All posts by Gildas Hamel

pyramidal schemes

Trump and Putin had their meeting in Helsinki, followed by a circus-like press conference. They looked and sounded like tiny excretive, enduring parts of Stalin’s enormous body, the huge towering figure that hanged a while over global labor and clouds as grasped by Vadim, the alter ego of Leonov in the latter’s last novel The pyramid (1994). Vadim has a glimpse of a meeting held by the providers of “forced happiness:”

[He] was able to peer, despite the egregious difference in height, into a railwaylike building, where a staff meeting was taking place, and the speaker appeared to be lopping off truths with his hand each time a new one arose. (Slezkine, The house of government: a saga of the Russian revolution, 950)

The pyramidal house of socialism has been abandoned. Now Dymkov the circus magician and Shatanitzky the behind-the-scene operator can work together while tossing soccer balls to each other. The House of Government can soon reclaim its old name, the Swamp, a place where you can romp, plan more towers and pipe gas to your kishkes’ content.

merci

This is a comment on today’s NYT article on expression of thanks. In a study of language-based expressions of social reciprocity in eight languages, researchers discovered that requests for help were most often granted but thanks were rarely offered for the help received. I say “language-based,” as there are many ways, immediate or long delayed, to express something that the lexeme “Thanks!” is far from being alone in attempting to denote. I’m most interested in this something, which I follow tradition in calling “grace.”

One day in my childhood in Brittany—I may have been twelve or thirteen?—we were working on piling sheaves of wheat or barley on a cart, I needed a fork (two-tined!), asked my father for it, and said thank you when he passed it along. He stopped for a moment and told me thanking someone you were working with for passing a tool along was not done. I was surprised to discover that his hidden network of values and their expressions conflicted with what I was being taught at school, as I was on vacation from a Catholic boarding seminary. I was even shocked because I knew that my parents were extremely conscious of what they “owed” to their neighbors and extended family. In fact, it took me many years to realize how infinitely complex the sense of reciprocal duties was in the farming community we were in, and how it lived a hidden life, across time boundaries, below the world of social graces you encountered when you put on your Sunday finery or met, awkwardly, the powers that be: teachers, priests, banking officials, your landowner, etc…. It would take many pages to give a proper idea of this world of quietly enforced reciprocity, social status determination, and expectation of grace. This was a community of Breton speakers, with French fast becoming the main language. Breton has a “thank you” as I discovered later when I studied its “modern” form, but it was never used among my kins or neighbors. There was something at work that was more complex, it seems, than say, a surgeon not having to say thank you for every piece of equipment slapped into her expecting hand. More complex or far-ranging also than not expressing verbal thanks to your immediate family and siblings for the expected sharing of common goods or tools (or clothing!).

The presence and advertising of thank yous in US media is at the other extreme of the magic of giving or granting recognition. For each section of interview it makes, for instance, NPR makes sure I can hear the “thank you for coming on my show” and “thank you for having me,” instead of “my pleasure” or “you are welcome,” or clipping those extraneous remarks entirely. It usually cheapens the exchange as its material, economic components (recognition) are at odds with the expression of grace and sound fake and slightly repulsive, especially when the issues discussed are of the essence. BBC on the contrary doesn’t practice this tit for tat that I explain to myself as an intrusion of capitalist rationality in the shrinking world of grace.

Strike at UCSC

Quick bike ride early this morning to the entrance of UCSC to show support for the strike. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents 522 employees at UCSC, about 25,000 employees across the UC system: patient care workers, custodians, dining hall employees, building maintenance workers, loop bus drivers, and more. Some of the issues on which UCOP (UC Office of the President) has refused to budge for a year now are: fair wages, decent retirement, health benefits, staffing levels. Please go to Meranze’s and Newfield’s web page (Remaking the University) for detailed information and messages from the unions. UPTE-CWA (University Professional & Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America) and CNA (California Nurses Association) are organizing sympathy strikes for Tuesday and Wednesday 8-9 May. The strike continues tomorrow, starting at 4am. See you there.

AFSCME strike
AFSCME strike at main entrance of UCSC campus, Monday, May 7, 2018

east meadow

Students who go to UCSC desperately need more housing. Ballooning education costs, low salaries in the region, transportation problems, and stratospheric rents have put many students in a bind. In response to demographic and financial pressures, UCOP (central administration of UC system) and local campuses have decided to go with private developers and move as rapidly as possible. Decisions have been taken since 2017 with little or no input from students, faculty, staff, or architects. For instance, the administration and the private partner it has contracted with (Capstone Development Partners) have decided to move Family Student Housing, now on west campus, to the southern end of east meadow, between Hagar and Coolidge drives. It makes sense for a private company to lower its investment costs by choosing a site near existing infrastructure. It doesn’t make sense for the campus to build in the east meadow and ruin a protected environment when other possibilities exist.

I urge you to go to the website set up by the East Meadow Action Committee, and sign the petition. The website gives a brief history by Paul Schoellhamer of this calamitous, rushed decision by UCSC, under pressure from UCOP and private developers, to throw out responsible development and site part of the critically needed new student housing in the wrong place, the southern part of the East Meadow.

There is also a good article in City on a Hill Press.

