Monday, August 31, 2009

Hey, hold my place, will you?

This is what they call a place holder post.

I suppose a post is itself kind of a place holder, when you think about it. You dig a hole, put a piece of wood in there, and then tie fence to it.

I want to thank my persistent and indefatigable reader during that political diatribe.

From there, I have two directions I could go. First, I have thoughts of writing about being a scion. I wouldn't have given much thought to it, myself, except that being a scion means having a whole extended family telling you about it. It goes with the job. The problem with that is that it could quickly get personal, and I absolutely abhor blogs that are written about, for, and to their authors.

The other direction is to go toward a big Thought I had in church. Now, I realize that most of my reader(s) aren't religious. Of the one(s) with religion, I doubt (m)any have my slice of the orange on the subject, so that's a low yield topic. The thing is, this Thought was nearly a Revelation, but the problem with revelations is that they almost always get people in fire, holy or otherwise. This one would make me more heretical than I already am, but, like the way I already am, not so anyone would actually care about it.

I don't think I'll write about private revelation on the Internet. Seems like a bad idea to me. (Not to others, I know.)

Instead, my next will be comparing Purity Rings to Ichthus stickers (fish symbols on the backs of cars), with strong disapproval of both.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Heel America (part three)

The final part of this tedious argument. I apologize for taking so long, but I had me some things.

(That there is a GFDL photo from that website whose name I will not type.)

As John Gay's character said, "Money well timed, and properly applied, will do anything" (The Beggar's Opera II xii). This is because money is fluid, liquid, symbolic, transferable, "fungible." It moves and causes to move, as it contains within itself desires yet to be fulfilled and labor exchanged. It gets taken from one person to the next to the next. A worker exchanges laying cables for six hours for money that goes to a bank as a piece of an interest payment on a cell phone the worker got seven months before, and then that goes to the next person's pocket after the withdrawal at an ATM, in exchange for thirty minutes of her day in the office waiting for the phone to ring, but she will then be able to use it, holding it out, to get someone else to run back to a kitchen and bring out six meals for her family.

The paper of the money means nothing, of course. We all know that, don't we? If you didn't already know that you no longer follow the yellow brick road, that you're in Emerald City, where things are just a question of belief, then at least I hope you know that the thing has Caesar's name and face on it, so it belongs to him, so give it back. I'm sure that every child has stared at a piece of money at some point and wondered what it really means and concluded that, other than a nice piece of art, it does not actually mean anything. (The same could be said of gold or silver, of course.)

The reason we do not want a politician who has risen from a micro-town is that such a person has risen, almost certainly, from neo-feudalism, and neo-feudalism is, by its nature, corrupt according to democratic standards.

What separates what I call neo-feudalism, and I'm coining terms left and right and freely admit it, here, from feudalism is that feudalism was being bound to the land. Feudalism meant that workers and lords of land alike were bound to the land, rooted, and obligated to it. For every peasant unable to escape the manor, there was a pouting lordling or lady wishing to go to Paris or London to live but "having to" attend to the dull and boring country estates. The absentee landlords of the 18th and 19th centuries created a crisis and were ultimately complicit in the effective ending of the power of feudalism on the political side. As they stopped ever visiting their estates, they stopped "meddling" with minor civil service positions like local curates, judges, justices, and the like, and so, even as they abused their tenants more, they freed their regions from their control.

In the frontier American town and the post-Reconstruction Southern town, land was binding, too. The children of the town fathers/founders "had to" take over their parents' businesses, whether those were farms or industries. They also "had to" uphold the traditions of mediation and moderation and behave the way that they were "expected" to behave. The "lady" did not curse. The "gentleman" did not get drunk. All of those codes were explicitly embedded in a land/power exchange that required sacrifice. I am hardly the only person to compare it to aristocracy.

The neo-feudal, though, is flexible. The land conveys the position, but land is bought for money, sold for money, and bought again for money. The people "in charge" in the micro-town now will tell you, quite openly, that they are in charge because they have the money to be in charge. Like the dollar bill in Emerald City, it is not eminent, but simply a question of belief.
Frequently, it's a question of people believing that somehow they have a "right" to things because of the money. Since money comes as an exchange, they believe that it conveys at the same time equivalence and therefore worth. If I work for four hours and get paid, I accept that my four hours "equals" that pay, that therefore my hours are "worth" that pay, that I "earned" that money. So long as I think only of myself and I am ignorant entirely of the rest of society, I can think this way indefinitely. If, however, I think for a moment that an investment banker did less work in four hours than I did and got paid seventy times as much, I begin to think that he "didn't deserve it." For his part, he thinks he did.

