What does Gilets jaunes mean?

Rumblings on the hustings, the corporate global economic order has Always been predicated on sacrificing the working class. Always:

It’s obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole.The paradox is this is not a result of the failure of the globalised economic model but of its success. In recent decades, the French economy, like the European and US economies, has continued to create wealth. We are thus, on average, richer. The problem is at the same time unemployment, insecurity and poverty have also increased. The central question, therefore, is not whether a globalised economy is efficient, but what to do with this model when it fails to create and nurture a coherent society?

In France, as in all western countries, we have gone in a few decades from a system that economically, politically and culturally integrates the majority into an unequal society that, by creating ever more wealth, benefits only the already wealthy.

The change is not down to a conspiracy, a wish to cast aside the poor, but to a model where employment is increasingly polarised. This comes with a new social geography: employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic. But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live. Thus, for the first time, “workers” no longer live in areas where employment is created, giving rise to a social and cultural shock.

Switch out France périphérique for the Rust Belt. They are interchangeable, except that the former has not, as yet, voted straight fascist and retains the habit of taking to the street – as well as tearing up parts of it to throw at the police. It’s how different cultures tackle the same problem: the left-behindness, debt, low pay, high taxes, inequality, and ignorance upon which the limited successes of late capitalism depend. It’s certainly not pleasant, but people have long-understood this and attempted to warn us from the dragons – Dr. K, Joe Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty – nor it is unrelated to the bizarre vortex we’ve been documenting here for ten(!) years. And the Gilets jaunes are not solving this problem. But they are making us look, and we’re not even used to that.

Image: Author photo of a different type of inundation, near Pont Neuf, 2016

When Dashing was an Adjective

And until it is again. Someone reminded me of how many times per day we get into our cars to complete singular errands, multiple trips out and back; performed so quickly, even with great frequency, these trips have an implied efficiency about them – and what our ability to perform them says about us. All the while, we directly refer to these efforts as ‘running’ out. Without unpacking the load of obvious parallels, this is perhaps a semantic point we can leave until later.

But, the fact remains: we are wedded to an ability to make invisible and necessary an extremely wasteful method of performing necessary tasks.

With ‘taking longer’ identified as the real enemy, with a number of very explicit exceptions of course, we set about to shorten everything, supposedly whittling the fat down to essentials. Now we are not just running out quickly, but getting it all done (even if it takes multiple trips), introducing an, again supposed, tertiary efficiency to our moving about. All the while adding to copious amounts of wasted effort, time and brain power, creating unneeded effluents and emissions and depleting the resources much of our running around would be meant, in a more excellent world, to conserve.

Today’s question: will we be able to take any advantage of the many devices and methods we have contrived to save us time before the ability to power, control and organize them runs out*? We are approaching a point of diminishing returns that may begin to appear strikingly similar to what we are actually doing – as this happens, will we lose the ability to make distinctions between the two? If we begin not be able to recognize the certain things that are happening (as we warn ourselves against these, citing worst case scenarios that may already be underway), then what?

*As a clarification, I’m not talking about any end times fainting-couch hysterics, but merely the banal impossibilities inferred by an ill-matching task/skill set like… trying to use technology to fall in love.

Made by hand, tested by labs

I’m a little late to this but… like many issues, it is woven into a blanket that is easy to forget you have, unless it’s the one you pull up every night to keep warm.

In response to the furor last year over lead in toys from China and elsewhere, the government responded with the Consumer Product safety Improvement Act. Sounds reasonable enough, right? The materials used to fabricate toys should be thoroughly tested before mass production and dissemination through chain retailers and the intertubes. But what about small runs of hand-made items, clothing, dolls, toys from people who have created tiny, sustainable niche markets to make things and support themselves? What about used clothes and thrift stores? No difference at all, the Act says.

For starters, the CPSIA requires end unit testing on every product intended for use by children under 12. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to do this testing, regardless of how small the business. That means that manufacturers (like myself ) will have to pay to get every different product they offer tested. These tests have to be done at a CSPC accredited lab, and cost up to $4,000 with an average of around $150. So for me, I offer 3 different types of dresses. Each dress contains 2 different fabrics, as well as buttons, and thread, so that’s potentially $600 to test one dress. But I have 3 styles, so that’s $1800. And when I get a new bolt of fabric, I need to start all over again. I can only make 15 dresses from one bolt, so there is no way I could make the testing financially feasible.

At present, there are no exemptions for small businesses and “micro” manufacturers like myself and most handcraft artisans.
There is no exception for quantities made, where the garments/products are made or anything else. Nor is there an exception for unadorned fabric components, unfinished wood components, materials which, by their nature, are free of lead and phthalates. Also, the Act takes a “guilty until proven innocent” approach, which would treat a handmade, unfinished wooden toy that doesn’t meet the certification deadline of 2/10/09 as a “banned hazardous substance” which would be illegal to distribute in this country. Each infraction carries a $100,000 felony charge.

This legislation is also retroactive for any pre-existing inventory as of February 10th, 2009. This means that everything on the shelves in those big (or small) stores will also be “banned, hazardous substances” – contraband. Larger corporations that can afford testing will incur thousands, maybe millions of dollars in fees, and this expense will be handed down to the consumer, probably making the prices for children’s products go through the roof. This also means that after that date, even selling your kids old things on eBay or Craigslist will be illegal. Charities will not be able to accept donations without a certificate of compliance either.

Designers and shop owners are being turned into activists by this issue and the looming deadline, as their livelihoods are at stake. The manufacturing scale here should easily connote a distinction in risk, and the handmade fabrication and retail industries should be enlisted as a corrective/alternative to mass-produced, imported goods, not lumped in with them. These are the folks who started out championing local, organic, small scale and sustainable as the cornerstones of new enterprise. And they were right. It is a crucial point of departure which is itself one of the new routes to sustainability. The time in which lawmakers could be insufficiently familiar with this distinction, and other, very related ones, has passed.

Fun in the Hot House

Listening to the Stooges’ Fun House at the bar last night then biking home late, I was conscious of an extended moment amidst the swirl of information and goings-on. If you take so much in and do not take some time away to think and cavort, it can all be overwhelming. A sample of what’s around you:

Juan Cole on the UN call for a ceasefire and settler colonialism.

Well-chosen words on the aforementioned Obama stimulus package.

A fire burning for forty-six years?

The search for signs and meanings.

Astrophysicist/author discusses the implications of death by black hole.

DH Lawrence on Democracy (‘flip’ to page 63).

1997 Salon interview with Robert Hughes.

And finally, just a few things to look into.

Food, and where it comes from

There exist all manner of local food co-operatives and CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) projects. In most of the rest of the world this is not a newsflash in need of acronyms; but even Americans are becoming increasingly in tune with what our far-flung system of food distribution hath wrought. Organic and long shelf-life don’t really go together, though if we demand them at any price, they can be found. But there are some truisms that crush this paradigm occasionally, like the fact that fruits are seasonal and vegetables taste best on or near the day they come out of the ground.

Enter Athens Locally Grown. Well… I did. Fresh and online, it’s the largest farmer’s market in Georgia. Watch below.