the bias.). It comes from watching SUVs turn into Crossovers and Cars, and watching Mopeds and bikes show up on the anti-pedestrian road-grid of Northwest Indiana, from watching art galleries close up due to lack of business, from news that our savings rate has been negative for a while (and that we’re trying to save and become positive), from people in my generation and below cutting back on their dreams. You can pile on extra income to the rich and have them able to absorb 15% inflation rates with aplomb, but when you have a year when milk prices went up 25% and your wages stayed the same YOU’RE NOT ABLE TO SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY ON DOODADS ANYMORE. And we know (of course) that no news outlet’s going to talk about that nowadays.
  • “Housing has obviously been a big drag on the economy, but many other sectors of the economy, such as exports, have been doing well, some extremely well. For example, aerospace exports increased by over 13 percent last year.” Aerospace exports? Heck, how about our nation being able to make its own clothes, its own cars, its own computers, its own food? Britain was able to export entertainment to us over the past 40-plus years; I can tell you it wasn’t the music industry that brought it out of its slump (my hint: try north sea). And trust me, Housing isn’t as bad as it’s going to be, watch what happens when many people start GIVING THEIR KEYS TO THE BANK ON THEIR OWN.
  • For example, Obama’s promises last week “to amend our bankruptcy laws so families aren’t forced to stick to the terms of a home loan” will only further drive down the value of mortgage-backed securities, making any unstable financial institutions that hold them even more likely to fail.” You mean to tell me that corporations that told their customers “Don’t worry’ we’ll refinance you when your ARM is about to ratchet up” and then disappear in time for that arm to ratchet up should be able to follow their customers to the ends of the earth and extract money from them and their children?
  • “Ben Stein has a point when he says “The actual economic conditions are not that bad. I think if we have a recession, if we have a serious recession, a great deal will lie at the media’s feet.”” Do these stupid economists believe that people are stupid heads who can only follow orders from their chosen “Betters?” Trust me, people tend to act on their own more than your average Fox fan believes.
    Also, consider that your average economist whines about people threatening to cause a recession when the recession has already affected people’s buying habits and declares that a recession has started when the recession has in fact ended and people are buying stuff again, I would trust the people over what some Economist says.

Finally, consider that economists are generally used in the service of the Status Quo. That means a bunch of Rich People and Corporations which want us to defer to their their judgments, buy their products, give up our rights when it interferes with their perogatives, and generally worship at their feet (minus the folded hands and references to “God,” the better to hide the truth). Marx is still villified because he refused to become the Rich’s tool.

Enough ranting for today.

Sunday Monday Happy Days; Tuesday Wednesday Happy Days…(you know the rest)

I’m sure there’s people who remember this show. Thing is, you almost see nothing referring to it anymore.

I’m talking Happy Days, the TV show.

We’re not talking some show that struggled for two seasons, then disappeared:

  • This show changed the landscape of network TV. Before it, ABC was not so much the third network but the half-network in a 2 1/2 network system; when Happy Days jumped into #1 ABC was able to translate itself into the number one network. NBC needed a decade to recover.
  • New words and phrases were thrown from the television screen into the American Lexicon (from “AAAAaaaay” to “nerd” to “Jump the Shark“),
  • Changed the way reruns came onto the Television. “Happy Days Again” was the first rerun show to run while the original show was still being shown in prime time.
  • Nostalgia suddenly became a fixation for the population. Never mind that the show was more a rewriting of history to salve some of the rawer wounds of the era (would “The Fonz” have been welcomed back in the fifties?), suddenly people wanted to remember, something that wasn’t “cool” before the show became big.
  • From Grease to Sid and Nancy to Juno, many movies now have soundtracks. The father of this is Happy Days, with their musical background (which seemed a bit manipulative to me at times).

Thing is, you no longer see it anywhere.

You hear about “The Jackie Gleason Show” and “I Love Lucy” from the old geezers on the radio. “Laugh-In” and “The Monkees” (amongst other shows) are familiar to everyone. And, of course, we hear a lot about “All In The Family/Archie Bunker’s Place” and “M.A.S.H.” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “The A Team,” “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues” are well known from the eighties, as are “Friends,” “The Simpsons” and “Frazier” from the nineties. And, of course, there’s “The X Files,” “Sex And The City,” “Desperate Housewives” and the “Law and Order” group of program, along with “American Idol” and other “reality programs (read: Sports applied to other situations)” to the present day (note: I know these are generalized, many of the shows jumped decades).

