Friday, December 30, 2016

Further Musings on Bureaucratic Power: The Case of the Coop

Anyone interested in questions of why have to ask why the Board of Honest Weight authored legislation on limiting the number of staff members on the Board. The previous powers that be talked about conflict of interest though when a dispassionate analysis of such rhetoric was undertaken it was clear that their argument did not hold water. We could also ask the question of why membership, or a percentage of the membership at Honest Weight voted for changes in the bureaucracies by-laws.

I have not been privy to why the present Board did what previous the previous Board and the "Coop" powers wanted to do but didn't or couldn't. I can offer hypotheses, however, hypotheses grounded in how powers that be in bureaucracies generally behave.

Hypothesis 1: the Board was concerned about potential conflicts of interest whatever those potential conflicts of interest might be or are. The problem with this argument is that one has to wonder what those potential conflicts of interest might be since the Board does not evaluate the vast majority of staff at Honest Weight. Additionally, those the Board hires do not evaluate the majority of staff at Honest Weight. All of this rhetoric about conflicts of interest, by the way, raises or should raise questions about other potential or real conflicts of interest such as whether a conformity of opinion among the ruling elite constitutes a conflict of interest, whether close relations serving on the governing bodies of the "Coop" constitutes a conflict of interest, whether too many lawyers in the governing bodies of the "Coop" constitutes a conflict of ideological interest, whether the culture of conformity (see the Asch and Millgram studies) that develops among groups particularly ruling groups constitutes a conflict of interest, whether a conformity of interest among some on the Board constitutes a conflict of interest, and whether too close a relationship between members of the Board and those they hire constitutes a conflict of interest.

Hypothesis Two: Some members of the Board have a fear that too many staff on the ruling bodies of the "Coop" might propose and pass a living wage for "Coop" staff and/or return the "Coop" to what it once was, a worker owned Coop in which only those who worked could shop at the Coop for quality and healthful food. This hypothesis is interesting because it is based on the notion that most staff, presumably non managerial and administrative staff, don't have the ability to comprehend the economic realities of the "Coop" and act rationally on that knowledge. If true, it also reveals just what the Board and their allies at the "Coop" think of most of the staff and that is, if this hypotheses can be confirmed or not found faulty, not much. It is also interesting because it assumes that it is considered perfectly acceptable for "professionals" to act on their interests but not for non-professionals to do so. Personally, I think this hypothesis has a lot of merit because it jibes with the social science literature on how bureaucracies really function, how a culture of conformity is created in corporations, how power really works, and on how ideologies of professionalism develop and influence the operations of bureaucracies.

Putting aside, for the moment, the rationale of the Board in making the decision to exclude staff from having more than two seats on the Board, the main governing body of Honest Weight, this decision, empirically speaking, creates a two tiered membership system at the fauxop. It creates a system in which there are members who are not staff and who can serve on the Board with no restrictions and members who are staff and who are limited to only two seats on the Board. Such a two-tiered system is not in any way, shape, or form, democratic and puts the lie to the notion proclaimed by Honest Weight that it is democratic.

In a related matter I have heard form several sources that the Board is considering or has already decided to force paid member staff, staff who work sometimes between 20 to 40 hours a week at the "Coop", to do, in addition to this, member hours in order to be able to vote at member meetings. Never mind that volunteer hours for the some 200 staff will be limited because of volunteer job limitations at the "Coop", something I am sure that the Board is aware of. This, along with the caricaturing and stereotyping of the staff by the Board, a staff that hasn't collectively unionised and whose few pro-union members can't agree on what union they want to be members of, this paranoia the Board and their fellow travellers have about the staff, and this scapegoating of the staff by the Board and their fellow travellers of the staff is beginning to assume McCarthyesque proportions. All of this, of course, is not new among powers that be. In fact, it is far too common. Just look at the history of stereotyping, caricaturing, paranoia, and scapegoating in nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries America. History ever repeats.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Confirmation of the Biff Complex

Dear Doctor, I am writing to inform you that during my five years of participation/observer on the social media site Facebook I have been able to confirm your hypothesis about the existence of the Biff Complex. My participation/ observations over the last several years have been able to replicate your study and confirm its conclusions, namely, that many right wingers, particularly the descendants of Gerald Smith and his anti-Semitic and anti-commie ideologies and the John Birch Society, the group that once preached the gospel that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist stooge, who have taken over the Republican party, do indeed have the malady identified by you in the 1980s and to which you gave the name the Biff Complex or Disorder.

This Complex, as you know, has several components to it. First, those who suffer from the Biff Complex suffer from an irrational fear of empirical facts. Second, those who suffer from it confuse and conflate right wing fantasies and delusions with empirical reality. Third, those who suffer from it mistake authoritarian fifth grade bully boy behavior for a reasoned and empirical argument. Finally, those who suffer from the Biff Complex live in a lala world of their own and are impervious to anything but the fantastic and delusional discourse of right wing demagogues.

Conclusions? To paraphrase Giles the earth is doomed.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings on the Old Old Right, the Old Right, the Old New Right, and the New New Right

Generally speaking, historians and other social scientists have delineated three broad forms of American conservatism in the post-WWII period. Type one: the intellectual variant of conservatism symbolised by Willam Buckley, National Review, and the various sects that came out of National Review. Type two: the "new" Christian right. Type three: libertarianism. Often forgotten in this polite typology is the paranoid right represented by the John Birch Society and the so-called alt right.

Are these four types of Ebenezer Scrooge liberalism really new? Nor really. National Review style neoliberalism has roots in the negative reaction to the French Revolution in the late 17th and 18th century, The new Christian Right with its authoritarianism, apocalypticism, anti-communism, god gave us capitalism, anti-Semitism, and beware of the big government mentality, has roots in the old Christian Right of the New Deal era. Libertarianism has roots in Hobbes and the Austrian libertarians. The paranoid right has roots that go back to the Book of Revelation.

Are their similarities between these four groups? I think there are. Bill Buckley, seems to be exemplary here. While presenting an intellectually sophisticated image to the public Gore Vidal showed in 1968 that beneath Buckley's calm and "intellectual" exterior lurked a paranoid Christian conservative with a host of phobias, homophobia and commiephobia amongst them. And let's not forget that Buckley was one of the key apologists for that most paranoid of post-WWII neoliberals, Joseph McCarthy. Needless to say, Donald Trump with his universalisation of capitalism, his paranoias about Muslims and Mexicans, his Norman Vincent Peale brand of Christianity, and his fifth grade bully mentality, seems to me to be a Bill Buckley for the 21st century. Trump just doesn't hide his bully boy, authoritarian, and phobic interior behind a pleasing public veneer. As the French say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Death of Hope

Obama told us, when he first ran for president in 2008, to hope. You have to, however, give people more than hope. You have to give people more than hope that after they get an affordable community college or college education they will have a real job with real living wages and with real benefits they can afford. You have to give people more than hope that Americans will be able to get a living wage job with real benefits not only in the information sector of the economy but also in the service sector of the economy. You have to give people more than hope that they too will be able to get reasonably priced health insurance that they can pay for on their real wages. You have to give people more than the hope that they will be able to enjoy the good things of life, including the ability to relax and have fun, on their real wages. You have to give people more than hope that they too, like the elite politicians typically pander will be treated fairly and will be treated with and given respect. Donald Trump has given a lot of his supporters hope, hope that they will no longer feel ignored. I will say here and now that I don't expect him to live up to his promises anymore than Barack Obama did. The political and economic realities of America and the world argue and augur against it.

The Wacky World of the American Right in the Age of Trump

One can say a lot of things about the contemporary American right. One of the things you can certainly say about them is that they are historically and logically challenged.

First there is the right's assertion that only the "left", an imagined left by the way, is political correct. In actuality virtually every American, some libertarians and anarchists along with right and left freedom of speechers perhaps excepted, engage in so called political correctness. When right wingers, for example, censor textbooks, that is, political correctness as well as a violation of freedom of speech. Whenever the religious right pushes for public rather than individual silent prayer in schools that is political correctness and a violation of freedom of speech and freedom from religious theocracy. Ironically, a lot of those pushing for the dominance of the role of Christianity in the public sphere are often those most critical of Islamic theocratism.

Second, there is the right's claim that they and they alone stand for freedom os speech.  In actuality those right wingers who proclaim that their freedom of speech is being violated demand, proclaim, in the next breath, that flag burning, which the Supreme Court has ruled is freedom of speech, must be eliminated? Obviously, those who want flag burning, which isn't numerically speaking all that prevalent by any political group, are engaging in political correctness and are undermining guarantees in the Constitution they claim to be devoted to?

