Friday, November 30, 2012

Fifty Out of Fifty-Two

The insanity of five out of seven days a week, 50 out of 52 weeks a year.  The rat race.  By the time Friday rolls around, whether it's psychological or physical, I'm lunging for the finish line.  Liberty is restricted to Saturday when there is a window of a few hours, usually after I run Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop.  I take this time to read.  Sunday is devoted to chores and watching football on television.  The life of an aging bachelor.

Of course it could be worse, and it has been.  Being jobless with no income is a poor substitute.  One has more time on his hands but looking for work is unpleasant and interviewing worse.  I was a "house husband" for several years.  I did all the cooking, shopping and cleaning while I worked a job taking care of flowers from spring through fall.  My winter hours were few.  I got a lot of reading done.  But my girlfriend/spouse who was the chief breadwinner was jealous and the carping about finding additional employment would always begin after Christmas.  So there's no pot of gold at the end of the house husband rainbow.

My day ends with a limp not a lunge.  A young co-worker spends the afternoon shotgunning pheromones throughout the office.  Outside rain pours down during my two-mile walk home.  There is one profound triumph of the will.  I manage to make it to the grocery store.

Do Elections Matter?

The last paragraph from today's Paul Krugman column reads: "So keep your eyes open as the fiscal game of chicken continues.  It's an uncomfortable but real truth that we are not all in this together; America's topdown class warriors lost big in the election, but now they're trying to use the pretense of concern about the deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Let's not let them pull it off."

Do elections matter? 

That the fiscal cliff raises this question is what makes it so fascinating.   Bush wins an election in 2000 by Supreme Court intervention to stop a Florida recount and then he governs -- tax cuts that predominantly benefit the very wealthy and two large wars -- as if he made a clean sweep of the Electoral College.  Obama actually wins big -- twice -- in the Electoral College and he has yet to deliver one of his top campaign promises from 2008, to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the top 2%.

So far all Republicans are willing to accept in terms of increased revenue is a cap on deductions, which was Romney's position during the campaign. 

It is as if this November's election never happened.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Grip of "Entitlement Reform"

The fiscal cliff story by Peter Baker I read today takes the position that Obama is not talking enough about spending cuts, that he is pandering to his liberal base by harping on raising tax rates for the 2% of the citizenry who earn at least $200-250K a year. 

I can't remember reading a story in the Times where Boehner's reticence to talk about a tax hike for the wealthy combined with his loquaciousness on "entitlement reform" is described as pandering to his conservative base.

The story is chock full of quotes from Erskine Bowles saying that the solutions are going to be painful and that we need more discussion about spending.


A couple Thursdays back David Brooks had a column devoted to a significant demographic shift underway in developed countries. 

More people are living alone.  "The number of Americans who are living alone has shot up from 9 percent in 1950 to 28 percent today."  Brooks says "This is not a phenomenon particular to the United States.  In Scandinavia, 40 percent to 45 percent of people live alone."

The bachelor and the bachelorette are a burgeoning demographic, what Brooks calls post-familialism, after a research report -- "The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity's Future?" -- prepared by Joel Kotkin.

Brooks asks "Why is this happening?  The report offers many explanations.  People are less religious.  People in many parts of the world are more pessimistic and feeling greater economic stress.  Global capitalism also seems to be playing a role, especially, it seems, in Asia."

So there you have it.  The system has been named, capitalism, although with two "seems" in the same sentence.

But for the rest of the column Brooks does what a crafty, formidable rhetorician toiling in defense of concentrated wealth does -- he turns the discussion away from the political economy to a manichean morality tale.

According to Brooks it is the self-indulgent, petulant urban single, the one who voted for Obama, who is spurring this collapse of the two-parent family.  If she would just buck up and take on a little responsibility and get married and make a baby then all would be well and good and the nation would be stronger.

As a bachelor with a string of wrecked relationships behind me I see the rise of post-familialism as a rational response to the increasing stresses accompanying whatever stage capitalism (finance monopoly) we are now living under.

For what it is worth, Brooks' columns of the last couple of years have been interesting.  Since the Republican Party has become overtly Birchite he has had to rely more on indirection, sleight of hand, to support his conservative worldview, and he has done this by writing about recent social science research.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Metabolic Vehicle

What a joy it is to run, really the greatest pleasure for this celibate bachelor. 

It was a post-work slice of paradise tonight.  I limbered up trotting north down Federal Avenue and then up through Volunteer Park, a beautiful Olmsted park, cresting Capitol Hill at the Conservatory and the Seward statue.

Then it was east down Galer to the greenbelt of Interlaken Drive.  Moisture in the air and moonlight.  The Drive-By Truckers and James Brown chirped on my iPod.  I ran past a home that smelled of cooking steak.  Is there anything finer than to be a smoothly functioning, to borrow Paul Virilio's term, "metabolic vehicle"?

The Emerging Republican Majority

The days begins at 5 a.m. when I plod downstairs to pick up the paper.  Steam rises from the radiator as I open the front door of the apartment building and step out on the stoop.  Then it's back upstairs for a cup of cold coffee.

In today's news, or what catches my eye, are stories about the approaching fiscal cliff and the certification of results from Washington State's gubernatorial race.

Inslee beat McKenna by winning only eight of 39 counties.  But the counties he won included King, The Big Kahuna.  You win King County big and you win the state.  Part of what influences voting in the eastern and southern counties is a resentment of Seattle's demographic dominance.

One of the things I learned from reading Kevin Phillips' first book, The Emerging Republican Majority, is that a person votes not so much based on his own beliefs but on how the person he despises votes: you know who you dislike; you identify who he is voting for; and you vote for the other guy on the ballot.  This is how much of electoral politics works in a two-party system.  It is an exercise in negation.

