Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short Poem


Keep it down, don't rant and rave.
What is it that your love saves?
"Normal" means to be the same.
Why not try to play the game?

Growing up, don't question God.
"He exists" they say, so nod.
Parents always know what's right,
even when their grip's too tight.

When the rabble's closing in
be a Hamiltonian.
Go to war like they command:
at all costs protect your brand.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ironic Threats: A Look At The Left

(Note: I plan to come back to this and add the sources, but I think you can find most of these quotes very quickly with a Google search.)

It may just be the hunter/gatherer in me trying to spot the stripes on the tiger before it eats me, but I'm confident there is something of a pattern to the way the Western press (and perhaps others as well) deal with ideological threats. I have only a few direct examples, but technology today allows another interesting way to approach this, which I'll get to later on in this post.

The first example is an opinion piece written by one Flora Lewis on the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci. She reported how he conceptualized society as having the "civil" and the "political" realms, and considered it ironic that a Communist, or perhaps a jailed Communist, should be the one to "bring the notion into modern political usage." She then went on to excoriate his descriptions of American society by paraphrasing the 10th Amendment:

The American experience offers little help in analyzing the dilemma because Americans started with a different concept of the state. Gramsci got the U.S. approach all wrong. He said it hadn't ''emerged from the economic-corporate phase which Europe passed through in the Middle Ages - in other words [ it ] has not yet created a conception of the world or a group of great intellectuals to lead the people within the ambit of civil society.''

He failed to see that in the American concept, society reserves for itself all that is not expressly delegated to the state, not the other way around. Government is to be defined by its limits; it has only the powers conceded to it.

This is only half true. The 10th Amendment states that the powers are to be given either to the state governments or the people.

I'm going to stop here to say that I hope to get through all my examples before I attempt to deconstruct the disagreement, for the sake of coherence. However, I'd like to come back to this article later because I feel the same way about Lewis as she feels about Gramsci, and I think I understand her about the same as she does him. When I understand it more, I'll post about it.

The next example also involves the New York Times, and another prominent leftist: Emma Goldman. As described in the book Emma Goldman: Life in Exile, she denounced Bolshevism as "rotten" and 

the American press reveled in reports about her disillusionment; [...] the New York Times, for example, regularly printed squibs about her alleged change of heart, while gloating editorially that "it does add a bitter vividness to our conception of the horrors of the dictated proletariat to think that even she finds them intolerable."

Though the word never appears, it's probably safe to say that we are to understand that it is the irony of her statement that adds the "vividness... of the horrors of the dictated proletariat." This treatment was enough for her to warn her friend "not to believe what she read in the newspapers." It is not mentioned in the book whether the Times was polite enough to note that she had the chance to witness the horrors because of the U.S. government's policy of deporting radicals.

Gramsci's alleged failure to see the true workings of American society and Goldman's descriptions as mere additions to "vividness" of a picture that was already known suggest an unspoken rule that reporting leftist's opinions as ironic and incomplete is preferable to calling it truth.

I have one more example of this. Relatively recently, The Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg, a man A Tiny Revolution's Jonathan Schwarz calls "America's preeminent propagandist," interviewed Fidel Castro. He told Goldberg that even his model was not enough to deal with the situation at hand, that Iran was not to be expected to back down, and that he was not given much more than anti-Semitic opinions as a description of the Jewish religion as a child. It seemed that one of the most notorious "Latin" Communists had just denounced Communism and taken the side of the Jews (that's a weirdly worded sentence, it is not as severe as it first seems). This prompted "surprise" from the Jerusalem Post, and widespread gloating in the rest of the press, causing Castro to comment further that Goldberg missed the irony of his remarks. It was not that capitalism will save us, he said, but that capitalism is so destructive, it will take more than the Cuban model to save humanity.

