Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Joe Bageant, Obama, and the days and years ahead

I hadn't visited Joe Bageant's digs in a while, and I was curious to see if he had any thoughts about the Obama inauguration. Joe's new essay is here:
"North Toward Home: from here in Central America, you can't see America's "shining city on the hill," but you can smell the dead in Gaza."

Also, I chanced upon an earlier, really exceptional, essay I hadn't seen before, from April of 2008, "The Audacity of Depression." Written in the midst of the HRC-Obama scrap, Joe makes it pretty clear that he sees Obama's appeals to hope for what they are, without therefore suggesting Hillary is a better alternative. I've saved it to my account under "the fall", which is the name I give for this category of writings, not quite a genre, which I see more and more of, discussing forebodings of US decline. From the 2008 essay:

Lately though, I don't hear so much outrage. In fact, the readers seem to be suffering from what someone aptly called "rage fatigue." Which is another way of saying the bastards have simply worn us out. And it's true.

I am not kidding when I say rage fatigue victims have fallen into an ongoing mid-level depression. (Looks to me like the whole country has, but then I'm no mental health expert.) The less depressed victims can be found lurking near the edges of the Obama cult, consoling themselves that a soothing and/or charismatic orator is better than nothing.
like whoever else wins the presidency, Obama can never acknowledge any significant truth, such as that the nation is waaaaay beyond being just broke, and is even a net debtor nation to Mexico, or that the greatest touch-me-not in the U.S. political flower garden, the "American lifestyle," is toast. But then, we really do not expect political truth, but rather entertainment in a system where, as Frank Zappa said, politics is merely "the entertainment branch of industry."

Still, millions of Americans do grasp at The Audacity of Hope, a meaningless marketing slogan of the publishing industry if ever there was one. At least it has the word Audacity in it, something millions of folks are having trouble conjuring up the least shred of these days. And there is good old fashioned "Hope" of course -- that murky, undefined belief that some unknown force or magical unseen power will reverse the national condition -- will deliver us from what every bit of evidence indicates is irreversible, if not politically, then economically and ecologically: Collapse.

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

two tales

"Backlash of the Hunter"(pt 1) was the pilot episode[streamable video] of The Rockford Files, one of the reasons that popular art from the 70s wasn't always as bad as you young whippersnappers were led to believe.(I've noticed that it's mainly the dreck of the 70s that gets recycled by Hollywood, like Charlie's Angels or The Brady Bunch.) In the first story Rockford(James Garner) takes on a pre-bionic Lindsay Wagner as his client, who's trying to find out why her father was killed. Billy Mumy appears in a secondary role. I don't remember if anybody was following Jim n' Lindsay when they stopped at the real-life Tail o' the Pup, although that sort of thing was typical in Rockford storylines.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here Comes the New Boss

Stelios Varias,Reuters

A friend who knows my political views asked me: "you're not looking forward to tomorrow, are you?" Referring of course to the ascent of Obama to the presidential throne. Now to be honest, I don't know how I feel about Obama, expressed on a simple level of positive/negative, good/bad, what have you. Unlike Rob Payne, I'm willing to acknowledge that between Obama and McCain, Obama might be marginally preferable, notwithstanding the embarrassment evoked by the contingent who insist on treating him like he can part the sea and persuade the sun to shine.

That's not the same as saying I think he was a desirable choice for president per se, or even for the democratic nomination-- but I'll get to that. This April Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will turn 89, later this year Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be 76, and in fact the youngest of the liberal members of the court, Stephen Breyer, will turn 70 in 2009. I would have preferred somebody like Dennis Kucinich or even John Edwards had been the president to appoint Stevens's and Ginsberg's replacements, but that was not to be. I note this because it's pretty likely they will retire soon, and with a certain unease I'll nevertheless assert that I prefer Obama rather than McCain(or Palin) be the person to appoint their replacements.

In spite of what I see as the broader reality of Obama's nature as a corporatist quisling, I imagine some modest benefits will emerge from Obama being president rather than McCain. Federal policy on stem-cell research may become sane again, and (possibly) his environmental policies will be better than McCain's would have been. But as far as foreign and economic policy go, I doubt we'll see anything that represents "hope" or "change", with or without ironic quotation marks.

