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Snake Plissken’s Letter to Sallie Mae Student Loan Services

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/11/2017 - 12:00am in

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From the desk of Snake Plissken

July

14, 2025

Dear Sallie Mae Student Loan Services,

I have received your notice informing me that the current outstanding balance on my student loan account is $377,394.91.

In fact, contrary to the insinuations you have made (“If you have changed your permanent residence, please be sure to update your account…”) that imply my non-payment is a consequence of mere absent-mindedness, I have received every notice sent previously over the past forty years, ever since I finished my Master’s Program in Critical Humanities, with a minor in Demolitions, at the age of 41.  I had hoped that my decision to knock out all electricity in the developed world a decade after I received the diploma as well as my later decision, after the Madagascar debacle, to kick off a premature peak oil crisis, might have borne with them the side-benefit – or friendly fire, depending on one’s perspective – of a “critique” (i.e. DEMOLITION) of the whole credit system.  Alas, it appeared to be as stubbornly incontrovertible as these mounting numbers, the ones that you inform me I bear locked around my neck like a stock.

Moreover, I have long been aware that “our new online one-click payment program makes it easier than ever to manage your debt!”  No, it isn’t for a lack of computer savvy that I have excused myself from the circuits of payment, that I have become a C grade – or lower, depending just how low you wanna go – debtor, or that my repayment has heretofore been limited to the middle finger I raise regularly at the collective houses of finance when I pass them on my motorcycle.

I am, and was, and will be, a toxic asset.  A bad investment.  A subprime man, long past the prime of my life.

For contrary to what you claim, I owe you bastards nothing.

But being a gentleman, I feel I owe myself the pleasure of giving you the explanation you do not wish to hear.  For it does not concern the not-so-surprising unworth of the degree I purchased – that’s right, purchased – on your dime, the clamorous horde of those razor dimes you made wait for me around the corner of tomorrow and the next month and next century that you claimed had always remained with me, dragging behind me, bells and buckles looped through the consolidated skin, hooks and interest and barbs.  It does not concern the fact that I was no more employable upon having received a new piece of paper, despite the increased need to work to cover not only my present ass but also the nightmare weight of the past, against which I was asked to struggle with the only discernible benefit of that accrued debt being that I was older, that I learned to write sentences so immaculately, stop-and-go-on-a-dime (borrowed, no doubt!) as those contained within this letter, and, lest we forget, that the guys at the bar gave me a lot of shit.

Let me take it word by word, chumps: “I” “owe” “you” “bastards” “nothing.”

 

“I”:

The entirety of your case, which asserts that ‘I now owe a sum of money because I spent what I had borrowed on the terms of an agreement I signed according to which I would repay it’, rests on the mistaken assumption that the five instances of “I” in this sentence correspond to the same lump of flesh and thought.  You, Reader, are soundly mistaken.  They are five distinct cases.  As taught by the education for which bread was borrowed, let us parse it out:

I (#1) now owe a sum of money because I (#2) spent what I (#3) had borrowed on the terms an agreement I (#4) signed according to which I (#5) would repay it

The I that signed it (#4, the I-that-binds) was a past present I, one without the money in hand or ledger, who abolished himself in the present by means of legally producing a different I (#3, the I-having-borrowed) – an I with money to eat, pay rent, study, go the movies, purchase a bicycle, buy his friends a drink, pay for medication – in the near future.  It was an I predicated on the chaining of itself, through the flick of the signing pen, to two future “I”s which were entirely unrecognizable to the I at the moment of signing: one that has the cash to shine hard, or just get by, (#3) and one (#5, the I-who-will-have-spent) who once more does not have that cash but who will be still required to repay it in its present, to pay money for money already paid, on the assumption that the having of that money in the past would have brought about a specific future I (the ideal form of #5, the desired subject of the whole operation) who was capable of repaying it and having enough to eat, pay rent, have some kids, go the movies, purchase a car, buy friends a drink, get some life insurance.

However – stay sharp here, tired creditor!  The way gets thorny… – I #2 (the I-who-spends) is not identical to I #3.  And I #1 (the I-who-is-spent) is not identical to I #5.  (Maybe that education was good for something, ha.)

#2 and #3 are not the same I because the spending of the loot is not in relation to having borrowed it.  Sure, it’s the origin story, the compounding root of the matter, and it can make one sick with worry.  It can make one very responsible.  But at the moment of transaction, when you’re buying a pack of smokes or a semester of tuition, once the conditions by which I #3 (I-having-borrowed) comes to be, the presence of the money in the account under the name and Social Security of all these I’s appears as money that is truly “mine,” indistinguishable from the small amount of money there previously for which I worked or stole.  They congeal and admix, they wetten and thicken, and then they gild themselves into a single surface, a single substance into which we tranche and cut.

That is, it becomes “my money.”  It is the money of I #2, I-who-spends, the sum by which all that exists otherwise – hot dogs and pipe fittings, panties and Wi-Fi, transmission fluid and whiskey fluid, a horse and a bet on that horse – comes to be possible or not.  Windows are made of glass, which breaks rather than bends, but they are surprisingly porous and labile when that which is held behind the glass – a glass statue of a horse, a movie about a horse, glue made of that horse, pants made of that horse, pants made of something else and which are not named HORSE but have a sexy horseness about them – is of a monetary size that can be precisely cancelled out by a portion of the sticky, fleeing mass of “my money.”

