Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chauffeurs, Torture and Other Material Conditions at the End of Empire

Somehow, Velvet has become a mouthy socialist.  I was a bit dismayed when he started going to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a CUNY college that is an easy commute from Buzz Kill's apartment, because it seemed like an unlikely fit for Velvet considering his history up at Tree Hugger U, but it was his only option.  John Jay was the only school in town that would accept Velvet with his grades.  As it happened, John Jay was trying to expand their enrollment of liberal arts majors and were delighted to welcome Velvet as a history major.  At least I think he was a history major.  It's been some time since Velvet started his seventh semester as a freshman at John Jay College, and truthfully, I can't remember what his major was then.  He's a history major now, though, and although many of his classmates are training for specialized careers in criminal justice - with majors like forensic science and emergency services - many of the professors are mouthy socialists.  Actually, I don't know what they'd call themselves if they were describing themselves, but when Velvet talks about school, his professors often sound like mouthy socialists to me.  I've done enough listening to Pinko and Woody that I know socialism when I hear it even if nobody says the S word.

Overall, though, I suspect John Jay is reformist.  They are providing the space for Left Forum, however, and while some lefties think Left Forum is an entirely reformist conference that isn't anywhere near radical enough, the name of this year's conference is: No Justice, No Peace: Confronting the Crisis of Capitalism and Democracy.
Not that Velvet has any intention of going to Left Forum even though he could get in free.  Pinko has been trying to talk him into it, and when Pinko is talking Velvet seems interested, but when Velvet is with Cupcake, he doesn't seem to remember that Left Forum even exists.  Naturally, Pinko is going.  He loves those kind of talks.  I think they're okay, but mostly, I'd rather send money so I can comfortably stay home in my pajamas.  I enjoy the parties down at the Solidarity Center, and I'm very excited to have seen Lynne Stewart across the room on New Year's Eve.  I love it that Pinko loves those talks, though, and that he's accurate with the glue sticks when he hangs out at the center making posters, and he's an energetic, enthusiastic helper at rallies and marches.

Sometimes, at family dinners, I feel a little bad for Cupcake because her political awareness is still emerging.  Her parents came over from Hungary and Romania years ago and take a dim view of communism because of Stalin, I think.  It's a common point of view, and her father actually believes that Wall Street creates jobs.  He's a nice man and a hard worker.  He just reminds me of Sabrina's dad, Thomas Fairchild, the chauffeur who is resigned and realistic about his station in life, played by John Williams in the original screen version of Sabrina.  As someone who rubbed shoulders with One Percenters on a daily basis, Thomas Fairchild has a very different perspective on rich people than Cupcake's dad who has been influenced by what he hears on CNN and other capitalist, corporate media outlets.


In any case, Cupcake's political opinions have stimulated a couple of animated discussions wherein Pinko, Velvet and I proceeded to jump all over her.  We didn't make her cry, though, which counts for something.  Even I had to say something when she said that she wanted to vote for Hillary because Hillary is a woman.  Cupcake is tired of patriarchy and hasn't realized that a woman can be as much a tool of the patriarchy as the Pope.  Or Henry Kissinger.
I'm not sure Cupcake really knows who Henry Kissinger is.  Margaret Thatcher either.

Velvet applied to John Jay College in the first place because that's where Cupcake was studying to be a coroner.  I don't think she's planning to be a coroner anymore, but I lost track of her studies once she got her certificate from Swedish Massage school.  It worked out, though, because Cupcake functions as Velvet's administrative assistant.  She makes sure he registers, does his assignments, buys him a tie to wear for his final presentation - that sort of thing.  I haven't seen Velvet without Cupcake for a couple of months.

They're in a bit of a struggle right now because Cupcake has a tendency to micromanage Velvet, probably as a result of her anxieties.  She still doesn't like to take public transportation, but I believe she can handle the bus.  Velvet's grandmother, my former mother-in-law Vagina Dentata, rarely ever took the subway herself.   One of the resentments I carried throughout my marriage was having to dig through the sofa cushions for bus change while she charged the car service to the business.  She often wore a chartreuse mink coat at the time which made it even worse - especially since Velvet was still in a stroller.  You'd think a man would tell his mother to take the bus and put his wife and child in a car service - but Buzz Kill never seemed to have the gumption to tell his mother any such thing.
That's one of the reasons we got divorced.

