Monday, November 28, 2016

Week of 11/28/2016

A Cautionary Tale of Future Greed
Once upon a hypothetical time in a land of future greed…
There was a man stuck in a tower with a perplexing problem.
His name was Gordon Gek, and he owns and runs the corporation known as Gek Company, or GekCo for short.
“Gordon” was not the name he was given when he was born.  In this land of future greed, you had to pay for a name instead of the biological identification number that you were automatically issued at birth.  His parents saved their money to afford him a name, because otherwise he would not be allowed to manage a business, and he would spend his life being just another nameless servile consumer.
“Gek” was not a family name either, but the name given to him when he was able to start a business.  It wasn’t by choice either.  It was the first business name that was available to him at the time.  And he pays an annual royalty fee to keep it.
For many fiscal quarters, Gordon Gek was a manager to be respected.  The corporate jingles would sing the praises of his name and that of the mighty GekCo for all the profit he would make for them.  The GekCo logo would appear in the corner of every product it touched, which would mean GekCo would get a piece of the profit that company made from that product.
For many fiscal quarters, corporate giants would call on Gordon Gek to help them be more profitable, and Gordon would pull through.  He would always find some way, some new avenue, some new venture that hasn’t been tapped yet.
But now Gordon feels like he is the victim of his own creative mind.
He wandered about his virtual office area.  Nobody really “goes” to work in this land of future greed... the commuting fees are just too high for those that can afford names instead of numbers.  They all meet in virtual offices inside their own residences.  Only the nameless servile consumers physically take themselves to and from work, and they willingly pay the fees and service charges to do it.  Gordon knows that his “team” of contracted employees are busy doing all the mundane tasks involved in running GekCo, and they pay for the privilege of working for GekCo as they would with any other business in this land of future greed.  It’s simply deducted from their pay, along with all of the other fees for the “privilege” of working.
The view from his “windows” are fake.  They show clear skies and beautiful weather.  He would have to pay a service fee to see the hazy sun over the thick clouds of smog from the factories below.  Besides, it’s cheaper to subscribe to the false images pumped in of a world not damaged in the name of future greed.
But he knows that below his tower of solitude, which he pays a hefty fee for the “privilege” of living there, there are the countless nameless servile consumers, milling about, doing their mundane tasks and living their mundane lives and fulfilling their essential roles as consumers; channeling what little they get back into the system so that named people like him can continue to make the all-important profit numbers.
And that brings us back to Gordon’s problem.  Gordon is paid by his corporate clientele to come up with all the ways to get as much as possible from the countless nameless servile consumers, and for many fiscal quarters he’s done just that.  He’s found fees atop of fees and service charges for pretty much every function and purpose and activity in life.
Being born is a cost, so is being clothed, going to school, getting a specialization, having the “privilege” of working, engaging in any kind of pastime or hobby, of being in a relationship, of having children, of raising children, and, of course, for having the audacity to die. 
When the nameless buy even essential groceries, there is an entrance fee, a shopping fee, a cashier service charge, a packaging fee, and even an export fee to leave the store with the food.  Preparing that food to eat requires a cooking license.  Consuming it requires a medical waiver and a fee to process that waiver.  Disposal, both physical and biological, require subscriptions and service charges as well.
Watching mindless entertainment and information is not free either.  The media screens cost money.  A license must be granted.  A subscription is required for each broadcast, and for every two minutes of media there must be four minutes of advertisements, each with a service fee for the privilege of viewing it.  And to turn off the screens to try to avoid those service fees incur the steepest fee of them all.
All of these fees, of course, are perfectly legal.  The question of whether or not any of it is “right” was settled long ago by those with the money and the power.  So it was not a question of whether or not Gordon could come up with all of these fees and service charges and subscriptions and licenses.
Gordon’s problem was that he ran out of new ways to assess them.
There were still rules in this land of future greed as to how fees and service charges can be assessed.  Each fee had to be unique.  They could not simply put a fee on top of an earlier fee.  Each fee had to be traced back to the company that created it so they could get their percentage of the money.  It was how companies like GekCo could make their money and stay in business.  Even the registration of fees and service charges and licenses and subscriptions required an administrative fee to pay for that “privilege”.  It was simply how things were.  And he should know, because that was one of his first inventions.
