Politics and Society

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


   This is the simple logic of the upcoming presidential election. No matter who takes the prize and thereafter occupies the chief seat of imperial power in America for the next four years – be it the dogged, pseudo-republican wannabe or the incumbent, imperial democrat – the politicians will have won, and the people will have lost. We will have lost simply because they will have won –and they ain’t us.

  When all the hoopla is over, whether it is Obama returning to promise more hope and change or Romney coming on to promise a return to “exceptionalism” for our beleagured nation, we will all be in the same stink-pile of political and financial shit with nothing new to show for the two year, two billion dollar campaign spectacle.

 Consider for just a moment their ‘competing’ healthcare plans: in essence, there is not a sliver’s worth of difference between them. They both completely undo the status quo, expecting 700 billion+ dollars of money now spent in Medicare to be redeployed (the Obamacare plan), on the one hand, or re-allocated (the Romney/Ryan plan), on the other. This is a distinction without a difference.
   For all the hysterical jousting, there is barely a difference, except when it comes to the social – not the financial – aspects of these plans. With one we get (eventually, but inevitably) government funded abortion-on-demand, like it or not, and with the other we get vouchers, and the elderly had better be good at investing because the cost of healthcare will continue to rise at a rate faster than the official inflation rate, which determines the value of the voucher. What a choice!

   There is a reason why the two men running for office as representatives of the two major parties each have instituted a mandatory healthcare plan. Healthcare reform is what the political class sees as a sop to the middle-class pigeons who vote them into office. Give the masses something else to worry about. The party gets the power, we get the illusion of reform. The rest is just smoke and mirrors. Obama might as well be sparring in front of a mirror, or Romney too, for that matter. No vote is going to change the end result. You get one, you get the other. They work for the parties, and when they win, the parties win; but the parties don’t work for America. They exist for themselves.

  They, Obama and Romney, are each members of the same class, the political class, which is both above and beyond the rest of us and out of our control. Regardless of the “I-feel-your-pain” rhetoric, they only deign to stoop to our level when there is blame to be diffused. It is exactly parallel to the situation in the stock market during the ‘Gordon Gecko’ days. When people began protesting loudly about Wall Street greed in the 1980’s, the financial class cried, “Not fair. We are all Wall Street.”(This because the pensions of average Americans were largely invested in stocks, and more and more recklessly so in risky stocks at that. Remember ‘Black Tuesday’?) Did this really convince anyone that we are Wall Street?
  They wanted to deflect responsibility and expected us all to bear the blame, communally, for their own extraordinary greed. Today, the political class, along with their financial cohort, want us all to assume a common blame for the present mess. “Not a time for recrimination,” they say. “Plenty of blame to go around in this systemic failure:” as though we – with our own jobs to do - had the power and responsibility to foresee, control, or forestall this man-made, financial-political class-made disaster. Was it any different after 9/11?
  Do we see a pattern of argument emerging? a pattern which shifts the blame from the actual culprits to the people at large? But we are not to blame, and they and their bankers, backers, and lobbyists are!

  They are not us! Their children will not be subject to the same insufferable restrictions on future safety and prosperity as our own; nor to the debt and the crisis of society that they and their class are creating for us all today. When the piper calls for payment, they and their families will be in a better, not a worse, position. Largely, they will be immune to the violence which will accompany widespread poverty and draconian cuts to services at the state and municipal levels. When half the police force is available to deal with twice and thrice the number of criminals and predators, we will notice a new emphasis on the term “gated communities.” When half the teachers are available to teach twice the student body class size, we will understand why they want school choice. So their kids won’t be caught up in the chaos.

  The American Republic has been co-opted by parties that exist now only to defend themselves and the wealth and power of their backers. These backers are not the American people or our nation as a whole. They are dupes, scoundrels, and lobbyists who will take what they can, when they can, for as long as they can. We need to put a stop to it, NOW!

  It is too late in the game for a third party candidate this season, but it is not to late to reject the candidates that have been served up by the powers that be.

 Let’s defect en masse and see what that brings. Vote Independent! Find a candidate who does not represent the will of the parties – “anyone but them” – and vote for that candidate. So, he or she will not win. So, what?  It is not a wasted vote, but a half-hearted vote for either of these clowns (“the lesser of two evils”) IS a wasted opportunity. Let the winners – these two political parties -- witness the mass defection (= disaffection) of the majority of Americans from these corrupted buffoons. Let them take office with the slimmest plurality and the most tenuous mandate to power. Let them know, that they cannot have our sanction for the cheap promise of being less pathetic than the other asshole. The result cannot be worse than the current situation, and it has the merit of sending a strong message, that the days of corruption-with-impunity for the political elites are almost over.