Third, there is the right's claim that the "left" wants to ban guns. In actuality, however, the banning of SOME types of assault rifles and some types of bullets is NOT the banning ALL guns or ALL bullets. That is simple logic.

Fourth, there is the right's whinging and whining about the ban on prayer in public schools. In truth, Christians are individually free to do anything that doesn't violate the law including pray to their imaginary gods in their public school. The law we have in the US is, when it comes to the public square, freedom from religious domination. The Founding Fathers did not like theocracy, which they saw in action, which is why they wrote separation into the laws of the land. Again, ironies abound here. What is the irony that abounds? Those who proclaim devotion to the Constitution out of one side of their mouth, proclaim their willingness to destroy it out of the other side of their mouth. I suggest to those of you who don't like the separation of religion and state guaranteed in the US Constitution move to a place where they don't have it such as Saudi Arabia. Love it or leave it dudes and dudettes.

Fifth, there is the claim among the right that it was the "left" that got is into those nasty global trade deals. In actuality, however, Republicans AND Democrats both supported deindustrialisation and global trade deals, two things that sent jobs overseas. Bush the first negotiated NAFTA. Clinton got it passed. The reason they did it is because of their ties to economic elites who like cheap labour because it allows them to line their pockets even more than they already do. The fact that many of those who blame one party or one political ideology or another can't see the obvious, that both parties work for Wall Street, shows how ideologically blind they are.

Sixth, there is the rights claim that tax rates on America's wealthier are too high today. In actualiity, the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans has fluctuated over the 20th century. It was high during WWI and declined thereafter. It was in the 90% range under Eisenhower, fell to 70 some percent under Kennedy, and fell to 50 some percent under Nixon. The neoliberals, Republican or Democrat, those compassionate neoliberals, brought down tax rates on the rich during their years of dominance and have essentially and effectively undermined the progressive nature of American taxation since the 19801s. Taxation, by the way, varies cross culturally. The Scandinavian countries have, generally speaking, higher tax rates on the wealthy than the US. We must also be cognizant of the fact that official tax rates are not, for a variety of reasons, the real tax rates on the rich. The rich, like Trump, in reality, have gotten away with paying zero taxes for a variety of reasons. Tell Trump to do the same for you if you have the balls or ovaries and see what you get in response.

Seventh, there is the rights ravings about the dangers of single payer universal health care systems. In reality, single payer health care makes more economic and moral sense than that labyrinthian piece of legislation which the Democrats gave us. I know, in the age of runaway narcissism it is hard to think of anyone else but yourselves. By the way, the fact that the Democrats didn't, when they controlled the federal executive and legislative branches, give us the most economically and morally--greatest good for the greatest number--foregrounds how weak as water Democrats are.

Eighth,  there is the rights whinging about poor poor White males. In fact, transformations in the economy are transforming gender and work. More women are working because they have to to help their families make it in a world dominated by the shit paying and little benefits service sector. By the way, Trump, for all his bluster, will not be able to bring manufacturing back to the US unless wages decline to levels similar to that in poor semi-peripheral countries and poorer peripheral countries where wages are low. But I know, as Barnum said people will swallow anything.

A last obvious fact: If you help destroy the planet you are killing yourselves and those who come after you including your children and grandchildren.

Let me close this missive by bemoaning that it is a pity that so many on all sides of the political spectrum prefer stereotypes and caricatures to simple humanity. Many liberals and leftists did not support Clinton. I didn't. I did not vote for either major party candidate. Many of them offered real critiques of Clinton as opposed to demonisation of Clinton. But I know, generally people prefer simplistic and naive either/ors to reality.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Clinton and the Constructed Either/Or Mind

It is endlessly fascinating if also rather tragic and farcical to observe how the socially and culturally constructed human mind generally works. One can clearly see how the mind generally works in those years when, for example, one of those great rituals of "democracy" is taking place, elections. For fans of Hillary Clinton, for instance, any criticism of their object of devotion, valid criticisms about how she and her husband made their millions, valid criticisms about the potential conflicts at the heart of the Clinton Foundation symbolised by Huma Adebin, and valid criticisms about Clinton's problematic and possibly stupid use of a private server for some of her governmental emails, can only be made, most Clinton devotees knee jerkingly assume, by a devotee of Clinton's evil binary other, Donald Trump. More nuanced responses from most of the Clinton faithful are, generally speaking, missing in binary action. There may be cognitive dissonance in Clinton's devotees but in the vast majority of these cases such cognitive dissonance leads to even more polemical defences of their object of devotion rather than to analytical analysis. Welcome to the ideology creates reality world.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Musings on The Wire at Midpoint...

I have been watching David Simon's The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008) for the first time over the last several months. I have been watching it with a friend and we are half way through the third season. Given that it is an election year here in the US, it is hard not to think of the show in the context of that political election.

Nothing is better than The Wire, in my opinion, in showing us how compassionate neoliberalism really operates. Tommy Carcetti, the man who mirrors neoliberals like Clinton male and female, Bloomberg, O'Malley, and Schwarzenegger, will do anything to get elected. Carcetti gives off the appearance of a family man with a family right out of a Norman Rockwell painting but behind his wife's back he carries out at least one extramarital affair. One imagines that he is carrying on more. He practises patented compassionate neoliberal macchiavelianism when he manipulates a close Black politician to run for mayor against the incumbent Black mayor in order to assure that the Black vote splits giving him the election victory.

The dominant reform that compassionate neoliberals seem to offer in The Wire is gentrification through rehabilitating old homes or building new upscale apartments and condos. This may increase monies brought in through taxes but it leads to, to pick a few obvious examples, the displacement of those who really need the government to do something for them, the poor, it leads to a decline in other housing stock, it leads to increased black market activities, it leads to resignation, and it leads to increased corruption.

The real hero of The Wire is the precinct commander Howard "Bunny" Colvin, who creates "hamsterdams", zones where drugs can be sold relatively freely. The sell your drugs here zones have their downsides but they also lead to decreased crime in other parts of Baltimore. To his credit, Carcetti jumps on board this scheme. When he is told that his support of the free drug selling zones will hurt his chances to be elected mayor of Baltimore, however, he follows the tried and true compassionate neoliberal path, he bails.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

RIP Bloomingfoods?

The coop ideal of the 1960s and 1970s died as I wrote in an earlier blog on this site, the day worker coops became "consumer coops". On top of that there has been, for years, a "conspiracy", both conscious and ideological, between national coop organisations, including the National Cooperative Grocers Association and CDS Consulting, both of which provide "expert advice" to coops and the managerial class, which is predominately neoliberal, which now run coops. The NCGA, by the way, conducted an audit of Bloomingfoods after public administration academic bureaucrat Keith Taylor urged them to take this action. But back to my main point: The actors in this national conspiracy to turn coops into mirrors of its competitors use fear--we have to stay competitive with Whole Foods--and lies--member labour is illegal--to get their way. What is their way? They want to take power from members and give it to a Board of "elected" neoliberal types. They want to do this by manipulating by-laws (anyone who knows Weber and Foucault knows what is going on here) and they want to turn coops into Whole Foods Junior, Trader Joe's Junior, and Lucky's Junior which is, by the way, not a particularly good survival strategy. They have succeeded with their fear tactics and lies at a number of coops across the country but not in Albany, NY where members provided factual material detailing the lies and fear tactics of national coop advisory groups. It looks like Bloomingfoods is about to be the next hybrid coop and corporation to fall. In this case the picture above foreshadows the story to come. The picture above of the only Bloomingfoods I knew when I was a worker member in the late 1970s, was abandoned by the powers that be just like they abandoned coop principles earlier. These same powers that be, by the way, have apparently arranged that the upcoming member meeting, Board election, and by-laws vote is jigged in their favour. The jigging, and the elimination of dissident voices from the Facebook site, reflects standard national coop expert advice operating procedure as those of us who saw similar things attempted at Honest Weight know all to well. Rest not in peace Bloomingfoods.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Moronicity on the March: Demagoguery and the Alt-Right

I have recently accidentally discovered that self proclaimed messiah of the all new and improved alt-right, Milo Yiannopoulos. The alt-right that Yiannopoulos wants to be a high priest of is hardly novel. Many of its obsessions are the obsessions of contemporary right wing radio demagogues, and have been the obsessions of National Review Demagogues, John Birch Society demagogues, and anti-Communist demagogues before it. Nor are the hyper or uber exaggerations or the lack of intellectual sophistication of the alt-right and its self proclaimed demagogic high (pun intended) priest novel. Christian apologists and polemicists have been blasting Islam, for example, since the First Crusade. The problem with all of this fear laden Islamophobic demagoguery, Islamophobic because the new old right and the alt right cherry pick their evils, is that the problem is not Islam. The problem is monotheism. Monotheism, Jewish monotheism, Christian monotheism, and Islamic monotheism, all of which were born out of the narrow minded Mediterranean world, with its ethnocentrism, its theocratic tendencies, its homophobia, and its misogynies, has shown itself again and again to be hazardous to human health throughout Western history. Apparently demagogues like Yiannopoulos don't recognise this or can't recognise because it would throw a monkey wrench into his pied piper Machiavellian machinations. The solution to theocratic monotheism, by the way, a solution alt-right demagogues never seem to have recognised or refuse to recognise, is secularisation, again as Western history shows.

