Friday, February 25, 2011

To Hell With The Nefarious Sharing Of Social Costs.

So many momentous things happening in the world: the horrible tragedy of the quake in New Zealand, the undulating ripple of change in the Middle East, the first acrid taste of a new wave of oil shocks, it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

So, I will avoid all that.  I’m thinking more about the stink in the air about metering bandwidth in Canada.  I am not sure why it is news or controversy, because to my knowledge, all the big players have been metering for ages.  But for some reason, right now, amidst all the other crazy stuff going on, metering is a big deal.

Humble ape that I am, I am coming out in support of metering.  Think about it:  while I am busy as an asshole pirate-downloading 50 years worth of Coronation Street, my neighbor, a sweet old gramma on a fixed income barely navigates three emails per month containing lo-res pics of the newest tots in her clan.  Why in hell should we pay the same rate?

I am not concerned by the fact that the big providers have admitted they have bandwidth to spare for ten times the amount of traffic we have today.  I am not concerned that they only seek a way to market discrete increases in bandwidth.  I’m just really mad that some people use more than other people, and yet everyone gets charged the same.  I hate that, it’s like someone gets a freebie.  It’s like everyone bands together and some people profit more.

I wholeheartedly support metering.  Of course, I am one of those ugly consistent people.  I like the idea of metering so much, I would like it applied to everything.  I understand that internet is a utility, but, in today’s world, it is also an essential communication tool.  Seriously, try and function in the modern world without internet.  But I don’t really care about what is essential or common to all, I just want metering.

As you use, so shall you pay. Mantra gold or maybe golden mantra.  I could almost get tea party donations for this.

A gross amount of my taxes go towards roads.  I do not own a car, nor do I drive.  I would never consider it a good idea to opt out, because someday I may need a taxi, an ambulance, or a police car and they require roads.  Just the same, I do not place wear and tear on roads the way drivers do.  So, in all fairness, why can’t we meter driving?  My tax bill could go down, and for heavy drivers, bills could go up.

Another big suck on my money is healthcare.  Some people use lots of healthcare.  Breeders, with their childbirth and sick kids suck the hell out of things.  And  old people who don’t smoke ride that rail for decades of plastic joints, heart medicine and cancer eradication, not to mention lying stupid in a bed in an old folks home.  And then there are the gays and drug addicts, constantly creating black holes in healthcare dollars.  I like this metering system, where I could bypass all that expense at the cost of others.

Speaking of breeders, there is the whole business of schools.  Whether I have no children, one child, or seven children, I pay the same amount of tax because some bleeding heart thought that education would profit us all.  Yeah, whatever.  If we metered education tax to match offspring, those who use more would rightfully pay more, instead of freeloading on my tax dollar.  Don’t talk to me about what those educated tots could do for me, I'm just not interested because that is about later and i am about now.

For that matter, I never call the police, I would like to opt out of paying for that too.  Let the user pay.  I used the fire department once, my best friend never has, but we pay the same tax.

In fact, now that I have thought this through to its logical conclusion, I realize that there is no basis for community or pooling of resources.  I dismiss organizing communities to facilitate good healthy functioning safe productive spaces as pie in the sky leftist drivel.

We already meter electricity and heating energies, both absolutely essential to surviving in a northern clime.  Or in other words we already say, you are only allowed to survive if you earn a sufficient amount of money.  Let’s embrace our credo, let’s fully embrace economic Darwinism.  I never use the phone, therefore I want people who use the phone more than I do to pay more.  It’s only fair.

Ok, ok, I’ve gotten ridiculous in my analogy.  But consider, bandwidth is like a great big pipe.  You pay your ISP for access to the pipe.  They aren’t costed more by your usage(seriously, they aren't and they have admitted it), but they can make big money if they demonize the people who spend more time on the internet, and they can exclude poor people from the basic right to apply for a job, since that is the only way it is done now.  They can convince you that a commodity you use is rare, when it is not and make us all feel greedy about how much of the interent we get, and leery of others who are 'freeloading' off of us.

Oil is precious and rare, bandwidth is not.  Both capitalist and socialist communities have to figure out what to do about oil, but not bandwidth.   

Communities and societies are real, despite what Thatcher declared.  Humans are pack animals and have always pooled resources.  But he people with a lot of money would like more money—I don’t know why, after all, once your needs are met, it’s just numbers.  It’s one of those things I just don’t understand.

If you are an average citizen, what way do you really want to vote about anything that is socialized?  Your vote against socialization either penalizes you or a relative or a friend, or a nieghbour that you don’t know but might need in the future.  Your vote for socialization ensures that whatever size the pot of goods is, it is divvyed to everyone as needed.

