Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

not you, sir

driving up route 17 to middletown tonight to return to the hospital where my wife and new baby are staying, i was listening to an oldies station. they played a song by Kool and the Gang, and as it ended the DJ said, 'that's 'i wanna kiss you all over,' and i don't mean you, sir.' his little comment right after saying the name of the song made me laugh. the accepted convention, fiction really, is that the intimate addresses of pop songs -- the 'you' in 'i love you' heard all the time on the radio -- are not to be taken literally. they are an abstract grammatical position, a subject that exists in a singer's imagination and might also be you. or not. but the purveyors of this odd sort of music (which we are all so used to now) rarely make this conventional practice's rules explicit. and rule number one: when we sing 'i love you,' or 'i wanna touch you all over,' whoever is listening is not necessarily the one addressed -- or rather, we are addressed personally by the song, but not by people repeating the lyrics or titles. so the funny, homophobic, comment by the DJ made me laugh.

did you get that? i'm not sure i did.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

walmart notes

1. to show the mad desire of junk food marketers to reach youths no matter how idiotic or cheesy, the Frito Lay display at Walmart, (or "Mall Wart" as one bumper sticker has it) is 'scrawled' with slogans imitating 7th grade bathroom grafitti: 'Corn Rules' and 'I (heart) spuds'. They refer to the Doritoes or potato chips and their bitter gang rivalry (which, now that it is known, is sure to excite kids across the nation). I wonder how many kids hankering for chips noticed this tiny detail. I wonder how many who noticed felt that Frito Lays 'gets' youth concerns and hence were moved to purchase a bag of chips.

2. I saw some T-shirts in the men's clothing section that evoked, and were modeled on, the baroque aesthetic of Latin gangs coming up from central America into the US. They both featured an archaic-looking crown or eagle, as if taken from a coat of arms, as well as a layered, patterned background much like the background etchings on dollar bills. I thought too of the complex tattoo patterns some of these gangs use. I have noticed for a couple of years now the popularity in NY of super complex, stitched and patterned designs on jackets -- Ben Franklin depicted huge, or dice, or money symbols, repeated over and over and all cluttering the surface. I don't know if this aesthetic has anything to do with Latin gangs or is separate.

One of the T-shirts was 'Royal Crown Dominance' or something like this, written in archaic, Germanic font, and shiny. The shirt comes with a long sleeved undershirt (sure sign of its Southwest origin) and a stretch cap.

Little Secret

Knowing you’ll be here any day now, you secret
wriggling, wriggling toward the light --
Christmas ever-closer and the due-date
come and gone,
your mother still twirls and prances to show
how agile she is, or to spur
you out from your slumber; the

blood that flamed in my left
eye spreads, slowly fades -- I sleep,
coughing, in the basement.

Knowing you’ll be here any day now Mom
and Dad sit us on the couch for
gifts that cannot wait: soft robes we
try on, the better to mother and father with.
Waipo buys roots and twigs and gathers Gingko nuts
on the sidewalk to build
your mother back up from the
ferocious bout of birth to come --
of which you’re all ignorant
and will never remember:

Wriggle, little secret, for that capricious light that
wavers wavering out here, wavering
way out where we are.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Glen Greenwald on US 'regression'

"When it comes to torture, the vast bulk of the country is now to the "right" (for lack of a better term) of Ronald Reagan, who at least in words (if not in deeds) insisted upon an absolute prohibition on the practice and mandatory prosecution for those responsible.

With these new numbers, it's virtually impossible to find a country with as high a percentage of torture supporters as the U.S. has. In Iran, for instance, only 36% believe that torture can be justified in some cases, while 43% believe all torture must be strictly prohibited. Similarly, 66% of Palestinians, 54% of Egyptians, and over 80% of Western Europeans believe torture is always wrong. The U.S. has a far lower percentage than all of those nations of individuals who believe that torture should always be prohibited. At least on the level of the citizenry (as opposed to government), we're basically the leading torture advocacy state in the world."

the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. people eagerly give up democratic rights and duties only when they are afraid. this is where we find ourselves: thinking that making a prisoner suffer can keep us safe. and lots of politicians seek to capitalize on this hysteria.

small minds consumed by . . .