That horse statue and a portion of “my money” are made to meet each other.  Both are, for a hot minute, rendered neither mine nor yours nor his nor theirs, but merely each other’s, the horse of that money and the money of that horse.  Time freezes.  Exchange flays itself of all determinations.  That which was particular is voided like ash.  It is nothing but the meeting of two pure quantities at noon.  And then, the moment is lost.  The horse passes into my possession, where it now exists alongside “my money”, which now has a horse-value-sized-hole hacked out of it.

Because of this basic fact, there is no way that I #2 and I #3 can be seen as equivalent: the I-having-borrowed has the money as part of a project, a plan, a scheme of the management of someone else’s dough.  I-who-spends has only my money and god damn if it’s gonna be hard not to blow.  After all, I “earned it,” didn’t “I”?

And then… and then there is the bigger problem, that #1 and #5 could only be the same by means of a ridiculous, laughable, deserving to be pissed on fantasy.  For they are oh so very different.

#5 – I-who-will-have-spent – is a speculative legal and economic subject, an exercise in thought that the terrible arcane calculus you call your master has used to shape matter, history, and lives.  It is a future I of thought in the present, an I that exists in a personal future in which having been granted the cash to grant me access to both the academy and the supermarket makes me able to pay back what could not be paid before plus the interest of all the time that has passed since.  It belongs to a general future in which there are paper-stacking jobs that pay gangbusters for all us boobs, even for those with a rather specific piece of paper.

It should be entirely clear that neither of these futures came to pass.  The I that is totally spent never became the I who will have spent.  How could it?

And yet, you write to I  #1 as if it has been the same I all along.  You write the one who is totally spent, exhausted, hounded, the one who writes this to you now.  You write to the I who looks at the piece of paper you have sent me – for that’s it, isn’t it? It is sent to me, not to I, assuring that the me remains the same and can be tracked across state lines, across disguises, across names – regarding the accumulated quantity of money borrowed and spent by other I’s who happen to have bounced around the shambling frame called “Snake’s body.”  You write as if he is the same future I on the basis of whose existence the chain of events began that lead to me sitting here, slightly drunk (OK, more than slightly, what, you think this I could take this shit sober???), looking at a piece of paper on which a debt is inscribed.

But we – I and I, not to mention I, I, and I – are not the same.  We never have been.  Yet it is I who will pay the debt that was supposed to be paid to me, that was given to I who would have been earning money to spare, enough to spare to cover the debts I accumulated back after I signed my name as if in blood, but with all the worse grey horror of that which spares itself every expense and refuses even to render its grotesque in lilting arabesques of red, restricting it to a beige sheet that will Helvetically state, “Payment on your account is overdue.”

[Having established all this, we can move more quickly now, presuming you do not have to go back and meticulously reread what is written above with a Very Focused Expression on your face.]

 

“owe”:

However, I would not want you think that it is merely the permanent inconsistence of a subject across time that your foul statement of how things are, and my refusal of that are, indicates.  No, it gets worse.
The point at hand was hinted at previously, in our discussion of the gap between #1 and #5, but let me unpack it more clearly.
If “I” (#4) was only given the money in the past only on the condition that “I” (#5,) would be able to pay it back (an “able to” imposed legally and materially on #1) because “I” (#4) will have been given the money in the past (as #3), then it follows that:  I was given the loan on the condition that I was given the loan.  I owe on the condition that I owe.

And boy, ain’t that fucked.

It is what is called a tautology in those educations for which you pay.  It is also what is called a  total failure of thought and society.  One hurtles ahead into the future on the basis that one has already hurtled ahead into the future.  It is hard to escape the stench of burning rubber when, in fact, one is going nowhere, because there’s nowhere to go.  It gets in our lungs.  After a century or so, we think that’s how the air always has tasted.

 

“you”:

See “bastards.”  Because that’s what you are.

(In addition, I might note the infantilizing perversity of giving yourself a cute little nickname, of tacking a gender to hamstringing of the future.  Oh, Sallie Mae.  Like a foxy country girl in some daisy dukes.  Healthy and sun-kissed Miss Sallie Mae from Georgia, from that bountiful South where time moves slow and the fields just can’t help but produce.  Damn, I’d like to meet her.  And she’s got it all, a lot to offer: lines of credit out to here…

But of course, a pile of thousands of owed days, of temporal fishhooks arranged in the shape of a personified fountain of innocent fecundity is not the same thing as a young woman from Georgia, and it is not what one signed up for.  A Cenobite may make sense in the short term, may seem like a fun date on the rebound, but once they get the barbs into you, it’s for life.)