Once you think you "earned" your money, you think that anything you get with your money is fair, deserved, earned. It's proper. If this is your only scale, if money is the only way you learn to think of land, politics, education, labor, and love, then you will think in terms of "deserving" whatever your money can get.

My problem with the micro-town is that, in the absence of its deserted founding cores, it has kept its structures of control and gained controllers who are taught at the knee of money. The class has risen because of money, because of overcoming educational shortfalls, delicate manners, political savvy, etc., with money, and they owe their allegiance and belief to money and hold a grave antipathy toward those things that stood in their way. Like L.B. Johnson with the Kennedy people, they're sure that smart alecks with education are making fun of them, and so they hold a grudge against schooling. The old generation never swore or got drunk, and so they believe it's time to use the "n word" in City Hall. The old generation was careful to separate church and state, and so they want to put their pastor on the payroll. They have chips on their shoulders.

Most of us in the United States focus obsessively on our national election for the President, and some of us focus on the U.S. Senate races in our states. Fewer of us focus on our House of Representatives races. How many people know who represents them in their state legislatures? How many people know much about that person? What is the voting like in that kind of a race? While the President might declare a war (even though Congress is supposed to do that), your state legislature is going to have a radical effect on your day to day life, and you will find some really surprising people serving there. Many states hold to the Cincinnatan ideal and want their parliamentarians to work other jobs, but the result is that most have assembly people who represent local wealth centers. One rarely sees "community organizers" in the assembly, especially when it comes to rural areas. Instead, one sees the local saw mill owner upset at some tax bill he got, or a John Birch Society member who sees a chance to get his state to be the first to independently declare itself God-fearing.

In the small, small towns, land money has meant politicians who have ingrained in them a belief that they have a right to whatever it is that they do. I began my diatribe with Sarah Palin because she is an excellent example of what we do not want, and what we would in fact get, from today's small town politician.
Near me, we had an episode (no link) where a county commissioner had a girlfriend and wife matching set. He also had a rich family in land, of course. Anyway, the girlfriend was not liked by the wife, and we can thank her, the wife, and her antipathy, for finding out about the fact that the girlfriend had embezzled several tens of thousands of dollars (nearly hundreds) from the county for her personal use (new cars, actually). Boring, I know. It hardly comes up to John Ensign level. However, what makes this worthy is what the Commissioner said about it. He said that it was alright. He forgave her, so he didn't think he would press charges.

Fortunately, the Sheriff and D.A. were able to explain the differences between civil and criminal law, but I'm not sure they ever could get him to understand the difference between meum et tuum.

See what's missing from his mind? He thinks in terms of money, the way I described above. He earned it. It's his. He gets to do with it what he wants. The world does not exist, and society does not exist. Despite micro-towns having less of a border between classes than large cities, they foster, with their easy status changes and easy power, narcissism.

Another town near me that does not appear on your satellite views had a mayor for life. Let's call him Perry Ellis and pretend that he was as well dressed as the men's wear designer. He managed to be in a bubble, at first, where he could make silly decisions, but slowly it accreted into a shell, and then the shell petrified, with Perry inside. Eventually, Perry was like a Mexican jumping bean. The problem with it was that the town was the bean getting hurled about. Senior citizen parks without trees and away from all amenities (but near his land), with contracts going to friends of his, five lane highways coming into town from nowhere to nowhere, new schools on interstates... all sorts of things where it looked like private gain was going along with public nuisance.

Sarah Palin's "house gate" scandal reminded me exactly of a small town mayor. The allegations are at Jot America and come from The Village Voice, with a great deal of follow up. Palin was mayor of Wasilla, AK. She awarded a huge contract to build an unneeded sports complex to Kumin Associates. The architect for the firm was the son of one of Palin's advisors on one side and of the state Republican Party head on the other. For the complex, there are many allegations of cronyism and favors and party contributions. One of the subs was Spenard Builders, and they later hired Sarah for a TV commercial, sponsored Todd Palin's snowmobile (yeah, I said it: snowmobile!) team, and may have given all the materials for Sarah and Todd's house that Todd "built all by himself" on Lake Lucille (this from Mudflats).