And now it appeared that there were no more ways to assess those unique fees.  Every human function, every human interaction, every possible human activity and human need and human desire were now properly and officially fined, taxed, licensed, subscribed to, and administrated.
The only thing left for Gordon to come up with was some way to justify breaking that one rule, to find a way to put a fee atop of another fee.  Failing that, of course, he could close his business, sever the contracts of his at-will staff, and file for bankruptcy.  After all, a business was only as good as the profit they make each fiscal quarter, and Gordon could not get new revenue without finding ways to assess a fee that seemingly could not exist.  It would also mean another company could take over for GekCo, but they would be in the same situation as him... finding another way to assess a fee where no more can exist.
He steadied himself as he prepared to make the call that he did not want to make.  He was hyperventilating.  Failure was not in his career schedule!
He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.
And then he took a few more deep breaths.
And then he realized what he was doing.
He was breathing air!
His body was taking in the clean, filtered, processed air, converting it, and expelling the toxic air in his lungs with every exhale.  A normal biological function, one that can be regulated and controlled within reason.  And even though there is already a service charge for air filtration in the residences and workplaces and stores, it only covered half the service.  The air filtration systems would process the air no matter who was in the area, and no matter how “clean” it would be.
But every human exhale was an expulsion of carbon dioxide, a toxic gas for humans.  That meant that breathing itself was more than just a life function; it was expending waste.  And that meant that the air filtration would have to work extra to deal with every human that was present expelling this toxic gas.
And that could be assessed a new service fee!
Gordon gleefully activated his terminal and asked his staff to join him for an impromptu meeting.  They had a new way for their corporate clients to assess a service charge on the nameless numbered servile consumers.  Another new way to squeeze yet another drop of corporate lifeblood from the public.  Another way to survive yet another fiscal quarter.
Because let’s get brutally honest here... as long as there are business people that consider the public to be nothing more than monetary resources to plunder and pilfer, there really is no limit to the number of ways that they will do just that.  And we don’t have to wait for some hypothetical time of future greed to see if that could happen.  All we really have to do is to open up a newspaper, or even our monthly bills to see Gordon’s predecessors setting the stage for that hypothetical time to be real.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Week of 11/21/2016

Fifty Years Of Life Experiences
As of this column’s posting I will be...
Sorry, I had to let it sink in.  Yeah, like some of you, I still can’t believe I made it this far either.
Yes, I am now officially an “old guy”.  I’ve already been getting the AARP mails.  I’m now a target for everyone with a nearby Spencer’s Gifts store stocked with “Old Fart” novelty times.
But what it also means is that I have plenty of experience in certain things.  Experience that is somewhat valuable… unless you’re a younger person, in which case it is usually disregarded as being ether “outdated” or “snooty”.
Funny… the very generation that needs the experience from the previous generation are the ones that shun it the most.
Anyhow, I want to use this 50th Birthday article to share a few thoughts that may or may not come from experience.  Accept them or disregard them at your peril. 
Trump Did Not Start The (Norse) Fire!  You’ll have to see the movie “V for Vendetta” to find out what I mean.
Like many things in this world that President-Elect Donald Trump takes credit for, he didn’t create the potential political nightmare that we are all going through.  He simply fixed his last name to it.  Trump would call that being “smart”.
Former Comedy Central host Jon Stewart said it best: America is the same country two weeks after the election as it was two weeks before the election. What is going on in the heads of people hasn’t changed simply because Donald Trump won the electoral process, even if he didn’t win the popular vote.  We’re just not used to seeing that part of America win.  Remember, it’s been sixteen years since Bush-vs-Gore in 2000.
I’ve been listening to the rhetoric from people over the years.  I’m not just talking about the propagandists in talk radio and Fox News or even those that call in.  I’m talking about ordinary people.  Your neighbors and co-workers.  The ones that will tell you that they’re “not racists” but they just don’t like the first African-American president yet they just can’t tell you why without making stuff up about him.  “He’s a commie-socialist-atheist-satanist-Arab-mooslum who wasn’t even born in this country and surrendered all our military to the Russians and the Chinese and the mooslums.”  And you can’t use reason to convince them otherwise and you can’t ask for proof because they “don’t need it”.  And yet this is the way that they’ve been for the past eight years.  They haven’t changed.  Their mindsets are still the same.  They just now feel vindicated by Trump’s win.
