Stumpf and the Body On The Pavement

Watching Elizabeth Warren disassemble Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is a gotcha moment, one wherein we assume the bad guy has been handed his still steaming intestines by the champion and justice will soon be served.  Much as I hate to admit this, I doubt it.

I doubt it because…look at him. He’s looking at her with an almost-blank expression, but there is enough there to tell.  To tell that he just doesn’t Get It.  He’s listening to her, he’s answering her questions with well-advised Policy Speak, doing his best to evade a direct answer until she pins him to the wall, and even then there seems to be a kind of “okay, sure, but so what?” attitude practically shining from him.

The problem which Warren, which the Justice Department, which the SEC, which we cannot address and which underlies all of this is that Not Getting It.

There is a hole in the psyché where some form of non-tribal empathy should be.  It’s not there. People like Stumpf follow guidelines and if the guidelines say what they do serves their tribe, it’s by definition ethical.  Whatever that is.

In his case, ethical is whatever benefits his selected tribe and keeps him from being ill-treated at their hands.

He’s looking at Warren as if she’s speaking some archaic form of English no one has spoken in a century or two.  He understands the words but the cultural content is foreign, alien.  Not there for him.  Why, he must be thinking, should I give a damn about a bunch of people who own no stock in Wells Fargo who got badly treated by the people I put in place to treat them badly?  And what’s that mean, anyway?  It’s not like it’s their money!  And besides (so he might tell himself, late at night, when everyone else is asleep) if everything works out they won’t know the difference and my tribe will be richer.  I will have Done Good.

But it didn’t work out, so, hell, now I have to sit here and listen to this tight-ass social justice warrior lecture me about something called ethics.

What is this nonsense about jail time?  How dare she compare what I do with a teller who might pilfer from the till!  Of course that person should go to jail, that’s theft!  I’m not a thief!

Why isn’t he a thief?

Because he’s following the guidelines.  And, just as an added bit of justification, if that teller steals twenties from the till, who else is that benefiting?  No one!  But what he has done has increased profits for the company and therefore put more money in the pockets of the shareholders.  What he has done has benefited people!  His people.  According to the guidelines they have given him.

What guidelines?

Make us more money.  We don’t care how.  How is your job, that’s why we hired you.  If we didn’t like the job you were doing, we would fire you.

He kept trying to talk about the Board, you note.  Warren wouldn’t let him.  If, in his view, what he had done was wrong, the Board would have fired him.  Therefore, he did nothing wrong.

So what’s this senator all up in a huff about?  Doesn’t she understand that the number one rule in this country is to make money?  And that when you make money for other people that’s the only justification you need?  It’s not like we’re robbing banks.  No, we’re putting money in the bank.  It’s the opposite of robbery.

Isn’t it?

I agree with Senator Warren, this will not stop until people at his level face serious jail time.  There are people outside his tribe that he took advantage of who cannot afford to lose ten dollars let alone the fiscal date rape they experienced.  He hurt people he not only doesn’t know but doesn’t regard as important.  Only their money, in aggregate, matters.

There are, no doubt, if by virtue of probability alone, CEOs who regularly say no to plans like this because it will do harm.  We almost never hear about them.  Scandal drives media ratings much more effectively than what we used to call “soft news” or, worse, “puff pieces.”  Feel good news is pleasant but doesn’t attract the same kind of attention.  We need to find these people, these moral CEOs, and have them teach classes on saying no for moral reasons.  It would maybe be worthwhile having them at such hearings to offer a counterexample on camera.

But the truth is, for Stumpf and others of his ilk, the problem goes much, much deeper.  This is for him the driving heuristic of his life.  Do for his tribe.  And his tribe is comprised of people just like him.  Moneyed, “educated,” connected.  They doubtless give to charities.  They do this as substitute for actually giving a damn about people they don’t know.

It is not a problem isolated to them.

Over this past weekend we had another police incident, this time in Tulsa.  A man is dead whose only “crime” was being where he was.  The dashcam videos, even the video from other sources, all confirms that this man was shot to death for no reason.

