Category Archives: Political

Why is America? A, B, C…

I’m writing another piece that has gotten a out of hand. It started as a simple observation, but then it led me down the Internet rabbit hole. I got there by looking for thoughts about why America is divided. I used those exact terms in a Google search. Before I could finish my query, Google’s autocomplete function generated this:

Hmmm. I tried a and then b and c. This would take just a second.

You know where this is going, right? I couldn’t stop.

Are we obsessed with being better than everyone else or what? Sure, we’re fat. But dammit, tell me why we’re better than shithole Canada!

Since these Google search suggestions are partly based on the keywords that other people have used, capturing them feels a bit like taking snapshots of strangers. It’s historically interesting. What would I find a year from now?

Again, greatness contrasted with failure.

It’s depressing to think that we are fascinated with serial killers (which goes to a question asked under d). We are certainly fascinated with crime. I cringe whenever another true crime podcast is flung out into the universe. Stop. Just stop.

If you want to know more about how the Google autocomplete function works, read this.

Of course these suggested keywords are based on the input of millions of people. Millions? I think so, right? Anyway, a lot of people. But it’s funny to imagine that one person searched for all of these random things. What’s going on with North Korea? And oh by the way, why the heck is Howard Stern working as a talent show judge?

It appears that we are worried about our debt. In the meantime let’s cut taxes and raise spending. Thanks Congress. Thanks a lot.

Al Jazeera has not been in front of me for a long time. I appreciate this random reminder, Google. After reading why their American branch shut down two years after the fact, I popped over to Twitter to follow them there. What? There’s more to care about than recycled Trump scandals? Quick! Somebody tell Wolf Blizer!

Well that’s nice.

A student could use this exercise to come up with research topics. In fact, some of these search queries definitely give me the sense that a student – sometimes a very young student – is at the other end.

The polarization that I was seeking to understand when I first began my search is evident here. We wonder why we are liberal but more conservative than Europe. We are not religious but we are religious. We are great. We are not great. Buried in the noise are more serious and focused questions. Why is the middle class shrinking? Why are we losing small farms? Why are we in debt?

These serious questions are obvious to me, but you might not agree. Or we might agree on what questions are worth consideration but cling stubbornly to third-party talking points as we try to address them. How do we get past being right at the expense of facts and critical thinking?

To be fair, what else starts with the letter o?

Exactly. Why?

Yeah, there isn’t much here.

Better. Richer. I like to imagine the people who are posing these questions. It could be the basis of a humorous video project. Did an eight year old boy say this or a grown man or an old man a man who used to be a boy?

Search engines must have caught up with our keywords that are full of articles and prepositions. Remember Ask Jeeves?

Who’s more patriotic? Someone who wants to know why America is the greatest or why it’s the best?

See “not on the metric system” above. Our measurement system has been a question ever since I was a kid. (Correction: Since the 18th Century!). There was talk but no action. It’s a case study in what happens when Congress passes voluntary laws, which you can read about here. I imagine there were lobbyists involved. Truthfully, I’m glad we didn’t join the modern world on this one. Even at the age of nine, I felt adverse to change and threatened as an American. I mainly didn’t want the hassle of learning a new system, not that I had exactly mastered a ruler or could have estimated how far it was to Bob’s house. But I do know what 80°f feels like. Please don’t mess with the temp.

Okay. This has been a big distraction. Damn you Google!

Superheroes and wars. That’s what jumping out at me. America. Superheroes. Wars.

As my president would say, sad.

It’s kind of like q. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I include it as to present a complete idea. I can’t imagine that z is going to be much better.

And I was right. Screw you New Zealand!

Of course it didn’t end here. I tried a few examples starting with “Why is Trump…” I was surprised. At first glance his killing net neutrality appeared to be a more prominent concern than the more obvious headlines: Russians. Porn stars. Tweets. The letter j gave me a chuckle.

Drawing the Line at Amazon’s Creepy Tracking System

Brian has his eye on a book. He says I might want to read it too. I don’t remember what it is.

His irritation with the suggestion that he doesn’t buy this book from Amazon was visible. Who can blame him? With me it’s always something.

In the Star Tribune there was an article about how Amazon has a patent for a device that tracks its warehouse employees. Where are they? Where are their hands? What? He can’t find the dildo bin? Give that dumbass a zap. Nudge him three feet to the left. Literally. Efficiently. Ship it stat!

This device can track bathroom breaks. The article didn’t say whether it also scheduled doctor’s appointments based on how loose or solid a poop was or how long it took to evacuate or whether there was blood or the wrong kind of bacteria in it. But wouldn’t that be a good idea? I might get on board if we could tie apocalyptic surveillance to a better healthcare system.

Instead, I’m bugging Brian. Poor guy.

Warehouse employees, huh? What about corporate? Don’t be stupid. Executives do not need to be monitored like a Level III sex offender. They’re naturally productive. Everybody knows this. Suits do not waste time. And no one is going to cheat the system from a private office.

I read:

“Max Crawford, a former Amazon warehouse worker in Britain, said in a phone interview, ‘After a year working on the floor, I felt like I had become a version of the robots I was working with.’” (Yeginsu)

“Repulsive”, I think. I put the paper down and then warm up my coffee for the tenth time.

But we’re sort of trapped aren’t we? I looked all over this town and couldn’t find litmus paper anywhere. Nobody had it and most retail employees didn’t even know what it was (if only I could have administered a shock – low-level of course – that would have prompted 8th grade science memories). I was desperate and resorted to Amazon. Yes. A person can be desperate for litmus paper. It was a paint job. There were chemicals. That’s all you need to know. In any case, I do hope that nobody was zapped in the nuts over filling my stupid order.