Something else that isn't novel about the alt right is its use of exaggeration and fear. Recently in Facebook post Yiannapoulos criticised a group of vegan feminists who, according to him, linked male misogny and the maltreatment of animals, two of the central symbols, apparently, in the demonology of the alt right as it was in the old new right. Just like other apologetic and polemical demagogues Yiannapoulos uses exaggeration and fear as a form of manipulation in order to gain power and financial resources (which he apparently doesn't use to pay employees). What alt right demagogues and all demagogues never give you is the facts but I will. According to Gallup in 2012 5% of Americans were vegetarian. This percentage has remained pretty much constant over the last ten years. 6% of Americans were vegetarians in 1999 and 2001. 5% of 18 to 29 year olds were vegetarian in 2012. 4% of 30 to 49s were vegetarian in 2012. Only 2% of Americans said they were vegans in 2012. Why don't apologetic and polemical demagogues give the people the facts, such as the number of vegans, vegetarians, and radical feminists who link veganism and feminism are small and have been so for some time? Because all demagogues know that nothing comes close to the use of exaggeration and fear when it comes to manipulating the masses. They are, after all, the pied pipers.

Another thing the alt right won't tell you is who they really are. The alt right may have come up with a nice little catchphrase to describe themselves and to distinguish themselves from the old right and the old new right. In the final analysis, however, the alt right is the same as the old right and the old new right. They are theocrats. They are authoritarians. They want people to behave and to speak like they think they should behave and speak. They are not libertarians with a live and let live ideology, in other words. And to top it all off they appear to be blissfully unaware of the irony here, namely that they, who are decrying political correctness constantly, are pushing their own version of political correctness. Ob la di ob la da.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Tweedledee and Tweedledum...

Here is what I learned from watching the PBS Frontline report on the two "major" candidates for president of the United States this year, "The Choice" (PBS, 27 September 2016). Donald Trump is a typical fin de siecle capitalist. He commodifies everything, especially pretty girls, and loves to engage in conspicuous consumption which he sees as a measure of his capitalist "success". Like most capitalists he is a bully boy who is used to getting his own way and he is, as all capitalists are on some level, a narcissist. Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand, despite her supposed feminist convictions changed her hair, dissed the glasses, lost weight, and put on different clothes to help Bubba get elected. She calls it pragmatism. I call it Machiavellianism. Money, lots of it, to her, is the medium that allows her to achieve her political ambitions.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Female Super Hero is Missing: Musings on Sheena, Wonder Woman, Xena, and the Academic Enterprise

Before there was Wonder Woman and Xena there was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Sheena, a kind of female Tarzan, appeared in comic book form in the United Kingdom in 1937, four years before Wonder Woman. She migrated to television in 1955 running in syndication for 26 episodes and to film in 1984. Another syndicated version of the Queen of the Jungle hit the airwaves in 2000 running for two seasons ending in 2002.

Though Wonder Woman (ABC and CBS, 1975-1979) and Xena: Warrior Princess (Syndication 1995-2001) have garnered a lot of critical attention in the Television Studies world Sheena seems to have garnered little attention from academics and one cannot help but wonder why. Like Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena centred on a female hero. Like Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena fought for what she cared about and often, like Wonder Woman and Xena, got the best of men. Like Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena was smart. Unlike Wonder Woman and Xena, Sheena had an ethnically diverse cast that included Sheena's teacher, the shaman Kali. This, along with the fact that Sheena focused on a female hero, would, one would think, garner Sheena a least a bit of critical attention of academics obsessed with comic gooks, gender, and representation. You'd think there would be more than a passing reference to Sheena in the academic literature and at least a few academic papers on subjects like Sheena and the male and female Gaze, Sheena feminist or anti-feminist, and Sheena and the Shamanic Tradition in Africa.

The fact that there is so little of an academic nature on Sheena raises questions about the enterprise of Television Studies itself and leaves one wondering whether it is much beyond fan boy and fan girl stuff. And this leads us back once again into the labyrinthian world of the social and cultural construction of the academic mind.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Poor Edith: Fear and Loathing on the Melodrama Trail...

I have said this before and I am going to say it again, I am fascinated by what I see as the irrational hatred and fear of film and television melodrama or soap operas out there in film and television criticism land. The reasons for my fascination are simple. Just as there is great drama, great tragedy, great comedy, and great detective shows, just as there is good drama, good tragedy, good comedy, and good detective shows, just as there are middling dramas, middling tragedies, middling comedies, and middling detective shows, just as there are poor drama, poor tragedy, poor comedies, and poor detective shows, and just as there are awful dramas, awful tragedies, awful comedies, and awful detective shows, there are great, good, middling, poor, and awful melodramas.

So why the irrational hatred and fear of melodramas? Historians, sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and psychologists want to know. Some commentators attribute the irrational hatred and fear of melodramas to paternalism. Melodramas are often, as a number of critics have pointed out over the years, often centred around and oriented toward women. Even if this is true, so what? Others attribute the irrational hatred and fear of melodramas to the perceived hyper or over the top "nature" of melodramas? But are the narrative forms and acting styles of melodramas any more or any less over the top than the narratives and acting choices of American situational comedies?

These questions about melodrama came to mind this labour day weekend thanks to a discussion on melodrama I had with a colleague and thanks to the fact that this labour day weekend in the US PBS reran the popular melodrama Downton Abbey. Though I have seen each and every episode of Downton Abbey at least once I did, I have to admit, peak in on the Downton marathon several times this long weekend. Binge watching Downton Abbey made clear several things I already knew or suspected about the show. The cinematography, sets, and acting of Downton are superb. It is the writing of Julian Fellowes that is the achilles heel of the show. Downton Abbey is, in my opinion and generally speaking, a middling or mediocre show at best. Series 1, 2, and 3 of the show are the best. Series 4, 5, and 6 are the weakest and repeat some of the things during the first three years of the show suggesting that Fellowes had run out of ideas for the show. Rematching the series also foregrounded the silliness of some of the arcs of the show as written by Fellowes. There's the I can't marry William arc, the can Matthew or can't Matthew walk and have little kiddies arc, the Lord and the parlour maid Jane arc, the I'm Patrick arc, the trails and travails of the possibly murderous Bates's arc, the I'm a socialist no I'm a capitalist thanks to wonderful America where social mobility is possible Branson arc. And then there are all those deus ex machines that seem to be Fellowes too much stock in trades.

None of these failures and the others that populate the show are the products of melodrama. They are down to the middling writing of Julian Fellowes. The reason the show is as watchable as it is, is down not only to the quality of the cinematography and the quality of the sets, but also to the quality of the ensemble acting in the series. Lady Sybill's death scene is superb. Thomas's destruction of the World War I rations he has been conned to buy is superb. Maggie Smith is always superb. Without here Downton Abbey wouldn't be nearly as watchable. If not for the quality of the acting and how devoted one becomes to the characters the actors play, Downton Abbey might almost be unwatchable. All this is rather sad since Fellowes seems to have put so much of his ideological self in the show.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Distant Memories of an Oak Cliff Childhood

As you get older—I am now 61 going on 62—you start to look back at your past life in a way you didn’t look at it when you lived it. Recently I have been thinking a lot about my childhood in Oak Cliff, Texas.

I grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s in a part of Dallas called Oak Cliff. I lived in a new middle class home in a new middle class subdivision in southwest Oak Cliff at 3422 Guadalupe Avenue. To the west of Guadalupe lay Cockrell Hill Road. Between Guadalupe and Cockrell Hill was an old ranch or farm where we sometimes rode motorbikes, the Clyce mansion, a wooded area, and a bridge. Los Angeles Boulevard lay to the east while Blue Ridge Boulevard lay to the south. On the north side of the dirt road section of Blue Ridge Boulevard was a field, probably an old farm or ranch which stretched all the way from Blue Ridge to Kiest. On the Blue Ridge side of the field stood an old shack. Inside that shack I discovered a limerick that I remember to this day: “Tough titty said kitty but the mic was still good”. It took me years to fully understand what this limerick meant. To the south of Blue Ridge was a wooded area that I occasionally cut through to go to school and where I once saw a copperhead. To the north lay Kiest Boulevard and Five Mile Creek. Over the years my brothers, my sister, and me wondered the creek east and west, from Guadalupe Avenue to Cockrell Hill and from Guadalupe Avenue to Pecan Grove Park, our local park which was at the intersection of Kiest and Westmoreland Avenue, catching sight of the occasional crawfish and water moccasin as we hiked and drank from it.

