Deserving Bliss

I set down to watch a new movie on Amazon Prime the other day with the Wife.

Bliss (2021)

We only made it about 15 minutes into the movie before she says “I’m bored. Next film.” I know why she said it because she said as much when we watched the trailer. “I get a real Vanilla Sky feel from this one. I doubt I’ll like it.” So we stopped watching the movie and we turned instead to watching another movie we’d skipped over a dozen times or more by this point.

What that movie was really isn’t relevant to this article. This article is about the journey I went on when she got up and went to bed, and I turned back to Bliss in order to see if it really was anything like Vanilla Sky. When I finished the movie I was pretty sure that “like Vanilla Sky” wasn’t far off the mark as far as judgment calls go. But I had to be sure, and that started the real journey.

This article contains detailed spoilers. You have been warned.
Continue reading “Deserving Bliss”

Unpowered Center

This is the way I saw the structure when I first noticed it under construction two decades ago, driving through one of the many new power centers that were popping up at the edges of Austin. I didn’t see it as the empty shell that would soon be filled with consumer goods that the average tech junkie would be clamoring for. I saw it as it sits now, a building that was aged and worn from twenty years of hard use, cast aside like an empty cardboard container that only existed to hold a transitory meal of convenience. A tribute to the vanity of consumer culture, unloved and abandoned.

spotify

This is life in the city. The structures that seem to erupt suddenly out of the landscape and briefly exist as bustling hives of industry that are almost as suddenly vacant and decaying, a blight on the landscape that was perfectly fine the way it was before the bulldozers showed up to turn a farmer’s field into a parking lot. What, exactly, did this structure offer that wasn’t available at the local mall? The local mall that is now also abandoned or repurposed into something else?

Now the power centers sit just as idle as the malls started doing a decade and more ago, and the real estate developers are looking for the next big thing that they can get us all to go to and spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the same behavioral patterns that hollowed out the centers of our cities back in the sixties and seventies. Maybe it is time to stop seeking the next new, shiny thing and take a look around at what already exists that we can make suit the needs of the moment. Let the corporations and the land developers starve. The people don’t need them if they can’t serve the needs of today.

Trumpism Abides

Republicans who sought to undercut or overturn President Joe Biden’s election win are launching campaigns to become their states’ top election officials next year, alarming local officeholders and opponents who are warning about pro-Trump, “ends justify the means” candidates taking big roles in running the vote.

politico

This really isn’t news. Not really. Trumpists been beating this dead horse since the election last November, not just since the attempted coup on January 6th:

This is why I muse about the question of allowing Republicans or their intellectual inheritors to ever regain power in the United States in this article:

…and then agitate for instituting jungle (blanket) primaries in every single state in the Union before 2022. We don’t have a choice. Either we open up the system and destroy the possibility of minority rule in the US forever, or we embrace the idea that we like overlords telling us what to do. Embrace it, because that is what we will get if we ever let the Trumpists that Republicans have turned into back into power. If we allow the possibility of minority rule by any one group of Americans, then someone will seek to wield that power for their group. This is a no-joke emergency we are caught up in right now.

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If you elect those who hate and fear government to run government, then you’re going to get a government of hate and fear.

Stonekettle

Fear Unaccounted For

I’ve found myself yelling at podcasters and news hosts for the last week or so as they muse about what is keeping people from going back to work. Strangers stare at me in the park as I appear to be yelling at myself. It is not an attractive behavior. Even my family is worried about my mental health.

It isn’t the unemployment benefits that Republicans and the Right are self-defeatingly targeting in their red states:

All Things Considered – Conservative Economist Blames High Unemployment On ‘Richer’ Benefits – May 16, 2021

…and it isn’t the minimum wage being too low, as the Democrats and the Left are asserting:

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The wages are too low, but that isn’t even half of the equation. Fear dominates the markets right now. Breadwinners aren’t willing to go out and risk death for any wage if they don’t have to. Their families rely on them to keep them all afloat. So they will wait and make sure the water of commerce is safe before they will re-enter it.