And it's a good thing we got divorced or else I'd have never run off to Burning Man to get Pinko.  I only mention my earlier resentments about taxis and car services because I figure Cupcake's habits and anxieties probably seem perfectly normal to Velvet whose father is anxious and grandma never rode the subway.  She's 89 now, living in a nice nursing home near Columbia University.  Here she is 20 years ago or so:


I shudder to think of trying to discuss politics with Vagina Dentata or Buzz Kill.  They both voted for Bloomberg and consider themselves Democrats.  I wonder if that's a peculiar breed of Democrat - a Bloomberg Democrat.  Kind of like a Rockefeller Republican, or those Reagan Republicans who are Democrats now because regular Republicans lean too heavily toward Christo-Fascism.  Pinko's dad is one of those kind of Democrats, a Reagan Democrat.  Pinko himself voted for Reagan, and if I'm not mistaken, Woody Konopelli voted for Richard Nixon, although he's somewhat embarrassed to admit it.

Just goes to show how a little reading can influence your political development.  Pinko got Velvet A People's History of Empire last Christmas, but I suspect Velvet was well on his way to being a mouthy socialist before he looked at that book.


My own political awareness has evolved to the point where I at least recognize the inherent problems of referencing Martin Luther King's "Rioting is the language of the unheard," quote when I'm going on about gaining weight as a result of indulging my sweet tooth while processing the state of the world.  I'm very glad that the conditions in my own life are such that a pint of Rocky Road will make it easier to carry on - as opposed to living with material conditions where setting things on fire seems like the most logical course of action.  And truly - middle America never, ever heard of Freddie Gray or Mike Brown until a small group of determined local residents started raising hell.

It still sucks that Middle America is so quick to shout about a damaged corporate outlet like CVS while remaining comfortably content about cops routinely killing unarmed, brown men, women and children. But at least I am just as comfortable sitting here in my lovely little home playing video games on a computer made in a factory where there could easily have been worker suicides.  One of those buildings in China, surrounded by barbed wire like a prison - those places where Mitt Romney tried to say the jobs were so good the barbed wire and other security measures were necessary to keep locals from storming the factory.

I suppose the contrast in material conditions are part of the reason why many activists say that white people can only be allies in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  We can be great allies, but when the rubber hits the road - privileged whites don't have the same experience in the US, particularly with regard to law enforcement.  We can stand in solidarity, but we can't commiserate.  Pinko wouldn't even lay on the ground with his brown comrades at the Die-Ins, but we could both sing "I Can't Breathe," a song the Peace Poets composed in memory of Eric Garner, when we were out in the street with friends.  Here's some folks in London singing that song:



Luke Nephew, one of the Peace Poets, is credited for writing the song that we sung one night in the winter over in Staten Island at the little shrine Eric Garner's friends and family erected at the spot where he was killed.  Here's some guys singing it in Cleveland at a memorial for Tamir Rice:


I remember all the people
these police killed
I can feel their spirits
They're with us still

It's hard to believe that so many literate, generally nice people aren't aware of the conditions of life that confront their neighbors a few miles away - especially since I know about this stuff.  I figure that if I know about something, it has to be common knowledge since I don't go out of my way to find any information - except about little kids, standardized testing, the Play Deficit and other topics relevant to my chosen field.  I like learning about that stuff.  I don't like learning about how Witness Against Torture sang the song I just referenced at the DC police headquarters to mark the anniversary of opening day at Guantanamo - but even that information is pretty easy to find by doing a simple search on the internet:  Fighting Racism and Torture from Fergunson to Guantanamo, Jeremy Varon, January 2015


All you have to do is stop playing video games for a minute to look briefly at current events and you'll find out all sorts of things just by clicking on a few links.  As much as all those Teajadists make my head explode, at least they read some shit on the internet.  The trouble is that the shit they read is published by folks like Alex Jones, and they honestly believe that the military is invading Texas, of all places (Scott Eric Kauffman, Salon, May 5).

But really, at least they're reading.  It's become rare in these United States here at the end of empire.






Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ice Cream, Solitaire and other coping mechanisms

Lately, I've been spending most of my discretionary time playing various solitaire games on a little internet game site.  I've played these games for years and years, and before I started with the Pogo website, I played The Sims.  Actually, I'm pretty sure that I relied on The Sims to get through my divorce.  I enjoyed making characters that resembled people in my life, like my former mother-in-law, putting them into a swimming pool or small room and removing the exits so that the little Sims person starved and died.  I also created characters with no cooking skills, sent them to an industrial strength barbecue pit and watched them go up in flames. These little solitaire games are nowhere near as complex, but miniature, animated cards are sort of hypnotizing when I win and they float into neatly stacked piles.

