Sunday, 31 January 2010
The author, who wrote one seminal book (published in 1951, still sells 250,000 copies a year!), gathers a lot of admiration in the articles for his reclusion, his refusal to be interviewed, photographed, give opinions, publish, or allow any adaptations of his work. The only time his name ever surfaced was because of litigation he brought against adaptation attempts. He probably could have made a lot more money without necessarily producing anything good. And the funniest thing was, like myself, my partner had the initial reaction of being surprised he was still alive. See what happens when recognizable names disappear from public view?
There is something selfish about writing, I will say it and I do believe it, in its attempt to concretize human life in words and "leave one's mark" on humanity after one is gone. But there is also something noble about not being one of the unknown, inconsequential names of the 6.7 billion humans in the world, about attempting to join the hundred or so you can mention and invoke images, ideas, and opinions in a large number of people's minds, about having your stories and ideas read and become known for something. It is by no means restricted to writing. Many have the pretension of wanting to contribute to culture and civilization in some capacity, rap videos, atom research or whatever. I don't claim to have any answers, nor do I claim to have made or be making any sort of significant contribution. I do believe with time one has a chance of doing so if they are dedicated to their art and find something really interesting to say.
What do I remember about Catcher in the 10th grade? I don't remember particularly enjoying it, but I do give Salinger credit where credit is due for creating the most frustrating protagonist I've ever encountered. I remember just being so exasperated with Holden, craving some sort of redemption for him as a character or catharsis for me as a reader, but all I kept saying, page after page was "WHY is this guy such a FUCKING loser?!" Keep in mind that I was by no means a cool guy or popular or anything. And I knew he was going to remain frustratingly hopeless till the end, but I stuck with it anyway. The book is original and unparalleled, and that is where it draws its notoriety and merit.
I suppose my prejudice or reproach of Salinger comes from what John Gardiner, author of On Becoming a Novelist, calls his "consistent mean streak." A guy capable of producing such a work and then shunning the world outright seems to be playing some kind of twisted game with humanity, just as he played a twisted game with my head with his pathetic Holden. But I recognize the right and validity of authors to protect their space and their privacy and also the additional mystery and resulting irreproachable reputation that this affords them. Patrick Suskind and Cormac McCarthy are two examples of such authors, neither of them particularly predisposed to make sunny, cheery observations about mankind in their work. Conversely, an author will cheapen or deaden his work with celebrity or a ubiquitous public image. And I do wish artists would know when to either stop or take the time to work on producing quality, especially when they can afford to. Musicians careers tend to rise and fall while they chug out album after album into old age (too many examples to cite here), and Danielle Steel, John Grisham, and Dead koontz have so many formulaic titles that they have not distinguished themselves at all. Even John Updike, who I really respect from the one book of his I read, you have to think would not be able to maintain the same consistency across forty plus titles .
Then on the other side of books and music, you have the people whose seemingly unlimited genius is cut short by untimely deaths. Sometimes the death can have an immortalizing effect and add artistic merit to work that otherwise might just be average. Albert Camus was not in this category. The Algerian-born French author, master of showing the absurdity of existance in L'Étranger (the stranger) and La Peste (the plague), died absurdly enough 50 years ago Jan 4 in a car accident with a train ticket in his pocket. I have been learning about his life through a bunch of interviews and materials and articles Radio-Canada has put up for the occasion. It is rare that I read more than two books by the same author and even rarer that I reread them (too much to discover) but with Camus both have happened. Unlike Salinger, he was a prominent and highly respected public figure in his country until his death and remains so today, because of his role in WWII resistance publishing and his unique perspective on the situation in his homeland with which France was engaged in a bitter colonial struggle, among other things. Mostly I think a country felt proud of a guy who wrote such kickass, unpretentious yet brilliant prose. I don't think it is realistic to hope to accomplish as much as he did in his 47 years or somebody like, say, 2pac in his 25 years; what I do know is that if I were Salinger, I would have cracked in 91 and crashed a hollywood party at least once.