With a month to go there are too many moving pieces to predict an outcome on the fiscal cliff.  One thing that is clear is that the GOP got its clock cleaned in the election.  I don't know whether the Birchers in the party think they have enough clout to repeat the Mad Mullah debt ceiling performance from the summer of 2011.  One of the items in today's story by Jonathan Weisman is that there is consensus among Democrats and Obama that any deal to avert going off the cliff must include a long-term agreement on the debt ceiling.  Will the Mad Mullah bargain away his billao?  It's hard to imagine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dinosaur jr.

Pouncing on a Cyber Monday deal that belatedly arrived in my inbox this morning, I downloaded Dinosaur Jr.'s latest album, I Bet On Sky.  It's quite good.

As I listened to it walking to work this morning I was reminded of the link between Dinosaur Jr. and my arrival in the Emerald City. 

On my way up here for the first time I stopped off in Ashland to purchase a used truck.  I visited a friend I went to high school with who recommended this SST band called Dinosaur Jr.  He had seen them in New Haven.  He said that they were so loud he could feel the music on his skin (and it hurt).  Once I got settled in a sublet apartment that looked down on 23rd Avenue East I repeatedly played cassettes of You're Living All Over Me and Bug that I had picked up at either Tower Records or Cellophane Square.

At the same time I discovered at the local convenience store the pleasures of 40-ounce bottles of Midnight Dragon, an inexpensive but tasty malt liquor.  After work, mostly on the weekends, I listened to Dinosaur Jr., often followed by Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, late into the night, typing letters on a second hand manual Brother and getting drunk.

It was this summer that I began thinking about connecting a group of ideas: dinosaur extinction, nuclear testing, Phenomenology,and early childhood memory; also, the two hands of God.  I gained inspiration listening to Lou Barlow sing "Poledo," the last track on You're Living All Over Me.  I continued to fiddle with these ideas -- Phenomenology yielded to Gestalt psychology -- for the next five years.

Post Coital

This is the season.  Three years back I was launched on my current trajectory.  I parted company with my girlfriend of four years and then briefly, disastrously, dated a former co-worker.  By the middle of December I had contracted some sort of infection after sleeping just once with the former co-worker (Schopenhauer advises dangling one's post-coital cock in vinegar, which, sadly, I didn't do) and was on my way to freedom.  No longer -- at least up until now -- would I "share the shelter" with a female companion.

The black of November always brings this back, not in a lachrymose way, but in a feeling of rekindled resolve and purpose.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Office Work

A cloud of woe.  Returning on a Monday from Thanksgiving holiday this is what one finds at the office.  People are unhappy.  I am reminded of the Bukowski poem: "youth fenced in,/stabbed and shaven,/taught words/propped up/to die."  Except that in my work situation (a union local) most are not young; a majority are over 50.  In this environment there is a sense of being not only trapped but exhausted.

When extruded from the university and placed by a headhunter, who liked my blue suit of light wool, in a career track rat race job (at the Foundation Center on Fifth Avenue and 16th Street) I quickly realized this is where theological concepts of rebirth are hatched.  My co-workers were miserable -- obsessed with eating, consumed by petty grievances, managed hierarchically, filled with regret.  How else to digest this bilious daily fare other than by concocting an afterlife?  The next life would have to be better.

My Schopenhauer Epiphany

When I was in school there was a run I did regularly.  I would leave the apartment and head down Fulton Street.  At Leconte Elementary I would start winding my way up to Alta Bates Medical Center, across from which I lived in a house on Regent Street my freshman year.  From there I would head up to Benvenue Avenue, and then back across Ashby and back home.  Google Mapping it now I am encouraged to see that round trip the run is a 5K.  I -- we (when running with friends) -- used to do it in around 20 minutes and change.

On the back end of the run one summer afternoon, on Ellsworth Street between Haste and Channing Way, I had a realization that Arthur Schopenhauer was right.  How exactly he was right, what in his philosophy it was at that moment that I incandescently accepted as truth, I can't say for sure.  I was reading a lot of Schopenhauer and Thomas Hardy that summer, trying to finish a paper for a graduate seminar on adultery in the 19th century novel.  Well, I say I was reading a lot of Schopenhauer.  I was reading snippets of The World as Will and Representation and attempting to read from start to finish Schopenhauer's first book, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.  But mostly I read, and read thoroughly, Bryan Magee's The Philosphy of Schopenhauer.

So while I can't remember the exact content of my Schopenhauer epiphany, over the years I have come to regard it and occasionally retell it as my acceptance of the necessity of the extirpation of the will, or, to put it another way (from Kerouac's Vanity of Duluoz) -- "The wheel of life stops with me."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ironing & the National Football League

A particularly burdensome chore is the ironing of clothes for work.  I rush through shirts and pants as quickly as possible; for instance, I will iron only one side of each shirt sleeve.

One consolation is during football season I can watch NFL telecasts while I iron.  The home town Seahawks lost again on the road.  The ballyhooed young defense underwhelmed -- much as they did in the 4th quarter of the last road game (Detroit) -- making Miami QB Ryan Tannehill look almost as efficient as Matt Stafford.  The problem in both of these games is the disappearance of Seattle's pass rush.

Emotional investment in the home team invariably leads to disappointment.

Absence of the Feminine

A bachelor is usually thought of as an unmarried man who lives alone. 

The word can be traced to the Anglo-Norman bacheler, "knight bachelor," a young squire in training, the lowest stage of knighthood; it can also refer to the holder of a "bachelor's degree" from a four-year college or university.

But while the etymological essence of a bachelor might be a trainee, we must not forget the importance of  absence in defining a bachelor, the absence of partnership with the feminine.