Blames it on fate

29 07 2014

1. Victims are bad political actors.

To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.

This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.

He is lauded because what he did was so rare.

2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.

There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.

I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.

The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.

Politics offers the possibility of power.

A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.

Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.

Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.

3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.

One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.

Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.

If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.

You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.

If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.

If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.

~~~

n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.

~~~

*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.





All things weird and wonderful, 42

28 07 2014

Well, this is a no-brainer:

h/t Cute Overload





Gotta keep bars on all our windows

27 07 2014

Israel is us or, shall I say, US, as told by Jon Snow:

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

It is accentuated by suddenly being within sumptuously appointed Israel. Accentuated by the absolute absence of anything that indicates that this bloody war rages a few miles away. A war that the UN stated yesterday has reduced 55 per cent of  Gaza’s diminutive land to a no-go area.

Go tell that to the children playing in the dusty streets or the families forced out of  shelters like the UN school compound, to forage for food beneath shells and missiles.

In and out of an Israeli transit hotel for a few hours in Ashkelon, an hour from the steel crossing-point from Gaza, there were three half-hearted air raid warnings. Some people run, but most just get on with what they are doing.

They are relatively safe today because  Israel is the most heavily fortified country on earth. The brilliant Israeli-invented, American-financed shield is all but fool-proof; the border fortifications, the intelligence, beyond anything else anywhere.

This brilliant people is devoting itself to a permanent and ever-intensifying expenditure to secure a circumstance in which there will never be a deal with the Palestinians. That’s what it looks like, that is what you see. It may not be true.

The pressure not to go on this way is both internationally and domestically a minority pursuit.

He notes the security demands and commands from behind windows and walls, disembodied voices demonstrating control over voiceless bodies:

“Feet apart!” they said. “Turn! No, not that way – the other!” Then, in the next of five steel security rooms I passed through – each with a red or green light to tell me to stop or go – a male security guard up in the same complex above me shouted “Take your shirt off – right off. Now throw it on the floor… Pick it up, now ring it like it was wet” (it was wet, soaked in sweat).

From entering the steel complex until I reach the final steel clearing room where I held the baby, I was never spoken to face to face, nor did I see another human beyond those who barked the commands through the bullet-proof windows high above me.

Is this not how we in the US approach the rest of the world? We send drones over deserts and bombs into buildings and we sit in our sumptuously appointed country pointedly ignoring what we do and how we are.





Little earthquakes

22 07 2014

Ann Patchett writes lovely characters.

Well, huh, that could be misleading, implying that all of her characters are lovely. They are not.

Let me try again: Ann Patchett is a lovely writer of characters.

Yes, better.

Even when the characters are only briefly sketched, or when she chooses to hide aspects of the character from the reader, she gives you enough that you want to learn more about these people.

Dr. Swenson in State of Wonder is, shall we say, an obdurate personality, bound up in her own understanding of the world and impatient-to-dismissive of alternative views. I found her to be admirable, as well as the kind of person who terrifies me. How does someone get to be that way? What is it like to live utterly without neuroses?

You could put a label on it, I guess, call her some variant of -pathology, but that would take away her humanness, reduce her to that pathological label.

In any case, Patchett doesn’t give us much to go on—here’s Annika Swenson, now deal with it—but she gives us (or me, at any rate) enough to make her a real human being, to make me wonder about her.

Patchett is generally able to make all of her characters, supporting and main, human. I was a bit frustrated with the main character in Patron Saint of Liars—or maybe I was frustrated with Patchett’s withholding of information about her—but I never doubted she existed. (In fact, she’s one of the inspirations for the main character in my second novel, who, like Rose , leaves an apparently decent life to live her own life.)

I do have to admit, however, that the opera singer in Bel Canto, Roxane Cross, never did become real to me. It’s not that she was a cardboard character or that I disbelieved that someone like her could exist, but she never came into view.

A lot of people loved that book, but I did not. It shared, with Run, Patchett’s greatest weakness as a writer: plot.

Now, I didn’t have a problem with the set-up of Bel Canto—a gala is taken over by militants—nor with the  suspension of time in which the hostages and militants alike subsequently live: Patchett excels at setting the stage and the letting her characters loose.

