Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The miracles of St. John

I’d like to salute in advance the election once again, 48 years later, of a young Democratic president with the vital help of the shady machinations of the Chicago political machine and a certain Richard Daley. Obama is even going to upstage the Republicans on the religious angle: we will be going from a president who listens to God to one who is one. And in his messianic quality he also strangely parallels JFK. Kennedy’s reign was surrounded by miracles, although befitting our age of weak and helpless men his miracles were performed for and against him by the more mighty, for example his election, when the voters of Chicago were raised from the dead to vote for him, or the Magic Bullet that killed him which, like the Trinity, was both one and many.

Ah, what selfish cheaters, these miracle-workers, tearing apart the laws of space and time to get ahead. It’s a wonder they haven’t made the universe collapse. A beach could be a mountain, after all, if every grain of sand didn’t want to be the peak. On the other hand, the value of these miracles shouldn’t be presumed too quickly, since it’s not clear whether Kennedy or Kennedy’s assassination was the greater leader in the ’60’s. Of course preventing the world from being destroyed in the Cuban Missile Crisis probably could not have been managed minute-to-minute by the dead, but on the other hand the death of Kennedy, in the hands of a superior manipulator like Johnson, became an unanswerable argument for the Civil Rights Act. How strange it is that a person’s wishes, generally ignored when they’re alive, become a gainsay-less mandate upon their death, at the very moment they cease to know or care what happens.

The savior of the easily satisfied

Journalists constantly complain that because of the racism of America Obama’s skin color may cost him up to 10% in the general election, but they neglect to mention that it probably earned him 20% in the Democratic primary as well as sparing him the trouble of actually having a platform, his past and outlook apparently being, like Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man, written in his skin. And while, if not touched by divine eloquence, he is at least capable of speaking fairly coherently, a skill not common, at least according to popular perception, in either the most famous public figures of his race or recent presidents, a lot of people are quite unduly, condescendingly, impressed by this, even if what he says generally reveals about as much as the misty veil of Utopia. For some clue as to what our future holds, then, maybe we should look to San Francisco, where the authorities are far too respectably economically liberal (in the European sense) to advocate anything so vulgar as the naked expropriation of private property–instead, by their mostly unconditional sanctioning of pandhandling, they just make it de facto illegal to prevent anyone on the streets from taking from the propertied what they like.

The golden calf turned purple mutant

The specter of democracy stalks the globe, growing ever more witless as it advances. I’ve tried to avoid it for several years in oligarchical outposts like Russia, China and Massachusetts, but no sooner did I set foot back home than the Democratic Party hounded me by setting up its national convention right next door. Apparently their theme this year is “unity,” the classic slogan of the amoeba engulfing a lesser piece of slime. In fact we’ve had far too much unity; having spent a year in the afore-mentioned China, let me assure you that the paradise of national unity looks something like: an endless wasteland of karaoke bars, rice wine that tastes like drinking the flames of hell and being shit out of luck if you luck blondes, brunettes or breasts.

As the history of life shows, the original blobs banded together so they would individually benefit from being part of a larger group, but eventually the organisms became just organs, perfectly capable of being sacrificed if the larger entity deems fit to do so and powerless to stop it. Every year when little Nordic countries come out on top in the various global quality-of-life indices Americans retort that of course since they’re so small they don’t have as many problems, as if this were somehow an argument against their arrangement. Of course prosperity arises from world-wide economic connections, but about the only reason anyone seems to be able to think of for wanting to be in a leviathan of a political entity is to defend oneself from being devoured by an even bigger one, which doesn’t say much for the leviathan in principle. Besides, as the Swiss demonstrated, if you have enough gold buried away where only you can find it even the Nazis will respect your territorial integrity.

Not that I’m saying we should raise the banner of secession this year, since it’s well known how the U.S. government responds to the call for self-determination from breakaway regions within its borders, but Americans could at least stop ovulating for microphone pleasurers like John McCain who make it a point of pride to have done their best to turn the already-bad-enough two major political parties into one. He constantly brags about “reaching across the aisle” to the other party. Hey McCain, why don’t you keep your lecherous hands to yourself? Actually, he doesn’t “reach across the aisle,” he is the aisle, and all this reaching is an essential part of the Senate’s functioning in about the same way that the carpet on the Capitol floor is. I really don’t understand why such posturing is so popular, since the bipartisan are like the bisexual in that virtually everyone else is turned off by at least half the people they consort with. In any case, please don’t encourage him or others like him; he’s already basically the living incarnation of the AARP’s new advertising mascot, the purple donkephant, and I fear that all the inter-special intercourse that gave birth to it and its ilk is going to cause some sort of epidemic to cross the species barrier.

A death foretold

The mantra of the managing classes in the age of globalization is to make your job unable to be outsourced or performed by machines. By electing its presidents with huge majorities in every election Russians have made the results of those elections like those that easily can be and generally only are obtained by massive voter fraud. As long as 70% of them are going to continue to rubber-stamp the ruling cabal in every election, they might as well go back to fraud instead of taking the time and trouble to count the actual ballots. In this respect the voters have turned themselves into unreliable, inferior substitutes with short attention spans of the secret police.

