And the wheel goes round and round

27 04 2013

Long ago my friend M. loved a man well and a little too hard, and he loved her testily and made her think it was her own fault he loved her so meanly.

They dated, they broke up, they dated, they broke up, they dated, they broke up, until, finally, the break-up took. Each time around she thought it might be better and each time around she learned it would not; each time around she knew a little bit more and each time around it wasn’t enough; each time around the chances grew longer and the payoffs got smaller until, finally, she turned out her empty pockets and him along with them and walked away for good.

At the time, her friends and I despaired of this relationship, thinking M. was throwing herself at a man who would only catch her when it suited him, at a man who called this occasional attention “love”. She was caught in his inattention, tripping from hurt to hurt until he would remember and hold out his hand and that would be enough.

We thought she couldn’t see this, but, with each round, she saw more and more, and with each round, she moved the lack a little bit away from her and a little bit toward him until, finally, she could see he would never be enough.

We wanted each ending to be the last, but M. needed those beginnings until, finally, she needed the ending more.

I think now she had to go around and around, that instead of spiraling down and down she was gathering momentum with each widening turn, stretching out her need and her love until, finally, instead of snapping her back it snapped and she was free.

~~~

This post was originally headed in another direction, but I got caught up and decided to follow M. Oh, and while her ex was a jerk, he was never anything worse than that.





You’re on your own now

24 01 2013

I’m not supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Nothing against First Lady/Senator/Secretary Clinton, JD, but I ain’t supporting nobody for 2016 because a) nobody has said he or she is running, and 2) it’s too damned early to think about.

Not that I’m not thinking about it. *Sigh*

If she does run, I’ll take a look, just as I’ll take a look at everyone else with policy proposals within the ballpark of the not-horrible. (A low bar, yes, but one which most Republicans and quite a few Dems haven’t managed to clear in years.)

Still, there is one thing I like very much about Clinton, regardless of any possible candidacy: She just doesn’t give a shit anymore.

I mean this in the best possible way, as a resignation which moves her beyond all of the Washington and pundit horseshit and into the realm of real political action. She has a job to do and she’s going to do it and fuck off to anyone who doesn’t like it or her.

You could see this movement into a kind of pure-practical politics during her reign as Secretary of State. She got along fine with President Obama and served his agenda well, but did so in a way which she clearly shaped. Beyond the Beltway she was free from the sniping about her clothes and her hair and the constant agita about her relationship to her husband and able, simply, to act on behalf of the people and policies which matters to both her and the president.

Pundits suggested she looked best in short hair; she grew it long. She defended the pantsuits for their practicality, then didn’t mention it again. She drank beer and danced with her staffers, and appeared in public at least once without makeup.

That last bit might seem a triviality—and as someone who hasn’t worn makeup in over 20 years, I truly wish it were—but for a sixty-something high-status woman to go face-naked in public is damned-near astonishing.

She doesn’t care.

I was leery of her in the 2008 run, tired of the “Clinton drama” and unsure of her temperament for the office. Yes, she had done good work as a senator, but I still remembered FLOTUS Hillary, and that Hillary was clearly pissed-off at having to perform a role which did not fit. Yes, she chose to marry Bill and to support his run for president, but as someone with her own political ambitions, “First Lady” had to feel like a crummy consolation prize.

And that her husband, with all of his political skills, nonetheless let his indiscipline hobble his chances for real legislative success had to have pricked at her in ways wholly distinct from the wounds of his personal indiscretions.

I don’t think Obama did her any favors in picking her for Secretary of State—he chose her because he thought she could benefit his administration—but he did give her a way to apply her own formidable intelligence and skills in a manner which both served him and freed her.

Oddly, my reconsideration of her began with an Onion article, about her return to the Senate after losing the nomination:

One anonymous Wisconsin senator told reporters that Clinton has been known to deliver a sustained, audible sigh while President ProTempore Robert Byrd calls the meeting to order; frequently votes by letting out an extended belch; repeats the title of every bill in a high-pitched, mocking tone; and, once, after her disruptions caused the former first lady to be escorted out of the Capitol, raised both middle fingers in the air and proposed that the entire Senate go fuck itself.

This was satire, of course, but I nonetheless liked the picture of her saying “fuck it” to the whole shebang, of her not caring what anyone thought anymore.

Fours years later, and she really doesn’t care—not about all of the nonsense that has hemmed her in for most of her adult life. She knows what matters, and fuck everything else.

I like that in a politician.