There are a lot of things I remember about my Oak Cliff childhood, a childhood that in retrospect seems quite idyllic. I remember the lone pecan tree that stood by the last home on Guadalupe heading toward Kiest thanks to which I was able to pick up enough pecans to fill a large grocery bag. I remember swimming for free during the boys hour at the pool in Pecan Park every summer weekday. I remember seeing the asphalt bubble up as I walked what was then a ruralish two lane stretch of Kiest from Gaudalupe to Pecan Park. I recall thinking that the chasm beneath the bridge that ran across Five Mile Creek on Westmoreland near Pecan Park looked like the grand canyon of Oak Cliff to me. I remember scooting on my behind with my brothers and sister on a pipe that ran across Five Mile creek west of the Westmoreland bridge once or twice during my childhood life. I remember the huge hill that Boulder Drive ran up near the grand canyon of Oak Cliff.

I remember my school, TW Browne Junior High School. I recall that I wasn’t particularly a great or even good student for a variety of reasons. I liked the social sciences but I wasn’t particularly taken with or good at maths or the sciences. I remember once getting an A on an art assignment in which I mimicked Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can. I recall that my metal shop teacher made us bring Lava soap to shop and that I made a wood and metal sign of our address in metal shop class for our house. I remember that Dad put in our front yard. It disappeared two or three days later. I recall the foul smell near in the biology room in Browne. I remember that it was warm enough in Dallas so that every day we went outside during our lunch period. I recall one day when a light snow fall led to the school sending us home early. I recall being on the proverbially worst team in everything during gym period. I remember playing paper football in the lunchroom with other early arriving students before school started in the morning. I recall the last day of school when paper rained down like thick snow and covered the halls of TW Browne Junior High School.

I remember listening to what was the most listened to radio station in Dallas at the time I lived there, KLIF. I loved the Beatles, the Stones, the Supremes, the Airplane, and the Temptations all of whom you could hear on Dallas’s number 1 top 40 station at the time. I recall listening to a report one Sunday morning on KLIF about the supposed death of Paul McCartney. I remember hearing Credence Clearwater Revivals “Fortunate Son” for the first time on KLIF, a song about entitlement and nationalism that would have a huge impact on me intellectually. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that I graduated from KLIF to to a non-commercial FM station in Arlington that played albums by King Crimson and the Moody Blues, two other bands, along with the Beatles, which would have a huge impact on my intellectual development. I remember seeing Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds for the first time on TV. My Dad urged me to watch it. I loved it and have been a cinema nerd ever since.

I remember my best friend John Cerillo. I met John at Browne. John had an enormous impact on me. He and the Beatles introduced me to the joys of progressive and protest rock and horrors of the Vietnam War. I remember that after I started listening to the Beatles and met John I began to turn against the war in Vietnam. I recall that I typically wore the bohemian uniform of jeans and an old army jacket to school. I remember that I wanted to, like other anti-war activists and many rock stars, let my hair grow and grow but I couldn’t. My parents wouldn’t let me and the vice-principal of Browne checked every morning to make sure that male hear length met the anti-long hair standards of the Dallas Independent School District. I recall John and me going over to Kimball High next door to Browne and protesting at Kimball’s after school ROTC drills before John’s father picked us up in his car and took us home. I remember wearing a black armband in protest against the war in Vietnam to school. I ended up wearing it under my army jacket, however, because I knew if I wore it on the outside that I would be kicked out of school. I still got in trouble. I remember trying to organise a walk out at Browne with John in protest against the war. Our walkout was timed to take place after the every Friday football season pep rally. The powers that be, however, heard about it, stationed teachers at every door, and put chains around all the door handles of every door in the school except for those leading to the courtyard to keep us from walking out. A bunch of us walked around the hallways for a while before returning to class. I still felt like I had accomplished something.

There are a lot of other things I recall about my Oak Cliff childhood. I remember buying "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" at a drug store near, if memory serves, the Piggly Wiggly on Cockrell Hill. I remember going to Gibson’s on Westmoreland a hop, skip, and a jump from the intersection with Kiest. I recall walking to a record store on Kiest near Kiest Park to get Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band in November or December of 1967. One of my brothers, if memory serves, went with me. I remember going to a record store on Jefferson Avenue, the high street in what was “downtown” Oak Cliff, where I bought bootleg Beatles and Moody Blues albums. I remember the old Texas Theatre on Jefferson where Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot President John F. Kennedy, was captured after he shot JFK. I remember how mammoth and magical Jefferson Avenue seemed to this kid at the time. I remember riding in my parent’s car along Kiest to Polk Street and into the heart of old Oak Cliff. I recall thinking how nice and prosperous everything looked. I remember taking the bus to the State Fair of Texas on junior high day at the fair.

I remember swimming in the big Westmoreland Park pool once or twice. I remember representing Pecan Park in the backstroke at the huge pool in Kiest Park. I finished third. I recall playing on the Tyler Street Methodist Church softball team in Kiest Park though I was neither Christian nor religious. I remember the big neighbourhood football game between the Clyce team, which included my brothers, and my team on the rocky field near the Clyce mansion. It ended in a 0-0 draw after one of my brothers broke his arm just as my father predicted. I recall being a rabid Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns fan. I remember being terribly disappointed when the Cowboys lost to Green Bay for the second time in a row at the Ice Bowl. I recall going to the Cotton Bowl one year where I saw Texas beat Tennessee. I remember thinking that the #1 Longhorns were going to lose to the #2 Arkansas Razorbacks after the Razorbacks took a 14-0 lead so I took my weekly Saturday bath. When I got out of the tub I learned that the Longhorns had scored in the fourth quarter to narrow the gap. They would score again and successfully complete a 2-point conversion to win the game. Football for me and for Texas was our real religion.

Not all of my memories of my Oak Cliff childhood are idyllic. I got severe asthma when I was 12. I was running track and suddenly couldn’t breath one spring afternoon. I recall that my Dad took me to the Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff for treatment. It seemed huge to this smallish teenager. At first the doctor put me on cortisone. It worked well allowing me to continue to run track—I generally finished first in distance running—until side affects began to appear. Eventually I was put on portable respiratory machines that were only of limited help. I remember being barely able to walk up to the second and third stories of Browne because my breathing was so strained.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that the Dallas and Oak Cliff in which I lived was segregated. There were no Blacks and, rumour has it, only three Hispanics, at Browne when I was a student there. Blacks were segregated into South Oak Cliff at the time.

As I get older I find myself thinking that I would really like to see my old Oak Cliff haunts again. I am sure, however, that my memories of the Oak Cliff of the sixties and seventies are quite different from the reality of Oak Cliff today. What hasn't changed is that Dallas remains a segregated city and no section of Dallas reflects that economic and ethnic segregation more than minority dominated Oak Cliff.

Friday, August 5, 2016

You've Been Clintoned

If you believe that Donald Trump is the 1764th avatar of Adolf Hitler since the 1930s then you've been Clintoned. At best or at worst, depending on your point of view, Trump is kind of a comic or Chaplinesque version of Italy's Benito Mussolini. If you believe that Vladimir Putin is the 7914th avatar of Josef Stalin since the 1950s then you've been Clintoned. Putin is more akin to the 19th and 20th century Tsars.

This discourse, this absurd genealogy which links people like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to evil comic book versions of "evil" historical characters of the past, has been created and disseminated by the heirs of those who manufactured a fear based World War I mass propaganda and the heirs of Madison Avenue, who were themselves the heirs of WWI propagandists, who manipulated mass consumer habits by manufacturing "needs, many" of them sexual. What I find so fascinating is that many American and Western academic social scientists and historians appear to believe and parrot this same propaganda or spinning coming from the propagandists of the political party cartel and their wooden dummies in the media as though it were fact. They should know better. That they don't just proves Barnum's point, a sucker is born every minute.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Just Who Is Hillary Clinton?

Some commentators have rightly pointed out that the policies of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton should not be conflated and that Hillary should not be praised or blamed for the policies of her president husband predecessor. This valid point, however, raises the issue of just what are the policies of Hillary Clinton. To try to ascertain what Hillary Clinton's policies are I asked several people what Hillary stands for just after the Democrats met for their convention in Philadelphia but none of them could tell me what her policies are or what she stands for. To try to figure out what Hillary stands for and what she might do as president I decided to look at her more recent past.

