Saturday, April 30, 2011

The United States of America: Detroit of the World.

I'm actually worried about the state of this country. I'm worried that the people who spend the money, the legislators, have busted this country for the people who make the money, the corporations.

Don't confuse Corporations with the People Who Pay the Bills because that's the Middle Class. But corporations make the money and the USA hasn't been very good at allowing them to do that for the past few years. The fact that corporations aren't providing good jobs for Americans to earn the salaries to allow them to purchase the goods and services that the corporations produce doesn't seem to make any difference to the Corporations.

So in an every deteriorating spiral, Corporations don't pay the bills that fund America's infrastructure and they don't provide the salaries, yet they complain that America isn't doing enough to keep the corporations fat and wealthy. So they've been taking their business elsewhere.

We used to think that America ("The United States of America") and the Corporations were inseparable. But these past 2 years have taught me that they aren't. The Middle Class is disintegrating before our eyes. The Super Rich have gotten super richer and the poor keep finding ways to avoid success. If I had to do the math, I'm sure I could find an algorithm that explains the tipping point where someone decides they are better off not working for low pay than they are not working at all. My guess, with my poor math skills, is that if you are single and make less than $22,000 a year (about $12/hr.), it's probably not worth your time to have any regular job. You might as well let the government feed and house you. And from what I see happening in America, there must be an app for that calculation because so many people don't seem to want a job if it pays so little.

Don't think this is about the poor. It isn't. It's about why there are no good jobs in America any more.

Wall Street is richer than ever. But America is poor. We have no jobs and the good jobs that were left are being stripped away. Okay, I guess I should admit that there are some jobs: food service jobs are plentiful. Low-paying jobs with little room for advancement abound. But the abundance of moderately-high-paying jobs that seemed to come from education and work experience seem to have evaporated. Whatever promise the future made to our parents hasn't been shared with us.

Look how America treats Corporations: we have regulations. We tell Corporations how they can function, how they need to report earnings, how they need to keep products safe, how they should be greener, how they should treat workers fairly, how they should offer medical benefits, how they should provide fair pay, hours, benefits. We've banned smoking from the workplace, for chrissakes. And Corporations love to smoke!

The rest of the world doesn't care about this.

Corporations took too easily to doing business with China. Yes, I'm bashing China. Look at it! Do you even understand what's been happening there? Corporations went there for cheap labor and low or no regulations. Other than graft and political corruption. So Corporations opened up shop there and Chinese regulations require that the Corporations turn over manufacturing specifications and trade secrets before China will agree to let them stay. So China can now counterfeit all your goods if they want, but they promise not to if you stay and don't complain about their labor laws or how their government is run. And so the salaries for Chinese laborers went up, a little. And you can see how we've been rewarded for that, oil prices and food prices and the cost of most commodities have gone up. Because a few hundred million workers can now afford to buy cars and food. But as costs increased for the Corporations, what did they do? Many of them moved from the areas where labor was to cheap and quickly became more expensive to areas where labor was still cheap. The Corporations just moved from one part of China to another. Just like in America when they move from one expensive state to a cheaper one. The Corporations learned that providing jobs to workers, even low paying, unsafe, exploitative jobs is more important to keeping a government stable than providing well-paid jobs with good benefits. And so they have been applying that new philosophy here in America.

But I'm not blaming China. I'm blaming us. If I thought about it, I'd probably find blame with NAFTA because that's where I think Corporations got the idea that they didn't need to support the American workforce in the first place.

More proof. Corporations want to do business in Libya. True. Even a corrupt, evil dictatorship looks sexy to Corporations. Libya and other countries where life is hard and cheap because the government is cruel, are like whores who would let Corporations have their way with them. Not like America, where we complain all the time, but slutty, spread-open skanks who welcome manufacturing facilities with toxic chemical processes or obsolete unsafe production methods and don't have court systems that have ever heard the words "Class Action."