If you want people to get back to work you are going to have to convince them that their families will not starve without them if they were to die doing whatever it is they do for a living. For example: we need to expand and increase survivor’s benefits from Social Security so that every American who has a family that relies on them for their survival will be able to be at peace with the fact that at least their families will be cared for in the future.

If we did this, insured that families would not go hungry or homeless if the breadwinner dies, and we increased the wages, then you would see people returning to work in droves. Without it you will have to bribe them with dollar figures much higher than what businesses are offering now. A few piddling extra thousand dollars ain’t going to entice people back into the workforce, and making the poor suffer will only make you, the state leadership, the target of their suffering. Look to see red states become more purple in the future if that behavior continues.

This episode of On The Media:

On the Media – The Ghosts of the Rust Belt – May 14, 2021

…will explain everything you need to know about the delusion that Americans have ever had good, steady jobs that paid well. The haven’t and they won’t until they get smart about politics and economics.

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Featured image: What is Thalassophobia?

Manly Hair

My dad came to me in a dream last night. He was disappointed in me. He wanted to know why I didn’t want to be a man. He and his first son were outraged that I wouldn’t conform, wouldn’t want to be a man like they were.

Then he told me my hair was too long and he demanded I get a haircut from his favorite barber, just like he always did when he hadn’t seen me in a long time. I told him no. No I will not go get my hair cut, I will cut my own hair. Don’t you know that there is a plague still raging out there?

He sort of goggled at the notion of my doing the work myself and after thinking about it for awhile he asked me what I though he should do with his hair. I looked at his hair in my dream. It wasn’t the hair that was on his head on the day he died. That hair was smooth and white. This man’s hair was even patchier than mine has become. I told him I would cut that hair even shorter than he usually wore it. Wear that age with pride, I said.

He cried then and hugged me, and I wondered to myself that if he had only showed that kind of caring and vulnerability more often when I was young and impressionable, I might have been more willing to see myself as a man when I became an adult.

Battlefield Casualties?

facebook/Stonekettle

What kills me is he’s surprised this was how it turned out. Did he honestly think that attacking Congress and trying to stop the government from doing the thing it has a clear mandate to do was going to be something that government would just forget? Did he think that attempting a coup was a thing he wouldn’t be punished for?

This idiocy has happened time and time again through history. People talk themselves into believing that they will be better under a different government; and then even when they succeed in destroying the previous government, they are appalled to discover that governing takes blood and treasure to carry out, even in the best of times. The failed revolutions are far more numerous than the successful ones, and the people in power never forgive and forget. Not if they want to stay in power.

It’s almost like these Trumpists, anarchists and conservatives have never heard of the Whiskey Rebellion. You know the one. That rebellion where the subjects of the first US tax thought they could just do a repeat on the revolution and George Washington had to personally explain that they were going to have to die if they didn’t give up this cause they had declared war on the US over? Made them all swear oaths to the Union and locked a few of the leaders up for their trouble? Yeah, we’ve done this a few times now, historically. You’d think they’d learn eventually. Apparently not.

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Eternity vs. Finality

“Join us in undeath” she said, in a quavering voice. It was definitely a female voice. I was just as sure that I had misheard her.

“Beg pardon?” I asked.

“Give in to the truth.” she whispered. “Join us in undeath.”

“I’m afraid I can’t understand you. Are you saying you are not alive? Then how are you speaking?”

“Many things speak that have not life.” The voice replied. “Do the rocks not shout their permanence at you? Does the water not speak of eternal motion? Is it so hard to believe in undeath?”

“Well, since you put it that way” I said “why don’t the things that speak as you suggest not use words that I can understand?”

“Can you not understand permanence? Can you not comprehend endless motion?”

“I began and I will end.” I said. “That is the truth that I know. What can I really know of permanence? What temporary being can comprehend eternity? I can grasp the concepts. I can’t really know the meaning.”

“Then join us.” The voice repeated. “Join us in undeath.”

“Let’s say I believe you are undead.” I replied. “What does that mean? Do you have substance? I can’t see you.”

“We are all around you. You cannot see us because your impermanence will not let you see. You have but to speak assent, and you will be one of us.”

“I will assume then that you do have substance. Are you confined within that substance forever? Or can you change what you are?”