If past is prologue we should be able to look at what Clinton has done since she was first lady in the Clinton administration in order to get an idea of what she might do if she is elected president of the United States in 2016. When she was first lady Clinton devised and promoted a "pragmatic" health care plan that may have given at least some of the millions of Americans without health care health care. Clinton's health care plan, as most commentators admit, would also have been a boon for big pharmaceutical companies and the big health care corporate industry. Hillary voted for the war in Iraq as senator from New York, a war that led to the devolution of Iraq into tribal and sectarian warfare and which saw al-Quaida and later ISIS fill the political vacuum the war left. Clinton later turned against the war but it must be remembered that while she was secretary of state Hillary strongly supported and apparently urged President Obama to prosecute a bombing campaign against the Qaddafi regime in Libya--Qaddafi was one of those many Hitleresque tyrants the US had selectively turned against--a war that led to the collapse of Libya into tribal and sectarian warfare and which saw the rise of ISIS in Libya. Clinton supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade trade agreement only to, as she did with the war in Iraq, turn against it. Those close to Clinton say that should she be elected president she will support TPP if a few "tweets" are made to this trade policy. While secretary of state Hillary supported the expansion of NATO, an arm of US imperial power, in Europe.

So if past is prologue Clinton is likely to be a pro-corporate and pro-"interventionist" president. If past is prologue Clinton is likely to continue her support for globalisation. If past is prologue Clinton is likely to continue America's imperialist great power aims. The problem with all this, of course, is that pro-corporate politics have led to increasing inequality and the increasing enrichment of the 1%, globalisation has led to the loss of good paying American working class jobs, while the expansion of NATO has led to increasing tensions with Russia, the great power which NATO keeps inching and inching towards. In reality Russia is not a threat to NATO or Europe. Islamic sectarianism is. If past is prologue Clinton is likely to be yet another one of those paternalistic, pro-big business, and interventionist Progressives we have seen since the Progressive Era arose in the early 20th century in the US, Bill Clinton amongst them. If past is prologue Clinton, just like most of her Progressive predecessors of the past, is not likely to do much of real as opposed to symbolic substance for non-Whites. If past is prologue Clinton is likely to fight for the same people and things her Progressive forebears did, namely, corporations and the American military-industrial complex. The more things change...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Spern the Bern: Bernie Whiffs

Bernie Sanders, who ran a campaign that was far more successful than any of the mainstream pundits prophesied, had the chance to make history at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week. When the rubber really hit the road, however, the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist who campaigned on the mother of all platforms, the inequality wrought by the economic and political dominance of the 1%, wimped out. Sanders had the chance to take his supporters out into the streets after Hillary Clinton won the rigged Democratic Primary systems, into alliance with the Green Party, a party that really does recognise the nefarious influence of the 1% on global politics, global economics, and global culture and will, if they can, do something about it. Instead Sanders whiffed, endorsing Hillary Clinton, an endorsement that is the equivalent of Bernie Sanders endorsing Enron or the investment banks that brought down the global economy in 2008. Needless to say, I will never trust Sanders or any of the other so-called socialist or left Democrat wimps like Elizabeth Warren again. With socialists like Sanders socialism, which has no future in the corporatist oriented Democratic Party, will only have a future in the US in spite of him not because of him.

At the beginning of this primary season there were some who suggested that Republican candidate Donald Trump was a plant in the Republican Party to throw the election to Hillary Clinton. I have begun to wonder whether Sanders was a plant in the Democratic Party to not only throw the election to Hillary Clinton who he treated with kid gloves, but also to bring young people into the Democratic Party in order to expand Clinton's Democratic base. Another possibility is that Bernie was threatened by the Democratic Party establishment in some way, shape, or form. The Clinton's and the Democrat's, after all, have proven themselves again and again to be machiavellians of the highest order second only to Republicans.

Musings on Political Doublespeak

It is somewhat interesting if endlessly repetitive to listen to political talking heads during the presidential contest season in the US. Why? Because nothing shows so clearly how apologetic and polemical bullshit is spun into potential pied piper electoral gold than discourse during the American presidential election season.

A few examples:
Exhibit A: The apologists and polemicists of the corporate Democratic establishment and Hillary Clinton are furiously spinning bullshit that it is dangerous for a foreign power, in this case Russia, which has been demonised in the US at least since WWI, to get hold of the emails Clinton "carelessly" posted on a private server while she was secretary of state. As anyone with half an empirical brain should recognise, however, if the emails are dangerous in the hands of the Russians then Clinton was probably more than "careless" in the way she handled them. She has perhaps put top secret information in harms way. Most people, because their reality is a product of ideology rather than empirical fact will not recognise the inherent contradiction here nor the attempt to deflect the issue from Clinton's handling of the emails to the ideologically constructed one of what would happen if the evil Russkies got their hands on the emails.

Exhibit B: Former attorney general Eric Holder was on Charlie Rose (PBS) just before Clinton gave what most pundits are calling the biggest speech of her career. When pushed on Clinton's "careless" handling of her emails while secretary of state Holder claimed that Clinton made a mistake just like Lincoln did when he did away with habeas corpus during the Civil War. Putting aside the fact that Democrat Holder probably used Lincoln as an example because he was a Republican and putting aside the fact that Rose pulled his punches or had no punches to pull and did not challenge him on the validity of the analogy, a dispassionate observer might wonder whether the Republican/Democrat/Bush/Obama/Clinton expansion of the security state after 9/11 was and is a "mistake". If not then one must ask whether doing away with habeas corpus during the Civil War was not a mistake either.

I could, of course, go on analysing the doublespeak. We could explore how a rigged Democratic primary system became a stirring victory for Hillary Clinton. We could explore how a party that became fully corporatist in the wake of the Reagan victory continues to convince people that it cares about more than the 1% despite all empirical evidence to the contrary. We could explore how limited presidential power is given the checks and balances in American political culture and explore the question of why so many apologists and polemicists and the media continue to talk as though any president can and will put his or her policies into effect all across the US when he or she enters office. We could explore how symbolism--the breaking of the glass ceiling, for instance--seems to be more important to people than policy realities. I think, however, that I will stop here for the moment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Da Doo Doo Doo, Da Da Da Da: Music and Profit at Ye Olde "Coop"

There are rumours circulating through Honest Weight Food Corporation that the new general manager is going to pipe music, or more accurately muzak, through the store. The reason? Studies suggest that music increases profits by a whopping 2%.

Now that the general manager is apparently talking about bringing what will likely be middle of the road music to the store it is worth remembering that since the opening of the new store in 2013 there have been at least two attempts to pipe music through the store. Each time it was found problematic. Why? Well firstly there is the very poor quality of the store's sound system, a sound system that is right up there in quality with the tin can kiddie walkie talkies of yore. Secondly, there is the acoustics at the front of the store, acoustics which make it possible for cashiers to hear virtually everything emanating from the cash registers around them to the sounds emanating from the cafe. The addition of music to this already multilayered and confusing mix of noise made it even more difficult for cashiers to hear what customers were saying to cashiers and what cashiers were saying to customers.

Is Honest Weight about to experience round three in the music saga of the store? Only time will tell.

You're Just Like Everybody Else: Coops, Missionary Work, and the New Eden

Given that the Honest Weight Food Coop began life as a countercultural alternative to the mainstream and looked different, at least initially, from the mainstream, there are still many at the "Coop" who think that Honest Weight has a moral obligation, has a mission, to transform the world. For some Honest Weighters, Honest Weight should serve as an beacon whose aim is to transform the eating habits, health care habits, and political and economic habits of the Capital Region of New York and beyond.

The question arises, however, how an institution that since the 1980s has increasingly come to look like the mainstream corporate world it once criticised and wanted to be different from, can convert others to an alternative political and economic lifestyle? Can Honest Weight convert people to alternative political and economic lifestyles when it mimics mainstream political and economic culture? How can an institution that looks much like the mainstream institutions that it once condemned and didn't want to be like, offer an alternative to the mainstream corporate, money obsessed, narcissistic, and environment destroying world?

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder argues that it can't. For Yoder you cannot build a alternative beloved, in his case a beloved Christian community, by mimicking mainstream culture and institutions. For Yoder only truly alternative beloved communities can serve as a living witness to alternative arrangements that are more ethical, moral and environmentally sensitive and friendly and only alternative beloved communities can remake humans and human communities into communities that put agape into practise and action. For Yoder, in other words, being mainstream or becoming mainstream is not a viable means to the end of transforming humans and, in the process, transforming human life and human communities. For him only a community that is inherently separate, distinct, and different from the mainstream can convert humans from their old lifestyles to new ones.

