Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Rimbaud piece discovered! April.

And my friend Dennis informs me that it's featured in the December issue of Harper's Magazine, translated by Wyatt Mason. He continues: "It's not Rimbaud's finest hour, but there's wit and brimstone aplenty."

* * *

This satirical prose poem, Bismarck's Dream, is likely to be of real interest only to Rimbaud enthusiasts. Nevertheless, I have posted it below for my 7.2 million devoted followers. (The opening paragraph explains why it was "lost.")

Edmund White: "His own school was still closed because of the Prussian invasion... It might have been at this time that Rimbaud wrote (under a pseudonym) a short, satirical sketch about Bismarck that he published in a Charleville newspaper. In the sketch, Rimbaud imagines the German general hunched over a map of France, looking longingly at the black dot that symbolizes the much-coveted Paris. Bismarck is smoking a pipe. He falls asleep on the pipe and map and badly burns his big nose. He is forced to attend the royal Prussian sauerkraut dinner with a black stub of a missing nose. It's all a bit schoolboyish, but it is a discovery (the text had not been seen for 138 years)."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And he has pipettishly bespilled himself from his foundingpen as illspent from inkinghorn....

While looking over some of the de Sade books one of my friends left behind, I developed a game I like to play with The 120 Days of Sodom:

Open the book to a random page and point. The object is to hit a word relating to sex or a debauch of some kind (it must touch your finger OR the surrounding area). I shall try it now to give you an example:

1.) Nothing
2.) Word: Discharges. Sentence: "He breaks into a trot, and as he's started by now to frig himself, he soon discharges and, while he does so, makes loud noises, bucks, rears, and throws the rider."
3.) Nothing
4.) No specific word, but the sentence pointed to was: "Yes, Sire, the first, and the monk's was about the size of yours."
5.) Sentence: "The girl must be menstruating." (This one stretches the rules a bit, but I'll count it.)
6.) Word: Ass. Sentence: "Her glorious ass is soon washed in blood, the Duc embuggers her while Curval severs one of her fingers, then Curval marches into the breach while the Duc six times sears her thighs with a hot iron; etc."
7.) I see that the Marquis uses the word "encunted" and realize that he truly is a genius.
8.) "But the child emerges dead."
9.) Again the word is discharges. Sentence: "He lowers her into a very deep well and shouts down after her that he is about to fill it with large stones; he flings in a few clods of earth to frighten her, and discharges into the well, his seed landing on the naked whore's head."
10.) Nothing
11.) Nothing
12.) Nothing
13.) Word: Turds. Sentence: "...for his alarm may have provided us with a clue about the fate of those turds--we told him that the ones he had been served that day had come from several persons suffering from syphilis."
14.) Word: Cunt. Sentence: "Good God, dearie, let's not have any of your cunt, please put it away."
15.) Nothing.

marquis de sade by man ray

Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade by Man Ray

* * *

I invented a similar game to play with James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. The difference in this version is that instead of looking to touch some kind of debauched act, the aim is to stumble upon a sentence that makes sense. I shall try it now to give you an example:

1.) Nothing
2.) Nothing
3.) Nothing
4.) Nothing
5.) Nothing
6.) Nothing
7.) Nothing
8.) Nothing
9.) Nothing
10.) Nothing
11.) Nothing
12.) Nothing
13.) Nothing
14.) p. 246: "The campus calls them."
15.) Nothing

james joyce man ray Finnegans Wake

James Joyce, 1922 by Man Ray

Saturday, November 22, 2008

GREAT FILMS: STALKER (1979) - Tarkovsky

For this review of Stalker I took bits and pieces from different things including critics' writing, interviews, Tarkovsky's own words (from Sculpting in Time and interviews), even a line from David Bowie, and I strung all of it together in a collage, quoting and misquoting, changing things, and keeping them the same. Two sentences by one critic followed by one sentence from another, followed by Tarkovsky's own words attributed to the previous critic, etc. Believe nothing except that this post represents a small part of how I feel about Tarkovsky and Stalker. Originally I wanted to include more things -- bits from Pushkin, Dostoevsky, dialogue from Stalker -- in hopes that I could craft a more poetic representation of the film, but I ended up liking this first draft, so I'm not going to mess with it. I decided to take this approach specifically with Tarkovsky because his films are very hard to write about and also because I dislike how film is written about (in general). I hope this post is worth reading for those who have yet to see Stalker (or even a single Tarkovsky film) and also for those who might already be very familiar with the film. I'll probably try this again in the future with other films because I like the result, and I enjoyed putting it together.