Does any of this sound like Perry? How about Sarah's reaction? She blocked laws that would have required builders to list their suppliers and contractors in Wasilla. She has come out afterward saying that all of this is hers, her right, and completely proper. Sound like the local County fellow with his girlfriend?

Sarah Palin's perspective is like the post-flight neo-feudal town's politician's in every respect. She thinks her money and her self-elevation has earned her the right to do whatever is best for her. The idea of other people's needs is irrelevant. It's all me. Climb, go, get, and take it all personally, because "personal" is the only medium, the only message, the only canvas upon which politics is painted.

I know that it possible that there are good small town politicians. I have met them in Carrboro, NC. I have seen them. I know they exist, and I have seen them jump up to the next level quickly, but the idea that we need/want "Real American" politicians? Don't make me wretch.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Site Review

I apologize for interrupting my philosophico-historico-politico-misanthropy about rurality and orality, but for once I'm going to write a blog entry like everyone else's blog entry. I'm going to write about something I did. I hope you'll all forgive me.

I ain't telling where I found that scene, because I ain't writing about that place. Instead, I want to offer a site review. Before we were all addicted to "microblogging" (as if blogging weren't already a miniaturized form of expression), people used to offer up reviews of websites. Before that, we used to write reviews of restaurants and stores and things -- reviews of places. That's what this is.

In NYC, a popular bit of graffiti was, "Pray for Pills." Well, let us take time to at least hope for Xanax. I went to Best Buy yesterday.

I went to Taulkinham, because I had me some things I needed to do. That's a 100 mi., 2 hr trip, but it's the nearest non-Wal*Mart shopping to me. While there, I visited Sabbath Lily, and Old Navy and Barnes Ignoble, as well as a mall-bounded Earth Bound Trading Company (where one can buy the religious objects of all sorts of exotic cultures and put your weed in them). When I left the behemoth mall, I thought that I would look at the world of appliances and noisy electrical gadgets at Best Buy. Like going to see a "Brokeback Mountain"/ "Time Traveler's Wife"/ "Julie and Julia" triple feature, I wish I hadn't gone. (Scenery is not a character. Trying to come up with ways to keep the man and woman apart so as to prevent having to explain romance's endurance is not interesting. Julia Child is fascinating; bloggers should do something half so interesting before they get to be part of the story.)

Best Buy has always been the place to find out what our corporate overlords want our future to be. They declare that they sell "what's hot," but, of course, they do no such thing. They, in fact,
participate very, very actively in creating demand. Ever since they went with an all-Windows/no OS/2 software policy, in order to get synergy with Microsoft, Best Buy has been a "synergy" kind of place.

Disney coined the term "imagineer." I have a new term: imaginerr. An imaginerr is a person who imagines a future that will generate maximum profit, and then shapes the consumer to fit the product. It is a person who designs people rather than entertainment. The Disney folks were evil for creating tinfoil simulacra and then saying, "This is American history." They Bowdlerized and forced narrative frames onto reality and sold the result as reality. That was and remains plenty bad, but in boardrooms of MBA's right now, marketeers (like mousketeers, but without the charm) are designing you.

Best Buy have been in bed with the imaginerrs of our future. They don't sell 3G phones before they're popular because 3G is hot: they sell them to make 3G ubiquitous and then to become the "the place for 3G." They have a long, long history of moving exclusively toward whatever product line or product type the major corporations are planning to shove us toward.

If you go to the Best Buy, be prepared to read the future. The subtext of their sales floor is what the goobers and yaboes of next year will be. They will show you tomorrow's yawning maw. When I went yesterday, the subtext was not below the line at all. It was bold, and it said: THE TELEVISION IS YOUR DEITY. Your television will eat your computer, your telephone, your games, your stereo, and everything else. You must serve your television, because your television will be the SOLE "entertainment module" in your home.

Everything, and I mean every damn thing, plugs into the television or the iPod. Their computer selection is off to the side, but those they have boast of their media server readiness. Their stereo equipment has ceased to exist, except in the form of A/V componentry that plugs into your television. Stereo speakers are ALL for your television, to provide the greatest Sens-o-round experience in Doubly 5.2 Direct X. Telephones are for video and send to your video server. Their DVD's are almost all Blu-ray now. Even small stereos were not to be found, as they were all extensions of iPods.

