Sunday, March 25, 2012

Librarian Party: Taking the "E.T." out of "Libertarian"

Having just read The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs, I concluded that it was time to take him at his word and start a third party that would focus its efforts on returning Americans to a sense of civil purpose.  And I knew just the group to do it: librarians.

Librarians are small-g government. They are local. They are efficient, service-oriented, and inexpensive. Because, for the most part, they are women. It is well known that any career that is identified as a "female" career is efficient, service-oriented, and inexpensive. You think teachers are expensive? How much is it worth to change someone's life? And when was the last time a banker did that? Bankers don't even give change. Tellers do that.

But librarians have another asset: they read. If they were to read more of the right kinds of books--like The Price of Civilization--instead of dystopian series after dystopian series written for young adults, maybe they'd realize that dystopia isn't really such a fantasy, and they'd mobilize their political might and change things. Or, seeing how their political might consists of being patronized by politicians who know librarians are essentially powerless--as well as efficient, service-oriented, and inexpensive--maybe they'd form a discussion group on Goodreads. Which is what I'm going to do. Hey, the national anthem was once a drinking song.

We already live in a dystopia in which millions of people don't begin to get adequate educations or have adequate access to healthcare, and librarians see and work with these people every day, because they come to libraries looking for help: how can I get a job? how can I get housing? how can I find a doctor who will take care of me? And no, I don't mean just any doctor. I mean a doctor who will take care of me.  Or do doctors not do that anymore? For people without money?

(I live in an urban area that is going to host a RAM event in a couple of weeks. RAM = "Rural Area Medical." But we're not rural. We're just dysfunctional. Close to 5,000 people will be treated in three days, people who live well within distance of hundreds of dentists, optometrists, and internists. But they're poor and uninsured. The people. Not the doctors.)

We already live in a dystopia in which greed has become good, Mammon is God, and the philosophy of Ayn Rand has replaced the philosophy of the Founding Fathers. The latter, those Age of Reason philosophers tempered by English and Presbyterian traditions of self-government, understood the need for government--a certain amount of it anyway--and they were justifiably proud of their efforts to engineer a continental system that worked an understanding of selfish human nature into the design of it. Political power was something to be balanced and separated; civic virtue was something to be cultivated and promoted so that selflessness and sharing for the common good would flourish. Benjamin Franklin exemplified much of what drove those men, with his eagerness to advance knowledge through shared scientific research and libraries that lent out books to working stiffs.

It was well understood that energy and hard work could make you a fortune. It was also well understood, maybe even better than today, that luck was part of it. Boom and bust was the name of the game. One day you had it, the next day you didn't. You had to keep scrapping, you and your family. And government could help pave the way to opportunity by providing schools and Erie Canals that you couldn't otherwise afford (although you could dream up Erie Canals while in debtors prison). Granted, no one really wanted to pay the taxes for those things, but at least there was a sense that government had a role.

No longer is that the case. The public sphere has been ransacked by "free enterprise ethic." Those are the words of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, who uses them in a Wall Street Journal review of Sachs's book. Ryan, of course, doesn't notice that there's a problem. In one telling paragraph, he starts out promisingly by saying that the pursuit of happiness "has long been recognized in America as a natural right to be secured by good government." Hmm, "secured." That's a good, active word. Only, in Ryan's way of thinking, it's a phantom: "it was to secure the right to pursue happiness by not interfering with either normal commercial transactions or freedom of worship."

That's it? Government is only supposed to stay out of the way? Why bother having any government at all? So eager is Ryan to paint Sachs as a big-government, declinist Europhile--and worse, a Francophile (even as he praises Thomas Jefferson, who was no slouch in either department)--intent on busting America's economic future with burdensome Federal taxes that he fails to note Sachs's radical proposal to tax nationally but spend locally. Where in Europe is that being done?

Nor does Ryan ask if the "free enterprise ethic" is going to provide the culture of education that everyone says we must have if we're to prosper as a nation. Everyone agrees it is part of the pursuit of happiness. How is it to be "secured"? If anything is a phantom, it is that free enterprise will do the job.