Friday, 29 January 2010
Our own prime minister was there, arguing the importance of unfettered global trade, not enacting excessive regulation that would cripple the banking sector, and that our country might pretend to care about the environment someday. Of course him and Bill Clinton both act as if they're under Haiti doing bench reps of it lifting it to salvation. But he managed to jet back to Canada today to appoint 5 more senators, 130k a year for life, giving him control of the upper chamber to push through his party's punitive crime agenda. This means an american style war on drugs with mandatory minimum sentences, including 6 months for one pot plant. An ill-advised road for our country to go down, with the financial and societal burdens it will bring not exactly something we need to be taking on right now.
Maybe if these people with all this money and power who take themselves so goddamn seriously had a pot plant at Davos, they might realize that their greed and selfishness is what got us into the mess they're sitting there claiming to be fixing in the first place. I could recommend them any book by nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, who writes in Vanity Fair and teaches at Columbia. He has such impeccable academic and establishement credentials in the U.S. that he gets invited to the summit, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to tell anyone there that we cannot grow our way out of this.
Out of what? The state has promised more entitlements in the future than it could ever possibly hope to fund by economic growth. This is the case for Canada and all of the so-called "rich" countries. In addition, banks and governments actively encourage a bubble economy of constant inflation and speculation and their incitement of citizens to consume and go in to debt in the wake of what we went through in 07-08 is evidence of that. Closer to home, I could point them to the excellent work done by professor Omar Aktouf at HEC in Montreal. In his book Halte au gâchis - En finir avec l'économie management à l'américaine (Stop the Madness - Get rid of the American Management Economy), he details how this model of resource fuelled inflation and growth is doomed to fail. By surgically dismantling our society's unwavering commitment to neoliberalism in practice as he has in theory, we could be emulating countries who regulate their economies, practice environmental stewardship (Germany, Japan, Sweden - 3 examples), and have better trained and educated workers and higher workplace standards. These countries endured the recession much better than we have with our "growth at any costs" North American economic ideology. Canadians politicians and banks like to pat themselves on the back for Canada coming into the "recovery" relatively unscathed, but really this is pure hubris; without abundant resources we would be in as bad of a position as the state. The investments that would actually make our economy competitive (i.e. functioning transit) have been declined in favour of more roads to nowheresville, petroleum reliant suburbs.
People are isolated and powerless but there are ways to not support the system. Getting involved with people thinking about transition out of this way into a way where people rediscover family, community, and taking care of feeding and occupying themselves is one such way. When at a meeting of such people, many people disassociate with the media and want to know as little as possible about the crazy shit I write about, opting to focus on their families and communities which is commendable. I, however, feel a responsibility to call these power structures out regularly, even if noone is reading this, and I will continue to do so. I don't have the privelege of doing bong hits on the top of a ski hill at davos right now like some people.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
If you don't know him or have never read him, Joe Fiorito at the Star is a great lucid voice on Toronto issues when they get heated. He provides nice snapshots of people around the city when things are calm. He is plain-speaking, fair-minded, an orthodox disciple of common sense who stands up for the downtrodden, and isn't scared to wade in when the plethora of angry voices in the city rise up into a cacophonous rabble (see: garbage strike, tamil protest, etc.) His article on the sleeping TTC worker is particularly illuminating, the comments more so than the writing, as is often the case these days.
In the article Joe offers the torontonians angry with him for defending the indefensible a letter from a TTC worker, who is powerless to stop fare-beating, has people asking for directions when he's trying to drive, and gets verbally abused every day. The comments are filled with rants about crappy service and rude attitude from TTC workers, the humiliation suffered at their hands, and their being overpaid for menial work.
Both sides are right. I don't live in Toronto at the moment but have thousands of hours of TTC riding experience. Yes, employees, the city is filled with punk ass lowlifes with no respect, shitty drivers, and unbelievably bad traffic. Yes, riders, drivers often do not practice basic courtesy, buy McDonald's and smoke while the bus is running, and respond to your breathless sprint to catch their bus by flooring it. I've witnessed it all. Two things are obvious: when dealing with such a large population and such inadequate infrastructure tempers flare on all sides, and our city sorely lacks civility. All that said, I'd like to tell everyone to shut the fuck up, and pull this back from the brink of becoming another stupid union vs. toronto sun reader, NDP vs. conservative debate.