Oh.  Wait.  He was black.

Interestingly, of all the officers on the scene, all of them went for their tasers—except one, and she was the one who fired the fatal shot.

Why am I linking this to the CEO of Wells Fargo?  Because in my opinion, they share the same problem.  They don’t recognize anybody not part of their tribe.

Because what the officer later said about the situation is contradicted by the videos. And I believe she actually doesn’t know how what she did was wrong.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains how we “think” most of the time  by heuristics.  There is a folder in our brain containing files of behaviors based on experience, on received wisdom, on made-up shit that got us through something before.  It is easier to pull a file from that folder and paste it over a new situation than to think through something from first principles every time.

So what was the file the officer pulled out of that folder?  Maybe something like:  Large black male, threat, must put him down.

Yes, I’m guessing.  Just as I’m guessing about Mr., Stumpf’s thinking in regard to pillaging the personal funds through fraudulent deals of people he has already placed in a file labeled “Customers: cattle: no further regard required.”

It’s a problem of categorization on both ends.

News flash to both ends: we aren’t categories.  We’re people.  Start getting it.

Finished

I have completed the current version of my new novel. Nits have been picked, threads tucked, and spells checked (I hope!) and it is off my desk.

Every time I get to this place, I crash.  Yesterday I hit the couch for some of the deepest nap-time I’ve had in recent memory. When I come out of it, I look around at the ruined landscape of my environment, at all the things that have been on hold while in hot and sometimes panic-driven pursuit of the final draft, and I plan on how to put it all back into some kind of order. Cleaning. Getting reacquainted with the dog.  Maybe attempt to  catch up on some reading.

But that first day or so after is usually taken up by just drifting from room to room, contemplating what I am not about to do in the next hour, being lazy. Sighing a great deal. Maybe playing some music (not well) or doing some photo work.

Which I did this morning.  Archon is coming up and I’ve elected to be in the art show again.  I have some new images that need finishing up and prepping.  I did a couple of those but mainly I played.

So until I get serious about tomorrow, here’s an image as place holder.  I shot this in Kansas City recently, with my phone.  Now, the pixels in the phone and the resolution leave much to be desired, but it ain’t bad, and if I work some magic in photoshop I can get some interesting stuff.  For this, though, I went old school, just because I like the lines and the mood.

kansas-city-convention-center-night-bw-august-2016

Now, compare that to the one below, which I shot in Dallas with my SLR.

chairs-bw-dallas-july-2016

A bit of a theme going on here?  Yeah, well.

I have a ton of work to do in the coming year. Fingers crossed, you will be seeing some new short stories from me. I’ve been invited into a couple of anthologies and while in K.C. at the worldcon I got more than a few “Where’ve you been and when will you send something to me?” from some people.  I know, it surprised me, too.  Who knew I’ve been missed?

So, recovery for a couple of weeks–Archon in two weeks away–and the more grindstone time.  My nose is diminishing even know.

50

I was eleven when Star Trek premiered. I’d seen the previews all summer, I was salivating in anticipation. Just from those minute or so clips it looked just so cool!

We watched the first episode—Man Trap—and disaster struck.

See, I was a somewhat “sensitive” child. I hate horror. I was prone at an earlier age to nightmares.  I recall a couple of times waking up screaming. Of course, I’d been like four or five. It had been years. But my mother was adamant about keeping me away from anything that would curse my nights and ruin their sleep. She was skeptical that this—this—Star Trek Thing—wasn’t just another monster show.  I remember trying to persuade her that, no, it’s about spaceships and other planets. No monsters.

Well.  What was the thing in Man Trap other than a classic scary monster?

I missed half the first season because of that shaggy critter.

We lived downstairs from my grandparents and I took to sneaking up there to watch it.  They had an ancient ANCIENT television, in a pale maple cabinet and a very low-res gun painting the picture on an old tube, so the picture was anything but sharp.