America is less attractive to Corporations than Libya. And Libya is the Libya of the World. We used to compare city to city in America, deciding where we would move to find a better job, but I don't think that's possible anymore. The Dollar is weak. And America has become expensive.

You can call me an alarmist if you want, but I'm not trying to alarm anyone. I don't have a solution. I'm just pointing out where we are as a country, and our place in the Global Village. America used to be the New York of the World. We used to be Hollywood. But not today. We are Detroit.

If you ever want to find work in the future (I'm guessing 15 years from now), you won't just pack up your stuff and move to California or Washington; you will have to go to a whole other country. And not Canada. For the next location the Corporations might find desirable, I'm thinking Ireland or Greece. So learn a new language or buy a warm coat. You still have time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Book vs. Us

On the one hand, there is the book. And on the other, there is us. I might say it's a form of Nurture vs. Nature where Nurture is the unchangeable WORD, printed and bound and Nature is the EXPERIENCES we have, separate from the word but reliant on it for some meaning or understanding (but that would go against all previous definitions of nature-nurture).

We have this immovable thing, this book, with inked sheets of paper where letters are frozen in time and space, where ideas move in a line from beginning to end without any detours.

And then we have this other thing, this fluid, fluctuating thing that is dynamic and conscious and free.

We have language and art to express ourselves. We form thoughts and we attempt to convey those ideas to others.

There are always these opposing forces: we want to live, but we also want to record what was lived. We have life. But we also want to share life with others:
"Do that thing you did before."
"What thing? This?"
"No, it was different."

We are always attempting to recapture and relive special moments. We take photos. We blog; we tweet. We paint cave walls. We get tattooed. We need to express what life means to us, as humans.

Or so it seems. We could be like animals. Even though I don't know what it's like to be an animal, my guess is that birds don't ask other birds what they think of their nests or dogs don't compliment each other's coats.

But each wall or blog post or tweet is a reduction of that freedom. Each wav and avi posted is also only a tiny fraction of our Nature.

What we live; what we observe; what we remember; what we share, are all smaller and smaller subsets of the whole of our Nature.

We live. But when we need to express how we live, we create books, songs, art, games, video.

We live this duality, but often misunderstand it. These parts need each other. But each time we neglect the one side, the other side rebels. Reflect on your life too much and you may forget to live it. Live too much without any reflection and you may seem crazy.

But there's no point in trying to find a balance. Each side needs to be fulfilled. Live. Record. Live. Record. Time moves forward and we can't do both at the same time. You can pretend that you can observe your life as you live it, but you are inevitably Schrödinger's Cat: just the act of looking alters how you live. Unless you're a true narcissist, then looking is all that matters.

So Live. Then Look. Or Look, then Live; it's your choice.

And if what you see is worth mentioning, do your best to tell others. Or just make it up and dare someone to call you a liar.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"To create, you must destroy."

The Library War. Is it me, or has the library war already started? Because I keep reading about how the old library is dead and the new library needs building. That print has been mortally wounded and now those inbred and bastard children fight to be the next ruler. We have our own Game of Thrones (this week on HBO) in the fantasy library world of Bibliotania (yeah, you come up with a better name):
  • We have Knowledge Facilitators, once loyal to the throne but now impatient for political change so long as the office remains in their control.

  • We have Transliterates, plotting with foreign armies or mercenaries, anyone who can bring swift wealth and power.

  • We have Digital Natives, spoiled, selfish, corrupt, unable to see beyond their immediate desires, but who command a great army.

But each for now, opposed to the rule of Paper. Paper Rule, Papal Rule: there could be some historic parallel in this tale. All these voices in Libraryland say that The Print is Dead. See? That sounds like "the Prince is dead." You could really run with this to write a terrible story if you wanted.

So they all shout. Somehow, I think, that whoever shouts about the death of print the loudest, that one will somehow gain the upper hand in the fight.

"Technology is the answer!" "Transliteracy!" "Knowledge Facilitation through communication with local communities is the solution! (That one's not so catchy.)

