Monday, September 12, 2011

Why No One Is Hiring

This article is old, but it's worth another look. To summarize, John Allison, chairman of BB&T loves Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I mean he LOVES IT!!! So much so that he makes his executives read it. And BB&T donates millions to the 'Ayn Rand Institute', whatever the hell that is.

Now, I don't own any stock in BB&T, but if I did, I'd sell it immediately. Christopher Hitchens perhaps put it best about Ayn Rand - Americans don't need further instruction on being selfish. It's in our DNA. But I would not want anything to do with any organization, especially a corporation, that operates on the premise that the individual takes priority over the collective.

Allison seems to think that if he breeds a culture of self-righteous government-haters, he's going to yield optimum results. That may make for some cute Carolina water-cooler banter with lively comparisons of our president to Mao levied some lovely starched shirt corporate scratch-golfing Glenn Beck jackboots. But if I were to commit the grave sin of imagining myself as a business owner, I'd be a little bit concerned if all my best employees were nihilistic self-servers.

We have a major problem. No one is hiring. A company that had 20 employees in 2007 fired five of them. Now the remaining 15 do the work of 20. And corporate profits are strong, incredibly strong throughout America. Shareholders snicker and feed bullshit to the executive boards of the corporations that serve as their personal ATM machines. Don't hire anyone back - claim it's still a crisis. All bullshit. The economy has returned but the 1% who own a quarter of America are itching to claim a full half of it.

It looks as though President Barack Obama has given up fighting. And it may very well be that our nation's next leader might be yet another Texas governor who conveys his worth by way of his inarticulation and intellectual disinterest. 1% of our nation commands 25% of its wealth. Corporate profits have enjoyed six straight quarters of double-digit growth, yet our population has been brainwashed to believe we need yet another Texan of sub-par intelligence to deliver us from an evil president who spends his days plotting to persecute America's precious yacht owners.

Conservatives love to lament an alleged cultural relativism that existed briefly in the 1960's. But now we're reaping the ill effects of an enduring moral relativism that infests our nation's boardrooms that masks itself as free-market righteousness.

Obama has given up. The dream is dead. We're doomed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New York Films - 9/11/11


On the night of September 10th, 2001, I was making my way across lower Manhattan to a small theatre where a short film was premiering which my cousin had edited. My office was in the World Financial Center (across the street from 1 World Trade Center), and I figured I'd walk the journey to the East Village because back then, no logical transportation route (symbolically enough) connected the financial district of Manhattan to it's (then) most raw artistic center.

This proved to be a mistake. The skies opened up in a torrential downpour. I sprinted from awning to awning, all the way my feet slogged through six inches of water. Having lived in Manhattan (thank you God) for six years, I can honestly put forth that Mother Nature never levied an onslaught onto Manhattan as she did the evening of September 10th, 2001.

By the time I got to the premier, the film was over. My uncle (my cousin-editor's dad) approached me cautiously. He took one look at me and seemed unsettled by my soggy appearance. And with a voice loaded with concern, and perhaps something else, something possibly foreboding, he held the back of my neck and asked, "Are you okay?"


I watch clips on YouTube. Just as it has become the informal repository of a wide reaching tapestry of our culture, it has also become a peripheral chronicler of history. There are hundreds of clips uploaded about The Day. And most, unfortunately, are compilations of the systematic hysteria of America's lust for conspiracy: the tragic 'inside job' pornography. I had to sit through endless misfires of these abominations but then I finally found what I was looking for. There is only one film clip I've ever encountered that does it - that captures the sound that the planes made. It is a deafening sound that I can only describe as a manhole cover being dropped on your head.

We talk about the life before and the life after. When everything changed. And so I cling onto films - not films of The Day, but films that captured New York before The Day. There is a brief blessed time when something is yours, before your big boom and film helps us to soak in the artifacts that unleash memory. There was a time when New York was mine, and I was the king of the universe and we all, all of ignorant sleeping America, felt we could walk through the raindrops.


