Cartoon of the day

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Children don’t count

Trickle down theory my @$$!

occasional links & commentary

children

Certainly not in the United States.

According to the most recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation,

Nationally, 22 percent of children (16.1 million) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line in 2013, up from 18 percent in 2008 (13.2 million), representing nearly 3 million more children in poverty. The child poverty rate among African Americans (39 percent) was more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites (14 percent) in 2013.

In 2013, three in 10 children (22.8 million) lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. Since 2008, the number of such children climbed by nearly 2.7 million. Roughly half of all American Indian children (50 percent) and African-American children (48 percent) had no parent with full-time, year-round employment in 2013, compared with 37 percent of Latino children, 24 percent of non-Hispanic white children and 23 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children.

As…

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Devil’s dung

I wonder how long until the Financial Powers of the world gang up on the Pope and try to discredit him.

occasional links & commentary

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Pope Francis’s recent references to money as the “dung of the devil” (or, alternatively, the “devil’s dung“) brought to mind lots of different references (from the etymology of dung in terms of different classes of workers to Freud’s tale of the devil whose gifts of money turn to excrement upon his leaving).

But, at the suggestion of a friend [ht: ja], I also began to imagine how we might retitle basic economics courses in a Catholic university. Consider the following:

Econ 101—Mephistopheles’ Market Manure

Econ 102:—Satanic Sewers of National Economies

or just get right to the point,

all intro-level courses—Beezelbub’s Bourgeois Bullshit

Any other suggestions?

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Dragon Boat Festival 2015/Dragon Boat Festival 2016: Part 2 of 2

Part 2

That’s what America had turned him into, a hungry ghost.

Damn this crazy country! It was a love-hate relationship. Or as the Chinese say so magnificently 热脸贴冷屁股: hot face-cheek sticking to a cold ass-cheek. Why was America so damn nuts? So schizo? So bipolar?

Unwanted affections.

Unwanted affections.

Apply hot face cheek to cold butt cheek!

Apply hot face cheek to cold butt cheek!

On the one hand you had a supremely developed society with enormous resources to develop human potential and realize incredible and amazing works of technology and art, and on the other you had complete fucking morons who dared accuse the victims of a gun massacre of being at fault because they weren’t packing concealed weapons.

Only in America.

Hobbit burst in on Zen’s ruminations.

“I want you to watch this new show on Netflix!”

“I don’t have time.”

“You have time. You watch Dexter over and over. Dexter! Dexter! Dexter!”

Dexter haunts this blog.

Dexter haunts this blog.

“I do not! You know, Hobbit, shouldn’t you better occupy your time by reading up on Tennis Williams?”

“This is my relaxing time.”
“Seems to me you’re always on relaxing time. When are you gonna finish reading Streetcar Named Desire?”

“Shut up and watch this show. It’s very interesting but I hate one thing that makes me really hate it.”

“Then don’t watch it.”

“No, I have to watch it. You watch it. See if you agree. See, everyone is very rich. That’s not like real life living people. All the peoples can get money rich. Even the poor guy is in Africa. His mother is die of AIDS but then someone, someone, the rich drug dealer, even drug dealer is rich, he gives him a job and gives to him the expensive medicine to cure his mother. This is not like real living life.”

“Well, Hobbit, it’s a science fiction program.”

“But why they do that? Why can’t they show poor peoples like us who struggle to making even a few coins? Look at us. No money. Can’t even pay doctor to see us.”

“Hobbit, our lives are not that bad. We’re not working outside like the 瓦工, working with our hands in the heat and cold. Those poor people are working themselves to death for a pittance. We’re okay; we’re just not rich.”

“Still, I would like this show much better if they had some peoples with real life problems.”

“Look I agree with you. The writers are probably falling back on the old formula of presenting characters that the audience can wish they were. People would rather pretend they were a famous dashing sexy Mexican actor than a broken down teacher in some backwater city in far northern China.”

“And the woman. All the woman is rich. The Indian woman is a rich businessperson. And so is the Korean woman. Both rich and beautiful. And young. And rich! I hate it. Right?”maxresdefault (1) maxresdefault

“You’re jealous.”

“I’m not jealous.”

“Look, you’re right; I’m not arguing. Obviously the average Indian woman does not fit this profile. But who wants to watch a show about an ol’ broken down toothless hag who has to scrub outhouses for a living? No one in America, that’s for sure. Americans don’t want to be reminded how much better off they are than the rest of the world. Outside of America there is still another 99% that most would prefer not to hear about.”

“Like us.”