“We are not water and we are not rocks. We are neither permanence nor fluidity. We are undeath.”

“Ah. So you are defined by what you are not. You are the alternative to death?”

“We are undeath”

“Yes. I think we’ve established that fact.”

“Do not mock that which you cannot understand.”

“No offense intended. I beg your pardon ma’am. I just want to know why this choice is being offered to me now?”

“All who face death are offered this choice at their moment of transition.”

“You mean my time is up then?” I hadn’t thought about where or when I was until this very moment. Where was I? It wasn’t home, wherever this place was. It was too… fuzzy. Worse than my usual myopia. Were those my bookshelves? No. No, mine were not that large. Or were they smaller than mine? Were they even shelves? Bars, maybe? It was so damn hard to see. Where were my glasses? I started to reach out and realized that I had no arms. I didn’t have legs either, now that I tried to move those. They were simply not present. I started to panic. “What has happened to my body? Where am I?”

“Your people have many names for this place. The place of transition? Translation? Perhaps you wait for the ferryman? Purgatory? It is hard to say what concept that you would find meaningful in its description. It is the place of gathering. It is the place of weighing and judging. All come here before taking their place in the universe.”

“My wife and children? Are they here too?”

“All come here before taking their place.”

“Are they here now?”

“All come here before taking their place.”

“Can I see them? Can I talk to them?”

“This is your time and place. Yours and yours alone. Choose now.”

“All right then. What are my choices?”

“Ending or remaining are your choices. Choose.”

I contemplated existence. It had been a good life. She was beautiful, my wife. Maybe not beautiful to other people, but beautiful to me. She showed up just when I needed her in life, and stayed with me through all the ups and downs. We had beautiful children. They grew and moved on and had their own children.

I had work that had been rewarding. I had made the world a better place, I hoped anyway. It had been a good life. “What is there here that would make me want to stay here?” I asked.

“There is continued existence.” The voice said. It sounded impatient now. Demanding. “You will not cease to be and will continue on as you are now. Choose.”

I surveyed my existence. I couldn’t really see. There was little to hear other than the voice. What feeling there was was vague, but not unpleasant. It was a feeling like the edge of sleep. I could go on dreaming like this forever if I wanted. Surveying the landscape of my past life, possibly glancing other times and worlds. “Is this all that there is here?” I asked.

“Choose.” said the voice. It was definitely impatient now.

I wanted to see Terry again. I wanted to see her and Susan and Bill. To see them and their kids. I wanted to see mom and dad again, though they have been dead for years now. Now? What is now anyway? Eternal presence? I wanted to see my grandparents again, lost to me so long ago that their faces are blurred by time itself. I wanted to live, but living was over. Living was not a choice that I had now.

“Let me go,” I said.

“The choice has been made.” said the voice.

There was a blinding light. I blinked my eyes. There was a field in front of me. In the distance I could see Terry and the kids, and their kids in front of them. Behind them was mom and dad and their parents and their parents, parents waiting. Waiting in a field of flowers.

I had made the right choice. I ran to them with open arms and they opened their arms for me in anticipation. “I’m free,” I thought. “I’m fr…”

Afterword

This is the kind of thing that sprouts up in your head after you’ve spent a solid 36 hours straight turning other players and non-player characters into zombies during the pre-patch event for Shadowlands. Featured image is a screencap from the Shadowlands cinematic trailer.

Break Up Big Tech?

I keep hearing that phrase. We need to break up big tech. Today Robert Reich released a video about it.

Facebook – RBReich

It is easy to say “break up big tech”, But how do you do it? We don’t want a bunch of balkanized Facebooks that don’t share a common user base. What would be the point of that? Should Whatsapp and Instagram be peeled off of Facebook? Without a doubt. Those purchases should never have been allowed in the first place, and Facebook should be required to open up its API so that outside contributors can get access to Facebook’s user base. But is that breaking up Facebook?

