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.

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25 Comments »

  1. I’m feeling the same, right down to the damned strawberries. I’m so fed up, I’ve quit blogging, but can’t seem to escape all the political shit. A month ago, I finally told my conservative relatives I was blocking them on my facebook page, fed up with hearing them spreading fear and hate. This was, of course, denied. After a month of wrangling about the difference between ‘belief’ and ‘opinion,’ “political discourse’ and ‘fear-mongering’ and whether or not I was ‘silencing’ them, we have come to a detente of sorts — in the end, nothing is settled, we’re all just exhausted. I suggested that since we’re apparently a ‘commie’ and some ‘facsists’ we could find common ground in boot shopping. This was agreed to. Is it enough? I can’t tell anymore. I’m tired….

    Comment by Izzy — October 27, 2010 @ 6:55 PM | Reply

  2. Izzy – I actually saw one of your relatives FLIP OUT on fb. Glad you have come to some agreement. Me? I plan to make Christmas short and sweet this year. I get along with my family, but I am not sure they get along with me…

    Comment by poemless — October 27, 2010 @ 9:06 PM | Reply

  3. I don’t suppose you’ve considered running for office yourself? I know, you have a life and you’re probably busy, but you could do worse. Are you as stupid as Ted Stevens, who described the Internet as “a series of tubes”? Hardly. As thick between the ears about science as James Inhofe and his entire family, who got together to build an igloo to make fun of Al Gore following a large dump of snow, which of course proves “global warming” is all a hoax? I don’t imagine. If you are in person as you write, you’re probably charismatic and quick on your feet, figuratively speaking. You’re interested in politics, and seem to have an excellent grasp of the issues. You’ve worked on a campaign before, and probably have at least a loose idea of how to run one.

    Some of the candidates this year are beyond bizarre. A sensible well-grounded woman who’s never mated with anyone on an altar to Satan or doesn’t let stupid shit like “representing my constituents is not my job as a senator” tumble out of her mouth ought to be a shoo-in.

    I can’t vote for you. But I would.

    Comment by marknesop — October 27, 2010 @ 11:12 PM | Reply

    • Thanks – but I have no desire to run for office.

      How do you know I’ve never mated with anyone on an altar to Satan? ;)

      Comment by poemless — November 1, 2010 @ 1:13 PM | Reply

  4. why oh why oh why am I not reading anything these days. don’t take offence poemless, but this post is far too pessimistic for me.

    i can understand why for american liberals the fall’s melancholy arrived early http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/28/obama-hope-all-hype
    Obama Hope was all hype Tari Ali proclaims.

    He caved, he caved, he caved and in the end became Bush-like monster. Reneged on Gitmo, did not abolish torture or extraordinary renditions. He was just too soft to be revolutionary.

    It seems American elite successfully tamed first black president and remoulded his agenda. They chose continuity and traditions. It’s an old proven way of 20th century when America climbed to the global leadership.

    But there many tensions have been brewing both inside US and outside.

    Inside – unemployment which became structural, rigid due to short sighted industrial policies of previous administrations. No way Obama can change that. He shoudl become revolutionary, Peter the Great to attempt such enourmous task.

    Outside the world is changing and changing very rapidly. It’s a rise of the rest, first of all Asia. Obama’s administration knows that but woefully unprepared for the challenges of tomorrow. Continuation of Bush wars and malpractices won’t help.

    I am not astrologer but in one thing I am quite sure – the future holds many nasty surprises. For all.

    Comment by FarEasterner — October 29, 2010 @ 3:40 PM | Reply

    • You think this post is too pessimistic? Your comment is very pessimistic!

      Comment by poemless — November 1, 2010 @ 1:11 PM | Reply

      • exactly. that’s why i said I can understand the American liberals’ plight. And find Indian dances much more inspiring thing to write about. And for rants (which I was doing earlier on ET) now I reserve for Economist forums.

        Comment by fareasterner — November 1, 2010 @ 3:49 PM | Reply

        • Stay out of the Economist forums. Just thinking about that publication makes my blood pressure go up…

          Comment by poemless — November 1, 2010 @ 4:04 PM | Reply

          • why?

            yes, they don’t like putin, russian leaders at all. besides that they write very russophobic articles and there is plenty of russophobic readers there (one walterbenjamin was very notorious that i suspected he was stuff writer).

            however they write about plenty of other things, on global issues, situation in the west and in the third world which i find interesting to comment and (i hope) to influence some.

            you see, my agenda is not to fight russophoby as it exists in the west. my humble agenda is to aid at least some in the west (and those in the third world which under influence of western MSM) to change the way of looking at the earth, on this wonderful planet.

            maybe i am deluding myself but sometimes i feel how economist has changed its position in the next articles on particular issue, then my comments sometimes gather more than hundreds thumbs up from other readers.

