Day 213: Surveillance special!

“Stage a crime in front of a back-alley security camera and see if anyone comes to the rescue.”

There must be a few back alleys somewhere in this town, but I don’t think any of them have security cameras. Even if they did, they would be useless: cameras in public places aren’t about making us safer, they’re about making us think we’re safer — about the illusion of safety.

Nobody is watching the feed from those cameras. It’s probably recorded and stored, so that it can be accessed and watched in the event that something prosecutable happens — but that watching happens after the fact, not in real-time. Go into a large retail establishment, though — the kind with far more overhead cameras than helpful employees — and you can be pretty damn sure someone is watching the camera feeds, at least most of the time. And why? Because there’s money involved, money to be lost if someone isn’t watching.

Surveilling an entire city — or even just the “high risk” parts of a city — in order to prevent crime simply isn’t cost-effective; not even fucking close. Making people think the whole city is being surveilled — turning the city into a Panopticon — might make some people feel safer, but it probably actually makes them less safe.

Let’s say I mug somebody in an alley that has a security camera. A week goes by, I don’t get arrested. I mug someone else, in another alley with a camera. I don’t get arrested. I talk to my colleagues, at the monthly meeting of muggers and malcontents, and it turns out that lots of muggings happen in front of cameras — and only, I don’t know, 2 muggings out of 100 that occur in front of a camera result in an arrest. I don’t have to know who Jeremy Bentham was to figure out that the cameras are bullshit.

Now let’s say I’m an oblivious middle class bougie who had a few too many $2 PBRs at the local dive, and I’m wandering home, drunk, and decide to take a shortcut down the sort of alley that people get mugged in — but there are cameras, and I know how Jeremy Bentham was, alright, because I read about him in college — and so I feel safe, because there are cameras, and the feeling of safety (and the beer) make me complacent and unobservant — and I get the shit beaten out of me, and my wallet and iPhone stolen.

Here’s my point: even if I could find a back alley surveillance camera in this town, and I went to stage a crime in front of it to see if the police would show up — I already know that the police wouldn’t show up, and I’d probably get attacked and robbed by actual criminals while I was pretending to be one. That didn’t sound like fun, which is why I stayed home, drank vermouth (I’m out of bourbon), and watched The Walking Dead.

Cameras don’t help in a zombie apocalypse either.

Day 194: A word from our sponsors.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, July 13.

The Book was — ostensibly, anyway — sponsored by Stockham Management Consultants, Inc. I’m not sure what to do with that, having so recently badmouthed life coaches.

I’m ambivalent about sponsorship. Not the part where money is given by one party (usually a corporation) to another party — hell, I’d love a corporate sponsor — but the part where only certain such givings of money count as ‘sponsorship’.

Racecar drivers are covered in corporate logos (well, their cars and uniforms are, anyway); we know who the sponsors are. There are images of politicians similarly covered in logos; this is clever, and useful if it gets people thinking about politicians as more indebted to their corporate sponsors than to their constituents. Its usefulness is limited, though, because it reinforces the belief that sponsorship is unidirectional.

Or, rather, the idea of sponsorship itself reinforces the belief that economic transactions are somehow simple and straightforward; furthermore, the sponsoring of things by corporations works to justify and naturalize the consolidation of money and power in the hands of corporations and a certain elite class of individuals.

Obviously, though, the money used to sponsor things comes from somewhere, and at least some of it comes from us, the majority of Americans who are not ridiculously wealthy. Most corporations sponsor a NASCAR team; lots of folk buy things from corporations; therefore, lots of folk sponsor NASCAR teams — and then pay for the privilege of watching them race, if you’re into that kind of thing —— but even that is an excessively simplified account of the flow of the monies involved. I’m not an economist, though, so it’ll have to do.

I think the point I’m driving at is this: the practice of sponsorship allows average consumers to ignore the socio-political implications of their spending. Corporations have enough money to be sponsors — enough money, that is, for the deployment of it to ‘mean something’ — whereas the average consumer never deploys ‘mean something’ money.