Even so, there was something about it that just took hold.

It is difficult sometimes to explain what Star Trek meant to someone like me that year. It was amazing. It was miraculous.  It was where we wanted to go.

Somehow, Roddenberry and his writers had constructed a thing that had life beyond the edge of the television tube.  We knew the Federation had length, breadth, and depth.  It had substance.  It was a place.  Not like anything else on tv at the time that could even begin to call itself science fiction, this was a universe and we knew it would welcome us in if we could just–just—kind of—maybe—slip in there, past the electrons, and sort of step through.

Of course, it did what written SF had been doing for a long time.  The difference was the medium.  I never knew anyone else growing up who was remotely interested in reading the books and magazines I did. Everyone watched television and more than a few watched Star Trek.

It embedded and evoked an idea of the world and life that extended beyond the ordinary in a way that far exceeded its primitive SFX and pasteboard sets and often mediocre scripting.  It wasn’t the individual episodes that mattered, it was the proposed future portrayed.

We didn’t have any of that stuff. Today we have a lot of it.

I saw the entire first run eventually, all in brilliant black-n-white.  We didn’t have a color tv till the latter part of the Seventies.

It didn’t matter.  I could close my eyes and see all the colors.

My dad, who had a problem with obsession, didn’t like my growing dedication to the show.  “Split your head open with an axe and a bunch of starships would fly out of it,” he would say, as if that were a bad thing.

Well, it wasn’t school work.

But today I’m a published science fiction writer, and I didn’t learn how to do that in school.

More, though, in some way the optimism and vision of Star Trek became part of my general make-up.  I think I’m a better human being because of it.

It was just so fucking wonderful.

Happy Anniversary.

A Couple Of Observations About The Culture

I’ve been working my way through Mario Vargas Llosa’s intriguing little book Notes On The Death Of Culture, which intends to be a general critique on the state of high culture and the impact its enervation has had on the world at large.  Reading that and watching the election campaigns is a strange thing.

One of Llosa’s main themes here is that we have demoted “high” culture through a process of democratization of self-brutalization via social media and a mistaken acceptance of the idea that everyone’s opinion carries equal weight.  That we no longer value wisdom, quality, or know how to appreciate it as distinct from middle or lowbrow culture, so-called “popular” culture.

There’s something to this, certainly, but I hesitate to call it a death.  A tumultuous sorting maybe. Because side by side, cheek by jowl, as it were, with undeniable banality, dross, and effluence that passes for æsthetic content—no, that’s not quite fair, is it? Garbage has an æsthetic quality, even if it can only be apprehended as a negative—that presents itself as of equal value and merit to works of genuine worth, we do see works of superior quality, intent, and impact. In fact, work being done now in all the arts offers examples equal to if not better than any masterpiece of the past.  Even television, that vast wasteland, offers amazing work. If one looks for it one may find music, painting, photography, sculpture, literature both fictive and nonfiction, drama both on stage and recorded, that compares with the finest humanity has ever offered.

And with it, audiences.  You might question their level of appreciation, but that has two aspects which negate the attempt.  Firstly, how do you gauge “appreciation?” How can anyone determine the extent of comprehension, of response, of, finally, “takeaway” experienced by another human being?  You can’t really, certainly not in any way that might be revealed in a poll or a survey.  Certainly not as some prognostic assessment about the Culture.  Secondly, those creating these works have not come from another planet.  They emerge from among us.  We, in some way, “produce” them.  They are us, they are not alien, so if in fact what they do cannot be understood or appreciated or even recognized, how then do they appear? The fact is, they have an audience.  And not, judging by the availability and public knowledge of the work, small, dying audiences.

Which means we are, irritatingly, forced to take on faith that the culture, whatever we might mean by that, is not dying.  Transforming, sure, as culture always does.  Isolation is harder to achieve, if in fact it is even desirable.  We live in each others’ living rooms.  At best, Llosa’s fears—which may be too strong a word—may have more to do with nostalgia than actual diagnosis.

