26 September 2011

Moneyball in 5 Seconds

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 7:41 am

Buy low, sell high.

21 September 2011

Toll Road Nation

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 10:27 am

One word: privatization.

Interest rates are at historic lows, while corporate profits are at historic highs. Both parties want to restrict government income by capping borrowing while lowering taxes. This forces government to sell off those publicly-owned assets that it can no longer maintain. Highways are one of the most valuable assets owned by governments.

So picture this: The government outsources road building and repair. It guarantees loans to private industry, plus gives them big tax incentives/deductions for rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Industry then owns all or part of the roads they build and/or maintain. Industry turns the American road system into a set of interlinked toll roads. Outfit each vehicle with a GPS, which functions as a remote monitoring system for calculating tolls. The private highway companies send you a bill at the end of the month, just like for phones, electricity, etc. It’s another potential source of huge profits for private industry, built on an infrastructure paid for by taxpayers. Citizens who benefited from government investment in the road system are turned into paying customers. I don’t think this is far-fetched at all. Obama already floated the idea a couple of months ago as a way to pay for “investing in America’s infrastructure.”

[I wrote this earlier today as a comment on Erdman’s post about financing the American roads, but I thought I’d suck it back into Ktismatics as a speculative post in its own right.]

18 September 2011

The Bluest Eye by Morrison, 1970

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 5:37 pm

All his life he had a fondness for things — not the acquisition of wealth or beautiful objects, but a genuine love of worn objects: a coffee pot that had been his mother’s, a welcome mat from the door of a rooming house he had once lived in, a quilt from a Salvation Army store counter. It was as though his disdain of human contact had converted itself into a craving for things humans had touched. The residue of the human spirit smeared on inanimate objects was all he could withstand of humanity. To contemplate, for example, evidence of human footsteps on the mat — absorb the smell of the quilt and wallow in the sweet certainty that many bodies had sweated, slept, dreamed, made love, been ill, and even died under it. Wherever he went, he took along his things and was always searching for others. This thirst for worn things let to casual but habitual examinations of trash barrels in alleys and wastebaskets in public places. . . .

All in all, his personality was an arabesque: intricate, symmetrical, balanced, and tightly constructed — except for one flaw. The careful design was marred occasionally by rare but keen sexual cravings.

He could have been an active homosexual but lacked the courage. Bestiality did not occur to him, and sodomy was out of the question, for he did not experience sustained erections and could not endure the thought of somebody else’s. And besides, the one thing that disgusted him more than entering and caressing a woman was caressing and being caressed by a man. In any case, his cravings, although intense, never relished physical contact. He abhorred flesh on flesh. Body odor, breath odor, overwhelmed him. The sight of dried matter in the corner of the eye, decayed or missing teeth, ear wax, blackheads, moles, blisters, skin crusts — all the natural excretions and protections the body was capable of — disquieted him. His attention therefore gradually settled on those humans whose bodies were least offensive — children. And since he was too diffident to confront homosexuality, and since little boys were insulting, scary, and stubborn, he further limited his interests to little girls. They were usually manageable and frequently seductive. His sexuality was anything but lewd; his patronage of little girls smacked of innocence and was associated in his mind with cleanliness. He was what one might call a very clean old man.

12 September 2011

Suicide by Levé, 2008

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 11:18 am

In the metro, in Paris, you entered a train car and sat down on a folding seat. Three stations later, a homeless man came to sit next you. He smelled of cheese, urine, and shit. Hirsute, he turned toward you, sniffed several times, and said: “Hmmm, it smells flowery in here.” You had put on a fragrance in the morning before going out. For once, a homeless man made you laugh. Normally such people made you uncomfortable. You didn’t feel threatened, they’d never caused you any harm, but you were afraid of ending up like them. Nothing justified this fear, however. You were not alone, poor, alcoholic, abandoned. You had a family, a wife, friends, a house. You did not lack money. But homeless people were like ghosts foretelling one of your possible ends. You didn’t identify with happy people, and in your excessiveness you projected onto those who had failed in everything, or succeeded in nothing. The homeless embodied the final stage in a decline your life could have tended toward. You did not take them for victims, but for authors of their own lives. As scandalous as it seems, you used to think that some homeless people had chosen to live that way. This is what disturbed you the most: that you could, one day, choose to fail. Not to let yourself go, which would only have been a form of passivity, but to want to descend, to become a ruin of yourself. Memories of other homeless people came to mind. You couldn’t prevent yourself, when you saw some, from stopping to watch them from a distance. They owned nothing, lived from day to day without domicile, without possessions, without friends. Their destitution fascinated you. You used to imagine living like them, abandoning what had been given to you and what you had acquired. You would detach yourself from things, from people, and from time. You would situate yourself in a perpetual present. You would renounce organizing your future. You would let yourself be guided by the randomness of encounters and events, indifferent to one choice over another. When, seated in the metro, you were imagining to yourself what it would be like to live in his shoes, your neighbor stood up, staggering, and left to join a group of drunk homeless people on the next metro platform. One of them was slumped on the ground, asleep with his mouth open, belly up, one shoe undone. He resembled a corpse. This was perhaps what you feared: to become inert in a body that still breathes, drinks, and feeds itself. To commit suicide in slow motion.


8 September 2011

Station Zero

Filed under: Fiction, First Lines, Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:59 am

He walks down to Station Zero like a dead Jesus dragging his cross back down Golgotha. There are no scars to be seen, no gashes to be probed. He is well fed, well conditioned, reasonably well dressed; he carries himself well for a dead man. But he knows the score, and it is Zero.

There is a bay, and then there are mountains; in between is the city. Long ago the city began pushing itself up the mountainside, and the narrow shop-lined street bears signs of its struggle. Finally it stopped being a street altogether and turned into a stone stairway. Bud kept going until even the squat old houses gave up the climb. Higher still he saw a shallow niche carved into the solid rock; a green steel trash barrel occupied the protected space where a statue or relic had once stood. From there the stairway steepened and veered to the right, its ascent blocked from view by the bushes and craggy trees that had managed to find a foothold. Bud took one more step up and scuffed his shoe. Fuck it, he thought: I’m going back.

Bud stepped into a bakery. He pointed to an apricot-filled pastry in the display case, then waited with embarrassed helplessness as the small woman behind the counter sorted brusquely through the coins he held out in the palm of his hand for her inspection. He asked her where he could find a coffee, and she pointed down the street and around the next corner. Toting his pastry in its paper sack, he took the turn and saw the sign above the door: a stylized cross-sectional drawing of a nautilus shell inscribed with one word – Rik’s.

*  *  *

In March I arrived at a tentative ending to a novel. Since then I added a sentence to it here and there, but overall that ending still looks good to me. A week ago I came up with what seems like a pretty good opening paragraph on the next installment for this ongoing project, tentatively named The Stations. I let that paragraph sit for a couple of days, added a couple of thousand words to it, let it sit again, scrapped it altogether, gave it a shake and a twist for another go. So here, for your inspection, are the first three paragraphs of something new.

The beginning is the hardest part. Why, among the countless possible beginnings of countless possible texts, should I settle on this one? If things go well, then after some juddering and some catatonia the beginning accrues additional mass and generates a momentum of its own. It doesn’t always work, and so my hard drive is spattered with false starts. We’ll see if this one goes anywhere.

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