 

“bastards”:  

That’s pretty self-explanatory.  If it isn’t, open up any one of the billing statements you mail out.  Read it aloud to yourself, at adequate volume, and ask, really ask: who would send such a thing, so hostile, so cold, so hiding behind bureaucracy, to another human?  The answer is obvious: a bastard.  A rat bastard.  Actually that’s not fair to either bastards or rats, many of whom are very good people or they are rats, and you cannot just accuse something of being the species it happens to be.  Let us say, rather, that when you read those words you send to me, to millions of us, it sounds like something that could only be written and spoken by that which has betrayed all that might be decent, kind, fun, caring, or of worth in this world and which, worst of all, insists with the force of law that others participate in the perpetuation of this betrayal of all that might be otherwise.  That is to say, it could only be written by a human.

 

“nothing”:

Well, here’s the crux of it, isn’t it?  The cursed lodestone?  That sum.  That something.  That everything.  Because while it has been demonstrated that I am not the I who owes the money, that you cannot ground owing on the ground of owing, that you are not deserving of the worry, time, or cash of those you claim to owe you, I know damn well what your response will be:

We are sorry to hear you are dissatisfied with your experience, Mr. Plissken.  But what about the money?  Even excluding the interest, do you think it fair that you not pay it back?  That you do not owe us the money we gave to you?  Is that fair?

So let me tell you: Yes.  Yes, it is.

Because you are not my friend.  (And for God’s sake, why would I be asked to “Like Sallie Mae” on Facebook?  The most fucked up thing is the thought that someone probably did.  My comments regarding the auto-betrayal of the human remain.)  If you were my friend or even a stranger, who spotted me for a bit, who took a chunk, horse-sized or otherwise, out of “her money” and added it to “my money,” it would make sense: even if there was a bit of interest attached for the favor, for her “inconvenience,” even if it was an unpleasant, very formal arrangement, what matters to her in that situation is helping me out or growing her particular pile of dough.

But that is not what you want.  No, what mattered to you wasn’t getting it back: it was getting it spent.

Because you are merely a function, merely that which enables spending in the present on the basis of a future based on the endlessly perpetuity of the present.  You are merely a loop, merely a self-definition whining in the night.  Merely a razor that got loose in the house of time.  Merely an oil slick, a spill of that which was intended to carefully lube up the paths of circulation but which was let loose when its vessel met rocks of its own making. It never sank.  It was no accident, just the excuse to let you gush forth and coat all that you could, misting in the air, becoming the rain, getting in the pores, the hair, the eyes, the present.

But oil still burns, doesn’t it?

This is all to say: all that mattered to the total order you serve – not just you, Reader, but the whole credit system – was the mobilization of that money.  The creation of the condition of spends, has spent, and should repay.  It was that which allowed everything to move, for things to get bought and made.  It was that spending and that debt you needed, that amount you could claim you would be worth, not the return of it as such.

And we’ve already done our part: we became debtors.  It seems frivolous to do more.  At this point, we terminate our contract.

So here amongst those forced to pay their debt to society, I shall pay none to you, not a fraction of a penny to you who do not even have the courage to be “society”, just its steward, its motor, its overseer, its guarantor of the future continuing as it once was, the pollution and evacuation of that future.

Because I am, after all, a present fact of that future.  I have, therefore, decided to make it a principle of life.  To be a man adequate to my time.  What more could be asked of me?  Is there a more noble goal?  Such is the task of education, is it not?  And did I not receive a sentimental education, not because of what I read but because of what I borrowed?  Consider this, then, the ultimate application of your loan.

I read a book a long time back – no, not in school on your tab, asshole: people read books for a lot of reasons and in a lot of places – called The Man Without Qualities.  It’s a huge slab of a book, and I’ll admit, it took me a long, long while to work my way through it.  (It didn’t help that I read it only when on the toilet, over the course of two years, which had the unfortunate consequence of the occasional sudden realization that I had been sitting there, over a pile of my own refuse, for a good 20 minutes and the second consequence of a near Pavlovian response to any mention of the book or its author, the details of which I hardly need to spell out.  Even writing it here is difficult.)  And I’ll come clean, I didn’t actually finish it, but neither did the author finish writing it!  So we’re square.

The book is about a man named Ulrich, who is a mathematician.  But more than that, it’s about what the author calls “pseudoreality.”  That’s the kind of reality I mean when I talk about the present, this present of a miscarried yet still swaddled past future.  It shouldn’t exist, because it’s based on promises that cannot be fulfilled, but it takes shape exactly around that unfillment.  It’s negated, but it exists.  Anyway, Ulrich is the man without qualities, not because he is totally boring or incapable of doing things, but because he makes himself to adequate to the world.  He is the ultimate historical guy, because he is nothing but the state of the present.  But the title isn’t The Qualities Without Man.  It isn’t because all those qualities which are not his own crystallize around this shape called man, this form that has been emptied out but which can still hold them.
Times change.  That pseudoreality became the real deal.  And so, as desperate as we may have been to hold onto that thing called man, it got so hard to tell them apart from the qualities.  It became pseudo.  It became pointless.  No one likes being told this, so they shave their chests and beat their wives and do everything else that somehow might prove that they are men and that they have qualities of their own.  But they’re mistaken.  Because we became humans of quantity.  Humans who could be divided up into quantities of time and money.  But then that wasn’t enough.  There wasn’t enough quantity in the present to crowd out the human.  And so it took on the quantity of the future and based the human of quantity on the quantities to come.  It dragged those quantities back from the future into now, and it then dragged that past future with it for all its days to come.