Public Sector Wages
The reality is, TTC employees, that no matter how rough the public is or how good of a job you think you do, you are not worth 50-100k a year. I'm sorry, its not personal, it goes to all the nurses, cops, teachers, and especially useless government paper pushers out there (don't huff and puff, that's what you are). The state cannot continue to pay these salaries, vacations, and benefits including up to 70% of your salaries long after you stop working until you die. Why? Not because its an asshole right wing government that has it in for you. It doesn't have the money. The productive population that pays taxes, the middle class, is diminishing partly because of industries changing and evolving and especially because of demographics. There are 4 workers for every retiree now. In 10 years thats going down to 2.5.
But this is reality and people hate reality. Humans are more of a head-in-the-sand type of species. That's why our weak-kneed, aw shucks government gave money to a shitty car company last year. That's why they say things like "We're looking forward to working with our partners in the public sector." Because 90% of them have secure wages until retirement, and only 13% of the general public does. And a large part of that 13% is private companies' pensions which are not guaranteed.
Is this observation anti-public sector? No, it's just unfair. Some people won and some people lost. But make no mistake, the people who lost are not going to stand for this when things get worse. Because why would anybody? I have some ideas on how to avoid or at least, lighten that inevitable social friction and tension on the horizon.
The government should start training a massive army of unemployed workers to take over bus driving, policing, and functionary jobs, for 15-20$ an hour.
Then they should do assessments. Hey Mr. Bus Driver, do you really need 29.87 an hour to drive a bus? Let's cut you down, I don't know, 4 or 5 bucks to start. No way? Well, I'm sure there's lots of other places willing to pay you that amount, so no worries. What's Greyhound paying these days?
Imagine how much money the public could save! WE could save!
And don't tell me I'm cold or callous. People have lost huge parts of their pensions and retirement that they saved, paid into, worked hard for, without having anything set up or anyone telling them to. These people don't get to "collectively bargain" back the rights to that money they lost. You're going to tell me too bad so sad for them (as in, you) but you're willing to pay into infinity for these other people?
There's a lot of ways we could raise money for public services too, especially transit. Why are the fares so high? People would take the service more if it was a dollar and was actually up to big metropolis standards. Why do I have to pay full fare on an empty bus? He's just going to be driving that empty bus around anyways.
City Manager of Toronto, 380,000$ a year? Chop! I just cut your salary by 100k. What are you going to do now? Make 380k at Tim Horton's?
The problem is we live in a system of entitlement where all these overpaid people think we owe them something. And bank and corporate CEOs, that goes for you too. If the CEO of Royal Bank agrees to drop from 7 million to 700,000 next year, then maybe I can respect that as a step in the right direction. Until then, enjoy reading about this double standard, unfair society of entitlements for some that we've set up in "the best country in the world".
Take The Car
Finally I'd like to admonish those who use the TTC acronym to say this. It's really regressive. We do not need more torontonians taking the car. There are already more cars in toronto per capita than any other major city of comparable size in the world. Of course it's only partly the fault of selfish, entitled, indivualists; maybe the provincial government could get its thumb out of its ass after 7 years in power and build those rapid transit lines and subway extensions we've been talking about for the past thirty years. An airport train? Oh no, it might go through someone's backyard. God we're pathetic Check out this article about why there's no cars in Guangzhou, China. The streets are too narrow. If we build it, people will stop driving. But, priorities are priorities, right?
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
While there's nothing extreme about fresh breath or shitty tasting chips, I would like to implore all companies to stop using this term that used to be reserved for things that were actually, well, extreme. If people are desensitized to this word, how are we going to get their attention when something actually is extreme?
Because I read about something today that is extreme. No, not like "Dude, that's extreme). This is a feature that talks about how the angry right wing sentiments and goals of diverse groups is fermenting and coalescing around common purpose. The nativists (anti-illegal immigrant), the tea party movement, the oath keepers, and michigan militia style militias are getting together, buying guns, meeting, and blogging. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that they'll be rallying around one woman who I don't like to mention who was the vice presidential nominee in a few years.
