Archive for January, 2017

Prometheus

January 28, 2017

Prometheus stole fire from the heavenly lord and shared it with mere mortals. For this the lord condemned him to never ending torture. The Argentine thinker Jorge Luis Borges is partial to “universal” themes, believing there are only so many different ones which are repeated through history and within different cultures. This one may once again be coming into its own. In the days following the US inauguration, some demonstrators ascended a construction crane and unfurled a large “Resist” banner. In those first days after the swearing in there were many national and DC, as well as world wide demonstrations, most notably the Women’s March. Were these acts of resistance? Were they effective? After the passage of the Patriot Act many questioned whether resistance was even possible. Indeed the scope and intensity of any demonstrations world wide (including the US) was greatly dampened. The covert desire for resistance appears to be growing, yet is it politically possible? Commenting on the White House’s Steve Bannon’s claim that the news media is the opposition, the Washington Post’s Mark Shields stated this appeared to be an accurate assessment – there are no Democrat majority state governments to be found between the few that are situated on either coast (PBS Newshour 1-27-17). Political resistance appears de facto impossible. But what if we reinterpreted the current administration as being one of a corporate merger? Indeed, not only the nation’s chief executive but most of his cabinet are former business executives or associates of that largesse. What if instead of resistance politically, we consider resistance to brand hegemony? Historically, within the US, there are many instances of brand hegemony. Coca Cola was ubiquitous over a half century ago. Even the movie Dr. Strangelove referenced its esteemed precedence to the US government. In Italy it was claimed the logo was more widespread than crucifixes. Other brands, like Levi, Sony and ultimately Microsoft, influenced not only individuals, culture and national policy but also international relations and exchange. Resistance to brand dominance may be difficult but it has shown to be quite doable. What of the blatant merger of commercial branding with political governance, something as yet not witnessed by the world? Prometheus stole the lord’s fire and shared it with mortals, in essence making it generic. A brand’s identity centers on equating it exclusively with some quality, thereby instilling the myth of greater value. To be generic is to upset that equation, for one item or service is as effective as another, with some difference but little exceptionalism. The current administration is striving mightily with its opposition, the news media, in order to establish its brand—exclusive identity with quality leadership for the intended myth of inherent value. Notice the 45th president’s language. It is filled with superlatives and hyperbole (even “factual hyperbole”) for what favors the establishment of his brand, denigration and vehement vitriol for anything inhibiting that brand identity. The news media compulsively and obsessively counters with attacks on this new “exceptionalism,” with its strange take on facts, truth and ego. Each reference to the “exceptionalism” of the new administration only bolsters the administration’s quest for brand identity, contributes towards the creation of its brand identity. No resistance to be found here with this kind of “opposition.” Resistance appears to be found, rather, with the demystification and disintegration of exceptionalism and its exclusivity. What if we used the president’s superlatives and hyperbole to describe generic occurrences, everyday events? Like Prometheus, we need to steal the fire of exceptionalism and share it with the everyday. Acts of creativity and ingenuity, done because they are possible, are much more effective resistance to corporate brand government than any hoped for political machinations within the Republican Party. What an amazing and incredible night’s sleep was had in our fantastic bed! Everyone should be so blessed. Could a $2,000 a night hotel mattress supply a better night’s rest? The generic resists the brand mystique. It steals the fire of exceptionalism and exclusivity. Then again, there’s always the vengeful lord’s never ending torture to contend with. But that’s a story for another day.

Alternative Facts Indeed!

