poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 27, 2010

A Sick and Spiteful Country

Filed under: Culture: U.S.,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:53 PM

Why oh why oh why am I not writing? I am so terribly uninspired. I am blaming the U.S. elections. Everything about them is depressing me, from the inability of the Democrats to actually fight for anything, to the strange, cruel worldview of the Republicans. Everyone is so nasty and petty while serious, real, actually kind of interesting even issues are simply ignored. As I was trying to explain to someone, the country is broke – and broken, no one wants to pay more money to fix things or help those who are suffering, so more things fall apart and more people suffer, leaving people more desperate to hold on to what they have, less trustful of the government, thus even more opposed to giving the government more of their money, money for fixing things and providing services. It is a vicious cycle. Until Americans are honest with themselves, realistic, responsible, I don’t think it will matter who is in charge, things will keep getting worse. Meanwhile Republicans are preaching creationism and stomping on the skulls of their opponents (literally) and Democrats are too timid to run on their accomplishments, and after spending 2 years ignoring and even poking fun at their base, are dumbfounded that their base lacks enthusiasm. Everything is toxic and abusive, and no one is behaving very admirably. It is all very depressing. I don’t want to write about Russia.

The other day I was at the doctor’s office. I have a new doctor. She’s Polish. At one point she began talking about how Americans are so sick. Why are Americans sick? “I am European. Where I grew up, we could not buy strawberries for $2 in December. If you wanted strawberries, you waited until May. May, and June. That’s the only time we ate strawberries. There were many things we did not have. But people were healthy. Everyone wasn’t getting cancer and heart disease… But in America, everyone is sick.” This was part of a larger reflection on how maybe less is more. I almost cried. Now I am in love with her. I want to only eat strawberries in May and June, I don’t want to take a pill for everything, I don’t want to vote for those people on the ballot.

Ok, maybe voting for jerks and morons is not making us sick (though it must certainly have something to do with the healthcare system meant to prevent and treat sickness.) But just because we have more access to the political process doesn’t mean we’re better off for it.

Right now there is a commercial running on the tv. A woman strolls with a cart down the aisles of a large grocery store, complaining about taxes while filling up her cart with soda. “It’s hard enough to put food on the table and feed my family. I don’t need the government telling me how to do it. Now they want to raise taxes on everything from flavored water to soda. Give me a break! Call the government and tell them to stay out of our business.” Or some nonsense. I want to strangle her and rescue her phantom tv commercial kids. You are not supposed to be feeding children soda! If you are having trouble affording food for your family, why the hell are you buying them soda? That is not even food! When I was in Moscow, the fellow I was living with brought home a giant can of Planter’s cheese balls one night. Giddy. Like he’d discovered treasure. I feel bad about it now, because I think he was trying to make me feel at home: Look! American food! “That’s not really food, you know.” That was my response. I sat judging him. Terrible.

America, land of plenty, amber waves of grain. What do we do with it? Make soda and cheese puffs and complain about having to pay for a few cents extra for them so our kids have textbooks.

America, beacon of democracy, land of the free. What do we do with it? Ignore the democratic process and let corporate interests or the few wack jobs that bother to vote pick a candidate and complain about having no good candidates to choose from.

I am not cynical. It’s not the process, or even the mechanism that is broken. It might need some fine tuning, but it is functioning. It’s the human factor that’s broken. And our system is rather built upon the participation of the human beings it is meant to serve.

I was going to write about Russia’s vibrant democracy. Hahahaha. I’m only half-kidding, you know.

Someone sent me a link to a list of parties in the Russian elections a few years ago, what they represent, who should vote for them. Nothing dramatic. You might steal my argument ans say that just because Russia has A WHOLE LOT MORE political parties than we do, it does not follow that they have a healthier democracy. This is true. Well, as far as I can tell, not many countries do. France and England are totally freaking out. Still, what caught me about the list was how … helpful it was. Like a reference guide for the average Joe, from the average Joe. Or Ivan. And to me, that’s really the spirit of democracy, more than any inevitable outcomes.

Then the Kremlin Stooge posted several informative, if opinionated, pieces on the make up of the Russian political system, here, and here.

And then A Good Treaty published a really astonishingly thought-provoking piece, “Aleksei Naval’nyi, Virtual Mayor of Moscow.” It is about a “virtual” on-line election in which a blogger won, and seemingly not entirely as a result of his own publicity campaign. He goes on to discuss the “political” v. the “apolitical” opposition. As I would explain, the apolitical opposition is not lacking in politics, just lacking any need or desire to pick a pre-ordained official camp to identify with, or oppose. Interestingly, they also seem to be the more successful camp. Again, it’s no proof of democracy, but an illustration of that nebulous thing that makes me get all weepy about democracy. Civic participation and empowerment, the citizen lobby being heard. It is at once more subversive, eluding the clearly defined boundaries of parties, and more effective, probably since they don’t pose a threat the basic order they’re ignoring. (It occurs to me those most in a huff about democracy in Russia are focused almost exclusively on access to power, and that is probably why I hate them. There is a man who cannot afford to feed his child and pay for his wife’s surgery. He’s not interested in running for office. What about him?)