But “Happy Days?” It’s almost as if it didn’t happen. Never mind its continuing influence.

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I have a hypothesis about what happened:

Most of the shows that end up lasting because they change how people think. Lucy showed a woman in a leading role (however circumscribed), Laugh-In brought semi-risque humor and quick pacing to the television, M.A.S.H. brought war to the living rooms of millions in a way that people could handle, Cheers brought intelligent humor onto television and proved that a Television audience could enjoy it, The Simpsons brought cartoons back to the Adults, and Sex and the City brought sexuality (not just titillation) to the screen (even if just to the cable market).

With “Happy Days” (and its extension, Lavern and Shirley), though, the show served mainly to comfort and confirm what people wanted to think. Yes, we would have refused the easy $64,000 from the corrupt game show. Yes, we would have seen beyond the leather jacket to the responsible man underneath it. Yes, we would have welcomed “losers and nerds” into our circle of friends when we had the chance for better friends. Yes, we would have stood up against the power who wanted to turn us into lesser versions of their suspicious, hateful, bitter selves.

Watching this show allowed millions to remake their past into a better, more independent, more honorable, more “American” version of what it really was. They could look on the television screen, see the past they wanted to see, and pat themselves on the back. Then, when they looked on the present and saw pretty much the same problems they suffered from being shown in different ways (history doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it’s been known to rhyme) they could look at themselves, say “Things were better when we were younger” and know there were things to refer to.

There was one problem with this, though: Happy Days was fiction. Like most of what was on television then (and even now), it was a scripted show with a beginning, a middle and an end; with certain plot lines set up so that the right idea was given. And since the main goal of the show wasn’t so much entertainment or education but rewriting of history, the show fell apart once people started looking at how things really were.

And so “Happy Days” was cast aside.

More interesting is the record of what has been released on DVD. So far, it’s been the first three seasons, with generic backup music instead of the music of the times. Without the Music to lend an air of legitimacy to the show, Happy Days isn’t even mediocre.

Question: Can you sell a used MP3 file?

This is a rhetorical question. Of course you can’t. The only thing you can do is give them away.

All twenty-five gigabytes of MP3 files.

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I remember the winter of 1988, when I was jobless. I was able to go to school thanks to Student Aid, was even able to scrape up my daily bread through various means. And one of those means was the ability to sell Albums I didn’t need (or felt able to give up).

Every so often I went to the used record store (where I had bought and sold enough records to create a relationship with the store owners) and sold a few slabs of vinyl. It got me enough money to make it to where I was able to develop a workable way to make enough money to eat; one that ended up covering my butt quite a bit for many years.

Thing is, would I have been able to survive 2008 with my music collection?

Not only mp3s have no value in and of themselves as a format (whatever worth they hold onto is in our emotional investment of what they hold, not in the format itself), but they have affected the platters themselves. CD sales have dropped 25% over the past two years as mp3s have entered the market as for-sale items.

Think of it: 1 of 4 CD platters sold two years ago wouldn’t have been sold today.

And, sadly, it’s unbalanced in the wrong way. Record stores in college towns have fallen (and continue to fall) by the wayside as the people who once bought records and set tastes for the decade after they attended college now spend their hours downloading the music on newer and better versions of Napster and its sisters. Wal-Mart has stepped in to the degree that it can, but Nash Vegas is in no way a replacement for Athens, Georgia or Seattle, Washington at its prime as the Grunge Capital of the world.

More to the point, Nash Vegas is a replacement for Tin Pan Alley and other mainstream formats, not for alternative or other cutting edge formats. Country music sells to the settled, not the adventurous (otherwise Austin Texas would be able to survive as the Seattle of Country Music, not the Center of the Hip Music Universe).

And the settled generally don’t buy used records. At least they don’t visit and buy from used record stores. That’s what happened in college towns and larger places.

And you can’t sell an mp3 file. At 128kbps, you’re talking one Megabyte per minute; 320kbps works at 2.5 Kilobytes per minute. With 32 Gigabyte flash memory and 160 Gigabyte hard drives in our iPods, the cost of storage is literally nothing. And with bit rates well over what once passed as fast on the Telephone line (remember when 66.4 was king?, even the time investment has dropped down to nearly nil.

In an odd way, this is what the Record Companies have probably long wanted for their wares: A format that is costly when purchased but becomes monetarily worthless once opened, a format that has a residual worth of 0% on the used market, a format whose worth resides fully with its being kept.

