Processed World #33

An unprinted edition of Processed World from 1995 which was eventually published online only in 2000.

Table of Contents

Talking Heads
editorial

Letters
from readers

Hangtown Mountain Democrat
tale of toil by richard wool

Processed Food
analysis by kwazee wabbit

Sweetness and Power
analysis by fred gardner

My One Day Career
tale of toil by molly wagner

Food Not Bombs
analysis by the pw collective

Poetry
by gary g. graham, david fox, frank meintjies,
g. sutton breiding, dave hayman, roy tumbleson, fritz hamilton,
martha zweig and blair ewing

Busywork
by laura markley

The Faceless Face of the New Mexican Revolution
analysis by chris carlsson

Marcos in the Library
translated by celia rodriguez

The Zapatistas-An Ecological Revolution?
analysis by john ross

Transit Zone
excerpts from the Amics de la Bici (Friends of the Bicycle) newsletter El

Full de la Bici, from Barcelona Traffix
by d.s. black

The Eroticism of Riding a Bicycle Around in a City
translated by lynne cutler with d.s. black & ivan argu:elles

Reviews
Michelle Clinton's "Good Sense & the Faithless"
Sadie Plant's "The Most Radical Gesture"
Jules Tygiel's "The Great Los Angeles Swindle"
The Knightmare's "Secrets of a Super-Hacker"

They Paved Paradise...
analysis by neil demause

IBM: From the Guts of the Monster
interview with a spanish worker from etcetera

Frontage Roads on the Digital Highway
analysis by primitivo morales

DOWNTIME!

Time Mushes On
by d.s. black

New Waters
fiction by randall s. doering

A More Perfect Victim
fiction by marci davis

The Art of the Purge
by kwazee wabbitt

Stretching Natural Resources To Their Limit... For You!
shell oil murders nigerian activists

Busywork

A tale of toil by Laura Markley, an office worker.

9:17 a.m.: Monday morning at Cretin/Croak Management. Peel and eat an orange as slowly as possible. Time is a syrup and I Am the Fly. It's the beginning of the month, the time when my beloved co-worker Steve enters dividends onto "The System" and completes other mysterious prep work for the month ahead. This takes about four days. The rest of us, who balance rich folks' accounts each month, can't do anything until the preliminaries are taken care of. My pet peeve (one among many) is that we are supposed to look busy during this time period, or else suffer the fate of a dreaded "down-time" assignment, such as revamping the filing system or cleaning the coffee machine. In kindergarten, this used to be called "busywork," and was designed to fill any remaining time at the end of the day. Busywork means easy, repetitive tasks that don't require any thought. My normal duties (I call them "Administrivia") are a microstep up from busywork, and I dreaded the idea of doing something even more boring. So I walk slowly over to Mr. Coffee -- my one friend in this godforsaken electronic sweatshop -- prepare one cup, sip it slowly and read Xeroxed pages of Jean Genet which I've hidden inside a manila folder. I close the folder quickly as my supervisor walks by. She's got nothing to do, either, and has been talking sports with Steve for the past eighteen minutes (I'm timing her, the way I've heard she times my mid-morning break). Now, armed with paper towels and a bottle of Windex, she's actually polishing the controls on the Xerox machine and cleaning the already spotless Formica cabinets -- this to atone, I suppose, for that lost company time spent doing something she enjoys. Not willing to stoop to such levels of shameless brown-nosing, I begin to peruse the dictionary for new words to use in scrabble. Again, I must slam the book shut as the President of the company walks by. He's carrying a small vacuum which he just used to suck up all the lint under his desk. My co-workers are absorbed in all sorts of meaningless, unnecessary tasks. Does anyone pick up a newspaper or call a friend to chat? No -- this is not leisure time. Some form of work must be done.

The stock market has its bull and bear phases. Businesses experience changes in work flow just as every other aspect of our lives is subject to change. Yet workers are forced to adhere to a rigid, 9-5, 40 hour workweek whether they're busy or not. These arbitrary schedules are antithetical to life's natural rhythms and their aim is to suppress and control every natural human impulse. These strictures are present in all institutions from schools, to prisons and mental hospitals.

It's 10:00 a.m. and I've completed everything on my agenda. So why do I get a dirty look if I so much as glance at The Living Arts (as opposed to The Deathly Business) section of the NY Times? One thing I never get any flak about is eating at my desk. So I milk this privilege and eat about four meals a day there. Soda cans, bagel crumbs and banana peels litter my desk and it's no problem for anyone. But if I dare to even unfold an SF Weekly, all hell breaks loose. It's amusing what you can or can't get away with. Once I worked for this fat, arrogant lawyer who was positively the most noxious authority figure I've ever had to contend with, and if his eagle eyes spotted so much as a single coffee grind polluting his precious, stainless steel sink, I would be called into his office and subjected to a verbal hurricane forceful enough to rattle the life-sized porcelain Buddhas he collected. However, reading at my desk was no problem and I spent many hours of "downtime" with my nose buried in novels. Go figure.

At the office I hold the title of "Worst Attitude." I can brag about that here, but at work I'm shy about it (paranoid is a better word) and I try to keep it hidden. I'm a diligent worker, fast and accurate. But I don't kiss butt by making small talk about the weather or Steve Young with the higher-ups. Everyone knows that I loathe every moment spent in that sterile environment. They're lucky if they get so much as a "good morning" from me. Even if I put up a front, hummed Madonna songs and acted all bright and cheery, I think they'd smell my bad attitude as though it were a pheromone. There must be a special class in business school that teaches them supervisory types how to detect (sniff out) workers who hate working.* Usually the signs are obvious enough, but in my case they were subtle -- clashing thrift stores ensembles, wet hair in the morning, no makeup and even a two month vacation in Europe (they took me back when they got busy enough, even though I'd begged them for a job weeks earlier when I first returned, desperately broke.) Once they smell you, you are scapegoated, treated like an oddball and if you don't conform to Their rigid demands, you had better start standing in line at 8th and Mission with the rest of society's misfits and castoffs. In my case, Cretin/Croak began hiring a succession of younger file clerks with the hidden intention of grooming them for my job. Bobo Lick, a cheerleader-type from LA, didn't last long at the low paying, excruciatingly tedious job. She had the intelligence of an oyster and couldn't grasp the concept "alphabetical filing system." That didn't matter, since she had a smart executive wardrobe and a pandering, totally faked kissbutt attitude which quickly ingratiated her with the crew. But even her idiocy had its limit. She couldn't endure the boredom of a job beneath the brainwave activity (that of a still pond) of her own lobotomized noggin, and quit after three weeks. The company mourned. In the meantime, I wait, and wonder, and contemplate a future without a paycheck. It might turn out to be a blessing in disguise when I change careers and start raking in the dough at The Market Street Cinema.

-- Laura Markley

* Ed. Wabbit: yes, indeed, many of them and many special "seminars" besides.

Probably better comment for Talking Heads ...P. Morales

Food not bombs!

The Processed World collective take a look at the free-food activist group Food Not Bombs!

Most Americans suffer from the nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere is getting something for free. This fear turns positively phobic when it comes to poor people getting anything, particularly food. When people actually organize themselves to distribute free food without the benefit of proper authority, this anxiety is prone to erupt into action.

Food has long been a potent tool for controlling population, from the Chinese empire with its control of basic foodstuffs, through England in the early years of the industrial revolution (said the Anglican Reverend Mr. Townshend: "Hunger, on the contrary, is not only a pressure which is peaceful, silent and incessant, but as it is the most natural motive for work and industry it also provokes to the most powerful efforts."), to the current government manipulation of commodity exchange programs to punish enemies and reward friends. It still is seen that way, as evidenced by the following quotes from Salt Lake City businessmen:

"The distribution of free food is a big mistake. You need to require some kind of exchange, some type of appropriate work. Otherwise it just becomes an addiction."1

"To continually give free food to able-bodied people makes them feel worthless, when in fact these people have great worth -- they need to be working. ... Work would actually do them as much good as the free food. Simply handing someone a sandwich isn't going to do much good. The very idea of self-sufficiency, for some reason, has become passé in this country." 2

This attitude blithely ignores that permanent unemployment is now admittedly the rule. It also ignores the fact that there are literally millions of people who could work, but can't because the system doesn't provide any jobs. Let's not even mention those so maimed, physically and emotionally, that they can't work anymore and have to survive on the state's largess.

During times of civil strife, feeding people can be a subversive act. Consider the following quote from an Appalachian miner about strike conditions during the Great Depression:

"It finally came down to the poor, if you was tryin' to feed any of these starving people, you was trying to overthrow the government. And if they beat you up or killed you for doing this, that was law and order." 3

In a current case an outfit called Food Not Bombs has been suffering both persecution and prosecution by San Francisco's finest, including their ex-chief, Mayor Frank Jordan. Although they are not formally banned from distributing food in San Francisco, they are limited to doing so in one park in the extreme south-west corner of the city (an area not noted for its large homeless population). FNB prefers to bring its food to where very poor people congregate, such as near City Hall. This incenses the Mayor, who has made "cleaning up" some of these areas one of the chief priorities of his "Matrix" anti-homeless campaign. It also provokes hysteria in those simple-witted souls who believe that such food programs attract homeless people to "their" city.

FNB originated in Cambridge, MA, in the early '80s. As Keith McHenry, one of the founder of FNB tells it, there had been a very intense confrontation at Seabrook, NH, protesting the construction of a nuclear power plant. Although it was slowed, overwhelming state force carried the day. The sand-blasting cannons, the mace and brutality, and the long hours all took their toll, leading to a search for other ways to work against the nuclear power industry. Protest activities were planned for a shareholder's meeting, one of which was a street theater performance of a soup kitchen a la the great depression. The original idea was to use costumed protesters to portray the denizens of the soup line, but then someone suggested actually serving food to "real" people. Leaflets were put in nearby areas advertising the give-away, and on the appointed day the performance went off marvelously; they even got a donation from a shareholder!

They discovered real satisfaction in providing something tangible to people who needed it, and FNB was born. The group has since inspired a host of fellow-travelers across the country --a recent FNB newsletter lists more than 40 contact in the US and Canada -- and these far-flung chapters share many common traits. They serve vegetarian food both for reasons of politics (objections to killing animals) and for practical reasons (meat is harder to store and prepare safely). It is run by volunteers who operate by consensus (i.e. agreement by all participants, instead of "majority rules").

Food is donated to FNB by local merchants; day-old bagels, vegetables and fruits that are cosmetically blemished or aged but still palatable, etc. One FNBer told us that at first he tended to take everything offered, but with time he became more discriminating and only accepted food that would be useful: the point is not to provide merchants with free waste disposal, but to feed people. The food is prepared in someone's kitchen or, more rarely, an institutional kitchen. Most of the groups don't have reliable space to store food for very long, so the work of collecting food and preparing it is endless. When donation run short or when special items are needed, the group must conjure up the money.

This attitude and poverty distinguishes FNB form the government-sanctified food pantries and soup kitchens of the formal charities. Many food pantries exist to collect unusable "food" (soda pop, meat tenderizer, etc.), thus giving the grocers and warehouses a free disposal of stale or unsellable food and a nice tax break. Needless to say, much of this stuff is inedible and even more is just not usable (how much meat tenderizer can people living in shelters or houses with no kitchens use?). Much of this charity is waste; the remainder is doles out to people who are made to suffer long waits, bureaucratic hassles and the like for food that may actually be dangerous, like some of the cheese in the US government's hand-outs which was so high in sodium that it was dangerous for some people.

Partly out of such concerns, FNB is relentlessly vegetarian; indeed, it is occasionally the scene of debate between vegetarians and "vegans" who eschew all products from animals, even milk and eggs. Some time ago, the San Francisco FNB found to its horror that it had been serving chicken soup, donated by a volunteer who though of it, and presented it as, "vegetarian." Despite the misgivings of the volunteers, the soup was wildly popular with the consumers and so it was still served for a while. Generally, the "warning" that it contained chicken broth would set off a scramble for it. Likewise, when given pizzas (ordered but not picked up and donated the next day) FNB segregates the ones with meat and passes the out surreptitiously. This raises the issue that recipients are being fed only what their benefactors think is good for them, but for FNB this concern is outweighed by the fear of the potential damage possible from spoiled meat. Where a bad bagel can make you feel queasy, tainted meat can kill.

Indeed, to the best of our knowledge there has never been a single case of FNB giving someone food poisoning, an occurrence we can be sure the local press would be fast to publicize. True, some of the food, especially in places where lots of meals are served, tends towards the "industrial" (Keith's word), but it is healthy and filling. Curiously, the sanitation types who dog FNB's efforts seem to be very concerned with the cleanliness of food (or, more accurately, with proper bureaucratic obstacles being properly crossed) but not at all concerned with the problem that food alleviates: hunger. Whether in San Francisco or Salt Lake City, real hunger is not considered a problem while the change that some food might be tainted in a problem. Consider the following example of an officially sanctioned outfit in New York:

"Then there's the problem of feeding operation to which City Harvest will deliver nothing. One open air kitchen run by homeless people shacked up in a contemporary Hooverville on the Lower East Side was rejected by Palit (director of the City Harvest food collection program)as not clean enough. City Harvest staff were so appalled that they took a collection and bought 25 pounds of rice to give. 'Health Issues' would be the excuse for turning down less formal operations Coming from the people who claim prevention of starvation is the 'health issue' they are addressing, the excuse if flimsy at best. Then again, encouraging real community-based, grass-roots self-help has never been the aim of the discard market."

Another FNB hallmark is its attempt to not only treat the recipients of their food with respect, but to enlist them in the process. Some people may have skills that can contribute directly (mechanics to keep vehicles running, etc.) while others may have fewer skills but can still chop vegetable or wash pots. This shows that the problem is not a lack of work or of workers, but a lack of opportunity for someone to profit off that labor.

Indeed, the entire issue of scarcity is an odd one, for there is lots of cheap food in this country. Consider the following observation:

"Trouble was, the entire food movement was based on a false set of assumptions. We (Funiciello et al) tried to insert our views. It was senseless to treat the problem here the way it would be treated in countries where there simply was no food at all. In the United States food was and is in everyone's refrigerator (if they aren't poor, that is). It is in grocery stores everywhere. You cannot go out to dinner an any of thousand of restaurants and imagine food scarcity has been in any way a problem here. Ours is not a nation without food but one of vast, embarrassing abundance. The issue of individual families' poverty could not be solved returning them to the stone age of breadlines. Establishing institutionalized begging sites was never a solution. It wasn't food that was missing. Poor people lacked the normal means of access: money. Anything other than that would become a means of further separating the haves and have-nots. Anything else would be amoral heist of poor people and a helluva waste of time and resources."5

Separating the haves from the have-nots became something of an obsession for Mayor Jordan, who defeated his liberal predecessor by heavily touting a general "law and order" rhetoric and vaguely promising to "clean up the city." Just as California Governor Pete Wilson rode to re-election via his carefully orchestrated crusade against "illegal immigrants" (e.g. the notorious Proposition 187), so did Jordan skillfully managed to scapegoat the homeless as convenient, politically vulnerable bogey people.

The "need" to clear unsightly panhandlers from touristy areas was used to justify a host of programs and laws intended to "clean up" the city. The "Matrix" program mentioned above provided vans to pick up the homeless from the city streets -- but the absence of shelters meant they really didn't have place to take them. A number of laws were minted to protect citizens from "aggressive panhandling." Their constitutionality is still being debated by the courts. These laws are almost moronic exercises in spite, authoritarianism, and fear-mongering that do more to assuage the guilt of tight-fisted curmudgeons and win the support of cold-hearted reactionaries than the do to "solve" any of the underlying problems. The most recent one, a law that would have made sitting on the pavement illegal in certain (upper-crust) areas was defeated by a narrow margin in the latest election.

It is not surprising, therefore, that FNB has become a particular bête noire for the Jordan administration. Jordan tries to clear the homeless from out in front of City Hall; FNB sets up tables there to distribute bread and soup.

It is hard to imagine a more striking contradiction of philosophies. Jordan says these people have no right to food, to dignity, to even a place to sit on the sidewalk; he implicitly denies that they need money, housing or nutrition. The "problem" from his perspective is one of image.

Footnotes
1: David Thomas, president of Salt Lake Voice Exchange, cited in "Food Fight" by Ben Fulton, Private Eye Weekly, June 29, 1994, pg. 10.

2: Mike Place, president of Wesco Development, Inc., in Salt Lake City. In "Food Fight," op cit.

3: Tillman Cadle, a coal miner, speaking about condition during a National Miners Unions strike in Kentucky in "Dreadful Memories," a video about Sarah Ogun Gunning (1910 - 1983), a folk singer. 1988, Appalshop & Headwaters.

4: "Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the welfare system to end poverty in America," Theresa Funiciello, 1993, The Atlantic Monthly Press.

5: "Tyranny of Kindness," op cit., pg. 127

Hang Town Mountain Democrat

A tale of toil from Richard Wool, who worked at the Press Clipping Bureau.

Hang Town Mountain Democrat

[1]
There’ll be peace without end,
every neighbor a friend,
and every man akin

Suffering from Suffrage

"DIRECT DEMOCRACY-That phrase only" reads an index card for one client at the press clipping bureau (PCB). This one’s a lobbying group evaluating grassroots issues and activities so that it can selectively support, if not direct, democracy. Unlike topics such as GANGS, SECURITY GUARDS, AUTO EMISSIONS, and RENAISSANCE FESTIVALS, the subject is never featured and is rarely mentioned in the daily press even though registered voters will be demonstrating again this November.* [*FN: This piece was finished before the electorate overwhelming approved the Republican’s anti-social contract in 1994.]

The PCB invested nine months in me but I never learned how to read the newspaper. There are thousands of accounts and a reader has to memorize those that apply to his/her territory. The good reader learns not really to read but to scan each article for proper names (corporations, politicians, entertainers) and valued concepts like RECYCLING, AFFORDABLE HOUSING, and YEAR-ROUND SCHOOL, mark it to the proper account(s), and surrender the paper to an excruciatingly divided and repetitive labor process where everyone works nonstop but remains behind the times. This is news: People are blacking-out with methamphetamines, illegal aliens are stealing social services, and petroleum "diluent" is oozing into the soil and ground water[2], even on legal holidays, so half-days on the Saturday following a holiday are often required to make up for lost time.

Absorbing the bombardment of untruths, violence, disasters, and absurdities hour after hour, day after day upon day is a consistently enervating experience. At most previous jobs I was glad to have enough down­time to read the paper but I didn’t read every article, obituary, letter to the editor and activity calendar. The paper used to be a quasi-informative, occasionally humorous, and usually frustrating means of killing time until I had to read every paper published in San Luis Obispo County -- a cozy locale on California’s central coast occupied by a lot of people occupied with fears of second-hand smoke, drought, killer bees, and the likelihood that the economic development their local representatives are pushing means becoming more and more like L.A.. It’s the reader’s duty to read the same newsworthy items several times since the facts are sometimes written or edited differently in the various papers. I learned to appreciate that I wasn’t reading for the sake of comprehension. I can't assess how much all the newsprint I literally absorbed has affected me.

Unless you're Alan Greenspan or unemployed you probably hate your job too, but I absorbed a lot at the PCB: the cramped environment at a small business where the boss/owner is always present, and you always know it; understaffed and underpaid -- I made $8.65/hr., with the understanding that once I could produce more than 300 clippings in a day I’d start earning a piece-work bonus; the woman who does payroll putting a pencilled check-mark (which I’d erase) next to my name on the sign-in sheet each day when I was five minutes late. Most of the staff seems obsessed with the well-being of this possible casualty of infotech (this PCB has existed for over 100 years, and the workplace environment and routines have changed little in the last 30), so the paranoia instilled from reading the paper was heightened by the feeling that at any moment my performance was being evaluated. In fact it was, since the number of clippings a reader produces is tabulated. I never exceeded 200 clippings in a day and was told that I was costing the PCB money.

No one there likes what they're doing -- it's not possible -- but they have health insurance and their landlords are eating. Many readers eat lunch at their desks (still reading) to bolster their clip counts. Except for break periods there is almost no conversation; just the sound of the Cutters slicing newspapers with x-acto knives, and an inordinate amount of sneezing due to the paper particles in the air. The other newly hired reader and I never grew inured enough to the news of the world not to laugh occasionally at the egregiously ridiculous items we came across, which is something that the more seasoned readers rarely if ever do at this point in their careers. For "Bill" (not his real name, but he answers to it), I guess it's only a mat­ter of time. For me, it's back to the headlines and classifieds.

The Sweet Smell of Success

One of my tasks was to read the periodical American Banker every business day: 8 AM, half asleep and a bit shaken because I can’t believe that this is real. It was a trial to have the concerns and Weltanschauung of these movers and shakers inflicted upon me, although at times the Banker which publishes straight-faced articles with lead-ins like "Banking lobbyists rejoiced yesterday" and "Mortgage bankers’ prayers have been answered," and quotes sources who counsel: "The banker you know is harder to hate" and "We’ve spent every year since the Great Depression trying to restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of banks" -- helped me appreciate that I could (and will) be worse off. This is the "I’m OK, We’re OK" publication for achievers with enough common sense to make the most of the world as it is.

We’re all grown-ups now, although the Banker’s editorial staff and the suits they admire are the stuff of a tame high school yearbook or newspaper. This time the reported goings-on profoundly impact lives across the globe. This world, this multinational market is for sale and the Banker’s reader gets the latest about software for tracking credit card spending patterns that may indicate fraud; the banking lobby’s efforts to fend off government oversight of the industry’s practices; and investors’ activities in increasingly salable territories like China, Mexico, and Vietnam. (Vietnam has the potential to be an especially lucrative market since most of those alive there are under the age of 20 -- young enough to learn new tricks. I learned this from the Banker where no explanation for this improbable demographic is deemed necessary.) And there’s always at least one large spread about some guy (it’s always a guy, and his skin, if not his hair, is white) in the Midwest who took over a failing "community bank," re-engineered operations, and brought home a handsome bonus. The most lasting effect of reading this respectable, institutionalized cognitive dissonance has been an increased appreciation that the entire financial system is truly a hoax. This is known but, like US aggression, is never publicly acknowledged [see side­bar] since it’s an uncontrollably serious and deadly hoax that supplies and demands regulators & winners & corpses.

Another of my duties was to read Public Notices in papers throughout Northern CA for contractors and opportunists seeking Trustee's Sales on defaulted proper­ties, or the Notice of Public Sale of Personal Property. ("Personal" property is not "Real" (land or a house -- something you can rent out); in most cases it’s the haunted, confiscated belongings of another who couldn’t pay the self-storage facility anymore.) Public notices are usually buried with the funny pages and advice columns so I was exposed to the same "Dear Abby" headline, horoscope (I'm an Aquarius), and "Family Circus" countless times. I knew I shouldn’t do it but like an innocent in Singapore I assumed it wouldn’t hurt to look. It still does.

The most ludicrous service I performed for a public notice client was for a company that sells bar equipment and furniture. I needed to look through all the Fictitious Business Names and use my best judgment to decide whether the FBN most likely belonged to a bar. I was told to ignore "cafes" since these days they’re solely trendy coffee houses for those who get better returns from a caffé latte than a Pabst Blue Ribbon. But not all FBNs betray the nature of the business; e.g., The Memory Stop, Beyond Flowers, or Martini’s Bait ‘n’ Tackle might be just the place to celebrate a workday’s evening or commiserate with the inconsolable. When I was particularly tired and/or hangovered more and more FBNs sounded like potential watering holes, and I apparently wasn’t very good at discerning likely bar names since the client stopped the account.

