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Nowtopian

economy, 'technology', public space, San Francisco past and present, class, books

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This is What Democracy Looks Like?!?

Heavy times these days. An innocent man, Alex Nieto, was murdered by the police on Bernal Heights on Friday March 21. This follows a litany of police corruption cases, regular incidents of police violence, and a growing climate of utter impunity under the old-boy police chief Greg Suhr.

At a wider scale, every day there is dire news about climate change, most recently the NASA-funded report that suggests we are on the brink of a collapse of industrial society (hardly a new idea, but interesting to have it widely disseminated by a scholarly study funded in part by NASA). Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent book The Sixth Extinction leaves little doubt that it is humans who are causing the wipe-out of thousands of species across the planet.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed its ongoing commitment to plutocracy by eliminating limits on individual donations to election campaigns. It’s not the Armageddon for democracy that a bunch of liberals are making it out to be–just more of the same relentless arrogance of the ruling class in the U.S., abandoning any pretense about legitimate democratic elections (the same Supreme Court a few months ago threw out most of the Voting Rights Act rules that assured the right to vote to poor and people of color in the most reactionary states in the Union). Much as I disrespect electoral democracy and think it is broken, the message from the Supreme Court is pretty clear: voting rights are for those with money, obviously!

Locally, the supposedly “progressive” Board of Supervisors (San Francisco’s city council) listened to a packed chamber for about 3 hours, nearly unanimous in their clamor for a proper environmental review of the absurd shuttle bus give-away to tech companies (wherein private luxury shuttle buses are allowed to use public bus stops for $1 each–after being free for the past several years–while private citizens who stop on a bus stop in their car are liable for a fine of $271 each!). Citizens documented the radical inflation of local housing markets around tech shuttle stops, decried the ethnic cleansing of the Mission and other parts of the City that are the result, and showed the heavy strain put on public buses and their riders by having the tech buses in their way, and so on. But as has been the case for a long time in this city, the public hearing was a charade, the decision having been made before anyone even spoke. The vote after this overwhelming insistence on an environmental review? 8-2 against, including some so-called progressive supervisors like Jane Kim and David Chiu. Kudos to Campos and Avalos for sticking with the people in spite of the greased wheels and done deal behind the scenes.

We live in a deeply corrupt society, from the local level to the national level. The 1% have decided, going back more than a decade, to grab whatever they can. It’s a society of brazen theft and bribery, where the politicians in Washington are mostly millionaires serving the interests of their class, and local politicians are so devoid of vision that they serve the interests of whatever ascendant pile of dough happens to come along.

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They Want Our Bones

This is a guest post from my friend Fernando Marti. He sent this to me a few weeks ago, and I shared it with a few friends. We all loved it, so I thought it should have a wider audience and a more accessible home than just a file being passed around. Enjoy!

“They want our bones, y’know,” she said, motioning with her head down the row of tables at the café. There was a single person sitting alone at each of the tables along the wall, each young pale face lit blue by the glowing screens in front of them, the little logos on the laptop covers pulsing with their own life. I looked over to the woman sitting at the table next to me, a little slouched over her coffee, to make sure it was me she was talking to. She was a short thin lady, gray hair tied back in a tight ponytail, black dress made of heavy cloth, looking a bit like an aging Mexican goth rocker. I think maybe I had seen her before at this café, selling handmade sage bundles, but we had never talked before. Now she leaned over towards me, as though she was confiding a secret.

Y qué?” she said, some kind of question about I don’t know what. “It’s not their jobs we want,” and she motioned with her head again. “Or that they avoid our city buses and get on their own private tinted-window double-deckers like they’re on their way to the airport or something. And it’s not their pink-moustached cars with their drivers’ heads down on their text pads cutting off the old ladies like they’re johns looking for a hookup. Or that they crowd our sidewalks silently scrolling their fancy phones waiting for hand-dripped coffees that take twenty minutes to make, what’s that?” She almost seemed to laugh, looking down at her coffee, but it wasn’t really a laugh. She talked in a run-on, like she had a lot to say and too little time to say it, sometimes low as a whisper, then rising to where I think the other customers were starting to look at us. “It’s not what’s different about them, y’know? That’s not why we hate them, although maybe that would be a good reason. You know what it is? It’s that they want to be like us.” She let it sit there, and I nodded to her, “M-hmmm,” went back to my work.

Poster from Mutiny Radio event on Saturday March 1 at 21st and Florida in San Francisco's Mission District.... thanks to Art Hazelwood and the other artists!

Poster from Mutiny Radio event on Saturday March 1 at 21st and Florida in San Francisco’s Mission District…. thanks to Art Hazelwood and the other artists!

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Public Secrets and Private Agony: Talking About Work!

what-or-who-does-knowledge-serve_1005

What (or whom) does knowledge serve? a good question on the wall of a closed school in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We might ask the same about work!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jobs Don’t Work! The whole structure of modern life has at its center the waged job. It doesn’t really matter if you’re making a paltry minimum wage (or less!) or nearly six figures (or more)—well, it does matter to YOU, since more money is better than less, self-evidently. But the deeper logic of our relationship to how we make life, how we reproduce the material and social conditions of our daily existence, is quite similar regardless of pay scale.

In this era, if you’re not pushing a shopping cart around looking for cans and bottles, or riding in your private jet to the next country club or gallery opening you probably describe yourself as “middle class.” This self-labeling carries social consequences that we don’t think or talk much about. If someone asks you what you do, you’ll probably answer with what your paid job is before quickly changing the subject, since talking about how unsatisfactory your work probably is just makes you look bad. It is socially forbidden to discuss how much money you actually make, even if comparing pay and benefits in a more transparent way would actually be extremely helpful to everyone. Instead, we are expected to glow with pride over how we trade our human capacities for creativity, engagement, sharing, skills, etc., for a vague but always apparently adequate amount of money. Complaints are frowned upon, whether regarding the work itself, the company, or the mysterious level of compensation. It’s ok to bitch about the boss, but all complaining is answered with the same pat solution: get another job! It is simply not allowed into the conversation—or most imaginations—that the “job” is itself the problem. That humans organized into a capitalist economy based on wage-work (whether by the hour or by the annual salary) necessarily leads the vast majority of us into profound loneliness, frustration over our inability to affect the world around us through what we do all day, despair over the emptiness of our daily lives, and a self-reproducing closed circuit of confusion and self-delusion. More »

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