Internet service is not exactly a noble place to make a stand, but it does illustrate a point.  Very wealthy people are quite canny about turning us against our neighbours so they can profit.  Next time that you use a service of any kind—roads, sewage, medical assistance, garbage pick up, schools, the bloody post office, think about the contributions of people you will never meet, who make it possible because they believed in pooling resources.  They believed in spending some of their resources on things that profited you more than themselves, in hopes that you might do the same for them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Wayback Wayback Machine

Once, when I was green and golden, young and aspiring, I had a friend who I only held for a few short years.  He was erudite beyond his years.  The funniest thing about him other than the fact that he drank coffee from a mason jar and when he accidentally tipped a cigarette ash into his jar, covered the fact by sipping up and declaring that cigarette ash could enhance the flavor of coffee,  the funniest thing was that in his abstract world of linguistics and philosophy he taught me to love nature.

Most of the time that I knew him, I never saw his nature side.  Only because I am stupid.  He lived in a tiny room and other than a clothing rack and urn sized ashtray, his room was a tropical jungle of plants.  I don’t mean on the window sill and table, I mean there were rack shelves devoted to plants.  The entire room was devoted to plants.  We had to crowd into a dark corner where the chairs were set, outside of the sunlight.  And when I think back, the room he chose in that great old rooming house was the room with the best sunlight.

We used to drink coffee like it was beer and smoke cigarettes like they would get us high.  And talk about Wiggenstein and Chomsky. We’d crash Turgenev up against Kerouac and modify with Feynman.  Mostly I listened, because he always talked over my head.  I was a headstrong, arrogant youth, always drunk on my own smarts, but with him, I always felt ignorant and slow witted.  It would be a cliché elder mentor story, except he was the same age as I.

I can’t even imagine what he got from my own stupid opinionated grunts.  Sometimes I think he craved my insanity.  Who else would jump off a building with him, or make 3am plant stealing runs?  I certainly couldn’t keep up in the cerebral department.

He taught me Hegel and Heidegger.  He taught me to question Alan Watts.  He taught me to love but mistrust Nietzsche.  When I couldn’t understand his monologues on linguistics, he played me the Talking Heads as though that would make it all clear.  To this day, as much as I like their music, I keep thinking there is an encoded message that I cannot hear.  Maybe only he heard it.

His modesty was overwhelming.  He took a year off after highschool, not to “find himself”, but because he didn’t feel sufficiently prepared for university and wanted to “read up”.  I hadn’t attended university, but I presciently told him, “you already know more than most grads”.  He didn’t listen, he just kept misting his plants and reading advanced linguistic texts.

If that was the end of the story, he would still be one of the greatest people I ever knew.

But one spring, he asked me to come on a survival canoe trip he did every year, up past North Bay.  I interpreted the invite as for a camping trip and accepted since I rarely had opportunity to get out of the city.  I paid little attention to the fact that he started training in a gym, other than that his skinny body suddenly popped with lean muscle. (I exercised both envy and laziness in this regard)

I met his father on a stop off before the trip.  He was the sort of man who would either hammer a son into pudding or steel.  Sink or swim.  I suddenly understood my friend better.

We got dropped, with heavy packsacks and canoes into wilds I had never even conceived of.  It was fourteen hour days of paddling and portaging, withstanding swarms of biting insects, making and breaking camp every day, and often enough, sleeping on rock (dead exhausted sleep).  Two things stood out.

I saw a different side of him, hitherto hidden, a scampering, wild-eyed nature born being who was utterly adapted to the unkempt and intraversable, and who you would never think of as a person who read philosophy.  For kicks, he would pirouette the canoe while we were gasping for breath on the rocks.

The other thing, was after a couple of days, I never wanted to return to “the city” or ideas.

He had tried to show me his true world (where he grew up, where his imagination fled to) and demonstrate how it funded him.  The only thing my small mind took from it was, why leave? 

This was an eden beyond civilization, and even beyond the majority of most campers.  The only people who had been here before us were the odd fur traders.  It was sufficiently unpleasant to dissuade most.  We scaled cliffs carrying our canoes.  I had to grip canyon sides, covered in spiders (and I am normally very spiderphobic), or else we would be dashed on rocks in river flow.  As much as my life has been trepiditious, this is as close as i ever got to epic.

It’s all kind of unreal now.  And I still remember not wanting to leave, and him having to explain that we were learning things to bring back.  It was like he had shown me the universe and then said we had to live in a bunker.  Thereafter, his tiny room, clotted with plants and cigarette smoke seemed even more mysterious.  How did this visionary cope?  What did his eyes see?