            Latest example is Transparency Int index on corruption – after mine and other readers criticism Economist came up with a piece questioning methodology of this rating.

            Then unlike on economist facebook page or twitter (which are full of short nonsense comments from ordinary people) in comments under articles I find sometimes very interesting long, detailed comments which argue with Economist, challenge it.

            If you check my comments (http://www.economist.com/user/FarEasterner/comments), you’ll see very few concern russia but many more about india, asia, corruption, nuclear proliferation, etc. these issues are also worthy of commenting and unlike you I don’t have now very good international platform of expressing myself after quitting ET (while on Guardian’s Comment is Free my comments were long moderated, often not published, they just recently removed this gag which I earned after attacking Guardian for shameless defence of David Miliband, when they deleted scores of critical comments about him).

            Comment by fareasterner — November 1, 2010 @ 5:29 PM | Reply

  5. Hi Poemless,

    An uncharacteristic ennui seems to be settling on much of America… Which is scary as I see a hopeless helpless feeling is a big reason why Russia can’t seem to get its act together.

    Maybe it’s the food Americans eat, GM and fast food, deadening their intellects. As a teacher years ago in NJ the teachers wondered why some classes were brilliant, some deadheads, some obstreperous. Maybe the stars align to give a country excellent or bad leaders… witness the genius of the Founders in the 1700’s.

    I agree with the other commenter that you should get involved in politics. You can do that in Chicago. It can be in a small way, but get committed somehow (not institutional!).

    Comment by Robert MacDonald — October 30, 2010 @ 4:48 AM | Reply

    • Er… I am involved in politics. I would say I am very involved compared to most people. (See my “About Me” page.)

      Though less so this year. Just incredibly uninspired. And frankly don’t even want to be associated with some of the stuff that is going on. Mark Ames wrote a piece about the Rally to Restore Sanity, about the spoiled, ironic and detached Generation X. That might be representative of some people, but that is not what is going on with me. I know how sausage is made, I even think it is interesting. Politicians are but a fraction of the population. And we do live in a democracy. It’s the people I am disappointed by. Sure politicians need to be more honest with us about what is possibly ans how it can be done, but the people need to stop their fucking whining and be able to take the truth. Americans are simultaneously complaining that all politicians lie and throwing every single person who tells the truth to the wolves. American people need to grow the hell up. They want a high standard of living and a tax cut. They want affordable healthcare for themselves but are against subsidizing it for anyone else. They want to shop at Walmart but get angry that all the jobs have moved overseas. I’m not feeling helpless and hopeless. Just like I’m in Middle School again. I hated Middle School.

      Comment by poemless — November 1, 2010 @ 1:11 PM | Reply

  6. I’m finally done with your new blog post. You are sharp. I’ve finally realized, that you have not just travelled to Russia in 1990s to see the place. You were doing some work there, may be you taught students or researched your doctor theses.. If you are a doctor, I realized, it would be very interesting to read your theses, or hear your reflection on the essense of your work… Being a doctor would also facilitate your being published in professional magazines…

    Comment by Evgeny — October 31, 2010 @ 6:59 PM | Reply

    • Wow … Do I sound old or something? Sorry to disappoint you, but I only have a Bachelor’s degree. And I have no idea what I was doing in Russia. Studying, ostensibly…

      Comment by poemless — November 1, 2010 @ 1:12 PM | Reply

      • No, why old? [I'm 24 and doing research for my phd...] Instead, I noted you are sharp. Did you consider working on your doctor’s degree?

        Comment by Evgeny — November 1, 2010 @ 1:17 PM | Reply

      • Poemless, in my opinion you are a young woman capable of great achievements. In your blog post about feminism you’ve noted that you believe it’s just OK if a woman with successful academical background is also enjoying her personal life. I want to note that the reverse is also true — your personal life must not prevent you from gaining more of academical recognition, what you are entirely capable of.

        Comment by Evgeny — November 1, 2010 @ 3:18 PM | Reply

        • Why can’t I just be smart? Why do I have to get a degree? Anyway, I’m not interested in justifying my lack of a PhD to anyone.

          Comment by poemless — November 1, 2010 @ 4:03 PM | Reply

          • Poemless, I certainly did not ask you to justify anything — right?

            Comment by Evgeny — November 2, 2010 @ 5:18 AM | Reply

  7. Long-time (well, a few months) reader, first-time commenter here.

    I agree, down to the hatred of the soda woman ad. I called in sick today, because I couldn’t stand my coworkers’ rah-rah nonsense about electing more yuppie idiots to allow our post-industrialist wasteland of a state to sink further into the dollar-menu depression and 24.99%-financed flat-screen escapism that has come to characterize far too many people here. I did’t, and don’t, vote. Broken systems should be boycotted, in my view. Otherwise, both winning and losing sides can still brag about “record” voter turnout, as if the system might actually be working.