January 25, 2017

Media world is all abuzz these days over “Alternative facts” with Amazon showing George Orwell’s 1984 shooting to number one in sales and many journalists (finally?) taking a stance and calling “alternative facts” just plain lies. Double speak or lies, facts don’t exist in a vacuum but are always found clustered with many of their friends and associates – namely context and environment. Analysis finds the following “tale of the tape” to exemplify the way facts change with regard to context: How many times has this blog quoted former president of Licking County Commissioners, Tim Bubb, as saying “We just can’t afford that.” One case of the “that” is public transportation, especially in the metro Newark area. 1-25-17 The Plain Dealer’s Ginger Christ headlines Public transit funding crucial in strengthening Ohio, report says. “In the report, Policy Matters, a nonprofit organization funded by foundations and community groups, points to the tax cuts made under Governor John Kasich as partially at the root of the state’s troubles in education, workforce, poverty and hunger.” “Ohio funds only 1 percent of public transportation in the state. Yet, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Transit Needs Study said the state should provide 10 percent of transit’s funding.” Same day Jackie Borchardt of Cleveland.com headlines New scorecards show fiscal health of Ohio’s cities and counties, covering Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s recently released report. Same day, same story only reported by AP in the Newark Advocate headlined State auditor report shows stressed Newark finances. “The auditor’s scorecard measured 17 “financial health indicators” for all 247 cities and 88 counties in Ohio. In each area, local governments were awarded a green, yellow or red mark to indicate a positive, cautionary or critical outlook, respectively, from data last collected in 2015.” (Borchardt) “Historical data indicates entities with at least six “critical” indicators or a combination of eight “critical” and “cautionary” indicators have ended up in a state of high fiscal stress, according to Yost. Newark had five cautionary indicators and two critical indicators for a total of seven.” (AP) Analysis looked at the database and found that Licking County was all green save for one category yellow – “for its ratio of debt service expenditures to total revenue.” (AP) Debt service is what is involved with long term loans or bonds, as in capital improvements. “”It’s an arbitrary set of standards they’ve applied to cities and counties,” Bubb said. “It’s just a number they pick. I take it as a good report for Licking County. I think it’s a compliment to us.”” (AP) 1-16-17 The Dayton Daily News’ Will Garbe and Laura A. Bischoff headlined RTA, other transit authorities could lose strike option Local lawmakers say RTA strike’s impacts shouldn’t be repeated and the state needs to take action. [RTA is Regional Transit Authority, akin to Licking County’s save it has fixed scheduled routes within Dayton, etc.] “Two state House Republicans intend to introduce legislation to prohibit Ohio’s public transit unions from starting strikes like the one suffered last week by the Greater Dayton RTA, the Dayton Daily News has learned. State Reps. Mike Henne and Jeff Rezabek — both Republicans from Clayton — intend to “introduce legislation requiring transit employee unions and local transit authorities to submit to binding community arbitration,” according to an internal Ohio House memo obtained by the newspaper.” Shades of Senate Bill 5! Some of the reasoning quoted by the Daily News is significant: ““I think we need to have a discussion around the best solution to make sure this can never happen again,” said Antani [State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg], who worked to bring the parties to the table on the eve of the strike. “Just like police and fire, the RTA is an essential service for these people trying to get to work and provide a livelihood to their families.”” “The memo from Henne illustrates the impact of strikes not only on riders, but “businesses and the local economy by preventing employees from getting to work and consumers from reaching their destinations.” “With police and fire, we do not allow them to strike and we require them to go to binding arbitration because they provide a service that cannot be interrupted,” Henne said in an interview. “My contention is the regional transit authorities have an economic value to the community that should not be interrupted.”” According to the database of Yost’s recent report, the city of Dayton is akin to Licking County – all green with one cautionary yellow. But Montgomery County, location of the RTA, is not, having three yellows, the rest green. Is public transportation “essential service”, vital to “businesses and the local economy” by getting employees to work and consumers to their destinations – “a service that cannot be interrupted”? If so, what does Commissioner Bubb base his refusal of Public Transportation priority on? Analysis finds that facts within context would indicate that Newark’s financial stress would be greatly relieved if the County Commissioners, who meet (and sit) in the county seat, would substantially invest in expanded and fixed schedule public transportation “an essential service for these people trying to get to work and provide a livelihood to their families.” Alternative facts indeed!