Which is why even if the elections have been genuine and honest I would still say, as I will say, that the woman in whose apartment I am now living turns out to be one of the last Russian democrats. On my first memorable evening in St. Petersburg, while she was showing me around, she smoothly segued in about two sentences from showing me how the TV worked, to commenting that it was all garbage anyway because Russia has no free press, to declaring that Russia is a fascist dictatorship. She also said that she marches in the pro-democracy protests and at least claims to be a friend of Garry Kasparov, although perhaps just spiritually or in the sense of political affiliation. Maybe she can see which direction the wind is blowing, since she somewhat looks like and has decorated her apartment like a fortune-teller. But as Bob Dylan would say, in Russia today it doesn’t take a weatherman. Or maybe it’s some form of rebellion against her mother, who sits in the living room watching TV all hours of the day and night while proclaiming that it is all an expression of corrupt, decadent Western culture that is going to cause World War III.

In any case, my host has made me see that there is something admirable in a place like this in such a cause like democracy that might be worth fighting and even dying for, but I find it almost impossible to connect the concept as it exists and in what it signifies for her with the numbskull popularity contests that go by the name of elections in America. I suppose it’s like in apartments, where someone’s roof is always someone else’s floor. I might well take to the streets on the American system’s behalf if it came to a clear contest with something like the Russian, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to waste my time trying to choose between the vying marketing strategies in which candidates constantly cloak themselves and which serve to conceal any pertinent truths that people might delude themselves into believing that they’ve learned about them. In this respect our elections are inferior even to the Pepsi challenge. Especially since I probably stand less chance to influence the political system by casting the decisive vote in a presidential election than, as a grad. student in literature, by personally coming to power in a military coup. But in any case, even as Russian democracy is dying with little mourning, or at least being shorn of any of the good graces that might make it respectable, this strange woman with the heart of a flood wall has my full attention.

Harmoniouser than thou

The Communist Party decided after he died that that Mao was 70% good and 30% bad, and that’s been the official line to this day. Defenders have claimed that China simply has a different form of democracy, and maybe it’s true: percentages of Americans vote wholly in favor of one leader or another, whereas the Chinese vote unanimously in favor of a percentage of their leaders. Of course anyone would surely be contented to have their life so validated, but since only 30% of Chinese emigrants later return for good, they seem to be tacitly claiming that China itself is just the opposite. Plus, the Communist Party may say that Mao was 70% good, but they never specified which 70%. I would imagine that his internal organs and arms and legs are about as good as anyone else’s. In fact, I think his only problem was his brain, which only weighs a couple pounds (and perhaps his incapacity to grow a suitably sinister identifying dictator mustache), so I might grant him an even higher score. And finally, although they may still claim him as a patron saint, they no longer hold to his revolutionary ideal but instead claim to be a “harmonious society,” which has also met a certain skepticism abroad. But again, I think they might be right: after all, China is such a harmonious society that even its supposed terrorists and rebels don’t put up a fight, and the chief of them all has won a Nobel Peace Prize! Then again, Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger have both also won Nobel Peace Prizes. Hm. Alright, let’s just move on.

Sex scandals: a return to the American idyll?

It’s been surprising to see the vindictive spirits still running high about that New York governor scandal. Probably the only thing that would satisfy America now more than a sanctimonious social reformer brought down in a tawdry prostitution scandal would be Dick Cheney literally shooting himself in the foot during a hunting trip. To be fair, though, I’m convinced that both suffer a shared affliction which might explain their demented crusading: those big hairless white lumps growing out of their torsos aren’t heads, but rather the world’s largest zits, which had become fully ripe for popping. With their days of parasitically dabbling on both sides of the corruption game like drunken bi-curious hipsters coming to an end, maybe the obsession of our age with “corporate malfeasance” also will, and the energies of the saintly among us will go back to pretending to avert AIDS while actually getting high school students and Third Worlders orally castrated by their girlfriends by handing out condoms that taste like food.

The Democratic nominee will be a white chauvinist pig

In spite of my planned abstinence, my favorite part of this election obviously is that Hillary or Obama, whichever triumphs, is going to be striking, through their victory, a resounding blow for the continued oppression and marginalization of minorities. This is because if Hillary wins it will be white America once again excluding the black man, whereas if Obama wins it will yet another demonstration of the inability of women to remove the glass ceiling. All the old cranks in the anti-war protest that might have just turned into a rally for cheaper prescription drugs seem to be in massive denial about this fact. Hopefully the irony will propitiate all the disgruntled conservatives a little when President Jesus is causing civilization to capitulate to barbarism and violence by sitting down and talking peacefully to the beards rather than bombing the holy shit out of them.

Obama saves!

