1.31.2011

Pyramid Schemes

I guess I have been waiting for something to say about Egypt before saying anything about Egypt. I still don't have much. I started to write about one of the Times' medicore editorials over the weekend, but this sort of writing gets boring. I did, however, come up with the following phrase that I invite anyone to use in their next post: Typical Tedious Times Turgidty.

I think what gets me about the Times is the "timbre" of the authorial voice of the Opinion pages. I can't stand the pompous pragmatism, the voice of "reason" that is always strives to undermine "extremity" towards maintaining the status quo, even when the status quo is more extreme than that which is being counseled against. I shudder to think (good band) of what reading the Times would have been like during the late 1950s and early 1960s in this country. Did they have the same "don't ask for too much too quickly" attitude? Were they "counseling" Dr. King to "be reasonable"? Did they get angry at black people for getting in the way of the fire hoses?

If you are a human being and have even a most basic understanding of what it is to be alive, what is good about it, what is bad about it, then, even if it can never be articulated, something like a universal morality has to become apparent, one that exists on a more fundamental level than any set of beliefs formed by culture, religion, etc. Certainly, slavery and then Jim Crow laws violated that morality, and, in its own way, Mubarak's regime has done the same. So, whatever the writers at the Times believe they are doing, whatever the equivocating hypocrites at the top of our regime here in the USA think they are talking about, in reality, by not embracing change wholeheartedly, they are, regardless of their goals, defending a corrupt regime and slowing down its inevitable and necessary replacement.

If this, the most legitimate form of "regime change" the Arab world has seen, outside of Tunisia, in a long time, continues to be held back, the damage will grow worse than what it would have been had Mubarak decided to flee six days ago. Whoever takes over will find their economy in a deep, deep hole, as capitalists pull the money out of a country that could, ultimately, just as easily become a stable, Western-style democracy as anything else. That is, if they are allowed to become one. But a lack of support, both from Western leaders but also, sorry, from capitalists, could lead Egypt down other, mostly less promising, roads.

Of course, I don't really care if Egypt's new government serves the best interests of the West. I don't care if they become a healthy import market for goods or if they continue to assist in the violent war on violence. It's up to them what country to become (and, if Communist utopia is the answer, I will honestly come help build). But it still infuriates me, even with my mixed feelings and/or hatred towards these things, that Egypt might be prevented from becoming the pro-Western, Israel-loving, Empire-joining, terror-war-waging country it could become just because of the incomptent self interest of Western governments, corporations, and the Israel lobby. And it will infuriate me even more if, should Egypt become something else, something truly anathema to the power elite but also to the possibility of peace and justice (the good kind that isn't sponsored by a soft drink), that same power elite were to wash its hands of the whole affair and blame Egyptians for the mess.

1.29.2011

I Do Not Understand

Below this text is a Youtube video for the song "Common People" by Pulp. Whenever I play this song to people who are sympathetic to the political message of this song, they hate it. I don't get it. Surely, it is possible to like Marx and Roxy Music and Abba? Apparently not. Forgetting, for only a moment, all my previous attempts at soliciting comments from you, dear reader(s), I will ask, why? Do you understand? Explain. Leave a comment.

A bad poem:
On the road less travelled
Standing still
Waiting for what

1.21.2011

... And Hello

Hola.

Others will make the typical noises, and may do so more eloquently than I, so, working under that assumption, I will comment on this story from another angle.

Aside from the usual anti-capitalist reasons, what bugs me so much about the practice of using private sector CEOs as a recruiting pool for high-level government positions is the fact that these guys, who have spent their lives looking out for their personal good and private good at the expense of public good, now get to burnish their images with a government appointment. I still view public service, even in the higher and more corrupt echelons of our federal government, as being somehow more dignified than private service at a large corporation, and it makes me gag whenever said dignity is conferred on selfish jackasses. I would feel a lot better about this issue, even if all the other things that could possibly piss me off still would, if whatever jackasses that were hired for these jobs actually came to them after decades of public service.

In my own mind, regardless of actual definitions, I tend to make a distinction between the words understanding and knowing. Understanding to me connotes that information has been received correctly. Knowing connotes that the information, and associated ramifications, has actually been processed and internalized and actually informs day-to-day thinking and decision-making. I think a lot of people, maybe even the majority of citizens in this country, understand just how fucked things are. But they don't seem to know.

My little kingdom for a moden-day Goya to give our modern-day royals the rendering they deserve.

