The Price So Many Are Paying

With the global financial crisis deepening and spreading into communities (aided and abetted by years of political corruption) in recent months the number of workers in Italy who have taken their own lives has risen fast.

Below are some of their stories

See more of these printed in L’Espresso (in Italian) – 13th April 2012

13 April 2012. Sesto, Fiorentina, Firenze. Giuliano V., ex-manager, 42, died by throwing himself under a freight train. Four months before he had lost his position in the marble production sector in Garfagnana. Falling into a deep depression he had tried to create a new life and career without success.

12 April 2012. Treviso. Paolo Tonin, 53, agricultural businessman hanged himself in his business premises. According to his family, the suicide was as a direct result of the difficult economic climate his business had been plunged into.

9 April 2012. Valtiberina, Arezzo, 27, owner of a woodcutting business, killed himself in a forest by connecting a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car. Family and friends said he was overwhelmed by his debts. He had just received a tax bill for 50,000 euros.

5 April 2012. Savona. Vittorio Galasso, independent builder, 52,  hanged himself in the apartment he was renovating. According to friends, he could not go on facing little work and rising debts.  He left a wife and two children of 15 and 17 years.

3 April 2012. Roma. Mario Frasacco, businessman, 59. His aluminium products company failing, workers being laid off, Frasacco shot himself in his business premises. His body was found the morning after by his twenty year old son.

2 April 2012. Roma. Pasqualino Clotilde, artisan, 57, hanged himself in his framing shop. A note explained his reasons: “insurmountable economic problems.” The day before his wife had begun working in a cleaning company to help pay off family debts.

23 March 2012. Cepagatti, Pescara. E.F, businessman, 44 years, hanged himself because he was desperate over the economic situation of his window and door frame company.  His body was found by his company employees.

21 March 2012. Scorrano (Lecce). Antonio Maggio, craftsman, 29, hanged himself after losing his job on an excavation site. With the job he had been supporting his widowed mother. A few days before he lost his job, he received a payment notice for rubbish collection.

9 March 2012. Ginosa Marina (Taranto). Vincenzo Di Tinco, 60, shopkeeper, hanged himself after his bank refused him help. Proprietor of clothing company he was refused a 1,300 euro loan notwithstanding his 40 years in business.

9 March 2012. Noventa di Piave (Venezia). Carpenter, 60, took his own life because delay in receiving payments from clients. His body was found by a co-worker in their work premises.

26 February 2012. Firenze. Businessman, 64, found hanging in his premises, due to economic difficulties.

15 February 2012. Paternò (Catania). Owner, 57, of an  agricultural machinery company, hanged himself in his warehouse. His company had numerous debts.

3 January 2012. Milano. Giancarlo Chiodini, electrician, 64, shot himself in the head in his van parked in front of his work premises. Dedicated to his work, in recent times he had become obsessed by worry over promised contracts that did not materialise and delayed payments.

(translated by this writer)

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.

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‘The Seat of Human Justice’

Inside Job and The Euro

See the documentary Inside Job – a forensically researched, superbly delivered film about the 2008/2009 financial collapse – to see what the Euro leaders really have to deal with, the rating agencies delivering them an ultimatum.

Why haven’t we had a detailed analysis as we see in Inside Job presented to us by big media?

Some empirical facts to ponder: “The financial services industry’s share of profits increased from 10% in the 1980s to 40% in 2007, and the value of its shares (in the overall) went from 6% to 23%, while the industry only accounts for 5% of private sector employment.” Household debt in the U.S. grew from 3% of disposable income in 1998 to 130% in 2008. Prime mortgage delinquency as a percentage of loans increased from 2.5% in 1998 to 118% in 2008 – Manuel Castells.

Fictional Capital

If you haven’t seen the film Inside Job (by Charles Ferguson) – don’t know him, not connected to him, not selling, just saw it and say, get a DVD and watch the documentary. In the meantime have a look at Castells in London, standing right in the financial heart of (very near to) the City.

The Frankfurt School Revisited

The objective of  the culture industries – in a critique developed in the 1930s, written and published in the 1940s by Frankfurt School members Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer under the title The Culture Industry – was to keep ordinary folk as docile and manageable as possible… ‘happy’, uncritical, coralled consumers of a ‘capital’ controlled culture.