So let's see: they're white trash, they're racist, they're heavily armed, and they've cooked up a bunch of revisionist bullshit to act like they are the defenders of the true original america. What's interesting is that while they don't pay taxes or take an interest in participating, they were mostly dormant during the bush years. And now they are surging. Going as far to say that Obama has created a network of concentration camps.
It sounds crazy, right? Normal people like you don't have to worry about these crazies. I'm afraid not. Globalization has made islam and christianity co-exist in a global media landscape and I might be generalizing but it fuels resentment and extremism. Just check out douchebag number one or closer to home, douche bag number two to see some influential thinkers hard at work spreading anger and hatred. See all those stickers you can order on the first site?
I'm writing this because vigilance is required to continually call people out who are "extremists". Because they are extremely loud and hard working. Nobody takes them seriously and then they are victorious. Like Christoph Blocher's movement in Switzerland that banned minarets with scary looking, burka-missile ads.
Humanity should have bigger fish to fry. But there are the barnacles of hate eating away at its mental ship. If they cause enough leaks, they could sink it.
Saturday, 23 January 2010
The title of today's posting is the pseudo of somebody who posts comments on globeandmail.com. The name says a lot about him and the views he wants you to associate him with. His is pure, unfiltered, political analysis, unbeholden to any party, ideology or interests and untainted by the vulgar baseness of "partisanship". Or maybe he just thought it was a catchy name people would remember. I mean, look, I did. It doesn't really matter why he chose that name. What matters is why this word "Partisan" has suddenly become so toxic and why it is used by itself to remove credibility and with a negating qualifier to lend it.
Well, let's start with what good, old-fashioned, respectable folks do when they need a definition. Let's look it up in the dictionary:
an adherent or supporter of a person, group, party, or cause, esp. a person who shows a biased, emotional allegiance.
Military. a member of a party of light or irregular troops engaged in harassing an enemy, esp. a member of a guerrilla band engaged in fighting or sabotage against an occupying army.
of, pertaining to, or characteristic of partisans; partial to a specific party, person, etc.: partisan politics.
of, pertaining to, or carried on by military partisans or guerrillas.
par⋅ti⋅san⋅ship, par⋅ti⋅san⋅ry, noun
1. See follower. 3. biased, prejudiced.
Dictionary.com is not very useful. 2 and 4 are not relevant here and 1 and 3 shows that it has bought into the new meaning we have given the word.
The word that means member, believer, adherent, or follower now means being uncritical, ignorant, blind, and most importantly, having no credibility. I get it. This is why Obama presented himself as a "post-partisan". As in, he wasn't going to get bogged down in a rah-rah sports team mentality while he got down to the business of pulling America into the twenty first century by the scruff of its neck. This is why the biggest group of voters in the states is called "independants". They're not putting all their eggs in one basket. They're not going to be categorized or have to awkwardly explain their change in allegiance (In both countries politicians from both major parties have switched to the other party in the two thousand decade). This is why I cannot read an editorial that doesn't denouce the "partisan" bickering in the House of Commons and "partisan" behaviour in Ottawa. The "partisan tactics" of the prime minister are unacceptable, but the opposition should avoid taking "partisan cheap shots" when holding the ruling party to account. Certain ministers are "partisan brawlers" and "blustering partisans", while in the Prime Minister's mind he is the one being impeded by "partisans" and "political games". Add that to the rallying call of every issue for the opposition, an "independent, (there's that word again) non-partisan public inquiry." Could we have an inquiry maybe into the use of the word partisan?
I say this because today I went to an anti-proroguation rally today, one of the dozens that happened across the country, and all speakers present were whispered at and chided by the crowd at various points in their mostly uninspiring speeches "Non-partisan!". As in, even though you were the liberal candidate for the past three elections in this area, this is a non-partisan rally. If it's partisan that means we have no credibility. So please keep that in mind
How about enough of this wishy-washy, buck-passing bullshit? OF COURSE we're partisans, we're all partisans at this rally, and we are anti-conservative partisans. Are you surprised? Is that scandalous? You knew you couldn't trust that guy when he was elected, with his beady eyes and icy arrogance. Now look where we are four years later; all of the checks on power in the prime ministers office have been removed, weakened or ignored. Call me a partisan if you must, but at least I'm not a partisan of this sorry excuse for a douchebag embarassment of a leader we have. Like most people, I haven't always voted for the same party, haven't always had the same opinions and ideas, and haven't even made it to the ballot box each time. There are so few people who you can consistently place in the same result for those categories throughout their entire lives that the partisan label is pretty useless to begin with. I'm a stop shutting down the f----ing democracy partisan, as were all at the rally today.