The Big Carnival

The PCB classifies papers by point of origin, circulation, and frequency of publication, so, e.g., the San Francisco Chronicle is a Major Met, the Salinas Californian is a Large Daily, the Paso Robles Daily Press is a Daily, and the Carmel-By-The-Sea Pine Cone is a Weekly and is of limited interest to most clients. The weekly Soledad Bee is part of a chain of newspapers throughout Monterey County, and most accounts only take articles "once in chains," as the jargon goes, unless the account belongs to a politician or corporate criminal estimating the number of eyes likely to have read about his/her/its bad or good deeds.

Having lived in metropolitan areas the last 11 years I’d for­gotten that there are small-town newspapers publishing "Police Logs" recounting arrests and reports of suspicious activities. Although some papers pick and choose which acts to publish, and even edit the logs to emphasize the entertainingly bizarre, it’s significant that the cops’ concerns are presented as the community's concerns (a surprising number of 18-to-25-year-old Latinos get arrested for DUIs in Monterey County). In places like NYC, Boston, or L.A., where the cops are at best the lesser of evils and at least too savvy to invite scrutiny, non-homicidal violence doesn't sell; in a place like Cambria, CA -- often described in the weekly The Cambrian as "paradise" or "the Middle Kingdom" -- a group of kids who aren’t bowling is a gang and you’ll read all about it.[3] Then comes an in-depth exposé probing the alienation and despair of today’s youth followed by letters to the editor calling for drug-free dances or public floggings -- if not for rehab, then for rebirth.

Cambria is interesting because (at least from what I read) these folks know they have it made, so of course they support their local law enforcement. Everyone else is going to hell, but on their way they should stop by the Middle Kingdom to admire its quaintness, locally owned business, and relatively unsullied environment. It’s a nice place to visit ‘cause you can’t live there, and the money you can’t take with you is good for their local economy. You might even be lucky enough to get a snapshot of a vacationing Hollywood icon.

One of the biggest reported controversies is the proposed construction of a McDonald’s down on Main Street even though Cambrian kids and senior citizens don’t need minimum-wage jobs, and there are already plenty of low-paying, service-sector jobs supporting tourism. Op/Ed submissions and "Street Scene" questionnaires stress public indignation toward the idea of paving paradise for a fast-food corporate clown, while The Cambrian, where the subjects of the Middle Kingdom exercise their First Amendment rights, is published "by [Ohio-based] John P. Scripps Newspapers, a Scripps Howard company."

I did learn to appreciate small-circulation newspapers when compared to large-scale, 100,000-plus periodicals because the former tend to focus on a world without professional sports, Washington, DC, or the week’s top-grossing films. Most of the articles are written by newspaper staff members -- who most readers probably know -- rather than AP, McClathchy, or Gannett newswires. Then again it’s a given that the local reader has already been deluged with matters of global significance thanks to larger papers, national magazines, and their less-than-500 channel TVs.

Banished Knowledge

Propaganda manipulates people; when it cries freedom it contradicts it­self. Deceit and propaganda are inseparable. A community in which the leader and his followers come to terms through propaganda--whatever the merits of its content--is a com-munity of lies.[4]

Those shapes and symbols, I know their meaning
The shameless riches of another world[5]

Most of the clients are California based and they employ the PCB to profit from destructive acts of God and other special events, (re)construction, pollution, and statewide politics, while for the most part ignoring national/international matters. A reader’s interests are limited to the clients’ needs and unlike an editor or publicist you’re not making up minds. It’s your job to unquestioningly, if not willingly, pass on what’s been circulated even though the client might be trying to revive The Eagles’ career or promote "Three strikes you’re out."

Reading the paper for the status quo uniquely accents one’s complicity in the reproduction of an all-consuming system that reduces knowledge ("Information") to the power to manipulate and prognosticate; the biggest-spending clients use the service to stay on top of other big spenders by purchasing a more faithful allegiance from those at the bottom. I’ve worked reading legal documents--arcane, boring, soulless creations--but they aren’t produced for public consumption. It’s legal-ease that even a lawyer can recognize as the bullshit it is. The PCB reader serves a multitude of predictably venal interests mining public space for private gain. That’s The Paper’s raison d’étre, and despite widespread acceptance that the media are (liberally) biased and sensationalistic, and general public cynicism about "politics," the paper and the PCB still deliver a highly valued commodity -- the pre­emptive opinion poll -- to public servants and less conspicuous profiteers.

This is cheap tragedy without catharsis. The horror stories the paper tells and the ad space it sells are debilitating because nothing else can ever happen. The inexorable is that you’ll relive the dead-ends. If you read enough you discover that anything may befall nobody you can know in the global village -- over and over, without coherence, and not quite explained due to limited column inches. Chances are it’ll never happen to you -- unless it’s cancer, but that’s not news -- but it always could. The world is defined by a jingle recurring in the fragmented unconscious of a paranoid but desperately trusting chorus. Suffering, whether by chance or by force, is all there is without the Help Wanteds, Services Offereds, and other broken promises.

-- Richard Wool

Footnotes

[1]The newspaper of record in Placerville, CA, is the Mountain Democrat. It has been reported that Placerville (in El Dorado County, between Sacramento and the Nevada border) was at one time nicknamed Hang Town. In April '94 a 40-year-old Placerville woman was mauled to death by a mountain lion.

[2] To be fair to UNOCAL [United Oil of CA], this isn't happening [in San Luis Obispo County] anymore, but it went on unnoticed by either the press or UNOCAL for 30 or so years. Now UNOCAL is closing up shop and heading south of the border while paying meager fines, trying to replace the sand, and keeping a safe distance from surfers and shellfish eaters from the area where at least 8.5 million gallons (UNOCAL's estimate) of contaminant happened to leak into the sand and sea.

[3] According to The Cambrian more than half of the Class of '94 had a GPA of at least 3.5. This is a tourist town near Hearst Castle with a population of about 5,500, made up of generally wealthy and laid-back families/ artists/retirees. Venom for the delinquent is more frantic in neighboring, less preserved communities. In Cambria most delinquency is attributed to "runaways"; other crimes to "transients."

[4] Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer & Adorno, 1944

[5] "(Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian," Mekons, 1988

IBM: From the Guts of the Monster

Below is a transcription of the conversation we held last December with a compañero [literally "companion," but often has a sense closer to "comrade" -- trans.] of ours who has worked at IBM for many years and has seen how the great multinational of informática ["informatics" refers to computers and telecommunications -- trans.] has transformed labor conditions such that its workers no longer enjoy a privileged status.

Is IBM hiring new people?

No. IBM's policy in recent years has been to reduce employment and increase "vendorization," that is, to sell services and contract out to other companies. Until recently, IBM would use its own workers and in-house services to do its research, manufacturing, hardware maintenance and sales, and applications software, and only contracted out for additional services such as cleaning, security, transport, etc.

With the arrival of the 90's, the world market for computer equipment was no longer exclusively IBM's. The cake is now big and well distributed. IBM's structure is that of an old monopoly (expensive equipment and elevated costs per employee). Costs are high, the company is not competitive, and we've seen a gradual but systematic reduction involving the closing of labs and factories and, obviously, the supression of employees.

So, no, there's definitely been no hiring of new people. All that remain are the contract employees and the sale of services to outside companies. Those compañeros with temporary contracts can have them renewed every six months, to a maximum of three.

Are there ever any indefinite contracts?

IBM makes no exceptions. For example, there was a very competent compañero who created an improvement and adaptation program which saved the company millions. The company rewarded him by not renewing his contract.

What IBM does is recommend them to outside companies with which it has contracts, and thereby continues to collaborate with them indirectly.

This is the reality of the last five years: IBM not only has failed to renew contracts, it has laid workers off. The goal is to reduce the current 400,000 employees worldwide to 250,000 by the end of 1994. No one knows where it's going to end. Of course, it's going to end up with workers between 30 and 50 years old, whereas before (in the '70s and '80s) it ranged between 25 and 40 years. Until 1992, the company rescinded the contracts of workers over 50, the majority of whom were second- or third-level managers.

Most of this reduction has taken place in the United States. As of 1993, the reduction has affected the rest of the world, including Spain, where IBM has reduced its labor force from 4,200 to 3,500. It is calculated that in 1994, 1,000 additional employees in Spain will be affected by cuts.

IBM benefits enormously from the temporary contracts, since it uses them as needed for the particular project at hand. For a monstrous installation for a bank or ministry, for example, it will contract new personnel by the semester until the project is finished.

Formerly, one entered IBM with a temporary contract of half a year's duration, and after that one became a permanent employee and climbed the corporate ladder. IBM was a typically paternalistic American firm (Tom Watson, its founder, hailed from a traditional conservative Irish family) with systems of protection for employees and their families and jobs. Some benefits were very curious, as was, for example, the fact that an employee, upon getting married, began to earn almost twice the wages of a single person, as long as his or her spouse was not also an employee.

This whole structure has now crumbled, and work is not secure. No one's position is secure. Even the executives and managers get diarrhea when they think about their immediate futures.

Do they also fire the bosses?

They do, they do. Those bosses, or executives, whose age or functions make them no longer of interest to IBM have been pressured to leave, though under very conditions, we must add. For example, the higher echelons in Catalunya have been dismissed with an average of 100 kilos [i.e., 100,000 pesetas] each in their pockets; what's more, they have been enlisted in outside services which collaborate with IBM fir its sub-contracted services (Skillbase, Sanired, Serviplus, etc.).

Does this mean that at this time there are few IBM employees who are able to plan for their futures?

I don't whether people in the big and important laboratories or people at high levels of responsibility have a more secure future at IBM, but for the rest things are uncertain. It used to be there were executives who defended IBM with tooth and nail, but now they don't know what to say, you find them disoriented, discouraged, confused...

Are there company committees or some type of workers' organization?

Not really. Let me explain: IBM, from its founding up to the 1980s, has fostered the idea of differentiated and individual work. Your problem was individual, not collective. Each case was studied and always answered. The company had an "open door" policy (you could always take your problem to your superior, because he always had an "open door" policy and would listen). The unions didn't have a chance. A union environment has not existed. For example, in Barcelona, there is no company committee, because the representatives resigned at the beginning of the '80s. Besides, the people are very mistrustful and disunited, due precisely to this policy of individualization.

Everybody fights for his or her own individual wage. No one is paid equally in this company, not even two companeros who entered on the same date and at the same level. IBM classifies you by category and level of work. It divides each level into another four levels which allow performance-based raises. Each boss makes the evaluation following an annual interview with the employee in which he or she is praised or scolded. Phrases such as "you are one of our best employees" are used to divide and conquer. Many people used to fall for it, but today, with the crisis and the zero increases in salaries, hardly anyone does. IBM used to have a pyramidal structure which provided, on average, one supervisor for every five employees. Everything was controlled. Obviously, the current situation has brought this whole structure down, made it decadent and old-fashioned, but IBM's personnel policy has thwarted union organization, though there is some such organizing in large centers such as Madrid (where 60% of Spain's workers live) or in the Valencia plant (the center which has suffered most from employment regulation). It's possible that, because of regulations plans, there now exists greater communication between centers; but I don't know about that.

And on the international level?

No, I don't know of any organized effort at the international level, though business trips have facilitated the exchange of information between compañeros of different countries. So we know about differences in pay, schedules, and other work conditions.

IBM has always taken advantage of the political environment in which it finds itself. It establishes its business structure and adapts itself to the dominant regime. For example, it adapted itself to the Franco regime [1939-1975] as well as to the democratic regime that followed. And when France imposes upon it certain labor compromises, it accepts them. Though it has its limits, as when India imposed certain conditions on IBM-India that IBM did not accept and which resulted in IBM's leaving the country, which left India without support coverage. Since then, IBM has returned to India under different conditions.

But information is scarce, which is ridiculous considering we have available to us some very potent and effective tools. For example, we can communicate, via computer, with any IBM employee in any country.

How is one promoted in IBM and what are the criteria?

I mentioned earlier that nobody there works under equal conditions. They try to differentiate you in order to pit each individual against the others.

A person enters IBM as a "learning student" for two or three years, and after that they promote him or her to positions of greater responsibility within the department which he or she has joined (sales, management, technical, etc.). Once a year, in addition to the evaluation I mentioned above, he is given some work objectives to be fulfilled (e.g., that the clients be happy, that he be speedy in troubleshooting, that problems don't repeat themselves, that if a conflict arises he will know how to control it rapidly and if need be surmount it in order to find an effective solution, etc., etc. These objectives are evaluated as if in a schoolchild's report card, and at the end of the year, in a new interview, he is scored by means of an averaging of all the evaluated objectives, and this result determines the increase in pay and category. There are some 15 work categories.

This evaluation must be very subjective, right?

Of course. Some persons are evaluated as very good by one boss, and when the bosses change, he or she is evaluated as bad. Much depends on the character of the director, his attitude, his knowledge, etc.

One curious thing about IBM is that you don't have to punch in and out. That's not necessary; due note is taken if you enter early or late; there is tolerance. The following values are important: punctuality, productivity, quality, realtions with one's co-workers, obedience, clean work, orderliness, a straight tie. These were the factors determining whether one was promoted or ascended.

With the advent of the crisis, new people aren't hired, nor are there promotions. The hurdles are too great; people are stuck in place. Promotions have been very few and far between in the last five years.

The reduction in personnel has been matched by a doubling of production in a few short years. It used to be you had much more time to troubleshoot and make improvements. There was a predefined structure that allowed you to assess the problem quickly, and you had available to you a very competent national and international support network which has now been cut back.

This has led to much discontent in the workplace. The workers were used to a structured, smooth-running, and protected work environment, and now they are faced with a sped-up, every-man-for-himself mentality. For example, it used to be that by the time a product was marketed, the laboratory had been testing it for ten years; and that gave time to train people, form a support network, organize the whole sales and service structure. But now you don't even have time to learn it.

What new contradictions are demanded of the workers, and how did they evolve?

The kinds of contradictions and demands depend on the sector you're in. For example, sales people have always been required to increase their volume of sales. But this situation is changing, since less is sold and sold more cheaply. Therefore, a marketing salesman who formerly was required to sell 120 million pesetas' worth, now sells the same machines for 80 million. IBM has had to reduce prices, and the market is much more saturated. There was a time in Spain, when information/computer business had been recently introduced, when it was growing. The strategy now involves changing products when better, more powerful, and more economical ones are developed, but the world tendency towards cost-reduction is slowing this evolution. In any case, the products are now usually sold through concessionaries or agents outside of IBM.

Does all this mean that the salespeople and technicians work longer hours but with less conviction?

Yes, and with less satisfaction. People are very disillusioned. IBM has eliminated any "joy," any compensation for your effort; they used to hold parties, conventions, American-style shows. It was very fond of giving rewards, according to your level. They sometimes sent invitations to what they called "Dinner for Two" (dinner with your mate in a good restaurant) or a trip to the Canary Islands for a week. All this has disappeared, there isn't that kind of abundance any more.

Is there waste? Have steps been taken to curb it?

There's lots of waste. You can't imagine the past and present waste. But steps are being taken to curb it.

Waste increases costs, and in the last three years costs have gone down between 10% and 20%, thanks to new rules. So-called "circles of quality" have arisen; these are established by the workers themselves, and their purpose is to make improvements in various processes. These have helped, to a great degree, to reduce bureaucracy and various checks. Formerly, the process of IBM chip production involved some two thousand processes, of which nearly half were checks. They have now limited quality control processes to the required minimum. It thus happens that one of IBM's chip-manufacturing plants, the one near Paris which used water frome the Seine and returned it ten times cleaner, has now reduced this process of purification and has limited itself to the legal minimum.

Many unnecessary costs have also been reduced; for example paper waste. Standards have been established which prevent blank sheets from coming out of the printers, and multiple-use envelopes for internal use have been implemented.

They are also improving control of of food and travel expenses. Previously, they organized training trips which took into account special diets, directions, hotels, expenses to be included, zone maps, instructions on where to go if you suffered any medical problems, etc., all very organized and well-prepared. They did this for every type of training group: administrative, technical, sales. Now they do only the essentials.

Do they keep promoting the idea of the company as family?

No, they've stopped that. They even had a "family day," which was normally held on Saturdays, and which included entertainment with clowns, emcees, shows, etc., so that people would get to know the company where the father, the husband, the friend, worked... Now they don't do it, to the relief of many workers, who thought it was a real pain in the ass.

As for the international get-togethers, they've either been suspended or greatly reduced. For example, they used to throw an annual employees' party in a European city at a cost between 200 and 400 thousand pesetas per employee. Now the budget has been reduced to half or less and they're smaller, because sales are down.

Do people have a chance to get even and use the company for private ends?

Before, yes. Now things are more controlled. Though making photocopies is still possible, the telephone is very controlled. Previously, you could call anyplace in the world; now it all depends on your position, your zone. In addition, your telephone records the number you dialed, and at the end of the month the supervisor gets a report of all non-IBM phones that have been called, which sometimes you have to explain. In addition, and by way of anecdote, the custodial personnel in Barcelona are deaf-mutes, and the rumor is that this to prevent possible telephone expenses.

How does the accelerated rhythm of the machines influence the rhythm of work as well as the life of the worker?

Previously, it was very relaxed, but now the rhythm's crazy. Many workers are in shops or big rooms full of screens and people, but remain completely isolated. Closed within a small world consisting of screen, telephone and keyboard, they find themselves absorbed by the demands of a telephone that rings constantly, demanding constant answers. The pace is so sped-up that often they can't even go to the bathroom when they need to. This pace continues all day. When the workday is over, they need time to relax, if they can.

Many people eventually find themselves afflicted with nervous tics or psychological problems resulting from bad habits, nightmares, lack of sleep. There are people who are listless at home, who arrive home like zombies and say nothing, incapable of the most minimal non-work activity.

Do you believe computers are useful?

In principle, yes. It's a tool, like a calculator or a typewriter, which helps you organize information, store it, classify and separate it, delete and add. In principle, this is good. The bad aspect is the ends to which it is put; the ends change the means.

What's bad is that we have yet to see the definitive cheap, easy-to-use computer. If you buy one today, you find that, in addition to the expense, you probably can't use it two or three years down the road, depending on what you're using it for. This is because it's a constantly-changing product, with faster and cheaper models constantly appearing, ones which are able to handle more powerful programs, and this incites people to buy the new models. We've reached a situation in which it's questionable whether this evolution is even necessary any more, whether it's in our interest that people keep consuming these new products when they're not that necessary.

What's intolerable is this informatics fever that has attacked some compañeros: all they think about is this or that great new program, or whether or not to plug the PC into the telephone, that if the compact disc, etc...

Computers try to include too much. I think they are useful devices when they are easy to use and efficient, but otherwise, no. You should look at the time you have to spend studying the programs you what to use and consider whether or not it's worth the trouble or whether it's better to do it manually.

It's difficult to argue with your logic.

Sure, because today there's no alternative to that logic. As we've seen, the computer's invasion of all aspects of our lives is chilling. Who knows where it will all end up, but there are many research projects going on, just around the corner.

But people said the same thing about the automobile when it first came out, and it seems cars have now reached their limit. We'll see...

From ETCETERA—Correspondencia de la guerra social #23, Barcelona, p. 35. [Correspondence from the Social War]. Translated by Primitivo Morales.

Letters

Dear PW,

No, thank you. PW has some interesting articles, but I’m tired of its overall tone -- the reconstituted Marxism, which even in its more orthodox form has been tried on a vast scale and found wanting; and the feeling of Gen-X entitlement that permeates the voices of all reporters, editors and correspondents -- as my father would say, that the world owes you a living. Life may not have to be a sweatshop-and-tenement existence, but you got to put a little something into it if you want a little something out of it. That’s Law #1 of Thermodynamics. (and the hypocrisy of articles like “Get a Bike -- Get a Life!” galls me. You all own or want cars, and you know it.)

I am grateful to PW for getting me through my Job from Hell (1991-92, R.I.P.) and helping me see humor in other unpleasant, if less excruciating, work experiences, and I think the stories from the electronic sweatshop have their place alongside those from the mines, the factories and the cotton fields. But until you guys accept that work, like love, is a basic human need, and that capitalism is at least no worse than any other social-economic system, you’re going to just be pissing energy away, instead of using it to invent healthier, more rewarding, and more challenging worlds of work for our and future generations.

R.B.S. Belmont, CA

Dear PW,

This is your “old” acquaintance Mark Henkes, who wrote the short story, “The Swineherd” from Pennsylvania and which you published in the summer of 1992, issue #29. Thank you for sending the latest issues of your publication. It is innovative.

I write because I want to let you know that I have been fired from my position with the PA House of Representatives, partially because I published “The Swineherd.” ...Anyway, I have been told by a Philadelphia reporter that the Speaker of the House’s staff telephoned a literary magazine in Pennsylvania and told the editor/publisher not to publish “The Swineherd.” An investigation is pending. It would be fun to nail their asses. In the meantime, I am unemployed and on welfare because I want to be, because I am writing a screenplay for a movie dealing with the character of “The Swineherd.”

Thank you again for publishing my piece. It went a long way to getting me fired and to help me do what I really want to do in life --write fiction.

Please keep sending a copy of PW. I will contribute more cash one of these days like I said I would. Right now it’s snowing more than a foot of snow here and I’m California Dreamin’.

When I get hold of a WATS line I’ll call you.

Sincerely,

Mark Henkes

To: pwmag@well.sf.ca.us
Finished Adam's piece in PW 32 last night. Haven't I seen these utopian projections somewhere before? Why yes, of course and they certainly mirror my own aspirations for a better, freer world. But enough of that. Thought he might be interested in an article in the June, 1993 issue of "Current Anthropology", Vol 34 #3, by Christopher Boehm entitled, "Egalitarian Behavior and Reverse Dominance Hierarchy". It's all about how power has been flattened in former classless societies.Con amisted,MB

PW,

I was happy to see Processed World no. 32 try to tackle the question of a new society and how to get there again, something you haven’t really done since the first issue, thirteen (!) years ago. But the actual content of “Death of a Nation” left me quite upset in several ways.

Completely left out of the repression angle was the war on drugs, which is actually being used, in real time, to impose police state-like measures. In fact, there were few references to this question anywhere in this number, a fairly major departure from the past. What few references did exist in “Death...” were along the lines of “drug addiction” in the new society as a problem inherited from the old one. Seems like a rather staid leftist take on the question of altered forms of consciousness.

While i’m unalterably opposed to homophobia in any form, I thought the piece went all out to portray homosexuals in nothing but favorable light, in contrast to the deserved criticism leveled at ethnic nationalists. Even a soap opera was lauded because it portrayed a lesbian situation (complete with gay-oriented ads?). Kwazy Wabbit showed far more perceptiveness in his piece, “Boudoir and Bidet,” with its portrayal of gay bosses who differ little from their straight counterparts. Berkeley now has a gay mayor, who’s also head of the Chamber of Commerce and an anti-homeless advocate, and San Francisco has the lesbian businesswoman Susan Leal on its Board of Supervisors. The fact that Pete Williams, the Pentagon’s spokesman during the Gulf War, was gay was acclaimed by some papers as a sign of progress.

Besides such bourgois characters, there are also the “nationalists,” those who see all heterosexuals as sexless, conservative bigots, or claim that all hetero-sex is essentially rape, a perspective which has poisoned relations between the sexes. In fact, the only mention of heterosexuals in “death...” was in connection with conservative family types. (Even Wabbit alluded to all heterosexual men having wives? Really? Many of my friends have not even had a casual relationship in quite a while.) Is Adam afraid to challenge the latest Bay Area P.C. line, which seems to be that bisexual or gay is good, heterosexual is bad? (As if sexual orientation is a choice, instead of basically an inborn trait.) Criticizing the bad elements of gay politics is no more homophobic than criticizing muddle-headed black and latino nationalists is racist. So why criticize one and not the other?

