Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Port of Houston

Truth, Justice, And The Anarcho-Syndicalist Way

 Anyway. 9:29 p.m.

Just woke up from a post run nap. I say nap. I laid down on the bunk to recover and fell asleep in wet sweats. My hair has dried in the form of a torch, the upswept look becomes me!

I delivered here at the Port of Houston, coming down from Maine with lumber. There was the snowstorm, but I stayed ahead of it. In Maine there are a lot of little lumber mills, way out in the country, the hills or mountains. I picked up some kind of specialty lumber, several kinds of fruit wood. It's going to Malaysia, they told me up in Maine.

At the little mill up there I had to go in the office to get the bills and the place turned out to be run by a rather eccentric southerner, who had all the certificates he's ever received in his life on his little office wall. I saw Dale Carnegie, I saw solo flight. I'd like to get that one. Most prominent was something from the Air Force, which I was trying to focus my eyes on when he got finished printing the paperwork.

"Ever been in the service?" he asked.

"Yea. I was in the US Army in Germany."

"I never got to Germany," he said. "Ended up in Korea." He rolled his eyes. "You know what a EOS is?"

I didn't. Maybe he said IOS. It sounded like some kind of short term assignment.

"Well Korea must have been interesting though," I said.

"Phew! Korea? A hellhole! Winter is brutal. I mean brutal and then the monsoon season started and it did nothing but rain non stop."

"Yea, well I signed up for Germany and when I got over there everybody was trying to get out of there."

He laughed. He knew what I was talking about.

"I never had one article 15," he said. "You know what an article 15 is don't you?"

"Yes I do." The look on my face might have revealed how well I knew what an article 15 was, but I don't think he could tell what I got them for. Sleeping through PT, physical training, mainly. The early morning runs around post after you'd been downtown all night looking at frauleins who pretended not to notice and drinking as much of that splendid, splendid, German beer as time allowed.

"We been here 14 years," he said, looking into a side office from whence the clicking of a keyboard emanated continually. "I know every back road in this state. They can't pull nothing over on me."

"You used to deliver the lumber?"

"Rain, Summer, Winter, Fall, Ice, Snow. Just sign this and this and you're good to go."

It seemed more like a dismissal, but I wanted to go, too, and get out of those hills before dark. Here in Houston it's balmy, 60s. I don't have to pick up a load until morning so I wanted to sit and enjoy KPFT, the Houston Pacifica station, but I also wanted to run. I'm on a bit of a roll, having not missed a turn in ten times. That is, I run every other day. Eventually I'll miss a time. I'll have to be loading or rolling or any number of things. Sometimes I can't find a place to park the truck, or it's the other way around, I can park but there's no place to run. And sometimes I just don't feel like it.

I did hear a little of the nightly news. KPFT manages to have its own evening news. Not all of the Pacifica stations do. Los Angeles and Berkeley used to, but now they have one between them. This Houston station amazes me, existing here in the red state heart of Bushlandia.

KPFT was talking about the price of gasoline. It's too damn high. One thing though; when that oil gets above fifty, sixty or so, when it's above 75 the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution has a little breathing space. Between it and the Empire, that wants to destroy it. That won't stop trying until it does. On that you can bet all your bolivars.

It was a grueling, somewhat, run, couldn't breathe, low on energy, too. I had not slept but an hour or two, will probably not tonight, either. It seems that if I haven't had my organic powered greens, and powdered organic hemp protein I don't have enough energy. That's the only indication I have that I'm not wasting my money on this stuff. I've noticed, too, that if I have eaten something like a Burger King Whopper within the last few hours I have plenty of energy, but I try to run on an empty stomach so it burns fat. Running is the only way I can keep my weight down.

These greens are freeze dried, they say. All sorts of exotic plants like sea grass, spirulina, supposed to supply you with all kinds of something. I wonder what a dead plant can supply you with but I don't know. It's just fun taking stuff, when you can afford it. We like to take things. Some of us. Some of us take things for everything.

I listened to a few podcasts produced by this woman who was talking about things you should take to keep your ph balanced. Not long after that I had to get my Department of Transportation required bi-annual physical. It ran out while I was on the road so the company found me a clinic in Cheyenne, WY. I told the doctor I'd heard on a podcast that I should be worried about my ph level and she delightedly filled me in.

"Your body is very good at keeping its ph level within a very narrow range," she said. "You'd die it it got out of that range."

