Category Archives: politics in america

Dual marketing

Ever since my days of developing fast cal/oz/$ estimates at the Safeway on Santa Monica Ave in an attempt to keep myself, physiologically speaking, a going concern, I have been suspicious of the way pet food gets labeled. Today I grabbed a can of my wonderful hostess’ canned food for her cat. I delivered half to the dish on the floor, and caught sight of the name- Grammy’s Pot Pie. Pot pie? When did cats get so into pastry? When did Grammy start including the mellow white meat of mice in her dishes? In short, WTF?

I know the theory- anthropomorphizing pet food is yet another way to separate middle class suckers from their yuppie food stamps. It makes well heeled pet owners feel that if they really loved their pets they’d buy them all the food an omnivore could ever want, despite most house pets complete lack of an omnivoracious digestive system.

I always thought there was more to it than that. Part of it was the suckers, sure, but I’ve always thought it was a brilliant case of (admittedly grim) dual marketing. Beginning in the late Reagan era’s special treatment for the poor the way pet food was presented seemed to be changing. High calorie count? Low glycemic index? Vitamin additives, and a label with a picture of a Thanksgiving meal on it? What more could a septuagenarian on a social security fixed income ask for? Pet food is suspiciously labeled for human consumption, and humans do consume it. Why not compete for that market segment?

If you think this is too bleak to be the case, and I am ridiculous and paranoid for thinking it, I present Grammy’s Pot Pie, Smaller Serving Size 5.5oz.

The smell of Grammy’s house and her famous chicken pot pie is an unforgettable comfort. Our family loves dogs and we thought it was about time to share this great taste with yours. These tender chunks of chicken are sure to make your dog beg to go to Grammy’s, even if they have to eat their vegetables. Grammy’s Pot Pie is prepared with Chicken, Red Jacket New Potatoes, Carrots, Snow Peas, & Red Apples.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein (Min.) 9.00%
Crude Fat (Min.) 4.00%
Crude Fiber (Max.) 1.00%
Moisture (Max.) 81.00%

Calorie Content
1045 kcal/kg – A 13.2 oz. can provides 394 kcal of metabolizable energy, calculated value.

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Fresh Red Jacket New Potatoes, Fresh Carrots, Fresh Snow Peas, Fresh Red Delicious Apple, Potato Starch-modified, Olive Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Flax Seed Oil (For Omega -3), Natural Caramel Color, Poultry Seasoning (Thyme, Sage, Rosemary), Yucca Schidigera Extract, Choline Chloride, Salt, Lecithin, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Mixed Tocopherols, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Vitamin E Supplement, Manganese Amino Acid Complex,Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin A Acetate, Copper Amino Acid Complex, d-Calcium Pantothenate,Vitamin D3 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate, Sodium Selenite.

Grammy’s Pot Pie is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food nutrient profiles for all life stages

This is one of the more, I feel, conclusive examples of the genre. I don’t even think it’s that horrible, if the labels are even close to accurate. If poor people are stuck eating pet food, I am hoping the ones that can afford the slightly more expensive pet food are getting the advertised nutritional value. But I do hope that we can remember that this is speaking to more than one demographic.

Sophocles on the Financial Crisis & Subprime Lending.

“‘Tis by them, well I know, that these have been beguiled and bribed to do this deed. Nothing so evil as money ever grew to be current among men. This lays cities low, this drives men from their homes, this trains and warps honest souls till they set themselves to works of shame; this still teaches folk to practise villainies, and to know every godless deed.

But all the men who wrought this thing for hire have made it sure that, soon or late, they shall pay the price… For thou wilt find that ill-gotten pelf brings more men to ruin than to weal.”


Signs of a living religion and an addicted culture

I was very impressed with Bill Moyers’ recent interview with three progressive theologians, Cornel West, Serene Jones, and Gary Dorrien, about the state of the world, capitalism, even metaphysics, and the state of Christianity. I had somewhat despaired of seeing much from the corners of my former faith to indicate that it was still evolving and adapting while remaining true to itself as a religion. Where I had seen this the churches seemed in terrible decline, but these people had a vibrancy and a relevancy that expresses the best qualities of the faith without abandoning its precepts:

BILL MOYERS: What do you think is the story of America right now? If you had to write that story, very briefly, what is the story that’s unfolding, as we talk?

SERENE JONES: It’s a story about sin and grace, and it’s about the brokenness of human beings and our capacity to delude ourselves, all the way into the international collapse of all that we stand for. To get caught up in fictions that we write about the ways in which we should structure our lives together. We are seeing, played out before us, that classic Protestant claim that we can be caught up in sin and not even know we are in sin.

When Christianity is at its shining best it isn’t afraid to overturn the tables of the moneylenders in front of the temple, as well as looking after the poor and sick. Christianity, like any other faith, structure of thought, or pursuit of mind and spirit, needs to embrace the truth and tell it to the world to remain legitimate. And it’s in a rare position to point out certain behaviors that are ‘of this world’ because the cultural conditions of the New Testament map to our own cultural conditions so well. We live in a very Imperial Roman age, and a religion born of that age should have a lot to say to us- the Christian community has been tragically slack about this. Much of modern Christianity yoked to a dead theology that often seemed to require profound intellectual dishonesty, and falls into the same sick traps as the rest of the society.