I looked for a CD player and some bookshelf speakers. Alas, fool that I am, I should have stayed in my cave. CD players are not good. Now, mp3 players rule. The irony that mp3, which was a compression method designed to allow us computer nerds to back up our higher fidelity .au files, has replaced the .au file because of the sheer gluttony of the idiocracy is only painful if you think. You see, the iPod/mp3 player is "better" than the CD player, because "you can get, like, thousands of songs on there." They sound like junk, but, when you listen on a 0.25" cell phone speaker, subtlety isn't your game to begin with. Speakers? Sure. Center channel, or satellite, or subwoofer? Is it for behind my television or beside my television?

The store was loud, extremely.

The blue golf shirts were following me around (they may have been people, but I'm not sure).

The customers, though, were that added element that made the soup's bilious toxins really pop. They were a mixture of extras from Axe body spray and Mountain Dew commercials, with some Ford Truck background extras woven between them, wallets extended like offerings to pagan gods. In the parking lot, these animated rag dolls were trying out the latest moves they'd learned on Grand Theft Auto or auditioning for MTV Rims, or whatever it's called.

Walking into the store was an insult. Looking at the merchandise was a confirmation that the corporations of the world want me to suffer needlessly for their amusement. Walking out was like surfacing after being held underwater by a bully.

So, do I want to go look at electronics again? The web is safer, closer, and, fortunately, devoid of people.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Heel America (part two)

I should give some background and dull the blade a bit on my attack, since I appear to be drawing more blood or causing more damage than I had intended.

I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." -- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Book II, King of Brobdingnag.

"Real America" is a term that Sarah Palin uses -- one endorsed and gathered into the flaps of the cloak of Republican discourse -- as code. For her, given her most recent usage of the phrase, it seems to mean only "my supporters," with the dullard's implication that those who do not support her are not only not patriotic, but not American. However, in the nibs and mouths of other Republicans, the ones who urged the phrase into her in the first place, the term refers to a geography that the party believes it can win and a demographic that interlaces a different geography.

The geography implied is the "blank America," the America between the cities, the America of the towns without names, the unincorporated America, the rural America. Facing an election in 2008 where they believed that they had lost the northeast and the west coast, they began to speak of "Real America" as everything between. In fact, the target of such talk was not altogether between the coasts, and it certainly wasn't really the 20% of the population living in the blanks on the map, but it was the South, which perceives itself as rural. The target was a demographic that believes itself to be rural, even as it commutes to work an hour on interstates in an SUV instead of a pickup truck, listening to anger radio the whole way in and back.

The demographic of angry (white) (male) voters isn't my concern, though. My concern is the reality of the "Real America" that Sarah Palin herself actually does represent. She may mean to represent angry white men with fixations, but her actual story as small town mayor and her rise are true representations of the microtown and the rural real.

This blank America is an artifact of the Interstate Highway system. Prior to the Eisenhower Interstate system, many, if not most, of these small towns had a reason to exist. At the very least, it had a deterrent to evacuation. Prior to the interstates, the few national routes slithered through hundreds of small towns, giving hotels and restaurants and novelty architecture and regional raree shows boosts. There was neither a possibility nor an incentive to have a franchised, uniform business conquer the whole of the stretch, nor for one business or business model to homogenize the whole. For small towns like Louisville, North Carolina to be cut off from the nodes and cities of the state, there had to be a line to make the cut, and the interstate provided that line. Prior to the rationalized, massively freighted lines, small towns had their own transportation and industrial routes. River traffic that had once been a logical and profitable localism ceased before the reliability of road transport. Money, then agriculture, then people flowed toward centers nearer and nearer to the line that would connect to the big dots on the map, and the shaded parts of the states grew more blank.

Therefore, the Real America of Sarah Palin's discourse is a post-1960 phenomenon (yes, the interstate system is 50's, but they have to get built, and then they have to have an effect). After that point, regionalism, both in accent and manners and identity, diminished as the cities and suburbs came into their own, and the idea of family roots and localism were less and less adherent for the wealthy and educated. We have seen many, many politicians on the national stage who have come from small towns. Many eminent women and men, many sages and saints come from small towns. Indeed, it seems that being from a small town is a great thing, especially.

Jimmy Carter, for example, came from a small town in Georgia. His was a semi-patrician family (his dialect, though, is purely patrician and not native), but we note that he took his talent and his values and left the small town. He left in order to practice his virtues on a larger stage than his town could offer. He left first to the U.S. Naval Academy, and then he sought to be Governor of his state, picking up from the rather odd traditions of Lester Maddox and the Talmages. Jimmy Carter's small town upbringing shows in many things about him. His religion and his marriage and his attitudes toward forgiveness are all shaded by the values instilled by the post-bellum Southern rural world, but one thing he has never been is a small town politician, a happy small town mayor.