How was the end of Andrei Rublev able to reveal something in the paintings of an old Russian artist that brought tears to my eyes? What was it about the film that was able to cast these paintings in a completely new light? What was it about Stalker, my first Tarkovsky, that stuck in my mind weeks and weeks after I had fallen asleep trying to watch it? When this haunting finally drove me to watch it again, why was the experience so powerful even though my brain didn't quite understand it? Why was I convinced during my first viewing of The Sacrifice that I had seen a particular sequence previously in one of my dreams?

Tarkovsky gives one the impression that he is able to control nature. There is a moment in Mirror when a gust of wind shoots through a field at just the right moment... Magical.

These are the reasons Tarkovsky is my favorite director. His films are rich, transformative, and endless; I could watch them forever. There's nothing more I can say.

* * *

stalker poster tarkovsky

STALKER (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

near jasmine is a stone; beneath the stone is a hidden treasure...

Every shot in Tarkovsky's oeuvre, and perhaps most starkly apparent in Stalker, while capturing the story, is much more than just a visualization of text lifted from the script. The slow, spellbinding use of the camera gives a sense of the inner music that such images possess, allowing the viewer to see and hear something of which appears inconceivable, emerging from the 'still life of the subjects' to re-create a sensation of divine resonance. Remember, if the images in the film are not of the highest quality, the film has no power, no meaning, no spiritual significance. Stalker is set in a secular world of post apocalyptic misery, a premonition of Chernobyl and Soviet disintegration. The hyperclarity of the images is such that they might have been etched into the screen, and the script not only went through thirteen rewrites but was actually filmed twice between 1976 and 1979.

I’ve seen all seven of Tarkovsky’s features, some of them several times, but I’ve never felt anywhere close to exhausting them. I haven’t seen Andrei Rublev (1966) for many years, and The Mirror (1974) struck me as almost completely opaque the first time I saw it. I also have to confess that most of Stalker (1979), now my favorite, infuriated me when I first saw it in 2001 or 2002. With the possible exception of My Name Is Ivan (aka Ivan’s Childhood, 1962), Tarkovsky’s first feature, all of his movies qualify to some degree as head scratchers. This is because they work at the deepest levels of our being and not in our intellect. His films cannot be analyzed without destroying them.

It seems as though we've forgotten how to relate emotionally to art--we treat it like editors, when everything's really very simple. Children have that simplicity and they understand Tarkovsky's films very well. I haven't met a single serious critic who stands knee-high to children when it comes to accepting my films as they are.

If we emerge from Tarkovsky’s films somewhat puzzled, this is only the first of the special gifts they have to offer, for ultimately they aren’t so much mysteries to be solved as experiences to be interpreted, learned from, and assimilated. His cinema is allusive. It is replete with reference to itself, both within and between films, and to various masterpieces of European art. His cinema is also elusive, since the import of even direct quotations often eludes comprehension, as if they were seen out of the corner of the eye, while yet central in the frame. "It would probably be great not to make films," Tarkovsky once said, "but instead to simply describe them to blind people."