But what disturbed me the most was the social democratic tone throughout. “The U.S. Constitution was generally retained...” Like the parts which give Congress the power to raise an army and a navy (to force the young to do their “duty” tour of social service?), or regulate interstate commerce and levy taxes? Or the federal judiciary, up to the Supreme Court? The Constitution is a blueprint for a centralized capitalist state, which is why so many opposed it in the 1780s. It can be used by a truly new society as much as a machine gun can be used for plowing the earth.

In contrast to Mickey D.’s “trading Futures,” the society envisioned in “Death...” retains market relations, albeit with the window dressing of “cooperatives.” The idea that in a new society the associated cooperatives would exchange their products was rejected even back in 1876 by Marx (“Critique of the Gotha Program”). Public acclaim is unlikely to supplant financial competitiveness when social production is still split up among separate enterprises whose workers still relate to them as property (read capital). This is nothing more than self-managed capital, which Adam correctly pointed out years ago (back in his radical days) is actually capital-managed self. These days, Adam seems to listen more to folks like Louis Michaelson, who in no. 30 asserted that the roots of capitalism lie in Third World slavery, rather than European enclosures and wage slavery. Once again, politically correct but historically inept.

To top it all off, the “utopia” envisioned in the story shows little awareness of the connection between industrialism and capitalism. The vast technological structure is not merely a collection of value-neutral machines, circuits, means of transit, etc. It is the embodiment of alienated social relations in material form. Computers cannot be produced en masse without the deadening, dangerous work required to mine silicon produce printed circuits. And their mass usage requires zoned-out operators pacified (and “fried”) by low -level radiation.

All this seems like a half-baked, hazily thought-out co-optation of Bolo-Bolo, a genuinely radical vision of social transformation in which both the state and the market are done away with as primary social institutions. Now we have the proposition that not only the state, but the market and the Frankenstein-like global machine will slowly wither away. If Pacifica is a model transition society (run by psychics? Gimme a break!), i say no thanks.

The very premises of the historical trajectory which underlies the story are thoroughly wrong. The U.S. (Oceania?) ruling class is in no way headed for a compradour [sic] bourgeoisie role. It is engaged in a three-way fight with its counterparts in Japan (Eastasia?) and Western Europe (Eurasia?), but it’s a pretty even fight at this point. “Death...” seems to be based on trends that may have had some validity a decade ago. But thanks to wage-cutting, “down-sizing” and globalization, American industry is again competitive (e.g. in cars, electronics). Other glaring errors pepper the story, such as the assertion that military production involves low wages, quite the reverse of the actual situation. In fact, it seems like the whole thing was written inside some remote academic ivory tower; the piece shows little awareness of 1994 realities, and displays a sense of detachment from the goings-on it describes.

My sad conclusions is that these days, the politics of many of the Processed World contributors do not even come up to the level of social democracy. This is quite a change from the project’s early promising days.

J.S. Berkeley, CA

To: Processed World <pwmag@well.sf.ca.us>

Subject: Issue #32

Another great issue, folks. As befits your main topic, I'm writing to you in the medium of the (immediate) future, E-Mail, to comment on your contents this time.

Letters were interesting as usual (hiya Ace!), and the layout was real nice. I kept trying to figure out if the shapes meant anything, though. Perhaps it was a bit distracting in that respect.

"Mickey D." had a nice sense of the sarcastic and a good grip on social anthropology and such. I really learned a lot from his research on gift-giving societies. I wonder if it's coincidence that many of these societies are either matriarchal or treat each gender with equal respect. Gift-giving as its viewed in the West does seem to be more the domain of women...

Chris' dystopias showed us three very sad figures, and I hope I don't project the same image when I'm, in essence, writing letters to friends (and PW!) using my modem instead of the way I used to do it, on my computer at work, printing it out, mailing it, hoping it arrives...

See, I think we can let computers (television/jobs/etc.) trap us or we can make 'em work for us. It's just a machine; WE'RE supposed to be the brains of the outfit. Since I signed on line, I've become a MUCH better and faster personal correspondent, AND I've made new friends. Significantly, many of these friends turn out to be quite social and in-person get-togethers have often resulted. I think this is an aspect which ought to be mentioned as well as the negative one Chris implies here and mentions in "The Shape of Truth" (isolation, staring at a screen, etc.).

Again, many arguments against computer technology also apply against television - the superhighway's not that dissimilar to a home shopping channel (got a kick out of the final tale, Chris!). You can let it suck you in, sell you to the advertisers (YOU Are The Product, as Adbusters Quarterly reminds us), or you can get your business (and entertainment) done and then flip the off switch. Many of us are capable of the latter.

No real comments to Kwazee Wabbit on his past occupations except, here again, a good connection is made between "thankless" work/services and traditionally "woman's" work. This can't be overstated.

Jon's "Drink of Water" was quite spooky, and would've fit nicely in After Hours (especially since I couldn't figure out the ending, as I can't with many of the stories in AH)... "The Scientific Sun," by the scientific son, was even spookier, being true.

I wouldn't mind living in Adam's near future, except I always have the feeling that, for whatever reason, I'm going to be one of the first up against the wall come the revolution. Just paranoid, I guess.

Always good to see bike stories. Makes me wish I could ride one better. Since I can't, I'm thankful for subways!

The absolute gem of issue #32, however, was Michael Botkin's "Welcome to Pacifica." I found myself wishing this were novel-sized; I'd acquire it in a heartbeat! Is he ever planning on expanding this world? The many technological changes/shifts weren't the only interesting thing here; Michael has a real flair for characterization as well. Bravo!

I may photocopy Richard Wool's "Eureka!" for my husband's family, half of whom are now gratefully employed (after long bouts of unemployment in recessive Connecticut) at the Foxwoods casino. Then again, I don't think so. Foxwoods may contain The Evils of Gambling, but it's also enabled the Pequot Indians to buy back most of the land that was originally stolen from them, and that's got to say something. Not to mention that it's probably made my nephew feel a bit prouder about being an Indian.

I just can't get as down on it as Richard does, and his comparison of gambling to toxic wastes and nuclear industries really offends me. If you need to compare what you consider The Tragedy of Gambling to anything, a more apt analogy might be the tragedy of alcoholism (or poor health in

general), or fishing rights disputes, or something else that affects the traditional ways of life - NOT something that's directly responsible for poisoning people in large numbers. It also cheapens the real horror of environmental racism, for which you needn't look farther than places like Harlem of Greenpoint/Williamsburg... [The author, Richard Wool, has claimed himself a compulsive gambling alcoholic who’s shoved a barbed hook through an earthworm. Ed.]

I also have no comment on "The Pyramid and the Tree" - too New Agey for the likes of me, I'm afraid.

Keep in touch - can't wait for my next fix of PW!

E.W. Brooklyn, NY

Yo! dispossessed,

Lookin’ good ... hopefully theze werdz find allau in the very best uv health an’ determined spiritz...

Re. #32 n’ Futurology; while it may very well b that change frightenzz people the korncluzhun duz not necessarily mean that it iz a 4-gone etc. ... change only frightenz the domestic when they r victimz uv it as herd memberzz and surplus proletai ...

So what I iz wondering iz where r the success stories about that wily, independant, contumant who dares 2 think and act so az 2 bekum that agent/example uv change? You kno’, like: “I made an’ sold this buck-knife that Elena Bobbit used”... or “I grew the vegetables that were enjoyed by the BACAT corporation gathering.” Or other ideas which lead “inquiring mindzz” 2 thots uv alternate modes and sumthing more than rat-race exercizes in futility ... (i.e. one step4ward, two steps bak)...

Meanwhile, du take advantage uv this relative period uv grace and realize that the dispossessed will not quietly starve in the streets. Thus a military-industrial technocracy will think thotz which will be manifest by more taxes, social engineerz, ergonomic habit and work sites. But notice that it is not the quality uv yor lives that iz improving, rather it iz the quantity uv restrictions + illusion.

Nevertheless, thankx, take care,

Onward,

Obiter Dicta, Folsom St. Prison, CA

Marcos in the Library

A letter from Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos to a national Mexican magazine.

TRANSLATED BY: Cecilia Rodriguez

National Commission for Democracy in Mexico

FROM: LA JORNADA, JANUARY 18, 1995,

To the weekly magazine PROCESO; the national newspaper EL FINANCIERO; the national newspaper LA JORNADA; the local newspaper of SCLC TIEMPO: January 16, 1995

Sirs: Here go some communiqués which indicate a change of direction in the winds. You are threatening us with unemployment again. I hope this time it’s serious. They tell me that Mr. Robledo Rincon [fraudulently elected PRI Governor of Chiapas] is huddled with his armed guards, self-named “state public security police,” in some place in the governor’s palace. Even though those who oppose the popular will are limited to four neighborhoods of the old capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, a dignified exit can be offered them. They should just explain where the money came from to arm the white guards who assassinate indigenous people in the Chiapanecan countryside. Perhaps it is the money for the “peace agreements” of San Cristobal which never reached the poor of this state of the Mexican Southeast (we’re still called “Mexico”? No?).

Vale. Health and a peace of hope to foretell tomorrow.

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

Mexico, January 1995.

P.S. He remembers a previous morning and a cold interior. “One night of tanks, planes and helicopters, I was in the library of Aguascalientes. Alone, surrounded by books and a cold rain which forced the use of the ski mask, not to hide from anyone’s eyes, but to hide from the cold. I sat in one of the few chairs which was still intact, and contemplated the abandonment of the place. That dawn was, like others, empty of people. The Library began its complicated ceremony of exposition. The heavy bookcases began a movement much like a disorganized dance. The books changed places and the pages, and in the transfer one of them fell and exposed an undamaged page. I did not pick it up, moving dancing shelves in order to get near enough to read it.... The Library exists ab aeterno. From that truth whose immediate corollary is the eternal future of the world, no one can reasonably doubt. Humanity, the imperfect librarian, can be a work of luck or of malevolent demiurge; the universe with its elegant dosage of cupboards full of enigmatic tomes, indefatigable ladders for the traveler and latrine for the sedentary user, can only be a work of a god.. The imps affirm that the babble is normal in the Library and that the reasonable (even a humble and pure coherence) is almost a miraculous exception. The Library is limitless and temporary. If an eternal voyager traverses it in any direction, he would prove that at the end of the centuries the same volumes are repeated in the same disorder (which, once repeated, would be an order: an Order). My loneliness becomes joyful with that elegant hope. Leticia Alvarez de Toledo has observed that the vast Library is useless; rigorously, one would only need one volume, of common format, printed in nine or ten editions, which would consist of an infinite number of infinitely thin pages(...) ‘The handling of this silky briefcase will not be comfortable; each page attempts to unfold in other analogies; the inconceivable central page would not have an opposite side.’(—Jorge Luis Borges. THE LIBRARY OF BABEL, 1941.Mar de Plata). “My loneliness becomes joyful with that elegant hope,” I repeat as I slip away from the library. Aguascalientes is deserted. I am tempted to say “abandoned,” when a fox runs across towards the kitchen. I walk towards the cement platform and sit next to the palm of “hope that the flowers that die in other lands, live in this one.” The Library continues its metamorphosis. Noises, creaks, and imaginary laments escape through doors and windows. Did I say doors? It has two holes which are impossible to define. There is that which allows one to enter, which some say is an exit, others argue that the Library breathes through them, the least of them suspect that they are for gulping people, animals,and hopes.. The Library of Aguascalientes is the beginning and the end of the spiral and it does not have a defined entrance nor exit. I mean to say that in the gigantic spiral which Tacho described in order to explain the architectural origin of Aguascalientes, the Library is in the beginning and the end. The safe-house which “kept the greatest secrets of the organization,” is at the other end and beginning of the whirl. I run my eyes over the gigantic spiral in which the construction is aligned and I imagine that from a special satellite one can appreciate the spiral which “calls from the jungle.” My gaze runs from the safe-house to the Library, which now gives out a phosphorescent blue and a continuous, hoarse noise. The Library tells what can be thought, and by day, is inhabited by children. They don’t come there because of the books. They say, according to what Eva told me, that there are multi-colored balloons there. Apparently no one finds them, because the children end up painting color pictures. Lately, helicopters and planes are abundant, not just in the skies of Aguas-calientes, but also in the flat pictures of the children. The purple, reds and greens are much too abundant in the pictures for my liking. Yellow seems to limit itself to the sun which, these days, is covered by the grey of the sky. At night, the Library shelters and agitates transgressors of the law and professionals of violence (like the one who writes this). They gaze at the shelves filled with books looking for something which is missing, and which they’re sure was once there. The Library was the only thing, in all Aguascalientes, considered the property of the Democratic National Convention, and it sometimes has books. The caravaneers made efforts to give it electricity, bookshelves, books, tables, chairs and an old computer which has the virtue of never being used. The rest of Aguascalientes has remained abandoned since that 9th day of August 1994. Every once in a while, Mister, Bruce, and Saqueo will make an effort to sew the canvas for the parties, which are less every time. Now the Library remains in silence, the phosphorescence is concentrated in one point, in its center, and it turns emerald green. I move carefully to one of the windows. The green light was blinding and it took some time to get used to looking at it. In it I saw.. All of a sudden, the blue sails of Aguascalientes caught a favorable wind. I turned toward the command post but it remained empty. The sea thrust its waves against the keel and the creaking of the chains of the anchor could be heard above the wind. I climbed on starboard and took the rudder in order to free it from the labyrinth of the spiral. Was it leaving or arriving? The emerald of the library went out.”

P.S. THAT HE REPEAT WHAT WAS TOLD TO HIM FROM THE LANDS OF ZAPATA: “Cruelty in Uaymil-Chetumal...Ten years after Alonso Davila was flung out from Villa Real de Chetumal, the rash Francisco de Montejo again considered the conquest of the province of Uaymil-Chetumal (1543-1545). He commissioned Gaspar Pacheco, his son Melchor and 30 soldiers for this action. Thus they began the desolate war of Uaymil-Chetumal. “The Mayas” said a report of the era “as much men as women, were killed with clubs, or thrown into the lakes with weights tied on their feet so they would drown. Savage dogs used in the war tore them to pieces, these defenseless indians. The Spanish considered them animals and they dragged and beat them like vile animals. It is said that the Pachecos cut the hands, the ears and noses of many indians.” As you can see the bad government began many years ago and its methods are somewhat passé...” I, meanwhile, look worriedly at the “prominent nose,” now red and cold, because of what they write about “cutting their noses” Greetings to the pipe of Popocatepetl, and always remember that...”In Popocatepetl aic ixpolihuiz, in mexicayotl aic ixpolihuiz, Zapata nemi iyihtic tepetl, iyihtic macehuiltin.”

(Look: it is nahuatl). Vale once again.

The Supmarine from the high seas. [Subcomandante Marcos]

My one-day career

Molly Wagner on her short-lived employment as a seltzer drink seller.

Standing in an unemployment line or going through a mid-life crisis can drive a person to accept any kind of job, not only to earn a living, but to bring some much needed change into one's life.

Some years back, stricken with both of these conditions, I was driven daily to the local newspaper by my search for the job of my dreams. While I was praying to find a decent paying position, I also hoped to find a job with some challenge and excitement to it.

The newspaper didn't let me down. One day, there in large, bold print, was the ad I had been waiting for.

'PRODUCT DEMOS WANTED', complete with a phone number to call. "Hurry on this one," the ad read; "a coveted position that only few people will qualify for; an exciting new career for the person who wants everything."

I was nervous as I dialed the number, praying there would still be at least one position left. It was my lucky day; there was an opening, and I breathed a sigh of relief for my good fortune. I was a little surprised to find 20 other girls present at the orientation session the next night, but I figured they must have been on a waiting list and I had been at the right place at the right time. After a couple hours of do's and don'ts we were ready to tackle the public with the newest food products.

My first demo was for a new seltzer drink and I was excited as I started down the freeway to a city 50 miles away. It was a little far but I figured there had to be sacrifice in all new careers, and I was promised mileage on top of my pay. The ten extra dollars was the incentive I needed. I felt like a real professional with my new name tag proudly sitting on my crisp, white blouse, and my supplies neatly packed, complete with fresh cut flowers from my garden. Then I missed my exit. But I managed to find the store with five minutes to spare.

I needn't have worried about being late, as the store manager kept me waiting for 45 minutes and then informed me that the seltzer had to be counted, by each flavor. This did not seem too traumatic until I realized there were 12 different flavors of this seltzer and they were scattered throughout the entire store, all mixed up. It was obvious that some innovative, “creative” counting was of utmost necessity. I figured as unorganized as this store was, they probably didn't know what they had anyway.

At last I was ready to set up. The rude manager gave me a spot directly in front of the cooler where the temperature reached the low 40's, and a cold draft blew on my legs for 8 hours.

My first customer was an elderly lady with that special blue hair. She informed me she was a connoisseur of raspberry flavor but decided to taste all 12 flavors in different cups. She didn't like any of them.

My next customer was a lady with a little girl, who insisted that her daughter try this new soda as it would be 'healthier than regular soda pop.' The little girl put the glass to her snotty nose and grimaced as she feigned drinking the seltzer. "Yuk," she said, "this is icky." Now I had a cup of snotty seltzer and no place to put it. I put it to the side to deal with later, concerned as our table 'had to be neat and clear of debris' at all times. About then the rude manager breezed by to check on me. He swooped up the snotty seltzer and said "Well, I see you've fixed a drink just for me." As he gulped it down noisily I thought how easily that problem was solved.

An older gentleman stopped by as I started my spiel about the benefit of this brand of seltzer having particularly low sodium. He rudely interrupted me, emphatically and dramatically insisting we need more salt in our lives. At that moment I was beginning to think that vodka, not seltzer, would hit the spot.

By now my legs were numb from the cold air blowing on me and my patience was wearing thin when a 300 pound man bellied up to my table and proceeded to tell all and sundry that anyone who could afford this expensive drink was rich and it was crime to waste money on such things with all the poor people in the world.

That didn't stop the next couple from trying their free samples of seltzer, but they got into a huge fight when she put a six pack in the shopping cart and he tried to take it out, insisting they could not afford it. She got her way and I felt like I probably caused them to miss their mortgage payment or something.

The customers kept coming, all day, each with their own unique personalities. As I was getting ready to close up, congratulating myself on the kids not spilling anything all day, a 40 year old man picked up a cup of the seltzer and proceeded to spill it all over himself, me, the table and the floor. As I was cleaning this up and thinking about making my escape my final customer approached; he mostly wanted to lament the demise of lard-based pastries, and his tale of woe, repeated for the rude manager, made me almost an hour late leaving the store.

As I entered the freeway northbound to go home, I decided that this was the hardest $40 I'd ever earned -- and this was before I knew that it would take over two months and many long distance phone calls before I could collect this money (and I never did get my mileage). I decided at that point I would forego the good pay and excitement of that particular career and try something uneventful, like feeding lions at the zoo.

- Molly Wagner

New waters

Fiction by Randall S. Doering.

New Waters

"The Larson file, kid. Larson." Michael Steuben, two hundred and seventy pounds of red-faced senior architect, cornered Tom the moment he set his pack down by his desk. "I told you I needed it by close of business Friday, right? What happened?"

Tom flipped through the manila folders on his desk. "I know I finished it. I thought I gave it to you."

"Well, you thought wrong."

Tom looked through the stack again and didn’t find the file. "Maybe it's on your desk?"

"If it was on my desk I wouldn't be here, now would I?" Steuben paused. "Let me ask you something, kid. Do you like your job? Is there some problem I should know about?"

Cold washed down Tom's back. "What do you mean?" he asked. He had a momentary picture of hitting the DELETE key and eliminating Steuben.

"I mean, you've been here—what—four months now, right? You know I don't come down on people if I don't have to. If you'd put that file on my desk I wouldn’t have to be on you." He clamped a hand on Tom's shoulder. "Look, kid, I don't like being the heavy. Keep your ducks in a row and we'll get along. Right?"

"Right," Tom said.

"Better. Find that file and get it on my desk, ASAP." He left, shaking his head.

Tom watched him walk back to his office. Steuben was big and square and solid like a sperm whale. Maybe one of these days someone would harpoon him.

Should have found some other job, Tom thought, something at a warehouse, doing deliveries, anything but working for this guy. Right. As though he had a choice. Cash flow had been down to a trickle, and temp work hadn't been bringing in enough money. The recession was dumping experienced people into the temp pool, and they were getting the well-paid assignments. He'd gotten lucky with this one. They offered him a job after the first two days. It was this or move back home, which was unthinkable.

He turned the computer on. Eight thirty-five on Monday morning, and already he was looking forward to the weekend. He and Jerry and Jerry's girlfriend Shawna were going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and then whale-watching if the weather was good. The humpbacks were heading past the Monterey peninsula, and he wanted to find a captain who'd take them right up to the whales so he could touch one. It would be great to touch something living that was that big. One of these days he'd have to take diving lessons so he could visit them in their own world.

But for now he was in Steuben's world, and he needed the Larson file. He went through the pile once more but couldn't find the folder.

"Don't get it," he mumbled. "Where did I put it?" He opened his top desk drawer and there it sat, a thin manila folder. He pulled it out and opened it. He'd finished typing in the estimated costs on Friday, as he'd said. He stood and walked to Steuben’s office. The door was closed, but through the window he could see his boss talking on the phone. He held the file up, and Steuben waved him in. He opened the door and set the file on the desk. Steuben nodded. "Yes," he said into the phone. Frowning at Tom, he shooed him toward the door. Tom felt his face flush and closed the door hard as he left. Who the hell did he think he was, Genghis Khan?

Back at his desk he pulled a yellow sticky off the top of the pile of folders. It read: Tom, pls file. Type in the Avery specs. Nothing urgent. Back from the doctor at two. Thx. Anita

There were forty or fifty files in the stack. He hefted them. There was enough paper to save at least one good-sized tree, if he dropped them all in the recycling basket. He took them to the long row of cabinets and started filing. Some were filed by name, and others were sub-folders that went into larger folders, and he had to file those by date. He shook his head as he dropped them into place. Why didn't these people use a more efficient way to store documents, like on microfiche? Did they really need all these files?

As he dropped one of the files its edge cut the skin between his fingers, and he cursed. Every time he filed he got cut at least once. He sucked the cut until it stopped bleeding. All right, where was he? The next file's tag read McCormick, so he went to M and hunted for the file. There was no McCormick, but there was a MacCormick. Same one? Now that he was looking he saw that the Macs and the Mcs were jumbled together. He stared at them a moment, willing them to put themselves in order. Then he moved them and cut himself again.

As he finished filing the phone rang, and he headed back to his desk and picked up the receiver.

"Good morning, Steuben and Associates. Can I help you?"

"Yes, you can, Tom. You can meet me for lunch." A woman's voice, familiar.

"Cindy?" He grinned. "How are you? What are you doing back here? I thought you weren't ever leaving New York."

A light started blinking. Someone on another line. Well, whoever it was could wait a moment.

"I'm all right. And I'm not leaving New York unless someone makes me a better offer somewhere else. I'm here to talk with a guy about some gallery space."

"Really? That's great! Would you have a show?"

"Don't know yet. I'm meeting him this morning to see what he has in mind." She paused, and he remembered she didn't like to talk about future events because it might jinx them.

"I hope you get a show. How did you—" He stopped. The other light was still blinking. If Steuben caught him on a personal call... "Listen, I hate to go already, but I've got to get back to work. I'll be taking lunch about two. Meet you at George's?"

"Sounds good. Talk to you then."