If Yoder is right, and I think he is, then it will be impossible for an Honest Weight that looks little different from Kroger, Whole Foods, or CVS and acts much like Kroger, Whole Foods, and CVS to transform either humans or the world. All an Honest Weight that is corporate can do is replicate mass capitalist society with its bureaucracies, hierarchies, narcissisms, and wars.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Day the Coops Died

It is actually really easy to pinpoint exactly when countercultural food coops in the United States died. They died and rose again remade, in the process, into a mainstream corporate image the day they ceased being member only coops and became "consumer coops" open to anyone who wanted to shop in them. They died the day they traded in their countercultural outsiderness for mainstream corporate success.

When countercultural member coops made their faustian bargain with the corporate world they made several choices that inevitably drew and continues to draw them them more and more into the corporate world. They adopted the corporate language of growth and proceeded to hire more and more business school graduates and former or ex-employees of for profit corporate grocery stores to guide them toward the radiant future of financial success. As coops grew bigger, added more items, and built new stores, they became more and more tied to corporate entities like the for profit banks they had to borrow money from in order to grow bigger and bigger. As consumer coops became more and more dependent on non-members for financial success they compromised to assuage non-member wants and "needs". They brought more and more goods into the store like sugar, meat, cereal, potato chips, tortilla chips, that would have never been allowed in member only coops given their questionable health benefits. As coops became more and more like the supermarkets countercultural member coops once decried, they increasingly became prisoners to the wants and "needs" of bargain hunters than to the loyal members who once were at the heart of the countercultural coop, members who wanted to build alternative forms of social and cultural organisation. As a result of all of this it is today hard to tell the difference between consumer coops and for profit corporate stores like Kroger, Whole Foods, or CVS.

Death by corporatisation for some "coops" has been mercifully swift. For others it has been long, drawn out, and painful death. For still others death has been someplace in between. Regardless of how quickly death has come to all of these once upon a time member only coops, all of them have sung the same tune: bye bye once upon a time cooperative pie...they drove their alternative vision into derision making the countercultural river dry...and good old corporate boys were drinking whiskey and rye...singing praises to the corporate sky...

Friday, July 22, 2016

American Presidential Politics as Apocalyptic Drama

I am not particularly interested in the history of American presidential politics. It doesn't take a PhD. in history (something I actually have), however, to see that virtually every presidential election since the 1960s (and likely every presidential election before World War II) seems, at least if you listen to the media and partisans of each presidential candidate, to be a war between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

In 1964 Republican Barry Goldwater was portrayed as the beast of the apocalypse who would end the world literally if the famous television advertisement of the LBJ campaign was to be believed. In 1968 many suggested that Republican Richard Nixon, if elected, would bring about the end of America and the world as Americans knew it. By 1972 when Nixon ran for re-election the world hadn't ended but many said it would if he were re-elected. In the late 1970s many Republicans and even some Democrats thought that Democratic president Jimmy Carter was bringing about the end of America the great. In 1980 many prophesied that Republican Ronald Reagan would bring about the end of the world if elected. He almost did though not in the way most imagined it would end when the Soviets misread NATO war games in Scandinavia as an attack on them. In the 1990s many thought that Democrat Bill Clinton was the very essence of evil in the modern world and that he was bringing an end to America as "Americans" knew it. In 2000 many prophesied that Republican George Walker Bush would end the world. He didn't even though he led the US into two wars and a massive budget deficit. From 2008 to 2012 many Republicans thought that Barack Obama was involved in a liberal, commie, nazi, Muslim conspiracy to end America as "Americans" knew it. Currently Democrats and Republicans proclaim that if Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton are elected the world world as each of them know it or wish it was will end.

All this end time apocalyptic rhetoric is enough to make one believe that fear is a Democrats and Republicans best friend...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cracks in the Mirror: The Honest Weight Fragments

As a sociologist, historian, and social and cultural anthropologist there are a lot of things I found interesting during my observations over the last several years at Honest Weight Food "Coop" in Albany, New York. One of the most interesting, given my interest in culture and the social and cultural work of ideology, is the difference between rhetoric and reality at the "Coop".

Honest Weight Food Coop may have began as a countercultural operation in the 1970s but by the 1980s and certainly today Honest Weight has shed much of its countercultural past. Today Honest Weight looks just like a host of other corporations in the US and around the globe. It is governed as are most other corporations in the US and around the globe by a corporate Board, the Chief Operating Officer or general manager the Board hires--the Board refers to the COO in the language of doublespeak as the Chief Cooperative Officer--and the chief financial officer the Board hires. Below these are a number of middle level personnel who do a variety of administrative and supervisory tasks at Honest Weight.

The inequality of Honest Weight is not only reflected in the job hierarchy of store but also in the store's built environment. Administrative staff, those more highly paid then most of the floor staff presumably because it is assumed that the jobs they do are more important than the jobs floor staff do and hence should be rewarded with greater salaries than the floor staff--culture and ideology at work--are ensconced in the administrative sector of the building. Recent concerns, others might see these concerns as more the product of power and the paranoia that often goes along with power, that middle and low level staff might access top secret material in the administrative section if the store--in this instance the salary of the new general manager or COO--means that the administrative part of Honest Weight can only be accessed by those who work in the back, by Board members, and by middle level management personnel. Compared to the administrative section of Honest Weight, by the way, the staff break room looks like something out of the Soviet radiant future of the 1960s without the windows.

The realities of hierarchical bureaucratic power at Honest Weight and its expression in its built environment conflict with Honest Weight's conspicuous proclamation that it is a democracy. This fact was brought home to me again recently during an interview I had with one of Honest Weight's powers that be. I asked this power that be if he would have had those member worker owners associated with the Industrial Workers of the World who picnicked and picketed at Honest Weight on Memorial Day arrested. He said he would arguing that these member worker owners, ostensibly the owners of Honest Weight, might offend other member owners and thus had to be removed by the Board or by representatives of the Board from the property they supposedly co-owned. This power that be maintained that such an action was "democratic" because the Board had been authorised to operate the store and deal with store problems by working members. Ah, the joys of politically correct representative bourgeois corporate liberalism?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Will It Go Round in Circles: An Honest Weight Update

I haven't written about the goings on at the Honest Weight Food Corporation in some time so I thought I would offer a few observations on what has happened since the "revolution" of late 2015 and early 2016.

There has been a lot of turnover in the administration of the Corpop. Probably the most significant change in the management of the Corpop has been the demise of the old leadership structure. All three members of the Leadership Team have either taken jobs elsewhere or have been fired. This tripartite leadership structure has been replaced by a more centralised corporate structure with what the new Board calls the "chief operating officer" at the top. At any other corporation the CCO would, of course, be called a CEO or a general manager. Ironically, the LT, so I am told, was a response to the controversies and problems surrounding a previous general manager at the Corpop.

The new CCO, who was recently announced with great fanfare by the Board, and who makes, so a source informs me over $100,000 dollars a year, comes to the Corpop, as do several other members of the management team hired over the last several years by the old Board and the new, from Price Chopper, a regional for profit corporate grocery store. Apparently, the powers that be at Honest Weight think that only those with for profit corporate experience are qualified to run what is now a for profit enterprise.

Like any CEO or general manager the new Honest Weight GM has to show that he is doing something. Rumour has it that he wants to bring canned music to the Corpop. Corporate wisdom apparently has it that that canned music increases corporate sales and the powers that be at Honest Weight want to increase corporate sales. Apparently the new general manager doesn't realise that one of the previous members of the LT tried to bring canned music to Honest Weight several years ago. That experiment with "music" proved problematic given the poor sound system at the store, given the problems it causes for cashiers who can't hear what customers are saying because of the canned music and the store's poor acoustics, and because Honest Weight, though no longer a cooperative, is more of a community than Price Chopper.

The new Board continues what is increasingly another tradition at the Corpop, the corporatisation of the Corpop Board and its membership. Three members of the new Board are lawyers. The new Board is also continuing, though at a more intense level, another thing that has become increasingly common at the Corpop, an aversion to dissent. The Orange Bunch, the clique that now dominates the Corpop politically, has been particularly critical of one Board member, one of two who served on the old Board and the new. During the run up to the Board election in early 2016 at least two prominent members of the Orange Clique criticised the supposed intransigence of this elected Board member on the Let's Talk Honest Weight Facebook page. An unelected appointed member of the Board, one tied to the Orange Bunch and one prominently endorsed by the Orange Clique, went out of his way NOT to endorse this Board member on the Honest Weight Let's Talk Facebook page. He urged that members elect another favoured member of the Orange Clique. Recently, this non-conformist Board member was ousted or purged from cheese, where another Board member, one of the most powerful members of the Board of the Orange Clique and her husband, do their member work. It was also recently announced that the new manager of cheese will be the wife of yet another member of the Board who also seems to be friendly to the Orange Crush political and corporate agenda.