In the past few weeks, thanks to my insomnia, I've lucked upon a number of my favorite New York films on late night cable: Hannah and Her Sisters, Mo'Better Blues, Moonstruck, Bright Lights Big City. These capture a New York a little over a decade before September 11th, when the city was just emerging from the abyss of the 1970's and the Guilianification of the 1990's was a long ways off. I remember seeing these films when I was marooned in Memphis, incongruously forging a new identify as a Southern teenager. These films brought be back to my roots and planted seeds for where I wanted my future to be.

There is a precious time capsule in the backdrops of these films. Films set in cities do this for us. When Michael J. Fox is standing outside a Fifth Avenue department store window gazing up at the mannequin molded after the wife who has left him, I now just look at the cars going by in the background and am fascinated at the flowing river of the automotive past. It's incredibly refreshing to see a New York where stores and restaurants were not overrun by national chains (there's not a Starbucks in sight and characters are (gasp!) forced to patronize local delis and eateries). Furthermore it's most refreshing to watch New Yorkers working at desks without computers and sustaining existence without handheld electronic devices.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Severed Head

Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head is the third of her books I've read (the other two being The Black Prince and The Sea, The Sea).

Severed Head is essentially a heady, intellectual, painfully English version of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Murdoch presents, as she always does, inordinately interesting and intelligent characters so above you and I in all matters with the exception of their inability NOT to be driven insane by love.

Martin has both a mistress and a wife he loves. Much to Martin's surprise, his wife tells him that she is leaving him for her therapist. Martin is devastated. But why? Should he not just build a new life with his mistress? Of course not. Because love is not about the other, but about the elevation of the self. And romantic happiness, in Murdoch's world, is entirely rooted in the self. Happiness comes not from what two people can give to one another, but from something far more pessimistic. It's a blunt but not unrealistic view of the reality of relationships.

Love is a complex and semi-diabolical landscape in Murdoch's work. The blunt mechanics of sex are almost entirely absent in her stories - even the suggestion of it is hard to extract. But the all encompassing obsessiveness which love unwittingly inflicts on humanity pervades her stories and nearly derails the lives of her characters. The reader, at least this one, is always left with a tremendous sense of unease. I love her work - being an unabashed anglophile helps.

From Frederick

"You missed a very dull TV show about Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips. And more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification at the systematic murder of millions. The reason why they can never answer the question How could this happen? is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, they question is Why doesn't it happen more often? Of course, it does - it subtler forms.

"It's been ages since I sat in front of the TV, just changing channels to find something. You see the whole culture: Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, the talk, can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?

"But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers - third rate con men convincing the poor suckers that watch them that they speak for Gee-sus. And to please send money - money, money, money, money.

"If Jesus came back today and saw what was going on in his name...he would never stop throwing up."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Slimbo's Sports Update

Summer is over. The New York Mets are, as they so often in the month of August and September, entirely out of the contention for post-season action. Furthermore, thanks to the Wilpon's dealings with Bernie Madoff, the franchise continues to be financially adrift, most likely to be sold to the first poor bastard who thinks this $1 billion nightmare is a good bet.

So what else is there for Slimbo to cogitate upon? What else is there to distract him from the mountains of rejection letters, and stacks of paintings which have all congealed into one sticky stack amid the summertime storeroom heat?

Well, hockey has presented an interesting conundrum. Due to the geography of my birth I have long declared my allegiances to the New York Islanders. Now, rightfully so, the citizens of Long Island have declared that they do not want to refurbish my team's god-awful arena with taxpayer dollars. And so, logic would dictate that we should not expect the Isles to stay with us, considering the deserving citizens of Quebec who lustily wish to give the Islanders a new home. Ca va, I suppose. [By the way - I'd appreciate if all 2.5 of you Slimbo's Shelf readers could take a moment and see the poll on the right. Help me pick my new National Hockey League club. (Who the hell am I kidding? No one reads this fucking blog, except for graduate students looking to pilfer my genius as they complete their paper on Heinrich Boll) Okay, Rolf, pick a team then!!]