These are the people that gave Trump the victory.  They saw his very-public faults and excused them, and they will be the ones that will keep excusing his faults in the future.  They are the followers of the political death cult that we have all become subject to, and just like the Branch Davidians, they will ride this crazy train all the way to its fiery end.
But don’t think for a moment that this is anything recent!  This movement, this trend, this slouching towards fascism has been building over the decades.  I started noticing this in the late 1980’s, pretty much when I was in college; which, coincidentally was around the time when “V for Vendetta” started being published as a comic series, so I know I wasn’t the only one seeing this happen.  It’s only been building, creeping, smoldering like an underground fire with every election.  Four years of the mediocre Bush Senior.  Eight years of Big Bubba, Bill Clinton, and his wife, the co-president.  Eight years of Bush Junior and his neo-Roman Imperium.  Eight years of Barack Obama and his struggling cluelessness.  And then along comes Trump and his alt-right acolytes, and finally these people feel validated and vindicated.
No, if you’re really looking for someone to blame other than yourselves for what happens next, you need to blame your neighbors and the people that you work with.  The ones that hated Obama but just can’t explain “why” without making stuff up.
Kill This “Mandate” Crap! I don’t want to advocate violence, but I really want the people who are throwing around the word “mandate” to get tongue cancer.
Donald Trump did not win a “mandate from the people”.  I don’t care how many electoral votes he got, he still lost the popular vote.  But even if he did, it still would not make his win an automatic “mandate”.  Ronald Reagan won a “mandate” in 1984.  Bush Senior won a “mandate” in 1988.  Bush Junior won a “mandate” in 2004.  Nobody else can make that claim, including Barack Obama.
Listen, the people who are using the word “mandate” to describe Trump’s victory are doing so as a subliminal bullying tactic to shut up anyone who might criticize him.  They’re basically saying “The world is with us, not with you, so shut the hell up and don’t you dare questions our authority!”  These are punks and thugs, no different than Il Duce’s blackshirts in the 1920’s.
Give The Office A Chance!  I know my telling people to give Trump a chance to serve as President does not sit well with the Hillites that just got the biggest disappointment in their lives.  I know you’re angry.  I don’t blame you for being angry.  You backed the wrong horse.  Some of you sold your souls to support Hillary Clinton even though you wanted Bernie Sanders to be the nominee.  Worse yet, you got lulled into a false sense of security that she’d win by your “friends” in the air-fluffed ego-driven media, and by the so-called “experts” that basically turned supposed “impartial” polling services into nothing less than propaganda mills.
I get it.  I understand why you’re out in the streets throwing your tantrums.  I know you want to oppose the orange-skinned-whacky-man with everything you have, just like the GOP did to Obama for eight years straight.  You want to shut down Congress like the GOP did for six of the eight years under Obama.  You want to throw your disrespect for the man around like the GOP threw their disrespect of Obama in all of our faces.
But… if it was Hillary that won, what would you be telling those same people who would be in the “sore loser” spot?
Well, beyond saying “You lost, losers, nyah-nyah!”
You’d be asking them to give Hillary a chance wouldn’t you?  You know you would be!  You know it!  That’s exactly what you’d be saying with that false sense of grace that the Trumpets are displaying right now.  (By the way, I claim ownership to the term “Trumpet” to describe the Trump supporters.  This is mine!)
So I’m saying this: don’t give Trump a chance.  Give the office of the President of the United States of America a chance for its future occupant to prove his worth.  This is what I’ve been doing in my own life since 2000.  Give the office, not the man, one chance.  Just one chance.  Only one.  If it is shown afterward that he cannot be a true and respectful leader for all of the nation, if he ends up being the very orange-skinned-whacky-man and #whinylittlebitch that we saw on the campaign trail, then, by all means, unleash hell.  But then at least you can say that you gave him the opportunity to do what is right.  Then you can say that your outrage is validated and not based in blinding partisan bigotry.  Then you would have the one thing that the GOP did not have with Obama, but I did after six months… a valid reason.
