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  The Hotsy Totsy Club 2000-04-03. . . Cholly Kokonino reporting

THE NEW OPTHOMOLOGIST - Number 23, April 2000
Contacts fall from the eye;
I am sick, I must die --
Lord have mercy on us!
- Shakespeare
Health Tip: After eating ribs, you might still have an extremely detectable amount of BBQ sauce left on your fingertips even if you've washed your hands three times. (Contributed by RD of Berkeley, CA)
"There's nothin' cornea than aqueous humor!" -- Dr. Borschtbeldt

. . . 2000-04-04

Uneconomical guy that I am, I never all through these decades understood why it is that we have government spokestypes saying stuff about needing to "maintain a high level of unemployment" amongst us governed, unless out of pure meanness. To my clarification leaps the 13th issue of The Baffler with a Little Business Monkey's Guide to Big Business Monkeys called "Atlas Finally Shrugged" by Christian Parenti.

In the late 1960s, large chunks of America had been doing nicely for a long time. Too long. Unemployment was low and social services were high. Those conditions make the prospect of losing your job less scary: if you get fired, you can always find another job; until you find one, there's welfare. (Speaking as a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay area, I can testify that it is yes indeedy pretty nice not to be scared all the time.) Lowered fear increases employee power at the expense of owners, since employees can more easily afford to risk a confrontation.

And so, starting in 1968, employees (especially those in unpleasant or dangerous jobs) started pumping strikes like so many wah-wah pedals, with or without the support of their unions. In 1970, 66 million work days were spent on strikes; between 1967 and 1973, 40% of the work force had been involved in strikes, and had won most of them. Wages went up. Health and safety laws were put into effect and, worse yet, enforced.

What a predicament! 'Cause the costs of wages and safety have to be taken from somewhere. Bosses tried raising prices to keep their own profits going, but with so much power on the worker's side, they couldn't keep inflation of the prices they took in much ahead of the wage inflation they had to shell out. The average company's after-tax profit was cut in half between 1965 and 1974.

From the business owners' point of view, the only solution, painful though it might be, was to induce a recession, a process started off by Paul Volcker ("The standard of living of the average American has to decline") in 1979, and pushed forward with enthusiasm by the Reagan administration. Interest rates were boosted to reduce access to the financial cushion of property investment; taxes were cut; business was deregulated; the safety net of welfare was eliminated; domestic unemployment was bullied upwards -- all to make workers more frightened of the prospect of job loss and to increase owner profits.

What a success story! By 1982, 44% of new contracts included wage freezes or cuts. And nowadays the proposed solution to all employee discontent is to buy stocks, joining in the triumph of the owner -- no one even bothers to dream of the possibility of being successful as a mere worker!

So that's why I was always mystified by those pro-unemployment squibs in the business news. Since it's aimed square at the owners, business news has to talk about these tactics. But since the owners already know what the tactics are for, business news doesn't have to spell the motivation out.

Also, if the motivation was spelled out all the time, it might start to sound kind of unpleasant.

. . . 2000-04-05

In production: The Tin Ear

Ethan Hawke stars in this nightmarish urban fantasy about a teenage boy with a shaved head who skateboards, tries to pick up sixteen-year-olds, and plays keyboard in a really stupid band, and who, thirty years later, still has a shaved head and still skateboards, tries to pick up sixteen-year-olds, and plays keyboard in a really stupid band.

With Winona Ryder as "The Grrl" and poet Anselm Dovetonsils making a special appearance as "Street Cred."

. . . 2000-04-06

There aren't many things I've been overly optimistic about, but one of 'em was that we'd have a lot more websites like Ian McKellen's by now. Intelligent celebrities have even more reason to be wary of journalists than big business monkeys are, and taking charge of your own quotes is pretty much the same idea as a company's publishing its press releases on the web, except more entertaining:

[Christopher Lee] loves stories about actors and I amused him last week with one he didn't know, which I was told by Brian Bedford: "Noël Coward reads a poster: Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them! 'I don't see why not -- everyone else has.'"

. . . 2000-04-07

Those who do not know history are doomed to make other people repeat it till everyone gets really bored and only wants to talk about beer commercials

From a Usenet discussion of Jodie Foster's upcoming Leni Reifenstahl biopic:

"I am not defending Nazi's here but, the Hitler of 1933 is a far different figure from the Hitler who invaded Poland and began persecuting the Jews."
From Robert Musil's journals, 1933:
"March 33. Three days ago the Reichstag went up in flames. Yesterday the emergency regulations to eliminate the Communist party and the Social Democrat Party appeared. The new men don't wear kid gloves. In the circles with which I have some contact there was, at first, a general feeling of indignation, an instinctive response to this blow in the face for truth, freedom, etc. It is the reaction of the liberal education in which people have grown up. Yesterday, after Goering set out the measures in a radio broadcast, with a calm, friendly, masculine voice, Frau Witte is already starting to waver! 'If it is true what the Communist Party was up to, then things are really in a dreadful state!' The hypothetical part of this statement is shrinking. The feeling is growing that the new arrangements will not be so bad after all and that, overall, there will be a liberation from many of the things that were felt, at an unconscious level, to be oppressive. An impression of decided rejection comes only from the serving girls, even though they keep silent.

"Freedom of the press, of expression of any kind, freedom of conscience, personal dignity, freedom of spirit etc., all the liberal fundamental rights have now been set aside without one single person feeling utterly outraged, indeed by and large without people being strongly affected at all. It is seen as a spell of bad weather. The average individual does not yet feel under attack. One might feel most profoundly disappointed over this but it is more correct to draw the conclusion that all the things that have been abolished here are no longer of great concern to people. This was indeed so. Did a person make use of his freedom of conscience for example? He had no opportunity whatever to do so! Nor did he trouble himself over this freedom... The newspaper did this for him and everything that the newspaper did he accepted with a degree of unease, even though it was seemingly indispensable to him. Seen in this way the discipline of the 'fascio' is indeed a creation that goes unerringly to the core of man's instincts.