consumer culture!

from a yelp review about a sports bar:

I went here on Saturday, Nov. 14th. It is truly only okay. Their alcohol selection is really very rudimentary. The pomegranate mojito I had was bordering on kinda gross. The appetizers were only so so. The whole thing was just so beaujois. Nothing at all special about this place.

i'd like to ask the person who wrote this: have you opened up a newspaper recently? i could pick something at random, anything, like: hey, have you heard seafood is disappearing from the oceans? seafood, fool! scallops, mahimahi, cod. gone in a couple of decades! what was that now about a pomegranate mojito?


i am always amazed when i go to costco: the scale and perspective of the place, running hundreds of yards in every direction, stacked with an infinity of goods.

the nutritional supplements aisle grows and grows. this fact shows us a populace afraid of disease and uncertain about medical care, a population eager to self-medicate and prevent disease if possible. it also shows a population that has in large part lost touch with the health benefits of food. finally it shows a culture which dreams of technological short cuts around nature: in other words, the hope that one can eat badly or not at all, and still magically plug oneself into pure nutrients, side-stepping food altogether or at least reducing it to the least troublesome amount possible. an 'acai berry digestive cleanser' featured hugely magnified images of acai berries, a beautiful and tantalizing scene which turns an industrial, scientifically-engineered product into a mere outgrowth of exotic nature. i am not saying this product is bad, per-se. all i am saying is, i bet that similar effects on the colon can be found among naturally-occurring foods available in the supermarket and a far sight cheaper than the product i saw.

another interesting trend: i saw two pallets of wooden tablets, about the size of notebooks. but the wooden tablets themselves had no functional use: they were merely carriers of a product message. one was a package of travel benefits, for bed and breakfasts or something. in short, they were gift cards. but in the land of the gigantic, little cards hanging near the check out aisle among the breath mints and soap opera digests get lost in the shuffle. giganticize them and stack them like all the other real products! this tactic seems to go against the larger trend to reduce the materiality of objects to mere images, as in internet purchase. in this case, the 'commodity' is access to a service of some kind, so it is not material. it is made so, as something that can be picked up and tossed into one's cart.

the breathtaking thing about costco is all the people: as busy as grand central station, here in the heart of suburbia we are unused to seeing so many people in one place. i wonder to myself: wow, there are so many immigrants here! it is kind of exciting, and may be the only place i will likely see so many and so diverse people in my day to day life. if only i did not have to drive to milford to experience it.

our wondrous "guided democracy"!

guided democracy was a term used by the Suharto government of Indonesia to refer to its political system. this system, they claimed, was democratic, but not to a negative extreme: it was 'guided' by major institutions, namely, the army and president. there were elections, but they did not dislodge the power of the military.

the US now finds itself a 'guided democracy.' the military is setting and carrying out policy, as well as engaging in political combat -- all behind the scenes. by presenting itself as apolitical, the military finds its approval ratings much higher than the government. in fact, the military is part of the government, co-governing with Obama. the legislature, most of it anyhow, blesses this arrangement.

what is the political aim of the military complex? simply the continuation of its own cushy position, shielded from public opinion because it operates behind closed doors, and enjoying the adulation of much of the public. it acts as a hero, selflessly committed to our 'defense,' while in secret behaving like a thug, out to preserve its turf and its profits.

this street-fighter with movie star good looks has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams: a government in serious deficit is made to expand a war that in fact offers no concrete effect on the security of americans. at the same time, a long overdue effort to reform the health care system -- an effort essentially prepared in league with the corporate sectors that will benefit -- is in trouble and seems on the precipice of failure. both initiatives -- the afghan war enterprise and the health care reform -- will cost around 1 trillion. but only one of these money makers is a slam dunk.

welcome to guided democracy. this is how empires fall -- the state hijacked by the military bureaucracy and led into endless wars; the populace enfeebled, disempowered, distracted by dreams of military glory. well done, O great generals. or should i say, proconsuls?

Juan Cole on Iraq's Surge

Juan Cole (at his blog, 'informed comment') punctures the 'Iraq Analogy' used by Obama and other supporters of further escalation in Afghanistan. besides pointing out the differences between the two countries, Cole points out that the civil war tapered off in 2007 simply because one side, the Shiites, had already won in Baghdad. The Sunnis turned to the US in desperation.