“Well, like YOU. EYE belong to the 99% in America. And as such I am now going to ignore your existence.”

Hobbit, muttering to herself, left Zen. Zen bent back to his task: American Drug War. How to end it? That was his problem. He didn’t have a good ending to his novel. Maybe because in real life there was no end in sight for the drug war he could not imagine an ending to his book. Perhaps if he could imagine one, then the real Drug War could also finally be terminated.

If Zen were honest with himself, he felt pessimistic about anything actually getting accomplished. The world was fucked.

It would continue to become overpopulated. Resources would become scarcer and scarcer. The masses would suffer first and suffer worst, but eventually the entire globe would become embroiled in one long massive struggle for food, water, and then air. None of the world’s governments could take that brave massive step towards a sustainable existence. There was as much chance of that happening as there was of aliens visiting the planet with world-saving technology. Or the Second Coming for that matter.

No, the world was firmly in the grip of first and foremost Big Business. Then Big Government. The two forces colluded in agreements that facilitated the accumulation of wealth for the few and only incidentally allowed a few benefits to trickle down to the starving, thirsty people. Every so often their financial bubbles burst and while the Wall Streets of the world scrambled to cover their collective asses, the common people suffered ruin, scarcity, hunger, pain and death. This cycle would continue over and over in a relentless spiraling gyre until there was nothing left to hoard and the dragons themselves choked to death on a planet full of gold and jewels but bereft of water and air.

That was the future for humankind.

Skype rang on his computer. Friends from Los Angeles, a sweet retired couple from Wisconsin calling. Although Zen wasn’t in the mood to talk to them, he welcomed the distraction.

They chatted desultorily and then Zen had shared his apocalyptic vision with them. It caused a small ruckus and feelings were hurt on both sides. The wife of his close friend came out very undiplomatically and told him that no one wanted to read about that ‘political pablum.’

“Pablum? Do you mean to say pabulum? Don’t hurt yourself with those five-dollar words. Been reading the dictionary have we now? Where’d you learn a word like that? Crossword puzzles, huh?”

“You ought to write about Chinese holidays and festivals like Dragon Boat Day. Isn’t that coming up?”

“The hell with Dragon Boat Festival! If you wanted to learn about it, you could just look it up on Wikipedia. I got bigger fish to fry.”

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival

“And stop writing about your lovelife. It’s indecent and unseemly. Have a little self-respect.”

“Actually I don’t mind that part,” the husband laughed, his image freezing and unfreezing on the screen, “it’s whatchamacallit. Stimulating. Bout the only part I do like.”

“Writing about my love life? What the hell are you talking about? I don’t write about my personal life.”

Zen opened up his blog. He normally posted his political rants, but never bothered to actually look at the web page. Thus Zen discovered a curious fact.

Someone had hijacked his blog and had been posting information about him. HIS blog was a rarefied articulate philosophical discussion on the socio-political differences between China and America. But someone had hacked his blog and was posting about Zen’s life. His blog was called ‘american citiZEN,’ with the letter zee-ee-ehn in all capitals. Some jackass had been writing diary-type excerpts about a middle-aged man living in far north Harbin, China teaching English. When Zen looked at it he was astounded. The verisimilitude was uncanny. Who was writing about him? Why? His life was so boring and undeserving of attention. At least of the public kind. But who could it be?

“I gotta go. Talk to you later. Bye.” He snapped closed the Skype window.

Zen’s paranoia kicked into overtime. Was the CCP cheesed off at his representations of real life behind the Great Firewall of China? Was the CIA angry that he wrote articles about their invisible fingers in the illicit drug trade? Pissed off DEA agents who didn’t like someone telling the truth about how pathetically redundant their jobs really were? Someone else who was just stealing his identity for some other nefarious purpose? Who? Who?

Zen was frazzled.

He spent the next hour and twenty minutes changing every single password, from AMEX to Zenni Optical. He notified his Astrill VPN service that someone had hacked his blog. He screamed at Hobbit that her country was full of larcenous hacking motherfucking bastards. She shut her door.

Zen paced in the living room. He needed to go into the green.

He grabbed the bow and arrows and the small target made of cardboard and old clothes. Anyway, he wasn’t getting any work done on his novel. Damn. It would never get finished.

(End of Dragon Boat Festival 2015)

Dragon Boat Festival 2016 (roughly one year from now)

Zen was hung upside down by his feet, his arms tied behind his back with thick coarse rope. He thought his head would explode from all of the blood rushing into his head. But it didn’t and he didn’t die. Nor did he feel much pain. Or rather he felt the pain but it didn’t bother him. The pain was there. Exquisite pain. Real pain inflicted upon him by his interrogators. Zen was in point of fact grateful to them.