But it is difficult to get all worked up about democracy now. When I turn on the tv or radio or computer … even walk down the street, I am bombarded with democracy. With civic empowerment? No. With people spending enough money to feed Africa for a decade to destroy their opponent’s character. With people who have more wealth and power than I will ever know asking me to write them a check. With wild passionate arguments about who was seen with whom and canned, tested responses about how to fix the economy, certain to offend no one and therefore certainly lacking the necessary courage. I really wish we could take the “pandering to the lowest in people” out of the equation. You would think so much civic responsibility would pressure us all to be better. The way the free market is supposed to ensure that only the best products succeed. Soda and cheese puffs. Our stores are filled with junk food, and out ballots aren’t much more impressive.

So much freedom. And everyone is sick.

October 11, 2010

Odds & Ends: Like in a dream Edition

A bit of catching up.

Vova’s Girlz.

~ Kevin O’Flynn: “Wanted: Putin’s Girl.”

So, this is annoying:

A girl was needed, but no ordinary one. She had to be not too tall and not too short, not too young and not too old — which if you’re wondering, is apparently between 22 and 27 — and she had to have a Moscow propiska, or registration.

It sounds like many a Moscow or even St. Petersburg man’s dream. Her skin had to be pure — no mention of her heart — her brows not too heavy, her chins not too many. Slavic features, please, they asked. Good manners, a way with lifts, not too big on the hips.

A beautiful smile and kind, intelligence plus the ability to take a bullet to the chest if somebody takes a pot shot at the guy who looks almost tall — to you, possibly — by your side.

If asked to find an escort for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it is unlikely that I would have stuck an ad up on a web site.

But that is what went buzzing around the Internet a week or so ago. The escort was needed for last Friday when Putin was set to visit the Arctic forum at the new Moscow State University building.

Her job was to escort him to the lift: Nails have to be short enough to be able to press the button; make some meaningless chitchat — “So when will Novaya Zemlya get its first Coffee House?” — and then fade away like a late morning dream.

She was not the only one, as the company in question was actually looking for three hostesses in total. Probably because there are always a lot of lifts at Arctic forums.

Your dress, the ad said, must be business-style: suit, skirt/trousers, blouse, high heels, “not vulgar but beautiful.”

The girls, who have already had their moment, were to be chosen in a “casting” close to the Universitet metro station.

Most specific was the height requirement: “Height, STRICTLY 160-165 (plus 2 to 3 centimeters is possible),” the ad said. “VVP has a height of 169 cm, not higher than him, that’s for sure.”

I didn’t even bother trying our for that one … you know, er, propiskaless and all. Maybe Kevin finds this kind of headhunting vulgar, but at least it is honest. In America, we invite all the highly qualified applicants, hire the pretty ones as intended all along, and send the rest consolation letters, if they are lucky.

Why isn’t Lyudmila helping with the elevators? If you want to send a pro-family, traditional-values demography-inspiring message to your people, why not have the wife at your side? Alas, perhaps she has joined a convent? There are not even elevators in convents, I don’t think. Not in the ones I’ve stayed at. Oh yes I did. Catholic school, baby. Anyway, here is the difference between me and Lyudia Putina: I can still entertain the idea that it’s just that he hasn’t met me.

~ … I don’t have much to add to the Great Calendar Debate, except to wonder if people even need wall calendars anymore. I buy them. Mine have themes like “365 Days in France” and “Warhol’s Shoes,” but only because Putin hasn’t out out his own beefcake calendar yet. However, between Outlook, Blackberry, Google and every other cyber organizing tool out there, why buy a wall calendar? Because it gives you something nice to look at when you realize your bills are due. Which, politics aside, is why depressing calendars don’t sell.

~ From Becky Cloonan, via Natalia Antonova:

Read This.

Elif Batuman is a name I’ve come across from time to time, thought I should remember, and always forgot. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Which -based on nothing more than the title- has been immediately added to my reading list. But it’s her blog that has me reeling….

Kafka porn contest

Patient readers! I promised a Kafka contest, and here it is. In the course of researching my recent Kafka article, I was interested to learn about a 2008 Kafka pornography scandal, provoked by the publication of James Hawes’s Excavating Kafka (the US title of which, Why You Should Read Kafka before You Waste Your Life, makes me proud to be an American). As the Guardian put it:

At the focus of Hawes’ investigation are pictures he stumbled across in the British Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford of the pornography to which Kafka subscribed while in his twenties. They include images of a hedgehog-style creature performing fellatio, golem-like male creatures grasping women’s breasts with their claw-like hands and a picture of a baby emerging from a sliced-open leg.