Chris Marker compares what he calls the archetypal camera angle of Hollywood (slightly low, framing people against the sky) with the archetypal camera angle of Tarkovsky (slightly high, framing people against the ground) and then lets all the metaphysical implications of this difference sink in. It is probably true that the methods by which cinema affects audiences can be used far more easily and rapidly for their moral decomposition, for the destruction of their spiritual defenses, than the means of the old, more traditional art forms. The artistic image cannot be one-sided: in order justly to be called truthful, it has to unite within itself dialectically contradictory phenomena. Personal bias must always be hidden: making a display of it may give a film immediate topical relevance, but its meaning will be confined to that passing usefulness. If it is to last, art has to draw deep on its own essence; only in this way will it fulfill that unique potential for affecting people which is surely its determining virtue and which has nothing to do with propaganda, journalism, philosophy or any other branch of knowledge or social organisation.

tarkovsky stalker
Tarkovsky had always had very precise ideas about the Zone in Stalker. It took him a long time to find the right place. Instead of Uzbekistan, where it was first planned to be shot, they found abandoned, and long forgotten areas of former power plants in Estonia. Tarkovsky was drawn to this place by some photographs, and thought the place would make the perfect Zone, due to a certain "nihilistic attraction." After shooting the film, members of the crew sent protest letters to the local government against the destruction of the environment.

"We were shooting near Tallinn in the area around the small river Piliteh with a half-functioning hydroelectric station," says Vladimir Sharun. "Up the river was a chemical plant and it poured out poisonous liquids downstream. There is even this shot in Stalker: snow falling in the summer and white foam floating down the river. In fact it was some horrible poison. Many women in our crew got allergic reactions on their faces. Tarkovsky died from cancer of the right bronchial tube. And Tolya Solonitsyn too. That it was all connected to the location shooting for Stalker became clear to me when Larissa Tarkovskaya died from the same illness in Paris... Should I believe that I've been stricken too? Does my face show some kind of glow? A great star shot from the sky, flaming like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and springs. People in great numbers died from the water because it had been poisoned."

Tarkovsky has perfected his film language as an instrument capable of grappling with the most complicated issues of morality and theology. What makes his films so paradoxical is the fact that, among their concrete reality, lies an anticipation of the future, one that attempts to merge the viewer with the scene so that they may experience a re-awakening. For Tarkovsky, then, sculpting the Stalker was the result of an evolving personal signature, and one that meant cinema would never look upon a simple meadow in the same way again.

"I do not know whether there is Truth or not. But I instinctively feel that I cannot be without It. And I know that if It is, then It is everything for me: reason, and good, and strength, and life, and happiness. Perhaps It is not; but I love It - love is more than everything that exists. I already count It as existing, and I love It - though perhaps non-existent - with all my soul and all my thinking and dreaming. I renounce everything for It - even my questions and my doubts."

--Russian Philosopher Pavel Florensky (1882-1943), who died in a Stalinist labor camp

* * *

tarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalkertarkovsky stalker

Friday, November 14, 2008

Truth: A Matter of Taste

A: Boy, it sure is cold out!
B: What's the temperature?
A: Mid 30s.
B: Mid 30s? Already? I don't believe it.
A: Well, that's what my car thermometer said on my way home from work.
B: Hah! Do you know who makes car thermometers?
A: Who?
B: Liberals!

"The masses have never thirsted after truth... Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim." --Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

The rise of the Internet has given people an easy means in which to combat corporate media bias -- one of its most important functions -- but along with that it has given people an easy means in which to combat what they perceive to be the bias of reality itself. The Internet allows people to stay isolated within a very small frame of reference, reading only a very narrow and specific range of opinions. Instead of researching, people only read articles found on their favorite websites. Instead of investigating sources, people believe only the things that fit in with what they want to hear and disregard the things that don't. This is true of all forms of media, of course. Radio and television have so many channels and personalities that all one has to do is tune out everything that doesn't fit into ones ideological framework. We no longer have news in this country, we have companies that sell various "realities" to their consumers.