No, the problem was with the resolution. Patchett is fine at setting things in motion, but not so fine at bringing them to a close, and the bigger the push at the beginning, the rockier the ending. Had I been more drawn to Cross, (as I was with the characters in State of Wonder, which suffers from a similar dynamic) I might have been able to walk over those rocks with her, but I wasn’t, and thus was left stranded.

The lack of realness in many of the characters in Run meant that the reader was left mainly to the plot, which was. . . not good. Patchett is generally willing to let things ride for long periods, but in Run, she kept jamming up her characters with unnecessary plotting, with the overdrawn happenings crowding out the characters.

Which is why I think her best novel is The Magician’s Assistant. She sets events in motion, and then just lets them go; what plot developments there are arise from the characters themselves, so instead of these events pulling us, er, me, out of the story of their lives, they drew me further in.

Maybe because, like Taft (a much better novel than its name implies) and Patron Saint, the events are smaller, arising out of her characters lives rather than intruding upon them.

I know: the line between “arising out of” and “intruding upon” can be arbitrary, depending on whether you think a couple of runaways showing up at a bar or long-estranged family arriving to visit the grave of a recently-dead son & brother is organic rather than artificial.

Or maybe Patchett is just better at revealing the beauty in the ordinary than the extraordinary.

In any case, I prefer the ordinary set-ups, largely because Patchett doesn’t have to strain to move her characters into place for the denouement: they move there of their own accord and, in that end, we are left with the people themselves.





O the dragons are gonna fly tonight

17 07 2014

I.

I understand the difference between unintentionally and intentionally killing someone, I do.

I understand that Hamas fires off rockets with the intention of killing Israelis, military & civilian alike, and I understand that the Israeli Defense Force fires missiles into Gaza with the intention of killing Hamas fighters, and in so doing, unintentionally kills civilians.

I get it: the purposes are not the same.

But.

When you are aware that your intentional actions will lead to large numbers of unintentional deaths, well, then it’s hard to see how much that lack of intention matters to the unintentionally dead, or to the families of the unintentionally dead.

Or to those of us witnessing the bodies of the unintentionally dead.

II.

If the Malaysian airliner was shot down unintentionally, accidentally, does that make it okay?

III.

I understand, really I do, the thinking behind the statement that Hamas are responsible for the civilian dead in Gaza: were they not to insist upon firing rockets into Israel, it would not be necessary for Israel to fire missiles into Gaza.

But the fact remains: Israel fires missiles into Gaza.

The fact remains: Israelis missiles killed those boys on the beach.

IV.

You may argue, if you wish, both that Israel is morally responsible in its attempts to limit civilian casualties and that Hamas is completely responsible for civilian casualties.

You may argue that, if you wish.

But if Israel is not responsible, then how is it responsible?

V.

I don’t know what I would do, how I would think, if I lived in Tel Aviv, Gaza, Hebron, or Jerusalem, if it were me, transplanted from my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn to an apartment in Israel or the Occupied Territories.

If it were me, would I call those territories occupied, which they are, or would I call them Palestine, which is what some want them to become?

(Judea & Samaria? No: it is still me.)

How would I understand Israelis, Palestinians? the soldiers, the militants, the terrorists? the politicians? the underpaid academics, the cafe-goers and olive farmers and scientists and tour guides and those for whom the land is their home, their everything?

The kids, the families, anyone at a beach in July: that I understand.

VI.

From where I sit, in my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn, it is clear: this must stop!

But of course. How obvious is that observation. How useless it is.

How many people disagree, by agreeing to its extremes; who seek for it to continue, without end, until it all can be finally ended.

Who don’t care what it takes to get to that final end, how much and how many will be destroyed.





The Revolution is just a t-shirt away

15 07 2014

Now this is a real shocker:

pewquizgraphic

I know, I know, it was only twenty-three questions and hardly captures all of my views about policy and politics, but would the result be much different were there fifty questions? a hundred?

Yeaaahh, no.





Listen to the music: God don’t like it

14 07 2014

That’s just a great title for a cd: direct, not quite right—God doesn’t like it—but somehow exactly right.

Yeah. God don’t like it. Even an apostate like me can say that.

Speaking of: Holy freakin’ hell, I gotalotta Holly Golightly cds.