    I had hoped that coworkers from this new job wouldn’t be like this–most are from former Soviet/Eastern Bloc countries or have worked or studied there. Having seen the collapse of an empire, I thought some might agree with me that we are watching the decline/demise of another, but apparently I am alone in this.

    So thanks for your post.

    Comment by Nic — November 2, 2010 @ 2:04 PM | Reply

    • JESUS CHRIST, GO VOTE!!!

      Seriously – I promise you taking fake sick days and commenting on my blog is NOT GOING TO HELP US.

      NOW GO VOTE. RIGHT NOW.

      Comment by poemless — November 2, 2010 @ 2:07 PM | Reply

  8. Хороший пост, уважаемая poemless!
    Пишу на русском, так как Вы его понимаете.
    Мои друзья на ИноФоруме сказали мне, что Ваш пост – это своего рода ответ на мою статью о выборах в США.
    Поэтому благодарб Вас ещё раз – за то, что нашли время прочитать мою работу и ответить на её.
    Всего самого наилучшего!

    PS – Если Вам удобнее, я перейду на английский.

    С уважением,
    DmitriyRus

    Comment by DmitriyRus — November 2, 2010 @ 11:39 PM | Reply

    • Yes, well, it all happened that Evgeny alerted me to your post because he knew that I lived in Chicago, and wanted to know if it was an accurate depiction of Illinois politics. I sent him an e-mail railing against unrealistic voters, the Democratic Party, Tea Party hysteria and explaining AARP’s role as a DC lobby. He wanted to know if he could publish it, but I thought it was a bad idea just before the election. Basically I didn’t want to write anything that would undermine Seals. However, this post was inspired by that conversation. Even if it is not a direct response to your piece.

      Comment by poemless — November 3, 2010 @ 12:09 PM | Reply

  9. Hi Poemless,
    I haven’t checked in for a while…because I’m frantically focused on keeping my job (contract) and feeding all the little mouths (and consequently mice – it is the Fall and the nesting season in this former orchard known as Silicon Valley). Striving to keep them away from soda and other glucoses and fructoses – but, even here, the fast-food culture undermines any puritanism here. I’m really glad you have found a doctor you like; that’s important. Hurray for California – no power-mad former-and-failed CEO’s for governor. Go Jerry Brown! What do you think of the Khordekovsky (sp??) speech. Pretty powerful. That’s what sent me here. Take care.

    Comment by tess — November 6, 2010 @ 3:32 PM | Reply

    • Tess, I haven’t even read Misha K’s speech. Totally out of character, I know. I just have been completely remiss in my Russia blogging lately. I didn’t even write about Putin’s freaktastickly weird family census event. I’ve been preoccupied with local politics and real life (which overlap.). I will check out Khodorkovsky’s latest manifesto. Right now, however, I am busy being pissed off at whoever attacked Oleg Kashin. And the people using the attack to rationalize their own agenda (Russia did this, Russia is evil, this justifies hysterically anti-russian drivel.) I don’t always “agree” with him, but Kashin was always tweeting about listening to Akvarium and Erasure when I was too, so I decided he was my musical soulmate. LOL. I’m listening to “I love to hate you” in his honor.

      Shit! That soda commercial just came on again!

      Comment by poemless — November 6, 2010 @ 6:32 PM | Reply

    • Ok, I read his statement, the one published in the NYT last week. Frankly, it is really annoying. I think there is probably a case to be made that progress is being put on hold. But to argue that his fate is that of all Russian citizens, of the very country itself is astonishingly arrogant. Especially since he made a small fortune swindling these people, that country. Moreover, he’s hardly the best person to be criticising corruption and championing the rule of law. He was quite content with the unfair and dysfunctional status quo until he was the victim of it. I appreciate his optimism – it is actually a refreshing diversion from the usual “everything sucks and always will because Russia can’t do anything right; their leaders will always be corrupt, and the people will always be sheep” line from the liberals.

      Here is something I have been thinking about: problem solving. Unfortunately neither the liberal opposition’s complaints nor Misha’s little prison cell stump speech offer many actual … solutions. Anyone and their mother can write an op-ed decrying corruption. Everyone agrees that’s a bad thing. It’s terribly easy to bemoan the terrible state of your country (I do it all the time). Not only do these pastimes not solve any problems, they distract from boring no-fun work of identifying specific grievances, malfunctions and their solutions. “All the greedy rich people are running the country for themselves with no respect for decency…” is not a problem, it is a complaint. People murdering each other on the streets is a problem. People unable to afford housing is a problem. I guess I am just getting bored with pretty words. Pretty words might be motivational, but generally actions have the greatest impact on people’s welfare.

      Comment by poemless — November 9, 2010 @ 11:24 AM | Reply


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