Myriad questions came to my mind. Whom or what was that hedgehog-style creature fellating? Was the Guardian being anti-Semitic when they called that breast-grasping creature a Golem? And who wants to see a baby coming out of someone’s leg? I consulted Google for answers and came across a terrifically helpful blog post which identifies and reproduces Aubrey Beardsley’s representation of a very angry-looking baby being removed from some guy’s leg (below), as per the description, in Lucian’s second-century proto-sci-fi hit True History, of how children are birthed on the Moon:\

Gratifying as this was, I was still really curious about that hedgehog and its unknown partner, which continued to elude my Googling skills for some time. One respected Kafka expert, to whom I broached the subject, basically counseled me to give up: “I think we can assume that the hedgehog was [performing these acts upon] another hedgehog, no? Isn’t that porn reportage protocol? You assume they’re of the same species, unless otherwise noted.” Well, Sir, that certainly isn’t my reportage protocol. And I’m glad it isn’t. Because, OK, don’t click on the link if you’re under 18 (believe me kiddo, it can wait), but I eventually found the picture, and, although I can’t tell you exactly what the soi-disant “hedgehog” is pleasuring, I can state with confidence that it is definitely not another soi-disant “hedgehog.”

As is often the case with Kafka, the more I learned, the more questions remained unanswered. What was that thing? Why was it behaving that way? Are such images “porn, pure and simple,” or are they, as Reiner Stach has suggested, mere “playful representations”?

Hoping to penetrate some of these mysteries, I addressed myself to valued reader and colleague Dimiter Kenarov, author of the Bulgarian bestselling poetry volume Апокрифни животни (Apocryphal Animals), the proceeds of which are diverted to the Sofia Zoo, where they have already financed a new swing for the monkeys. Kenarov suggested that the illustration represented some form of “apocryphal evolution,” but that, more significantly, one had perhaps stumbled upon “a whole new porn genre: Kafka Sex. There is money in here. For example, undressing a person only to find new and new layers of clothing underneath.”

I hereby decree this the first official entry in the My Life and Thoughts Kafka porn contest. Please send in your best ideas for this lucrative new genre, which may or may not eventually benefit in some way the monkeys in the Sofia Zoo.

Contest is over, and you’ve missed your chance to get some of her furniture. But a “first official entry” suggests there will be a second, official or otherwise. Anyway, this all somehow reminded me of that Edition 69 and the “The Devětsil ” literary movement. A bit after his time. But surrealist porn seems to be a theme with the Czechs…

~ Sheyngart recently showed up in the neighborhood. He did a great Q. and A., like he really wanted to be there, unlike Sasha Hemon. He’s quite funny. But not terribly serious. Which is too bad, because when he gets serious, great things come out. He was talking about how writers should take acting classes. I’d never thought about it, but it makes great sense. I’ve taken enough acting classes that I should now be prepared to write a novel. The crowd was a mix urban hipsters, Russian immigrants (a burly man rudely pushed past me to demand of the staff, “Vhat Time you Close?!”) and elderly Jews. Gary said he thought the Tea Party was better than Putin’s Russia. (Gary lives in NYC and doesn’t exactly have to worry about the Tea Party. I’ve not had any ancestors pogromed to death by Russians. We disagree.) He said he liked Pavel Pepperstein and Sorokin. He told a story about these old babushky who erected a giant toilet in central Moscow and were flushing Sorokin’s lurid books down it. You thought the story would end in grievance: so that’s the kind of thanks an artist gets in Putin’s oppressive Russia. He took a u-turn and remarked, “Russia’s the only country in the world that continues to care enough about novels to hold public protests against them.”

~ Adding to my blogroll: Lizok’s books.

~ I’ve about finished Rasskazy, and off the top of my head, the stories I liked most:

“THEY TALK” by Linor Goralik
“RUSSIAN HALLOWEEN” by Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov
“THE SEVENTH TOAST TO SNAILS” by Ekaterina Taratuta
“D.O.B.” by Aleksander Snegirev

Probably pure coincidence, but in this selection I’ve made, the women are writing experimental prose, and the men more traditional narratives. There is a lot of stuff in the book that, while very artistic and academic, does not seem to work very well. These did. I also wanted read twithout any political bias. One might argue that these are “Western” in their style, and condemnations of Russia in their content. They’re well written. And I am not sure I buy the idea that anything less than saccharine is an indictment, or the only good writers are Slavophiles.

And BG and Slava came to me in a dream…

~ c/o Oleg Kashin (who is spending WAY too much time on Twitter):

BG & Surkov! You know how in cheap beer commercials, there is always a set of hot twins the average Joe spies at a bar? (As if an average Joe drunk on Budweiser were more attractive to Scandanavian twins than the sober version of himself?) Anyway, If Budweiser were marketing to me, this would be the commercial. The third fellow is Andrei Makarevich. Meh. What was going on here? Political event at which musicians are kissing up? Or musical event at which poor Slava is kissing up? Anyway. So there is now some debate as to whether or not Boris has gone over to the dark side. Some people are like, hey, he’s just having a polite chat – who cares? They aren’t being helped by this, from Ekho Moskvy:

~ Борис Гребенщиков и Владимир Путин плавали по коммунальным квартирам России.