The idea was: the tranquilized poor, the culturally deceived, the ‘creatively dociled’ buy, watch, listen to and read what they are told to watch, listen to, read. The discourse on culture, being ideologically-fed by capital on steroids, makes phase 2 so easy, the accounts driven bottom-line. This pay-up and now driven discourse leads its proponents still to say –  See! It is what ‘they’ want (the great unwashed unconsidered)  otherwise they wouldn’t buy or want it.

Reminds me of Jack Crabb’s (Dustin Hoffman’s) encounter with General Custer just before the ‘great general’ got whipped at Little Big Horn. “General, you go down there,” Crabb says, when Custer asks him what to do. Thinking Crabb, a pathetic muleskinner, spineless, with not-even guts enough to shoot Custer in the back,  a git who could only lie to him, Custer reasons (aloud, of course) that if Crabb wants Him to go down to the Little Big Horn it’s only because Crabb really doesn’t want Custer to go down there  – Crabb could only lie to achieve a goal. So, Custer does go down there – much to relief of the world, history and the native American.

Little Big Man (1970) was the sort of film American filmmakers made after the film studios lost control in the late 1960s. In that rare moment, spanning a few years only, cultural complexity was synonymous with creativity – the audience and creators were so close they could have been one and the same.

Back to the genealogically disturbed present. No cultural outbreaks, no individual voices, no “surprises” for those in charge right now, no matter how many camp in Wall Street or outside St. Paul’s.  Society, dare I say it, Capital, is under control. No matter what the postmodernists, Foucault, Castells et al want, did and do tell us, culture is still controlled, top down –  never more than in the 21st century (thanks to Lessig {Free Culture, 2004, p12} for reminding us).

So a nod to the voices that seem so still and silent today – to Theodor, Max, Walter and Herbert: We need to hear from you again.

“The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself, and this society is fatally entangled in it.” Herbert Marcuse

What is Facebook really up to?

Initially this post was about Facebook dismantling its groups. The issue then: Many people spent an enormous amount of time developing them and asking people to join. Because of widespread concern and protest by Facebook members FB resolved this and groups could keep their members. At the time I wrote: “Facebook is fast acting like a corporation acting in concert with other corporate or shady political interests – not a borrowed idea from a dorm at Harvard existing only because a lot of people use it. If Facebook is about anything it is about each and every one of its members – Facebook is nothing without the people who bother to use its pages.”

Now Facebook wants, it seems, to use stored data of its members and make it public. This has been true for sometime of course. FB data-mines its users. But is the ante being upped with new moves? Does this breach the privacy terms implied in the original terms of use?

Facebookers should be informed of what this new FB policy is and what it means and then they should be asked whether they agree to the use of data that was once ‘private’ between FB members.

Facebook should reflect the members that make it up. Facebookers are not a resource to be exploited for profit in this way by Facebook’s founders (this was not the original ‘pitch’ or purpose of Facebook). If use of private data does happen, at the very least it should be only with prior full agreement of Facebook users.

If Facebook wants to charge for the service then they can and people can opt out of the FB site if they so wish – taking their data with them, not leaving it behind for commercial use.

If I buy a house I get the house and grounds, not the furniture and fittings inside and outside, unless it is in the contract of sale. Facebook do not own the data, (though I am sure their lawyers would say they do). They have already profited hugely from having such a huge number of users, but they don’t own Facebookers or their private and personal data.

Sammakon in Turku

I was in Finland last week, in the western city of Turku, facing down five days of clear blue skies and 30 degree sunshine, weather Londoners can only dream about. Turku is a friendly, gentle-paced city.

I found a bookshop not far from the hotel.

What caught my eye right away was a small John Fante hardcover in Finnish lying on an outside table, selling for 3 euros.

No dumping books in remainder shops, not in this corner of the bookworld anyway. There it was at a price anyone can afford – with the added value of being in translation. Sammakon is not an average bookshop, even if it could be mistaken for one at first glance.

There are two sammakko.com shops, the other in Helsinki. Sammakon’s owner publishes, sells and translates from English himself, especially his favorites – Bukowski, Fante, the beat poets and novelists. His first book was a translation of Charles Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. And don’t they just. After coming across this minor miracle for the world of books in English, one that so intimately caught my eyes, all both of them, it was on the bus for the drive back to Helsinki, for a day and a half of restaurants and walks, before flying back to rainy, chilly London.