Friday, March 25, 2011

Just Another Day in Paradise

View over downtown.
    Sometimes, political thinking takes me by surprise. I don't know much about politics, so even the smallest remark can leave me wading in a quagmire of background information. Several weeks ago Alex found The Century of the Self, a BBC documentary about the influence of Freud and Bernays on advertising and government, and became fascinated with it. With a little prodding, I watched it myself, and was fascinated from start to finish. It took me several days to get through the first episode, taking notes & looking things up. Then, out of the blue, she asked one day: "What do you know about Situationism?" We had watched The Society of The Spectacle in Lagunitas, and been left thinking a lot about the arbitrary nature of perception, and normal capitalist market-predation on these basic human faculties. As often happens, half-way through reading about Situationists, I got confused, and stopped to grock it for a few days.
    My Mac was overheating, so I tossed it in the refrigerator to cool down, got on my bicycle, and went shopping for food. I got to the store, and there was an acquaintance there parked in the middle of the vegetable section in front of a fallen sack of beans recounting some horror to a rapt audience. Since she didn't acknowledge me, I didn't interrupt. I just worked my way around the sullen employees and the gaggle of Americans listening to the tragedy, grabbed some tomatoes, and moved on. After getting some milk and a small bag of bleach, I checked out.
    The bags are a funny thing. Many liquids are sold in plastic bags here. Sturdy little bags full of mostly dairy or cleaning products. I don't even want to think right now about the endocrine-disruptors leeching out of these bags into foodstuffs and the products used to clean everything. I guess a low life-expectancy is a self-perpetuating thing. It is very comical, nonetheless, to see the Jinga game people play gently pulling a plastic baggie of milk from a cooler stacked high; one has to marvel at what must be a really high percentage of these baggies that make it home in the bottom of a grocery-bag jostling in a truck driving miles home on deeply rutted roads.
    At the checkout counter, my bill adds up to C$82.26. The leading and only supermarket here, where I am, is owned by Wal-Mart, so they are no strangers to sucking the very life out of local capital, and one way they do this is by having centesimal prices in a town where no one else accepts currency smaller than 1/2 a Cordoba (C$), and a country where as far as I know there is no C$0.01 coin. So when your bill adds up to fractional units no one has currency to deal with, a rounding rule is applied by the register, and you get fractionally less back than you are owed, but only sometimes. I don't understand the rounding rule, but my intuition, and my prejudice about Wal-Mart, tell me that it is a calculated way of gaining a few extra pennies by charging x.x4 and returning x.x5 instead of x.x6.
The kitchen at the Blue Marlin restaurant.
Reaching in my pockets, I find a C$100 bill, which will cover it nicely, but register-arithmetic kicks in. I locate 2 C$1 coins and a C$0.50 coin. Perfect. If I give the cashier C$102.50, I'll get back something in the vicinity of C$20.24, and since there is a C$20 bill in ample circulation, this makes sense, but the cashier refuses the C$0.50 coin. So he enters C$102 into the register, and is presented with a section of the text-based display that informs him to give me C$19.75 back in change. See how nice they are? They're giving away C$0.01, despite the fact that no such coin exists anymore!
I blew a gasket when the cashier's drawer opened and after grabbing a C$10 bill, he started counting out C$9.75 worth of annoying coins. I said: This is ridiculous! Why did you refuse my C$0.50 coin, when you're giving me back a handful of coins now, some much smaller? There was a queue forming up behind me. It was not comfortable. Nevertheless, it seemed like a principle to disallow that bullshit at this precise moment. He was befuddled at my annoyance. I think I said some dirty words in the process of explaining the arithmetic once again. The panic button got pushed, and a manager promptly appeared. The cashier told his story, I told mine, and the manager instructed the cashier to take my C$0.50 coin & give me back C$20.25.
I never exchanged another word with the manager, except to thank him, but I got back C$0.01 more than I was owed. Sadly, I'm guessing a situation report from the manager to management will be forthcoming and reprimands all-around for disrupting the amicable atmosphere of that dungeon. Even more sadly, I think the cashier had no nefarious intent to cause me a small bureaucratic annoyance. He just really could not do the math.
After watching the BBC documentary on "The Century of the Self" describe in detail the application of Freudian theories on the subconscious to propaganda and the control of masses, both by states and private businesses, reading about Situationists this past week left my head spinning. "The Society of the Spectacle" by Guy Debord was the pinnacle of that line of thought, and held to be largely responsible for impelling the general wildcat strikes of May, 1968 in France. Since I had been watching & studying The Century of the Self, reading about Situationism was just icing on the cake. I had to stop when I got to the concept of recuperation. The very idea that evolution can render such an evil plan into play is both delicious and terrifying. So much of what I thought was good and honorable resistance to capitalism may be actions that are easily harvested by a machinery more able than any individual,and ultimately benefitting bad guys. So I stopped reading forward, and have been reading laterally and thinking about it ever since. If subversive icons, like Che Guevara, become commodity images to be silk-screened into profitable t-shirts made by forcibly sterilized slaves in Chinese sweat-shops, then what of subversion?

Textures detail.
The funny thing is that the cash-register is spectacular in that Situationist sense. I think the supermarket check-out counter is quite the marvel of psychosocial manipulation. Virtually any challenge to what the cashier does directly impacts those behind the consumer, putting him in the position of adversely affecting others as the cost of defending his rights.
Semana Santa is coming up, and possibly that bears a little explanation. "Holy Week" is Easter. It is also "Spring Break". In a Communist Catholic surfing mecca, it is easy to see how that might create some opportunities and some tensions simultaneously. The bottom line is that unless your'e very diplomatic, or loaded like the Spring Break revelers, you're sleeping in the street. Most month-to-month renters get kicked out, since places will fetch for just the week the same amount of money they generate in about 50 days normally. I found a place in a small villa of charming yet rustic apartments with great views, and wi-fi. After many extended conversations with the manager, I finally nailed a room for next month & made an arrangement for Semana Santa; a place to sleep within a price-range I can afford doing death-defyingly underpriced syndicated blogging and off-shored technical contract work. Nevermind the scorpions, ants, wasps, and parasites. It is a God-send.
I got back to my house. Since the water was running, which only happens part of the day, I grabbed a shower & did some dishes. Then I grabbed the computer out of the fridge, enjoyed the cool whisps issuing from it, and plugged it in. Along the way, I could not resist getting my infrared thermometer to take a few readings. What is a "cool whisp" in this land? The walls, the floor, and the furniture were all mostly around 89°F 30m after the sun had gone down. The computer, just out of the fridge and feeling huggably cool, was at 82°F. It's pretty warm here. When the temperature drops below 80°F, you wake up, and have to go hunting for a top-sheet.

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