"On the 1 March (in other words immediately at the beginning) in the offices of the Central Organization of German Citizens of Jewish Belief a house search was carried out by the police and the Sturm Abteilung.... Theater manager Barnay is abducted in a car by 5 men in uniform and beaten up....

"There are hundreds of examples of such happenings.... The general feeling is: it isn't as serious as it sounds -- a process of 'making-things-less-serious'.... 'Life goes on' -- even though, each day, hundreds are killed, imprisoned, beaten up, etc. This is not frivolity, but is rather to be compared to the helplessness of the herd that is slowly pressed forward while those at the very front go to their deaths.

"Definition: the modern person is a coward but likes to be forced to perform heroic feats."

. . . 2000-04-09


Before us webloggers got going -- even before Dave Winer -- when readers wanted to watch pompous asses unknowingly humiliate themselves in public, they turned to Charles Pooter's The Diary of a Nobody (ed. and ill. by George and Weedon Grossmith).

Warning: Apparently this was before Jakob Nielsen, too; Pooter's home page is one big hunk of text over 200k long! So download it and look at it offline at your leisure. Since it can also function as a learn-by-example instruction manual on how to maintain self-esteem when you're a clumsy snob with a boring job and friends who you don't like and who don't like you, I found it a great commute read: empowering!

I'm sorry to say that, aside from that 200k+ of bare words, the Web hasn't been particularly forthcoming about the Diary. Virtually every search result I got was just another legal or pirated copy of the Gutenberg text, complete with the obvious OCR typo on the first page ("my clear wife," which makes it sound like a Tom Cruise interview or something). Topics for future research include:
Mr. Pooter
Artist's conception

  1. Weedon Grossmith got full collaborative credit for his illustrations ("AS ORIGINALLY SEEN IN PUNCH!"), but no one's been nice enough to scan any in. The nearest I've found is a hideous still from Ken Russell's TV adaptation.

  2. Although the prose is certainly varnished differently, a lot of the Diary couldn't help but remind me of Ulysses's Bloom episodes. And it was a big bestseller during James Joyce's childhood.... The Grossmiths aren't mentioned in Ellman's Joyce biography, but a link might be documented elsewhere.
To be continued after I get to a university library....

. . . 2000-04-10

Lyrics server

She's as sweet as Oulipo honey,
Shears as swerve as outback honky.
He gnaw, Hopey-Lou saw tweezers, eesh!
That girl is luscious, if sugary.

. . . 2000-04-11

Field notes, Redwood City, 1:30 pm

. . . 2000-04-12

Imitations of Intmortality

Shake the shell to hear the rattle. You break it you buy it. The mold is more delicate than the thing molded.

+ + +

at the center...
"At the center, there is a perilous act, which is of the nature of thought itself." -- Robin Blaser
There's something that's always made me feel sick at writers conferences and exclusive parties and awards and academic intros -- and probably would at trade shows too if I gave a shit about my trade -- something about missing the point with so much fervor, and all of us participants cheering the process on....

Thus this Word of the Day is dedicated to the genuinely welcome return of Metascene:


derives from hypokrisis, "playact"...

which derives from hypokri, "explain"

The biggest problem with this roving critic shtick is the encouragement to play the smart guy. When what I like -- what I'm looking for when I find the stuff I like to write about -- is to not feel so smart: to be taken by surprise, to be changed.... That's why I hate teaching: no matter how self-deprecating you play it, you're still the guy in front of the class and therefore you're still the smart guy. Best you can do in those circumstances is keep the classes small and take lots of time off.

You may be sharp enough to play pure naif gorgeously, but only by losing the flexibility to say anything outside the role you've chosen. A role no closer to the naif-playactor than the smart-guy role is to me.

That's what's interesting about Metascene: a naif voice risking complicated subjects. Like any voice, it has constrictions which must be painful at times. (Thus the sabbatical?) But as constrictions go, I dig 'em.

If Metascene was speaking as a critic, I'd have to argue with him when he insists he's a bad writer. Instead he's trying to convey a mood, and the mood is perfectly expressed by his insistence....

... there is a perilous act

. . . 2000-04-13

I forget how I found the Art Fein site, but anyone this mean to Ann Powers is OK by me! Fein is kind of like a rockabilly version of Paul Williams: short on analysis but high on life and America and, of course, their offspring, Elvis.

Which puts me in mind of that old Elvisphage, Lester Bangs, who just got a new biography aimed at him. Since Bangs's own writing already covered everything of any possible interest that ever happened to him (plus a whole lot more), publishing a second collection seems like a better idea than having some other guy come in and paraphrase, but I guess that's not the way publishers think. Definitely the way that publishers do think is to have a Trouser Press editor write about Bangs's life, which is like Abe Rosenthal writing about I. F. Stone, or -- I was gonna say a zoo keeper writing about the monkeys, but sometimes those zoo keepers are pretty insightful.

. . . 2000-04-17

Two tales of downtown San Francisco (as told by Juliet Clark)

1996, Montgomery St. BART station 2000, Montgomery St. Wells Fargo bank
Panhandler: "Please help me. I'll work for food."

Tall 30-ish woman dressed in black: "Hmph. Can you code HTML?"

On the back of an ATM receipt:
HTML stands for Hot Meal!

+ + +

In related news, Doug Asherman points us to a "well-funded startup" who stapled this flyer to a telephone pole on Sixth Street in Berkeley:

Software Developers with Expertise
in XML/Java/C++

Referral Fee
Sign Sign-On Bonus

I wonder how much they'd offer me for a proofreader....

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.