Toilet Flushed

Good. Bye.

1.19.2011

I didn't forget about you!

Two jaunty 80s songs for two lonely people. Smile!






FLA

So if you missed me between the cliched Times-bashing and the link to one of MLK's more inspiring speeches, it's not because I decided to remain silent until I had more ideas (sorry), but rather it was because I was visiting my parents in Florida.
Some quick notes:
1. It's amazing how much better people seem to get along when they are all exactly the same. And depressing, too.
2. I don't know what is better - having nothing to do after 11pm or having lots of options, all of which suck. If I were to move back to a small place, I would, as my memories of NYC began to fade, torture myself for not living in a "real" place with "things to do" at night, would imagine all sorts of fun being had "in the real world", would, in not-so-short, begin to rebuild this fair, as in not-quite-poor, metropolis in my head until the tension would become unbearable. I would move back here only to have my illusions burst again.
3. Then again, outside of work, all I do here is listen to music and read. If that is going to be all, I could certainly do it somewhere else and use the extra money and time to pick up a recreational drug habit and a serious relationship. Imagine: a big, cheap apartment in a culture-less and un-renovated part of a small Southern town. A few pets. European cinema rentals via Netflix. A lot of weed and a lot of 70s German psych records. You paint, I lay on the couch and read Debord. Ladies get in touch!
4. After years away I finally got to rekindle my hate affair with cable news. It's amazing to me that some of these people are so well-credentialed. And then I remembered that having the capacity for critical and independent thought is not something one has to have to get a degree, even an advanced degree from a highly-respected school.
5. MSNBC is just making things worse.
6. One of my least favorite pundits reminds me of a girl I knew and loathed in high school. She was in the same stream of advanced/AP English classes (I got 5s on both tests - oh how the mighty have fallen) as I was for all four years. I remember a particular assignment we had Junior year. We had to identify all the symbols in a handful of chapters of Willa Cather's A Lost Lady. Each symbol we found gained us a point. This girl, either due to audacity, obsequy, or complete incompetence (I think 10% of the first, 40% of the second, and 50% of the last), identified every noun that was not a person or place, ie all the things, as being symbols. Our teacher, whether due to exhaustion, resignation or indifference, didn't even correct her on this, as repeating his explanation of the difference between symbolism as a literary device and the basic fact that all language is, in effect, a symbol for something else (ie a pan and the word pan are not the same things) would have proved as futile as trying to water a plant in Egypt by shooting a water gun inside an elevator in the Empire State Building. My joke after class was that I was going to resubmit my assignment, which I had uncharacteristically deigned to complete on time, with a list of all the occurrences of the word "the" highlighted. I would then explain to the teacher that the word "the" was symbolic of the "powerful, mighty, and profound supra-atomic singularity of the object being modified". I think I would have deserved twice the extra credit that the other student got. Yes she got to go to a better school than I did. Yes I am still bitter over a decade later.
7. Speaking of books, I finally got some new ones! I guilted my parents into taking me to the local corporate temple o' readin' (the guilt part is that I made them pay - they would have gone anyways) and actually found a few of the items on my to-read list. I picked up Philip Kerr's The One From the Other, Tolstoy's Resurrection, and The Red Flag: A History of Communism. I also tried to get my hands on Handke's Slow Homecoming, a book reccommended to me in the comments section of a post a I made a few months ago, but it was unavailable. I am sure I will find it up here.
8. Up until about twelve days ago, it had been fourteen months since I had seen the family cats. It took a few days, but they finally remembered me or, at least, began to interact with me in the same manner that they used to. Supposedly, on the day I left, they were waiting by the door for me to come back. Awwww. Cat pix coming soon! And they are cute.

1.16.2011

MLK

On a national level, it may be too late, or too difficult, to rescue his legacy from the cynical hagiographers who always seem to focus on effects of words and not their meanings, but if you need to be reminded, or if you never knew, who he was and what he was really about, I suggest you avoid the empty rhetoric that will be pervasive tomorrow as countless supporters of perpetual war for perpetual peace fall over themselves to discuss legacy instead of deeds, perceptions instead of perceptiveness, and listen to the below instead.

1.05.2011

Moving to Peoria

Seriously. Who needs a socialist like me here when you have socialists like them? It's so in this season.