But Serene Jones tells the story of what has made us sick beautifully:

SERENE JONES: But I think we can never underestimate the crisis of desire. That it wasn’t just that there was – it didn’t have enough social strength, or a good enough analysis. That what turbo capitalism does, is it – the biggest, sort of, war zone is interior to us – where it takes over your desire. It makes you into a creature who wants to buy the commodities. So you could have a great political analysis. But what you’re doing, on the ground every day, is you’re fueling this turbo capitalism. And it’s in the churches that another kind of desire should have been being crafted. That’s where you can get people in their bones and really begin to force the question of, what is it that you want? What makes you happy? What makes your life mean? What, you know, it’s those deep questions of want.

SERENE JONES: I think one of the reasons that it happens is that we are living in a very overwhelming time. And it’s always going to be the case that a conservative familiar neo liberal agenda sounds safer.

Because it’s what we know. But the truth of the matter is what we know is what got us in trouble in the first place. So it’s one of those moments that everybody faces in their own life. We happen to be facing it structurally right now. Is everything collapses, what do we do? In the midst of that fear, do we grasp for what’s most familiar? That’s what’s happening. But the very thing you’re grasping for is the thing that got you there in the first place.

That last line- “But the very thing you’re grasping for is the thing that got you there in the first place.” is an unmistakable description of addiction, and what’s more, addiction heading for its bottom. The signs and trappings of a culture surrendering itself to addiction, to the co-opting of want, are the water we swim in these days. They are our whole context, and the substance of choice we return to in our hours of need.

It always impresses me when the things I am thinking about come together, because I believe Infinite Jest is about the same thing, a culture heading for a bottom.

To paraphrase from AA and Infinite Jest, our best thinking got us here. I find myself agreeing emphatically with these people whose faith I do not share- it’s going to take a revival of love to get us out.

A remarkable speech and political progress

I was quite moved and impressed with Obama’s Cairo speech. Quoting the Qur’an four times, and the Talmud alongside the Bible, invoking Cordoba, and confessing publicly our role in the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s peacefully democratically elected and legitimate government- it was all such a departure from the ideology of the last administration, and so much more courageous than even many before that. I think the significance of acknowledging the past may be lost on many of the listeners, both here and in the Middle East, where the past is so well known, but it represents a willingness to speak with candor that I believe will make a huge amount of difference. Before reconciliation comes truth. Now is the moment where the world reacts to the speech. That reactions seem to be largely positive- and even when it’s not in some of the Middle Eastern blogs I’ve perused it seems like there is as much avoidance of hope for fear of being disappointed as actual criticism. But the brilliance of the speech was how it enfranchised so many subtle points of view without taking away from others.

What struck me most in the post-speech commentary was this comment in an Al Jazeera story:

Ahmad Yousuf, a senior Hamas official, told Al Jazeera that Obama’s speech reminded him of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech”.

About Obama stressing on the legitimacy of Israel, he said the Palestinians must have a state of their own before being asked to recognise another.

I don’t believe one gets rid of a Hamas by driving them into the sea, by bombing them or starving them, or by threats, or even education or propaganda. One gets rid of a Hamas by giving it political legitimacy, putting it in charge of some roads, and saddling it with a bureaucracy. Yousuf is here framing that end to Hamas as it is- admitting the possibility of political compromise where none should be ideologically possible. ‘Let us have our nation,’ he seems to be saying, ‘and we’ll let you have yours.’ That the possibility of the promise being broken exists doesn’t matter- then it’s just politicians lying. They are one good asphalt trade negotiation away from doing it anyhow.

More Perfect Union still stands to me as the greatest political speech of my lifetime, but this could have been one of the more brilliant moves in psychohistory I’ve seen in a while.

Interesting times

Imagine this falling through a time hole into the 90s

Imagine this falling through a time hole into the 90s

It looks like all of society as we knew it is kind of coming apart, something I hyperbolically declaimed would happen in my attention seeking drama laden way in the mid 90s, when I was trying to explain the internet to people like the California Banker’s Association.

I had no idea I was right. Or at least, if I had some idea intellectually, I had none emotionally, and certainly no idea what the implications of it were. Disruption is an intense thing to live through, and littered with casualties.

Clay on newspapers, Ethan’s cute cat theory on government destabilization,
TAL on the giant pool of money, Cory at Microsoft, The zombie armies.

Ok, it’s not all about the internet, except it is. It’s about what happens when you hook a lot of computers to a telecom infrastructure. It’s what Skynet really looks like.

Looking back to Obama’s night

I have recently returned from the inauguration, but this was written the night he was elected. I am running behind, but more on understanding implications than just writing.

Nov. 5/6

Mccain conceded before the polls closed in Alaska or Hawaii; Obama gave his acceptance speech, and the honking and shouting in Cambridge, Massachusetts began. By 1am something frenetic was beginning to sizzle in the air. I walk down Mass Ave to Harvard Square. Encountering a jubilant group of well muscled students, my first (clearly compulsory) high five feels like it’s going to take off my right shoulder.