I used be a man without quantity, broke as shit. But I got right with the times, and I became one of those humans of quantity.  Now, there’s only one step left: to become the quantity without man.  To own up to what I am by refusing to owe it to anyone.  It’s strange, that you who have made this possible, have always been the one who insisted the most on me still being “the man,” on being the same man I was forty-one years ago.  We all know that’s a lie.

And so it is that I will be what has been longed asked of me: to become the quantity without man.  But, of course, being as such, how could I give up this quality around which I am constituted? How could I not take an interest in myself through all this interest accrued? How could I not desire to make it grow, to better myself?  To pile my quantity straight to heaven until, finally, it reveals itself for what it always has been, until it becomes the one quality worth saving: the nothing that shines clear as hell at the end of the words I owe you bastards nothing…

I have, now as before as always, decided to defer.  Indefinitely, straight out to the fogged horizon and beyond, straight through my life and past my death.  For I may die, but this quantity will not, and neither will that nothing.  I will be jubilant and nothing more.

So you can squeeze a stone.  It’s a good strength exercise.  But don’t be surprised to find that the liquid in your hands is nothing more the sweat of your pallid, murderous exertion to make a claim on the present based on a past’s future.

I hope that sweat is as nourishing as it is tasty, because it’s all you are ever going to get from your dealings with me.

Fuck off.
S.P.

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Not fit to govern

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/11/2017 - 11:09pm in

We can't just wait for the government to implode. An insurgent Labour leadership at the head of the labour movement can bring real change now

A Moment of Disbelief: Poems on War, Terrorism, and Refugees - book review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/11/2017 - 8:05am in

William Alderson’s poems in A Moment of Disbelief and May Days unite politics and feeling in a brilliant reclaiming of a fine poetic tradition, finds Dominic Alexander

AS THE UNITED STATES SLIDES INTO RECESSION (from 2001)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 7:21am in

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This essay was originally published in the USBIG NewsFlash in December 2001.   As I was putting this newsletter together, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially announced that the U.S. economy has been in recession since last March. The delay in the diagnosis is nothing unusual because a downturn is not considered a recession unless it lasts for a

The post AS THE UNITED STATES SLIDES INTO RECESSION (from 2001) appeared first on BIEN.

Bail Bloc

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 12:00am in

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The New Inquiry is pleased to announce the launch of Bail Bloc, a desktop application that uses computer processing power to get people out of jail.

View the project online here.

Read our past work on policing and mass incarceration here.

FAQ

What are you donating when you run Bail Bloc?

Your computer is being used to verify transactions for the Monero cryptocurrency ledger. This process of reward is known as “mining” and is an incentive to participate in the upkeep of the network. When you run Bail Bloc, you are donating a small percentage of your overall computing power to this task, which results in money for bailing people out of pre-trial detention.

Why Monero?

Monero is an ASIC-resistant cryptocurrency, which means two things: that computers designed for the singular purpose of mining cryptocurrency are unable to mine it, and that consumer-level computers can mine it in a financially viable way. It also has a stable value relative to other high value cryptocurrencies. The open source code base for Monero mining software made this a tenable project for our team.

Doesn’t mining have a large environmental footprint?

Mining cryptocurrency requires energy. It is important to make the distinction, however, between Monero mining and Bitcoin mining. The latter has been in the news for its considerable environmental impact. Bail Bloc is a very small mining operation compared to what is referenced in those articles. “Bitcoin Farms” generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per day; Bail Bloc, on the other hand, generates–on an individual level–mere cents per day. Bail Bloc is set to utilize only an additional 10-25% of your computing power, and so your environmental impact will be 10-25% greater than is usual for your computer.

Will my electricity bill go up?

On an individual level, the funds generated by Bail Bloc are negligible (we estimate that each computer will generate $3-5 per month), and so the increase in your electricity bill should be negligible too. If you’re worried about even a small increase in your electricity bill–we’re talking $1-2–try using Bail Bloc in a place where an institution pays the bills and allows you to run moderate computing tasks (e.g. gaming or watching YouTube videos). For example, at your place of employment, at school, or at a gentrifying coffee shop.

Does Bail Bloc cost more to mine in electricity than it donates toward posting bail?

No. With many cryptocurrencies this is the case, but as can be verified with hashrate per wattage calculators, mining Monero is financially viable even when considering the cost of electricity.

Even so, isn’t it more efficient to just donate cash directly?

Directly routing money to nonprofits is, of course, the most efficient means of donation. We encourage everyone who has the means to donate directly to their community bail funds in addition to running Bail Bloc. If your community doesn’t yet have a bail fund, we suggest you organize to create one, and in the meantime give money to the individuals and families forced to bear the burden of posting bail on their own.

As a non-profit, The New Inquiry has seen first-hand how difficult it is to encourage individuals to donate out of their own pockets, especially when those individuals don’t have direct access to capital, which is true for the vast majority of our readership. Bail Bloc was not designed to replace any of these other fundraising efforts–it was designed to accompany them.