A year later, I was on the opposite side of the country and phoned him in the middle of the night, addled on drugs and booze, to say I love you, and worried he might think it some homosexual thing that neither of us were.  He replied, so nonchalantly, “Of course *Idle*, I love you too.

Five years later, we ran into each other on a boulevard in Montreal, buying bootleg liquor out of the trunk of a car, and spent the night drinking and talking, sitting on a sidewalk curb.  (ahhh, montreal stories).

Ten years later, we had a beer, then two, then a coffee, while commiserating about the things we hadn’t achieved and the things we missed.

So, that is what time does to the majesty of magical moments.  I am still stuck in a city.  I don’t know where my friend is.  I do court the love of many plants in my little room, and feel good that I have nurtured a tiny bud of a succulent into an overgrown two foot tall monstrosity.  In a good year, I cultivate then eat a good garden.  In a bad year, my plants are kind enough not to die
His email name was waybackwayback.  Even back in the day before the internet took off.

This wayback wayback machine operation is dedicated to him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CBRIII #2-3: Little Things and Funny Misshapen Body by Jeffery Brown

Jeffery Brown is a bit of an enigma.  In photos, he looks a big strapping handsome man of Scandinavian descent and he has a MFA from a prominent school.  But his fame and stock in trade are crude uncertain drawings depicting a small boyish person consumed by neurosis.  A self proclaimed autobiographist, he purports to render a relative truth.  I guess he could be lying.  Or else, his drawing style, his self personification, and the clipped moments of insecure life he depicts might demonstrate the vulnerability in us all.

I’m a long time fan of brown’s work, and I often have a hard time putting my finger on anything justifiable about it.  It’s easier to say it is badly drawn and overly focused on teen-age like melodrama than to argue for it being penetrating, engaging and memorable.  For that reason, if I had guilty pleasures, his work would be in that bag.

But for the most part, Brown does remarkable things.  He displays great humility in not justifying his protagonist.  He also teases out an earnestness, a sincerity that cuts through the distanced hipster stance that might be expected among his peers.  He’s never short of a humour with warmth and intimacy, never lowers himself to a cheap or bitter laugh.  He allows moments to hang in the air.  He allows things to be unsaid.  He’ll take a risk trying to convey pages in a single glance.  And as portrayed, he’s danmned likable.

All that said, Little Things was tremendously disappointing.  I felt I had been conned into purchasing cast off half starts.  Meaningful silence was replaced with empty moments.  Carefully ugly drawings were replaced with overworked pages depicting nothing.  Stories that end hung in a precious moment were replaced with fitful cut offs that made no sense and engendered no feeling.  I highly recommend not buying it ever, unless you are a die-hard fan/stalker type.  (I’m not that type, I was just ignorant of the book).

Now, all that said, Funny Misshapen Body rolled off the press a year later and delivered not just the Brown I love, but a more mature and reflective Brown. A balance of stories, in his usual anti-chronological way that swirl together to create a full novelistic image of people, places and developments, working with new themes, and yet tied to the old and magnifying the scope of his storytelling.   

There’s also a greater range in the artwork, combining the early simple scrawl with the burdened later ink.  We see the rest of Brown’s protagonist’s life (I realize that is cumbersome, but I differentiate between an author and his alter ego): his childhood experiences, his life with art, his schooling, a troubled medical history, his jobs, his solo adventures.  We see the Brown who isn’t simply hung up on a girl. And it is captivating.

Brown’s “love trilogy” sold because he underlined every unsaid thing that never makes it to relationship stories, but that we all relate to.  He could easily keep selling books on this ‘schtick’.  But instead there is this incredible expansion.

I don’t know how to reconcile the two books.  I suppose one way would be to say I read them both in two days, some 700+ pages of work—the same pace for both the book that made me angry I spent money on,  as the one that was warm and alive in my hands.  Could be my mood, I am mercurial.  Either way, I was compelled to read on.

All of brown’s stories always have to do with a shortlist of topics—loneliness, connection, love affairs, struggle and confusion, strife and understanding.  His recent stories paint a vivid portrait of the young man as an artist rather than the artist as a young man and that has added a dimension to the tale. 

I hesitate, but will compare his work to the Alec tales of Eddie Campbell, who also utilized a difficult style of drawing and catalogued random, sometimes pointless and often humiliating experiences and worked up an unmatched  magnum opus of growth and life.  Brown has a long ways to go to reach up to those heights, but then he has a lot of time too.  I think Jeffery Brown is still just getting started and still just shaking off the discomfort of youth.