Cars go by honking, each with their own tattoo, a couple with a kind of car alarm like regularity. Then a Cambridge night bus goes by, driver pounding out his own song oblivious to any political sanctity of municipal on-the-clock time. Something is starting, and no one is starting it. My own footsteps take on a kind of involuntary musicality. I am happy, an infectious almost involuntary kind of happy, coming on like getting damp in a growing rainstorm. Everything around me is getting more musical.

Harvard Square is packed. Whoo hoo! woah! honk! Then the Yes we Cans begin, mixed with some yes we dids. (I thought it was the earliest concession speech of my life; my mom confirmed she was pretty sure it was the earliest of hers too.) People are feeling powerful, filling the streets and climbing the street furniture, dripping from the fences and climbing over each other, still waving campaign signs. Yes we did.

Pretty soon they are chanting Obama! Obama! But no cry lasts for long against the general exuberance. There is no rally here, no event, not even a party.

This is a riot of happy.

It was, said one bemused cop who was vaguely stopping anyone from heading even deeper into Harvard Square, like when the Red Socks won the World Series. “Did you expect this?” He snorted. “We probably should have.” What we didn’t know at the time was that this involved a lot more of the world than the World Series generally does. Pictures and videos were rolling in of spontaneous happy riots breaking out all over the US, all over the world. They were dancing in the streets in Canada, Jubilant in Europe, singing in Brazil. Everyone owned this election, even if just a little bit. A lot of the world was exhaling in relief. It’s more than relief here, something has broken free, and is riding the crowd every bit as much as the crowd is riding it.

They are happy when they block traffic. They are thrilled when they let it through. The price of getting through: you have to high five everyone beside your car. Another nightbus comes by, empty, to outrageous applause. All this goes for the police as well. An old grizzled black Cambridge policeman missing his front teeth demonstrates an almost magical power to move the crowd around by high fiving people and shouting “Yes we can!” with an honest if dual-purposed glee. He waves people back and frees up the road, while they stumble over each other to come high five him.

Yes we did! Yes we did!

As I walked into Harvard square a middle aged black man in a tatty suit jacket stopped me. He stopped me in particular because I had to know, he had to make me know something.

“I’m going to be a better man from today,” he explained in a thick accent, “I’m not going to cheat on my wife anymore.”

I laughed. I always laugh when a) surprised and b) buying time to make out people’s accents. He didn’t give up on me. “I’m telling you!”

“Yeah? Can I take your picture?”

In fact he wants the moment recorded for posterity, the birth of the new man. He wants the big glowing clock in the background to record the moment. He grabs a random stranger to be part of the picture, pressing him into his story rebirth from cynicism and lying into loyalty, but not actually telling him. They grin, I snap.

He’d cried three times that night, he’d told me. He hadn’t cried since his father died. Unsure what one says when the election of the first black president of the United States of America and a man so eloquent and inspiring as to put to shame two generations worth to come before him, who is overturning perhaps one of the most terrible and hated regimes of the post WWII western world reduces a middle aged black immigrant not only to sobbing but to a kind of religious remaking of character, I settle for “Wow.”

I cried when my father died too, but I also cry at particularly well produced 30 second ad spots. I didn’t cry Obama Night.

“I’ll be a better man,” he tells me again, clearly on his way to cry number four. We melted into the crowd and don’t see each other again.

Why didn’t I cry? I was still ineptly hiding my blubbering on my 4th viewing of the More Perfect Union speech. I care about race, I care about history. All the things that were moving people that night to hug and cry and whoop and honk were things that matter to me a lot, but not a tear. Nothing I can say about what happened in Harvard Square on Obama Night doesn’t sound like the Obama campaign, and that bothers me. I can say it was the kind of hope that hearing about the cure for a disease brings. Hope! Ew! I can say it wasn’t about Obama it was about the people making something different happen by their force of will, but Obama says that! No fair! If the Obama campaign detected what was out on the street and cynically used it to get elected, well, bugger.

But I’m not sure if what I saw out there will let him. There’s an old story about a group of people getting in to see FDR and laying out a proposal. It impressed him, and he advised them “Now go out there and force me to do it.” Politicians are subject to the occult forces of societies. The demons of our collective moods possess them, and the best can mold their possession into something history judges kindly, but they certainly don’t defy it. Whatever strange spirit was traveling around Harvard square wasn’t summoned by the people, it was riding them, it is riding America, not the other way around. I wonder how much the next administration can resist, and how much it would be at their peril.

By late in the evening, people have worked out how to play the car horn. Someone is honking with their own unique stuttering song. Da a a aa da da. Da a a aa da da. Da a a aa da da.

An Iraqi man grabs me from the crowd to take his picture, pointing at a button on his chest that says “Iraqis for Obama”, he asks me to not put his face in the picture. I pause. “I don’t think it matters anymore.” We both hesitate, realizing that really, something has changed. I take the picture, button, hands, and face.