Post Inaugural Musings

January 22, 2017

What a tickle to think that the news media got their photo journalism wrong. The images of Yuuuge crowds in Washington DC dated the 21st were actually from the day before while those dated the 20th were from the following day. The news media just can’t get it right. Not to be trusted. So sad. The new administration will banish them from the White House and put the news media across the road. Like the marines, a seat at the press corps table will be accorded only to those who have shown themselves worthy – a few good men! Analysis witnessed further screw ups on the part of the press. Coverage of the made-up, non-existent demonstrations that took place in DC on the 20th was accompanied by audio describing the violence as perpetrated by people “dressed in black with their faces covered to shield their identity.” The images mistakenly showed the Washington riot police, dressed in black with face shields in place. Analysis goes off on tangents over the press’s repeated reporting of a populist president who actually didn’t win the popular vote. No problem. What’s a couple of million amongst patriots in need of coming together? Those people who appeared at the demonstration in Washington (whichever/whatever date you choose) should have voted. Why didn’t they? The XQ Institute runs a TV ad showing factory work and workers from the 1930’s as well as high schools from the 50’s. Their accompanying audio goes something like “High schools were designed to be great training for factory employment. Let’s rethink it.” With the recently inaugurated president’s emphasis on factory work, does that mean we will see a return to the public high schools of the 50’s? And what about school house rock? Analysis finds these rifts of fantasy to reveal a thread extending back through the populist president’s mentor, and assistant to Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn. Those of you still able to keep score at home without your smart phone may recall the inquisition methodology from that time. After showing proof that the suspect bought a newspaper from a street urchin, the charge became one of associating with a known communist. Who knew the news boy was a red? Ya gotta look at the shoe laces! Fast forward to today. Who ya gonna believe, the news media or our amazing successful president?

Seat At The Table

January 20, 2017

The news of the last two months has been over charged with speculation and imagination as to “what the new administration will be like, do, etc.” In less than 24 hours the news will be what the new administration IS like, doing, etc. On the cusp of the change Washington DC’s The Hill reports “Trump team prepares dramatic cuts” by Alexander Bolton (1-19-17). “Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.” “The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.” “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.” In parallel articles on this speculation, Deadline Hollywood claims that these three entities received .016% of the $4.6 trillion US budget in FY2016. Artnews reports that the NEA’s portion is .003%. The Hill goes on to state: “At the Department of Justice, the [Heritage Foundation] blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions. At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” Last week The Advocate ran a routine announcement: “The Newark Think Tank on Poverty will have a general meeting from… Plans for 2017 will be discussed.” Along with many events, the weekend’s icy weather also cancelled this meeting. Analysis finds the final line of its announcement to be more than prescient. The Think Tank’s mission is to obtain “a seat at the table” that concerns its participants – Job and Family Services policy making, Food Pantry distribution decisions, public transportation initiatives, etc. Analysis shows that planning for 2017 may be time well spent by organizations like The Newark Think Tank. Speculative news reporting culminating in what The Hill just presented definitely interrogate whether it is safe to assume that there even will be a table to vie for a seat at in the new administration.