So, although the library is actually doing pretty well and not at all at death's door, these groups think it's wise to declare the death. Yes, print may not ever recover fully; the wound is too deep. But to attack now can only weaken the library more. Because the library and print are inseparable in the eyes of the people. So that's the war, as it is now. The library suffers. Print is dead. And at least three factions march upon the territory to claim victory.

But is this wise? There are external forces who wish to see the library dead. The whole ebook seller market and publishers of bestsellers would love to see the library disappear. Even though the library accounts for millions of dollars in sales, if the public had to buy individual copies for themselves, those sales would increase 2, 4, even 10 times.

You would think that the best position would be for these groups to run to the aid of the library and tell the public that Technology, Transliteracy, and Knowledge Facilitation have always been part of the library and that the library is strong and healthy. But they don't. So the war, it is here. At our door step. I think. Unless these groups can find a way toward common ground, I don't know what will happen.

Because the enemies of the library lie in wait, also, to attack. Elected assholes keep stripping the funding and telling the public that they are saving them money. But the library needs money to survive. And people need libraries. They really do. But the people become blinded and only see the few dollars these officials can actually save them, instead of recognizing that all their few dollars combined keep the libraries strong and give the people back untold riches in information access, entertainment and knowledge.

Okay, fine, I've gotten a little prosy with my writing. And since you all expect a little violence and sex with your stories these days, I'll tell you this: The war raged. Blood splattered on the fields of battle where limbs and split torsos lay. The young women bore their heaving breasts in passionate embrace with the victors. And all heard great sighs and moans of pleasure as each body arrived at the summit and all was released.

There, you feel better now? You pervert.

But we need to stop this war before it goes too far. The library is what matters. The library needs us all to survive. And even in the 21st Century, whether you believe the library is a place or whether you think the library is a service, the library is still a great idea. Let's stand together and fight for it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Librarians as Nomads.

America has finally realized the wealthy man's dream: the rich get richer while the rest of us fight over the table scraps. It seems that China is also learning this lesson. With more people than anyone could possibly afford to put to work, the world's rich have the luxury of being able to pick and choose where in China to build and manufacture goods. So when the wages in one part of China get too high to make manufacturing profitable, the rich just pack it all up and move it to a cheaper location.

And I see this as the future of librarianshit. Oops. Was that a typo? I guess we'll never know.

But the future of libraries will come from profitability. But since libraries run on public funds, that profitability is derived from cost savings. The future of libraries will be determined by huge decreases in funding.

For cost savings, the library of the future will be designed like an open air picnic pavilion with a concrete floor and a metal roof. Metal benches line the center in rows. These benches can be converted into vertical planes with the pull of a lever to keep people from sleeping on them at night. A central drain allows for easy cleaning by hosing the whole place down at closing time. There are no books, but there is wifi. Library patrons can speak or chat with a librarian through their portable device or laptop. There are no printers.

There are no magazines. There are no bathrooms. Unless you count the drain.

The Library (and bathroom) of the Future.

Other than the missing toilets, I don't think most people would know the difference between the new library and the old. They might miss being able to steal our stapler.

But librarians will take jobs as they come, as independent contractors. Some lucky ones will work from home, chatting with library users across the country and guiding them to the nearest Cracker Barrel or HoJo's.

But most of will travel around to areas that can afford to pay for our services. Budgets will be slashed to the bone, but some places will find a few bucks here or there. We'll present computer classes and read at storytime and generally raise the local average IQ about 25 points for those few months for some township that won a grant. People will say, "Oh, I'm supposed to cover my nose with that tissue when I blow my snot out" because of the librarian's cultural influence.

And like the storied hobo signs of the past, librarians will use "librarian signs" to tell others of their experiences in each location. Found in chalk at the town border, 641.5 means "good cooking." A 364.1 means "trouble." 346.73078 means "their checks bounce; get paid in cash."