If anything is alien to American tradition, it isn't looking to Europe for answers. The Founding Fathers looked everywhere for answers! It isn't trying to restore a robust public sphere. That, in fact, was the original American exceptionalism! No, the alien element is the gospel of Rand, which gave Reagan his creed and got Ryan into politics. The doctrine of solitary, naked self-interest as a positive thing--as something to be glorified rather than understood, balanced, or channeled--owes more to Russian anarchism than it does to any American tradition or body of thought. And its growing inroads in American culture is stripping bare our ability to understand or appreciate the role of government.

Paul Ryan says that we learn from Sachs that the price tag for civilization is "quite steep." We also learn from Sachs that Oliver Wendell Holmes liked buying civilization with his taxes. Maybe Ryan is shopping for something else.

Pursue happiness the Ben Franklin way. Join the Librarian Party.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Plunderwear: a novel

"The only answer to 'why?' is 'because I said so!'"

Donald Pimp couldn't believe anybody--anybody!--had the nerve to ask that question, much less her. Lady Liberty.  Formerly of New York harbor. Formerly of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. Now a dancer in his club. Not anybody known for saying anything at all, and here she was questioning him.

Him! Donald Pimp! Builder of Towers! Appropriator of Statues! Destroyer of Patrimonies! Landlord of Capitols! Had she asked why when he'd had her moved to her present position at Rouge State? No, she had not. Was she just too flabbergasted? Was she just now finding her voice?

It didn't matter in the sense that it could change his mind. His mind wasn't up for changing.

It did matter in the sense that it pissed him off and made him want to have her blasted into sand, which ordinarily he would do right then and there. But. She was the trophy that gave him cachet with history. And that "but" is what really galled him. Hesitation. He thought with his gut. And even though his gut was bigger than it used to be, it was still quick on its feet. If it said she should be pulverized into cat litter, then do it! Not acting on impulse made Donald Pimp feel constipated. Come to think of it, he was constipated. His gut was telling him to go to the bathroom and make an effort.

"You better get out on the floor if you know what's good for you, baby. You're asking me to justify myself. That will never happen. My deeds are their own justification."

If only justification could move his bowels, he thought as he got out of his $28.5 million dragon chair. Hell, who else on earth could do what he'd just done? Who else in history? He'd just bought the monastery of Mont St. Michel, razed it, and then--stroke of genius--he'd moved his gentleman's club, Rouge State (a.k.a. the U.S. Capitol) all the way from Washington, D.C., to France and had it rebuilt where the monastery had been! And to prevent anyone from doubting his exquisite sense of flare (or was it "flair"? His gut had never been that much of a speller), he'd garnished the Capitol dome with the famous windmill sails from the Moulin Rouge in Paris!

Why? Why? Did it really matter? The only answer was because he wanted to, and because he could. In today's world, it was expected. Ayn Rand's question had been "Who is John Galt?" And now, only a few years later, he, Donald Pimp, had answered the question. He was John Galt. Well, no, he was Donald Pimp, but that was even better, because he--Donald Pimp--was real! And when he had led the secession of the plutocrats, who was going to stand in his way? The U.S. government?

Puh-leeze. The Reagan revolution had taken care of that. A solid majority of Americans had decided that the gummint was the problem and, pfffffft! Bye-bye, gummint! So much for the much-touted American exceptionalism. "The last best hope" for humanity? Haha! Who'd said that, Lincoln? Asshole. Fighting a war to save a governmental system. Separation of powers? Bill of Rights? The hell with that. It was billing rights! Greed was the grease of history. And he, Donald Pimp, was the Saudi Arabia (or Turkey, or China, or wherever the hell they made grease) of greed. He was beyond anything the earth had known. He carried the earth! He was Atlas!

Only now, sitting on the toilet, he wasn't so much shrugging as straining and grunting and wondering what to do about her. Lady Liberty. He couldn't have people asking him to justify himself. Much less a statue. And that look on her face. You'd think she could look like she was having fun when she was taking her clothes off for his clients. But no, she just had that look of morose determination. Where had that gotten her? Objectively, off a pedestal and into a strip club!

If only she could sing, he thought through a long, straining push, she'd give new meaning to the term "torch singer."