He tapped the other button, but the line was dead. Damn it, slip for one instant—Well, no use worrying about it now. He set the receiver in its cradle. As long as they'd been friends—two years since he'd met her in an art history class—Cindy had wanted to move to New York and try to become a professional artist. Six months ago she’d finally gone for it. They'd tried writing letters back and forth, but neither of them was much for writing, and they hadn't kept in touch. She had to be doing all right if she had an offer already.

Suddenly he realized he hadn't moved for a minute or two. All right, time to enter specs. He opened the top folder and found a mix of little pieces of paper and yellow stickies with notes scribbled on them. Where do these yahoos come from? he wondered. Haven't they heard of using normal-sized sheets of paper? Some of the slips had headings like Item Description, Item Number, Quantity and Price Per Item, but most of them didn't. He'd asked the architects to write the specs out so he could understand them, but they kept doing it this way. He set the folder aside and opened one of the spreadsheets in the computer, "Avery Specs."

There were four pages of spec tables just for the furniture involved in this project, the Avery building in Palo Alto. He had to fill the little boxes with a number or a description like "Desk, Mahogany." The architects would feed him these little bits for weeks, changing the stats constantly as they found cheaper units or ones they liked better. He glanced at the grey slip of paper on top and started hunting for the furniture specs for Executive Office E-3.

After an hour he got up to stretch and have a look outside. The office was a warehouse loft that had been converted recently enough that the paint still gave off a fresh-coat smell when the sun shone on it. Windows circled all of the loft except the west wall, which faced the hillside. The work areas were in the center of the room to leave wide aisles along the sides. As he headed back to the rear of the loft he passed the Avery building model, a C-shaped model of white plastic sprawled over foam hills and surrounding a blue-painted artificial lake. It had tiny doors and windows and even little trees. He'd first come upon the model during lunch his second day. The architects had been clustered at the table behind it, talking.

"This is what we're working on?" he'd asked, more of himself than anyone else.

The two junior architects, Sandra and Brad, had looked up.

"That's it," Brad had said. "Restoration job. Be about two years until it's done. Impressive model, isn't it?"

"Sure is." He'd tried to pull open the front doors, but they didn't move. "Hey, you know what?"

"Whoa, there, what are you doing?" Steuben had asked, and everyone had turned to stare at Tom. He'd been nervous, but he knew they'd like his idea, and he'd barreled on. "You know what would be really cool? Doors that would open. Don't you think clients would go for that? Kind of a 3-D thing. Maybe a fountain in the lake that shot real water in the air, like those displays you see in store windows. And what if—"

"Listen, kid," Steuben had said. "The model doesn't need all that. If it did, we'd have added those things. Do me a favor, and let us take care of the architectural end at this office. Now, if you'll excuse us, we're working."

He'd felt his face burn. "Sure. Sorry."

As he stared at the model his face flushed again. Steuben told him in the interview that he was joining a team, and they'd expect a team player. Great, Tom said. Being on a team that built houses and offices and parks seemed pretty cool, better than working for some company that built bombs. But if this was a team, why didn't they listen to his ideas? Five years of college to get a B.A. in liberal arts, and all they wanted from him was to do little office chores.

He turned from the model and walked to the windows at the rear of the office. This was the last place he'd ever thought he’d end up, next to the financial district. To the east he could see the stone and metal money pumps of downtown sucking cash away from schools and social programs to fill fat businessmen's pockets. To the north he could see the bay. The wind had churned up whitecaps, and there were few boats. The clouds were like a rumpled blanket, as grey as the water. Across the bay the hills of Marin were brown. If there was some snow at least everything would look pretty. Now it just looks dead. Wind whistled through a hole somewhere, and he shivered. I'd hate to be on the streets.

He glanced at the fifty gallon saltwater fish tank which stood on an oak cabinet against the west wall. It had a floor of colorful pebbles and several large rocks to give the fish hiding places. Thin ribbons of bright green seaweed grew up from the bottom. Half a dozen clams clung to the rocks, their shells open and blue mantles spread. Tom could just make out their tiny eye spots, which always blew him away. Why did clams need eyes?

Cruising the top of the tank was the Steubenfish, six inches long and torpedo-shaped with vertical stripes of brown, black and white on its body. Actually it was a Black Volitan, but Tom had named it the Steubenfish when he saw how it dominated the tank. Its dorsal fins were poisonous. Not enough poison to kill a person, but enough to be very painful. Two Naso Tangs—silver dollar fish, Tom called them, since they were round and thin—cruised too close, and the Volitan lunged at them. They darted into the plants.

Most of the fish in the tank were Tangs. They were pretty, with veins of blue on their dorsal fins and orange anal fins, and they didn't cause trouble with other fish.

Tom searched for the newcomer, a Green Bird Wrasse. Steuben had added it to the tank a week ago, and it spent most of its time hiding behind the big rock in the back corner. Sometimes it would stick out its long snout, but Tom had never seen it venture into the tank. He was starting to wonder it if ever would. He didn't see it; it had to be hidden behind its rock. He leaned against the tank, trying to catch a glimpse.

"There you are," Steuben boomed, and Tom jumped and whacked his forehead into the glass. "Why are you away from your desk? Has Greg Lasky called?"

Rubbing his forehead, Tom turned to him. "Well, I needed to take a break—"

"Great. He probably called while you were over here daydreaming."

"I—"

"Don't worry about it," Steuben said, waving dismissively as he turned away. "I'll call him. When's Anita coming back?"

"Around two, her note said." What did he want to talk to Anita about? What if Steuben canned him? He could go to his dad for rent, but his dad had already paid most of his way through college. He pictured himself as a lamprey, his round mouth locked onto his dad's wallet, draining it dry. No way.

"Tell her I want to see her when she gets back."

"Okay." He could already hear what would be said. "Get a new one, Anita, this one’s got his head up his butt. Take an ad out tomorrow and start interviewing Monday."

He followed Steuben back as far as his desk. The spec tables went on. Item: lamp, retractable-arm. Quantity: four. Color: black. Item number: He squinted. Well, it was either 013579 or QL3579 or OL3579, or was that 9 a 4? He left the square blank and went on. Item: Table, End, Mahogany. Quantity: eight. Color: He paused and then typed, "ultraviolet." He'd take it out in the next draft. Item Number...

The front door opened, ringing the little bells as loudly as they could be rung. Anita was back. "How'd it go?" she asked as she came in. She was a tall black woman with a short, no-nonsense haircut and striking dark eyes. She crossed the reception area to hang up her trench coat. When he'd first interviewed for the job Tom had thought she was one of the partners, the way she talked and carried herself. He wished he had a supervisor who was a little less sharp.

"All right. It's been quiet." He hesitated. "I think I lost an important call that Mr. Steuben was waiting for." Better to tell her now than to have Steuben bring it up.

"Um-hmm," she said.

He tapped his foot. "He said he wanted to see you as soon as you got back."

She laughed. "I'm sure he does. He's playing head games with you, is what he's doing. All that's going to happen in there is he's going to say he has"—she deepened her voice—" 'grave reservations' about you, and he wants me to keep an eye on you for a while. I'll tell him I will, and that'll be that. When he's through talking at me you can take off for lunch."

"Okay."

She went into Steuben's office, and Tom noticed Steuben shut the blinds on the glass panel next to his door. Bad news.

Ten minutes later she came out, shut the door behind her and walked slowly to her desk.

"What's up?" Tom asked, but he already knew the answer. He was screwed.

She shook her head. "He gave me two weeks' notice. Says we're too slow to keep an administrative manager." Her voice hardened. "How do you like that? Of all the penny-pinching, no-brain ways to run a business... He doesn't have any idea what it is we do. You know that? He thinks you're going to be able to keep up with their payroll and their correspondence and type their specs and make deposits and file and fax and run errands—"

"I can't do all that!"

"That's what I told him. He said I was doing it all before he hired you, and he figured you've been here long enough to handle everything. I told him I've got six years experience, and we've just put on another architect, but he didn't want to hear it." She stopped. "Now, don't get that hangdog look. I'm not blaming you. Looks like he's planning on shaving the budget by replacing me with you. In that case we've got to get you up to speed."

"You can't mean you're really going to teach me to take your job?"

She raised her eyebrows. "And what am I supposed to do? The next place will ask for references. You know I've got a little girl. I can't afford to say what I'd really like to." She glared at his office. "I suppose once he figures out there's too much work for you he'll hire somebody else fresh out of school to be your assistant, at two-thirds my salary." She looked at her watch. "Why don't you go to lunch? Take as long as you want."

George's was a half dozen blocks from Steuben Associates, and Tom ran. Car, compact. Color: navy blue, he thought as he passed the car. Quantity: one. He caught himself and winced.

It took him a minute to spot Cindy among the few people braving the chilly wind. She wasn't wearing her traditional black. Instead she wore a flower-patterned dress and huge red-rimmed sunglasses. Were those supposed to give her a "Cool New York Art Scene" look? Her black hair was shorter than he remembered, sort of a boyish cut, but it looked sharp. Wasn't she freezing in that dress? Not that she'd ever admit it.

"Hey, good to see you," he said as he walked up.

She made an odd sound. "Whoa, didn't recognize you," she said. "Check you out! Office slumming, huh? I thought you were going to be working at the Rainforest Action Network by now or off to Malaysia somewhere."

"Didn't work out." He pulled out the plastic chair and sat across the table from her. "How'd you get my work number?"

"Rick."

"Oh." Rick and his wife owned the in-law studio where Tom lived. They had his number in case of emergency.

She patted a chair. "Grab a seat. Got a large salami and pineapple coming. Sound good?"

"Great." He sat.

"So what happened with the Peace Corps?" she asked.

He grimaced.

"That bad, huh?"

"Well, it's not that so much as everything together. Nothing's worked out. I'm kind of drifting right now. You know what I mean?"

"Sounds like post-graduate angst to me. I remember what it was like after I got my B.A. and worked for six months. Lot of boring crap. Went right back to school, you'll notice. So what about the Peace Corps?"

"Well, they're getting really picky about who they take since there're so many volunteers. They only want engineers and doctors and people with teaching experience. Can you believe that? I did math tutoring my whole senior year, and I figured that was good experience. Not good enough, I guess."

An acne-scarred teen-ager came and set the pizza and two plates on the table. "Enjoy," he said as he retreated, though he didn't look as if he was enjoying anything, personally. Cindy picked up a piece and tore into it.

"That wasn't the only thing you were looking into though, right?" she asked. "What about the Rainforest Action Network?"

"Oh, that. They're famous, so there're all kinds of people flocking to them. Seems that most of the ones who get in volunteered there while they were in school." He shrugged. "I just didn't plan far enough ahead. My dad kept telling me I'd better start checking into this stuff, but—I don't know, I figured I was smart and had a good attitude, and he was worrying too much." He drummed his fingers on the table. "So here I am, doing this stupid no-brain job. Anyway, let's get off this. What's this show you were telling me about?"

She swallowed and wiped her mouth. "Guy owns a gallery out here saw my pieces in a little corner of a friend of a friend's gallery in New York and asked if I'd be interested in showing in San Francisco. Sounded real serious. So I said what the hell and got one of those el cheapo flights that leave at one in the morning. I thought it would be better if I came out in person than if I just sent the slides."

"So what does he think?"

She gave him a disgusted look. "He's a wishy-wash. He doesn't like most of the pieces I showed him. He likes my new stuff, but I only have a few in that style. So he's talking waiting a year so I have time to paint more new pieces. He's using a lot of ifs and maybes. I guess he wasn't as serious as I thought." She started chewing again.

"That sucks."

"Yeah. Worst part is that it cost me three month's savings for this nonsense. But at least the trip's not totally wasted. I'll be here all week. We can get together if you have time."

"Yeah, that'd be good."

She finished her piece and started another while Tom nibbled his. Salami and pineapple wasn't exactly his favorite. Her appetite amazed him. Where did it all go? Every other woman he knew was always talking about calories and diets and weight-watching.

"Well," she said, "at least you're working. I know a lot of people who would feel lucky to have any kind of job."

"Yeah, well, one of them can have mine. You wouldn't believe what happened today." He told her about Anita's being fired.

Cindy pulled her glasses down her nose and peered over them. "That's cold. That's Arctic cold."

"Yeah," Tom said. "But I guess you're right. I'm lucky to be working at all. It's just that I thought I'd be in Malaysia by now. I mean, everything's kind of fallen apart, and here I sit wondering—" He crossed his eyes and said, "Uh, what the hell's happening? Where am I? Which way do I go? Uh..."

Cindy laughed and reached over the table to squeeze his arm. "You can still go. It'll just take a little longer than you thought it would. Oop! Sorry, I've got to get back to the gallery. Jonathan wants me to meet some of his friends." She stood. "Come on, smiley face." She made a big, phony smirk, and he snorted with laughter. "I'll call you later and let you know what happens with this guy."

"Good," he said. He felt the wind again and realized how cold he was.

"And I'll call you tonight. We can get together at a cafe or something. You'll be home?"

"Yeah."

That afternoon Anita walked him through setting up the spec tables. "Basically it's pretty simple," she said as they finished. "You can set them up like I showed you, or you can find a table in the old project documents that's about the size of the one you need and copy it into the new file. That's what I usually do. It's faster."

"Got you," Tom said. "Listen, I'm sorry about what happened. It's really unfair."

"Don't you worry about it. I’ll take care of myself. I do have one piece of advice for you, though. Learn everything you can here. It never hurts to have a skill to on. Oh, by the way, Brad brought by some changes to these specs while you were at lunch, and he'd like a draft of the tables with them incorporated by close of business."

"Wonderful."

A few minutes before five Cindy called. "He decided definitely not to go with my show for another year," she said, sounding irritated. "He says he wants to see more of the new pieces."

"That's lame," Tom said.

"Tell me about it. Well, I'm out of here. He's giving me a ride to Michelle's. I just wanted to let you know what happened. Talk to you later."

"Sounds good." He set the receiver down. Cindy had a master's. She'd moved to New York, made contacts, worked her butt off, and what had that got her?

"I'm going to lock up in a minute," Anita said. "You ready to go?"

"I'm just going to see how the Wrasse is doing," Tom said.

"That fish? All right, but hurry up. I want to get out of here."

He walked to the rear of the loft, looking out the windows as he went. Patches of clouds glowed white and grey among the darker masses. Sunlight broke through here and there. The branches of the trees in the lot outside bent in a strong wind, their leaves all pointing eastward.

Anita had been axed the minute Steuben figured Tom could handle her job. All her experience hadn't done her any good.

His chest constricted. It would take at least a year to save enough money to travel to Malaysia on his own, and every day he'd come to work wondering if he had a job or not. And, after that, how many more offices? How many more assholes like Steuben?

The Volitan was cruising the top of the tank, scattering the Tangs. The Wrasse was behind its rock, eyeing the Volitan.

"Come on," Tom said, annoyed. "Get out and do something." He tapped the glass, and the Wrasse shivered. Then it started edging from behind the rock.

"Hey, that's it. Keep going, guy."

The Wrasse swam cautiously out into the middle of the tank, just above the pebbles. Then the Volitan noticed the movement and lunged, and the Wrasse shot back to safety.

"Well, I suppose it's a start," he said, and he turned to go home.

--by Randall S. Doering

Reviews

Book reviews for Processed World #33.

Good Sense & the Faithless by Michelle T. Clinton, 1994, West End Press, P.O.Box 27334, NM 87125, $9.95, 100 pages, paperback.

Clinton’s second book after “High Blood/Pressure.”

Language stiff, like swollen, sensitive with black or purple blood. Lines straight to the touch. Not pastel soft, pastoral ambiance of university seminars where the patio opens out on the lawn. Where the voices are modulated by well-fed bodies leaning back into the chairs. Not the closeted reflection of the inner self far from the intense concertina wire tangle of urban life, what Adrienne Rich calls, “the issues. The issues are our lives.”

This is the 2nd time in as many years that the National Guard has been sent to L.A., the 3rd time in 2 years the Republican governor had to declare Southern California a disaster area. Freeway overpasses are lying down on freeways, apartment buildings and parking garages collapsed, dawn to dusk curfew and the water undrinkable after this earthquake. Last time it was fires, most of them arson, raging through rich people’s hilly chapparal neighborhoods, and before that the riots they call the L.A. Uprising. This environment is the immediate subtext connected to each line break of “Good Sense & the Faithless,” it informs everything between the lines. What is implied in the white space of each page is how this city is man-made, the existences we live here not to be blamed on economies that are so unlucky (again and again), not to blame God’s substance abuse problem (again and again), nor momentary lapses (again, again) of the general good humor in the system.

In the white light on these pages knuckle-hard truths shine into angles of decline of urban life in America, into corners at the back of the mind which are always there, out of sight of the media and its lying camera eye. Poetic truths envisioned through passionate/compassionate contemplation/reflection of the actual. True incidents. The real. Beginning like:

In the fifties my momma got caught

in the back of a musty pontiac

w/ her legs in a catholic koan

she wanted to do it & did

but got caught by a hard man

a missed period & me

soft bones & white spittle

me & my waste all over my momma’s hands

As a child she dreamt of nursing

in white stockings w/ stiff cap

part of the colored elite rising in the am. 1954

my mother the only colored speck

in st. teresa’s school of nursing

first negress capped & pinned

after she finished nine months

she dropped out

when i dropped in her life

(“The Emergence of Barren Women”), or:

my clit as your hard candy/ my mouth’s everywhere you want/

every opening slush/ like snow cones/ like i’ll be your

bicycle/ i’ll be nasty if you want/ i grew these titties

i watched the black circle spread their weight/ do it like some

body bad/ somebody greedy/ we can hide under the dark/

or stake me in the open/

(“Sex and the Mother Wound”), or:

That night i smoothed the hair of my lover w/ my palms, w/ my fingers in his mouth,

sleep was a numb dream spun w/ sharp, geometric shapes & hard, dark colors. And

that first breath of the morning was cold as the harsh part of city living.

(a piece of “Blood is a Bright Color & Tears are clear”).

You can see how the verbs, their brittle English sounds, impact each line with motion. Imbue fragmented desire with a spin. A torque on the worked and reworked imagery, the directly transcribed diction of feminist images. Peeled off like bubblegum tattoos, rubbed on, spit on or smeared with anxiety, fear or (not solitude so much as) loneliness, torn a little, put back into place. Each line is not constructed with the ennobling artifice of prettified long academic or religious words. Her abstractions are others, artistic, personal, political. Clinton likes to stick with the compound grammar of her African American upbringing. Given the class structure of our society that too of course implies the taste of streets.

Her unstinting focus on the relationship of sex to gender, class, everyday living (or perceived reality thereof), go to the psychological wound of our survival in L.A., locus for urban disaster(s) of our time. Against the distancing of gentrified adjective/noun phraseology which would proffer some kind of individualist nostalgia for the exotic Third World/other or for the aestheticization of personal confession or for a glamorization of death & despair, Clinton gives us instead a collective dialect of African American grammar, the popular idiom, mixed with street politics:

The 17th boyfriend had a hook dick

the 25th boyfriend liked the color purple & karl marx

the 37th boyfriend could fuck good & that’s all

boyfriends 45, 72 & 67 were good as guns in a street situation

boyfriends 85 & 95 gave up beaucoup cash

I tell them about all the lunatics in the city

“The Hundredth Boyfriend”

This live mix of language encouraged Harvey Kubernick’s Freeway Records and New Alliance Records to record Clinton’s widely admired “spoken word” performances for distribution. It is, doubtless, an art form that some will find “vulgar” (i.e. too democratic or too anti-academic). They may look to the postmodern (in vain, I think) for rumors of war, for popular response to street heat, for secretly coded mumbling for salvation of their ass in somebody’s New Age. Clinton herself acknowledges the influence of Ntozake Shange, a seminal figure pioneering forms where feminism & text, black dialect & theater create new inner space, cultural dialogues. Following the text are notes which summarize the history of these poems as performance pieces, mostly at Beyond Baroque and Highways Performance Space, two of the main venues for hybrid drama and art in L.A.. In so far as her work also reflects these new trends in popularizing new democratic poetics, “Good Sense & the Faithless” is also a text of new forms. There’s a cutting edge here, not linguistic reaction.

“Good Sense & the Faithless” manifests individual bravery in the face of collective disaster, the everyday realities of L.A.; everywhere smoke fills the air, guys with automatic rifles rushing around after dark. No retreat into a myth of self. Or obfuscations of frenetic artifice. A black belt in shorin ryu karate, Clinton demonstrates a combat poetics unafraid of social responsibility and personal pain (“Sensei Maria’s Story,” “Poem in Gratitude for San Kyu”). Like the discipline of martial arts, her craft serves. My guess is no avant-garde advances in fear, afraid of discipline, responsibility, pain. “Translate This Fuck Face,” “Guidelines for Brothers: How to Heal Rape,” “Giving Up the Near-Sighted Ghost/In Praise of the Multi-cultural” and other poems of “Good Sense & the Faithless” defy hard facts of massive alienation, abuse and violence with their own bitter sharpness. Clinton accepts the challenge of devastated public places & urban spaces inside us and beyond, her singular voice raised up.

-- Sesshu Foster

The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International In A Postmodern Age

Sadie Plant (1992, Routledge; 226 pages; Notes; Bibliography; Name Index; Subject Index; ISBN 0-415-06222-5) $16.95

"...[F]or PO-CHU-I there is no difference between didacticism and amusement, no wonder we find that learning, practiced as the quick purchase of knowledge for resale purposes, arouses displeasure. Literature, in didactic as in other works, manages to enhance our enjoyment of life. It sharpens the senses and transforms even pain into pleasure." Bertolt Brecht (Journals 1934-1955)

This century is closing on a bad deal: The new German is an American. The new Ugly American is a German. Beautiful symmetry! The first resistance to the rise of the far right has ever been the task of an enlightened minority: The one-eyed man leading the blind. The problem is to restore at least partial political vision to those who suffer from our current socio-economic system yet do not have the tools to articulate either their dissatisfaction or the possible remedies.

Here to help is a book which retraces the history of the radical fringe movements which sprung up in Europe from the horrid experience of WWI (and its antecedents) and continued through the century. The Most Radical Gesture starts with DADA*, concerned with what we would call déconstruction* today. deconstruction of language, thought processes, images, art, literature, etc...Next, this book takes us on a magical history tour of surrealism, structuralism and finally the Situationist International which is the core of the book, both because of its roots in the preceding movements and its influences on postmodernism.

Visit the Provos in Amsterdam and their descendants, the Kabouters, in the Orange Free State! A quick detour through Poland (its elves), Italy (its autonomists) and Britain (its “Arrest those Santa Clauses” & more) will bring you back to France and ‘68 preluding the ‘70s and ‘80s development of the postmodernist French philosophers. Street theater tactics were so successful in the ‘60s that even humorless maoists used them. All shared this shock quality designed to get the casual observer shaken from the perception that the “reality” we endure is the only possible one.

The Situationist International (SI), seeking to establish a serious critique of the société du spectacle*, disliked a lot of these radical gestures:

“The ‘revolution for the hell of it’ attitude of the American Yippies, the counter-cultures of play power, happenings, be-ins, and drop-outs were all haughtily rejected on the grounds that they left themselves open to recuperation and the miserable totality of soci- ety untouched.” (pg 91)

They were also very critical of the Provos who were so successful as to end up with seats in Parliament. Talk about recuperation! All of these movements disbanded because of the realization that détournement* could be and is practiced by the state as well. For most people, revolution is equivalent to innovation, at best, (as in washing machines) and doesn’t evoke its eighteenth century roots any longer. Logos and praxis*...