I suppose the thing I find so maddening about the ascendancy of Obama is it comes along at precisely the moment that the broader public was probably readier than they have been in decades for a real liberal reformer in the white house, what with the many missteps of the second George Bush and his cronies. And instead we get Barack Obama, who seems intent on repackaging soak-the-poor and destroy-the-welfare-state politics as the new, new liberalism, the variety you didn't know you wanted until he came along and cleared things up. It seems so abundantly clear to me that he's a fraud, a speaker of pretty words that flatter the ill-informed, and that his bipartisan, "post-ideological" ethos is really just craven opportunism, the positioning of a product-- which in this case is also a person-- in the marketplace of politics so it looks its best in the available light.

And yet, on one side of our screwy political culture we have the Obamazoids who want to flash a victory sign and cheer their new messiah so they can stop thinking and just groove on a warm feeling, and on the other the talk-radio cretins who insist that he's a socialist(?!), possibly because he doesn't want to bomb Ahmedinejad without talking to him first, or because he's never hunted moose from an airplane. Or because he's black.

About that. Although the historical significance of our first black president has been over-sold, I think even people understandably leery of the hype and the cult of Obama need to allow that his election is a sign of social progress, even if you have to qualify it by also recognizing how strenuously Obama bent over backwards to reassure middle America that he was the nice, non-threatening type of black guy, the one that Hollywood leads us to believe will absolve us of our sins in the great shopping mall in the sky.

Another friend tells me to "give him a chance," as if my attitude makes the least bit of difference. While I don't think my attitude towards Obama is remotely relevant, I'm guessing my attitude towards his flock does matter. It's probably vanity to hope to personally change the political landscape for the better, at least in terms of measurable individual effort. But collective effort is the sum of the individuals who try to achieve.....thing x, whatever that thing is, whether it's through the march of a million people or the raising of a hundred million dollars for a cause.

When I saw a news story in October about the Obama organization raising 150 million dollars in 30 days, roughly concurrent with the demise of Cursor, I couldn't help but think about that, about how the flesh is willing, the collective progressive impulse is there, but the collective mind is weak, misdirected by personality-oriented politics. The people at Cursor said all they need is about 75 grand to run for a year,a sum Obama could raise in less than half an hour. And Cursor did more to wake people up to the issues of the day than a hundred celebrity-penned Huffington Post op-eds. Not in terms of audience size, unfortunately, but in terms of the quality and relevance of the content.

But-- also unfortunately-- that clearly isn't enough. I thought about that ironic disconnect again today, when I saw the images of over one million-- and possibly close to two million-- people converging at the mall in D.C. to see Obama become president-- of how the collective progressive impulse is there, but that, functionally, Obama is an agent of (the co-option of) change.

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people," or so the old saying goes. It may well be true, but making fun of those millions who believe in Obama the savior of America rather than reaching out to them is willful and vain and stupid. Large numbers of them, black and white and otherwise, will experience a letdown when Obama emerges as just another politician, and to borrow from Barack himself, that will be a "teachable moment."

Remind yourself of 2003, and how unlikely George Bush's days with lower ratings than Nixon seemed when he was prancing around on that aircraft carrier. Obama undoubtedly has more sense than Bush Junior, at least as far as permitting himself such an unrestrained display of hubris, but even he has to realize that you can't get an 80 percent approval rating just for being the president-elect without an inevitable falling action being in store. And how much of his current approval is mere approval for his not-George-Bush quality? Even you and I and the cashier at Quiznos possess that same quality, and as far as I know nobody voted for us.

I could say, "naturally I hope I'm wrong about Obama...." largely out of a desire to seem like a reasonable person. Well sure, I do hope I'm wrong, but I think such a hope is insufficient, and the afore-mentioned letdown is coming. And I repeat: simply making fun of the millions who believe in him is unwise, insofar as large numbers of them WILL decide he isn't what they hoped he would be. And then what? Some of them are-- will be-- reachable.

(If anything, I'd guess that a lot of the newly politicized Obamazoids are among the more reachable, because their brains aren't as full of the accomodationist bullshit that so many regular rank-and-file democrats have crammed their craniums with, the kind of folks that Dennis Perrin regularly warns us about.)

