Sunday, January 26, 2014

We're All Rex At Ralphs


- Hi Rex. What's the latest?
- The night security at Ralphs across the street has been following me.
- While you shop?
- Yeah. Next day, that's last night, I was waiting outside for the Guru to show up. A new friendly guard I hadn't seen before came over and asked if he could join me standing around. Sure. Any trouble to report? He said this guy Rex was hanging around down by the water machine. Did I know him? I ask the guard:
- How does he look?
- Beard. Thick Glasses. Hat.
- Sounds like the Guru.
- Who?
- What did he do?
- He's a drunk.
- The Guru doesn't drink.
- There he is now! Hi Rex.
      - I'm not Rex. Rex is there.
- Did you hear what Rex said? Why is he pointing at you?
- I have information you guards follow around another Rex. We're all Rex at Ralphs.
- What do you do all day? Do you mind my asking?
- Kind of old fashioned, asking before you look. But since you ask, just now I came from a lecture at UCLA on the surveillance state and drone warfare. The speaker - I noticed he wore loafers without socks - was a young guy who does the political reporting for The Atlantic magazine. He bonded with the audience saying he was writing a book about an influential UCLA graduate, the founder of Sea World. Though he himself went to Pomona College, a small school, 40 miles east of here, a west coast version of Harvard, a club for families of old money. Pomona happens also to be my school, though I failed to bond. Actually I tore up my diploma at my graduation ceremony. Everyone now good friends, the journalist - I have to say he didn't look like much - launched into his talk. The director of the NSA lies to Congress about government spying, with no-one expecting a high government official could ever be punished for lying. The journalist worried about the secret use of weapons like drones and secret spying authorized by secret courts. If we didn't know, he concluded, what the government was doing, if most of the elected officials didn't know either, there was a threat to the democratic process. I asked him when he finished why he thought there was much democratic process left to be threatened if the head of the second largest government department can openly lie to Congress, be caught at it and yet nothing happen.
- What did he answer?
- Reporting like he did for The Atlantic, an institution that has its origins 150 years ago in the abolitionist movement, has resulted in fewer drone strikes this last year.
- How many?
- A few dozen, as opposed to hundreds previous years. I asked him if last year there weren't 10,000 deaths by more ordinary weapons? He said he didn't know. I said it seemed to me reporting like he did was useless. Push down on one side, the other side goes up. The economics are constant. Did he know, for example, how many slaves there were at the time of the civil war? No? There were around 3 million. Did he know how many prisoners in the U.S. are of African descent? No? Around two million. Did he know that Federal Regulations require all prisoners to work who can, and that they are paid between 10 cents an hour and one dollar an hour? My point, I said, was that of course there are now tens of millions of African descent in the US who are not slaves, but the number of slaves has been more or less constant. Democratic pressure for social change has been allowed to have effect only so long as economic interests remained satisfied.
- What did he say to that?
- "Next question!".

(from Beverly Hills Stories)