~~~

And yes, if she does run, that Bjork tune will be her theme song, at least on this blog.





I have heard a million tales; I have told a million more

9 03 2012

Been falling down on the blogging beat. . . and this post isn’t really going to rectify that.

Quick hits, nothing more.

~~~

Rush Limbaugh is boring. Bore bore bore boring.

I don’t care about his advertisers, I don’t care about a boycott, I don’t care if he disappears from the radio forever.

Yes, he was a total shit to Sandra Fluke, just as he was a total shit to Chelsea Clinton (and Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama and. . .) and if he doesn’t understand that women can actually enjoy sex then I can only say “ur doing it wrong!!!”

But he lacks anything other than bile and ego, and as I have my own bile and ego, I see no reason to indulge his particular brand of narcissistic nonsense.

~~~

I did coupla’ posts a while back deriding the concept of “free” (put in quotes because it was about a price point which wasn’t really zero, just offloaded on to someone else), but the notion has reemerged in another form, as a kind of justification for theft of copyrighted materials.

As someone who participated in the SOPA/PIPA protest, who believes that copyright laws are waaaay overdue for an overhaul, and who doesn’t pay for the third-party content (videos, photos) that I post, I am as much in the moral muck—if not in as quite as deep as some—as my fellow. . . thieves.

Still, I am unmoved by the argument made by some that the delay in release of DVDs or streaming of movies justifies piracy. “I’m not getting what I want as soon as I want it” is less about copyright overreach and more about selfishness.

Anyway, I’m not so much interested in filling out that argument than I am in tossing out the following stray bits:

One, is not the justification for “free” (in either form) some kind of end-state of a labor-dismissing form of capitalism? That is,  value was first removed from labor (in the forms of laborers) and relocated to the anarchic (if manipulated) realm of supply-and-demand; now value is being removed from the production process itself, such that the costs of production are irrelevant to those who demand the end product for “free”.

All that matters is the desire of the consumer, to the detriment of the processes and relationships which enable the desire to be fulfilled.

Two, is the academic publication model in any way relevant to this conversation? Professors produce content for “free” (journal articles, conference papers) or nearly “free” (books, book chapters) as a price of admission into the academic guild.

Produce a sufficient number of these “freebies” and one is granted tenure, which in turn allows one  to produce more such “freebies”.

(Yes, there are salaries and teaching commitments and of course the horrid practice of making authors pay for their own reprints, but I don’t know that any of those throws off the comparison.)

~~~

Pundits have nothing to offer people who pay attention.

There’s nothing Cokie Roberts or David Brooks or EJ Dionne has to say that anyone who hasn’t been paying long and sustained attention to politics couldn’t have said for themselves.

Now, I happen to have particular contempt for Cokie Roberts (god, her smugness!), and I may have suggested once or twenty times that all pundits be loaded on to a cruise ship, sent out to sea, and never allowed to dock anywhere ever again, but a decent pundit actually has something to offer someone who wants a quick hit of info on a topic about which she knows little.

But pundits talking to pundits about their punditry? Useless.

~~~

And because it’s been awhile, a coupla’ shots of the absurd household’s fuzzier denizens:

Catman! Catman! Catman! Nana nana nana nana CATMAN!

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Trouble, both of ‘em.





Love me, love me, say that you love me

26 09 2010

Love isn’t really my thing.

I don’t have anything against it, and it’s not that I don’t believe that it exists (whatever that means), but love and I don’t have much to do with each other.

I’m thinking about this because I referred to love in the comments to my last post, asking if someone were told that her belief was hated but that she was loved, would she, in fact, feel loved?