At the end of the day, can we just be honest about what we like and what we don't like and stop being so coy, as if we're these complicated, sophisticated beings who cannot lower themselves to admit having tastes, opinions and preferences? Are you a Toronto maple leafs partisan? A J.K. Rowling partisan? A President's Choice Peanut Butter or Timex Watch partisan? Are you a shower or a bath partisan? A Britney Spears partisan? Are you an apartment building partisan or a mortgage partisan? Do you consider yourself a prophet Mohammed partisan or a Jesus Christ partisan? See how ridiculous this is? I could go on all day. But we all have a lot of choices to make in our lives and they inevitably involve choosing some things over others. And one important thing we have to choose is words. Politicians, media, and the message massage therapy team who feed us our authorized truth every day, I implore you to please stop being so partisan to the use of the words partisan and non-partisan and revert back to giving explanations of why things are credible or not credible. Thank you from a newly minted partisan of not describing things as partisan or non-partisan.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Will I use the "D" word? No, I'm not disappointed, probably because I haven't noticed a difference between my life under W. and Obama. That's the honest to god truth I don't live in America, after all. Or one of the 63 countries it has a military presence in. That can't be confirmed. But I mean, not one of the really insulting ones. Like Greece or Japan.
That is to say, I'm not disappointed on a personal level. But that said, it is a bit of a bummer that a year later, the nations of earth are not living in perfect harmony and we're not all driving jetson-style low flying hybrids and talking on our solar powered blackberries, eating organic produce by teleport. That's what I thought the U.S. electorate signed up for.
Instead, we have a guy who is so bogged down, just a cog trying to lift an enormously dysfunctional machine from slipping into the abyss. And I don't care how sculpted that cog's six pack is or how good he is at free throws, it just ain't gonna happen. 24 hour news, washington lobbyists, and people within your own party that only care about pandering to their constituents and getting reelected are too much for anyone to overcome, and they've corroded the democratic republic to the point where so much is wrong that its impossible to take steps in the right direction. There's no coherence, no narrative, no discipline. Trying to please everybody and compromise and set lofty goals doesn't work in politics, especially north american politics. Unfortunately, thanks to the neo-con revolution, you have to be a bare-knuckled asshole machiavellian to pull it off.
But enough punditry from the sidelines. Who cares what I, or any of these assholes for that matter, think about what really amounts to aesthetics and optics. If this man is to succeed he going to need less of those. Please, even as a fan, tired of seeing your face and speeches on TV everyday. If you make so many brilliant speeches noone is going to remember any of them. Here of some things that Obama could do, unilaterally, right now, really start to fix america and make the rest of the world start to like them.
-End wars in Iraq and Afghanistan immediately and close all U.S military bases outside the United States
-Increase taxes to, start small, like, 65% on anyone earning over, I don't know, half a mil.
_Start a tax to pay off the debt, on a sliding scale. A dollar per citizen per week. In three weeks you get a billion dollars. Then again, since they 13,000 billion dollars, that's gonna take 39,000 weeks...let's see...calculator...oh, it's not too bad. Only 750 years
-Break up Monsanto and other monopolies under anti-trust legislation and regain and redemocratize control of the food suplly
-Grant immediate amnesty to all illegal immigrants, who are your most productive citizens since they're fighting for their lives and if they don't work, they don't eat.
-Start taxing flights and heavy vehicles to reduce emissions and increase revenue.
-Get, way, WAY tougher on Wall Street. These guys took government money (or as I like to say, government printed value) All their misadventures are well documented in Vanity Fair and other publications. They don't have a leg to stand on.