All Dressed Up With No Bear To Go

January 16, 2017

Analysis can’t help but reflect on the closing of the Lil Bear in Downtown Newark. Yikes! This kind of reflective Analysis is a sign of aging. Didn’t anyone see it coming or was it as much a surprise as the passage of years on the critical writing of this blog? Does short term problem solving totally pre-empt long term thinking in the demands of today’s new capitalism? When this blog began the court house square in Newark was a counterclockwise one way, there were residential properties between Locust and the freeway, Canal Market was a parking lot and the Children’s Home was still standing on East Main Street. OK so The Advocate did an end of year countdown of “improvements” to Newark (a good bit of it new restaurants and businesses opening where others had previously been). But prior to the recent accomplishments, at the start of this blog, there were information news releases promoted by Grow Licking County, Downtown Business Association, Newark Development Partners, etc. And “consumer’s choice” sessions held at the hotel (same building, different name), library, etc. where residents could view various plans for projects and “pick” the development they preferred (not that it made any difference, but it was projected to feel like it did). As essayed in those early postings, the emphasis on the part of the planners and developers was to get people downtown. And the best way (according to the developers) was to make it easier for automobiles to do that (the idea of self-driving cars was still a ways off. Self-shopping cars to come?). A deaf ear or blind eye was turned to any conversation or serious consideration of any other form of mobility and access – pedestrian, bicycle, wheel chair, etc. The “choices” for decisions re: the square, one way street changes, downtown entrance/egress, were primarily cosmetic. It was already decided to tear down the Children’s Home, save the old jail in its stead, fulfill a philanthropist’s dream for the adjacent Canal Market, etc. etc. etc. All this was promised to bring the young urban hipsters into the downtown (again?), with tax credits and abatements renovating long vacant (and rotting) second and third floor building spaces so they’d have a place to rent. The new Canal Market District Farmers Market would make Newark a destination shopping attraction. Well, that market doesn’t open for at least another 6 months. What destination shopping attraction will the young urban hipsters (as well as ensconced area residents) utilize in the meantime when it comes to getting groceries and household necessities?  The food pantry outlets are already strained. Analysis would surmise that those with private transportation, cars (the developer’s preferred means of transportation), will use the new planned thoroughfares to access marginal shopping destinations for their everyday necessities. The attraction of downtown living was touted as ease of walking to jobs, not needing a car, etc. True, Analysis was amongst those who criticized much of the urban planning involved – the discipline and punish icon of the old pokey over the care and nurture history of the Children’s Home, the lack of pedestrian priority, the lack of public transportation to accompany the development, etc. Others, at the time, critiqued the process involved as well as the plan with the possibilities of failure. Unfortunately, no one bothered to imagine success. What if the new urban plan succeeded? The vast planned capital improvement project that is downtown Newark today implicated the end of the Lil Bear. Success is articulated through the fruition of the downtown’s capital improvement planning. Unfortunately for the Lil Bear, the onus was on “capital improvement”. Would the tax credits, abatements, and incentives that the McClain’s, Wallace’s, Layman’s and Argyle’s received have made any difference to the inevitable extinction of the Lil Bear (and others that likewise went belly up and departed)? Not. That would have required planning around human activities and processes, something that capital investment, by definition, ignores. What does success look like? What is it to live in this planned success projected for an actual human social community? Will all this capital invested in the downtown leave Newark all dressed up with nowhere to go?

Hail To The Chief (Of Promotion And Sales)

January 4, 2017

In his introduction to The Culture of the New Capitalism (2006) Richard Sennett reasons out what he imagines will be the subject of his book. “Only a certain kind of human being can prosper in unstable, fragmentary social conditions. This ideal man or woman has to address three challenges.” “The first concerns time: how to manage short term relationships, and oneself, while migrating from task to task, job to job, place to place.” “The second challenge concerns talent: how to develop new skills, how to mine potential abilities, as reality’s demands shift.” “The third challenge follows from this. It concerns surrender; that is, how to let go of the past.” Ostensibly, this will result in “A self oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience is – to put a kindly face on the matter – an unusual sort of human being.” (pgs. 3-5) A little later on, in describing one of his studies that this work is an outcome of, he reiterates “Here I had the chance to see the cultural ideal of the new capitalism at its most robust, the boom suggesting that this new man/woman would get rich by thinking short term, developing his or her potential, and regretting nothing.” (pg. 7) Fair enough outcome of reasoning, as old as Plato, that usually is composed of ideas and eventually categorizes on ideals.

In a short essay entitled “From Someone to Nobody” (1950) Jorge Luis Borges follows a particular character, warp, or drift of thinking and reasoning. “To be one thing is inexorably not to be all the other things. The confused intuition of that truth has induced men to imagine that not being is more than being something and that, somehow, not to be is to be everything. That fallacy is inherent in the words of the legendary king of Hindustan who renounces power and goes out to beg in the streets: “From this day forward I have no realm or my realm is limitless, from this day forward my body does not belong to me or all the earth belongs to me.” Schopenhauer has written that history is an interminable and perplexing dream of human generations; in the dream are recurring forms, perhaps nothing but forms; one of them is the process described in this essay.”

Borges’ insight informs more than refutes Sennett’s imagining (as Sennett’s “factual” research findings are the “empirical” refutation, the stuff of the book). Though written over a half century ago, it also informs the ever recurring and repetitious “marketing” of the contemporary situation; why it is so necessary for current political leadership to promote and “sell” prosperity futures to an individual subject “oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience”. After all, if “not to be is to be everything” what need is there for competing alternatives, difference, compromise, or reason itself?