It was not so much the definition of love I was after so much as the question of being, but, nonetheless, it felt a bit. . . odd to use the term.

People have told me they loved me. My parents. My friend M. (who knows how it discomfits me). And I would guess that at least some of my friends would say, if not to me then at least about me, that they love me.

I don’t disbelieve them: if they say they love me, then okay. But I don’t feel it.

And I don’t feel badly about it. A little bad, insofar as I don’t say it back—this is one lie I can’t quite manage—but I don’t feel this great gaping and gasping pain of the absence of it in my life. Perhaps I can say that I feel the absence, but it is simply absence, something I register, and nothing more.

Have I ever felt love? I don’t know. I remember as a child telling my parents I loved them, and I think I would have said that I loved people (I certainly loved my pets) and meant it, but I also remember feeling that there was something obligatory in the saying: It was always tied, always. . . crimped or stapled into some line of duty.

I don’t remember it ever having been—although it must have been, once, it must have been—free.

And because it wasn’t free, because there was always that stitch in the side of any profession of love, it felt like a lie, a compulsion in order to reassure those around me that. . . oh, christ, I don’t know what. That I belonged? I can’t remember this, either, can’t remember why I felt guilty for saying it, only that I did, that I questioned whether I meant it.

This isn’t about conditional versus unconditional love: conditional doesn’t equal coerced. But I did feel compelled, for whatever reason, felt that there were certain things I must feel about certain people, and that I had to rank these people in a particular order—family before friends, parents before all others—and that to break ranks was a kind of betrayal.

And I betrayed.

Again, I don’t know where these feelings came from. Parents are the usual suspects, but they did (do) love us, and they did (do) try to be good parents. Perhaps it was a matter of their uncertainties and my sensitivities colliding in a way no one intended, but leaving us all damaged, nonetheless.

Damaged, hm. No, I’m not pained, but I do recognize that this absence is, indeed, an absence. And I wonder what its presence is like, and whether I, so long used to living without it, could even ever know what love is.

I don’t know what I’m missing, which makes me wonder what I’m missing.





Free free, set them free (pt II)

19 08 2009

When we last left off, we were discussing the difference between free and, well, not-free. . . .

More to the point, while we humans may generate bits, we ourselves are made of atoms. However useful may be the comparisons between one’s genome and the bits and bytes of computing, our genomes require us to take in a certain amount of energy (in the form of calories, a.k.a., food) in order to function. And in order for these genetic information processors to receive their requisite amounts of energy, some other genetic information processing unit (gipu) must grow and deliver said energy to a location wherein multiple gipus may—wait for it—purchase said energy for their use.

Information may be free, but food isn’t. And for one to acquire such food, one must be, yes, paid, for one’s work. This payment, of course, also allows for the purchase of such old-economy items as a home, clothing, car, bike, beer, and computer, electricity, and broadband connection.

Thus, while I may blog for no payment, I don’t rely upon this blogging to pay for the rest of my life. And while WordPress may recoup costs by placing ads in my blog (as, for example, my e-mail providers do with my messages), that I neither pay nor get paid doesn’t mean that money isn’t changing hands somewhere up or down the line.

So how do I get paid? By absorbing, rearranging, and delivering information, i.e., I teach. And as much as I enjoy teaching, if CUNY wouldn’t pay me, I wouldn’t be doing it. In other words, I distinguish between a hobby (blogging) and wage-labor (teaching). Were such wage-labor to disappear, so too would would the hobby.

In other words, if I don’t get paid, I am unable to support my life—as in lifestyle, or, at the extremes, the biology itself.

Thus the basic question: if the economy is to be based on free, how is anyone to live?

Marx noted that capitalism required its laborers to be sustained, however minimally, in order to be able to work. (Corpses tend toward absenteeism.) Among the elements of the allegedly-inevitable crisis of capitalism would be the immiseration of the proletariat below the level of sustainability.