And while one is tempted to laugh at the record companies for this (be careful of what you wish for, for you may indeed get it in the way you don’t want it to be), there’s still the question of the worth of the medium. After all, when you had LPs and Cassettes and CDs, you had a medium that in itself was worth something and could be used to filter content. Now you got a bunch of 1s and 0s that are worthless by themselves.

Which, of course, leads to the question: how do we judge how a song is loved?

After all, with mp3s you can’t really put a residual cash value on an item. And if you can’t do that, how does one track worth? Number of copies out there? What happens when there’s not cost to hold onto the item or no benefit to getting rid of it?

I could always tell what people wanted by how much I could sell something for. Some albums could feed me for a day or two, others I couldn’t leave in the freebie bin at the record store. This made for an intriguing balance on my record collection during my time as an impoverished, jobless student: what do I want to hold onto, is it worth it?

No longer. The MP3 takes up almost no space and can be freely reproduced on the computer. Thus there’s no residual worth to speak of. If it was once popular, it’s probably reproduced on millions of computers and iPods and other MP3 players; leaving nothing to measure remaining desire.

And this is one of the ways the music industry (not music, the industry) falls apart. Not necessarily bad (as good bands will figure out a way to make music if not necessarily for the loot that had been put in front of them for the past sixty years), but definitely something to consider.

Norman Porter/J J Jameson: “Out, Damn Spot, Out”

My first posting on Norman Porter/J J Jameson was a collection of thoughts. My second posting on Norman Porter/J J Jameson refined those thought.

This posting acts as a full reconsideration. More a sequel than the second posting was (that was more episode 1 1/2).

This was brought about by a quotation from NORMAN PORTER, JR. VS. SUPERINTENDENT, etc (Read from this article, of course). On page 115, testimony is quoted as to him stating, after he killed Mr. Piggot, Now you know I mean business.”

This was not available to me, at least to the degree I searched (and it definitely wasn’t up during the first couple months). And while an article with the quote had been published in Chicago Magazine (on page 2 of the article), I never bought that magazine and had begun a separation from the Chicago poetry scene that would last until today (April 2, 2008 ) at the least.

And I do remember looking up Norman Porter and J J Jameson on the Internet. The quote never came up, and there were plenty of news articles and news from the Chicago Poetry community. Even now, looking up both names in themselves you don’t find anything with the above quote in it. You have to use the quote itself to find it.

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So how does the quote above change things? Collapses them, in fact, to this:

Can you rehab a murderer?

Not “should” (as in “is there a moral responsibility?”). Not “could” (as in “do we have the money, time and gumption to?). “Can” (as in “is it possible?”)

Many societies and places kill wild animals who have killed people on the theory that one they’ve killed a human and tasted human blood, they no longer fear humans and therefore will kill and eat humans again. And while we make heroes of men who kill during (a victorious) war, everyone knows very well how much of a struggle it is for former soldiers to fit themselves back into society. Even those who come back to welcomes and embraces end up suffering; ask a WWII veteran who now suffers continual flashbacks from memories held back for sixty years (yes, they exist).

So what about the man who kills with malice and intent? And I count the quote above as showing intent, as it implies that Mr. Porter/Jameson had thought through his actions and understood what they might mean. While Piggot wasn’t an intended target in any way, his being shot was more than the bad luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And, of course, if one can doubt whether a killer can be rehabbed, it’s that much harder for a killer to rehab himself. Even with the effort put forth, there’s still the issue of the core of the being. If people who kill for God (and/or Country) can have trouble, imagine the trouble from a man who’s killed for personal gain. Even if he comes to repent of his actions, can he repent of the man who had gone and done said action without denying himself? In short, is the only way to cure the killer part is to kill yourself (or have yourself killed)?

Never mind the fact that Porter had to literally remake his past to gain entry into the land of the living. When you attempt to throw away an old identity and replace it with a new one, stuff ends up having to be covered over or just plain unexplained. Amongst other things, that would explain why his poetry was always obtuse and impossible to see through. It always seemed as if he was working his hardest to put up barriers in his poetry.

In the end, my point is this: I’m beginning to think that there IS such a thing as unforgivable sin. Not suicide (which is unforgivable ONLY if you succeed), but sin which soils the heart so deeply and so strongly that you can’t rid yourself of it no matter what you do to right it. Stuff which you can’t repent of because the heart, upon letting the sin touch it, won’t let go no matter what.