This is an almost*-all-Canada post, by the way: I heard about Holly Golightly in Montréal, I think from my St Denis (or was it St Laurent? Damn!) Music Man, and her jangly post-punk appealed to me.

I just hadn’t realized, until I pulled the mid-G’s to listen to them, exactly how much she sucked me in: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 cds! Seven cds! And that doesn’t even count the Thee Headcoatees disc!

I mean, she’s good, but seven? Really? I must have been deep in obsession to have collected so many in such a short time—I’m guessin’ a year or two. (I have a lot of Emmylou, for example, but that’s over decades.) It took me a while to get through ‘am all.

Anyway, Holly Golightly, performs one of my favorite covers, of a Bill Withers (also a short-time obsession of mine) tune. Now, Withers is a peerless singer, so it really shouldn’t work, but it’s one of his lesser  tunes—“Use Me”—and Miz Golightly just strips that baby down to its skittering and frayed wire, then coos and flirts her way across and around the beat:

If God don’t like that, God don’t like nothin’.

The other band is Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band which, unlike our Miss Holly, is actually Canadian. Music Man might have shoved them in my hand, too, but I think I found them on my own.

Not that I can go all hipster-early-adopter on you: I only started listening after the exclamation point had migrated westward.

Only three GY!BE cds proper, but I also have three The Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra La La Band (tho’ they apparently now go by Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra), which contains a number of Godspeed members.

Anyway, GY!BE is loud, very loud. Very very loud. In concert. My friend J. and I saw them at some Mile End (I think) theatre and even in the balcony (which I, unwilling to be blasted off the ground floor, dragged J. to) we were crushed under the cascade of gorgeous, heartbreaking, menacing sounds. They played two hours proper, then offered up another hour of encore.

I don’t know that I could have stood up had they decided we were worthy of a second encore.

The music, by the way, is strange and familiar and fills the space from the ground to the sky. Highly recommended.

~~~

223. Godspeed You Black Emperor!, “lift yr skinny fists like antennas to heaven!”
224. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, xxx f#a#~xxx
225. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Yanqui U.x.o.
226. Holly Golightly, The Good Things
227. Holly Golightly, God don’t like it
228. Holly Golightly, The Main Attraction
229. Holly Golightly, “Up the Empire”
230. Holly Golightly, truly she is none other
231. Holly Golightly, Singles Round-Up
232. Holly Golightly & Dan Melchior, Desperate Little Town
233. Jose Gonzalez, Veneer

*I forgot about Jose Gonzalez. He’s nice, too.





All things weird and wonderful, 41

12 07 2014

A two-fer, but really, the same idea:

On land:

And under the sea:

This is our world!

How little we know of it, of the creatures within it, of our own place in all of it.

~~~

h/t Cute Overload (& again)





You thought you’d try a little danger

9 07 2014

Ohhh, I’m so lucky I don’t have a smartphone.

If I had a smartphone, I’d be on Twitter, and if I were on Twitter, I’d never leave.

I’m not at all tempted to join Facebook (ha!), but I see Twitter as a kind of endless cyber-can of deliciously salty Pringles.

The only defense I have against deliciously salty Pringles is not to buy them. If I have them in the house, I scarf them all down in one or two (sometimes—rarely—I can stretch it out to three) days, after which I tip the can back so I can suck in those  remaining splintered bits.

So, Twitter=Pringles—only in this case it would be the tweets I’d write rather than consume that I’d find so addictive.

Women shouldn’t have sex. . . with people who think women shouldn’t have sex.

Brand loyalty is for suckers.

Know where you live, live where you are.

These aren’t bad, really, but I often think I’m more clever than I am, and could see myself dropping  line after line thinking each were a bon mot, when really they’d be less literary than littering.

Which would be embarrassing, but even worse would be that I’d have yet another distraction from my work: instead of thinking, I’d be twinking.

*Uhkf* It’s gonna suck when my dumb phone dies.





Monday, Monday

7 07 2014

Gray cat:003

Brown river:

036

Tan factory-turned-into-apartment building (on the brown river):

050

Small down-town in Wisconsin on a Sunday afternoon:

014

030

First Monday in July. What else could I do?

 








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