Keaton in Batman

Keaton in Batman

He could feel—really feel—every blow, every laceration, every shock, every cut, every burn, everything they did to him. Hanging upside down in this concrete bunker, his mind spun off into memory, the pain was a catalyst for a surreal hippie-trippy journey down memory lane, into reverie and reminiscence. Hanging upside made him recall the film Batman directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. His mind was able to recall the entire plot, some scenes out of sequence, but he remembered much of the dialog and the music. The entire time he was upside down the movie scrolled behind his blindfolded eyes. It was bliss.

He had been rendered eighteen days before on his birthday. He was on his way back from China to visit Hobbit and her son in Austin. His passport set off a mute clandestine signal in a room filled with computers and pale young men, soft hands unused to work, typing quickly and quietly into all hours of the night. One of the men sent an instant message to another man, equally young, but whose hands were rough and calloused, whose arms and legs were like iron, and whose compassion had been stunted by years of training in one of America’s special schools. Soon, a team of his peers descended on Zen in the San Francisco international airport.

The men were very polite and very professional. And very discreet.

One very striking woman approached Zen and distracted him, while two others closed on him from the sides and administered a tiny pinprick on the back of his hand. In seconds, befuddled, dizzy, nauseous, Zen allowed himself to be led out of the airport customs hall and into another quiet room. Someone else collected his luggage and passed through the final security checks.

Zen was gone.

No trace of his having ever been there, cameras scrubbed, vanished as perfectly and as completely as any desaparecido in Mexico or Argentina.

When he woke, into complete and utter darkness, on a freezing cold concrete floor, his dedicated team beat him roundly. They left his hands free. Zen stumbled in the blackness. He strove to fight back, his martial arts training kicking into high gear, but it was of no avail. The younger, faster, more powerful men and women of his interrogation team were equipped with night vision and electric batons. They laughed at his pathetic attempts at self-defense.

He was beaten. He yelled in rage at them and fought back, swinging, kicking, trying to grab his shadowy assailants in the pitch-black. He could not. He was beaten very carefully. Slowly his will ebbed, his strength faded, his ire seeped from his broken bleeding body. He cried in fear, in frustration, in anger. They left him sobbing on the cold concrete floor. During the whole time, no one uttered a sound except for cruel barking laughter.

Zen was kept in complete darkness in a sound proof room. He was given no food and no water. Thirsty, he licked the moisture from the walls. And every day at no certain appointed time, he was beaten. He was beaten very methodically. Waiting until his breath slowed and he had entered a troubled sleep, his interrogators entered the seamless room and pounced on him. They inflicted pain, but left no permanent damage. They were nothing if not consummate and practiced professionals. They knew where to hit him and with how much force. After all, they had a team of ivy-league scientists who had calculated every single ATP molecule, every last joule of energy, every possible psychic contingent, and could predict with unnerving accuracy when Zen’s mind would snap from this phase of his treatment. Until then, Zen had to endure.

Hanging upside in the utter darkness, he heard someone enter the concrete chamber. Zen stiffened reflexively, expecting the blows to fall any second.

“Zen,” a rough, bass voice called from the dark.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me. Batman.”

“Michael Keaton Batman?”

“Just Batman.”

“Michael Keaton Batman.”

I'm Batman."

I’m Batman.”

“You have to escape from here.”

“I know. But I don’t know how.”

“Your arms are free. Reach up and free your legs.”

“I can’t. I feel so weak, so tired.”

“You can do it. You have to.”

“Can’t you help me? I mean, you’re THE Batman. Shit. You’d think you’d use a Bat-torch or something and cut these chains off me.”

“You’re thinking of another Batman Zen.”

“Hmm. Yeah. Adam West Batman. Sure could use that Bat-torch right about now.”

“This is something you have to do yourself.”

“Why? Why do I have to do this myself? Why can’t you help me? I’m fucking hangin’ upside down in the dark! Getting’ beaten to death by-by-by a bunch of motherfuckin’ psychos!”

“No. You did this to yourself and you have to get yourself out.”

“Why? Why can’t you help?”

“Two reasons, Zen. It won’t do you any good if I help. That’s one thing. It will happen again. You have to free yourself.”

“What’s-what’s the other reason?”

“I don’t really exist.”

Oh. Well, there is that.”