She seemed to scoff at the notion that you can affect your ph. It was a sight to see, her walking around the examining room, scoffing.

I remain unconvinced either way. I think about the things they had us do in high school athletics that are now known to be stupid things. Cold packs, salt tablets, withholding fluids for the sake of discipline. They told us that if you played basketball you couldn't play hockey, because hockey stiffens your ankles and for basketball you need flexible ankles. Pure hogwash, I imagine. They told us not to drink and smoke either. Such medieval thinking. I scoff at thee. Not that I don't run to a doctor when I get worried about something, but it's just that in thirty or forty years we will look back at now, at what the doctors sound like they are so sure of, and we will scoff.

But like any profession, doctors love to debunk people who would lessen the need for their profession. I read the web log of a Albuquerque lawyer earlier today and she was lamenting the fact that New Mexico might allow people to be defended in court by people who aren't lawyers. I had not heard of this. To me that sounds like a great victory for the people, but she listed a couple of reasons for why this isn't a good thing, and one was that these people will have lower ethical standards than lawyers. Imagine the guffaws if the general public reads that. She also seemed to scoff at people who can't afford a lawyer. They are irresponsible, according to her.

"For me, this case is not about the crime charged. It's not about whether the particular person who represented the State was clever, ethical, or qualified. It's about whether we are going to have two classes of people in our court system: those who take on the responsibility of hiring licensed attorneys and those who accept the lower cost and lower ethical standards applied to "the man on the street.""

She might be talking about paralegals. In some places people can go to a paralegal instead of a lawyer for certain things. This lawyer is very young, too. But perhaps she feels threatened by that. It means a loss of power. Some professions become very powerful. The professional association takes over the whole profession, as it were. The professional association writes the rules for the profession, which the state then adopts, and writes them so that you have to go to the profession to have anything done, and also so you can even get into the profession.

It has its disadvantages, but I can't see any other way. We need the rules, the standards. The free market would never be able to handle it. Imagine, the invisible hand of the market safeguarding us from quacks, or electricians who knew nothing about electricity. It makes one scoff.

And in the sense that the association functions like a guild, that is, a union, it protects its workers. But then we the people are left out of the process, have no control over the profession, and in the case of lawyers, they have a monopoly, on various aspects of what we need them for -- interpreting the law and writing the law, to name two things -- and it means that you and I now have to pay about $200 an hour to talk to a lawyer in New Mexico, and some of us make about $200 a week.

The ideal of course would be that we all become lawyers, and doctors, and architects and electricians. Not that we'd want to do all that all the time but to have the knowledge so they couldn't use our ignorance to exploit us. We have the capacity to know all of that, just not the opportunity to learn it.

It's about power. We can easily see that those with wealth have power, but there is also the power of the state, which we could use but do not. Wealth, capital, knows how to use the state and uses it to its advantage.

I call myself a socialist, but I have reservations about state socialism. We've seen what can happen when the state remains a center of power. Human nature takes over. Corruption sets in. Anarchism has the same end goal as socialism, a democracy run by the people with the people in control of the means of production, but they want to get there a different way, with no state, without that power center so that no one can gain control over it.

Anarcho-syndicalism is a type of anarchist thinking where the unions would take control of governing and perform the functions the state did. One nice thing about that idea is there is already, in the union, some kind of structure in place for after the state is dissolved. People would have experience running a structure, too. Plus, anarcho-syndicalism is a cool-sounding name.

We need anarchist type unions, like the IWW, Industrial Workers of the World. One big union, organized by workplace not by craft. Unions now are formed according to craft, or profession, and are often played against each other. In a future configuration, with this kind of union, how would you keep each profession from becoming a power center, with the means to exploit workers, as lawyers and doctors exploit us already? So in the future everyone becomes a lawyer and a carpenter and so forth. Knowledge. Education. Imagine the cities we will build when we are all architects and urban planners and environmentalists. If you've ever been in a city council or school board meeting you see how knowledge becomes power. The city manager or the superintendent gives the elected people a summary to make their decision from, which summary he makes up. He limits their choices to what he wants. The police chief tells them what kind of policing they need. We don't know policing, but we should.

I read a neat little book not long ago written by two French Anarchists in 1909, a fictional account of how the state might be taken over and then run by the unions. How We Shall Bring About The Revolution: Syndicalism And The Cooperative Commonwealth, by Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget. They wrote it, they said, not so much as a blueprint but mainly to give people a vision, so they could imagine themselves taking control.