Известный музыкант Борис Гребенщиков в день рождения премьер-министра России Владимира Путина встретился с ним во сне. Об этом сам музыкант рассказал сегодня в эфире “Эха Петербурга”:

“Он мне снился сегодня. Мы с ним совершали вояж по России. По-моему, мы с ним плыли на катере сквозь квартиры коммунальные. Причём было дико красиво. Вероятно, вели разговоры. Я такого сна не помню просто в жизни своей! Я так ему благодарен! Какие силы работают на нашего президента… премьер-министра, что даже я вижу сны про него! Фантастика. Вот оккультизм настоящий”.

Alrighty then… Let’s keep in mind he smokes a lot of pot. But, is he being sarcastic, or sincere? Is it veiled criticism or harmless entertainment? It’s one thing to dream you’re sailing with Vova through communal apartments, another to issue a press release about it to your hippied-out followers. Hm. Fascinating indeed.

Bonus.

~ Finally, we have some pictures of the Soyuz capsule landing. For a while, I was not impressed. Looked like a piece of junk on a parachute. Then a piece of junk crashing to the dirt. Then an old piece of junk out in a field.

Then spacemen crawled out of it!!!! Wowee!

Soyuz TMA-18 Space Capsule Landing.

It’s really a metaphor for Russia, is it not? To the casual observer: junk. To the close observer: oudated junk. To the surveyor: junk surrounded by miles of nothing. But inside the junk are fascinating, adventurous, curious, educated and slightly insane people, doing astonishing things. And even the junk has stories to tell…

October 8, 2010

Rahm-A-Llama Ding Dong: Revenge of the Liberasts!

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:51 PM
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes I get the whole MSM frustration with Russia thinking it is as important as the rest of us. For example, no one cares very much who the next mayor of Moscow will be. But every wonk in the human species is drooling over the race for mayor (King, really, if we’re honest) of Chicago, or more specifically, Rahm Emanuel’s new toy. Which goes to show that Chicago is a more important city than Moscow. Otherwise that gorgeous egomaniac Slava Surkov would have quit Dima to be its new mayor. So much for Luzhkov being an autocrat; he got fired, and no one in the top job wants to replace him. Pah-thetic. Lame. Autocracy my ass.

Overcompensating? Eh?

I have to put some positive spin on this, find a silver lining. For some perspective on my opinion of Rahm as Da Mayor, let us revisit a post from April of this year:

Apparently Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than sit up at night scheming up new ways to piss me off. And to his credit, it seems to be the one thing he’s quite successful at. There was that time he ran someone against my friend in a primary, won the primary and lost the general. Actually, that’s the most tolerable part of that story… And then there was the time he showed up at Glen’s Diner, sat next to me, was waited on hand and foot while I waited an hour for my salad only to be informed they’d run out of salad dressing. Then there was the week I woke up to helicopters each morning because my neighbor had decided to take the position of Chief of Staff. And then there was the time he could barely even get his own party to support a watered down piece of crap masquerading as a healthcare reform bill.

But I’m less vocal about his D.C. failures. Because I want him to stay there. Democrats all over Chicago cheered when he took the White House gig. Because they love him and were happy for him? Oh hell no. Because it meant he was leaving! The poor citizens of my fair district were finally given the opportunity to have a decent Congressman when he left. Our whole neighborhood could not get an audience with Emanuel during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My new Rep. came to my holiday party and brought a whole cheesecake. Just sayin’.

So I am thinking it’s ok if he’s wrecking national policy so long as he’s not here and I can eat a fucking salald in peace. And I get cheesecake.

It’s unfortunate I’ve already used the phrase, “Oh hell no.” It would have been a perfect response to this:

Obama aide Emanuel: I’d like to be mayor of Chicago.

Damn it! You are the chief advisor to the leader of the free world, but that’s not enough? Why won’t you just LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE… Insatiable freak.

Below are the reasons Emanuel would be a crap mayor of Chicago:

~ Chicago likes two kinds of mayors: dictators who rule with an iron fist, and progressive reformers. Emanuel is neither of these, as the recent healthcare debate illustrated. He could not even get his whole party on board, let alone one member of the opposition. Apparently they are not afraid of him. This would have been excusable were he presenting some radical socialist legislation that was ahead of the curve. But he never even entertained the possibility of a public option, let alone single payer healthcare. Fail. Fail. If you can’t even get a few Democrats to support a rather reasonable request, how are you going to get 3 million people to cream “How high?” when you shout, “Jump!” Not gonna happen.

~ Emanuel likes to wear finely tailored suits. That’s cool, if you are running for mayor of New York. I just can’t see our little rascal in a beige trench and fedora, the Mayor of Chicago uniform.

~ Chicago is not Ravenswood. Chicago is not all the cool little trendy neighborhoods and posh suites in mile high skyscrapers. It’s the inner city. There are poor people there. This man believed it beneath his station to communicate with and represent a rather well-off area while he was Congressman. What is he going to do if he has to communicate with and represent rather uneducated and smelly people? Who have no money to give him!!! But who need the snow removed like ASAP.