As usual, this year I will not be taking part in our annual national ritual of meaningless, back-patting, smarmy self-righteousness (and as such the true spiritual ancestor of veganism and Prius-driving), that is to say voting. However, the whole tawdry spectacle is being thrust upon me by the sign-waving ninnies who seem to occupy every street corner these days in college diploma-heavy territory. For instance, Cambridge gets periodically assaulted by a highly insane guy wearing a Jesus sign who wanders around the whole Boston area shouting at people (granted, there might be more than one of those). The other night, out of the corner of my eye I saw some tall, sign-waving black guy haranguing people in Harvard Square and assumed it was Crazy Jesus Man, but on closer inspection it turned out to be–an Obama ’08 campaigner! I enjoyed the series of “Obama Messiah Watch” columns that appeared in Slate last year making fun of the “gratuitously adoring biographical details that appear in newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of this otherworldly presence in our midst,” but now the parallels are getting a little disturbing, seeing as how Obama supporters have reached the point where they can now be easily mistaken for crazed Jesus freaks. Whether their frenzy is similarly motivated by massive displaced sexual frustration is unclear, but on the off chance that it is, I eagerly await Obama chastity bracelets and Obama rock, where you think the singer is singing about some hot girl until you realize that he’s actually singing about Obama.

p.s. Another time recently when I was going for a run, in a somewhat run-down liquor store across the river in Allston I saw possibly the greatest name for cheap (and presumably fortified) wine ever: Barefoot Wine. I also saw a George Foreman ad extolling the health benefits of some fast food joint, which is sort of amusing in its own right, but more to the point, with his grill and now this, since when did George Foreman become an authority on healthy eating? He’s not exactly slim and trim. He sort of looks like the result if the Marshmellow Man took a journey through someone’s digestive tract.


The Queen of the Quagmire

“Some suggest today that the US failure in Iraq is due simply to lack of planning; to specific policy errors— debaathification, looting, the abolition of the army, and lack of troops; and to the absence of a trained cadre of Arabists and professional nation-builders. They should consider Bell and her colleagues, such as Colonel Leachman or Bertram Thomas, a political officer on the Euphrates. All three were fluent and highly experienced Arabists, won medals from the Royal Geographical Society for their Arabian journeys, and were greatly admired for their political work…But their task was still impossible. Iraqis refused to permit foreign political officers to play at founding their new nation. T.E. Lawrence was right to demand the withdrawal of every British soldier and no stronger link between Britain and Iraq than existed between Britain and Canada. For the same reason, more language training and contact with the tribes, more troops and better counterinsurgency tactics—in short a more considered imperial approach—are equally unlikely to allow the US today to build a state in Iraq, in southern Afghanistan, or Iran. If Bell is a heroine, it is not as a visionary but as a witness to the absurdity and horror of building nations for peoples with other loyalties, models, and priorities.”

It’s the Oil

“The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards ‘nation-building’ has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades – a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East? On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics – dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration – could scarcely have been more effective. The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.

Still, there is reason to be sceptical of the picture I have drawn: it implies that a secret and highly ambitious plan turned out just the way its devisers foresaw, and that almost never happens.”

Freedom stays

Many people speak of, for example, governments or political systems as granting or denying people freedom. Which is, of course, totally false and maybe, especially in the mouths of politicians and officials, not only in the sense of being incorrect but also in the sense of being deceptive and illusory. Because freedom is a basic human capacity, and can no more be given or rescinded by others than can basic motor skills or the ability to speak. What people call freedom in these contexts is usually having an adequate number of choices to be happy with, and the ability to choose between them they call free will.

So this might seem to be nothing more than a semantic distinction, and maybe it is–but models, symbols and verbal shorthand have a way of taking over the concepts they represent, and if the at-first-perhaps-merely-verbal association of something seemingly so necessary to a good life as freedom with the transitory and ever-shifting realm of having “enough” choices, rather than with the ability to choose what is best and most worthy, which can never fade or disappear, deepens enough, a quickly disenchanted life seems near. Americans especially have a tendency to let social idealism confine them in a prison of permanent political expectations. In other words, the illusion that the choices are limitless, that you can find somewhere anything that you desire or that through political action you can “change” society to make it so. Even in a more moderate form this attitude is bound to lead to disappointment.

And that is why, despite the farce of the current and former “people’s republics,” I can imagine that a dictatorship really might be more popular than a more “democratic” regime. Because people can always content themselves with that which they can resign themselves to, whereas when they have the belief that they can control a situation, the disappointment when things don’t hold up to their individual expectations, as they almost inevitably will not in a society of millions where most people’s influence is so insignificant to the whole, can lead to greater and more unsettled discontent.

You not only can’t have everything, you can’t choose from everything, especially through politics, but the power to choose what’s best from what’s at hand always will exist. Many “liberal” minds claim that a choice between two options in an election is a perfectly adequate manifestation of political freedom, and in even the deepest totalitarian rule there are always at least two alternatives of what to do. Solzhenitsyn said that in the gulag one only has a chance at spiritual growth through not valuing one’s own life above all else, and maybe that’s not just true there. Because when power and right are totally opposed, decency is dangerous. And if no alternative to self-preservation can be considered, then one really is hedged in without escape, but not because one has no freedom.