Archive for September, 2008

The Casino Economy

Posted: September 28, 2008 in Economics, Politics

Rape me once, shame on you; rape me twice, actually still shame on you. That’s what the financial bailout looks like to me: a repeated raping of taxpayers in the form of looting the treasury of money not even yet there. Arms and legs indeed. There is lots of spilt ink on the bailout plan, most of which I don’t trust. However, Ran Prieur has a couple prescient points about the bailout plan on which I want to comment (here rather than on his blog since it doesn’t allow comments).

The point I expect to make over and over is that money is not wealth. The houses are still here. There are still farms to grow food and trucks to haul it to supermarkets. The challenge is to keep those systems going, or improvise replacements, through chaos and upheaval in the money system.

That money is not wealth is true in principle, but in practice, the process of rediscovery that wealth accrues to means of production and distribution would be a long and arduous one. If the immediate paper money incentive for bothering to work were eroded severely (through hyperinflation) or even wiped away, the bulk of the American population is unprepared to return to a mostly agrarian subsistence as occurred in Russia with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tumult would be extraordinary.

I will be shocked if the $700,000,000,000 bailout does not pass, because it’s such a beautiful opportunity for a massive abuse ritual. On a spiritual level, the purpose of this world, or at least the purpose of this age of human society, is to seduce people into making an emotional investment in something they have no control over, and then torturing them with disappointment. If every ordinary American is outraged by the bailout, they have to pass it, just to grind our faces in our own powerlessness.

Funny how using all the zeros behind $700 billion makes a point without even trying. Jared Diamond wrote about the practice of tribute in tribal cultures. Today, we don’t really question funneling money to the rich, powerful, and famous because their riches, power, and fame function as circular justifications. The stakes today are also considerable greater than with tribal cultures. Riches and power in particular are being consolidated into the hands of a very few, which is quite unhealthy for both them and the rest of us. The comment that it has grown into a “massive abuse ritual” is accurate, I think, and it erupts periodically as an opportunity to remind us of our learned helplessness.

I’m not going to bother with who exactly all this money is being paid to, because if you take a step back, money concentration is just a symbol for power concentration, and power concentration has already reached its practical limits. We fear a society full of police and soldiers telling us what to do, but consider how inefficient that is, compared to a society where we do everything voluntarily. When the control system has to point a gun at you, you know it’s almost finished.

It’s yet unclear how much more central control the people — or sheeple, as they’re often called — will accept. Because the violence and intimidation is right now limited to a few agitators, demonstrators, and resident aliens, many Americans are either flatly unconcerned or believe that “those people get what they ask for.” So in fact, there’s considerably more excess possible before a practical limit is reached engendering inefficiency would convince Americans that they must act.

It’s actually a rather strange notion to me that concentrated power would founder on inefficiency, of all things, considering how fascism is legion through history for eliminating levels of bureaucracy and decision making. Despotic leaders determine a course of action and waive away objections and oversight, which makes the objective far more efficient. That’s the purpose behind sequestering the bailout plan from judicial or congressional interference.

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Sudden Socialism

Posted: September 21, 2008 in Economics, Politics, Socialism

The news from Wall Street and Washington this past week is jaw dropping only if you have been living under a rock or in complete denial for the past several years. (Another possibility is that you have drunk the market fundamentalism Kool-Aid and are intoxicated by the manic swings.) If instead you’ve been paying attention, the news comes with a resigned inevitability and is surprising only in its timing and degree. The largest irony is that the party that succeeded for generations by trumpeting the small government and low taxes memes is now in its desperation suddenly undertaking one of the largest experiments in socialism in the nation’s history. It must be a little embarrassing that our leadership’s incipient fascism has gotten so bogged down in its own corruption that it’s been forced to transform itself into the enemy. So far there has been scant mention of tax increases to fund our new socialist policies, but that can’t be far off.

How many large corporations eyeball deep in debt are considered too big to fail and must be converted into public trusts? At least three so far. But they may merely be the vanguard — the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Failing boldly where no men have gone before, those entrusted with overseeing the nation’s economic health and wellbeing are now in triage with their patient, hoping that a massive transfusion will keep the patient alive long enough to die another day.