Some capitalists have made a similar observation. Even that old anti-semitic bastard Henry Ford  got one thing right about the labor force in a capitalist economy, namely, that if you wanted people to buy your product, you had to pay them enough to afford it. With this insight, he married two essential elements of any economy—the dynamic of consumer supply and demand for products, and the role of labor in creating those products. (In so marrying these elements, he highlighted the dual role of the laborer as both producer and consumer, creating a sustainable form of consumer capitalism that Marx did not foresee.) Capitalism in particular relies upon the differential between the cost of production and the price for the products for the creation of profit; thus, price must more-than-cover costs for profit to be generated.

Anderson breezes past all this. It is fashionable to discount the role of labor in production and to focus exclusively on supply and demand, such that the price for a product is allegedly solely based on s&d and bears little relation to labor costs, but:  no labor, no product. If labor costs didn’t matter, corporations wouldn’t bother to move production overseas in order to drive down those costs.

It’s one thing to engage in a hobby, which presumably one finds pleasurable, for free; it’s quite another to slog through a pile of exams or operate a punch-press or make caramel macchiatos for caffeine-crabby customers for free.

Oh, but manufacturing and retail are so atom-based, so they don’t count (I don’t know if Anderson has anything to say about teaching or medicine or law—rather significant information-based professions). But if this is a truly new economy, then how does one account for such atom-based activity? And given that the bit-based economy requires the presence of such atom-activities, wouldn’t this new information economy be better understood as the icing on the, ah, old capitalist cupcake?

Or is what’s new the notion that we are to labor for free? The costs of producing, say, an investigative report or song or book are completely discounted because the production itself doesn’t matter; what matters is the selling of that product. Thus, a band doesn’t tour to promote their music, a band promotes its music (for free) in order to sell the product (the band itself, on tour).

Again, the selling or trade of a product is a part of any economy, but in order for such trade to become or remain sustainable, it must have some positive relation to the costs of production. Metallica and Madonna have become sufficiently well-known commodities that they can, in fact, sustain themselves  through the sale of themselves, i.e., touring, but how can the unknown band or musician  support themselves outside of such a profitably virtuous circle?

What, posting on YouTube and blogging and Twittering one’s way into fame? Nothing against YouTube or Twitter—and hell, I’ll drop my anti-Facebook stance and throw that in the mix as well—but if everyone is using these fancy bits to generate publicity for themselves, how the hell is one supposed to distinguish oneself well enough to launch that profit-generating (and atoms-based) tour?

Do you know what musicians (and actors and writers and dancers and artists) are called in New York City? Waiters, baristas, teachers, and temps. Our vocation may be in the arts, and we may put a great deal of work into our vocations, but until we get paid for it, it ain’t wage-labor. Which means we have to find another way to pay the rent.

It’s not as if Anderson doesn’t make some intriguing points about third-party payment for certain technologies, and, in this Wired article from 2008, he notes that time has its own costs (although he doesn’t go so far as to make the brilliantly original observation that time is money, perhaps because he’s trying so hard to get away from money). And he notes in this article that ‘free’ is distinct from ‘cheap’ in psychologically important ways. (I won’t comment on this latter observation because 1) I fail to understand what’s new or particularly significant about this observation and 2) he does apparently expend a fair amount of energy in the book explaining what is new and significant about it. Plus, this post is already too long.)

But allow me one last jab. In the Wired article Anderson quotes Milton Friedman’s adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch,’ but then goes on to wonder if so-called traditional economics doesn’t have it wrong. Thus:

a free lunch doesn’t necessarily mean the food is being given away or that you’ll pay for it later — it could just mean someone else is picking up the tab.

Exactly. But there’s little new or innovative, much less revolutionary, about this kind of economics, not least because  usually you do, somehow, pay for it later, as, say, in the expenditure of your time viewing or listening to advertising—or, as broke young hotties looking for a sugar daddy or mama learn, in some other atom-based way.

And if you don’t? Say it with me: It’s not free; it’s freeloading.

Ain’t nothing new about that.





Free free, set them free (pt I)

16 08 2009

This is not a book review of Chris Anderson’s Free.