You can see the need for a book like that any time you hear about apathy. You often hear it repeated that it doesn't make any difference whether you vote, or who you vote for. People know the game is rigged whomever is in power, but they can't see a way to correct the situation through voting. We are a visionless people. We can't see beyond payday. Can't see around the big screen TV. We sit there and don't have to think or learn or use our imaginations. We can't.

About that Albuquerque lawyer. I somehow ended up there in a roundabout way after first clicking on a link at the one New Mexico web log I read regularly. It's called Only In New Mexico and is written by a guy named Jim Baca, who is one of the main figures in New Mexico politics. He's one of the few New Mexicans to have played on a national stage. He was head of the Bureau of Land Management under Bill Clinton, and that agency is no small deal. He was also mayor of Albuquerque, and so on. That was all before I was here, or before I started trying to follow New Mexico politics. I just didn't think I had the capacity to begin to learn it all. But then I came across his web log and started following it.

I was there a few days ago and to my amazement noticed that my web log was on his short list of favorite web sites. I could barely believe it. There are only a few listed. This is a guy I admire and respect. He has some things. You can tell he has the fire. It flashes now and then, and he came of age, after all, when there were many new ideas around. But he also has wisdom, which I lack. Yes I do. I admit it. Story of my life. Many the memory makes me cringe because of that. So be it.

But I would return the honor to this man, but I don't know how yet. I think I'd have to switch to a different web site format, but I tried that once and it messed up the whole web log. These computers can be touchy if you don't know what you're doing.

But Jim Baca also has the ability to sum things up in a few words. He'd make a great editorial writer, and if we were both twenty years younger I'd think seriously about trying to meet with him and see what he thought about starting up a newspaper to compete with the current one, which is like a tumor in the community, arising out of and bringing out our lesser natures. I have reporting and investigative journalism experience, the ability to find stories. He can write and has the knowledge, and wisdom. Not me. I'm a dreamer. I check in with you all when I have to, but then I'm gone again. Fantasyland. Envisioning future non state configurations. Still, there is not a shortage of unemployed seasoned journalists around, either, who, since they are reporters, must hate the local paper, too.

I lived in South Carolina once where a newspaper was started up and it ran the old paper out of  town in about two years. Of course we're talking about a rural county and a small town county seat. But the guy who did it had only been headmaster of the local white flight academy for girls, and he got around on crutches. He found five or six people to put up the money. Or maybe they found him. I am not precisely sure. He referred to them as his investors when, as he often did, he editorialized about another milestone they had passed and briefly recounted their history. But it's a business. If income exceeds outgo it succeeds, the way I understand it.

The paper wasn't too bad, but it wasn't all that good either, but people were ready for a change. The county was transitioning from Democratic to Republican, and I suppose the "business community" helped in the equation. You'd have to come up with ways to get people to advertise with you. The most obvious way, to me of course, would be through the working class, the consumers, who of course are visionless at the moment. Still, there must be other ways, too, just outside of my vision. One can dream, anyway.

PS: True confession. A couple weeks ago I posted a picture of the big thermometer in Baker, CA. In the original picture there were two gasoline station signs, a Union 76 and a Chevron, both of which I replaced with Citgo signs. I meant to confess that but forgot before I thought of a way. Citgo, as you know, is owned by the national oil company of Venezuela, so when you fuel up at a Citgo you are giving the Socialist Bolivarian Revolution a hand. You are helping pay for the free medical clinics (often staffed by Cuban doctors) in all the poor barrios, the eye surgery, the operations, the free bound copies of the constitution every Chavista carries around and quotes from, and education for those same people and for the cost of organizing the local governing bodies the citizens have formed in all the barrios and for all the other things the Imperial news media fails to mention when it publishes its either blatantly false or only one sided propaganda pieces designed to slur Hugo Chavez and all that he has accomplished. You are helping some people who are trying to find a better, a more humane, a just way. And here's the critical thing, the tragedy, that makes our media's timidity and complicity with government so shameful and disgusting. These are things that, if we heard about them, might provide the vision of a better future, that you and I can make for ourselves. So if you stop at a Citgo I thank you for it.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Venezuelan Presidente Hugo Chavez at the inauguration Jan 1 of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president. Despite the ongoing diplomatic riff between their two countries they chatted amicably for five minutes, observers said, and when Chavez offered his hand Clinton shook it. Neither commented on the specifics of what they talked about.

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