It’s a bad deal, of course, but perhaps a necessary one lest we inadvertently suck the entire global financial system down the drain with us. Already this year the Fed has lost control of the money supply by loaning excessive amounts into existence, chasing bad bets with even worse bets, and in the process raising the stakes precipitously high. It’s unclear whether a reliable prognosis can be rendered, as further shocks are anticipated as evidenced by the ban on short selling. But trapped between a handful of really awful immediate consequences, maybe this gambit is the least destructive one, as long as the house of cards manages to stand for a while longer.

Update: More and more people and pundits are saying that the proposed bailout (hasn’t quite happened yet, but it’s likely to) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or socialism under the skin. This article has a good historical analysis. There are checks and balances to thwart this power and money grab by the Bush Administration, if only they would spring into action.

Stripper Pole Aerobics

Posted: September 14, 2008 in Health, Tacky

Riding the Chicago L last week, I noticed an advertisement for the fitness and health club Crunch, which offers, of all things, aerobics classes based on using stripper poles. The ad depicted two women hanging upside-down from stripper poles. While the women were wearing workout clothes, they also wore stilettos. You know the kind: impossibly high heels and platforms that are useless for walking (and working out) but practically scream “fuck me!” My guess is that those shoes were for the photo but aren’t used much in the class. They’re just impractical.

Poking around a bit, I learned that Crunch offers several other sexed-up “dance” classes and that they have been in existence for some years already, though perhaps not yet long enough to create the trend or sensation one might expect. Here are some of the descriptions (free advertising for Crunch):

“Dream Girls” — Dreams live forever in this dance class inspired by the upcoming feature film Dream Girls, starring Beyonce, Jaime Foxx, and Eddie Murphy. Become your own shining star by learning Motown-inspired dance routines from the movie.

Boa Burlesque — Use a boa as your prop, as you learn a sexy new burlesque dance routine each week.

Dirty Dancing — Learn choreography from this classic movie that’s now a hit on the Chicago stage. Cast members from the show will be stopping by to teach you the moves you need to become the next Johnny and Baby.

Go–Go — Grab your white go-go boots and prance like the Pussycat Dolls in this super sexy/cute dance class inspired by the mod swingers of the 60’s. Learn to shake, pop, and twerk in this hot calorie-blasting hour.

Pole Dancing — The dancer’s pole isn’t just for professionals anymore. This challenging and sexy class combines intense upper body and core strength, coordination, and balance to turn even the shyest performers into toned and sultry vixens.

Stiletto Strength — Bring Your Own Heels and strut your stuff runway style in this calf-boosting, posture-building, cat-walking diva class.

Strip Bar — Welcome to the happy hour of sexy, hot cardio. This class takes Striptease to the next level with the body bar as your prop. Oh yeah, we’ll make you sweat.

Turning Tricks — We should pay YOU for this class that mixes the swinging and spinning of advanced Pole Dancing with the hottest Strip Bar choreography.

I’m sure one can get an indecent a good workout while adding in-your-face sexual context. After all, many health clubs are pretty straightforward meat markets. And there is certainly no lack of patrons and staff who quite enjoy preening before the mirrors and being ogled by others. I suppose if folks get a kick out of being teased and toyed with, which keeps them coming back, then perhaps sexy dance classes work better as motivation than more prosaic weight, yoga, step, and spin classes.

However, I’m still a little appalled that Crunch offers so many variations on the theme of sexy dancing. Although classes may be unisex, they appear to be directed specifically to women. Maybe it’s all good, clean fun, but aren’t such overt displays of one’s sexuality anathema to feminism’s attempts to retrain men not to objectify women and to retrain women not to offer themselves so willingly for that objectification (except perhaps in private, as opposed to a public dance class)? It’s commonplace these days to adopt the language or behavior of the oppressor to empower oneself, but uninhibited sexual expression can be like a minefield, provoking undesired responses.

It’s fair to say that we don’t really know much about healthy sexuality in the U.S. We’re all mixed up about it, considering our Puritan roots and prudery compared to much of the rest of the globe. Add an omnipresent hypersexuality to things, and the mixed message is just plain bizarre.