* see Glossary 1

The SI lasted from 1957 to 1969. They disbanded under the pressure of internal strife and dissension, leading to the exclusion of many members, some of whom were soon to be feted in New York and the West Coast as expounders of postmodernism. I’d love to have the “Question Man” ask people on the street what constitutes postmodernism: only one answer per customer, please!

Sadie Plant includes an excellent review of the political philosophies of Guattari, Deleuze, Foucault and Lyotard (who was soon to change his colors). Her discussion of Beaudrillard and Debord is invaluable. She uses Debord’s critique of Beaudrillard to great advantage. Beaudrillard’s language is purposely opaque and few of us have the patience (in French or English) to wade through his turgid prose only to discover that he has little to say. What shines clearly is that Beaudrillard is a turncoat and like many French intellectuals before him, he has found a comfortable niche in which to suckle at the tit of state. You have to understand that sometimes bad weeds root in good ground. It’s not surprising that some of these weeds are indigestible:

“Postmodernity comes equipped with a refusal to countenance the possibilities of social transformation....Talk of revolution becomes embarrassing and the suggestion that histo- ry has ended is embraced with open relief. Situationist desires for a “rise in the pleasure of living” have become the dreams of another age and no longer have anything to say to us.” (pg 185)

Sadie Plant expounds on a complex subject in a clear, concise and comprehensive manner, covering even our small corner of space-time:

“One of Vaneigem’s later books {after The Revolution of Everyday Life*} continued this line of attack with calls for industrial sabotage as a first step to the development of councils and self-management, and workplace rebellion of the “go on, phone in sick” variety since advocated by groups such as Processed World, for whom tactics of confu- sion and theft serve both to enliven work and undermine the logic of labour.” (pg 90)

DADA, the surrealists, structuralists and SI were all dedicated to the exposition of the despair and futility of daily life. The media and all sorts of people blithely use the adjective “postmodern”; One wonders to what end? Postmodernism is a negative and treacherous branching which is so far gone on futility that it has abdicated its power to show the absurd. It claims instead that it is absurd to resist the absurdism of the société du spectacle*. Mirrors within mirrors: Postmodernism claims to have abolished history and gives rise to “revisionist” views of various holocausts, and believes itself to have gone one better than the structuralist and situationist critical thought! Using precepts held by these consecutive movements that protest itself is open to recuperation, they proclaim that, since this is the case, we might as well sit on our hands and await the millennium. Time to give up our chiliastic* ambitions.

2

Sadie Plant's historical retrospective and analysis is vital to an understanding of intellectual movements that go beyond mere fads. Indeed, intellectuals have been too easily manipulated by class interest over the centuries. By abdicating the power of imagination to work towards a genuine democracy (economic equality for all, boys & girls), they have broken with a century-long comic protest, yet pretend to be derived from this honored (Marxist, Groucho faction) tradition. A useful and fun read. Highly recommended as a travel guide to past and future protests.

— by Petra Leuz

* Glossary *

Chiliastic: lasting a thousand years, as in Hitler’s third reich or Jesus Christ’s reign of error which is just about 2000 years old as you probably know. Be nice to lexicographers, buy a dictionary. Check out millenary, not yet the Mad Hatter’s task. So many words, so little time.

DADA: also spelled dada, DaDa, Dada. An important tenet of dada was la dérive, the opposite of routine action: one goes out walking aimlessly and experiences the spontaneous small pleasures the world affordeth. This is preferred to walking to a boring and mostly meaningless job. Dada poets delighted in recitals of meaningless poetry: Abracadabra. Oompah, oompah! Since language had gotten people in such trouble, it needed to be reconstructed. In that, they foreshadowed the Structuralists. Their influence extended to painting and literature and philosophy. Much good it has done us... The same fights have to be won again and again, at great cost to individual fulfillment, and sometimes life.

Deconstruction: the critical examination of language, ideas and political “realities”. Taking things apart the better to view their inner works.

Détournement: practiced by Billboard artists. Take a message and, subtly (or not) turn it to your advantage. Render the works transparent.

Logos: The Word, a theological concept borrowed from the Greeks by the Christians, then by the Cartesians. Go figure... The rational reason for all existence. Ha!

Praxis: Best understood by marxists as the unity of theory and practice. Means “to do” in Greek. Practice, custom.

Société du spectacle: Originally the title of Guy Debord’s 1967 book. “...dry and uninspiring, with the only hints of situationist provocation and extravagance appearing in the wealth of italicized enthusiasm and the stolen goods it collects.” (page 8). Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life was published the same year. Here’s Sadie Plant’s take on it: “Vaneigem’s rejection of the spectacle was a moral, poetic, erotic, and almost spiritual refusal to co-operate with the demands of commodity exchange.It unleashed witty and compelling tirades against the myths and sacrifices of consumer society, asserting a radical subjectivity which could fire pleasures, spontaneity, and creativity at the all-encompassing equivalence and emptiness of modern life.” (page 8) Vaneigem took a vacation from Paris in May 1968.

Rooted in marxist socio-economic analysis, the spectacular society is the core situationist concept which describes the alienation of people watching life rather than living it.

Guy Debord committed suicide on November 30, 1994, RIP. He was a founder of the SI. In ‘67, the SI predicted that revolution was no longer feasible Commune-style in a modern society. Then came ‘68... The Communards lasted longer but the soixante-huitards suffered less loss of life and limb. Sanity however...

The Great Julian Pete Scandal

There's something about Los Angeles ... something about the hot house of warm weather and avarice in which the most amazing endeavors flourish. Although there are many tales about the city of Lost Angels, one that still has repercussions half a century later is the subject of a new book. "The Great Los Angeles Swindle" (Jules Tygiel, 1994 Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 0-19-505489-X) dissects an enterprise called the Julian Petroleum Company.

The story starts with a Canadian, C.C. Julian (Courtney Chauncey; you can see why he always went by "C.C."), who formed a company to drill for oil in the Santa Fe Springs field in Los Angeles in 1922. Recent discoveries of oil in or near the city had fueled enormous speculation. While most oil fields had been in remote areas and had about one well per four acres, these finds were in areas already subdivided for housing. Rapid buying and selling of these lots spiraled the apparent values skyward and invited many con men and swindlers to take advantage of the fevered atmosphere. Julian, who had speculated in land in Canada's expanding western provinces and later worked as a "roughneck" (an oil field worker), saw great potential.

So C.C. borrowed money and started his wells. He also offered part of his company to the public. Julian proved to be an expert at understanding (and answering) the fears of small investors. He used an unorthodox scheme, selling “units” in a "common law trust," promoting this as preferable to the alledgedly unscrupulous world of stocks. He pioneered new marketing methods by taking out newspaper advertisements which he himself wrote in a "home-spun" style, full of folksy sayings, and pitched towards people suspicious of big monopolies and corporations. They emphasized the "scarcity" of the offer ("Only Four More Days!"), adding to its appeal, while promising great returns on investments. As assurance that he wasn’t one of the "Big Boys" or a crook, he touted the offer as a risky venture: "Widows and Orphans, This Is No Investment for You!" proclaimed one ad. He succeeded in extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars from many people, both rich and poor. Julian immediately started new ventures on much the same basis, even before his first wells had revealed their worth.

His Julian #1 well started a copious flow of oil in March, 1923. Julian, not unlike other small oil outfits, immediately made plans to unseat Standard Oil, still a monolithic monopoly controlled by the Rockefellers. In May Julian incorporated the Julian Petroleum Company in Delaware with 200,000 shares of preferred stock worth fifty dollars each, plus 200,000 shares of common stock that had no formal value. In June he announced that half of the stock would be sold with an initial price of $50.

He soon ran afoul of Edward Daugherty, the California Corporation Commissioner. This was a newly established office (1913) which was created to control fraudulent promoters. In October of 1922 Daugherty started regulating companies selling "units" (which the promoters claimed exempted them from his jurisdiction); a flurry of court actions and new legislation supporting Daugherty followed, and Julian Pete was crippled financially. An apparent loophole led to a quick train trip to Las Vegas and a sale of stock from the company to C.C. himself. On June 28th he sold some $200,000 worth of stock. On the 29th Daugherty shut down trading, suspended C.C.'s brokerage license, seized the company's books, and had C.C. arrested. After paying the $3,000 bail in cash, C.C. continued business by borrowing money (solicited by ads in papers) and finally in late July obtained permission to sell 100,000 shares of stock if he himself resigned from the corporation. He did so, but retained the common stock that gave him a controlling vote (neither fact was revealed publicly). By going on with plans for a refinery, C.C. was able to present himself at a champion of the under-dogs against both an implacable bureaucracy and the oil monopoly.

The birth of the company was indeed an omen of its future trajectory. After linking up with a Texan shyster named S.C. Lewis, Julian incorporated to create an oil refining company, The Julian Petroleum Company (or "Julian Pete" as it was known popularly). Lewis soon took control of Julian Pete. Among other strategies he applied was the hiring of the FBI accountant investigating the company. (Special Accountant Miller found no problems with the company.)

While C.C. Julian tried his hand at a mining venture in Death Valley (which ultimately failed), Lewis was busy selling stock. So busy, in fact, that the limit on shares was overlooked. Within a few months (Feb. 1925) there were some 159,000 in circulation (more than 50% over the legal limit). Money was borrowed to keep their burgeoning empire (or was it just a ponzi scheme?) afloat. Director Cecil B. DeMille was one of the more prominent investors seeking the 20% return. Another device became known as "The Banker's Pools," after the participants in the first of these, which collected a million dollars from such luminaries as film mogul Louis B. Mayer, Motley Flint of the Pacific Southwest bank, businessman and arch-conservative Better America Foundation president Harry M. Haldeman (grandfather of Watergate's H.R. Haldeman), and a number of notables from financial circles in Los Angeles. This and successive pools paid about 19% interest, much of which came from selling illicit shares of stock. (It also violated state usury laws, which was soon to be an issue.) By April 1927 they had sold or distributed some 3,614% of the company. (Shades of "The Producers"!)

Julian Pete acquired new enemies along the way, including radio-evangelist and anti-Semite Robert Shuler (whose son continues the family tradition on TV), and some newspapers. Eventually the financial pressure from untainted banks, combined with inquiries from state and federal authorities cracked the "bubble factory" and its ever-inflating stock. When Julian Pete collapsed amidst lurid headlines, the reverberations brought down quite a few politicians, tarnished some of the most illustrious businessmen in the city, financially maimed (and, in at least one case, literally!) many small investors, and ruined several banks and brokerage houses. The city District Attorney, Asa Keyes, was sent to jail. Reverend Shuler went to jail on a contempt charge, and a few small-fry investors were also dispatched to the clink. The principal defendants (Julian and Lewis) checked themselves into federal prison to avoid civil trials. In 1930 Frank Keaton, who had lost money on Julian Pete, expressed his hatred for the "banking crowd" by shooting Motley Flint (one of the arrangers of the "$1 Million Pool") in a Los Angeles courtroom. When police searched Keaton they found ten cents; in the pockets of the corpse they found $63,000 in cash. There was yet more scandal to come, including a double murder to which a former deputy DA and politician confessed ("Handsome Dave" Clark lost his race for judge during the trial, but still garnered 60,000 votes).

The scandal changed the state's banking industry for ever, influenced state law and helped alter the political face of Los Angeles and southern California by reinforcing the powers of the regulators and more liberal reformers. San Francisco’s Bank of America was also a real winner, for the scandal broke several banks in the southland (some of which were ultimately acquired by BofA) and changed the laws that had kept the northern bank to a very limited business in the LA region.

This is a meticulously researched history of a fascinating period in LA's growth. It illustrates a flourishing ecology of oil, money, showmanship, anti-Semitism, boosterism and politics. Get this book!

--Primitivo Morales

Coming Soon to a Computer Near You!

Hackers!!

Watch! As they perform their evil deeds!
Thrill! To the crimes committed!
Gasp! At their rationalizations!

Diabolical intruders are pounding at the gates of all computers, employing techniques both primitive and hyper-tech (and even occult) in their unslaked thirst for other people's information. This is the prevailing media image of "hackers" -- those ne'er-do-wells who trespass (jaywalk?) on the "Information Highway."®

If you'd like a more realistic view of computer hackers, and how they practice their arcane arts, I'd like to recommend a book to you. Namely, "Secrets of a Super Hacker" (Dennis Fiery, Loompanics Unlimited, POB 1197, Port Townsend WA., 88368; ISBN 1-55950-106-5, 1994; $19.95; 205 pages) by “The Knightmare” provides a good look at the basic tools -- both ideological and technical -- of a hacker.

In the modern world secrets are still protected by walls and metal locks, but now there are also electronic safeguards as well. Most of the modern bureaucratic state and much of the corporate world could not function without information -- electronic dossiers, reports, balance sheets, inventories, etc.. Indeed, the very systems that are basic to electronic communication are themselves dependent upon information (e.g. billing data, links between systems and protocols for exchanging information, switching and routing information). All of this data is protected by several layers of security -- ignorance (if no one knows the information exists nobody will look for it), walls and locks, access codes, passwords and so on.

Inevitably this mountain of data attracts interest -- some of it not sanctioned by the owners of said information. There are many reasons why people try to get into such computer systems -- revenge, corporate/governmental espionage, theft of services or goods, investigations by agencies or individuals, as well as the old stand-by, curiosity. And as the cliché tells us, curiosity killed the felix domesticus. (Curiosity is currently either a misdemeanor or a felony, butnot yet a capital offense.) The popular media image of the hacker as vicious kaot and wrecker is one definition of that curiosity, but there are others. In the introduction to “Secrets,” Gareth Branwyn sketches the various popular images of the hacker (Independent Scientist, Cowboy, Terrorist, Hero, etc.) and how they do -- and don't -- fit reality. After this short discourse, The Knightmare takes us into the hacker's world.

The first section, "Before The Hack," covers a lot of the basics including the motivations of hackers. There is a serviceable introduction to the basics of computers for neophytes, and a brief history of hacking from the early days of the "Youth International Party Line" (YIPL) and *phrack* up to the present. He then shows some basic methods for researching a target, ranging from the standard perusal of garbage ("dumpster-diving") to more technical methods of trying to read damaged and discarded floppy disks. (People worried about government agents obtaining data from disks might pay heed to this section.) The Knightmare discusses the basics of passwords and computer accounts, and some of the different schemes used to try to protect computer systems. Some appendices have related material on common default accounts (an account on a computer is basically an identity on that machine which allows for certain levels of access) and two lengthy lists of common passwords.

The best chapters are on the most reliable methods of gaining access to computers -- "social engineering." Although some information can be gleaned from public sources and documentation, much that is of interest to the unauthorized interloper is not openly publicized. Social engineering is the term applied to the gentle art of coaxing such tidbits out of their possessors. This is probably the most successful strategy for gaining entry, and The Knightmare does a good job of explaining how to persuade people you've never met to tell you things about their computers and/or companies; he even provides some simple role-playing scenarios for practice. The basic idea is simple: make the person you are talking with believe that you are a legitimate user of the system. Being able to mention people and procedures that are known helps establish a familiarity as well as authenticating you. Although many companies try to remind employees not to hand out any information to people that they don't know, the course of daily business in a large company often involves taking others (even unknown people) at face value. As with more ordinary computer security measures (strict permissions about who can run which programs, or see data, etc.), the tighter the guard, the more constraining it is. If it becomes too much of a restraint, people will begin to circumvent the security measures so they can get their jobs done; this can leave the company less well protected than it was in the first place. With the more obvious security holes in computers plugged, this technique continues to strike fear into the hearts of computer security people everywhere.

The Knightmare also looks at the more difficult -- and more useful -- technique of "reverse social engineering," in which you persuade your target to call you when they develop a problem with their system. Examples might include posting business cards with your "company" name and phone number, perhaps along with a (possibly forged) note recommending your services. Because they call you, they are much more likely to entrust you with information they might otherwise balk at handing out (such as passwords). Of course, if they never have a problem they won't call, so this technique requires either great patience or active intervention. He has a list of five general categories of such non-permanent sabotage (e.g. setting obscure switches on a terminal or modem to keep it from working normally; changing certain parameters that most users don't know about, or installing lots of (non-destructive) programs into the computer's memory so it slows down or won't run other programs). This is paired with a warning -- in keeping with the hacker ethic of not doing damage to a computer -- that these measures mustn't be truly harmful. As with its cousin, reverse social engineering strikes at the trust and confidence co-workers have for each other.

He also discusses more traditional methods of computer intrusion, including guessing passwords (what are the subject's interests, etc.) and brute force approaches to getting passwords. He discusses several methods of purloining accounts, such as those issued by computer science classes to enrolled students. Although often limited in what they can do, they can provide a starting point for a more determined attempt at getting the hacker's grail -- the password for the "root" or "superuser" account which allows one unlimited control over the machine's operations. Other chapters discuss the use of programs ("Trojan horses") which deceive the innocent user into parting with his/her account name and passwords. Although there are many variants, they all involve presenting a screen which looks exactly the screen a user usually sees when logging onto a computer; hopefully any differences in behavior will not be noted, or won't be noticed until it's too late. Such methods can be used in both public (bulletin board systems -- BBSs -- or computers for general use in a school or company) and private computers. There's also a section on setting up a fake BBS that collects passwords from known persons. This depends on a known foible of computer users -- they tend to use the same password on all the computer systems they work with. Hence, if one of these people has an account on a computer that the hacker is interested in, the chance that the password will work on both machines is quite high. BBSs are targets of hacking as well. Among other tidbits to be gleaned might be the spoor of other hackers, either through finding their tools on site (such as a Trojan horse) or by finding underground BBSs for/by hackers. He makes some good points of etiquette on such boards. He also has some points about running one's own BBS.

Another chapter covers the basics of what to do while inside a site (or a computer) and copious hints on ways of getting out of limited user accounts into more interesting sections of a computer. A good starting point is to learn the basic commands for that type of computer and to exploit known problems with certain types of software. He keeps these sections moving by not burdening the reader with lots of jargon or technical procedures, which keeps these sections moving. The tradeoff is that he doesn't usually give concrete examples. (This is mitigated by a list of common commands for major operating systems in an appendix.) There is an interesting section on getting purloined information from where it’s captured to your own machine. For instance, when a Trojan horse is employed, it collects account names and passwords. You could just send it by electronic mail to yourself (assuming that the target machine can communicate with other computers), but this is similar to breaking into an office, photocopying documents, putting them in an envelope and leaving it the office's outgoing mail; great if it works, but if anybody notices you've given away your identity. Several different approaches are outlined, including hiding or disguising files, transmitting short messages one bit at a time and other tricks of the trade.

An entire section of the book is about how not to get caught even if you are detected. There are tips on using portable computers (almost mandatory for the modern hacker), a discussion of the types of laws that apply to hacking (ranging from trespass to larceny to criminal conspiracy) and his version of the hacker ethic (never harm or alter any computer system, don't profit unfairly, inform system managers about their vulnerabilities, etc.). He gives an example of himself at work, having been invited by the director of a library to try to hack the new computer system. He illustrates how the various techniques shown in the book help him to break into the system, and how his actions reflected his ethics.

There are some omissions -- The Knightmare doesn't discuss sophisticated systems, such as the network of computer networks known as The Internet, or such arcane approaches to hacking as using devices called "sniffers" which show data as it is transmitted, nor does he consider more sophisticated protection schemes used to verify that both parties are in fact who they purport to be. He does a good job on the basics (which are probably more than your average computer security type would like you to know). It's unlikely that law enforcement people will be amused/diverted by any claim of ethics by hackers, nor are all hackers likely to share such beliefs. Still, The Knightmare may help to de-demonize the mythical hacker, and wise people up to the biggest vulnerability in any system -- its users.

3½ . Recommended reading for the curious, the wanna-bes, the watchdogs, and all who want to know about the real activities of a hacker.

--Primitivo Morales

Stretching natural resources to their limit… for you!

Processed World on Shell in Nigeria.

The Nigerian military dictatorship murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists in early November. Fake murder charges have failed to disguise their real "crime": organizing the Ogoni people to demand a cleanup of the ecologically devastated Niger River delta (football field-sized pools of waste oil litter the landscape with the consequential cancer and health epidemic in their wake), and to demand that Shell Oil compensate the Ogoni people for the $30 billion of oil pumped from their lands since 1958.

General Abacha, head of the military junta, has become a billionaire through control of oil revenues, and his colleagues at Shell, Chevron, Mobil, Elf-Aquitaine and AGIP have propped up his corrupt regime against massive civil unrest and opposition.

In spring 1994, the two Nigerian oil workers’ unions struck against the inept and corrupt management of the Nigerian oil industry, but also to bring down the generals in favor of the elected Moshood Abiola. According to David Bacon’s PNS article, "The strike paralyzed most of Nigerian industry. Gov’t. losses in oil revenues were calculated at $34 million per day. Gov’t. workers walked out on strike in support. In Nigerian cities, students and others built barricades blocking roads and were brutally dispersed by troops... air traffic controllers joined the strike. The European oil corporations cut production to 60% of normal in sympathy with the strikes, while Shell maintained its regular volume."

But San Francisco-based CHEVRON, and New York-based MOBIL flew in additional foreign workers to keep the oil flowing from their wells and increased production to 120%. Their operations guaranteed continued income, and saved the life of the Abacha military regime... The strike produced windfall profits, when shortages raised the price of light crude oil from $14 to $20 per barrel.

When the generals moved to crush the strike, they arrested oil workers union leaders and have held them without charges or trial ever since. These men, Wariebi Agamene, Frank Kokori, Francis A. Addo and Fidelis Aidelomon are all in danger of summary execution. Appeals are being made to the U.S. government to freeze the assets of the Nigerian generals and companies, and to put U.S. oil payments to Nigeria in escrow.” Bank of America with ties to Chevron, and Citibank with ties to Mobil are being targeted also.

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Thanks to Gar Smith at Earth Island Institute (300 Broadway, #28, SF 94133, 415-788-3666) for getting this information to us quickly.

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Pscycle-Analyst, c/o 41 Sutter St. #1829, SF, CA 94104

Sweetness and power

Fred Gardner on American society and sweet snacks.

One out of 10 meals purchased from a restaurant this year will be consumed in a car. When snacks from convenience stores are included, the incidence of eating-while-driving may be as high as one in six meals, according to a marketing survey reported in the Wall Street Journal. "Consumers are very proud when they use time more efficiently," says consultant Gary Steibel of Westport, Conn. Burger King is testing "a new pocket-like sandwich wrapper that is easier to pick up and put down -- a benefit in stop-and-go traffic..." Steve Barnett, an anthropologist and principal with Global Business Network, which tracks consumer behavior (and former director of product planning for Nissan North America) says some people today get upset if their commute is too short because it's the only time they have to themselves. “Work is hectic, home is hectic, but the car is always quiet.” he says.

Some behavioral experts say the urge to eat in the car may run even deeper. People need to balance their sensory stimulation, says Michael T. Marsden, a dean at Northern Michigan University who has done extensive research on car culture in America... “Some industry experts think the car companies will eventually come around to equipping cars for mealtime." Drive through windows now account for 55% of the business in restaurants where they’re available. "French fries are eminently eatable in the car," says a McDonald's spokesperson. Guess he doesn't use much ketchup.

In Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz shows how capitalism has undermined the social quality of eating as well as the nutritional content of what we eat. The diet of Scottish working people (who, until the mid-18th century were mainly agricultural workers), was based on porridge and milk. When the workers were driven off the land, they switched to bread with butter and tea with sugar. "The jute industry provided opportunities for female labour, so that many housewives went out to work in Dundee. When the mother is at work there is not time to prepare porridge or broth..."