Tracking devices aside, in 2013 Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian documented the utterly depressing life in an Amazon warehouse. What more is there to know? And yet complete disengagement seems impossible. Why?

People have done harder things on principle.

In their 70s, my parents became vegetarians. While driving to San Antonio they saw a feedlot. That was it. “We’re vegetarians now,” my dad said. “I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Brian will tell you that boycotts don’t work. I’m not sure. Either way Amazon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and neither is beef. And yet organic and humanely raised meat is a growing market. In part I credit a “quiet turning away” not unlike what my parents did in the face of something they could not stomach. I’d be stunned if they ever chained themselves to anything or otherwise got themselves arrested just to make a point. They’re not professionals. And that’s the beauty of it. Because these fairly conservative Midwesterners are not alone. So while this turning away might have been understated, it is potentially massive, reaching far beyond the usual suspects.

Industry notices. Industry responds. Whether this response is born out of real listening and concern or a strategic quelling of a rumbling from beneath is another issue. But it is some measurement of the impact of our choices. Any time we see a corporation appeal to our better nature – whether it be a concern for the environment (“Clean Coal!”), our health (“No saturated fats in these fries!”), the critters (“Free range, baby!”) or each other (“Buy this petroleum jelly and we’ll help some poor people!”) – we are indeed seeing a reflection of our own power. We did that. Not them.

If only all moral lines could be as viscerally shocking as an animal in distress.

In a Sun Magazine newsletter that was touting Sy Safransky book, it warned Many Alarm Clocks won’t be easy to find in most bookstores, nor will it be available from Amazon, because we all have to draw a line somewhere.“ This was three years ago and it stuck with me; standing for something matters. Still, while it gave me pause to consider the oddity of a writer who dared to eschew a bookselling giant, I did not feel compelled to put my foot down where Amazon was concerned. It’s kind of like putting off a colonoscopy. I’m afraid to look too closely. It’s going to be unpleasant. What if it’s bad news? I don’t want to hear something that requires further action.

So where do I draw the line?

Where do you draw the line?

When do we quietly (or not so quietly) turn away from that which isn’t good for people and toward something that is?

Are we really so trapped?

Even if we can’t orchestrate an effective boycott, let’s keep these questions in front of us. Of course we secretly hope never to have cause to take a stand. That’s just a pain in the butt and by contrast Amazon is so damn convenient.

I suspect if ever the downfall of our society is examined, “convenience” is going to be found at the heart of it.

When searching for an article about the horrible working conditions in an Amazon warehouse, an ad for how great it is to work there popped up.

Yeginsu, Ceylan. “If Workers Slack Off, the Wristband Will Know. (And Amazon Has a Patent for It.)” New York Times, 1 February 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/technology/amazon-wristband-tracking-privacy.html.

My week as an Amazon insider
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/01/week-amazon-insider-feature-treatment-employees-work

The Yes Men

Beyond the Golden Parachute

On the cutting edge: MN4K Takes a break from a tie dye t-shirt fundraiser to protest our shitty media

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Sarah and another supporter whose name I don’t know.
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I still refer to Sue (pictured) and Greg and their two kids as “the amazing Skogs.”
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Lou and Donna. Those light blue signs that you can’t read from a car still make me laugh. Only Faith Kidder knows why.
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Dan and Jed. Dan’s sign is so Dan. “Courage Minnesota!”

It was December 2003. It was freezing cold. My toes hurt. And yes, the Deaniacs – mean spirited though they might have been – had speculated correctly. We were the type that would spend a Saturday afternoon on a tie dye fundraiser that would net a couple hundred tops. We said yes to just about anything as long as you were willing to “make it happen.” This is how you get stuff like “Coatless for Kucinich.” It’s not for us to say where to direct one’s passions.

On this day, we said yes to freezing our asses off because Ted Koppel/ABC had made the decision to exclude the non-viable Dennis Kucinich from a nationally televised debate. We protested KSTP or “big media” as we liked to call it. Nobody cared. Nothing went viral.

I had somehow dragged my friend Lou along. It wasn’t the first nor would be the last time he would move from my sphere of theater friends to the political group. The last time we saw one another was at a precinct caucus in my new neighborhood several years ago. Our state representative rallied the troops.

“Give yourselves a big hand! We all know you could be doing something else!”

The akward self-congratulatory smattering of applause would make way for political maneuvering, with those who understood Robert’s Rules of Order having an edge over the newcomers. With a packed governor’s race at stake, campaigners vied to dominate the district convention rules committees. Not unlike the first precinct caucus I had attended as a Kucinich supporter, it made my stomach hurt.

I haven’t been to a precinct caucus since.

I watch plenty of garbage television shows but the local news hasn’t been one of them since I was in high school. So boycotting something Ralph Nader aptly refered to as “Murder, Sports & Weather” or whatever it is that I’m supposed to do given the most recent offense shouldn’t be too hard.

Faith Kidder, the lead coordinator of MN4K back when we were freezing our asses off, used to insist that we put things in terms of what we wanted and not in terms of what we didn’t want. It could be annoying. She once interrupted me to suggest that I say “situation” instead of “problem.”

“So a person doesn’t have a drinking ‘problem?'” I challenged. “They have a drinking ‘situation?'”

We could butt heads. But we laughed a lot. This was no exception.

With Faith’s predominate attitude in mind, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we completely pulled our energy out of the crap that doesn’t work and put it elsewhere. Find an independent news source that you like and support it. Then forget about the rest of it. Besides, KSTP was never a serious news source anyway, was it?