This project is also greater than the sum of its parts, or the sum of its hashrate; This is as much about catapulting a radical criticism of bail into the public imagination as it is about raising bail funds via cryptocurrency. This project seeks to engage people in a dialog about the fact that the justice system takes as a basic assumption that poor people will not be able to afford bail. Bail Bloc is one tool, among many, to support the varied, long-standing movement for abolition.

Have questions of your own? Email bailbloc@thenewinquiry.com. We’ll update the FAQ as needed.

Editors’ Note, Vol. 65: Jobs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 3:05am in

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Zadie

Smith recently described a Manhattan social encounter in the New York Review of Books’s NYR Daily by pointing out that among the crowd (which included Smith in a “denim jumpsuit,” a person with a skateboard, and another in a “custodian’s uniform”), only “two of us were dressed for real jobs.” Smith doesn’t mention what exactly the “real” workers were wearing—and she doesn’t need to. Despite their diminishing availability, a Real Job still widely signifies something like a nine-to-five, a suit, and a briefcase—not a skateboard.

But the construction of reality takes work. The faint differences between a Real Job and something else—say, the difference between a hobby and a career, or a gig and, in Silicon Valley–speak, “purposeful work”—are not just semantic. As life and labor become increasingly precarious, some baristas are part of a writer’s union, some of us take on gigs in order to support our paid and unpaid roles as students, teachers, and caregivers, and many of us don’t have jobs at all. People with so-called Real Jobs are often paid more, paid on time, and offered better benefits and security than the masses who increasingly hunt for some combination of what we might call gigs, internships, or a TaskRabbit account.

The received narrative is that millennials don’t have Real Jobs, and perhaps never will. But that certainly doesn’t mean we don’t work; in fact it might be our only claim. In this issue, we explore how what counts as labor and how much it’s worth continues to be a crucial site of contestation under neoliberalism. If everything is work, will we ever get a break?

As economic conditions become more unsustainable for the working classes, tech elites are experimenting with ways to quell unrest by supposedly attempting to lessen the drudgery of the everyday. Criticizing the tech moguls currently advocating for universal basic income (UBI), Carmen Petaccio writes that “for them, exploratory UBI programs aren’t practice runs for a protosocialism that could counteract the woes of late capitalism. Rather, they are beta tests for deceptive public policy that could sustain late capitalism forever.”

Many of the miseries of global capitalism are unequivocally physical. While the “new workforce” is supposedly agile, jobs often inflict bodily pain on workers. Writing on back pain and attempting to deindividualize it, Aaron Neiman asks, “Why is it so difficult to picture the nation’s public-health apparatus addressing this problem as a legitimate medical crisis?” In “Whose Time Is It, Anyway?” Sophia Cross examines the “feel-good commuter story” in which a low-wage worker walks miles to get to work and back. Based on the brutal notion that we must endure anything for a job—and that such sacrifice is a moral good—the uneven allocation of time becomes depoliticized.

This issue features several interviews that outline conversations in contemporary labor and advocate for a collective response to shared conditions. Lena Afridi, Christina Fox, Farah Khimji, and Lena Solow discuss labor organizing and workers’ rights in a roundtable forum—and emphasize the need to center people of color, undocumented people, and queer people. Zaina Alsous brings together organizers of the Union of Radical Workers and Writers, the Resist Retail Nihilism conference, and the Worker Writers School to think about what organizing poets looks like. It’s not what it might seem. As Mark Nowak says in the interview, “I’m not sure I’d separate poets or writers from everyone else. If we really want to ‘actually shut shit down,’ that’s a massive project. We need poets and writers, sure, but we need workers and students and everyone.”

For that job, we need everyone, and we need everything. In an interview with Nick Smaligo linking modern antifa to the 1970s autonomous movements in Germany, George Katsiaficas explains that “the lesson from Europe is that broad strata of people need to be mobilized: Thousands and thousands of people who are against racism and against hate need to be in the streets.”

As we can glean from the German word instandbesetzen, meaning “to renovate and occupy,” squatters knew that it is not only history that must be occupied but also the future. Owing to the symbol of futurity endowed in the figure of the child, certain ideals of childhood have been instrumentalized to help us cope with our present and “the future [young people] promise can offer parents a source of meaning for the toil they suffer.” In an interview with political theorist Paul Rekret about his new book Down with Childhood, we learn how “as the distinction between labor and leisure is breaking down, so too is the concept of childhood.”

While some things are breaking down in contemporary American postindustrial society, others are only solidifying. In “The Management Estate,” Alfredo F. Riley argues that journalists and pollsters are a managerial class who tout themselves as the overseers of the public sphere. In this vein, “facts” are violent claims to a cold objectivity that is in fact highly subjective: “white, cisheterosexual, male, able-bodied, bourgeois, Christian, etc.” At Politico, writers and designers are subject to social-media screening that tries to maintain the image of a trusted (read: normative) American journalistic opinion.