Mintz adds, "Sweetened preserves (more than 50% sugar), which could be left standing indefinitely without spoiling ;and without refrigeration, which were cheap and appealing to children, and which tasted better than more costly butter with store-purchased bread, outstripped or replaced porridge, much as tea had replaced milk and home-brewed beer. In practice, the convenience foods freed the wage-earning wife from one or even two meal preparations per day, meanwhile providing large numbers of calories to all her family. Hot tea (with sugar) often replaced hot meals for children off the job, as well as for adults on the job." At the start of the 19th century, sugar accounted for 2 percent of the total calories in Scottish workers' diet. By the end of the century it was more than 14 percent.

The trend continues worldwide, with simple carbohydrates (sucrose) replacing complex carbohydrate (starches) wherever workers have been driven off the land (everywhere). "Together with the sugar increases come remarkable increase in the consumption of fats," according to Mintz. In the US the consumption of sugar as a proportion of carbohydrates has doubled in this century. The total daily average per capita consumption of complex carbohydrates fell from about 350 grams to about 180 grams between 1910 and 1970, while the consumption of fat increased by 25 percent. With further increase in recent years, the typical American is now consuming three-quarters of a pound of fat and sugar per day.

The way we live now is characterized by "desocialized eating," says Mintz. "Choices to be made about eating -- when, where, what, how much, how quickly -- are now made with less reference to fellow eaters, and within ranges predetermined, on the one hand, by food technology and, on the other, by what are perceived as time constraints. The experience of time in modern society is often one of an insoluble shortage, and the perception may be essential to the smooth functioning of an economic system based on the principle of ever-expanding consumption." Mintz's brilliant

study provides data that debunks the myth of progress and the myth that capitalism promotes "family values."

-- Fred Gardner

reprinted from the Anderson Valley Advertiser

(POB 459,Boonville, CA 95415)

The Faceless Face of the New Mexican Revolution

Chris Carlsson analyses the EZLN and the role of their leader, Marcos, for Processed World magazine.

“The hope that flowers that die elsewhere, will flourish here.”
—Subcomandante Marcos, Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Mexico, August 1994
“When their sufferings, their tortures, their deprivation under their masters grew so intolerable that they came to the realization that it was better and more worthy of their human dignity to perish in a revolution than to live longer under such humiliations and torments, then they took action... firmly and decisively in order to make an end at last —either an end to their own lives, or an end to the lives of their tyrants.”
(General From the Jungle, by B. Traven, describing the oppressed Indians in Southern Mexico in the 1920s)

Eastern Europe’s velvet revolutions, inspired by the dissident poets, playwrights and writers of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary, have already grown dusty, passing into our memories as bright spots of optimism in the otherwise gloomy trajectory for human freedom. But the creative spirit that animated those revolutionary moments has reappeared in a new and distinctly Mexican form. Suddenly, surprisingly, and without any hint of its forthcoming, poetic revolution is rising in Mexico.
The brilliantly eloquent attacks on the system by the Zapatista National Liberation Army from behind the guns of revolution has accelerated the decomposition of the long-incumbent government party. The fissures in the one-party state and its crucial partner, the media monopoly of the Azcárraga group, have been artfully used to bring revolutionary arguments to the public’s attention. La Jornada, El Financiero, Proceso magazine, and El Tiempo of San Cristobal de Las Casas have published the wildly entertaining communiques of the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional), largely written by the now famous Subcomandante Marcos, the mysterious masked poet and “public relations specialist” of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Poetic and evocative, his appeals for the Jeffersonian ideals of democracy, liberty, and justice within a strong Mexican nationalism, along with a bevy of demands seeking to halt the economic rape of Chiapas, strike a chord with people across Mexico.
Marcos gives numbers in an semi-allegorical story written in 1992: “Of the 3.5 million people in Chiapas, 2/3 live and die in the countryside. Half of the people do not have potable water, and two-thirds have no sewage systems. Ninety percent of the people in rural areas have little or no income... Only one third of all Chiapan houses have electricity, and the state produces 55% of Mexico’s hydroelectric power, as well as 20% of Mexico’s electricity.”
A decade is a long time these days. The Zapatista core militants who moved to the jungle in 1984 (including, presumably, sup Marcos) may have carried a romantic vision of leading an heroic revolution. But ten years organizing and working among the profoundly democratic indigenous people of the Chiapas highlands has apparently led to a healthy resistance to leader worship among the EZLN.
In Love & Rage, August 1994, Marcos defined the Zapatista concept of democracy as direct, not representative, democracy. This often produces days of discussion and consultation before a vote is taken, but the process is deeply rooted in the Zapatista base communities. “You’re voting for your life or death as an organization... You can’t leave decisions of this magnitude to a group of leaders no matter how collective they are or how large the group is. Not even the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee can decide these things.” [Marcos]
The Zapatistas pay attention to the world situation and learn from it. These are not isolated, self-referential zealots. They’ve seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, the failure of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the stalemate and defeats in El Salvador and Guatemala, the tireless U.S. squeeze on Cuba as it struggles under its own authoritarian structures, the Chinese nightmare. Mexico, too, was largely industrialized by its state-run economy, similarly to the Soviet bloc. Like the anti-Bolshevik left of the 1910’s, the Zapatistas seek a bottom-up form of direct democracy. Authoritarian solutions are considered counterproductive and anti-human.
The Zapatistas are less bent on seizing power than they are in breaking down the authoritarian social relations which have frozen Mexican politics for so long. They don’t demand that they become the new leaders, but that a radical democracy comes to life. The EZLN understands that a healthy society has a democratic space in which the direction of society can be truly debated, various needs and perspectives can be accommodated, and so on. In Love & Rage Marcos explains: “...this revolution will only be a first step... We are proposing a space, an equilibrium between the different political forces in order that each position has the same opportunity to influence the political direction of this country—not by backroom deals, corruption or blackmail, but by convincing the majority of the people that their position is best... We are talking about a democratic space where the political parties, or groups that aren’t parties, can air and discuss their social proposals.”
Marcos himself speaks in favor of a peaceful path to serious change, and sees no role for an armed soldier as a leader of a peaceful social movement, hence the EZLN’s early August decision to “step aside for a while, but not disappear.” Moreover, the EZLN has radically broadened the revolutionary campaign.
The Zapatista call for a peaceful transition to real democracy led by a broad-based movement of “civil society” echoes the same call by the Charter 77 group in Czechoslovakia, or Solidarity in Poland, groups that also squared off against one-party states. Civil society is precisely what is diminished under a one-party dictatorship. Such regimes cannot handle the give and take of politics, public debate and criticism, and do their best to provide the questions and answers for everyone, while buying off dissent whenever possible. At the least, an engaged civil society acts as a check on untrammeled abuse of power.†
Civil society is made up of the vibrant networks of daily life that seek to determine their own fate. As civil society develops in the shadow of an authoritarian regime, it begins to undermine the ruling structure and lay the basis for a new kind of life. Eventually the dictatorship begins to rot from within, lacking any animating purpose beyond the knee-jerk exercise and retention of power for its own sake and its associated pecuniary rewards. Also, as society becomes more industrialized and complex, a clunky top-down administrative structure becomes a hindrance, which is part of the explanation for the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Even modern capitalism works at its best with the enthusiastic, self-managed participation of its cogs, not through old-style coercion.
In armed defense of their own dignity, the Tzotzils, Tzeltals, Tojolabals and Choles and others in the EZLN have addressed their political attention to the form of the state, questions of autonomy and self-determination, equality and participation. As a largely indigenous army, we expect the special demands of local populations to be an urgent part of their agenda. In fact, point nine of the EZLN’s rejection/rebuttal to the government’s peace proposal emphasized the demands for a radio station broadcasting in each of the local languages, run by the indigenous people themselves. They demanded a full course of free public education for all; that all languages be granted official status, with instruction in each language mandatory in the schools; that all cultures and traditions be respected; that all discrimination and racism be ended; “cultural, political and judicial autonomy” be granted; respect for the right to freedom and a dignified life for the indigenous communities; economic and social support for indigenous women. Interest-ingly, these are not the most traditional indigenous communites. The strongest Zapatista towns are ethnically heterodox and have been for several generations due to the century-long invasion of the market, exploiting Chiapas’s natural resources. (See “Why Chiapas? Why Now? sidebar)

The Marcos Mystique

May 1994: “Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, Asian in Europe, Chicano in San Ysidro, Anarchist in Spain, Palestinian in Israel, Indigenous in the streets of San Cristóbal, bad boy in Nezahuacoyotl, rocker in CU, Jew in Germany, ombudsman in the Sedena, feminist in political parties, communist in the post-Cold War era, prisoner in Cintalapa, pacifist in Bosnia, Mapuche in the Andes, teacher in the CNTE, artist without gallery or portfolio, housewife on any given Saturday night in any neighborhood of any city of any Mexico, guerrillero in Mexico at the end of the 20th century, striker in the CTM, reporter assigned to filler stories for the back pages, sexist in the feminist movement, woman alone in the metro at 10 p.m., retired person in plantón in the Zocalo, campesino without land, fringe editor, unemployed worker, doctor without a practice, rebellious student, dissident in neoliberalism, writer without books or readers, and, to be sure, Zapatista in the Mexican southeast. In sum, Marcos is a human being, any human being, in this world. Marcos is all the minorities who are untolerated, oppressed, resisting, exploding, saying “Enough.” All the minorities at the moment they begin to speak and the majorities at the moment they fall silent and put up with it. All the untolerated people searching for a word, their word, which will return the majority to the eternally fragmented, us; all that makes power and good consciences uncomfortable, that is Marcos. You’re welcome, gentlemen of the secret police, I am here to serve you... with lead.”
—Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

Marcos’ role within the EZLN is difficult to define. He claims to be subordinate to the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee, Central Command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which is led by Commandante Tacho, Commandante Ramona, and other indigenous leaders, many of whom speak little, if any Spanish. During the 30 hour press bus ride to the National Democratic Convention (CND—its Spanish acronym) in Chiapas on August 7, 1994, many jokes were made about making a pilgrimage to visit St. Marcos and other allusions to his cult star status. It’s very hard not to see in Marcos the roots of the cult of personality that has sprung up around other revolutionaries.
He adeptly at presents the EZLN case to modern media, even appearing on the Internet a couple of days after the January 1st uprising. He stays focused on a basic message: democracy, liberty, justice, and dignity. His ski-mask is an alluring and mysterious trademark, attracting as much erotic interest as political; a 60-Minutes interviewee compared him to Zorro or Robin Hood in his appeal as defender of the downtrodden. His media skills appeared spontaneously when an Italian journalist just happened to be in San Cristobal de las Casas on January 1st. He went up to Marcos and asked him for an interview and Marcos went off to seek permission from his commanders, which they granted.
Marcos and the EZLN use the iconography of guerrilla revolution to attract the heat-seeking press, but use that attention to assert rights on behalf of a civil society in which no group or class exercises dominant power. The Zapatistas refuse to pit a new totalizing truth against the false totality promoted by the state and its mouthpieces. Marcos and his associates become spectacle-busters, breaking down the assumptions that conveniently accompany any “box” the media erects around you. By emphasizing the plurality of opposition and refusing to occupy the “center,” the Zapatistas have initiated a rebellion which escapes the hierarchical trajectory of other uprisings.
The grassroots use of new media like e-mail and satellite-phones puts the Zapatistas in a different information sphere than previous revolutionaries. They challenge the assumption that you cannot subvert the mass media, but if they are silenced by violence their appearance will ultimately become grist for the spectacular media’s mill. Even though their use of new technologies has given them an undiluted revolutionary voice unique in the modern era, their appearance and role as objects of media attention still tends to reinforce the hold of the spectacle itself. The Zapatistas have been more successful than any other insurgency in getting their own version of reality out over the media, but that very communication process is fraught with perilous contradictions, paradoxes that no one can control in the end.
Marcos has been identified as the military strategist of the EZLN and admitted to studying U.S. military manuals along with the stories of Pancho Villa and Zapata during the past 10 years of organizing the guerrilla army in the mountains. Military conquests, even those with revolutionary intentions, have often led to a new authoritarianism, sometimes worse than its predecessor, making it is easy to balk at the militarism of the resistance in Chiapas. But when you consider the extreme brutality of the local oligarchy and military occupiers, an armed response seems only logical and frankly, necessary.
The resistance to the barbaric tortures routinely carried out by the U.S. and U.S.-trained militaries was palpable among the Zapatista troops we met. Though we were frisked and checked at least three or four times as we got closer to the actual convention area, the searchers always seemed a bit uncomfortable with their role, with having to intrude on other people’s privacy like that.
The EZLN is a departure from traditional leftist insurgencies. After a 12-day war, the EZLN participated in a month-long dialogue with the Mexican government, arriving at a series of government proposals. They then retired to their mountains to poll each community on the proposals, which led to a sound rejection by early June. In a June 10 communiqué, the EZLN offered a detailed critique of the government’s proposals, concluding in most cases that they were only offering more studies, more “projects,” and more lies. Most government proposals sought to isolate the problem and the response to specific areas in Chiapas, rather than applying them to the entire country as the EZLN demanded. Moreover, the national demands regarding the resignation of the Salinas government, repudiation of all debts, cancellation of NAFTA and so on, were completely ignored.
The EZLN then called for a national democratic convention to organize civil society to combat the one-party state of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Six thousand delegates, some more democratically selected than others, mostly leftist, converged on San Cristóbal de las Casas on August 6, 1994 to convene in pursuit of an authentic Mexican democracy.

The National Democratic Convention at Aguascalientes, Chiapas August 1994

A ghostly white revival tent rose out of a gulley in the mountains near the Guatemalan border in the Lacandón jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. A place with no name, it was christened “Aguas-calientes”* by the EZLN army that built it. Beneath the tent a cross-section of Mexican civil society, from hardline leftist parties to squatter groups, human rights monitors and electoral gradualists, gathered at the call of the EZLN because “it is our absurd wish to have a civil movement in dialogue with an armed movement.” Intellectuals and famous writers mingled with peasant leaders from Guerrero and Michoacán, politicians, hippies, artists, journalists, activists of every stripe met and discussed the possibilities for peaceful resistance.
Steeped in the magic realism of contemporary Latin American authors like Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, and others, the Zapatistas manufactured a mythologically resonant convention center named after an historical antecedent. In his remarks, Marcos described this tidy, well-designed jungle clearing (shaded by a huge white tarp draped over a very long steel cable strung across the canyon), as a “Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, Fitzcarraldo’s jungle boat, a neozapatista delirium, a pirate ship.”
But it was real, an amazing logistical feat. The EZLN spent a solid month building Aguascalientes [all for the recovery of] “old and spent words: democracy, liberty, justice.”
“Before Aguascalientes, we said that yes, it was crazy, that since we opened fire and donned skimasks, we could hardly call a national meeting on the eve of elections and have it work out... Do you want a mirror?” Marcos asked the assembled delegates.
The mythological Aguascalientes ark floated in the green ocean that first day under the blistering sun, tempers and tensions rising, years of pent-up sectarian rage between leftist sects seethed below the surface, contentious caucuses met in clusters around the campground, but finally all were riveted by the arrival of the EZLN Command, Comman-dante Tacho and Subcommandante Marcos. The show began when Tacho introduced the Zapatista support communities, the men and women, boys and girls who sustained the EZLN in their clandestine struggle. The weatherbeaten people of the southern Chiapan mountains marched by three and four-abreast, as thousands cheered. Then Marcos welcomed all the “delegates, guests, observers, journalists, sponges, nutcases, gatecrashers, spooks and lost souls” with an egalitarian flourish, reporting that the official count had determined that there was “a fuck of a lot” of people there, and so for the press, the official attendance for the event was “a fuck of a lot [un chingo].”
A parade of motley Zapatista troops, not really an army but a militia of local farmers and diverse revolutionaries from all over, marched past. The old weapons and sticks of the troops were nearly as poignant as the lone Chinese protestor who stood in front of a row of tanks during Tiananmen Square on live international TV. The EZLN vetoed the presence of a number of large Mexican media outlets at the CND on the grounds that they were propaganda organs of the state. In a post-convention article in the August 10 Reforma of Mexico City it was reported that the delegates to the convention had voted 3 to 1 in favor of allowing all media organs to come, but this was overridden by the EZLN. They also disallowed satellite transmission from the event, preventing any “live” TV feeds creeping into anyone’s news, ostensibly to level the field for journalists from both large and small outfits. Also, as Marcos maintained in the post-convention press conference, the EZLN would not be complicit in the manufacturing of false news, which, they argued convincingly, was the major product of the large Mexican TV networks.
In his CND speech, Marcos spoke against vanguardism and the typical leadership role of leftist revolutionaries: “we say to everyone that we do not want nor can we occupy the place that some hope we will, the place from which emanate all the opinions, all the routes, all the answers, all the truths—we won’t do it.” In fact, the self-proclaimed National Democratic Convention was in many respects not very democratic, and Marcos emphasized this when he admonished the assembled delegates to understand that they wouldn’t earn the right to claim themselves representative of the nation as a result of a vote or even a consensus. They still had to earn it directly “in the slums, the ejidos [communal lands], the neighborhoods, the indigenous communities, the schools and universities, the factories, the offices, the science labs, the artistic and cultural centers, in every corner of this country.”
“And before Aguascalientes we said that you couldn’t oppose the celebration of the National Democratic Convention because that is precisely what it would be, a celebration, the celebration of broken fear, of the first tentative step of offering the nation an “Enough Already!”, not only in the voice of the indigenous peasants, but one that adds up, that multiplies, that reproduces, that wins, that can be the celebration of a discovery: that we know we don’t have the habit of losing, and already can imagine the possibility of victory for our side...
“For this thousands of men and women with masked faces, the vast majority indigenous, built this tower, the tower of hope, and so we will step aside, for a while, our guns and anger, our pain for our dead, our commitment to war, our armed past. We constructed this place for a meeting that if it comes out well will be the first step in eliminating us as an alternative. We built this place to host a meeting which if it fails will oblige us again to go forward with war, the right of everyone to a place in history.” [emphasis added]
The Zapatistas are hardly an imposing military force. By embracing the embryonic organization of civil society as gathered in the CND, they’ve cleverly broadened their own political strength by solidly linking it with oppositional groups throughout the country. More-over, by participating in the process with civil society, the EZLN managed to isolate the hard-line traditional left, while ensuring their participation. When asked what the EZLN would tell other armed groups in Mexico, Marcos explained at a press conference the next day that they felt these groups were mature enough to realize that they should not rise up violently against the people, and that Mexican civil society needed time to consolidate itself in pursuit of a peaceful transition to democracy.
In his CND speech, Marcos invoked “la patria” as the best answer to a military patrol’s query: “who goes there?!” This kind of nationalism is fraught with brutal contradictions, especially when ostensibly defending the rights of indigenous communities. His ardent invocation of Mexican nationalism made me consider the power and function of the flag and homeland as political motivation. On one hand, by using these symbols Marcos was reclaiming them from the corrupt PRI-dominated state and its apparati, previously the only “legitimate” claimant to them. The EZLN also places itself on an equal footing with the state, and makes clear that the Mexican state is considered an oppressor from elsewhere. But the sordid history of nationalism, still spilling its guts on our front pages and TV screens every night, gives me little enthusiasm for this symbolic choice.
Queried on the role of nationalism by the anti-nationalists of Love & Rage, Marcos rejects the typical anarchist argument against nationalism and explains: “When we speak of the nation we are necessarily speaking of a history of common struggle with historical references that make us brothers to one group of people without distancing us from other groups... We believe that it is possible to have the same Mexico with a different project, a project that recognizes that it is a multi-ethnic state—in fact, multi-national.”
Some demands made in the dialogue with the government seem really naive, like “decent jobs with fair salaries for all rural and urban workers throughout the Mexican republic... the Federal Labor Law shall be applied to rural and urban workers, complete with bonuses, benefits, vacations, and the real right to strike,” coupled with the call “to halt the plunder of our Mexico and above all of Chiapas.” There are no examples of full employment in a thriving capitalist economy, and certainly none where natural resource exploitation isn’t a major employment category. The implications of a radically different form of economic life aren’t really examined in Zapatista literature. Certainly the capitalist order doesn’t meet their demands.
In keeping with the magic realism which seemed to hover over the whole event, after Marcos finished his speech, he gave the symbolic national flag to the president of the presidium, Rosario Ibarra, long-time activist for the disappeared in Mexico (including her own son). She gave a rousing speech, and within minutes a torrential downpour descended. Everyone scrambled for cover, many under the large tarp hanging overhead. Then the wildly gusting winds and rain brought down the tarp on everyone’s head, just moments after the electricity went out and everything went dark. Thousands of delegates, observers and journalists were soaked within five minutes, only a few hundred escaping to the relatively dry cabins built by the EZLN. After a few minutes of near panic and rapid regrouping, people gradually found their way through the night, and got up with the sun to dry off and finish the convention. The rain, completely normal in that region, was a problem only for the many middle-class urban attendees. The many campesinos and indigenes were accustomed to it and actually enjoyed the way the rain was a big equalizer: A Chol indian camped next to us under the press platform told us the next morning “we are all equal” under the rain. It also cooled off a lot of tempers which had been flaring earlier during the convention and its numerous meetings. By mid-day, most of the 6000 people had packed up, leaving behind a substantial pile of tents, sleeping bags, goods of all sorts, and money, and were headed back to San Cristóbal de las Casas, marvelling at the unlikelihood of a peaceful national convention staged by a guerrilla army in its liberated territory going so well.

After the Elections

Unsurprisingly, the ruling party’s candidate Ernesto Zedillo “won” the presidential election of August 21, 1994. Prior to the election many observers questioned the accuracy of the polls which predicted another PRI victory, and assumed that the only way they would win again would be through massive fraud. The Convention itself, held just two weeks before the election, endorsed a peaceful transition to democracy, but by doing so reinforced the popular focus on the election. By declaring its intention to organize civil disobedience and stoppages in the event of “fraud” the convention narrowed its short-term agenda in a way that seems to have undercut the momentum it established, since the election “fraud” was achieved differently than the obvious theft of ballots and ballot box stuffing utilized in 1988 and earlier.
This time the PRI just bought it outright: payments were given to peasants in hundreds of small towns, promising that there would be no more such payments in the event of a PRI loss. This was backed up by coercive threats regarding burial plots in cemeteries (controlled by the local PRI politicians), school enrollments and so on. The Civic Alliance, the grassroots monitoring group created to oversee the election’s cleanliness, reported that 34% of voters were not able to cast their ballots secretly (NY Times 8/25/94). Meanwhile, the media monopoly controlling the major TV networks covered the PRI campaign at a ratio of 5 or 6 to 1 compared to the other parties, and the PRI and its wealthy supporters spent millions more than any other party promoting their slate.
Considering the financial and media advantages enjoyed by the ruling PRI and the still widespread illiteracy in rural Mexico, it’s not surprising that they managed to grind out another machine victory. But another contributing factor was the wooden and uninspiring leadership of Cuauhtémoc Cardenas (son of the famous Mexican president who nationalized the oil industry in 1938), head of the popular left opposition, the Revolutionary Democratic Party (Spanish initials: PRD), who didn’t inspire much confidence and just didn’t get that much electoral support. Mexicans, like their counterparts in Europe and the U.S., just wouldn’t vote for a vague statist alternative that recent history showed would be a failure, and played it safe by voting for the status quo (the known evil), or the right wing National Action Party (PAN). In fact, none of the contenders really promised a major break with the current direction of Mexican economic policy, and a lot of Mexicans weren’t ready to abandon entirely the meager patronage benefits that occasionally trickle out of the PRI machine. On the other hand, a 50% vote for a 65-year incumbent party with a long-entrenched patronage machine doesn’t look all that good either. Clearly its sway is diminishing.
The Zapatistas have called for civil disobedience, and there have been some demonstrations in Mexico City and Chiapas opposing the skewed results (especially in Chiapas, where the PRI gubernatorial candidate won handily over a popular opposition candidate, even though the PRI is so widely hated that no one can believe the results... in Zapatista-controlled territory, the leftist PRD won 78% of the vote). But the demise of Mexico’s one-party state is still in the future. How far, remains to be seen. The grassroots movements in Mexico share a predicament with grassroots movements everywhere. How do we clarify our vision, and then pursue it with new creativity and resources that exist among our day-to-day communities? How do we move beyond the parochialism of local issues and tactics to confront broader national and even international issues? How do we overcome well-armed, brutal repression?
— Chris Carlsson
See "Why Chiapas? Why Now?"
an interview with historian Antonio Garcia de Leon

The Zapatistas: An ecological revolution? John Ross

John Ross writes for Processed World on the environmental views of the Zapatistas.