Know Your History!  Even when I was a young man, I knew the value of history.  Sun Tsu said that to defeat your enemy, you must first know your enemy.  Why do Muslim extremists hate the Western World?  Know your history, and you’ll find there’s more to it than what you hear from the propaganda mills on Fox News and Brietbart. 
You want to know why our economy is so screwed up?  Look back at history and see where things have gone wrong.  There have been patterns of economic booms and busts going back centuries.  Why do they keep repeating?  Because the people promoting the next boom constantly deny history and falsely claim that “this time is different”.  And it’s not that they don’t know history; they want you to not know it!
Some people are making comparisons between the incoming Trump presidency and the one from Herbert Hoover in 1928. But if you really knew your history, then you’d know that the GOP was not the same party that it was back then, and Hoover was certainly not the same kind of person that Trump is today.  Hoover’s systemic failure as President was a key reason why the Great Depression was as devastating as it was for America, and why it led to Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and his New Deal programs.  Know your history!
Enough With The Slut-Shaming, Liberals!  If there is one thing that I am disgusted with concerning the liberals more than anything is their utter and hypocritical betrayal towards sex and sexual expression.  This new wave of prudishness – borne from the man-hating factions of the late Andrea Dworkin – is nothing short of an absolute betrayal of everything liberals advocated in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
I know of and I am friends with several women who advocated for and demonstrated the kind of expressionism in the day that would be virulently condemned by their modern-day successors.  I don’t know if they would be disgusted with how things have been turning out, but I do know that I am disgusted with what I see.
The most recent attack involves Melania Trump, the future First Lady, whether or not we want her to be. Yes, she once posed naked for modeling shoots.  Yes, the pictures are out there on the Internet.  But so what?  Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan, once posed for Playboy Magazine back when doing so was scandalous.  And she did so as a mature woman, not as some fawning don’t-know-anything.  So did a lot of other women during the magazine’s legitimate publication.  Hell, Marilyn Monroe was the very first centerfold model for Playboy!
So why are the liberals going after the latest Mrs. Trump for her past modeling career?  I understand that the bible-thumpers would do so back when Donald Trump was simply a wannabe and not the official GOP nominee, but why are the Hillites acting just like the true enemies of freedom?
Seriously, you liberals need to get off the prude-wagon right now, because you are going to lose any and all moral justification over LGBTQ issues as long as you are acting no better than your enemies. And I know you like your LGBTQ issues!
And speaking of freedom and issues...
Stop Trying To Silence The Alt-Right!  I have an issue with the efforts of people trying to silence the alt-right discussions and banish symbols of their movement.
First the liberals banned Pepe the Frog, a computer-generated avatar that the alt-right used for their online discussions.  Then they went after Mac Tonight, aka “Moon Man”, a failed McDonald’s mascot that became Pepe’s replacement.
Why?  Why are you so fixated on trying to hide and banish the alt-right discussions?
Do you know why the Klu Klux Klan was able to survive for as long as it has been?  Because its chief weapon is anonymity.  Your average skinhead or neo-Nazi doesn’t get this, which is why they never really got too much traction.  They’re open and public about what they believe in.  The KKK, however, prides itself on its secrecy.  That’s why they call themselves the “invisible army”.  That’s why they wear hoods and meet in the dead of night instead of the local rotary club.
Sure, you had a few openly racist people.  You had people like Senator Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond.  But for the most part they kept their participation to themselves.  You didn’t know if the county sheriff was a Klansman or just your average ingrown bigot.  You didn’t know if your neighbor had a Klan outfit in his closet.  The sneering cook in the local diner may be okay, but the polite waitress saying “Bless your heart” may be married to a Klansman.  You wouldn’t know.  And even if the Klan was nowhere in the area, their ideology was pervasive enough to be a part of that community.
That’s why I say don’t ban Pepe the Frog or Mac Tonight.  Put them and their supporters on display.  Bring them into the sunlight!  Let everyone know who they are!  Because I’ll tell you right now, the first rule of the alt-right movement is to say that there is no alt-right movement. 
We saw this with the neo-conservatives a decade earlier.  Their cancerous spread in the Bush Imperium after 9/11was simultaneously followed by people like FoxNews hemorrhoid Sean Hannity proclaiming that there really is no such thing as a “neo-conservative”; that there are only liberals and conservatives.  The first defensive act of any thug is to claim that they’re really the victims.