In “The Dream Workers,” Eli Mandel reviews the recent publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s dreams. “We need not lie on the couch to see that dreams are a kind of nocturnal labor,” he writes. “Dreamwork has an affinity to artwork: Dreams are our only involuntary creative act. No wonder, then, that the dreams of writers and artists—of professional daydreamers—have a special pull.” Dreaming might be a lesser mode of employment, but it’s certainly the most ubiquitous.

Rachel Elizabeth Fraser considers the labor animals perform in “Animal Citizens, Animal Workers,” and, in a review of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, Mike Thomsen turns to the behind-the-scenes work of making hit video games. When the line between producer and consumer is blurred, being considered an employee becomes a “privilege” one is endowed with as reward for a “good” work ethic.

This issue’s special project features Francis Tseng’s dystopian simulator The Founder, which, like some jobs, you can download on your phone. “Whether we arrive at a utopian world without work or a dystopia full of only the unemployed and their overseers will depend on whether we get there through Silicon Valley disruption or revolt from below,” senior editor Willie Osterweil writes of the game’s darkly satirical politics.

Another type of prosumerism is at play in creating the brands we love (the Kardashians) and the brands we love to hate (Coke Zero), as Bradley Babendir explains in his reading of Liza Featherstone’s Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation. “Ordinary people are listened to more than ever,” he notes of focus groups, “even as they have less and less real power.”

Still, because we continue to learn from the combined histories, practices, and imaginaries of feminism, black studies, Marxism, and anti-colonialism, we know there is untold power in the ordinary. As the late scholar of the world-making capacities of the masses C. L. R. James said not long before he died, “You never know when it is going to explode. The revolutionary movement is a series of explosions when the regular routine of things reaches a pitch where it cannot go on.”

How and why I write

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/11/2017 - 11:46pm in

The Trumpet of Sedition blog has been running a series of articles by historians on 'How I Write'. John Rees contributes

What’s the best wine pairing for my current life crisis?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/11/2017 - 8:42pm in

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IF YOU’RE having a crisis, don’t just reach for any wine. Read our guide to discover the perfect grape-based alcoholic drink to match your problem.

Border Theories

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/11/2017 - 1:05am in

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With

the projector’s light beaming reds, whites, and grays across his skin, he asks, “Can you take a picture of me?” I look behind me hoping no one heard. There isn’t anyone around, just me and him, this boy, this boy I call mine, this boy who’s mine for now. I want to tell him it’s inappropriate, possibly even disrespectful, because this is an exhibition in a gallery space at The New School. The exhibition, State of Exception/Estado de Excepción, displays “objects left behind in the desert by undocumented migrants on their journey into the U.S. and other forms of data.”

His face is serious. Smile stern, taut cheeks, posture narrowed. I have always found him photogenic. To explain to him why I feel it is inappropriate to take a picture in this setting is to flout my “white boy English,” that eloquent speech imposed upon me as a child, the elaborate words I mastered in order to get good grades in my undergraduate courses, the vocal tones and hand gestures of a PhD candidate—and necessary for any dream of upward mobility. He doesn’t feel the structure around me as I do. Our loving is at the border of our oppositions.

I take the picture.

 

On

November 18, 2013, Cruz Marcelino Velazquez Acevedo, a 16-year-old from Tijuana, Mexico, dies on the border. He does not drown in a ditch, a canal, or the Rio Grande, as so many migrants trying to cross over into the United States do. He does not dehydrate in the deserts of Texas or Arizona or California. He is not even trying to cross over to, as so many call it, “illegally migrate.” In San Ysidro, at the border crossing of the United States and Mexico, he dies from an overdose, from too many sips of the liquid methamphetamine he is trying to smuggle over.

20/20 dedicates an episode to Velazquez. The episode’s title is “Life and Death at the Border.” The episode provides a minute-by-minute rundown of Velazquez’s time at the border checkpoint according to the footage made public by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The program includes the testimonies of the two border officers who—accused but never convicted—coerced Velazquez to drink the liquid in order to prove it was not drugs, as the teen had said. They bring in a toxicologist to give expert analysis on what overdoses do to the body, and a former commissioner of the agency who deems the actions of the officers “inappropriate” and “misconduct.” The television program highlights the ruthlessness of the cartels, the lucrative market for methamphetamines, and the violence of the border. The program wraps into an hour the hundreds of years compressed, conflicts, insurrections, and civil wars. As in the title “Life and Death at the Border,” the border, like anytime we say the word “the border,” becomes yet another theory of what the border is supposed to mean.

 

An

installation: a wall of backpacks. All sizes, all colors, all varieties. Each one is considerably dirty, and many are blanched by constant exposure to the sun. What are we looking at? Scratch that: What are we being made not to see?

After more than 10 minutes of suspension, one backpack in particular catches the eye. The backpack is a pink that pops, a plastic-looking pink you see in the Walmart’s Back-to-School section. It is small, and its smallness makes it stand out among so many larger backpacks, a landscape of faded browns and blacks. Plastered on the front of the backpack is Dora the Exploradora. This backpack must have belonged to a little girl who, for one reason or another, had to abandon her backpack along the border of the United States and Mexico. The other details of her life are unknown.