Somewhere in the Lacandon Jungle, Chiapas: The roots of the rebel Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) have long been intertwined with the roots of what remains of the Lacandon rainforest. The Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Tzotzil and Chol indigenous farmers who now form the core of the EZLN first came to the Lacandon as part of the great stream of settlers that poured into the forest 30 years ago. According to sociologists their long struggle to remain in the region, despite the objections of environmentalists dedicated to preserving the integrity of this unique lowland tropical jungle, have shaped the demands and the militancy of the Zapatista Army. Now, as tensions between the Zapatistas and the Mexican government ratchet up, environmentalists fear renewed hostilities could do irrevocable damage to the rainforest.

When the European invaders first reached this paradisical region in 1530, they literally could not find the forest for the trees. The rainforest extended from the Yucatan peninsula southwest, blending with the Gran Petan of Guatemala at the Usumacinta river, a swatch of jungle matched in the New World only by the Amazon basin. The Lacandon region was a three million acre wilderness of pristine rivers and lakes, its canopy teeming with Quetzales and Guacamayas under which lived ocelots and jaguars, herds of wild boar and tapir, and the Indians who gave the forest its name. The first Lacandones and the Spanish interlopers fought a guerrilla war that did not end until the Indians did - by 1769, there were just five elderly Lacandoes left living outside a mission on the Guatemalan bank of the Usumacinta.

The story of the Lacandon jungle is one of massacres, both of Indians and trees, relates Jan De Vos, the San Cristobal-based historian of the Chiapas rainforest. Soon after Chiapas won its independence from Guatemala and Spain, expeditions were sent to explore the "Desert (jungle) of Ocosingo" - De Vos uses its more poetic name "the Desert of Solitude" - all the way to the juncture of its great rivers, the Jacate and the Usumacinta. Timber merchants soon learned how to move logs on the rivers, and priceless mahogany and cedar groves began to fall. By the turn of the century the jungle was seething with logging camps - monterias - in which the Mayan Indians, gangpressed in Ocosingo, were chained to their axes and hanged from the trees. The conditions in the monterias were exposed to the world in the 1920s in a series of novels by the German anarchist writer Bruno Traven.

Foreign investors bought up huge chunks of the jungle - the Marquis of Comillas, a Spanish nobleman, still lends his name to a quarter of the forest. In the 1950s, Vancouver Plywood, a U.S. wood products giant, bought up a million acres of the Lacandon through Mexican proxy companies, and made another dent in the forest. The Mexican government later cancelled all foreign concessions and installed its own logging enterprise, initialed COFALASA, which took 10,000 virgin mahogany and cedar trees out of the heart of the Lacandon every year for a decade.

The settlers began to stream into the forest in the 1950s, boosted by government decrees that deemed the Lacandon apt for colonization. Choles, pushed out of Palanque, settled on the eastern flanks of the forest. Tzotzil Mayans from the highlands, expelled from landpoor communities like San Juan Chamula under the pretext of their conversion to Protestantism, arrived in the west of the Lacandon, as did landless Tzeltales and Tojolabales, newly freed from virtual serfdom on the great fincas (haciendas) of Comitan and Las Margaritas. In 1960 the Mexican government declared the Lacandon jungle the "Southern Agrarian Frontier" and non-Mayans joined the exodus into the forest. Oaxacan Mixes displaced from their communal lands by government dams, campesinos from Veracruz uprooted by the cattle ranching industry, and landless mestizos from the central Mexican states of Guerrero and Michoacan all pushed through Ocosingo, Las Margaritas and Altamirando, on their way down to the canyons - Las Canadas - towards the heart of the forest. The land rush narrowed the dimensions of the Lacandon and upeed its population considerably. In 1960 the municipality of Ocosingo had a population of 12,000 - the 1990 census was 250,000.

The new settlers were not kind to the forest. Infused with pioneer spirit, the campesinos cut the forest without mercy to charter and extend their ejidos (rural communal production units). Other settlers were more footloose, aligned themselves with the cattle ranchers, slashed and burned their way into the Lacandon, planted a crop or two, and abandoned the land to a cattle ranching industry fueled by World Bank credits. The zone of Las Canadas, the Zapatista base area, was one of the most devastated by the logging and cattle industries.

Two government decrees sought to brake the flow into the forest but backfired badly. In 1972, President Luis Echeverria turned 645,000 hectares of the jungle over to 66 second-wave Lacandon families and ordered all non-Lacandones evicted - settler communities were leveled by the military. Seeking to crystalize communal organizations that could defend the settlers from being thrown off the land they had wrested from the jungle, San Cristobal de las Casa's liberation Bishop Samuel Ruiz sent priests and lay workers into the region to build campesino organizations such as the Union of Unions, Union Quiptic, and the ARIC - formations from which the Zapatistas arose years later.

Then, in 1978, a new president, Jose Lopez Portillo, added to the turmoil by designating 380,00 hectares at the core of the jungle as the UNESCO-sponsored Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, declaring that all settlers living inside its boundaries must leave. Forty ejidos, twenty-three of them in the Canadas, were threatened. A young EZLN officer, Major Sergio, remembers well the struggle of his family to stay on their land in Montes Azules: "the government would not hear our petitions. We were left with no road except to pick up the gun."

Many Zapatista fighters - the bulk of the fighting force is between 16 and 24 years old - were born into the struggle of their parents to stay in the Lacandon in defiance of the Montes Azules eviction notice. "The first experience the young colonos of Las Canadas had with a factor external to their lives was the pressure brought by environmentalists to preserve the forest," writes sociologist Xochitl Leyva in Ojarasca, a journal of indigenous interests.

A 1989 environmentalist-backed ban on all wood-cutting in the Lacandon also led to resistance and frequent clashes with the newly-created Chiapas forestry patrols. In one of the first EZLN actions, two soldiers, thought to have been confused with forestry patrolmen, were killed in March 1993 near a clandestine sawmill outside San Cristobal.

The EZLN uprising has highlighted the development vs. conservation controversy that has raged in the Lacandon for generations. The EZLN demand that new roads be cut into the region drew immediate objection from the prestigious Group of 100, which, under the pen of poet-ecologist Homero Aridjis, complained the new roads would mean "the death of the Lacandon." The Zapatista demand for land distribution also worries Ignacio March, chief investigator at the Southeast Center for Study and Investigation (CEIS), who fears the jungle will be "subdivided" to accomodate the rebels.

"Ecologists? Who needs them? What we need here is land, work, housing," Major Mario remarked to La Jornada earlier this winter, when questioned about the opposition of the environmental community to EZLN demands.

The June 10th EZLN turndown of the Mexican government's 32-point peace proposal has heightened fears of renewed fighting, a worst-case scenario for ecologists. S. Jeffrey Wilkerson, director of the Veracruz-based Center for Cultural Ecology worries that a military invasion of the Lacandon by the Mexican Army would mean the cutting of many roads into untouched areas, the use of destructive heavy machinery, the detonation of landmines, bombings and devastating forest fires and even oil well blow-outs.

Because of national security considerations, PEMEX, the government petroleum consortium, does not disclose the number of wells it is drilling in the Lacandon - some researchers think there are at least a hundred. From the air, the roads dug between oil platforms scar the jungle floor, and painful bald patches encircle the drilling stations.

One of the Zapatistas' most important contributions to preserving the integrity of the Lacandon was to force 1400 oil workers employed by PEMEX, U.S. Western Oil, and the French Geofisica Corporation to shut down operations and abandon their stations during the early days of the war.

Despite disputes with the environmental community, the EZLN may be one of the most ecologically-motivated armed groups ever to rise in Latin America. The Zapatista Revolutionary Agrarian Law calls for an end to "the plunder of our natural wealth" and protests "the contamination of our rivers and water sources," supports the preservation of virgin forest zones and the reforestation of logged-out areas. The lands they demand, the rebels insist, should not be shorn from the Lacandon but rather stripped from the holdings of large landowners.

The EZLN approach to the forest in which they and their families have lived for decades draws grudging approval from some environmentalists. "Few armed groups have ever included these kinds of demands in their manifestos" comments CIES investigator Miguel Sanchez-Vazquez. Andrew Mutter of the Lacandon preservationist Na'Bolom Institute is also sympathetic to the environmental roots of the EZLN: "this revolution rose from the ashes of a dead forest..."

The art of the purge

Processed World magazine on the purges of political sects.

There comes a time in the course of human events when it becomes necessary to dissolve the bonds of solidarity by the most vicious and vindictive means available. The tighter the bond, the more sacred and exhausted the link is held to be, the more brutal its severing. Thus we have developed the Art of the Purge, the act of ritual banishment.

Marxist sectlets, perhaps because of sheer experience, are the most notable practitioners of the Purge, but they are far from being the only ones. As examples I will present my personal experience of three different purges: a Marxist purge, a feminist purge and, finally, a multi-cultural purge. These purges are classified according to the ideology used to justify them, but it will be seen that the principles underlying them are universal and completely independent of the rubrics and rationales employed.

A true purge has four essential elements: secrecy, illegitimacy, maliciousness and compliance by the victim.

First is secrecy: the purgers operate by stealth and lay a trap for their victim(s), who are usually taken completely by surprise when the ambush is finally sprung. An openly planned expulsion may be messy or mean, but it has an entirely different feel than the covert, bolt-from-the-blue of the true purge.

Second is illegality: the plans of the purgers are made in direct contravention of the group's stated rules and regulations. To some degree this is necessary to preserve secrecy. Mostly it's because the principles of the purge, if they were closely examined, would be revealed as contradictory to the stated goals and standards of the group.

Third is maliciousness: the violence and meanness of the purge guarantee that such an examination will not occur. The payoff of the purge isn't merely getting rid of a deviant, it's the reaffirming of the moral supremacy of the purgers. By casting out the evil one they reassert their own purity. This purity is exhaulted in inverse proportion to the degradation of the purgee. Politely asking the rotten apple to depart won't accomplish this; only the complete demonization and maximally destructive ejection of the victim will do. The survivors can gloat over the misery of the cast-outs as they celebrate their newly re-asserted purity.

[The Spartacist League, those purge connoisseurs, have coined the phrase "biological existence" to describe the presumably empty, apolitical life which must necessarily follow ejection from the fold.]

Finally is compliance: the whole thing won't work without a considerable amount of cooperation from the victim, conscious or otherwise. Usually they really and sincerely believe the ostensible ideology of the group, and to a lesser degree in the honor of their "comrades." Most of all, they have bonded to the group and their self-esteem is largely dependent upon it. They cannot leave without a fight lest they feel entirely dishonored, and don't yet understand that the fight has been so carefully rigged in advance that they haven't a snowball's chance in Hell.

In effect they are bound to the group by ideology, by personal ties (they probably have few social connections outside the cult) and by self image. You might be able to just walk away from a group that contains most of your friends, but it is harder to walk away from your ideal self, from your identity as a Marxist or a feminist or whatever. Purgees are usually left to sort these issues out on their own long after the event.
The classic purgees were the Trotskyists of Stalinist Russia. Hard-working revolutionaries who'd committed their lives to the cause and sacrificed everything to the party were rousted out of bed and, in complete contravention of "party discipline," were tossed into gulags and tortured. Accused of bizarre and obviously imaginary crimes, they were urged to publicly confess -- "for the good of the party." And many of them did so! They were perfect purgees, complete patsies who clung to their illusions long after they should have been debunked. They went passively to their executions, capping wasted lives with meaningless and craven deaths.

In a limited way, then, purges are consensual rituals. No open-eyed activist can be truly purged, because at some point in the proceedings they will catch the drift and take a powder. Surprisingly few purgees do, however.

THE MARXIST PURGE

Reconstructing my past purge experiences turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task. At the time these events took place I thought they were forever burned into my memory, so riveting and essential did they seem. But upon recollection they are murky and impressionistic, like the fragmented tale of an accident survivor. I remember being upset; I remember feeling like my soul was being pulled apart, and my sanity shaken; but I cannot remember precisely what was said, or the exact sequence of crucial events. (Nor is any purgee fully aware of the machinations against her/him. Thus what follows must necessarily be focused on the personal, psychological experience of the purge, and accordingly recounts only the actual final show-downs with a minimum of context and background material.

My first purge experience was a classic, old-style Marxist affair. I'd been "horizontally recruited" into the Chicago branch of the Revolutionary Socialist League by my boyfriend Joe, a mid-level honcho in "the party," in 1978. The RSL was a Trotskyist sect run by a "central committee" of a dozen or so who'd met during the student strikes at the University of Chicago in 1969. Just about every major university had a "strike" of some sort that year, and in every case but one the "strikers" avoided punishment. That one exception was the U of C, and the future RSL was expelled en masse. From that point on, they would be the ones doing the expelling.
My purge was technically a branch discussion and post-mortem of a recent major anti-Nazi demonstration which the entire branch had attended. The local Nazis had decided to counter-demonstrate against Chicago's annual Gay Pride parade. The Windy City's gay community, typically, capitulated by moving its rally about two mile away from its original destination, "in order to avoid a confrontation." I had spearheaded the branch’s efforts to organize a queer/radical counter-demonstration with the express intention of seeking confrontation and, ideally, kicking fascist butt.

This counter-demonstration had been a bust for a number of reasons: inability to mobilize the local gay community, inability to unite the fringe of radicals (the independent demonstration committee suffered from the intervention of Spartacist spies and provocateurs who were determined to undermine any competition to the Spart front group organizing on the same issue), and an impossibly heavy police presence. I expected a lively discussion; I got a purge.

My first warning that something was up came when the branch manager, Doug, suggested a change from our usual procedure, which was to have a discussion in four-minute "rounds," brief comments stage-managed by a meeting facilitator who kept exact time and made sure no one spoke twice until everyone else who wanted to had spoken at least once. Instead Doug proposed half-hour rounds, with me going first. Chris, my one partial ally (as it turned out) balked at this, and it was dropped. The idea was that I would have given a straight-forward analysis of the demonstration in my half-hour, and then would have had to sit through three-and-a-half hours of non-stop denunciation from the other seven members before I got any chance to respond.
This clever trick had been discussed upon the night before at an "organizers" meeting. Technically, as a candidate member of the branch coordinating committee, I should have been present at such a meeting, which I pointed out as soon as I realized it had happened. Sally, not officially a branch honcha but in fact the senior member present (because she'd once been the girlfriend of our founding guru, Ron Tabor) said that they'd simply "forgotten" to invite me. This was absurd, and it was rapidly becoming obvious that I had been the sole topic of that entire meeting -- which, it turned out, everyone in the branch had attended except me.

My challenge to this irregular process caused a moment of silence, then Doug announced that "Comrade Wabbitt has such a silver tongue that he can always twist things around and make black look like white; therefore we can't pay too much attention to what he says." Logic thus neatly thrown out the window, Truth lost whatever sting it might yet have had, and the flat-out trashing could begin.

I was accused of "petty bourgeois" deviation, of orienting toward the "middle class movement" instead of the working class. Comrade Mike from Detroit, sent out as kind of a special inquisitor, denounced me as an anarchist, a decentralist, an anti-authoritarian, and anti-leadership.(In retrospect I must plead guilty on all counts; but I didn’t realize this back then.)

Some specific issues were raised. Why had I run off and started a confrontation with a group of skinheads, instead of rallying the rest of the group? This, I replied, was our agreed upon strategy, and I had sent for the group to back me up; in fact, had been told beforehand that I was in charge of the demonstration, and was unaware that this arrangement had been secretly countermanded by Mike. As that side conflict escalated with two lesbian friends and I exchanging chants with a growing knot of freelance fascists, I kept wondering why reinforcements weren't coming as promised, kept looking back at the stationary red banners of my group and trying to convince myself they were advancing; eventually I finally accepted that they weren't and beat a careful retreat. In effect, I had been encouraged to get into a dangerous situation and then left in the lurch.

Why hadn't the group come to my aid? I asked back. "Because we were in a good position to block the Sparts from the TV cameras and didn't want to lose it," Doug answered. I was shocked into silence.as

I don't remember very clearly what happened after that, other than that everyone dumped on me. Joe, my recruiter, wasn't present to defend me, being "on leave" and in disgrace for having challenged the national leadership; my purge was largely an indirect attack on him, and insurance that no "gay faction" would form in the RSL. Chris, my quasi-ally, had been promised all sorts of kudos for selling me out, but although his heart wasn't in it there was little support he could offer without risking his skin.

The rest were out for blood. I don't know if they'd hated me for sometime, or if they had to work themselves up to it once I was targeted for the purge, but they sure got into it once they started. The worst by far was comrade Dave, a frazzled-looking, not real bright cadre who'd been grinding away at his industrial job for half a decade. He couldn't organize, write, talk, coordinate or sell papers, but he was the most unquestioning and obedient member of the branch. Why couldn't I be more like him? I was asked, and he accentuated his moment of idealized glory by gleefully denouncing me all the more as a petty-bourgeois who hadn't put in his time in heavy industry rubbing shoulders with the proletariat.

After several hours of this I staggered out in tears, never to have an official encounter with them again. Joe, my boyfriend, promptly dumped me; after three years of a roller-coaster relationship, my purge was the final straw. I was horrified at the implications of this: that the RSL, which had just dumped on him and me, was more important to Joe than I was. My world seemed to have fallen apart.
In fact, it had fallen together, and I was soon making better friends and leading a far more satisfying life doing truly independent politics. The RSL, which had been slowly fading for some years, went quickly into terminal drop soon after this, starting with the decimated Chicago branch. A few years later it dissolved and, to my endless amusement, has since retrofitted as a "revolutionary anarchist" clique within the Love and Rage collective.(I never saw much love at the RSL, but I experienced plenty rage at their hands!)

In a social psychology course I took in college around that time, I read about some famous experiments on authoritarianism done by Stanley Milgram. In one study a subject was asked to judge which of three lines on a card was the longest. However, nine "confederates," who were secretly in on the experiment, answered first and all of them cheerfully pointed to what was obviously the shortest line and declared it the longest.

Eighty percent of the subjects went along with the majority. Only one fifth insisted on telling the truth.

In follow-up experiments the hold-outs were subjected to increasing amounts of criticism for their deviance. As card after card was held up, the confederates continued to vote wrong and began to glare at the oddball. Some cracked and started voted wrong, too. Others stuck to their guns and, weeping actual tears, pleaded that they couldn't help what they saw, and had to tell the truth.

Afterwards, they reported feeling that they were going crazy, and many assumed that they had just discovered some sort of bizarre and rare optical defect. After my first purge, I knew how they'd felt.

A FEMINIST PURGE

Four years later, in 1986, I was in Carbondale in southern Illinois (see PW #29). After getting kicked out of the RSL I'd gotten a "real job" (see 'Progressive Pretensions,' PW #26), gone back to school and finished my undergraduate degree, and gotten into an all-expenses paid (well, almost) graduate program in psychology (PW #31). I was now guppy-track, and on my way back into the middle-class. But I was ambivalent about my upscaling, and drawn by my activist nature into doing service work for that rural, conservative region's marginal gay and lesbian community. When some friends in my program invited me to help them start a gay and lesbian hotline, I and my new boyfriend, Steve, another recent Chicago import, agreed.

At first things went well. A core group of ten was established and trained together. A phone was set up at a local crisis hotline, and forwarded during our open hours to the designated shift-worker's home. New members were recruited and trained.
But soon things went astray. Two factions emerged: a "politically correct" group consisting of two couples, Tony and Hans plus Claire and Sandy, and a "pragmatic" group based on two other couples, me and Steve plus David and Bryan (these last two both local gay men only recently "out" and still in the process of shedding their previous conservative attitudes). The other two founding members quickly became marginal and minimal participants, but they tended to support the "orthodox" wing because they were old friends of Tony's.

We had trouble agreeing on things. The orthodox insisted that all decisions be made by full consensus, rather than by majority vote or even by 3/4 majority vote. In practice, this meant that Claire vetoed everything. Claire, it turned out, had already destroyed one local community organization; when she took over the monthly "New Moon Coffeehouse," a regular women-only event, she banned coffee, caffeine and sugar (alcohol, of course, had never been allowed). This created a milieu so boring that no one, not even frustrated Southern Illinois separatists, could tolerate it and it soon folded.

We had trouble keeping new recruits, particularly women. The orthodox faction insisted that this was because of the residual sexism of the rest of us, but the women drop-outs we talked with said that Claire was just too weird for them, that she was constantly cornering them and accusing them of political incorrectness and/or hitting on them aggressively. After six months only two recruits successfully completed the complicated training course designed by the orthodox; but their final acceptance into the collective was of course held-up by Claire's veto.

There were financial troubles; the orthodox faction refused to participate in fund-raisers at the local bar (the only gay\lesbian space for a hundred mile radius) because such institutions promote addiction and apolitical passivity. They grudgingly allowed the rest of us to raise money there, but we were barely able to pay off the losses incurred by the orthodox faction's attempts to raise money, which were unimpeachable in terms of the political correctness but which always lost scads of money. Collaboration with the campus gay group was eschewed because, according to the orthodox, they were a bunch of frivolous bar-flys and sell-outs.

I thought I'd solved the money problems when I successfully wrote us a grant for $1,200. In retrospect, I can see that this was the final straw, the last temptation needed to push the orthodox faction into purge mode. When we showed up for that months' meeting, we were informed that all the money had been seized and put into a private account; that the hotline was now closed until such time as the orthodox decided to reopen it; and that Steve and me and Bryan and Dave were all henceforth expelled. No vote, majority or otherwise, was required, as the orthodox had reached full consensus among themselves.

It was then that I noticed that only paper cups and plastic bottles had been put out, instead of the usual glasses, in order to deter "violence" (as it was later explained). We were taken completely by surprise. They explained that they could no longer tolerate our sexism, our secretiveness, our plotting, or our yet-suppressed violent tendencies, and this both compelled and allowed them to suspend whatever rights we thought we had.

We agreed to enter "mediation" by a neutral party (my boss at the counseling center, and far from neutral to my mind, but it was her or nothing). The orthodox agreed to this only after I threatened to prosecute them for embezzlement (for their seizure of the bank account clearly violated our charter and the law). During that several month long mediation process we gradually learned how the orthodox faction had reached their decision to purge us.

First they became concerned that we were having "secret meetings." This may have been simple misunderstanding of the fact that Steve and I actually had friends among the gay community and often chatted informally about the hotline when we hung out together. The orthodox faction were all fairly isolated socially-avoidant types, who disliked rubbing shoulders with the sexists, bar-flys, and politically incorrectoids who made up the bulk of our community, and they interpreted our socializing as plotting.

The solution to our supposed secret meetings, of course, was for them to start holding their own secret meetings on a regular basis.

