Tuesday, October 26, 2004

candidate rises to occasion

On Jan. 11, 2002, I sketched what seemed a plausible trajectory for Mr. Bush:
1. Get heroic over mideast bad guys.
2. Take a crap on the middle classes with tax and spending policy.
3. Watch dopily as economy nosedives.
4. Suffer the slings and arrows of disaffected media.
5. Lose the re-election.
He seems to be on track. Are we?

Monday, October 25, 2004

jumping the track

...from the Tampa Tribune, one of the most republokrat dailies in Florida:
We had fully expected to stand with Bush, whom we endorsed in 2000 because his politics generally reflected ours: a strong military, fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility and small government. We knew him to be a popular governor of Texas who fought for lower taxes, less government and a pro-business constitution.

But we are unable to endorse President Bush for re- election because of his mishandling of the war in Iraq, his record deficit spending, his assault on open government and his failed promise to be a ``uniter not a divider'' within the United States and the world.
Their solution is to endorse nobody.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Lisa Lionhearts

And I, looking again, observed a banner
Which, as it circled, raced on with such speed
It did not seem ever to want to stop.
Inferno iii
A man dies, who possibly was capable of thought, of antagonizing something new in the text of western philosophy, along the way tricking one into rethinking, among other things, thinking, language, voice, texts, power, friendship, money, politics.

Lo: The New York Times comes not to praise, but to bury him.

Behold: Admirers, colleagues of the man, Jacques Derrida, write strongly worded letters to the Editor of the Times, in protest.

Wherein academia reveals a certain aspect of its Lisa Simpsonhood.

The Times' calcul, went something like this, I'll wager:
We're just a bunch of pissed off schlubbs, bottles in our desks. But, we need to brand the occasion. For the brand, whose odeur must be all over everything, is our banner. Jake whatitsname isn't big enough to worry one way or the other. We smeared de Man, his friend, with inflated innuendo. We'll sink the frog fop with 'tude.
My question: Is this a call to reason with the Times, taking it to task? Would it not be more in line with Derrida to ask some perhaps searching questions about what resistances in this mighty news organ might come alive when confronted with the task of measuring the life and work of guys like this, whose gist vis a vis the transparency of representation renders pungently improbable the Times' authority on any given subject whatsoever?

Like, the impatience with complexity shown by institutions is how different from the impatience demonstrated by Bush with those who fail to see freedom on the march?
And there, behind it, marched so long a file
Of people, I would never have believed
That death could have undone so many souls.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Salaam Pax goes to Washington

The news channels here are not like the news channels I am used to. You should try watching al-Jazeera - Bad news! Serious news! More bad news! - and see what it does to your day. These people here are doing a live entertainment show, not news. The breakfast shows are the ones that annoy me most. I can't stand all this happiness this early in the morning. News about explosions in Baghdad and American troops refusing to follow orders is sprinkled with the cheerful banter of Mr Weatherman and jokey Miss Anchorwoman...worth a look

Friday, October 22, 2004

we the puppets

You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.
There is very little time for blogging - in your life, too, if truth were told. One thing, though, to see, is that Jon Stewart on Crossfire is a metaphor. As is the entire trope of castigating media for failing to see how bad it is at doing its job. Media is not degrading democracy; like a dull hubcap, it merely offers us the image of democracy degraded.

Look at it this way: right about now, we have two parties, two power structures, in a dead heat. Two candidates chasing "undecided" voters around the countryside, sucking up to any small town in Pennsylvania (home of the Main Line, aka richfucks inc.), any Ohio mall, any Florida country club ("President who?") that will have them.

And there we can be found, pleezed as punch, Vegas tourists wowed by their first Elvis impersonator. "We" - that is, the electorate that in a couple of weeks will no longer be in quite such demand, who have not used this rare leverage to make demands of our own. We have not said: End this war. We have not said: Raise wages. We have not said: Sound healthcare for everyone. Instead of saying, look, if you want this job, do this, or we will recall your ass before it has time to warm your throne, we prefer to make it look like two proponents of one macho national agenda are enacting democracy as they both promise to keep our society pretty much closed, hidebound, and oligarchic, because, you see, they see this is what we want. We are puppeteers who think we are a roomful of dumb people.

This is less democracy than participatory laugh-trackism. We are, as Colin says in this comment, backdrops, and these are no longer realistically rendered. Cheap sketches of masses stretching into a threadbare distance of sockpuppets.

Stewart on Crossfire was, giddily, seriously, seeking to disrupt the format, and has acquired symbolic power just for trying. His "boring" turn jarred, if momentarily. The jester refusing to jest, the claymation hero straining to grasp the clay.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

scare quote

Thoughtful people find this quote from a piece entitled "Without a Doubt" by Ron Suskind worriesome:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
The most remarkable thing is not that the White House would contain someone articulate enough to say this, but that Mr. Suskind could blithely quote what amounts to an apologia for unfettered imperial power in action without attributing it.