The simple fact of the matter is that in 2006 amd 2007 the Shiite militias and government troops decisively won the civil war in Baghdad. They ethnically cleansed the Sunni Arabs from the capital, creating a massive refugee problem in Jordan and Syria. Baghdad went from being a mixed city to being 85 to 90 percent Shiite, as a team at Columbia University recently charted. The killing thereafter was so much reduced because there were few mixed neighborhoods left. Even the willingness of Sunni Arabs to join pro-American Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq militias that took on Sunni extremist groups derived in some important part from this fear of being ethnically cleansed.

In Iraq, for all its acts of stupidity, the Bush-Cheney regime at least backed the majority, the Shiites. With 60 percent of the population, the Shiites were always likely to win the civil war produced by the power vacuum left by Washington’s defeat of Saddam Hussein and his feared Republican Guards tank corps.

In Afghanistan, the major allies of the U.S. and NATO have been the national minorities -- the Sunni Tajiks, the Shiite Hazaras and the Uzbeks. Admittedly, they are joined by pro-Karzai Pashtuns, but Pashtun support for the U.S. and NATO is clearly dwindling. Obama’s surge of U.S. troops into Helmand and Qandahar could easily provoke a Pashtun backlash. The Pashtuns are thus not analogous to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. They are a plurality of the population, not a minority, and they have not lost the low-intensity civil war in which the country is embroiled. Nor have they been ethnically cleansed under the current government. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq threw in the towel, joined in elections, and even formed pro-American militias only as it became clear that the Shiites were routing them. The Pashtuns are not in that position.

Friday, December 4, 2009

our feckless ruling class

listening to media commentators and politicians talk this week about afghanistan, with nary a voice boldly speaking the truth, the historical parallel that comes to mind is england in decline: bogged down in endless useless wars but still talking as if it had some, any authority.

for years on end we can expect to have these tin pot 'experts' analysing troop movements in helmand province; discussing hearts and minds initiatives; name-dropping ethnic groupings and their alleged proclivities; and reading the tea leaves of pentagon or state department leaked memos. and guess what? none of it matters in the least. whether we 'win' in afghanistan or 'lose' matters not one cent to our national interest, at least not directly. whether we win or lose, hundreds of billions of dollars will be added to the deficit without any concrete benefit in return. if we lose, of course, obama will be ruined, and there will be no health care reform or any other kind of reform. as it is, of course, i am not sure that the 'reform' on offer really does much but create a new market for our decrepit, greedy insurance industry. if we lose, we can expect generations of people on the right to moan about how we 'woulda won' if it hadn't been for treacherous democrats. very possibly a failure by obama would mean a hard-nationalist government. although i like to think most americans would be chastened by defeat into not supporting endless war.

obama had a chance to turn down this war. he has the smarts to know this war is meaningless. and i think he does know. but his conservative instincts, his conventional behavior, prohibit him from doing anything that striking, anything that would deny him a second term. and that is too bad. how his name would resound in history if he had joined the handful of leaders who decided to sacrifice their careers for the good of the country!

afghanistan offers as much danger to us as vietnam's bamboo ICBMs threatened this country decades ago. the taliban is an anti-imperial force. and even if their fringe is mixed up with al-qaeda, so what? so are dozens of organizations around the world, and remote-controlled war (drone strikes) and costly invasions are not what keeps us safe: it is good smart policing and spying.

what is most dismaying about obama's choice, going against his own good judgment as it does, beyond the people who will die as a result, is how the military establishment shines through its camouflage as co-ruler with the executive branch. they railroaded this thing, with leaks and hints. and obama flinched. god forbid a president tell the military what to do. in our 'democracy,' it is the military's way or the highway. but i say to obama: you should have taken the bullet for us and let the war-mongers ruin your re-election. history would have vindicated you. as it is now, by collaborating with them, you are consigning your potentially shining legacy to the dumpster out back of wendy's!

endless wars, with no need to pay for them. and endless excuses for not funding our real priorities: education and health care. the military, as in pakistan, is running the show, and our poor obama has to pretend he is in charge.