~ Uhm, we don’t want him to be Mayor. I’m not one of those trite progressives who won’t be happy until Ralph Nader is running the city. I like Mayor Daley. I admire him. Sure he’s corrupt, but you can tell he loves the city. Sure he’s divisive, but the man gets things done. Emanuel tells people to fuck off by calling them names and giving them the finger. Daley tells people to fuck off by bulldozing the airport he wants to turn into a park in the middle of the night. It’s the difference between a schoolyard bully and a leader.

~ Salad.

~ Cheesecake.

At the time I wrote that, I was innocently under the impression that Daley would be my mayor for life. The way your parents have to be your parents for life. You are stuck with them, they show you no respect, but they are not allowed to quit. At the time I wrote that, Rahm seeking to replace Daley just seemed like one more conceited outburst from that little twit, confirming my opinion that he was a conceited little twit. Ha! Well he surely did smack that smug little smile of my pretty face…

Why I Hate Rahm.

Let’s be clear. I do not hate Rahm. I only really know him as constituent who was ignored by him, a party ally who was sabotaged by him, a liberal activist who was referred to as a “fucking retard” by him and a neighbor who gets worse service than him at local restaurants. He could be a very decent human for all I know, when his path is not crossing mine. Pretty much anyone he’s ever crossed paths with thinks he’s a jerk? Ok. But he might have a really beautiful soul which reveals itself only when he is home alone. I like the idea of this.

And speaking of home, Rahm is so well loved that the people who are letting his house (since he was in DC, he might as well make a buck off his house in Chicago) won’t let him back in! They’ve signed a lease which runs until June of next year and are stealthily flexing their right to remain put. What’s so telling about this is that the landlords in this town can usually get away with murder. Having innocent people evicted is child’s play. Frankly, if you can’t accomplish that, you are probably not fit to be a landlord. But he wants to be the landlord of the WHOLE ENTIRE town? Wha? This is my fundamental problem with Rahm Emanuel: he probably has the balls to tell a saint to fuck off, but sticks and stones…, when it comes to action, he flees. He turned straight around and looked for a condo to rent. Lame. Should join Yuri’s pah-thetic club.

But…

Is this why I don’t want him to be Mayor? Seriously? Because he didn’t kill his tenants? Reality check time. Why do I not want him to be mayor? I am asking myself this, searching for a respectable answer. Why am I so fanatical with disgust for this man that I’ve even wondered if he was responsible for the “mysterious illness” that has put Riccardo Muti on a plane back to Italy. And frankly, until I see a video of Muti in Italy, I will be harboring darker suspicions. I’ve turned into a rabid paranoiac – and just to amuse myself. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Is it his tactics? I devote this blog to praising the intimidating strong-arm tactics and bizarre antics of people like Putin. Err… Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds! Yes it is! However, the idea that I deserve a more just system of representation than others is the hobgoblin of my big mind.

Is it his position on the issues? He’s a Democrat. A not very nice Democrat, but at this point I’m through with pansy dems mucking everything up. We’re probably on the same page on basic issues. Except for war and free-trade and Israel and other things mayors don’t actually have very much to do with. He’s not a gay-bashing witch preaching creationism and fighting for the rights of puppy-mill owners, which puts him a head of a significant number of American politicians. He’s a corporatist. Which I hate. But Daley was ready to privatize the entire city for a fast buck, and my only criticism was that he wasn’t very nice to anti-war protesters… I doubt many Communist party candidates will be on the ballot.

He’s well educated, cute, Jewish, a former ballerina even, and we obviously share an uncanny preference for the same schools to attend, places to eat out and streets to live on! I like that he curses. It’s as if he were my own successful Doppelganger!

A Liberast Confesses!

So many years ago it occurred to me that for all they crazy talk about how evil and corrupt and mediaslutty Putin is, those Latynina types surely do spend a whole lotta time writing about him. Let us call it an “idée fixe.” Or a fetish. They may be writing about one thing, but it is their own sick mind to which they expose their innocent readers. And more recently, after les affaires Luzhkov, Browder, Khodorkovsky yadda yadda yadda, it occurred to me (and every other sentient human) that these people only begin their obsession with moral obligation after they suffer some cruel rejection from the villain in question. Normally, wearing a nicely-tailored suit is about the very last thing I will criticise a man for. Normally, the possibility of an attractive, well-dressed ballet dancer in high political office is so, so\ … so hot, I can forgive cruelty and corruption. Maybe even murder.

Call a doctor! I’m sick! I’ve contracted a nasty case of Liberastitis Obnoxiosus. “Who does he think he is, that he can get away with these things?” “The people who support him are just mindless sheep, blinded by the siren song of his sparkly celebrity. Or fear him.” “He doesn’t even think he needs to play well with other. Hrrmph.” “And look at the trail of destruction that follows him wherever he goes. All of his accomplishments are actually failures, if you look close enough.” “It’s not the person, it’s the process!” (<–when you hear the last one, just run.)