 

I

am 12 years old when my brother dies. My mother and sister ask the coroner, “Was he in a lot of pain when it happened?” I am not present when they ask him, because they do not feel I am old enough, but something tells me, knowing their way of being forcefully insistent, that the coroner told them what they wanted to hear, that he could see the proof of their pain in their eyes. “He felt nothing, absolutely nothing,” they report back, allegedly repeating the coroner’s words verbatim.

But if the coroner is telling the truth, how can he know what my dead brother experienced? Where is the evidence for the existence of this non-pain? My mother and sister feel it is a justice if he felt pain. It corroborates their theories. For if he felt pain, much like we wonder if Velazquez felt pain, we can project all our anger and torment onto the ones responsible for creating the pain: the drunk driver / the United States government. But if there is no pain? If the coroner is right and life, in an instant, in a flash, extinguishes into nothingness, without those human things we call suffering, pain, torture, and violence, what then? How do we justify a life? How do we prove to others that my brother / Velazquez mattered?

For those who loved Velazquez, or those, like me, who stumbled upon him in a Twitter post, who did not know him but who see something familiar in him, something distant yet so near, there is proof of pain: video footage. Millions have seen it. His loved ones can watch it over and over again if they want, if they need it. The footage gives us a minute-by-minute synopsis of how he reacts after drinking the drugs:

7:11 p.m.: Velazquez wipes his forehead.
7:36 p.m.: He starts sweating heavily, his body shaking.
7:48 p.m.: Handcuffed and standing up, Velazquez screams, “mi prima,” “mi hermana,” “mi corazón.” He rocks back and forth. Several officers watch him. The one officer who told him to drink the liquid drugs wipes the sweat from his forehead.
7:51 p.m.: He is strapped into a gurney, eyes rolling into the back of the head, the limbs in a frenzy, the head convulsing.
8:24 p.m.: In the hospital, he is unresponsive, pupils fixed, fixed on the beyond.
8:39 p.m.: Velazquez is put on a respirator.
8:57 p.m.: Velazquez dies from acute methamphetamine intoxication.

In the court of law, in the break rooms of Immigration and Customs, on the big-screen TV of some John and Joanne’s home in the Upper West Side or Springfield or Malibu or Main Street, does this footage prove anything? Can this tell the millions of viewers why he risked it all to traffic drugs into the United States? What brought him to the border the day he died? Any pursuit of a “why” presupposes there is one reason, one cause, one deciding factor that urges bodies to risk everything.

 

Unable

to move from standing in front of the Dora backpack, I take a picture. I concentrate on the backpack. I tell myself to think beyond this blankness I am feeling right now. I do everything I can standing in place, as if some sentence from the void will pull through, some word or clause or syllable will whisper to me, shout at me, tell it to me. The backpack does not open itself up to interpretation.

 

Visuals

without audio: What is on trial is not the voice but the body’s language. One of the officers makes the gesture to drink by bringing hand to mouth. The other officer places the liquid substance before Velazquez and nods his head, encouraging, commanding, enforcing. Velazquez swallows from the bottle of the liquid drug four times, hoping to convince them it is not a drug, so he can cross through, deliver it, and return home without any backlash from the cartels. The incident report filed the same night notes Velazquez “voluntarily” drinks the substance. Protocol, according to the report, is followed.

This report is a document of the United States of America. 20/20’s report is an attempt to counter the federal report with the facts of the matter—the body language, expert opinions, and eyewitness accounts. There is no doubt the viewer will notice the program’s sympathies are with Velazquez. But the solution on offer is nothing more than getting rid of a few bad apples, nothing less, making sure they hire no more bad apples, nothing more.

 

E—

tells me it was for the best that I did not bring my dad. A paraphrase of his objection: Why bring him to this exhibition when he has already lived through this, when he might have to live through this again? Two theories of what he is saying:

Two Theories Trying to Break Down What E— is Saying
By
The Author

1) The border, and the many meanings of the border, is not meant to be relived. It is to be tucked away safely in a memory box, dusted on occasion for a brief recollection, but not reexperienced.

2) The border is a trauma, living in the body, triggering and affecting, passed on to other bodies. The border, as E— seems to be suggesting, can manifest even here downtown in New York City, so far from the United States–Mexico border, so far from my undocumented father who now lives in rural New Jersey.

 

20/20

cites other deaths along the border. A family picnicking on the Mexican side of the border is shot at by border patrol on a boat, killing the father. A teenage boy, accused of throwing rocks across the border, is shot 10 times. A man is tased over and over again by a mob of border-patrol agents for being on drugs. In all cases, no charges are brought against these officers, no protocols against violence are implemented. These flash points of life and of death are innumerable. They define the border as we know it.

 

On

display: a spiral-bound notebook. The pages are warped by water damage. The paper near the metallic binding appears to be eaten away, lined with holes and tears. The front cover, made of plastic, looks melted; the colors are a faded swirl of blue, tan, and black—no doubt the result of a ruthless exposure to sunlight. Though unopened (perhaps even unopenable?), the pages appear blank. One can only surmise that the waves of a river or the soaking in a ditch washed away whatever stories, fragments, or ramblings were contained within them. Or maybe, just maybe, there was nothing yet written down on those pages. Blank pages of journal entries yet to be, poems in process, theories waiting for the right words to explain themselves.