Then they began to worry about the bank account, and to fear that we would seize control of it. They became increasingly unwilling to ever yield up the checkbook, and as soon as the grant check had cleared they "pre-empted" us by taking the money themselves.

Finally, they came to believe we were stalking them: and that's when they shut down the line. I can only assume that this accusation, like the previous two, was a projection of their own intentions, and that we were probably stalked for a while before the boom fell. At the end of several months’ mediation they agreed to return most of the money, and the old hotline name was retired. I re-founded a new hotline in collaboration with the campus gay group (in retrospect, the only feasible way to do it) which is still in operation today.

My self-esteem was battered, although not as badly as it had been by the RSL. But I ceased to consider myself a "feminist," just as my previous purge had shaken me loose from "Marxism." Clearly, the "feminism" of the orthodox faction was nothing more than moralistic superiority, political posturing designed to denigrate any who opposed them and exalt their own prejudices and power plays to the status of holy war, justifying any and every deception.

Did they hate me? By the end, I think, they must have, but I question whether most of them ever dealt with me on any human level. I and my cohorts were, initially, useful for the furthering of their rather unrealistic desires; when we became an obstacle to their desires (they were tired of the hotline but didn't want to leave it -- and its money -- to us) they demonized us and attempted to kick us out. I don't see any evidence that they ever considered our feelings, let alone attempted to understand our point of view. We were paralyzed by our own vague (and ultimately just as unrealistic) desire to be "politically correct." We were suckers for their finger-wagging moralism, because we were insecure about our own political beliefs while they evinced absolute conviction. It wasn't until they tried to screw us out of money that we awoke from our idealistic haze and began to fight back.
In a way you could say that the purge failed, since they ended up giving back the money and I refounded the institution. But they succeeded in their principle goals, which was to unload a now unpleasant obligation (they'd enjoyed "founding" a line, but were unwilling to actually run it), and to do so in a way that "proved" their moral superiority. Certainly, I suspect they were more satisfied with the ultimate outcome than we were.

A MULTI-CULTURAL AUTO-DA-FE

My multi-cultural purge wasn't really a purge at all, in the technical sense, but rather an auto-da-fe: a carefully stage-managed denunciation rather than an expulsion. I had finished the class work on my degree and was doing my clinical internship at the counseling center of the University of California at Irvine. This was a perplexing paradise: it was a stronghold of "political correctness" just before that term became an overused caricature of itself. It was also clearly a playground for the pampered progeny of the privileged.

Two pre-existing factors set me up for trouble. First of all, the center was already involved in a faction fight that had polarized into a mostly anglo and, incidentally, gay-positive group and another "counselors of color" group which was pressing for more control and in particular for more non-anglo interns and fewer gay ones.

Secondly, the number-two honcho at the center, Tom, was the big brother of a man who'd been denied a teaching position at Carbondale partly because of my opposition. This had been a typically messy affair. Carbondale, although its student population was 65% black, had only five black faculty, and the psychology department had a chance to hire number six. The only problem was that he was a raving homophobe, as the department's gay caucus (including me) discovered in one brief interview (he frothed at the mouth, denounced us as unholy, and ended the meeting by chanting biblical verses in an attempt to drive out the "unclean spirits" that possessed us!). We protested his application; the department debated and then voted 12 to 11 to offer him the position. The department head overturned this decision (based on the candidate's general lack of qualifications) but was in turn over-ruled by the Chancellor of the university. Finally, the candidate refused the position, citing his discomfort with "militant homosexuals" in the department.

The candidate's big brother, Tom, figured out my connection with the affair and immediately began plotting my downfall; I had no idea of his relation to the Carbondale candidate (their last name being a very common one) and for several months was oblivious to my impending doom. He portrayed me to the counselors-of-color faction as a racist crusader dedicated to overturning affirmative action, an accusation that fit in well with the ongoing faction struggles. He didn't aim to kick me out of the program, which would have been difficult, but simply to irrevocably taint my reputation in the University of California system, which is where I and all my fellow interns hoped to find jobs.

Now, officially, if an intern is suspected of political incorrectness, he or she should be invited to participate in prolonged discussions and self-criticism aimed at alleviating these deficits. But this would have forewarned me, given me a chance to use that dangerous silver tongue of mine previously denounced by the RSL, and possibly run afoul of the fact that my anti-racist credentials were in fact more solid than any of theirs, if these are based on actions rather than words. So I had to be "set-up" for a fall; the likeliest opportunity was my official presentation of a "multi-cultural" case before the "multi-cultural issues" panel (which was essentially the counselors-of-color faction).

As it happened, I was diagnosed with AIDS the day before this event, and gave an almost incoherent presentation. You might think that a room full of clinical psychologists would pick up that something was wrong, but they were only too glad to have their first solid evidence of my "racism" and prepared to denounce me thoroughly at a special meeting called for the next week to give me "feedback" on my presentation.

But it was here that I got a lucky break. Preoccupied with my developing personal crisis, I confided in my clinical supervisor, Joe, a semi-retired professor emeritus and the senior black professor in the whole UC system. He listened to my tale of woe and, after deliberating long and hard, spilled the beans and told me of my scheduled auto-da-fe. I had put him on the horns of the dilemma. My persecutor (and his younger brother) were Joe's protégés; but I was his supervisee and this put him under some obligation to me as well. Finally, I believe, he reconciled this conflict by deciding that derailing the denunciation was in Tom's own best interest, for if the conflict became public (and I, as yet unknown to Tom, had nothing left to lose) it would stain the reputations of all involved.

Thus I went to my auto-da-fe armed with secret knowledge and a card up my sleeve. When the chief inquisitor asked if I could explain my poor performance, I "came out" as a recently diagnosed Person With AIDS. This stole the show and successfully upstaged the carefully planned agenda.

That wasn’t the end of my troubles at UC. Later, during their intern selection, the gay vs. ethnic issue came up again. When I proposed accepting a gay Latino man as an intern, one of the counselors-of-color denounced this as racist! "Don't try to pass off that gay as a Latino." she insisted. "You can't be both."
"Why don't you tell him that?" I retorted; she dropped her objection when she realized how bad it sounded. He was finally offered the position, but I wondered if I'd really done him any favor by supporting him. I had never seen this brand of "kick away the ladder" impulse this close up. They were fighting for quotas because it guaranteed payoffs for them and their relatives; their major concern seemed to be to keep gays from horning in on the goodies and claiming a piece of the multi-cultural pie.

If I'd walked into that meeting without Joe's warning, I don't know how it would have played out. But somehow the foreknowledge of the assault blunted its edge, as did the realization of Tom's vindictive involvement. Otherwise I would have taken their racist-baiting much more seriously, as I had the bourgeois-baiting of the RSL and the sexism-baiting of the Orthodox Feminists.

Instead it was just one more disillusionment in a long line of revelations. These "counselors of color" harkened back to their heritage of slavery and oppression; but in fact they all came from well-off middle-class families, had advanced easily along a path smoothed by liberal "political correctness" and affirmative action programs, and were now on the fast-track for promotion by virtue of their ethnicity. None of them had ever gone hungry, none of them had ever fought the Klan in the streets, none had made any sacrifices for "the movement" that I could see. Their ancestors had, apparently, paid their dues in advance for them, and their graciously acceptance of positions as heads of department at high salaries was to be construed as their "contribution" to the common cause. What convenient ideology!

But aren't all ideologies convenient? Ideology converts base self-interest into moral imperative. The RSL didn't merely want to trash me and trim a troublesome faction in the bud; they were compelled by historical necessity to take action. The Orthodox Feminists didn't just want to steal money; no, they had a moral obligation to cauterize the wounds of sexism in the hotline, even if this ended up killing it. Tom wasn't only exacting revenge for the (well-deserved) trashing of his little brother, he was defending affirmative action against the encroachments of creeping conservatism.

In retrospect their hypocrisy is blatant, but at the time I cared about what they thought, and what they said they believed. I could forgive straight-forward trashing of a rival faction by the RSL, or simple theft by the Orthodox Feminists, and even sympathize with the basic lust for revenge that motivated Tom: what I cannot forgive was all of these people deliberately accusing me of lying when they knew I spoke the truth, of challenging my sanity and honor because I'd become inconvenient for them.

Nowadays hardly anyone will admit to being a Marxist, and anyone who wants to -- and few still do -- can claim to be a feminist or a multi-culturalist. Today my only ideology is to avoid all formal ideology. When the self-appointed guardians of political correctness call the faithful to heed, I make sure of my wallet and head for the door.

-- Kwazee Wabbitt

They paved paradise and put up an information highway

Processed World on the Internet.

Okay, so we've all been hyped to death about the Information Superhighway by now. We've heard all the predictions about how it will transform our lives beyond recognition, groaned at the incessant extended "highway" metaphors, cracked jokes about Al Gore being the perfect cyberspace pioneer, 'cause he seems half android to start with. People who wouldn't know what to do with a computer if it came up and bit them on the nose are already preparing themselves for an AT&T-ad future where they fax, access, and download every morning before breakfast.

Still, the idea is enticing, isn't it? When New Yorker writer John Seabrook interviewed cybertycoon Bill Gates on the coming information revolution, he couldn't help thinking back on childhood wishes for a "giant, all-knowing brain" that could answer any question, no matter how trivial--and who could argue with him? For researchers frustrated with shortened library hours and books invariably stolen off the shelves, the notion of instant information retrieval at the touch of a key is a godsend; for activists, the ability to send free mass e-mailings to co-conspirators around the world is a valuable networking tool.

But the true promise of the Internet -- the existing computer network that is expected to provide the foundation for the electronic superhighway -- is more than that. It's also the vision of a virtual community, where information roams free and everyone's bytes are equal, owned by no one but run by everyone in an anarchic stew that stretches the world over. It's a seductive vision, all right.

If only it were true.

THE ELECTRONIC SUBURB

One of the drawbacks to living in a time and place where community has been all but annihilated is that when you do find yourself in a crowd of people, it's all too easy to assume that there's no one else left outside of it.

That was certainly my experience when I first went on-line, with ECHO, a New York-based bulletin board service self-consciously modeled on the Bay Area's WELL. ECHO likes to bill itself as an on-line community, and that's certainly how it comes across -- none of the slick packaging of the big services like America On-line and Compuserve, just a big rambling mass of people sharing stories, arguing politics, changing their names on a daily basis. It took me a while to get hooked, but soon enough it had me -- instant camaraderie with a bunch of total strangers isn't something to be taken lightly these days.

But the seeming openness of our virtual community masked the fact that the edges were well-defined: it wasn't so much a matter of who was there, but who wasn't. What finally drove it home for me was when a bunch of people started a group rant about how New York City cabbies don't speak English well enough, and I abruptly realized that the chances of a multilingual cabbie showing up to give them their comeuppance was damn near zero.

This isn't much of a revelation, I suppose. Cyberspace, after all, comes with a heavy entrance fee -- on top of the initial investment in a computer and modem (at least $1000 if you're doing it right), there are user fees starting at around $15 a month, and heading skyward as you log more hours and explore more services. And on top of that, you have to master a not-inconsequential level of computer skills to access the fruits of the information revolution.

Everyone involved with the Internet is aware of this contradiction, and everyone makes sure to mention "universal access" as a centerpiece of the future information highway. The actual ideas being thrown around range from the utopian to the ridiculous: Al Gore's idea of "universal access" is simply wiring poor neighborhoods for fiber-optic lines. But that would hardly ensure that they'll be able to afford it, whatever it looks like -- Anthony Wright of the Center for Media Education points out that despite near-universal wiring for cable, two of every five Americans don't pay for service. (Even telephone service -- held up by many Net advocates as a model of universal access -- is an unaffordable luxury to many Americans, and in some poor areas as many as 25% of the homes have no phone.)

Meanwhile, you have an ever-growing on-line community populated by the electronic elite. Right now, the bulk of the Internet's estimated 25 million addresses (a single person may have several addresses, and a single address may be used by several people, making electronic census-taking a risky venture) are made up of the government and educational institutions that the system was first designed for. But over the last few years, more and more members of the general public have been hopping on board -- about five million total, with the numbers growing by an estimated 5-6% a month. The worldwide links that put the "inter" in the Internet read like a Who's Who of the First World: Sweden, New Zealand, Taiwan, but no Zaire, Haiti, or even India. And while no one keeps demographics on the exact makeup of the Net's users, you don't have to look any further than Random House's recently issued Net Guide (billed as a TV Guide for cyberspace), which among its thousands of listings contains a grand total of nine for African-American resources -- exactly one less than for space aliens.

This isn't a description of a new populism--it's a description of white flight. The fact is, an army of computer-literate Americans are abandoning RL (as "real life" is semi-disparagingly known to Netheads) for an enclave of pure data where they are more likely to run into a Klingon than a homeless person. For these information consumers, cyberspace provides the same ambience as do suburban megamalls -- what Margaret Crawford describes in the urban politics anthology "Variations on a Theme Park" as a fantasy urbanism, devoid of the city's negative aspects: weather, traffic, and poor people."

It's a process that is only part of a larger trend, what "Variations on a Theme Park" editor Michael Sorkin has termed "Cyburbia": an interconnected grid of exurban office buildings and Net telecommuters for which time and space are increasingly obsolete. In this world, no person ever sees another as they travel highways both electronic and real in the safety of their own cars and computers. MIT architecture professor William Mitchell has already predicted that telecommuting will result in a world where urban "cores" are built not around physical infrastructure but around neighborhoods with access to telecommunications and pleasant cultural activities.

In fact, the advent of cyberspace threatens to institute an all-new literacy line. In a country where a large percentage are already functionally illiterate in the RL sense of the word, this is inevitably going to include huge chunks of the populace. The electronic literacy line is largely overlooked for now, in part because the technologically challenged aren't missing out on much more than role-playing games and glorified party-line chats. But as more and more of the business of everyday life is played out on the Ubernet, its influence will become too big to ignore. A consortium of megacorps has already announced the launching of "CommerceNet," an Internet business venture that will allow companies to, among other things, collaborate and bid on projects over the Internet -- and woe unto those businesspeople who aren't connected. As commerce, news reporting, and social events disappear into cyberspace, those locked out of it will be left with ever-dwindling resources -- no way to read the new electronic newspapers, no way to get started in the electronic business world, no way even to mail a letter after postal rates inevitably skyrocket as the USPS customer base abandons "snail-mail" for the electronic variety.

And as the media, the economy--the entire power structure of America -- disappears from view for those that are shut out, so will the poor disappear from view for the powerful. What will panhandlers, demonstrators, and other people who depend on reaching people in public space do when space itself is an anachronism? How do you set up a picket line around a teleconference call? Cyburbia, like suburbia, is designed for insulation, and for those on the outside looking in, it will be no different than for L.A. rioters trying to reach jurors in distant Simi Valley: you literally can't get there from here.

THE ELECTRONIC MALL

But the unwashed masses won't be totally left out, of course -- not as long as they have enough cash to be potential consumers. (Those without will be left in the information ghettos, written off just as they increasingly are from the economy itself -- see permanent 7% unemployment.) Smelling profit, the big telecommunications companies have already started pawing the ground where the Infobahn will be built, plotting ways to present the coming electronic revolution in a way that is accessible and affordable to the average consumer. These services won't be about playing role playing games or downloading the text of "Alice in Wonderland"; if their builders are going to justify the costs involved, these services will have to be about buying things. As one of the Internet's architects ominously warned in Time magazine last year, "It's a perfect Marxist state, where almost nobody does any business. But at some point that will have to change."

One reason: the cost of installing fiber optic links to individual homes -- the "on-ramps," in that annoying info highway jargon -- is estimated at anywhere from $5 billion to $275 billion. But more importantly, Joe Couch Potato is never going to take to a medium that requires you to master desktop skills before you even get behind the wheel, and even then is more like piloting a jumbo jet than a car in terms of complexity.

If the Internet right now is about at the crystal-radio level of accessibility -- comprehensible to an ever-widening circle of the technologically adept -- the force that brings it into most American homes promises to be the same one as did the trick for radio: sponsorship. The physical form this is likely to take is "set-top boxes" -- descendents of the cable box that will enable you to plug in through your TV. (This alone would mean a huge leap forward in access; the TV is in more American homes than computers, cable, or the telephone.) Internet consumer groups hope this will mean making the joys of late-night Internet surfing accessible to anyone with a TV set. The other view, as presented approvingly by the L.A. Times: "For anyone who wants to sell you something, the coming epoch of interactive television ought to be a dream come true."

In fact, the people who want to sell you things already have a jump on the game, with Interactive TV experiments already in action in Virginia and Florida that are little more than home-shopping networks run amuck. And such setups are hardly missing on the "non-commercial" Internet, either. Prodigy, one of the two largest on-line providers, is little more than a home-shopping service targeted to upscale consumers. (It has yet to even offer its users -- who, it claims, have an average income of $75,000 -- access to the greater Internet.) Its main competitor for on-line king, Compuserve (each claims a subscriber base of one-million-plus and counting), offers an "Electronic Mall" promising "Free shopping 24 hours a day, every day." ("Free" here means there's no hourly hookup fee; whereas nonconsumer activities like database searches will run you extra charges.) Another twist on the same gimmick are "magalogs," electronic catalogs that guide you -- via CD-ROM or online service -- through an animated selection of products, to be ordered at the click of a mouse.

But these clunky cyberizations of old-style advertising pale in comparison to the new opportunities opened up by electronic advertising. From Wired magazine, the meeting place of all things cyber and corporate, we learn that there's already a phone company that offers to pay customers to listen to ads when they dial their phones. (They claim to pay out an average of $20 per month per customer -- at a rate of five to ten cents an ad.) Wired foresees participatory advertising as the wave of the future: "Answer this brief survey from Kellogg and we'll pay for the next three episodes of Murphy Brown."

This is what advertisers like to call a "one-to-one relationship" with the consumer--i.e., targeted to your particular demographics ("no kids, owns own home, drinks light beer"), and geared for your active participation. Some observers even predict that, following on the success of video games that feature brand-name items (one current game stars the 7Up "dot"), advertising itself will become more like a video game. It's an extension of the marketing genius of physical malls: the shopping itself is the entertainment, making you complicit in your own consumerism.

But the effects of commodification won't stop with the commercials. As with TV, the essential goal is to commodify the content itself, which in the case of the Net means nothing less than information. "Information wants to be free," goes an Internet credo, but one person's anarchy is another's free market, and market forces are already hard at work making inroads into dominating the information flow on the Net. Last year, tabloid baron (and Fox-TV co-owner) Rupert Murdoch purchased Delphi, the fifth-largest online service, and stated his intentions to launch "an electronic newspaper unlike any other and an electronic version of TV Guide." And with the rise of other new megacorporations, such as Time-Warner and the newly formed Viacom/Blockbuster/Paramount, that combine production facilities and transmission routes under one roof, the door is opened to a proliferation of easy-access online media services that will easily drive out alternative information sources. If we've learned anything from the history of popular culture, it's that the accessible with a tinge of avant garde beats difficult-but-authentic for market share every time.

Consumer advocates know this, and are organizing to push for legislation to ensure that 20% of the Net is reserved for non-profit uses. But since there's no mechanism in the works to fund non-profit production, it's easy to see where this could lead -- a low-tech public-access ghetto that is overwhelmed by userfriendly commercial services, much as public-access TV is right now.

Despite the recent online uproar over a lawyer who, disregarding the Internet's "noncommercial" credo, sent out thousands of copies of an e-mail advertisement (getting thousands of e-mail hate messages in response), commerce is already lurking on the Net. The lawyer could have avoided all his troubles if he had followed the lead of the Electronic Newsstand, a private company that offers online publication and subscription services -- for a fee, of course -- to magazines and newspapers. The range of publications available, as you might expect, runs the gamut from one end of the political spectrum to squarely in the middle: there's Foreign Policy, New Republic, a host of computer magazines, but nothing that would make John McLaughlin raise an eyebrow. This is the future of Internet advertising: "cool," low-key, easier to use than scouring the Net for an interesting zine -- and because of that, all the more effective in selling you the same old shit.

VIRTUAL REALITY? YOU'RE SOAKING IN IT!

To hear many Netheads talk, the battle to prepare for is one to defend the integrity of the Internet from government encroachments. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in particular, has focused nearly all its energies on trying to secure "privacy rights" on the Net, mostly in the form of freedom from government spying on your electronic mail.

Fights like these are important, but nowhere near as much as the danger of a new technology, at least as addictive as TV, that can be used to pump brand-name consumerism into every corner of our consciousness. Certainly the experience is like that of TV -- I already have switched over from late-night channel surfing to late-night online cruising, and when I hang up the modem it leaves me with the exact same brain-fogged buzz. All that's missing are the commercials -- and who's to say I wouldn't accept them if they came packaged with a friendlier interface, more services, a better-quality product.

After all, the original highways--back when we drove cars and not metaphors -- were supposed to free inner-city dwellers to enjoy the open spaces of the country. Instead, they just freed the upwardly mobile to settle the open spaces and leave their less fortunate cousins behind -- and, not incidentally, paved the way for the television age, where the community of urban neighborhoods was replaced by the prepackaged community supplied over the airwaves. This was the true beginning of virtual reality -- you're in it every time you hum the Meow Mix theme or treat Murphy Brown as if she were a real person. All that a new level of technology does is to advance it another level: to one where you are more complicit in the process, where the real power behind the system is even more hidden from public scrutiny, and where it is ever-harder to master the technology necessary to make yourself truly heard.

Because in cyberspace, quite literally, no one can hear you scream.

--Neil deMause

Time mushes on

--D.S. Black

Imagine the power invested in the Directorate of Time. These temporal bureaucrats have the ability to dispense precious seconds usually in the amount of a leap second to compensate for the Earth’s rotation, which surprise surprise does not always conform to our best laid plans.

For though we may live in a world in which the standard unit of time is pegged to the speed by which the Earth turns on its axis (24 hours), there are many forces at play to vary the result: gravity, strange weathers both inside (molten rock) and outside (oceans sloshing) the Earth throws a chaotic fudge factor into the equation.

On June 30, 1994, the atomic clocks used by our time-keepers were instructed to pause one golden gratis second to allow them to catch up to the absolute time implied by that irregular rotation.

It is interesting to note that despite the fever pitch of"progress" that has followed the Industrial Revolution, the Earth has in fact slowed down in recent centuries. Whether this lag is through worker disaffection or global warming, it does pose a number of interesting questions. It is similarly remarkable that the Directorate of Time, without any consultation from those affected, uses its infallible ex cathedra power to dole out extra ticks of the tock with hardly a ripple of interest or attention from even those who are most pressed for time.

Consider 30 June 1994. With just one second added to that day, multiplied by the 5 billion human beings alive at this time, a total of 158 years of subjective experience were gained by the species on that last day of June. What were we able to accomplish collectively in that time? In case you hadn’t heard, not a whole heck of a lot.

Many were asleep, and were able to squeeze in a few extra winks at their respective dreams and nightmares, if they troubled to adjust their clocks.

Those on the West Coast who work normal 9-5 jobs found themselves at 4:59:59 Pacific Daylight Time saddled with an extra second of unpaid work time. Out of a population of 30 million, one might conservatively estimate 6 million or more people in California were hustled without their knowledge for a fleeting second of their lives. It was not the first time, and would certainly not be the last.

If one computes the number of work hours this sly insertion of a leap second totaled, say it were all concentrated on the back of one poor schmo, it comes to approximately 70 days (1666 hours)or nearly 42 forty-hour work weeks of free time given to employers in the state. Sounds like a jackpot bonus year off all of our backs.

Look, it’s all in the fine print of the Directorate of Time’s Contract on America. To question or to argue with it is stupid, and a waste of precious time.