Fighting the Republicans or any of these other know it all assholes on these issues as matters of principles would be a no-brainer. They'd help America and they'd start to address its fundamental problems. But they don't want to hear and Obama doesn't want to hear it. He thinks he's going to win them over with wishy washy rhetoric and platitudes but are going to sound like the biggest bullshit ever if he doesnt accomplish anything soon. But he can't separate himself from the machine as easily as we thought. He's one of them after all. And if there's one thing I've learned watching them, it's that they really are their own worst enemy.
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Before you mock the descent of Islam's prophet as an example of corrupt third world despotism and gaping inequality, which I was very tempted to do upon learning these facts, look a little closer to home at the Windsors. Did anyone ever think to ask Her Majesty Elizabeth II to maybe scrape through the 20 billion pounds in the couch cushions of Buckingham Palace and throw a lifeline to the one third of UK seniors on or below the poverty line? Not on your life.
What you can be sure of is that these two figures remains objects of immense adulation in their respective countries and what are ordinary life events for most people (birth, death, trip abroad, marraige, children, grandchildren) require in their cases oodles of ink towards coverage in every self respecting press outlet.
It's funny that out of all the sad stories and economic casualties I recall hearing of in the past two years, one that comes to mind is P Diddy's private jet.
Is this a populist rant? Not at all. I'm talking about the relative worth and value of citizens and why people need to be in possession of such vast sums. Do we really need people possessing fortunes in the second decade of the twenty first century under the pretext that they're "royalty"? I was inspired for this particular piece when I learned about the spectacular and unnecessary excessiveness that this decade was commenced with by Mr. Roman Abramovitch. The Russian Oligarch, a relatively new royal presence on the global scene but ostentatious enough to make up for lost time, spent 5 million dollars on a Caribbean new years party on the island of St. Barts. Beyonce was in the house with her husband Jay Z, as was the fashion designer Marc Jacobs and who the fuck cares who else. The point is, with 5 million dollars, that's like 5 million people's daily income. You could have made five million people's day twice as good. And then when I open a magazine I have to witness the incredible waste of this booze soaked hob nob tropical shmoozefest. But clearly people don't feel the same way, or the magazine wouldn't have put it there. The reality is that people are fascinated and amused by it.
I invite the richest of the rich to divest themselves of large parts of their fortunes. I would. It's the right thing to do. And let's be honest about "their" money and tell them to cough it up. There's a lot of people out there who need it a lot more than they do.
Friday, 15 January 2010
The month since I have managed to get on here, however, has seen some developments, man-made and not, which have put into perspective some of the subjects that I write about. Yes, I continue to believe that the economy that can only grow or provide people based on the continued burning and and consuming of earth's resources is fundamentally doomed, and that until we switch to way less wasteful ways or organizing and occupying ourselves the current path will get ugly, but were not there yet. Meanwhile, some countries are there (Hell on earth).
2010 has started, and the new decade is kicking off exceptionally bad in some places where we don't think of as being so peachy to begin with. Things have gotten desperate in Iran and on my trip I read two articles in Paris Match and the Nouvel Observateur which show to what horrible travails the country is mired in. The thirty year old international pariah, the much derided ruling islamic theocracy, under which nonetheless a small amount of breathing room and livability was accorded to citizens compared to now, did not regain control after the destabilizing protests of june. Instead, as I've learned, they have effectively been forced to hand over control to the Bassanji and Guardians of the Revolution, two groups that essentially form now a military junta and whose threats to dissent amount to totalitarianism that are ruling with a virtual reign of terror right now. And there have already been many, many martyrs and bloodshed among those brave and courageous enough to engage in civil disobedience. I hope that something can dislodge this utterly rotten and brutal system the iranians are stuck under; unfortunately, I don't see how it is possible without more blood being shed.
Then the awful earthquake that happened to the people of Haiti, the last on earth, in the grand irony of mother nature, able to deal with such a thing. In human solidarity, the best thing to do is use some of that credit card to give the fake money to people who need it but can't get it. Hopefully the charity doesn't keep more than it needs to for itself. I felt moved and upset by the photos I saw in the newspaper and I hope, seriously, that this event provides impetus to help this country break out of the impasse it has been stuck in, the curse of colonialism, for 500 years.
I am still worried about humanity's thousand barrel a second petroleum habit, but in the meantime I hope the people of these two countries can improve their situation