Honest Weight continues to struggle with its central contradiction, namely that it is a "democratically" run member owned cooperative at the same time that it is a corporation run by a managerial elite. This contradiction manifests itself in a number of ways. One of the more interesting ways this contradiction was manifest recently was on Memorial Day. On Memorial Day ten Honest Weight member workers who are affiliated with the IWW union decided to hold a picnic and protest on coop property at the far end of the outdoor eating area of the store where they impeded no one from entering the store. Management responded to the picnic and protest by calling the police on the picnickers and protesters. The police forced the picnickers and protesters to move off Honest Weight property that was and is ironically "owned" by the member workers picnicking and protesting.

Honest Weight and other faux cooperatives like to think that they are exceptional. In reality Honest Weight and most other fauxops are not exceptional whatsoever. As in most corporations, not to mention in most other countries, the powers that be at Honest Weight with their limited memory of history continually reinvent the wheel. As in most corporations, not to mention in most other countries, the powers that be at Honest Weight have an aversion to dissent. Honest Weight is a hybrid, part cooperative originating out of the 1960s counterculture and part corporation like any other corporation in the Western world, and the hybrid nature of Honest Weight which became manifest in the 1980s continues to impact the Corpop in inherently contradictory ways. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Monday, May 2, 2016

American Banality versus Norwegian Humanity: Musings on Twin Sisters

I just watched a fascinating documentary on PBS about two Chinese twins, Twin Sisters, one raised in the urban US the other in rural small town Norway. The documentary showed how the Norwegian twins life revolved around family, nature, hiking, biking, school, and natural beauty. The American twins life, on the other hand, revolved around shopping, dolls who wore the same dresses she did, and event after event be it violin practise or soccer practise. At the end of the documentary the male of the American couple that had adopted one of the Chinese twin sisters remarked about how homes in rural small town Norway were built so families could enjoy each other. I would add that they were also built so the family could enjoy the beauty of the fjord on which the town they lived in lay. For me the life of the Norwegian twin showed how hollow and banal the life of the American twin was compared to the life of her sister in Norway. It showed to me how much we in the US have lost since the 1980s thanks to the octopus that is American consumer capitalism.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Man From the Radiant Dystopian Utopian Future Past

What would Honest Weight Food Corporation be without controversy? Recently, the Board of Honest Weight, which is down to five members after four members resigned earlier this year due to issues surrounding the previous Board’s attempt to end the membership worker programme that has long been at the heart of the coop part of Honest Weight, appointed one S.R., one Better Call, to one of the empty seats of the Board. The Board can do this according to the by-laws, the constitution of Honest Weight.

R, who finished behind two others who finished just beyond the threshold for being elected to the Board, was appointed because he was a lawyer and this meant that the Board didn’t have to fill out the forms that are required for the New York State Liquor Authority each time a new member joins the Board. The Board, by the way, is the legislative and executive body of Honest Weight while the GRC, the Governance Review Council, has become the corporation’s Supreme Court, if unofficially and with no real power to enforce its rulings, something Andrew Jackson would, I think, have admired. But back to our main story: The Board had just spent an undisclosed amount of time doing the forms that hadn’t been filed for three and one half years. Fortunately for Honest Weight this lack of bureaucratic efficiency didn’t result in the loss of Honest Weight’s liquor license, since beer sales make up a significant portion of the total sales at the grocery.

A few people raised questions about whether it is proper for an institution that proclaims democracy as one of its defining missions should appoint someone to the Board who finished below two others. Others, like G.T, argued that “[w]e've [Honest Weight] been out of compliance with our liquor license for 2 years in a row, thanks to the LT's [Leadership Team’s] oversight. But somehow that's not what you want to talk about. You'd rather criticize the board for appointing a lawyer to help resolve a problem that the board didn't make. They had to fight to get the license situation under control, and were able to do that more quickly since S.R. did not need to go through the same kinds of background checks and fingerprinting that N would have had to if he had been seated. The license could have been taken away, at which point it would have been much harder to get back. We sell quite a bit of beer, which I'm sure you know, since I've seen you with an entire cart full of Sam Smith before. Thank your lucky stars next time you're drunkenly trolling this forum looking to stir up some conspiracy bullshit.”

I want to analyze G.T.’s statement because I think it reflects several not particularly positive trends in contemporary “intellectual” thought and analysis in the era of Twitter, twitterese, the new digital communications media, and the decline of the liberal arts college and its devolution into a type of vocational school. Let me note quickly that the ad hominem slurs inherent in G.T.’s accusations of drunkenness were made about someone Mr. G.T. doesn’t really know and that they reflect an unfortunate tendency in many of today's youth, particularly the male "kid" of the species, who seem to be unable to outgrow the schoolyard bullying or the rather childish and arrogant anti-intellectualism of their youth. Second, G.T.’s accusations that someone is trolling Honest Weight forums stirring up controversy are leveled far too often at those trying to uphold intellectual standards of argumentation and discourse, two things that seem to be lost in a generation brought up on the media, including Twitter, and educated in institutions that no longer maintain critical intellectual standards, and he provides no empirical justification for this accusation.

I want to explore Mr. G.T.’s level of intellectual discourse in the rest of this blog by focusing on his argument that Better Call had to be appointed to save Honest Weight’s Liquor license. There is a fundamental problem with G.T.’s argument. It is ambiguous. What does G.T. mean when he argues that R had to be appointed? Does he mean that only lawyers should be appointed to the Board now that Honest Weight has a liquor license and since it requires a Herculean effort on the part of the Board to make sure that the paperwork for the New York State Liquor Authority is kept up to snuff? Is he asserting that only lawyers should run for the Board since the paperwork to maintain the liquor license has become a labour of Hercules that only a lawyer could do this? Doesn’t that ignore the fact that only two of the members of the Board before S.R. was called were lawyers and that they managed to do what was required of them to get Honest Weight in compliance with the regulations of the State Liquor Authority? Is he arguing that this is a special situation and requires the labours of one Better Call. Isn’t this argument precluded by G.T.’s absolute statement about the need to have lawyers on the Board to protect the sale of liquor at Honest Weight? It is hard to tell what G.T. means since his assertions are not backed up with anything more than empty generalisations. At the very least he seems to be arguing that only lawyers should be appointed to the Board because only they can allow the Board and Honest Weight to avoid the slings and arrows of bureaucratic desire. He also may be implying that only lawyers should be elected to the Board since only they allow the Board to escape the herculean labours that have to be taken in order to meet the requirements of the New York State Liquor Authority, requirements that demand that each time a new member joins the Board the SLA must be informed and that the new member be vetted for possible violations of laws associated with selling liquor in retail stores. Whatever G.T. is trying to say one thing can be said about his “arguments”, they lack intellectual rigour, they are intellectually lazy, and they are intellectually sloppy. They are also all too human.

One more point before I go. I think the evidence strongly suggests that G.T. is arguing for the appointment of Better Call to the Board because he likes him and likes what he thinks Better Call stands for. G.T. likes Better Call because Better Call is, according to G.T., favourably disposed to labour and labour unions. G.T., you see, is one of the proponents of unionisation and is a member of a minority IWW union at Honest Weight. His goal seems to be to get the Board to recognise his minority union and he presumably thinks that the Rutgers educated S.R., a point G.T. makes a big deal of, is a means to this end. This, of course, is patented ideological construction of reality stuff and shows that the Wobbly commitment to what they call “direct democracy”, at least in the case of Honest Weight's direct Board elections, is secondary to their means, getting a lawyer sympathetic to unions on the Board, to their radiant ends, achieving Wobbly recognition at Honest Weight. It also shows that G.T. is a typical human who, like others, including members of the Westboro Baptist Church, construct a “reality” that fits their ideological needs.

And oh, as for Better Call he was elected to the Board last week. His comments prior to the election suggest that he may have a messianic complex which would seem to mesh well with G.T.'s uncritical defence of his appointment to the Board. Charismatic leaders, as Max Weber recognised, do have their acolytes. The appointment of R. to the Board, which was, in my opinion, a violation of the spirit of democracy at Honest Weight, doesn't seem to have raised much in the way of batted eyebrow amongst many of the voting members of the "coop". Oh well, I guess now would be a good time to note the conclusions of the Asch and Milgram studies.

Friday, April 8, 2016

No Voting For Me...