The same is true of Amazon. You could break storage and delivery services up, but then you increase the cost to the purchaser. Is Amazon proving its worth during the crisis? Without a doubt. What people who talk about Bezos’ wealth always leave out is how much he pays himself for his time. $81,840 is his actual salary (h/t to BusinessInsider.com) There are far, far worse CEOs in the world. Truly deplorable people who not only shouldn’t be wealthy, but should also probably be in prison (yes, I am looking at you Donald Trump and all you little Trumps and Kushners, too) The fact that Amazon has increased in value during the pandemic is an economic affirmation of Amazon’s real worth, as opposed to the imaginary value of stocks on the stock market as a whole.

How many CEOs get paid hundreds of millions to run companies that haven’t increased in value by billions of dollars? Maybe we should be looking at taking away their lavish compensation packages. Clearly they don’t deserve the kind of money that they are being paid.

In the same vein with Amazon and are the co-owners of Google. They too don’t get paid lavish salaries. Like Facebook, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, should have its investments put under a microscope, and some of their shadier advertising practices should be subject to fines, because they are already illegal. But how do you break up a search engine and not render it useless for conducting searches?

Breaking up monopolies only works if those monopolies are artificial monopolies. We established this with the breakups that were forced on Standard Oil and AT&T in previous decades. Rockefeller still made out just fine after Standard Oil was broken up, and most of those companies have merged again into the behemoth known as Exxonmobil. Why aren’t they charging usurious prices now that they’ve re-established their near-monopoly status? Because they aren’t the only players on the block when it comes to energy production, and they know they could be broken up again.

AT&T also reformed itself, and few people seem to care or even notice that it happened. Why? Because the problem, the cost of long-distance phone calls, went away with the creation of mobile phone technology.

So what is the solution? Regulation. We need to be writing regulations to guide these internet companies going forward. That means we need a government that functions at the legislative level, and we need a government that can’t be bribed by industry. In short, the average American needs to stand up and make government pay attention to them and not pay attention to the companies waving dollars in their faces. Replace the representatives that have been shown to be too easy on businesses, that can be shown to be too comfortable taking large sums of money from corporate donors.

We need to institute a standard of employee ownership of every publicly held corporation, ensuring that workers in any company will be paid what the workers think is a fair wage. Completely change the nature of worker/employer relations by giving the employees a seat at the management table. That will help address the problems of homeless working poor.

But we need more than that, too. Rental costs in cities are too high. Property valuations are completely out of whack. As I’ve heard a number of times in my podcasts this week, macroeconomics is broken. We can’t explain what it is we are experiencing as we go through this pandemic, from an economic perspective.

We need to focus on the here and now. How do we keep people in their homes when they have no income and no job prospects on the horizon? How do we keep people fed? Those are the most important questions right now. We’ll get to Bezos and his billions later, he can be assured of that. Let’s deal with the crisis in front of us first. We might need his help with that.

John Kasich Defends Supporting Obama and TPP

Governor John KasichWhite House Briefing Room September 16, 2016

This is the guy who knew he should have been the nominee. Who I knew should have been the nominee. He’s standing around in the empty coliseum after the Trump primary landslide saying,

You got me, that was a funny joke. The party went nuts and nominated the known fakir. OK, I laughed. Come back in and nominate the only sane guy who isn’t named Bush. Hello? Is this thing on? No, really, jokes over. Guys?

What he needs to figure out is, he is in the wrong party.

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Monsanto Defrauded Investors, Court Rewards Executive?

Reuters

The Securities and Exchange Commission has fined Monsanto $80 million for defrauding investors by misstating its earnings and awarded more than $22 million to the former Monsanto executive who blew the whistle and tipped off the SEC.

Sounds fair until you realize the $80 million penalty mainly hurt Monsanto shareholders, some of whom were defrauded by Monsanto’s earnings misstatement. And the $22 million award goes to an executive whose own pay was likely pumped up by the fraud.

Unless and until the government begins to hold executives personally liable for corporate misdeeds, those misdeeds will continue.

What do you think? – Robert Reich on Facebook

This is a drop in the bucket compared to the big problem businesses, like the banks. I don’t see boards being held accountable anytime soon. More likely would be the revising of corporate law to constrain corporate practices in particular ways; say limiting maximum compensation to some multiple of the lowest paid worker, or requiring the corporation to spend x% of gross revenues on charitable works.

Facebook status backdated to the blog.