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But somehow admitting that personal grudges and hypocrisy – the hallmarks of Liberastic critique – are polluting my beautiful mind is not inspiring me to clean up my act, even if I risk losing critical thinking skills, or worse, popular credibility. It's not simply the adrenaline of working on yet another a losing campaign, the high of entertaining for a moment the possibility of toppling a powerful public figure, or the creepy self-confidence that accompanies moral superiority on display. I genuinely, sincerely, honestly, authentically believe that only when and if Rahm Emanuel is served a slice of humble pie in the form of a reality check that the world does not serve at his pleasure, could he be a capable leader. Why?

Suddenly I am reminded of the 2008 U.S. presidential primaries. I harbored an angry, passionate dislike of Hillary Clinton for years, so strong it sometimes got me out of bed in the morning. But when Obama began stealing the hearts and minds of unsuspecting Americans, she was forced to work for that which she'd already claimed for herself. And she did. And hard. And I was impressed. Behind that grotesquely fake smile, there lurked an intelligent, qualified woman. And I was also worried that Obama had experience no real public humiliation or hard-fought defeats, and that might make him less than ideal. Like, when things got tough and people stopped loving him for his charm alone, he might flounder, and then really bad people might take advantage of the fact. Crazy, right? What was I thinking! So after years of devoted animosity toward her, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I know. She thinks VVP has no soul. It’s not terribly relevant to day-to-day Oval Office decisions.

I also used to not like Mayor Daley. I did in the beginning. There was even a photo of him on the mantle. But then I didn’t. Because I saw some cops threatening and pushing a young pregnant woman during an anti-war protest. Horrible. They were unnecessarily abusive and confrontational, when these yuppies and hippies and toddlers just wanted to show up and say “No blood for oil! Show me what democracy looks like!” Harmless. The cops? Not so much. Years passed. We forgot about the war. The protests ended. The train service improved. A lovely park sprung up in the middle of the city. Life was, if not perfect, certainly better. And anyway, Daley’s opposition were clowns who thought the most pressing problem in Chicago was the existence of foie gras on menus. Either they were wrong, and nuts, or right, and Daley had solved all our other problems. Best to shut up and enjoy the park.

Is Liberasty is like some virus you have all your life but only rears its symptomatic head during times of great stress? Yes, I am an emotionally wounded ideologue, but I am capable of having normal political alliances. Yes, it’s contagious (just look at the cynical young Americans who go to Moscow, attend a protest, and suddenly being writing passionately about civil rights!) – but so long as I alert you, you can take precautions. I don’t even remember when I contracted it. High school Amnesty International club? Some pervert along the way managed to convince me that marching down streets and wearing buttons and organizing very small groups of people who have lots of free time can make the world a better place. Probably how I got the idea that writing a blog could do the same. Madness. Brain fever.

Pah-thetic!

or,

The kind of ideals this sick-ass country was founded on!

And Now a Song of Unrelenting Determination and Unmitigated Ego!

Perhaps this a fundamental difference between our liberasts? In America, not only is it acceptable for citizens to demand their representatives to listen to, acknowledge and fulfill the wishes of individuals, no matter how personal, irrational, hysterical and selfish, it’s what we call “civic engagement.” We pride ourselves on this circus. We are participating in democracy! That means we have one! See?! See?! And it is fun. I must be honest – it is a ton of fun. Those Tea Party people pretend to be persecuted, but they’re clearly having a grand ol’ time. (More even than the oversexed liberals. Because liberals actually feel guilt when their actions cause the suffering of others.) We’re a nation of complainers and demanders and believe, deeply, in the primordial pit of our souls, that the government exists to serve us. Not “us”, the collective sum of individuals, but the interests of individuals themselves. Exists to serve me. This isn’t one camp in our system – it is our system.

When people try to replicate this in Russia, it seems offensive. Look at the Liberasts: they only care about themselves and their pet causes. Embarrassing. Why? The same every man for himself culture that breeds narcissists like Emanuel breeds narcissists like me. We’re two side of the same coin, both acting on the conviction that our power to change the world is only constrained by our own personal shortcomings. But is this the opposite side of the coin of … Putinism? Bases and Centrists, parties in power and their opposition, while rarely accomplishing much, and all capable of poor governance, do have a symbiotic relationship, forever correcting for the other (and the other always in need of correction.) I might be totally off the mark, but I don’t witness this same phenomenon in Russian politics. I’m not saying there is, or is not democracy, and with no agreed upon definition of “democracy,” I don’t care. Just that there’s more of a disconnect, something not so… organic, about the Liberal opposition. Less flexible, less able to laugh at themselves?

Or is this just another wrong-headed picture of Russia painted by American pundits?

Because I still haven’t quite figured out why I am so awesome for standing up to Mr. Emanuel, but Kasparov is just a tool.

October 1, 2010

Do We Really Need More Democracy? or, There’s no place like home.

Filed under: Lazy Quote Diary,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:14 PM
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I know there are many differences in the mechanics of our respective political systems (Chicago, Russia), but in the Sept. 30 issuse of the Chicago Reader, Michael Miner concisely sums up the questions I have been asking about both -rhetorically, no one actually listens to me- for a very long time.

The Reader is a free weekly, and I am making no money, goodness knows, writing this blog. So I hope Miner doesn’t come after me for posting this in its entirety. (Actually, this is just the first part; the rest is about friending politicians on facebook…) Read this, click the link, click on a few ads, do whatever you need to to be a responsible consumer of decent journalism. But first, just read this.