In real journalism, one attributes. When one happens upon an expression of a new doctrine of cynical power, an expression shorn of any pretense of awareness of democratic otherness, of responsibility, of simple human ethics -- an expression that "gets to the very heart" of the heart that has been running us amok for the last four years -- and this expression comes from someone employed by the administration in power, and it comes in the midst of an electoral battle, and one does not give the speaker's identity, one is acting either with total journalistic irresponsibility or one has had the feces skeered out of him. History's actors indeed. How frightened did Suskind (or his editors at the Times) have to be before withholding attribution?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

rerun of the depressed

In a manner reminiscent of Freud, Mr. Derrida insists that what is repressed does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems. Mark C. Taylor, from a NY Times piece soberly titled, "What Derrida Really Meant." (Gracias a AKMA for the link.)
America, FUCK YEAH!
Going to save the motherfuckin' day yeah,
America, FUCK YEAH!
Freedom is the only way.
Terrorists, your game is through,
It's time for you to answer to
America, FUCK YEAH!

- Trey Parker

"It is the responsibility of...every evangelical Christian...to get serious about re-electing President Bush."
Jerry Falwell, The New York Times, July 16, 2004

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

three polarities for a reflex-challenged electorate

In a fascinating, too brief interview this morning on NPR, Bob Dylan ruminated about why he went off his feed as a musician/performer, and what it took to get his mojo back. He is paraphrased as saying:
his audience was past its prime, and its reflexes were shot.
He meant the audience that had been his home, his support, his electorate since 1961.

If the presidential debates establish anything at all, it's that the fabled sober democratic citizenry of Armerica is having its own reflex, or reflux, issues. Here's how I would score Kerry's palpable-in-any-sane-universe hits against our tinpot Executor of Divine Justice:

Debate #1: Polarity: Intelligence vs. Deep Stupidity.
Proved that charges of error and incompetence, richly demonstrated, can't hold a candle to mad credence.

Debate #2: Polarity: Calm Assurance vs. Petulant Querulousness.
Lent support to the notion that pheromones of inarticulate, bursty buzzwords trigger more couch spud viagra than carefully phrased, clearly set forth positions.

Debate #3: Polarity should be: Safety vs. Danger.
The undecided will turn not on whether Bush was incorrect, but whether he is dangerous. Bush has shown he's hell and leather on witless middle Eastern dictators. Is Kerry genial enough to prick the little man into losing it, if only for a blink, rendering visible the danger Mr. Bush poses to us?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

of roofs

One of the most widely commented on phenomena in the wake of this season's hurricanes was the success or failure of roofs. Old roofs failed more often and more thoroughly than newer ones. Round and geodesic shapes fared better than rectilinear dwellings. Shingle roofs, unless quite new and up to the latest wind codes, held up pretty poorly, while metal roofs stood up like fortresses rising like ancient bulwarks against centuries of weather and war. Tile roofs often turned into batteries of cannon, blasting everything within hundreds of yards with flying stone. Again, the specifics of roof construction mattered greatly. Metal roofs built to current code and anchored with screws did well; those simply nailed on turned to shrapnel.

The roof is really the final cause of the house. In Mexico, many houses-under-construction stand empty while their owners work abroad to earn enough to complete them. These unfinished places invariably stand roofless, often with rebar sticking up from the walls. The first thing one does when building in Mexico is enclose the space with walls. The walls stand bare and open to the elements sometimes for years, as Mexicans don't think in terms of immediate gratification, they'll sometimes be adding walls and roofs over generations, because it is the family developing through time that is building it, not this or that mortgage holder.

But when Mexicans want a place for picnics, for food and beer and family outings, they produce pavilions that consist of nothing but roofs sitting on columns which can be of metal, stone, or wood. The palapas on the beaches are just woven roofs attached to sticks. These are designed not to weather storms, but to collapse under them and to rise again from the sands as soon as the waters recede. Flimsy construction is intimately bound up with the borders between human pleasure and natural bounty. Man perches and poaches, but nature rewrites the landscape at her pleasure.
Well I can't read and I can't write
And I don't know my left from right.
Which all just goes to say I'm happy to be back under roof, and a very nice one it is, a small rented cottage on the coast, close enough for me to keep an eye on our house while it's being rebuilt, but far enough to be outside the zone of devastated homes, stressed vegetation, and neverending rubble. The past seven or so weeks have given me a new appreciation for roofs, for artificial environments, that enable us to introduce additional artifices of order into the day. But it's only because there was this moment in which I really didn't live anywhere that I see how much our being is bound up with how we dwell. Poets, for instance, tend to not thrive where roofs protect walls that offer regular rectangular vistas of the outer world. This could be why Mexicans, who are entirely musical and poetical, prefer their roofs without walls when they're having fun (and why they often build doorways, called portiles, unconnected to walls or roofs, that stand in the middle of nowhere, a sort of trace architecture of pure liminality.)