During an interview on CNN, Joe the Plumber was asked about some of the back taxes he had failed to pay. His response was another question: "Why is the media vetting me more than they are vetting Barack Obama, someone who's running for President?" So what was Joe really asking? What part of Obama's past was not already explored by the media? His association with Bill Ayers? The endless clips of Revered Wright that were played over and over for two weeks and then emerged again later in the campaign? The fact that he admitted to using cocaine? His voting record? The fact that he wants to "spread the wealth around"? What exactly did "Joe the Public" not know about Barack Obama? Was he referring to how the media didn't expose Obama as a Muslim? Was he talking about how Obama wasn't born in the United States and used a fake birth certificate? Instead of believing that perhaps these things weren't carried by the mainstream media because they didn't stand up to the scrutiny of professional journalism, or that the sources he was reading and listening to were not after truth but a McCain Presidency, Joe decided to believe that these truths remained hidden because of a worldwide, highly organized Liberal Media Conspiracy. Or perhaps he was completely oblivious to the fact that Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright were covered at length by CNN because the sources he got his news from told him these issues were being ignored. He never bothered to check because he had no incentive to step outside his bubble. This is a tendency we all share, and one that we must constantly force ourselves to deal with, especially in our super-saturated, information-overloaded culture. (For criticism of CNN, see this post.)

I. An excerpt from Jacques Ellul's Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1965):

"Through such a process of intense rationalization, propaganda builds monolithic individuals. It eliminates inner conflicts, tensions, self-criticism, self-doubt. And in this fashion it also builds a one-dimensional being without depth or range of possibilities. Such an individual will have rationalizations not only for past actions, but for the future as well. He marches forward with full assurance of his righteousness. He is formidable in his equilibrium, all the more so because it is very difficult to break his harness of justifications. Experiments made with Nazi prisoners proved this point.

Tensions are always a threat to the individual, who tries everything to escape them because of his instinct of self- preservation. Ordinarily the individual will try to reduce his own tensions in his own way, but in our present society many of these tensions are produced by the general situation, and such tensions are less easily reduced. One might almost say that for collective problems only collective remedies suffice. Here propaganda renders spectacular service by making man live in a familiar climate of opinion and by manipulating his symbols, it reduces tensions. Propaganda eliminates one of the causes of tension by driving man straight into such a climate of opinion. This greatly simplifies his life and gives him stability, much security, and a certain satisfaction.

At the same time, this crystallization closes his mind to all new ideas. The individual now has a set of prejudices and beliefs, as well as objective justifications. His entire personality now revolves around those elements. Every new idea will therefore be troublesome to his entire being. He will defend himself against it because it threatens to destroy his certainties. He thus actually comes to hate everything opposed to what propaganda has made him acquire. Propaganda has created in him a system of opinions and tendencies which may not be subjected to criticism. That system leaves no room for ambiguity or mitigation of feelings; the individual has received irrational certainties from propaganda, and precisely because they are irrational, they seem to him part of his personality. He feels personally attacked when these certainties are attacked. There is a feeling here akin to that of something sacred. And a genuine taboo prevents the individual from entertaining any new ideas that might create ambiguity within him.

Incidentally, this refusal to listen to new ideas usually takes on an ironic aspect: the man who has been successfully subjected to a vigorous propaganda will declare that all new ideas are propaganda. To the degree that all his stereotypes, prejudices, and justifications are the fruit of propaganda, man will be ready to consider all other ideas as being propaganda and to assert his distrust in propaganda. One can almost postulate that those who call every idea they do not share "propaganda" are themselves almost completely products of propaganda. Their refusal to examine and question ideas other than their own is characteristic of their condition."

II. A QUIBBLE by Mark Slouka (edit: this article was added at a later date)

"We have every reason to be pleased with ourselves. Bucking all recent precedent, we seem to have put a self-possessed, intelligent man in the White House who, if he manages to avoid being bronzed before his first hundred days are up, may actually succeed in correcting the course of empire. The bubble is rushing back to plumb; excitement is in the air. It would be churlish to quibble.

Still, let's. Although the guard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has indisputably changed, although the new boss is not the same as the old boss, I'm less certain about us. I'd like to believe that we're a different people now; that we're more educated, more skeptical, more tough-minded than we were when we gave the outgoing gang of criminals enough votes to steal the presidential election, twice, but it's hard work; actual human beings keep getting in the way.