  After you vote independent, go home and turn off the radio and the TV talk shows. Watch “Dancing With the Stars,” if you will, but not Sean Hannity or Chris Matthews. Stop playing their game, and get on with the business of living. We are in this crisis alone, and all the talk in the world won’t make the parties more responsive. Only direct action will. Talk to each other, without the notes from Hannity and his ilk. Perhaps we can generate a candidacy or a movement which will overwhelm the influence of money and entrenched interests. The result cannot be worse than what we currently face.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Autumn Haiku

Autumn (Haiku)

Haloing the boughs
False dawn mocks the Old Masters
Hallowing red leaves

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Snow – Part two, by Orhan Pamuk

   Behind all the noise about Orhan Pamuk and his 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, there is the disturbing and intrusive squabble among the ideologues and jurists in Turkey about Pamuk’s alleged crime (during a broadcast interview) of defaming the Turkish state and its military authority – in relation to the alleged massacre of 1 million Armenians and 30, 000 Kurds – and his insult to ‘turkishness.’ The timing of the awarding of the prize reeks of international pressure by  EU intellectuals and high-handed political meddling by the Nobel Prize committee. (This was seconded by an international coterie of writers who take their oath of cultural relativism as seriously as Stalin took his oath to improve the life of the soviet citizens under his care.) What’s worse, in my book, is that the evidence against him – as provided by Snow – more than establishes his actual guilt! It damns him as an unrepentant “h8er” of all things Turkish. Pamuk does not respect his native land or its people; indeed, a good case can be made that he finds them almost wholly ludicrous, childlike – not as to their innocence – but as to their emotional and intellectual development – and profoundly ill-equipped to handle the exigencies of life and politics on their own ground, let alone on the world stage. Ironic, since, to these fictive, strange pamukian turks, all of life, politics and religion seems to be one big theatrical performance, played out for the benefit of anyone who will watch or listen!
   Snow is an exaggeratedly sentimental tale of unlikely political and romantic intrigue, detailing – after a PoMo fashion – the three-days-like-a-lifetime visit of an exiled poet to a northern border town in his native Turkey. To call it a romance, or a political thriller would be to overstate the case each way. One would have to become involved or invested in the characters at some level for this description to bear the weight. Rather, I think. it is farce, played out in a straight-faced, though intentionally sloppy, narrative mode (hence the description: PoMo). Its narrator is Pamuk, himself, or so he gives us to believe, though how seriously this is to be taken is itself the real challenge of the book. And the protagonist is   

Ka - His actual given name is Kerim Alakusoglu, and he is a poet who has been granted political asylum in Germany for the past 12 years when the story of his return to Turkey, and Kars, begins. He returns to Turkey, ostensibly, to attend his mother’s funeral, though we hardly here any mention of this, aside from hearing second-hand of the claim he apparently made to a friend  - the author of this memoir, Orhan Pamuk, – about his mother being always on his mind throughout the period of his stay in the snowbound  border city. While in Istanbul, he is assigned to write an article (or articles) for the western leaning press about the tumultuous political election campaigns in Kars, a poor, Anatolian border town in northern Turkey, and about a rash of suicides by young women who have shown resistance to the state sponsored ban on the wearing of head-scarves. But it becomes clear early enough that this pretext is just that: a narrative device to explain Ka’s presence in the socio-politico-religious context Pamuk wants to address.
   His mission is complicated – we should say undermined or completely subverted – by his own, improbably instantaneous and passionate love interest in an old flame, Ipek, who is recently divorced from her editor husband and thus again ‘available’ to the 42 year old celebrity-writer. Yes, Ka is treated by the local citizens and officials as a celebrity; as ‘one of our own who has made a splash in the West,’ and he is equally distrusted as ‘one of ours who has been hopelessly corrupted by the hegemonic influence of atheistic individualism endemic in the evil West. Tough row to hoe, no doubt! This ambivalence will actually become a thematic staple of the book.
  As a character in fiction, Ka is a remarkable one. He is depicted by his avowed friend and admirer - the novelist Pamuk, himself, or an alter ego of some postmodern sort - as the archetypical ingénue. He is naïve, impulsive, hysterical in his passions, apparently newborn every moment to his own intellectual and emotional life, and embarrassingly aimless and opportunistic by turns in his pursuit of his purpose –winning the love of Ipek the magnificent beauty of Kars. By the time we reach midpoint in the novel, the pretext of writing articles about either the elections or the head-scarf (suicide) girls, is entirely abandoned, not decisively but off handedly. Apparently, he simply forgets that that is what he is there to do! But in this, he is not remarkable; for all of the characters are equally malleable, though they rarely seem to acknowledge this as a limit on their avowed absolutisms.

   Kars is the name of a small mercantile city, derived from Karsu, meaning ‘frozen river’ referring to the river that runs through its center. “Kar” means ‘snow’ in Turkish. Ka is the name of the protagonist, that is used only once by the author, and never by the character or the people around him, either in life or in death. He meets his mysterious death by gunfire in the Kaiserstrasse immigrant district in Frankfurt, Germany under a big neon store sign of the letter –wait for it – K. (Any Kafka fans want to take a run at this incredible shrinking word strategy?) There is doubtless some symbolic function involved in this verbal winnowing, but I am too long out of high school to say what it is. It seems like a joke that younger ones might tell to great effect among themselves, but which we old dogs just don’t “get.” I’ll learn to live without the magic.
   Oh, and guess what Ka wanted to call his newly completed work of poems based on his revelatory experiences in Kars! That’s right; ‘Snow.’