(End of Prolepsis)

Chart of the day

Capitalism is such a mixed bag of nuts. Powerful tool to harness resources and energy, but devastating on children as shown in these charts. Time to rethink capitalism, rethink how we use our resources. I agree with Dostoevsky: I can accept any plan as long as it doesn’t harm any children (paraphrasing here).

occasional links & commentary

child poverty

Is there any statistic more illustrative of the nature of contemporary capitalism—especially the effects of the global financial crash and of the so-called recovery—than the rate of child poverty?

According to the most recent UNICEF report (pdf),

The number of children entering into poverty during the recession is 2.6 million higher than the number that have been able to escape from it since 2008 (6.6 million, as against 4 million). Around 76.5 million children live in poverty in the 41 most affluent countries.

In Greece, the child poverty rate almost doubled between 2008 and 2012, from 23 to 40.5 percent! (No doubt it is higher today.)

Greece-children

Not only have the rate and absolute number of poor Greek children risen dramatically, but they have done so in the context of increased severe material deprivation. The proportion of children who are income poor and severely deprived has tripled in Greece between 2008 and 2012.

There…

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Dragon Boat Festival 2015/Dragon Boat Festival 2016: Part 1 of 2

Part 1

Hobbit sauntered past Zen’s office in a sexy pink negligee, twirling her frilly panties on her finger. She was humming and marching on her tiptoes, glancing out of the corner of her eye at Zen.

Zen noticed her but he made a point of ignoring her. “She has all the subtlety of a baboon in heat. Pshaw! Pshaw!”

This face says it all.

This face says it all.

He was preoccupied with work. Work was some school-related crap, but his real work, his real job was finishing a fictional book set in the distant future about the American Drug War. Four hundred pages and his novel’s end was nowhere in sight. Much like the Drug War itself, he thought ironically to himself. He had been “finishing” this damn novel for four years now. His family had given up on his ambition to become a writer. Whenever he mentioned his book on the Drug War, they rolled their eyes and deflected the conversation to other less incendiary topics.

Hobbit in her own way was trying to deflect Zen from his work. Whenever Zen worked on his novel, his mood grew black and his temper boiled over with vicious rage. He sat in his office ranting and raving “at the injustice of it all.” Anyway, Hobbit’s “monthly time of inconvenience” was drawing nigh and she felt “a need.” “A woman has a need too, you know you know.” She marched past his office again, stopped at his office door, stretched her lacy pink and white Victoria’s Secret cotton-blended Cheekini panties and snapped them through the air, hitting Zen squarely on his ugly mug.

Victoria's Secrets Cheekinis for sale, only used once by previous owner.

Victoria’s Secrets Cheekinis for sale, only used once by previous owner.

They caught on his big black geeky glasses and hung down over his unhappy scowling face.

Hobbit exclaimed, “打中了!” and struck a pose to no one in particular and marched off triumphantly back into her bedroom. Though their marriage was a complete shambles, both Hobbit and her Dwarf husband found time to exchange unpleasant and violent affections on a more or less regular basis.

ExtremeMidgetWrestling-banners-sm

Zen cursed a black streak and stomped into Hobbit’s bedroom whereupon the both of them, resembling bellicose midget wrestlers rather than ardent tender spouses, engaged in matrimonial relations. Their lovemaking, bestial and unpleasant to civilized eyes (or any eyes for that matter), resembled their physical selves: violent, brutish, and short. It was tantamount to a double mutual rape and made the angels weep in heaven and cry out, “Oh the inhumanity! The inhumanity!” The devils in hell didn’t have a better time of it either. Their noses wrinkled from the abominable vision and the sight made fresh boils break out over their scrofulous bodies. In worse moods, they took it out on the newly arrived souls, whipping them with even more vigor and cruelty.

Oh! The Inhumanity!

Oh! The Inhumanity!

Back in the Middle Kingdom, the troglodytic pair lay sated on their rumpled, discolored, and sweaty sheets. Hobbit, without uttering a syllable, pointed to the door. Zen was already on his way out. He had work to do, “Damn US drug war! And goddamn you anyway!” Hobbit’s derisive giggle followed him down the hall.

Back at his desk, Zen sighed. The computer screen stared at him, a yawning maw, a hungry monster that asked to be fed. It wasn’t the feeding that bothered Zen. He always had ideas. The problem was selection. Prioritization. Once Zen heard the famous writer Solzhenitsyn say that there was only one true law in literature: maximum density. But how to achieve that exactly? He had trouble selecting which scenes to include about the Drug War. The War itself was a morass and there were endless incidents to choose from to illustrate his points in narrative form. Zen sighed and then sniffed.