My neighbor, a high school teacher living about an hour outside New York City, wants to torture a terrorist. He's worried because he believes that Osama—excuse me, Obama—cares more about terrorists than he does about us. He's never heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Another neighbor—an actual plumber, actually named Joe—wants Mark Haddon's *The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time* tossed out of the high school library. Joe came by recently. Did I want my kids learning how to curse and kill dogs and commit adultery? he asked. I said that my kids already knew how to curse, and that I hadn't realized that killing dogs and committing adultery were things you had to learn. He showed me the book. He and his wife had gone through it with a blue highlighter and highlighted the words "crap," "shit," and "damn" every time they appeared, on every page. They'd written to Laura Bush about it, and received a supportive letter in return, signed by the first lady. "You're a teacher," he said. "Don't tell me you support this kind of filth." I asked him if he'd read it. Well, no, he said, but he knew what it was about. He didn't really go in for reading, himself, he said.

I like a party as much as the next man, and I still have moments when I realize that the bastards are really, truly out and think that maybe, this time, it really is morning in America, but a voice from outside the ether cone keeps whispering that we haven't changed at all, that we're as dangerous to ourselves as we've ever been, and that the relative closeness of the popular vote in this last election (given the almost embarrassing superiority of the winning ticket and the parade of catastrophes visited on the nation by the outgoing party) proves it. Go ahead and bask, this voice says, but that rumble you hear above the drums and the partymakers is real, and it's coming our way.

What we need to talk about, what someone needs to talk about, particularly now, is our ever-deepening ignorance (of politics, of foreign languages, of history, of science, of current affairs, of pretty much everything) and not just our ignorance but our complacency in the face of it, our growing fondness for it. A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame—no longer. Today, across vast swaths of the republic, it amuses and comforts us. We're deeply loyal to it. Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath.

Seen from a sufficient distance (a decade abroad, for example), or viewed through a protective filter, like film, or alcohol, there can be something almost endearing about it. It can appear quaint, part of our foolish-but-authentic, naive-yet-sincere, rough-hewn spirit. Up close and personal, unromanticized and unfiltered, it's another thing entirely. In the flesh, barking from the electronic pulpit or braying back from the audience, our ignorance can be sobering. We don't know. Or much care. Or care to know. What do we care about? We care about auto racing and Jessica. We care about food, oh yes, please, very much. And money. (Did you catch the last episode of *I Love Money*?) We care about Jesus, though we're a bit vague on his teachings. And America. We care about America. And the flag. And the troops, though we're untroubled by the fact that the Bush Administration lied us into the conflict, then spent years figuring out that armor in war might be a good idea. Did I mention money?

Here's the mirror—look and wince. One out of every four of us believes we've been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number—not coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo "vibrational aura" that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.

Wherever it may have resided before, the brain in America has migrated to the region of the belt—not below it, which might at least be diverting, but only as far as the gut—where it has come to a stop. The gut tells us things. It tells us what's right and what's wrong, who to hate and what to believe and who to vote for. Increasingly, it's where American politics is done. All we have to do is listen to it and the answer appears in the little window of the eight ball: "Don't trust him. Don't know. Undecided. Just because, that's why." We know because we feel, as if truth were a matter of personal taste, or something to be divined in the human heart, like love.

I was raised to be ashamed of my ignorance, and to try to do something about it if at all possible. I carry that burden to this day, and have successfully passed it on to my children. I don't believe I have the right to an opinion about something I know nothing about—constitutional law, for example, or sailing—a notion that puts me sadly out of step with a growing majority of my countrymen, many of whom may be unable to tell you anything at all about Islam, say, or socialism, or climate change, except that they hate it, are against it, don't believe in it. Worse still (or more amusing, depending on the day) are those who *can* tell you, and then offer up a stew of New Age blather, right-wing rant, and bloggers' speculation that's so divorced from actual, demonstrable fact, that's so not true, as the kids would say, that the mind goes numb with wonder. "Way I see it is," a man in the Tulsa Motel 6 swimming pool told me last summer, "if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us."