The other day, I noticed that I devote especially long periods of time to solitaire after reading the news.   The world leaves me agitated and depressed in a way that feels similar to my former marriage because we're pretty much trapped on a trajectory that looks worse and worse. over the next 25 years or so.  There's little chance we'll escape unpleasant eventualities over the next 25 years or so, as the Empire declines, what with climate change, economic collapse, the paramilitary police force - the casual brutality of poverty and all that stuff.

It's particularly unpleasant to witness so many dumb, suburban whites moaning about the destruction of property and rationalizing the destruction of life like they were right after shit hit the fan in Baltimore.  It's only a matter of time before shit hits the fan again.  Given that law enforcement kills a brown person every 28 hours or so, you'd think there would be demonstrations every day across the land (Operation Ghetto Storm).  Maybe there are demonstrations every day, but it seems like the only time demonstrations make the national news is when somebody sets something on fire.

While I certainly hope nobody in my own neighborhood sets anything on fire on account of killer cops, I get it that rioting is the language of the unheard.


The Paddle in Seattle, where kayactivists protested imminent drilling in the Arctic by Shell Oil, got some coverage, but it was mostly a bunch of picturesque white folks.


Most US media outlets left this story about 10 year-old Taye Montgomery alone too:


To be fair to the cops, they didn't point pepper spray directly at this little kid.  They just blanketed the crowd, and the little kid happened to be in it with his mother.  Naturally, people instantly started blaming the mom for taking her kid to a demonstration instead of looking at the reason for the demonstration which was that the cop who killed Tony Robbinson, an unarmed teenager, would not be charged.

Any time I go to my computer and am confronted by all the injustice and inequity in our country, I wind up eating unnecessary carbohydrates and turning to Juggle Gin a card game on Pogo.com not a cocktail.

This trend has got to stop because through overeating and inactivity, I've gained back all the weight I lost back when I was dieting in solidarity with Pinko, who was under doctor's orders to lose weight.  The good news is that all I have to do is quit stress eating handfuls of pretzels and get up off my ass.  That can be a tall order, though, when you consider that the US government treats people with such brutality that the UN wrote up a report.  I know the UN is largely ignored (especially by the US government), but still, it's pretty fucked up (UN holds US Accountable for Human Rights Violations at Home and Abroad).  Fortunately, things in my own happy little world are such that I can quiet my mind with goofy video games.  

In truth, the prevalence of ice cream in my personal diet is also a result of being exhausted by work.  Around spring break, one of the teachers broke his ankle so severely that he's out for the rest of the school year.  I've been filling in as lead teacher for that group of three year-olds and have been having all kinds of fun - but those kids are wearing me out.  It's been really challenging in a number of ways, but it's very stimulating professionally especially since I had forgotten just how good I am in a classroom, especially a classroom filled with three year-olds with a giant block area and a view of the river.

I hesitate to talk about work here on the blog, however, since one of the main reasons I got fired from Fire Starter Academy was on account of discussing my crazy assistant, who let a pot of melting candle wax ignite on the hot plate.  That's why I call it Fire Starter Academy.  That incident was years ago, and I deleted all the posts where I referenced my assistant, an older woman who habitually chewed fennel seeds.  The whole episode was a drag on every level, but as a result, my own ability to communicate both personally and professionally improved dramatically.  Fire Starter also provided me with an environment that was perfect for resolving all the messy issues around my divorce, as well as the messy emotional state I experienced while I went off psychotropic medications after more than a decade.  I'm very grateful that I went through all that, as well as the spectacular break up with the Narcissist, at Fire Starter Academy.  Then I got my old job back and have been happy as a pig in slop pretty much ever since.

In any case, I need to drop this 8 pounds again before the Burn because I hate to feel pudgy at Burning Man.  I especially hate seeing my menopausal pot belly, or MenoPot, in candid photos. I can suck it in with the best of them when I know a photo is being taken, but I don't like finding me and the menopot in a campmate's vacation photos on Facebook.  Facebook is bad enough these days because my newsfeed is filled with the personal posts from activist friends as well as articles and essays from my preferred sources, like Jacobin Magazine.  In fact, I've noticed a direct correlation between looking at the news on Facebook, then plunging directly into a binge of mindless internet card games with ice cream or pita chips following rapidly.

Something has got to change, and it's not going to be endless war and ecocide at the end of empire.  At least, not in time for me to lose 8 pounds before Burning Man.  You never know - like Frances says in Under the Tuscan Sun, "Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game."



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