   Only one of the major drawbacks to Snow, is the unrelentingly ad hoc structure of the novel. On the narrative level the story unfolds in the most unlikely ways with each new scene presenting one more opportunity for characters to take up absurdly absolutist positions on the great East meets West dialogue, and pursue them to unlikely and even ridiculous conclusions. They are absurd positions precisely because they are adopted always in reaction to a perceived expectation or challenge from without –never as a coherent response to experience as such. All ideas, then, are intrinsically reactionary.
    On the level of character development and scenic elaboration, the descriptions are equally ad hoc (and almost always post hoc, as well) and contrived to rationalize what has already happened. (In one exceedingly egregious oversight he mentions “these stables” only to then explain a whole paragraph later that the buildings he is referring to had once been, but are no longer, ottoman stables!) In this world, people wear their allegiances like coats (Ka’s charcoal grey coat – read: neutral in color and symbolism; it is a recurrent motif – which suit present purposes (read ulterior motives) and are as readily discarded after their usefulness has been exploited. This too is thematic; apparently for Pamuk, character and conviction are mere modalities of rationalization. No one actually believes in anything at all, least of all what they say or do, though they do make great efforts to meet the expectations of some group or other whose similarly whimsical opinion matters at the time. When Ipek is making the most dramatic move of her life as we know it, she is concerned about the barely extant clerk will think of her going upstairs! Note however, that this ever-ready moral concern does not extend to matters of adultery or treason!

   Snow has been criticized as boring again and again. I think the reason it is seen as boring is because the characters and plot are intrinsically unpredictable and inherently non-dramatic. One never knows what is going to come next, so every scene is a cautionary tale about thwarted expectations. The many characters and scenes lack a central motive force, a determinative character or potential: instead they are all equally variable and presumptuously willy-nilly. One can only plod along and wonder what new improbability awaits. And they abound in the novel; each with less reason than the one before, though always after the fact, some plausible (and plausibly deniable) excuse is given. This strategy grates on the nerves. It is thematic, expressing as it does Pamuk’s central conviction, that human attempts at ordering our lives by conviction or reason are doomed to disillusionment, but it is not dramatic –nor, I think, is it true or helpful to story telling. If all efforts are in vain, why write the novel? Why indulge the pretense? Like so many other PoMo devices, like the ridiculous and irrational mismanagement of time (and the improper and impossible deployment of time indices) and the trendy subversion of readers’ expectations with irrelevant details and impromptu shifts in perspective, the style eventually becomes pedantic and dull. But this all begs a question: If all efforts at order are vain, whence the novel? The fact refutes itself! So stop the nonsense already. Try showing your book and your characters some of the same respect you expect from Turkey’s courts for your own hallowed rights to be an idiot in public. Try treating your readers to a little consideration. We need more than another third world whiner who wants to be a first world intellectual.
   Ultimately, it up to readers to say “No” to writers like Pamuk and to the Nobel Prize committee. Instead of supporting him, we should be telling him: “Go! Get a job that doesn’t include being stupid and maybe we’ll talk.”

   It is telling that when the book ends on its last sad note – ‘As the train pulled out and the people receded from view into the blur of the falling snow, I began to cry’ – we are completely at a loss as to what Pamuk is crying about. He came to Kars, like his poetic-twin to research a book on his friend’s life and work. He got his answers. Is this cause for tears? Why? or why not? Or was it that he, like his idiot friend before him, fell instantaneously and madly in love with the local fox, Ipek? In the end, who cares? If the writer doesn’t care enough to tell us, why should we care to know –or to believe? Like so much else in the text, this sentimental denouement seems an ad hoc add on. It is another PoMo subversion of expectations and an instance of inexplicable irrelevance. It seems like one more literary convention tossed into the mix without any sense or concern for its proper place, preparation, utility or purpose.

   To say that the text represents life as Pamuk understands it is equivalent to saying that literature is a performance art, not essentially literary at all – i.e. not embodied in any possible experience of the imagination which is sparked by the skillful use of words -, but rather artificially (and pretentiously) concocted of pages and pretenses and conventions, thrown together after the fact to disguise our putatively naked libidos. If this is what PoMo means, I think I’ll pass.

P.S.:   In a shameless act of self-promotion and self-defense, Pamuk puts into the mouth of one of the novel’s more endearing characters the wish that we not believe what the writer says about him, or about any of the characters, for no one can know another at such a distance. Ha! The disclaimer is built right into the summary: Don’t think you can dismiss this junk as junk, since it (meaning 'Literature') is by nature too feeble to carry the assigned weight and I know it, so let’s give me prizes for trying.
   Sorry Orhan: You should have trued harder.