Quite possibly, this belief in our own opinion, regardless of the facts, may be what separates us from the nations of the world, what makes us unique in God's eyes. The average German or Czech, though possibly no less ignorant than his American counterpart, will probably consider the possibility that someone who has spent his life studying something may have an opinion worth considering. Not the American. Although perfectly willing to recognize expertise in basketball, for example, or refrigerator repair, when it comes to the realm of ideas, all folks (and their opinions) are suddenly equal. Thus evolution is a damned lie, global warming a liberal hoax, and Republicans care about people like you.

But there's more. Not only do we believe that opinion (our own) trumps expertise; we then go further and demand that expertise assume the position—demand, that is, that those with actual knowledge supplicate themselves to the Believers, who don't need to know. The logic here, if that's the term, seems to rest on the a priori conviction that belief and knowledge are separate and unequal. Belief is higher, nobler; it comes from the heart; it feels like truth. There's a kind of Biblical grandeur to it, and as God's chosen, we have an inherent right to it. Knowledge, on the other hand, is impersonal, easily manipulated, inherently suspect. Like the facts it's based on, it's slippery, insubstantial—not solid like the things you believe.

The corollary to the axiom that belief beats knowledge, of course, is that ordinary folks shouldn't value the latter too highly, and should be suspicious of those who do. Which may explain our inherent discomfort with argument. We may not know much, but at least we know what we believe. Tricky elitists, on the other hand, are always going on. Confusing things. We don't trust them. So what if Sarah Palin couldn't answer Charlie Gibson's sneaky question about the Bush Doctrine? We didn't know what it was either.

How did we come to this pass? We could blame the American education system, I suppose, which has been retooled over the past two generations to churn out workers (badly), not skeptical, informed citizens. Or we could look to the great wasteland of television, whose homogenizing force and narcotizing effect has quite neatly corresponded to the rising tide of ignorance. Or we could spend some time analyzing the fungus of associations that has grown around the word "elitist," which can now be applied to a teacher driving a thirteen-year-old Toyota but not to a multimillionaire CEO like Dick Cheney. Or, finally, we might look to the influence of the anti-elitist elites who, burdened by the weight of their Ph.D.s, will argue that the words "educated" and "ignorant" are just signifiers of class employed by the oligarchy to keep the underprivileged in their place, and then proceed to tell you how well Bobby is doing at Princeton.

But I'm less interested in the ingredients of this meal than in who's going to have to eat it, and when, and at what cost. There's no particular reason to believe, after all, that things will improve; that our ignorance and gullibility will miraculously abate, that the militant right and the entrenched left, both so given to caricature, will simultaneously emerge from their bunkers eager to embrace complexity, that our disdain for facts and our aversion to argument will reverse themselves. Precisely the opposite is likely. In fact, if we take the wider view, and compare today's political climate (the arrogance with which our leaders now conduct their extralegal adventures, the crudity of the propaganda used to manipulate us, our increasing willingness to cheer the lie and spit on the truth, just so long as the lie is ours) to that of even a generation ago, then extend the curve a decade or two into the future, it's easier to imagine a Balkanized nation split into rival camps cheered and sustained by their own propaganda than the republic of reason and truth so many of us want to believe in.

Traditions die hard, after all. Anti-intellectualism in America is a very old hat—a stovepipe, at least, maybe even a coonskin. We wear it well; we're unlikely to give it up just like that. Consider, for example, what happens to men or women (today as ever) the minute they declare themselves candidates for office, how their language —their syntax, their level of diction, the field from which their analogies are drawn—takes a nosedive into the common pool. Notice how quickly the contractions creep in and the sleeves roll up. The comparison to high school seems appropriate; the pressure to adapt is considerable, and it's all in one direction—down. In American politics, as in the cafeteria, the crowd sets the tone. It doesn't know much, and if you want in, you'd better not either. Should you want out, of course, all you have to do is inadvertently let on—for example, by using the word inadvertently"—that you're a reasonably educated human being, and the deed is done.