But then there is this huge, gawping thing in our midst, this political circus, and it might be reasonable to wonder how much we may have lost in terms of “culture” that something like Trump can aspire as successfully as he has to the presidency.  It is perhaps a handicap for many that the answers may be culture-based and insulting to a large group of people.  But I think, for myself at least, that there is nothing wrong with affirming that some things are better than others and that all aspects of culture are not equal.  When you see placards with gross misspellings and bad diction in service to poor logic and spiteful ignorance, it offends and perhaps causes one to hold back rather than indulge in the obvious assessments.  But like the doofus who shows up at a formal-attire wedding in plaid shorts and tennis shoes with an emblazoned t-shirt and a product-placement ball cap, the initial conclusion may not be wrong.

Suggestions have been made that the GOP might intervene and force Trump to step down or even do something with the rules to make him ineligible.  Hiding the blemish won’t cure it.  Trump’s success, if not he himself, is an expression of a popular sentiment, an æsthetic, if you will, that has embraced the thing Llosa is, in part, talking about.  He has brought them together, the subliterates, the banal, the velvet-paintings-of-Elvis crowd, those whose most trenchant popular icon should be Archie Bunker.

And they voted for him.  Should the GOP try to remove Trump, understandable as the impulse may be, it will be a repudiation of the very people they have relied on and nurtured and groomed for over three decades.  They have been largely unseen all this time because they have been salted throughout the larger culture, an aberration perhaps.  But Trump has caused them to step forward as a group.  We, the rest of us, can see them now.  They’ve been there all along, but we have rarely encountered them in numbers so large we could not pretend they weren’t just fringe kooks, loonies, or family embarrassments.

Forgive my crudeness, but I’m  engaging this problem the way they do.  Name-calling, pigeon-holing,  because it makes the unknown manageable.  It is a practice we rightly abhor but is the obverse of recognizing a form of self-selection and commitment to a set of protocols.  If it makes us uncomfortable to be confronted with a reality that has grown up in our midst, then perhaps we share some of the responsibility.  We have as a culture been driven more by the shiny, the thalamic and hippocampic  reactiveness that draws us to the bright thing at the expense, sometimes, of the good thing.

But then, what do you do with someone who has decided that truth and beauty are the same as a red dot sale at WalMart?

It’s perhaps one reason WalMart has been so successful.

Trump, finally, has caused nothing.  He is playing to an audience.  What he says is less important than the fact that there are people who like it.  When he is long gone from the political stage, they will remain.

It’s a cultural problem.

A Moment of Stepping Back and Considering Something Else

Politics is generally like that old joke about wrasslin’ pigs.  More, it’s like walking into the middle of a bar fight and asking “Who started this?” and expecting a useful answer.  One may be available, but not from the participants.  At least, not likely.

The only viable stance to take is to ask yourself, What is it you hope to gain from who you back?  And then, how likely is it you’ll get it from the one you’re backing?  Detailed analysis of outcomes are problematic while the punches and beer bottles are being thrown. Conclusions from that must wait till after the fight is over and the cleaning up begins.  They will be useful, just not right now.

With that in mind, I have a lot of other things to do this week, so I’m stepping back and doing them.  I leave you therefore with a new photograph.  Or rather an old photograph redone in my new photoshop, etc etc, for something (one hopes) more on the noncontroversial side of life.

Redwood Nook, 2013 Redwood Paradise, 2013Okay, two images.  I lied.  Enjoy ’em anyway.

A Couple of Scenes From Dallas, On the Occasion of Our Recent Visit

I may talk about the tragedy later.  I had a couple of conversations, saw a few things, felt a great deal, but I need to process it.  In the meantime, since we went there for something entirely joyful, let me stick with that for now.

Daniel Kost is Donna’s nephew, the youngest of two brothers.  He’s an engineer, an artist, a good guy and a fine human.  He’s been living in Dallas practically since he got his degree, so we don’t get to see him much.  So when it transpired that he was getting married, naturally we had to attend.