It is voting for the Board time again at Honest Weight. I definitely won't be voting for one person who is running for the Board, Better Call R. Saul. I know he is Honest Weight's Wobblies' Miss Honest Weight of 2016 because he wears the union label. I know he is the Miss Congeniality of 2016 of Honest Weight Board member Ned Depew because he found it expedient to appoint yet another lawyer to one of the Board's four empty seats because it meant the Board didn't have to send a form to the New York State Liquor Authority. I don't know why the other four members of the Board supported appointing Better Call Saul despite the fact that he finished below two others who had garnered more votes in the Special Membership Meeting election of last year. Was it because the Orange Brigade that controls the Board wanted to appoint one of their own? Was it because the Orange Brigade wanted to give Better Call Saul an advantage in the upcoming election? Was it because the Board was advised by lawyers that it was simply easier to appoint a lawyer rather than to follow the messier democratic process? Regardless of the reason this Board's action shows to me that the recent Board is as little committed to the direct democracy Honest Weight loudly proclaims that it is on its wall as the previous Board was when it appointed John Serio, who also finished behind another candidate, ironically the same one, who had more votes than Serio did.

Because of the current Board's lack of respect for direct democracy I am going to abstain from the upcoming Board elections. I am glad that this Board has finally brought into the light what went on under the previous Board and under the reign of the Leadership Team. I am glad that we now know that $75,000 dollars in bonuses (some claim the amount was higher, others lower) were paid over three years to the LT (which three years they don't note), that $200,000 dollars was spent on rent on the old store location that members were told we would not be paying after January of 2013 (though it was known that we were still renting the old store), and that $500,000 dollars was spent enriching advisers pushing corporatisation in order to eliminate the member labour programme, one of the few things that continues to make Honest Weight a kind of "coop". The old Board and the LT did all of this despite the fact that the store was, according to the same Board and LT, having financial problems and was not meeting managements sales goals. Shades of vampire corporate capitalism. I am, in other words, glad that the current Board is apparently trying to clean up the mess the previous Board and the LT left them. Despite this, however, I cannot in good conscience vote for a group of people who fail to live up to the direct democracy claims displayed prominently in the store.

I have to say that not voting also has other perks. I won't miss going to a membership meeting in which questions asked of the candidates make the questions asked of American presidential candidates seem intellectually impressive and challenging by comparison. I won't miss the fact that questions taken from the audience on pieces of paper are not only dumbed down but, the difficult ones in particular, are censored. I won't miss voting in elections where incumbents have an unfair advantage and are generally re-elected. Shades of American oligarchy. I will be happy that I won't, to paraphrase George Carlin, be in any way responsible for what comes bureaucratically after at Honest Weight.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Man Who Knew Too Little About Bureaucracies

I don't remember precisely when it happened, probably in the 1960s and after, but bureaucracy has become, like cult, a dirty word for many in the United States. I am not sure those who use bureaucracy as a dirty word really know what a bureaucracy is, however. According to one introductory textbook on sociology “[b]ureaucracy is a type of organisation marked by a clear hierarchy of authority and the existence of written rules or procedures and staffed by full-time salaries officials.” Another introductory sociology text defines bureaucracy similarly as a “formal organisation in which power is allocated through a hierarchy of offices and goal statues. In a bureaucracy people engage in specialised tasks, there is a division of labour, and abide by rules and expectations that are clearly defined”.

Let’s apply these similar definitions to a case study, a case study of the Honest Weight Food "Coop". Does Honest Weight have a clear hierarchy? Yes, there is the Board of Directors, Honest Weight’s ruling legislative and executive body. Below them is the Leadership Team. Below these managers are a host of workers with specialised tasks such as benefits, payroll, and advertising. Below these mid level managers are the heads of departments including grocery, the deli, and the front end. Then there are the staff. As one goes up the hierarchy pay increases just as in any other bureaucracy. As one goes up the hierarchical pyramid does power and authority increase? It does just as it does in the American government and in the American military. Does Honest Weight have written rules? It does. Honest Weight has a book full of ever increasing by-laws and it has an employees manual full of ever increasing rules that employees are supposed to abide by. Needless, to say other bureaucracies from IBM to the federal government have similar written rules. Do Honest Weight’s employees engage in specialised tasks? They do. Honest Weight has cashiers, deli personnel, mid management personnel, and upper management personnel to name just a few. Management personnel, as is the case in GE, are subdivided by specialised tasks. Is Honest Weight a bureaucracy in the way that term has been defined for one hundred years or so? The answer to that question is a resounding well duh, yes it is.

Despite all of this, despite, in other words, of the clear fact that Honest Weight is a bureaucracy, there are still those who deny the obvious, namely, that Honest Weight is a bureaucracy. One can only wonder why an intelligent and thinking person fails to recognise that Honest Weight, given the weight of the evidence, is a typical bureaucracy. Is he or she unfamiliar with the scientific literature on bureaucracies? Does he or she not know that comparative history shows that as societies were transformed from hunter-gatherer societies to small scale agricultural societies to large agricultural societies and to modern industrial societies, populations grew and bureaucracies grew to deal with increasing numbers of people, the increasingly complex tasks that demographic growth and civilisational complexity brought, and to maximise economic and political efficiency? Does he or she not want to believe that Honest Weight is a bureaucracy because he or she can't face the truth? Is he or she trapped in an ideological iron cage and unable to admit the obvious because that would mean giving up a cherished ideological fiction? You do the ideological math.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Sojourn Among the Wobblies

Before I electronically entered the land of the Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) tribe I had been told by previous sojourners and observers who knew of my interest in the social and cultural construction of culture and ideology that the Wobblies had a very interesting ideological topography. According to these researchers the Wobblies, like most other humans before them and likely most other humans after them, divide up the world into two spheres: the sacred and the profane. In the category of the sacred is, for members of the contemporary Wobbly tribe, the man Wobblies seem to think of as kind of a prophet, Karl Marx, and the works of "the prophet", which the Wobblies regard as infallible sacred scripture. In the category of the profane is anyone who criticises, validly or not, the prophet, the sacred works of the prophet, and that key symbol of contemporary Wobbly culture, the utopian belief that "the working class"--ironically most contemporary Wobblies seem to be middle class intellectuals--is the essence of all that is good and pure in a profane world dominated and run by capitalist pigs and their running dog lackeys, a belief symbolised succinctly and pithily by the graphic art poster above with its radiant future brought to you by the Wobblies motif. Critics of Wobbly sacred culture are, researchers report, regarded by the Wobbly tribe as heretics and disbelievers and treated as such by the Wobblies.

Recently, a number of researchers have reported that a new category of profane has begun to emerge among current members of the Wobbly tribe, namely the belief that anyone who writes more than a few paragraphs and who uses words like fetishisation or social and cultural construction in their electronic posts is profaning the sacred culture of the Wobblies, a culture, of course, which Wobblies, have fetishised. What is fascinating about this conception of the profane among contemporary Wobblies is that it has become apparent among members of the tribe despite the fact that the works of their prophet run to several thousand pages and are littered with words like fetishisation, the labour theory of value and other technical philosophical and economic "jargon". Most researchers chalk the rise of this novel conception of the profane among recent Wobblies up to the rise of the new digital media and its negative impact on the attention spans of those who use electronic media, something that shows, contrary to Wobbly ideology, that culture is sometimes base.

What I can report at this point in my research is that my research thus far confirms the reports of previous observers. The Wobblies I encountered do have very definite notions of what is sacred and what is profane, do treat as heretics those who violate Wobbly sacred taboos, do inquisit those who violate Wobbly sacred taboos, and do react negatively to electronic posts they regard as too long and too full of multi-syllabic words. I can also report that I learned a few other things during my ethnographic sojourn among the Wobbly faithful. The posts they criticise for being too long and too verbose, in my experience, are only those posts they regard as profaning their holy of holies, their sacred prophet and his sacred works. This intellectual anti-intellectualism of the Wobblies I encountered may, in part, be a product of the comprehension, patience, and concentration problems wrought by the rise of new digital media with their cult of pithiness. It is also, if not more, the product of an ideological correctness grounded in the sense that they, the Wobblies, have a monopoly on truth. That's fetishisation. I learned that the official Wobby commitment to direct democracy is only skin deep. When the Board at the "coop" at which the Wobblies work and shop appointed someone to the Board who finished sixth in a direct membership election--three were elected--the Wobblies supported the Board action justifying the means by reference to the ends, the lawyer appointed was more union friendly and, as a result, more friendly to the Wobbly union they are trying to expand at the Coop. Ironically, a Board member who is opposed to unionisation in putatively cooperative settings also justified the means--appointing a lawyer who finished behind two others--by the end--it was expedient. Those Wobblies sure do wobble. All of this, by the way, makes the Wobblies I met online rather typical examples of the human species, particularly the bourgeois human species..

Author's note: There is a bit of the Nacirema tongue in cheek in this blog post. There are several serious points being made in it as well.