Communicate intelligently in America and you're immediately suspect. As one voter from Alaska expressed it last fall, speaking of Obama, "He just seems snotty, and he looks weaselly." This isn't race talking; it's education. There's something sneaky about a man like Obama (or even John Kerry, who, though no Disraeli, could construct a sentence in English with a beginning, a middle, and an end), because he seems intelligent. It makes people uneasy. Who knows what he might be thinking?

But doesn't this past election, then, sound the all clear? Doesn't the fact that Obama didn't have to lower himself to win suggest that the ignorant are outnumbered? Can't we simply ignore the third of white evangelicals who believe the world will end in their lifetimes, or the millennialists who know that Obama's the Antichrist because the winning lottery number in Illinois was 666?

For starters, consider how easily things might have gone the other way had the political and economic climate not combined into a perfect political storm for the Republican Party; had the Dow been a thousand points higher in September, or gas a dollar cheaper. Truth is, we got lucky; the bullet grazed our skull.

Next, consider the numbers. Of the approximately 130 million Americans who voted this past November, very nearly half, seemingly stuck in political puberty, were untroubled by the possibility of Sarah Palin and the first dude inheriting the White House. At the same time, those of us on the winning side might want to do a cross-check before landing. How many of us—not just in the general election but in the primaries, when there was still a choice—voted for Obama because he was the It thing this season, because he was so likable, because he had that wonderful voice, because he was black, because he made us feel as if Atticus Finch had come home? If nothing else, the fact that so many have convinced themselves that one man, thus far almost entirely untested, will slay the culture of corruption with one hand while pulling us out of the greatest mess we've known in a century with the other suggests that a certain kind of "clap your hands if you believe" naiveté crosses the aisle at will.

But the electorate, whatever its issues, is not the real problem. The real problem, the unacknowledged pit underlying American democracy, is the 38 percent of the population who didn't move, didn't vote. Think of it: a country the size of Germany—83 million people—within our own borders. Many of its citizens, after decades of watching the status quo perpetuate itself, are presumably too fed up to bother, a stance we can sympathize with and still condemn for its petulance and immaturity, its unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that in every election there is a better and a worse choice. Millions of others, however, are adults who don't know what the Bill of Rights is, who have never heard of Lenin, who think Africa is a nation, who have never read a book. I've talked to enough of them to know that many are decent people, and that decency is not enough. Witches are put to the stake by decent people. Ignorance trumps decency any day of the week.

Praise me for a citizen or warm up the pillory, it comes down to the unpleasant fact that a significant number of our fellow citizens are now as greedy and gullible as a boxful of puppies; they'll believe anything; they'll attack the empty glove; they'll follow that plastic bone right off the cliff. Nothing about this election has changed that fact. If they're ever activated—if the wrong individual gets to them, in other words, before the educational system does—we may live to experience a tyranny of the majority Tocqueville never imagined."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

a change is gonna come?

"Fortune has said that it believes Lawrence "Larry" Summers to be President-Elect Obama's top choice for Secretary of Treasury, citing various reasons."

The same Larry Summers who used to be President of Harvard, the school from which Obama graduated magna cum laude?


The Same Larry Summers who served as Chief Economist for the World Bank (1991-1993)?


The same Larry Summers who said that industrial pollution ought to be exported to third world countries because they are under-polluted? "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that... The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand." memo


And to think, Mr. Obama, I was just about to write a blog about the speech you gave Tuesday night and how it made me feel like you were actually going to change things. You made me feel like all of my cynicism was unjustified, unhealthy, and part of the reason why nothing ever gets accomplished. You made me feel like politics could perhaps be a noble profession, even a true public service. Oh well. It was a nice 2 days. Time to resume dreaming (about blowing shit up).