My premise, you will recall, is that the last thing we should want is a politician from "Real America." I should take the ambiguity out and say that we do not want a person who is a politician in "Real America," rather than a person who is a politician and once was in or of "Real America." The latter individual may be superior. The former is an a priori disaster.

The microtown suffers from blight and recycles itself every year. Because building is more beneficial than renovation, large buildings are left empty more often than they are refurbished, but each part of the town experiences a spasm of paint and beams, new banners, crowds, closings, decay, demolition, and then building again. Where I am, steps along the sidewalk lead to empty fields over and over. Once, houses perched there, and the steps led to their stoops. Now, the gardens of 1925 are wildflowers.

In a city, power comes from one's job. In the Real America, power is land. "Real America" is neo-feudal, in that land ownership is common, and it marks out the basis of power and wealth beneath anything so transitory as a particular generation's children's inclinations. That feudal structure had been in place in the South in the Reconstruction era, and it was famously written up by Faulkner. However, that was feudal, not neo-feudal. That came complete with noblesse oblige, education, and its Atticus Finches. After Faulkner's people went to their mixed rewards, the next up dispensed with the bother of families and kept right on with honoring the owners of the land. The owners of the land were, by the 1960's, the working class whites who had bought every time an aristocrat in distress had sold, every time a well trained noble had gone to the city to make a large impression on the world with a small town upbringing (and first class education), every time an antique family died without issue. The land remained the power.

In the "middle," the pace was accelerated, as there hadn't been the bother with ancient rites. Ranchers, farmers, any "original settlers" or "pioneers" (i.e. the people who came in and displaced American Indians or flooded into the vaccuum, legal or military, after they "had been" displaced) that had been town founders had been town powers and had been town owners. Being from a small town before 1960 meant being from a well established family that guaranteed a strong drive for education, as well as values of service to the less fortunate and, especially in the midwest and west, constructing a town. In other words, town founders worried about what makes a town work and had to have a touch of the altruistic in them. Again, though, as the microtown develops, the people "from small towns" who have these skills and values leave, and the power stays with the land.

In a movie Western, good or bad, one hears about some character or other, usually corrupt, and then that "he's a major land owner in this county" and so, "You can't buck him, Sheriff." Of course that is all a shadow cast by the Lincoln County War, as Hollywood (and I am, too) is on the side of the sheep against the beef. But, at the same time, that line resonates, if it does not telegraph out to the real land owners who watch movies, with small town America.

I am the scion of both the fallen and risen groups. I am mainly, though, the son of two people who are "from a small town." Both grew up, one in a family that had been very important before the Civil War and become impoverished during Reconstruction, and the other that had been part of the southern professional class during the whole time and therefore had remained prosperous, before the interstate system, and both had memories of their towns as important places with set social orders and strong value systems. My observation is starkly different, because I return after their professional lives, after the interstates made their towns otiose. I had seen before, though, what I have seen here, more than once.

In the blank American town, the person with land owns, and retains ownership. That person has the capacity to generate wealth when necessary, and usually to gain more wealth. More to the point, such a person gains the ability to rent. In the actual terms of Adam Smith, such a person becomes a naive capitalist. Because the microtown is cut off, because the Interstate is forty miles that way or that way, because "those people in [Big City]" do things differently, the landed individual inherits the social position of the founder without inheriting the values of the founder.

The pioneer who crosses the plains to set up a community and decides to put his life, wife, and future at stake to live with the rest of his wagon train in a particular valley is dedicated, vitally, to the concept of cooperation. Contrary to NRA pamphlets, such persons were not dedicated to shooting things and people and "freedom." Even if the people who settled were weirdos there to get gold, the ones who stayed were pretty passionate about the idea of a town that functioned by law and fairness. Those "founders," like the aristocratic families of the south, took care to inculcate in their children a code of compassion and fairness (at the end of a lash, if necessary). The person who acquires simply to overcome the unfairness of the capitalist system, on the other hand, may inculcate a different set of values, may have a different lesson to teach. In microtowns now, that is the person, through abdication and abnegation, who is the town leader.

[I've detained you enough for one essay. I will continue with part three, but it will come sooner than this one did. Rising gorge wants out.]