Don’t ban the alt-right symbols or the people that use them.  Let them be seen!  After all, these are the people that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.  Let them be recognized for it.
And finally...
I have some strongly-recommended books and movies for you.  You know, it’s funny that when I was growing up, book reading was considered boring.  Why read when you can watch the movie?  And, really, who had the time to read a book?  That was the mindset I was given growing up.  But, today, you take a book and you put it on a tablet or a smartphone and suddenly people find all the time in the world to enjoy it.
But there are some books that I really think you should take the time to read, either online or on hardcover.
The two biggest books I would suggest anyone to go through are from the late, great George Orwell. 
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” (or “1984”) and “Animal Farm” are pretty much required reading for anyone concerned about where we are headed in America.  And I would suggest that you skip the movie versions of these books because there is a lot that gets lost in the movie adaptations.
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” shows the mechanizations behind a totalitarian government as seen from the perspective of someone already caught up in the system.  It shows how power is maintained and how the human spirit can be crushed.  I keep telling people that this book should not be used as a checklist or as a “how-to”, but rather as cautionary tale of how far things have fallen for us.  The idea of perpetual war, how easily the stupid people can be swayed to go from one enemy to another literally at a moment’s notice, and how abhorrent activities can be excused under the air of legitimacy can all be seen in this book.
“Animal Farm” shows how idealistic forms of governing can be easily perverted by the people in charge.  But, rather than using people, Orwell used animals to get his point across.  And, yes, I know that Orwell’s story is more of an allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and to demonstrate the failure of communism.  That was something big in Orwell’s time.  The overriding script of the time was to condemn communism at all costs.
But let’s get brutally honest here... the real underlying message of “Animal Farm” is that any system of governance can be perverted so quickly and so stealthily that nobody would really know any better.
In “Animal Farm”, the front side of the barn has a series of “rules” about how the farm animals should govern after they chased away their human masters.  One-by-one they are each altered by those in power in the dead of night.  Nobody lays claim to them, but Orwell leaves just enough clues for the readers to figure out which animal is responsible.  But the scary part is that the animals in the farm quickly adapt to these changes and even treat them as though this was always meant to be.
So near the end of the book, you get to the very last “rule”: “All animals are equal”.  And that gets perverted to “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  And you would think that this rule would be the one that the other animals object to, but they just go along with it.
Now compare that to the man that will soon inhabit the White House.  The one that thinks that using sneaky measures to not pay taxes is “smart”.  The one who thinks that being rich and famous and a celebrity makes him special than others.  Listen to the myrmidons and propagandists in talk radio excuse his stances and actions as being appropriate for an “alpha male”.  The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal.  The “squealers” and the “geese” of the GOP are essentially telling the world that “all men are created equal, but some men are more equal than others.”
I can go on and on with this, but I think you get the point.  This is why reading “Animal Farm” is so important to get a grasp of our situation.
There is one more I would recommend and that is the movie “V for Vendetta”.  Not the book, mind you, but the movie.  “V for Vendetta” was actually a comic series published in the early 1980’s by the British publishing company Quality Communications as part of their “Warrior” series.  It was later picked up by DC Comics and republished under their Vertigo brand after they colorized it.  It was released as a film in 2006, almost twenty years after the Vertigo re-release.
Why the movie?  Simple.  It ties everything in closer than the book series did.  The book series gets sidetracked too often.  The underlying message of how things got that bad and who stood to profit from it all is shown better in the movie.
Can’t happen here, you say?  Remember the anthrax scare after 9/11?  Remember the years of orchestrated scares under the Bush Imperium?
That brings us back, of course, to the first point made in this article about Trump and how he didn’t start the (Norse) fire.  The Norsefire group were the real villains of the movie.  Ultra-conservative, fascistic, nationalistic, and they were Christian supremacists to boot.  They started off as a minor political faction with no leverage at all, but a series of opportunities of questionable coincidences elevated them through fear to rule the government.  And what the movie shows better than the comic series is how they got there.  Look past the drama of the starring characters and you’ll see a story that is starting to get played out now.  The only real questions to ask, then, are: when will the rest of you see it, and then what will you be doing about it?
Well there you have it.  It may be my 50th birthday but you guys get the gifts.  Enjoy!