Except that every cent counts. All money ‘means something’. And people are starting to realize it: look at Kickstarter, TopatoCo, etsy — and a bunch of other sites I don’t know — that are designed to bypass ‘the way business is done’ and connect producers and consumers more directly, so that money spent ‘means more’. The emphasis on buying locally comes from the same place.

It’s so easy, though, to ‘buy locally’ or ‘support the artist’ and then feel smug and self-righteous, like one has done one’s duty, and like one doesn’t have to think about what one is supporting when one fills up one’s SUV with 93 octane gas and then drives it half a mile to sit in a drive-thru and buy coffee at a corporately-owned coffeeshop.

Real responsibility — fiscal and otherwise — requires thought, work, compromise, and sacrifice, and people don’t like to have to do those things on a daily basis, as a way of life — because easy is, well, easier.

Day 170: Sell something you have made.

My mother has been pestering encouraging me for years to write a novel, something in a genre that sells: romance, mystery, paranormal romance, mystery romance, paranormal mystery romance. I’ve mostly ignored her, because I don’t have much free time in which to write a novel, and the free time I do have I prefer to spend drinking and sitting around, instead of doing something productive.

A few days ago, she sent me a link to an NYT article about Amanda Hocking, who has self-published ten novels (and counting) as e-books on sites like Amazon, and who has made enough money at it that she can buy a replica of Han Solo in carbonite on a whim.

It’s just a coincidence, of course, but I’m going to run with it. I don’t have anything I’ve made for sale today, but I’m going to pledge to have a novel available for sale by the end of the year. Because why the fuck not?

Way the hell back on day six, I wrote this, as the opening sentence of my début novel:

One morning, Eusebius Jones woke up, brushed his teeth, had a piss, wandered into the kitchen, ate breakfast – two grapefruit and three cups of strong coffee – and then sat at his kitchen table, staring at nothing, trying to decide what he was going to do with the bodies in the trunk of his car.

That’s the opening sentence I’m going to run with. Who is this dude? Why does he have bodies — plural bodies! — in the trunk of his car? What is he going to do with them? What does he have for breakfast when grapefruit is not in season?

I have no idea. I hope the answers are interesting, and I hope I can get a novel out of answering them, either way, and I hope I sell enough copies that I can buy this with the proceeds (one of these would be nice, also).

I am totally serious about this, and I expect all of you who read this to shame me eternally if I don’t have a self-published paranormal-murder-mystery-bodice-ripping-trash-noir novel actually available for purchase by the end of the year.

I won’t, and I won’t be able to handle the shame, so I’ll drink myself to death in 2012. Should be a good year.

Day 159: Find a way to grow $10 into $100.

I was on my way to the hardware store — the last trip needed to finish my third broken-pipe-in-an-inconvenient-place plumbing project of the year — when I passed a garage sale. Yes, on a Wednesday: I thought it was weird, too, which is why I stopped.

It was a typical garage sale, I guess: some shoes, some ugly clothes, some ancient kitchen appliances, miscellaneous crap, a collection of inspirational cassette tapes, shit like that. There was also, however, a cardboard box full of toys: action figures, mostly, of the sort that come in children’s “meals” at fast food joints — which is to say, most of them aren’t actually articulated, and so are more properly “static” figures instead of “action” figures.

There was also a watering can in the box, for some reason.

Five dollars for the whole box.

I bought it, obviously, even though most  of it was crap: I had a plan, and I had five dollars left over for glue, which I bought at the hardware store.

When I got home, I hurriedly finished up the plumbing — it still leaks a bit, but the leak is underground, so that’s okay, right? — and got to work on my get-rich-quick project: an action figure collage. This might sound stupid — probably because it is stupid — but it’s also ART (in all capitals, which you figured out, because you’re reading this and must have noticed that I wrote ART in all capitals) —— it’s ART, I was saying, and ART sells for lots of MONEY, and money is what I was after.