In the meantime, liberalism is bleeding in the gutter where it was left by Reagan, and the Clintons, and Fox news, and by the democratic party leadership, and the faux-liberal putative left who eagerly swallow one "third way" capitulation after another, and by the rest of the news networks... and Obama.

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Jackie Stewart explains the Nordschleife

From the movie "Champions Forever - The Formula One Drivers." If you've ever wanted to see Jackie Stewart drive the Nürburgring in Rolls convertible while talking about it to the camera, you've come to the right place. (I believe the guy seen talking briefly about Stewart at the beginning is François Cevert.)

A less leisurely(F2) view from '67 can be seen here.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Naomi Oreskes and the American denial of global warming

Friday, January 16, 2009

Samuel Beckett's "Breath"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

UPI: grappling with gitmo

I'm impressed that UPI (apparently) didn't encounter any "let 'em rot" types in the informal polling seen here, although I guess people might censor themselves when they're on camera out on a public street in a way they might not in a more anonymous venue. I'm also guessing the nice young lady who commented about the oddness of the concept of "outsourcing" prisoners to foreign countries is unaware of the practice of extraordinary rendition, or that Bill Clinton authorized the CIA to do it after Oklahoma City in '95.

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

the infernal return

I've been thinking of changing the direction of Hugo Zoom a bit, but am presently undecided-- at first I meant to make it a just a place to host ephemera that entertains me, while using Dead Horse strictly for political opining. I may still do that, but I realize that there's ephemera, and there's ephemera. So I may post thusly:

Dead Horse: political stuff

Hugo Zoom: some political stuff, and some ephemera, and

Versen(my mostly inactive 2002 blog): more ephemeral ephemera.

I was also thinking of renaming Versen(my 2002 blog) weh weh weh.

I haven't decided yet.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Two from Reuters video

Helen Suzman(2):

Gaza assaults spark global backlash:

As always, the shoes are a nice touch.

cross-posted at "Dead Horse"

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

In medias res: welcome young 2009

The year is barely 24 hours old as I write this, and 3 notable persons have already passed on:

For some time me brain been percolating a post about American decline, and given this background preoccupation, inevitably I find myself thinking about how these three person's lives illustrate various perspectives on that topic.

Nizar Rayyan was by no means a choir boy, but he was the closest thing Gaza had to a secretary of defense, and in some ways his death and the stolid, "nothing-to-see-here" way the US press has dealt with it helps illustrate one aspect of US decline, as we juxtapose the IDF airstrikes against Hamas with the EU's condemnation and the US's official impassivity, as Bush, jnr insists he won't break off his last Christmas vacation as president to address the Israeli violence. and our new talk-show-culture president elect insists on framing the conflict in terms of how he thinks he would react if he was an Israeli parent, discussing hypothetical danger to his daughters whom we should see as people, unlike, say, your average no-good Palistinian kid. Americans have traditionally flattered themselves that their government leads the world, but the EU shows leadership while the US establishment, the Congress having voted to supply the bombs that destroy Gazan lives, hide behind the moral indolence of their shrub-clearing lame-duck president.

Claiborne Pell's death reminds me of how forward-thinking the US welfare state once was with respect to financing higher education, as we juxtapose the 1960s and the era of the Pell Grant, still around but endangered , with the current state of financial aid and higher education, as state and federal budgets put the squeeze on working-class and lower-middle class aspirants to a better life.

Helen Suzman was a civil rights pioneer-- from South Africa. She was one of Nelson Mandela's few white friends who visited him in jail and agitated for his release, years before hip Western kids identified him as a signifier of coolness, like the Dalai Lama or Coldplay or yes, Barack Obama. Her life, and those (several) dark chapters in South Africa's history remind me of how, here in the US, we once had a functioning left, one that successfully shamed many American institutions into divesting themselves of their South African holdings, something that might be impossible today, when so many people seemingly settle for voting as absolution in which a vaguely religious political leader forgives you for your civic laziness because you voted for him. And don't forget to help him pay off Hillary Clinton's debt to pollster Mark Penn. I hear he doesn't really need the money, but hey, a contract is a contract. Yes you can.

photos: Reuters

cross-posted at Dead Horse

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