And the rumor going around now was that some Irish terrorists were going to liberate her. Liberate Liberty. That was hilarious. It sounded like an ethnic joke. Three silly Irishmen. One Catholic, one Protestant, and one Alcoholic. Oh, wait a minute, that's the Irish Trinity. Hahaha! The Irish four-leaf clover. "But that was just three things!" Exactly! Hahaha! He wasn't worried about them. He'd put a pub out on the Mont St. Michel tidal flats and had switched the times of high and low tide on the hours of operation. And he doubted that Irish terrorists traveled by yacht. They should be Donald Pimp!

Plunderwear, part one

Plunderwear, part two

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The anxiety of the author before the genre labeling.

Hey, Jim! Yeah, you, Sunny Jim Joyce! C'mere for a sec. I need your help. No, not your advice. Your holp. A swig from your battle. A geistly flug on the mizzen of your Dutchman. A "What would Herr Satan do?" A walk-a-mile in my shoes ... and back, barefoot. Barfeet. Cheerio. M&Mpathy.

If it is advice, it is ad-vice: adwordtizing; me-harketing; labeling; nichyssoise; the what-is-my-crock? That is: I have to declare a genre. For Goodreads.

You see, there are books. With my name on them. And one without my name that is my fault. All of which I wrote for reasons I can only understand as Vesuvian. And, no, I'm not trying to be a Pompeiious ass. And, yes, nausea works the same way.

But as it happens "spewing word-chunks" isn't available as a genre on Goodreads. Should I suggest it? It does seems reasonably assonant with "Palahniuk," so maybe ... but what is his genre? "Grotesque" isn't on the list, but "horror" is followed immediately by "humor," and somehow it seems if you forced the two of them together, something like Palahniuk would come out of it, but then the whole rest of the genre list just gushes out. Diarrhea, man. Which sounds very Chuck, especially if you throw in a suck factor, but it's not me.

So, what've I got? "Literature & fiction" and "humor," and I get to pick one more. Okay, what are you laughing at? "Humor"? [rimshot]

Seriously, though, what do those tell you? Anything?

Except lots of readers will look at "literature & fiction" and go "Oh, no, probably somebody who would go to James Joyce for advice." Or to George Eliot. Or Russell Hoban. Or to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Or John Barth. Or Flaubert/Baudelaire/Rimbaud. Which I would do. I would also kiss death.

And "humor"? I'll keep that one, if only to clue in hurried flak flacks like Brian Doherty. (@Brian, the idea behind books is that you read them first, then you say something about them. But hey, look where ignorance got you! Editor at Reason magazine! [rimshot])

Yes, there's "science fiction/fantasy," but that's a clotted, sclerotic, schizo Big-G Genre: head of alien and foot of hobbit. No, they don't belong together, but the Lords of Marketing have ordained their merger marriage. Sure, I have talking toads and a writing oboe (pace, Brian "Reason" Doherty! Humor is more than a bodily fluid!). They seem to me closer to magic realism than to sci fi/fantasy. But magic realism isn't on the list.

Neither is "music." Music is a very important part of my novels. 44, rue d'Assas has a discography that lists, chapter by chapter, musical works that figure in the plot; also, as Brian can tell you from his deep reading of a catalog thumbnail, it is purportedly written by an oboe. The Signal Mountain Spelling Book of JuliUn Tod has a toad chorus. Blue Oboe has--surprise--a blue china oboe, but also bassoons, shawms, dulcimers, bouzoukis, harmonicas, etc. ("etc." here means "and clarinets.")

Most of it would also fit as "Southern fiction," since most of it takes place in ridge and valley Appalachian east Tennessee. As everyone knows, Southern writers are very placeful, which I am. But I'm not sure how much it "fits." In fact, it's mostly about being ill-fitting in one way or another: out of it in the South. "Southern misfiction"? With the added twist of making "out" the real "in." Work with me, here. We're murketing, aren't we?

Other significant elements are word-play, action-driven plots (chord structure!), revolution/terrorism, and the in├ęgales of the French-American dance.

So, as near as I can tell, the real, true, and actual genre is "Neologistic Franco-Appalachian outsider musico-magical realistic thrillers."

Think of it this way: what would Deliverance be like if the rednecks were truffle-hunting blue oboe players?

To which Sunny 'Herr Satan' Jim ahems,  "Either way there's the swinish element."[rimshot]