 

Velazquez’s

family’s lawyer asks one of the officers, “At some point did you hear Cruz screaming?”

“Yes, I could hear Cruz.”

“You could hear him in pain?”

She hesitates, an “ummm” trips on her lips, she nods her head slightly, her facial features formulating the appropriate sentence, the appropriate language, the appropriate face for the camera watching her: “I can’t . . . I heard him screaming.” She looks down at the table before her, wringing out her wrists, eyes red, the biting of the lip. Scene changes.

 

On

display: an empty gallon of water with these words written in black marker: “Buena suarte amig@s!”

 

One

officer in particular is zeroed in on. The footage of her testimony is masterfully edited to account for the frequent pauses between speech, downward cast eyes, intelligible language breaking down into unintelligible sounds, a sniffle here and a clearing of the throat there. Guilt can be found in the body of the individual. If the logic of the camera is followed, nations and organizations and corporations and ideologies and systems are incapable of guilt. Their immaterial bodies cannot be recorded, edited, and represented like the testimonies of a human.

We see shootings of unarmed men on a livestream caught on tape by girlfriends, helicopters reporting on the border men beaten to death by a mob, a bystander recording a man dying from a chokehold screaming out “I CAN’T BREATHE! I CAN’T BREATHE!” and no one can imagine governments or mindsets or corporations giving the confidence necessary for individuals to commit such violence. (What would it look like to put a power structure on trial, to make a system testify, to force an ideology to swear on the Bible? Absurd, no doubt, but a limit we ought to challenge.) Motives for the guilty are sought of the individual kind: personal vendettas, hate crimes, ignorance, negligence, and so on and so forth. We are made to believe some humans are just naturally born evil, corruptions of humanity, exceptions to some unspecified norm, a backwardness to be transcended. The promise is that certain kinds of humans, who think in certain kinds of ways, who live their lives in certain kinds of ways, will, eventually, in due time, be phased out. But the question never asked is what ways of living and being in the world are we waiting to extinguish? Because to ask such a question is to confront question, problem, and answer head-on.

 

E—

calls me over to where he is. “Mira . . .” he says, pointing to an object I had overlooked earlier. The object is one sheet of lined paper with writing on it. The sheet appears to have been water damaged, the tint of the page a dark brown as if exposed to muddy waters, the edges of it curled as if fried by the sun. A letter? An essay? Spoken-word poetry?

The letters are blocky, as if the writer was pressing down on the pen hard, belabored. The words are in English. Full sentences cannot be deciphered, but the beginnings of some are as follows: “TheRE GOES my . . .” “LET THE Good . . .” “My BRown eye . . .” One word that reads as “VASANOVA” has the words “we on the,” above it, as if the writer is amending a thought, being more precise with their meaning. Given the free use of uppercase and lowercase letters in these words, I wonder if the writer is an English-language learner, teaching themselves, though imperiled, though endangered, though risking life, a foreign language on the border.

I want to ask E— why he directed me to see this, why this affected him in some way, but it soon hits me: He directs my attention to it because he knows it will have this impact on me. He knows I love studying penmanship, analyzing how a loop, a space between letters, an illegible word can tell us about a life we do not know. He knows writing in all its forms is important to me.

“Who do you think wrote it, E—?”

“I’m not sure, but if you look at the writing maybe it was . . .”

The loose leaf leaves us to our theories.

 

The

toxicology expert 20/20 hired gives the viewer a run-down of what Velazquez is experiencing: blood pressure rising exponentially, a fever spiking, the body unable to cool, delirium, the body working double-time. Chemistry kills Velazquez. The toxicologist needs to emphasize to the reporter interviewing him, “Cruz was in an immense amount of pain.” Immense: an adjective describing quantity, intensity, degrees. Immense as syllables as an adjective as a word as language tries to describe the indescribable. Futile as it may be, the toxicologist uses the word in efforts to describe to us, as best he can, how the body is bound by laws, how the body is testimony, how the body testifies.

 

A

rock thrown across an invisible line is an act worthy of:

—————————————

cover-ups.
spectacularizing.
reporting.
fact-checking.
death.

 

About

to leave. E— and I are staring at photographs of the Arizona desert where many of the objects in the exhibit were acquired. Though beautiful, though sublime, photographs have a harder time of catching my attention. Too still, possibly.

I turn around from the photographs, and from E—. There are four women looking at a tire I had glossed over earlier, a tire once employed by men to help repair the walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, a tire turned museum object. I didn’t see them enter the exhibition. They look like my tías and primas. One appears to be in her late 30s, and the three others look to be no older than 15. The women are huddled around the tire. Bodies poised in attention. Their brown eyes are the eyes of concentration. What do they contemplate there before the tire? How do they do this combined effort of thought?


I look at them looking at the tire until E— asks me, again, “Can you take a picture of me, please?”

Universal Basic Income and the Duty to Work

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/11/2017 - 9:02pm in

What should a government faced with an unmanageable level of unemployment do when conventional policy has failed to resolve the issue?

The post Universal Basic Income and the Duty to Work appeared first on BIEN.

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