Do We Really Need More Democracy? Or do we just need to use the democracy we have?
By Michael Miner

Any day you’re asked a good question is a pretty good day. The other day I was asked two.

The first one was from my daughter Laura in New York. Everyone is talking about bringing more democracy to Chicago, she said. What does that mean, more democracy? More of what exactly?

I had no idea. Mayor Daley said he’d decided not to run for reelection, and suddenly democracy was on all lips. “Perhaps you’ve heard of it, invented by my noble ancestors, the Greeks,” John Kass wrote in the Tribune, “it is a system of government by which free people debate ideas, sometimes vigorously, sometimes rudely. They elect leaders who are expected to give reasons for their actions. The leaders must form a consensus before they can spend the people’s money. Yes, it is indeed a weird system of governance, relatively unknown in these parts. It’s called democracy.”

Daley’s “unfinished business,” Greg Hinz wrote in Crain’s Chicago Business, is “making Chicago fit for democracy and making democracy fit in Chicago.” And back at the Trib, Dennis Byrne wrote, “Questions about whether Chicago can function as a democracy presume that the City Council will stir itself out of its slumber and break out of its special interest chains. Can aldermen govern, left on their own without a boss instructing them?”

I’d already quoted these quotes in something I’d posted online. Now I reviewed them. Kass was asking for a Little Golden Books version of democracy. Hinz wanted a Chicago where democracy works. Pretty to wish for, thought Byrne, but he seriously doubted Chicago could function as a democracy and the real question, he concluded, was whether Chicago could continue to be functional at all. A dark thought, that. Everyone agreed the democracy dipstick reads low. But there was less consensus on how, or even whether, to fill the tank; the real yearning, I could see, wasn’t for more democracy as much as it was for a nicer, more consumer-friendly democracy that elects leaders as honest as they are brilliant.

For if someone says we don’t have enough democracy in Chicago, the proper reply is, what exactly are we short of? Do we vote? Yes. Is any adult without a criminal record free to run? Yes. Do our elected representatives meet and discuss and write laws, and if we don’t like those laws can we throw them out? Yes. And what about the mayor, who’s ruled for almost 22 years and whose father ruled for 21? Is there something about the way our laws are written that encourages quasi-monarchical dynasties? Not that I can put my finger on.

So what democratic apps are lying around uinstalled? I guess there are the direct referendums that helped bankrupt California. And the recent experiment in Rogers Park—the one the Reader’s Deanna Isaacs just wrote about under the headline “Can Democracy Work in Chicago?”—about 49th Ward residents voting on how their alderman should spend his “menu money”—could be tried everywhere murals are painted on railroad viaducts.

But there’s not a lot of room for expansion.

If Chicago’s cursed with a corrupt, inefficient autocracy, it’s because the people of Chicago, in their wisdom and by their votes and actions, have repeatedly chosen it. Let’s blame the victim: we have the democracy we deserve. Just as Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishment as president could turn out to be getting elected president, the biggest contribution to democratic reform made possible by Richie Daley’s decision not to run for reelection may be the decision itself. Mayors don’t have to die in office or cling to it until their parties throw them out—as Daley just taught by example to Chicagoans who had never seen anything else.

Last week in the Reader I shared the lamentation of a tiny Tea Party group, the Johnson County Patriots of the Republic, in western Missouri. There’s a long list of grievances posted on their website, but in the end their beef comes down to this: “Some of our elected representatives treat us like children. Far too many of our politicians insult us in town hall meetings. They dismiss us by refusing to respond to our questions, through the rudeness of their office personnel, and by giving us meaningless responses that answer none of our concerns. All of these actions make it clear that they no longer take us, the people, seriously.”

Folks go to the polls in western Missouri, same as they do here. What aggrieves the Johnson County Patriots isn’t that there’s too little democracy but that democracy in their view doesn’t work for them the way it works for the big shots. They sound just like Kass—the difference being that an angry voice speaking for itself is more compelling than Kass’s sarcastic voice speaking for a disrespected multitude he doesn’t belong to. The Patriots look around at the democracy their forefathers left behind and feel it snickering at them. Here in Illinois, a lot of folks do too. Voters face humiliating choices in November’s most important races: Quinn versus Brady for governor; Giannoulias versus Kirk for the U.S. Senate. But who or what gave us these candidates? Who gave us Blagojevich? Who gave us George Ryan? Do we blame democracy for failing to gild the ballot with more competence and virtue?

I’m just asking—I’m as eager to live in a Hellenic paradise as the next guy is.

It’s all very Wizard of Oz, isn’t it? We’ve courageously exposed the man behind the curtain, only to learn we’ve had the power ourselves all along.

Except I don’t think anyone in Chicago, or Moscow, would actually rather live in Kansas. I mean, there are reasons we live here, few of which can be found in some quaint rural dustbowl town full of pigs and witches. And that’s the clencher, so far as I can tell. Are we, as demanding citizens, prepared to be as humble and accountable as we want our new leaders to be? Are we prepared to go full out Temperance-style hysterical with a war on Corruption? Are we ready to excersize our democratic power, knowing well the consequence that we will be to blame when things fall apart?