Something stank.

He smelled his armpit.

OH-DEAR!

OH-DEAR!

Oh sweet Jesus! He was rank, but that wasn’t it. Zen did smell like Satan’s arse, but that was because recently Zen refused to bathe. Hobbit had made a comment about “Westerners being smelly” and, as a way to punish her for this unforgivable comment, he decided to forego normal ablutions for an undefined period of time.

His students and work colleagues became worried about him. Zen was normally a very carefully groomed and well-dressed teacher. When the director asked Zen if everything was all right—taking pains to breathe through her dainty, beautifully shaped mouth—Zen answered that everything was fine. Why? He looked puzzled; she looked puzzled. The director went outside to get some fresh air.

Zen knew that eventually (soon) he would have to bathe again. Summer was here and global warming was obviously turning the Ice City into a fucking sauna.

Consequently, Zen stank. But that wasn’t it. The smell emanated from elsewhere. He looked at the dog-bed where he slept every night, a rickety iron and wooden contraption that was covered in dirty oily bloodstained sheets with only the thinnest most threadbare of mattresses. The word mattress was too generous a designation, however. The mattresses (quote unquote) consisted of a few seat cushions shoved into a pillowcase. The seat cushions were the type that students bought for a few renminbi from the black market sellers on the pedestrian bridges, not Western style seat cushions that were plump and springy. These were diametrically opposite to plump and springy. Exactly non-plump and un-springy.

And smelly. The odor emanating from the dog-bed was inhuman. It was almost otherworldly. If extraterrestrial feces existed, it might smell like this. Apparently, Zen’s oily sweaty secretions coupled with the toxic dust that blew in from outdoors through the non-weather-proofed windows commingled into a perfect storm of stink.

Something ALIEN in here!

Something ALIEN in here!

Hobbit would win again, damn her. He would have to bathe and wash the sheets. Not necessarily in that order. There was nothing for it. He would have to cave in and take a shower. Who would have thought that Hobbits were so good at guerrilla warfare?

Zen would miss his stink, though. In a strange ineffable way, it made him feel connected to the earth. More and more lately, he felt like, like the Invisible Woman. Turning invisible, his molecules losing their mass, evanescing. As if his body and mind were losing focus and evaporating. Hobbit had had to slap him sharply several times during their “lovemaking” (euphemism for interspecies sexual assault) to bring his concentration back to the task at hand. He had bit her in anger, drawing blood. Hobbit only sighed in ecstasy. He hated her.

Zen thought he was losing his mind.

At first, he thought he was just getting old, but he was certain that something was wrong, on a quantum physics level. He also thought he was just getting clumsy in his old age, dropping things, letting things slip from his fingers, but now he was sure it was something else.

His body was disappearing from reality. Several times he was holding something in his hand, like a cup or a pencil, and it just slipped from his hand and dropped to the floor. He swore that the object had just passed through his fingers as though his body had dematerialized magically.

This frightened him more than the blood in his stool. More than the crushing ache in his bones (Bone cancer! Bone cancer! It was bone cancer for sure!). More than Hobbit’s violent productive cough. Was she dying? —Pneumonia? Lung cancer? Bubonic Plague? Zombie Apocalypse?

Zen began to fear that he was phasing out of reality. It was either that…or he was really losing his marbles.

Emotionally, he was clogged, backed up like a drainpipe in a sorority house with only one bathroom. He wanted to feel…feel something…it was as if he were losing the ability to feel anything. Either he was stricken with pain from his irritated colon or his osteoarthritis, or he was numb.

Either/Or. Kierkegaard would be proud.

His dematerialization had to do with his blog. He was sure of it. Every time he wrote about political matters, no one bothered to read his posts. And every time, he felt more of himself drifting away, molecule by molecule. Even though the whole world was talking about austerity and the ridiculous gap between the rich and poor, his friends and family all treated the topic as salient as offering a course on sailing techniques to residents in the Mojave Desert, teaching ice sculpture to Kalahari Bushmen, giving a lecture on the aggressive marketing techniques of the amateur porn industry to nuns. You get the picture. Zen was vanishing.

He wanted to feel his body again (minus the pain). To live in his skin.

Was this old age? A slow steady decrease of faculties, starting at the quantum physics level, coupled with an increase of pain and discomfort, and extending to one’s growing insignificance in society?

One becomes a ghost in other words. A hungry ghost.

That’s what the world made of you.

(End of Part 1)

hungry ghost

hungry ghost