Poets can't abide walls or windows in part because of the restrictions they impose on one's view. They sort of say: "Look here, this is your house, and over there, those people live in their house, and you and they agree there will be no loose dogs, no pickup trucks in the driveways, and a great deal of macho leafblowing on Saturday afternoons." That is to say, there is a contractual and prosaic tinge to the affair before one has even had coffee, a little like bloggers who assume the relationships they build through blogging must have all the cheesy bits that have burdened human social relations formed via every other mode of interaction, when in fact it's more likely that we are bursting with words in part because something wants us to bust out of all those old tattered social tics and to tie new knots. Poets again are more likely to have potent relationships with the non-human, and why should blogging not contain that too? But what I really had in mind to say simply was, I feel very fortunate to have stumbled upon this cottage on this bay, with its dolphins and manatees and snook and mullet popping and splishing, and its green old oaks and philodendra and palms. To me, this place feels like it found me and said,
I can't tell if the sun's gonna shine
And I don't know if you'll ever be mine,
But I'll make love to you any old time at all.
Which of course was actually said by JJ Cale, who until today I did not know actually (update: or not - WP says no) bears the first and second names of the archpoet of the conundrum of human/nature, Rousseau, and who, Jean Jacques Cale, I mean, seems more a force of nature than Mark Knopfler, who is more the social blogger, taking Cale's roughness in more and more beautiful, perfected dimensions, while Cale's casual lyrics offer a richer sampling of human bonds and predicaments than, say, Garcia. Listen to Lonesome Train, to Ride Me High, to Mississippi River and Guitar Man and tell me he didn't set the troubadourial ambits of both those guys, who are two of my favorite creatures of all time, not to speak of accounting for Clapton nearly altogether, the way Elmore Leonard before he was celebrated for being Elmore Leonard seemed to be the self-evident end result and origin of any number of voices. In June, Cale released To Tulsa and Back. Check out The Problem:
Have you heard the news that's going round yeah
The man in charge has got to go
Cause he dances round the problem boy
And the problem is the man in charge you know...
Anyway, nice to be under roof again.

I can't swim and I can't fly,
I ain't no fish, ain't a bird in the sky.

I can't tell if the sun's gonna shine
And I don't know if you'll ever be mine,
But I'll make love to you any old time at all.
I can't count from one to ten,
And I don't know the shape I'm in.
I can't tell if the sun's gonna shine
And I don't know if you'll ever be mine,
But I'll make love to you any old time at all*.

*I'll Make Love To You Anytime
by J. J. Cale

Sunday, October 03, 2004

fractal god

Frank Rich on a new DVD featuring the Lord's little underdog:
It transforms the president that the Democrats deride as a "fortunate son" of privilege into a prodigal son with the "moral clarity of an old-fashioned biblical prophet." Its Bush is not merely a sincere man of faith but God's essential and irreplaceable warrior on Earth.
This is exactly what came through Bush's voice during the debate (see preceding post).
In this pious but not humble worldview, faith, or at least a certain brand of it, counts more than competence, and a biblical mission, or at least a simplistic, blunderbuss facsimile of one, counts more than the secular goal of waging an effective, focused battle against an enemy as elusive and cunning as terrorists... .

Far more startling is the inability of a president or his acolytes to acknowledge any boundary that might separate Mr. Bush's flawed actions battling "against the forces of evil" from the righteous dictates of God.
It may be that we are dealing with a Manchurian President. Bush no longer seems like someone who is being shaped by handlers to seem like a prophet. He is that prophet, crazed, but not crying in the wilderness, rather, coming undone at the center of a discombobulating gyre.

Friday, October 01, 2004

mexed missages

Here's why I am afraid that spin of this ilk:
Polls crown Kerry winner of first debate
is both wrong and irrelevant.

Enter the President, stage fright:
"but the enemy attacked us, Jim" - delivered by George W. Bush in the breathy, heart-pained voice of a sincere militiaman, hell-bent on doing the Lord's work in a cruel, cruel world.
I listened to most of the debate on radio while driving. Undistracted by visuals, I heard persistent, weird emotional notes in Bush's voice that, I suspect, registered with a large portion of his followers. Spell out the notes and they sing, "I pathologically care."

Anyone who thinks Kerry won the debate is forgetting about folks who don't regard debates as being about finding truth (given the media's accommodation of political cosmeticians, they have a point). They're ignoring people who have long since abandoned any effort to distinguish truth from lie for themselves, preferring to put their hopes in the strong hands of a leader who has exactly that note of straining care in his voice, the misericordia of Blind Faith up against Ultimate Evil in a World o' Pain.

Kerry issues logical discourse. Bush emits the keening of country music suffering that knows no logic. Kerry thinks he can win by being correct. Bush knows that the more Wrong he is, the more his leadership will tighten its noose around his faith-stricken followers:

K: Iraq was a diversion.

B: How can you say to those who follow you, who put their trust in you, that their cause is unjust?
In the heartland, what matters is not who is right, but who is loyal. Not what is true, but who is true, to me and you. I am the Lord of your fathers, I will not fail you. Kerry's effort to conduct a discussion of options and judgments in a post-Enlightenment world doesn't hold a candle to Bush's rapt true grit fool in an absurd and magical universe. "Nothing makes sense," is the sense behind Bush's tone. "Follow me even unto the ends of the Earth, I will be true to ye even in my error, and my truth shall set ye free."

Of course I hope I'm all wet. After it's all over, we'll know whether the pivot of this election is not, indeed, what the USian soul does when the lights go out.