Original quote:
Andrew becomes quiet. “It also addresses the idea that Communism, which is utopia on earth, whenever it’s actually put into practice, fails.” A tear rolled down his cheek. “And it speaks to me more to the inadequacy of human beings, that deep down inside we can’t share. We can’t get along. I do have Communist roots” — he turned to the other Andrew — “Can I say that?”
Fixed:
Andrew becomes quiet. “It also addresses the idea that Communism, which is utopia on earth, whenever it’s actually put into practice, fails.” A tear rolled down his cheek. “And it speaks to me more to the inadequacy of human beings, that deep down inside we can’t survive without a huge diversity of worthless consumer products to differentiate ourselves as superficially as possible in order to create micro-hierarchies that we can place ourselves on top of in order to gain the recognition we so richly deserve for doing nothing."


Fucking Bullshit

Mick Karn RIP
I knew this was coming for a while after a chance visit to his website a few months ago. Still really, really sad. Cancer is cancer, yeah, but you figure someone as young as him might have a better shot at surviving.
Fuck, this one bugs me. As I've grown more alienated from myself and others over the years, Japan's music has appealed to me more and more. Mentally running through the last three studio albums, even the most emotional song I can recall of theirs, the classic "Ghosts", has a certain distance to it, a song made by people who find emotion in reviewing events, not directly from them.
I guess there is an obverse to glam, especially Roxy's strain, which Japan, of course, inherited. All those costumes, the elitism, the assertiveness, the unreality, is, at least with the best acts, a wall, a cover, a means of protecting deeper and more profound feelings. Maybe to avoid cheapening them, or maybe as a means of creating a higher bar of entry to the music, a greater intimacy within the group that "gets it" or maybe just to avoid being gauche. Whatever it is, I feel it, today especially.

Edit: Two favorites conveniently in sequence. I am not old. Nor nostalgic. It's simple fact. They don't make them like this anymore. And I like this.

1.04.2011

Self-critique is my favorite kind!

My daily newspaper has posted a great link to an issue of Politics and Culture that concerns a book called The Left at War that I have seen on the shelves a few times but have never gotten around to picking up. Insofar as the author seems to seek an end to that weird state of affairs on the Left in which rage is a complacent emotion (as long as Verso still pays decent advances?), I think I may give it a read, someday.

So far, most of what I have read concerns relativism and the weird spectacle of Western hard-Leftists supporting, well, assholes. Fortunately I don't get to meet too many of these people, though I have had some uncomfortable conversations about Israel in my lifetime (as one writer says, since the Left, via identity politics, can sometimes conflate individuals with groups, I, raised Jewish, have had the distinct displeasure of having been called, by purported anti-racists, to answer for "my people").

To paraphrase Churchill: Westernized countries are the worst in the world, except for all the others. To paraphrase The Simpsons: The Western intellectual tradition: the cause of and solution to all of life's problems. As a Marxist who hasn't read much Marx but has done so seemingly better than most, I tend to agree with his belief that countries should be Capitalist before Socialist (and it makes sense to me, if only because excess capacity is a great way to tackle the social ills of industrialization, if only "we" could get our hands on it). So, sadly, if I were to explain all my thoughts on Israel and on the Middle East, I would be derided as a mere liberal. Two-state solution, yadda yadda yadda.

But not quite liberal, too. Via Paul Hollander's essay comes this quote from the original book:

That then is my hope: for a democratic-socialist, international left that seeks not to smash the state and crush capitalism but to pursue human equality and realized [sic] the four freedoms. It would not be a fully 'socialist' left in the sense that it would not institute central economic planning; it would be aggressively redistributionist, and it would harbor no illusions about 'free' markets. It would insist that food, shelter, education and medical care are human rights, and as such, must not be contingent upon anyone's ability to pay for them; it would put workers in control of factories and companies... It would... establish an egalitarian and closely monitored and regulated market that fosters innovations and promotes policies that bring food, clean water, housing, schooling and medicine to all as well as establishing forms of democracy that extend to every person... This would be something of a disappointment to those radicals whose utopian longings led them to cry 'be realistic, demand the impossible...'. (253)
Sounds nice to me too. In fact, that sounds nice to a LOT of people around the world. In fact, I think the majority of people want that! Billions, at minimum! Wow, with all that popular support, getting all that to happen should be easy! Oh no? Huh? Why not? Oh! OK well, then, smash the state and crush capitalism!*
___
*Ok so forgive me for not really engaging here but it seems like what is being described already existed for a few decades in the middle of the twentieth century... for a few people, at least... and look how that went.
Your utopian longings are just as impossible as mine. Either we get to decide that our dreams come true or we don't.