Amazingly, I managed to sell the thing today, too, and for a lot more than $100: I can’t specify how much, as part of the non-disclosure agreement the purchaser made me sign — and obviously I can’t name the purchaser, either — but let’s just say I’m not going to run out of bourbon any time soon. What I can do for you, dear readers, is provide a picture of the stunning piece of avant-garde post-futurist found-materials assemblage-collage ART that I produced today:

(Just in case it needs saying: all of this is a lie. The collage is real, but it’s on a car — a VW Beetle, apparently — somewhere in Canada. Also, I didn’t take the picture. Also, one of the three plumbing projects involved a hot-water heater, and not a broken pipe. I did finish the most recent plumbing, though, and it doesn’t leak. Yet.)

Day 149: Help resolve an intractable global geopolitical crisis!

The way I see it, most intractable global geopolitical crises have two possible solutions: everyone involved can take Wil’s advice and stop being dicks, or a neutral third party can kill the lot of them. That’s pretty much it, really.

Let’s look at Israel and Palestine: the Israelis could begin by recognizing that Britain and the UN just took away part of Palestine and said it was now Israel, and acknowledging that that’s something that might piss one off; the Palestinians (and the rest of Israel’s Arab neighbors) could in turn acknowledge that the Israelis have some right to live there, and a right to self-governance.

I have no basis for this, but I think a fair number of Israelis and Palestinians already feel this way, and that there’s a relatively small percentage of people in each country who are huge dicks (and who probably have small dicks, because that’s how this sort of thing seems to go). Those people – the dicks, the ones who are fucking things up for everyone else – should be shot. Maybe they should get a chance to reform, but it can be hard to stop being a dick, and most people don’t want to make that effort, so it’s probably easier just to shoot the dicks from the get-go.

This works for all the protests and uprisings happening in the middle east, too. Qaddafi was a dick, and so was Mubarak, and so is al-Assad: if they’d all just quit being dicks, everything would be cool. Those that can’t not be dicks, get shot. Or arrested, and tried, and then shot, if we want to comfort ourselves with the illusion of justice.

There’s a point at which this policy might become problematic, though: it doesn’t scale well. Someone on the bus or the subway talking loudly and obnoxiously on a cell phone is being a dick, definitely, and it would be better for everyone if that person were not being a dick – but murder is not the answer. A box on the ears, maybe? Some stern language? Cat poop in the face? (Everyone carries cat poop with them, right?)

The problem is, there’s money to be made in being a dick. There’s also money – probably more money – to be made convincing other people to be dicks. To wit: Being a dick is easier than not being one, in the sense that it’s more convenient and requires less effort. People who sell things to Americans are able to sell more things, and more useless and poorly designed things, to people who care about convenience and ease more than anything else. We’re a nation of dicks because the Man wants us to be that way.

So: tell the man to go fuck himself. Quit buying shit, get over yourself, and don’t be a dick.

Day 120: Don’t spend any money today.

This was somewhat difficult.

I’ve certainly spent enough money this week – $600 to replace the hot water heater, $250 to fix the brakes on Lorna’s car – money that I had set aside to spend on other things. On the other hand, to employ a tired cliché—— no, sorry, let’s start this sentence over: Contrariwise, I had work to do on one of my seminar papers, the final push to get the thing written so I can have Lorna make sure it doesn’t suck proofread it tomorrow.

To do this sort of writing, I require lots of coffee and an environment that isn’t my house – which usually means Starbucks, because there isn’t a decent local place around here, except one just opened, but I haven’t been yet, and I don’t want my first visit to be a marathon-writing-session visit, because I need to know what to expect—— anyway, the point is, I went to Starbucks to write. The problem is obvious: when the people at Starbucks give you coffee, they expect money in return.

Fortunately, my dear friend Ike provides me on occasion with magical, postcard-like things exchangeable at Starbucks for coffee: they work like money, but they’re not money. I only had one left, which got me an iced Venti six-shot 1-pump-of-white-mocha whole milk no-whip cinnamon dolce latte (we’ve been over this recently), which got me through a few hours of writing. I needed more coffee, though, and going home to make coffee there would have meant no more writing.