It doesn't matter. I don't even think I like hockey. Hell, I just think I started rooting for the Islanders when I began my lost years on Wall Street, laboring for the overlords, all of whom where NY Rangers fans. I was clearly turning my back and stomping on the graves of the proletariat working-class sensibilities that had brought me and my family forth from centuries of impoverished oblivion. Whether toting golf clubs or building databases, I have done nothing with my professional life but betray every ennobling tenet of Christianity and democracy that has made Western Civilization tenable. All I ever seem to do is whore myself out to the bad guys. I guess rooting for the NY Islanders gave me me some slight wedge upon which I can maybe, just maybe feel as though I was siding with the good guys for a change.

But what about the New York Football Giants? Hell, I don't know. And I don't think I care, really. All of New York is abuzz for the New York Jets right now. This makes sense. The Jets have a formidable team, an outsized identity and that elusive muse: momentum, the most important key to success in the NFL. The Giants are sputtering, hoping for the best, while praying to elude the tapestry of injuries that has become the franchise's annual Waterloo.

When I was a kid growing up, my father and older brother were passionate Jets fans. Unfortunately, my choosing the Giants lacks any noble source other than the need to differentiate myself from the two older males in the house. Still, I am glad I chose the Giants. Sometimes people (very reasonably) point out the contradictory identity of being both a Mets and Giants fan. That's fair. I wish the ubiquitous Jets-Yankees hybrids with whom I share Westchester County were subject to an equal scrutiny but I shouldn't be bitter.

I will say this - to equate the New York Giants with the New York Yankees bears no logic whatsoever. Aligning the two might have made sense in the 1950's, however in the past few decades, there could be no two dissimilar entities. In their present incarnation, the New York Yankees are the black hole of parity in the Majors. The Giants, on the other hand, helped to usher in the modern day profit sharing structure of the NFL, owing much to the vision of late owner Wellington Mara. The Yankees are all that is worth hating about New York: hubris, greed and entitlement. The New York Football Giants on the other hand, are a throwback to a more gentlemanly atmosphere, sometimes to detriment of their own success.

But the most important sport on the immediate horizon is my son's soccer team, for which I am an assistant coach. Last year they went undefeated in the fall season and then never won again once they'd been bumped up into the upper division in the Spring. No task is worse than facing eleven nine year-olds after a loss and regurgitating the worst of lies: 'it doesn't matter who wins' and 'it's just as important how you play as if you win'. I wish like hell that those things were true but they're not and my kids see right through me as kids always do. They already seem to know that the bully who kicked their shins and knocked them over to score the game winner that beat them will most likely succeed in life without recompense. They know it all already and see I'm full of shit. I just hope they believe me when I tell them I love them. And that I'm proud of them.

Slimbo's Proust Update

Some time ago, I announced my intention to read every volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I'm proud to say that unlike all my other endeavors in the arts, I have not given up on this one.

I decided to read Lost Time shortly after I gave up on my training for the NYC Half Marathon. Since then, it seems I've given up on a lot of things: drawing, writing fiction, painting. I find I'm unable to do anything anymore except cook meals, chase after my children and bide my time, laden with guilt, watching the years clip away amid the benevolent soul-crushing reality of office work.

But I'm still reading Proust.

And thus far, I've completed:

  1. Combray

  2. Swann in Love

  3. Place-Names: The Name

  4. At Mme Swann's

I am also keeping a journal of the most memorable quotes, which some time in the future, I'd like to chronicle further here, however I'll share just one.

Marcel, when pondering the death of his romance with Gilberte, the pretty young girl he saw through the Hawthorns at Combray who has now grown to into the young girl who torments his days in Paris, Marcel puts forth this wisdom encapsulating the quandary of being a teenager in love: "Because you are now in love with someone who will one day mean nothing to you, you refuse out of hand to meet someone who means nothing to you now, but whom you will one day come to love, someone whom you might have loved sooner if you had agreed to an earlier meeting, who might have curtailed your present sufferings (before replacing them, of course, with others)."