The ceremony, though modified because of a sudden rainstorm, was beautiful.

Here they are, Dan and Ana:

Dan & Ana dance, 2016 Oh, and yes, Dan is tall. Six eleven and a skosh.  Which makes Ana…well, taller than me.

The wedding was held in the Texas Discovery Gardens, which boasts a marvelous butterfly house.  Of course I had to take a walk through it, and…

Butterfly, Dallas, 2016No, it’s not the only picture I shot, but give me time.  (I have no idea what kind of winged beauty that is, but…)

Earlier in the day, we went to the Dallas Museum of Art, which is in (wait for it!) the Art District.  They had an Irving Penn retrospective on.  I’d never seen any of Penn’s work “in the flesh” before and it did not disappoint.  While going through it, we came on a class. The instructor was giving the kids a primer in photography and she was very good.  “When was the last time you took a picture? What did you take it with?” (Unsurprisingly, most of them had taken one with their phones.) She then showed them a range of different cameras.

Class at Museum, Dallas 2016The day after we arrived in Dallas, which was Thursday evening, we took a trip to Garland and the Stetson outlet store.  So I am newly be-hatted as well.

IMG_20160708_120953064IMG_20160708_120353058

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, to end with where I began, another photograph of the newly-wed couple.  Clearly they seem merely tolerant of each other and who knows how long this will last.

Dan & Ana, July 2016

New Toy

A pause in the somewhat draining labor of watching the global political landscape turn itself into a Cubist exercise in sharp lines the never quite match up.  I bit the bullet and got the new Photoshop.  I have a lot of learning to do, but as is my wont I dove right in.  Sample of first efforts.

Classic Blue (1)

Embracing Stupid

I’m hearing from some folks about Brexit and by and large what I’m hearing says this is a calamity.  The idiots “broke the U.K.”

There were plenty of people explaining what would likely happen if they did this, but hey, what do experts know?

Well, quite a lot, actually, but that fact alone makes them unpalatable to the voters who actually cast a Leave vote.  We see precisely that kind of—what would we call it?—“learning fatigue” here.  Who do you think supports Trump?  People who know little or all the most useless things when it comes to politics and economics and quite adamantly do not want to know, because knowing would contradict the fantasy world in which they stand forth at weekend keggers loudly proclaiming positions that might hold some value in a Game of Thrones episode, but since the folks they’re holding forth to know just as little or less, no one challenges them and they feel justified in clinging to their ignorance.

This is the same crowd whose collective eyes glaze over when you start talking about the mechanisms of trade deals, the dynamics of boom-and-bust cycles, or the pathology of bigotry.  People who can’t seem to think outside of very broad categories (i.e. Radical Islamists are Muslims therefore all Muslims want to kill us) and feel empowered whenever someone gets up on a podium and tells them they’re right to be terrified of boogeymen.

So a lot of people, and by the demographics a majority of older British voters, decided that leaving the EU is the same as getting rid of the immigration problem (and somehow they’ll be safer, even though they ought to know better because of past history, namely the IRA, but they at least were white) and that all their money, which will now disappear at an even greater rate because of the catch-up homegrown institutions will have to do to replace EU systems (either that or just let people die, which may happen anyway), will magically reappear in their private bank accounts, and anyway they didn’t understand a lot about what was going in Greece much less down in the Levant and they’d rather not know, as if removing themselves from a source of information somehow eliminates the problem.

Look, knowing things is hard.  Not only is it a bit of work to find out in the first place, but it can be difficult to know what to do with what you’ve learned, and often enough knowledge has the consequence of making you feel responsible.

And that, I think, is where much of the problem is.  People are past exhausted being told to give a damn.  And the less they know, the easier it is to be confident in dismissing problems that don’t seem to have anything to do with them.