So I constructed a wormhole loophole.

I keep loose change in my car. Not much, because the compartment the change goes in isn’t that big, and there’s also two lighters, a pocket-knife, a cigar cutter, a book of matches, a pipe tool, a pair of foam earplugs, a small bulldog clip, and a lone Skandia shelf peg in there – but there was more than I thought. It bought me a doppio and a scone, even, and there was much rejoicing.

I justified the construction of this loophole by telling myself that the coinage in my car didn’t really count as money. It’s legal tender, obviously, exchangeable for goods and services, but it exists for me in a nebulous realm unrelated to my bank account and the occasional bits of folding money that pass through my hands. I put it there, of course, but I will myself to forget how it gets there: must have something to do with the fact that every time I pay cash for something, the total is an even dollar amount…

…this post hasn’t been particularly funny or entertaining, has it? No, not really. Probably the summing up is all any of you really need to read:

TL;DR: I bought coffee with car change, because car change isn’t real money.

Day 102: Tax freedom day.

An interesting concept: assuming that 29% of your income goes to the government as income tax, everything you’ve earned until today hasn’t belonged to you, and everything you earn from today forward is yours! Yours to spend on bills and more bills and some other bills and groceries and gas and whatever else you have to spend your money on – “yours” in the sense that you get to give it to entities other than the government.

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t mind paying taxes – which is easy for me to say, considering I’m one of those people who not only doesn’t pay taxes, but gets money back at tax time – poor grad student, two kids, all that – I say, I wouldn’t mind paying taxes if the government would spend the tax money it collects in a responsible and efficient way. The government’s a bureaucracy, though, and it is in the nature of bureaucracies to be inefficient; inefficiency is, indeed, one of the few essential characteristics of a bureaucracy.

I loathe bureaucracy; I hate it with the fire of a thousand burning suns.

That’s not to say that I hate the people who work in one bureaucratic institution or another; on the contrary, I’m sure many people who work in bureaucracies are decent enough. No, what I hate is the system itself, the structure, bureaucracy qua bureaucracy.

In a bureaucracy, individuals cease to be individuals; they cease, even, as far as the system is concerned, to be people. They are parts of the machine.

That is, perhaps, a somewhat unsophisticated way of thinking about the problem. The case may be, rather, that a bureaucratic system allows individuals to renounce their humanity, at least in a limited way, within the system: the bureaucracy allows the individual workers to think of themselves as small cogs in a giant, incomprehensible machine, which allows them to abdicate responsibility.

That is, I think, the crux of the problem: no one person, no group of people, even, within a bureaucracy, is responsible for whatever callous or cruel or destructive or evil things the bureaucracy as a whole, as a system, perpetrates. This is true of small, simply-structured bureaucracies and complex, sprawling, unmappable ones; of homeowner’s associations and city councils and multinational corporations and federal governments.

We can say that BP is responsible for the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the resultant environmental catastrophe, but we cannot also say that the employees of BP are collectively also responsible; we can perhaps scapegoat a few executives, which serves to distract us all from the fact that this (and many others) disaster was made possible, at least in part, by vast numbers of people – BP employees, BP customers, people who use gasoline or benefit from someone else’s use of gasoline – all of us, in short – abdicating very small amounts of responsibility on a more or less daily basis.

Bureaucracy is a disease, a cancer; the evils that are usually attributed to capitalism or socialism or communism or liberalism or conservatism or terrorism or whatever-ism are all, I think, actually attributable to bureaucracy working under those various guises.

It’s like kudzu, though, bureaucracy is, or like the common cold: ineradicable, unstoppable, inevitable. Nothing we can do will stop its steady advance; though we might win a skirmish here or there, temporarily, provisionally, any bulwarks we establish – any hills we think we’ve taken – will soon be overrun, and our lifeless bodies will be swept away in a tide of unnecessary paperwork and endless meetings.

Best just to take off and nuke the whole thing from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.