East Meadow to the south
East Meadow, view to the south
East Meadow UCSC
view to the NE of the east meadow at UCSC

MLK

Large gathering and uplifting addresses this morning downtown Santa Cruz, in memory, celebration, and continuation of MLK’s spirit. Police officers didn’t wear weapons. “The time is now,” as David Anthony repeated and the crowd chanted. Let’s not wait for tomorrow’s managed messianisms.
photo of gathering at the MAH, Santa Cruz

evangelical

The words “evangelical” and “conservative” are waiting to be reclaimed by many more people than those who pretend to be so. Let the latter lose their disguises and power over imaginations and souls. The first word means “good news” and can be adopted broadly since the story, without the necessity of church of any kind, including our modern mega versions, is about the real costs of fostering life and the recognition of everyone in need as self. The second one means “to save.” It has long been clear that so-called conservatives are all but people who save, in any broad financial or bodily sense, except for their own narrow designs. They are on a radical, destructive reactionary mission and movement the “forwardness” of which alone—completely backward looking—justifies itself. I’m struck by the imaginary and literary aspect of the political question. So much money is invested in using words in a proprietary way. I think part of the present work of resistance demands a renewed, stubborn claim on our vocabulary and thinking. They are our most public goods. Words like “god,” “moral,” “Christian,” and many more need to be acid-cleaned. Let’s get to it.

parking in Santa Cruz

I’ve signed a petition to the Santa Cruz City Council regarding a new parking garage project. In the space for comments I wrote:

Parking garages are behemoth of the past. The advent of intelligent automated transportation, use of adaptable public vehicles, concentration of habitat, all of these and more that you are much more aware of than I am, mean that we don’t need another very expensive, single-use parking garage. What strikes me about parking garages is their lack of adaptability and the weight they put psychologically on the minds and wallets of people, including our children and grandchildren. Nothing else can be done with these expensive constructions than park cars that are going to become part of much more fluid networks. PLEASE, consider the best transportation and public policy management before committing to such a massive, unmovable project.

tax message

I sent the following message re. the tax bill’s last spasms to my representatives, Feinstein and Panetta. Please edit, add, circulate, and send:

I know that you don’t support the tax bill and will do all you can to stop it. It will increase the deficit without obvious economic benefits for the nation. Many corporations have accumulated enormous capital that they are not willing or able to invest productively. They should not be rewarded for removing it from the reach of taxation. Furthermore, adding more capital to this capacity by lowering their tax rate will increase dangerous speculation. The economy is working without it, in part because social net protections have been dangerously eroded and provide much cheaper labor, as well as frustration, fear, and anger, whereas they should be strengthened. PLEASE, do all you can to prevent the Republican party from having the excuse of a deficit that this tax bill will soon put even more deeply in the red, an excuse that will likely be used to try and erode even further the social protections needed for a free, productive, sharing, and peaceful society.

community

This is a comment triggered by the language used in an update on UCSC’s strategic academic planning (EVC M. Tromp’s email of Dec. 1, 2017). Academic planning is a periodic necessity, given demographic changes, scientific evolution, political shifting background, institutional fatigue. No question about that. The language used in the present cyclical exercise is what interests me, specifically the use of the word community that appears at the top of the message, since it is addressed to the UC Santa Cruz community. I take the word “community” to echo a sense of common endeavor and real, practical sharing of work, risk, benefits, in an atmosphere of generous give and take, trust, peace, and respect. It is being used in that sense, I assume, but the insistence on deploying the word everywhere is a correlate of the disappearance at UCSC as elsewhere of the real good denoted by the word. It is now used in all communications because a university like UCSC has effectively become a competing institution of our capitalist world. Like all those other institutions, it still needs to squeeze references to old fashion values in the hope that some juice is left in them (for comparison, think of “fidelity” or “trust”). The logic of development of the school itself and the long-developing hostile political environment—diminished taxes for common, public goods—has done away with the values of “community.” Yet, in a magic gesture not all that appropriate for a scientific institution, it finds itself needing to reach out for the mythic charge of the word and hope for the best. I don’t think that the consultants hired to help with this year’s strategic planning can recharge words like “community” and resurrect its old entangled mojo. Whence then?

banlieues de l’être

Balade le long de la belle rivière Clinton au nord de Troy (MI). De la route qui y mène, je vois d’énormes banlieues aux maisons identiques, entourées de verdure et d’arbres. Deux niveaux de salaire, ce me semble, à la grandeur des maisons et au nombre de portes de garage, ainsi qu’à la surface du lotissement. Ici et là, j’ai un aperçu du régime au-dessus, par exemple de vastes demeures au bord de lacs, ou du régime au-dessous, généralement des parcs de maisons tractées (= mobilhomes) ou des maisons très modestes qui ont précédé ces nouvelles banlieues construites depuis les années soixante-dix aux années quatre-vingt-dix. Difficile de m’imaginer y vivre: où aller à pied à la rencontre d’autres, comment se faire des amis sinon dans les malls ou peut-être les lieux à thèmes religieux ponctuant cet espace énorme depuis le dixième mille au moins jusqu’au quinzième ou seizième. Aller au travail, à l’école, aux magasins, tout est devenu transport au dehors de soi. Plus de “home” où on a le sens de demeurer, de transformer ce qu’on a en ce qu’on peut être, de s’approprier paysage et construction comme étant de soi, au moins partiellement. On est de plus en plus intensément projeté en-deça et au-delà d’un soi introuvable par les outils de communication qui aux services de recherche (Google) ou de “rapprochement” (Facebook) ajoutent raffinement sur raffinement de désirs de présence qu’ils vendent aux plus offrants. La valeur en bourse de ces trafiquants, transporteurs et fomenteurs d’images et de désirs, d’après ce que j’ai lu récemment, est d’environ deux mille milliards de dollars, soit un peu plus de la moitié du budget annuel du gouvernement des États-Unis, ou environ 10% de l’économie du pays (il s’agit de trois grandes compagnies de messagerie et deux d’électronique: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet-Google, Facebook).