But of course, problems always have something to do with you.  Maybe not directly or even tomorrow, but somewhat and eventually, and left ignored will grow.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

I’ll let that sit out there for a while.  More later.  But think about it.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

Phobic Identity

Here’s a the thing.  If you need someone to be in some way “less” than you in order for you to feel good—or even adequate—about yourself, you have a problem.  It’s not their problem, it’s yours.

This “pastor” who spewed all over Twitter that we shouldn’t feel bad about the Orlando killings because they were “perverts” is a prime example.  If he’s really a pastor, a religious leader, there is no reason for him to say any of that unless he’s just trying to assert superiority.  Which is entirely not the point of Christianity, as I understand it.  The point is to embrace the commonalities among people, not sort them out into boxes labeled “Preferred Types” and “Types To Be Condemned.”  No, he’s just indulging in bolstering a shaky self-image by dumping his own head full of crap on a group he finds personally—

What?  Offensive? Incomprehensible? Or simply indifferent to his beliefs.

But, then, how would he know?

People who try to make themselves feel better by denigrating others have always been among us but they have never been so able to broadcast their inadequacies so loudly and regularly and they have found each other and formed support groups. I can’t imagine a gloomier or, frankly, duller forum.

I have found that prejudice rarely survives real knowledge.  Actually knowing someone makes it very difficult to shove them into a category and hate “just because” they are a particular “type.”  Oh, it’s possible.  I have heard all manner of tortured rationalization to continue hating a group while embracing individuals from that group as friends.  But that requires, I think, a profound myopia. (And I have to wonder how much of a “friend” they can be.)  Generally, once you know someone, I believe it becomes harder and harder to categorically judge and hate them and those like them.

Which is why much of this hatred is based on ignorance.

But a particular kind of ignorance, one based on identity.

After 9/11 we saw people who suggested we learn more about Islam condemned as some species of traitor.  How dare you suggest we learn something about this group that just hurt us so badly!  How dare you suggest that we can’t programmatically cast all of them into the same box and deal with our pain by blaming them all and hating them!  How dare you suggest that more knowledge will benefit us!

It was a spasm of national smallness.  “I know who the enemy is, don’t tell me more about him or I might stop hating him.”

Reality is always more complicated.

People who feel squeezed by circumstance, unable often by virtue of their own ignorance to make the decisions necessary to get themselves out of their own cesspools of anger and frustration, seem to contract into themselves and put up a wall to keep out any ideas or facts that might tell them they are in error.  They end up hating, many of them, and you see it all over, with signs that are not only wrong-headed but in too many cases suggestive of poor education, illiteracy, and parochialisms that reinforce a siege mentality that grows daily more dense and difficult to penetrate.

No, sir or madam, “they” are not the problem.  There are conditions and circumstances that make for a toxic situation and someone has told you that “they” are the cause, the consequence, and the catalyst, all rolled into one, and if we can just be rid of “them” then you will stop being afraid.  Whoever told you that lied to you, probably because in so doing they have made themselves feel (falsely) more in control of their situation or they have a power agenda that depends on you buying into the lie.  It certainly depends on you never asking deeper questions.  Easier to just target and hate.  There, the shots have been fired, the bodies are on the floor, “they” have been dealt a blow.

Then why don’t you feel any safer?  Why can’t you get past the hate?

Why must we now shift aim to yet another group you know nothing about except that they don’t look or sound or act like you?

Too many people in this country harbor and nurture identity hatreds—we know who we are because we hate those people over there, who are different.

While you’re feeding on that, someone has been stealing your soul to use for purposes you’re too busy hating gays or Muslims or socialists or single parents or blacks or Latinos or Asians or Liberals or Democrats or anyone who knows something you don’t know or has an education or a vocabulary or anyone who reads or supports birth control or feminists or accepts evolution or advocates tolerance or the group of the day to notice.

On some level, along the way, inside, you are one or more of these very things. Hate them, you hate yourself.  And if by so doing you define who you are, then you have created for yourself a prison, with bars on the inside, through which to look and resent a world of which you have little understanding.  Because you refuse to.

And that pastor?  He’s one of the wardens.