Mainly because I do not want to pay for Free, but, given what I’ve heard him say repeatedly on various radio talk shows, I’m not at all sure I want to read it.

That said, I’m an academic, and what’s a Ph.D. for if not opining on something about which I know little?

Anderson’s basic argument is that technological innovation has reached the point of near-vanishing costs, such that information (in a variety of forms) is, essentially, free.

In the book excerpt available at Scribd, Anderson notes the early adventures of those who would sell Jell-O and Gillette razor blades. They couldn’t, in fact, sell the products, so they gave them or something associated with them away for free or at a steep discount:

Thus was born one of the most powerful marketing tools of the twentieth century: giving away one thing to create demand for another.

The key, for Anderson, is not that the freebies were used to entice people to pay, but that they were, in fact, free. Thus, in the brave new millennium, free takes its rightful place at center stage:

This new form of Free is based not on the economics of bits, not atoms. It is a unique quality of the digital age that once something becomes software, it inevitably becomes free—in cost, certainly, and often in price. . . . The twentieth century was primarily an atoms economy. The twenty-first century will be equally a bits economy. Anything free in the atoms economy must be paid for by something else, which is why so much traditional free feels like bait and switch—it’s you paying, one way or the other. But free in the bits economy can be really free, with money often taken out of the equation altogether.

Sounds good; too bad he’s wrong.

You see, Anderson isn’t really arguing that all information will be free—just that you, the consumer, won’t have to pay for it. While that might seem to be free, it’s actually freeloading. Because you’re freeloading off advertising (i.e., information paid for by, say, a corporation), this is unlikely to offend anyone’s (be they from the left or the right) sensibilities. And since the advertiser knows that she’s paying for you to look [for free], she’s not offended, either; in fact, she’s counting on you to look.

Win-win, right? Hell, I watch shows on Hulu (finally caught the last few episodes of Battlestar Galactica last night), and have no problem with the few ads which pop up at the beginning or in the midst of the shows. I can watch or look away or get up to grab a beer or popsicle. Whatever. They pay, I play.

But is this sustainable? Maybe. But if Hulu or the producers which supply it with content can’t make money from it, it’ll go away. I may not pay, but damned well somebody has to.

Malcolm Gladwell has already written a much-cited & -linked takedown of Anderson’s argument, noting

Free is just another price, and prices are set by individual actors, in accordance with the aggregated particulars of marketplace power. “Information wants to be free,” Anderson tells us, “in the same way that life wants to spread and water wants to run downhill.” But information can’t actually want anything, can it? Amazon wants the information in the Dallas paper to be free, because that way Amazon makes more money. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?

(I’m not much of a fan of Gladwell’s—his m.o. is to take note of a particular behavior or set of behaviors in a specific context, then generalize this behavior beyond all context and, often, reason—but perhaps his glibness is a perfect match for Anderson’s own shallowness.)

But let’s say that Anderson deals with all this in his book, and is able to delineate how this model is qualitatively different from, as opposed to a simple iteration of, the old (twentieth century! atoms-based!) model.

And this is where I want to stick the knife in: into that alleged gap between the atoms (material) and the bits (information). For one, as Gladwell so ably points out, bits rely on atoms:

“The more products are made of ideas, rather than stuff, the faster they can get cheap,” [Anderson] writes, and we know what’s coming next: “However, this is not limited to digital products.” Just look at the pharmaceutical industry, he says. Genetic engineering means that drug development is poised to follow the same learning curve of the digital world, to “accelerate in performance while it drops in price.” But, like Strauss [who thought electricity would someday be 'too cheap to meter], he’s forgotten about the plants and the power lines. The expensive part of making drugs has never been what happens in the laboratory. It’s what happens after the laboratory, like the clinical testing, which can take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hulu may provide free-for-me viewings of Buffy, but it relies on my having purchased a computer, reliable electricity (which in turn relies upon coal, nuclear, or hydro energy, delivered through cables, etc.), and decent broadband services. None of which are free.

Next: capitalism! labor theory! cupcakes!








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