Can we oust the Wizard, but keep the dancing munchkins, flying monkeys, poppy fields and yellow brick roads? That’s what I want to know.

A Tale of Two Mayors.

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 4:49 PM
Tags: ,

I’ve been loathe to weigh in on the axing of Luzhkov. I’m neither privy to insider information nor prone to political forecasting, which leaves me with little more than opinion, and frankly, I’m not even sure I have that. However, I am struck by the eerie parallels between my mayor and Moscow’s, and even more so by their radically different though strangely synchronized exits. I thought I might even be able to avoid writing about that when Julia Ioffe published an FP article entitled “Moscow’s Mayor Daley.” I was ready to thank her for the favor until I actually read it and found, er, nothing at all about Daley in it, actually. (Though it does contain this passage: “This, after all, is Putin’s style: Wait for the scandal to be forgotten, and then make your move, thereby avoiding the appearance that you caved to pressure. Luzhkov will not be fired … Luzhkov will step down…”) Good times. Anyway, back to the Wonder Twins, our exiting Mayors.

He ruled his city for two decades as if he were the king of a nation state, wielding unchecked power, conducting business through patronage and strong-arming, exhibiting a curious display of megalomania and populism. Since the average adult begins experiencing memory loss in their 20’s, no one clearly remembers when this man was not in charge. He loved this town and loved running it. His goofy smile was contagious. He had a signature oldschool look that said to the people, I might be a gangster, but I am a working class gangster. He was controversially outspoken, but his crazy talk was a reliable source of entertainment. As many an epigraph on his reign have noted, you may not have liked how he did things, but you admit that he got things done. He revitalized his decaying cityscape so that anyone complaining about traffic of the cost of living or police corruption were forced to add a coda: but look how much the city has changed in the past 10 years … oooh, so new and shiny, such an exciting place to live, so much better! Sure, holding a street protest, or being in the mere vicinity of one, might earn you a few bruises and a night in the slammer, but let’s face it, most of us don’t attend protests. And yes, his political party is notorious for corruption, scare tactics and ballot tampering. But does anyone doubt that he’d win if free and fair elections were held tomorrow?

I mean, “if free and fair elections were held a year ago?”

Richie and Yura, despite everything they’ve ever done for you, awoke this year to find themselves not as popular as they once were. Or their critics louder. Not that they are the kind of guys to let the opinions of others decide their fates. And few were willing to bet serious money they could not politically survive the recent turn of events. But why now? It’s not as if no one had noticed the corruption, inefficiencies or shady allocation of funds before. Why the sudden complaining, aloud? Complaining as if complaining about these men had ever accomplished anything? Was it the belt tightening of the global recession, the confidence brought by new young reform-minded Presidents, the growing inconvenience of car ownership? Bad weather? Something else mayors don’t actually have control over? A perfect storm? Who knows from which direction the winds were blowing, but everyone seemed to hear it…

Now we take a break from the parallels.

This summer, Mayor Daley held a press conference to announce he would not be seeking re-election.

This summer, Mayor Luzhkov vacationed abroad while his city suffocated in smoke, refused to return, eventually returned, people protested, the Kremlin suggested he think about resigning, maybe come up with the name of a replacement, he ignored them, they sent him on vacation to think about resigning, maybe come up with severance deal, he returned defiant. He was fired.

I might boast that my mayor is more humble than yours. However, being unaccountable to anyone, no one can fire mine for insubordination, so far as I am aware.

And we return to our parallels.

Shock. Yes, there had been murmurs, wishful thinking, fantasies and hysterical pundits who’d said it might happen, it could happen, it even would happen. But no one thought he’d actually do it. He being either Daley or Medvedev. Even the most vocal critics believed their mayor would take his final breath in office. It reminds me of the title of the book,Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More. Neither man had been grooming a protege to succeed him in office. Neither man gave any potential successor much time to prepare for the new job. Unlike other modern day autocrats, they were not interested in transitioning out of office. The chapter covering their respective reign in the history books would end with a full stop.

While it’s popular to bemoan the joke that is the democratic process associated with Russia or Chicago, I hear few people complain that they’ve been robbed of the chance to vote their leader out of office. While a new era begins, and reform and “real politics” seem at least more possible now than it did a few months ago, I don’t see many people dancing in the streets. I hear lots of talk about legacies. About looming criminal investigations. About architecture and city planning. And, as if we’d regressed into ancients who’d just witnessed a comet, I hear people, bewildered, ask what it all means, and keep their fingers crossed that everything continues to work. Like those ancients, we will find new leaders, good or bad. The earth will keep turning. And we’ll find new things to complain about, new people to blame, new things to build, new rules and regulations to pass and new people to undermine them. We’ll find new humans to turn into icons before finding new reasons to expose them as merely mortal.

I suspect it will be some time, however, before we find a new Daley or Luzhkov.

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