If these examples don't at least hint at a stark divide in ideology and a petty game of one-upsmanship, then I really don't have anything to say. But I see that here. What I think we are witnessing, dare I say  ironically, is cultural hegemony in practice. Seeing a threat as ironic allows one to see humor, and therefore to not be afraid. Laughing at others, and even oneself, can be seen as an expression of superiority.

I'd like to finally get to the other way to look at this rule -- using the Google News Archive timeline-search function. Adding "ironic" to "communist" and  "terrorist" highlights certain times of ideological upheaval in the West. You can see the Red Scares and Reagan's presidency lining up with "communist" and his declaration of the "war" against terrorism, the First Gulf War and the World Trade Center attacks prompting the understanding of that particular threat as ironic as well. On top of that, it seems that the term actually highlights these dates much more than the ideological labels by themselves. The task at hand, along with understanding these differences of opinion, might be to anticipate who the next bogeymen will be. It will be easy -- just look for someone being called ironic.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two More Poems


Truths are close to lies, we feel,
when they don't let us feel secure.
Lies live on through comforting.
Most happy truths do not endure.

Honest Men we think care not
the way we feel when we converse.
Compliments then feel quite good,
but bad news ends up being worse.

Symbols lie more oft than not,
but by themselves they are not bad.
Use them to suggest what is,
save truths to make a soul less sad.

Better not to know at all,
you'll be more social in the end.
Truth feels better when it's fresh
and spoken by an honest friend.

Small things

Were we once God?
This thing might have once been us.
Perhaps it was and we were not.

This little thing:
I suppose it's flammable.
but what good could its fire bring?

Me, it can't trust.
I would rather stub my toe
than grieve over a piece of dust.

Perhaps I will
make a garden for the speck
and see if it tries to rebel.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two Recent Poems Of Mine

Wrote these over the last few days. Was meditating on hate vs. understanding and ignorance vs. hope.

The Con-Artist And The Cynic

The con-artist's trap is a noose to the cynic
who will try it on safely while he stands on two feet.
To understand his position is all he is after,
but his enemy measures the price of deceit:

"If you admit that it fits, you can have it for free,
though we'll both profit more should you choose to jump."
All he wants to know is what size will fit all,
and to do this he must find out whose neck is most plump.

The cynic defies him by heaving a sigh,
keeping hidden inside him his very last breath.
Without any air, his neck loses its size,
and he feigns a display of disgraceful death.

The con-artist watches the cynic go pale:
"How easy it is to fool those with false hope!"
But the cynic's alive and more happy than ever
since he knows he has shortened the con-artist's rope.

I Once Thought...

I once thought I swam with sharks
while I did laps in the pool.
I once thought that every teacher
lived right there at the school.

I once thought magicians were mean
when they asked "Is this your card?"
I once thought I could use The Force
if I just tried real hard.

I once thought I was a Nihilist
but I only fled remorse.
I once thought I'd ignore my conscience
but it got confused and hoarse.
I once thought that "hammiedowns"
described the clothes I wore.
I once thought that my parents
never ever swore.

I once thought that watching Barney
was the pinnacle of shame.
I once thought to tease a red-head
was only just a game.

I once thought that my pen-pal was
just one more piece of ass.
I once thought she'd wait some more
for us to meet at last.

I once thought the best sound there was
was my own dad's guffaw.
I once thought that all Republicans
loved to chew on straw.

I once thought all drug users
should be told what to do.
I once thought that cannabis
was really bad for you.

I once thought that teenagers
all lived life to the max.
I once thought The New York Times
could only print the facts.

I once thought that "lip-to-lip"
was more heartfelt than a "kiss."
Guess that proverb's mostly true in saying,
"ignorance is bliss."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Israeli Ambassador Exonerates Prime Minister Netanyahu (By Praising Him Like A Fascist)

A couple posts back I put up the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nazi Germany's propagandist Joseph Goebbels side-by-side. In retrospect, the comparison highlighted the differences between the two countries: Nazi Germany had a very coordinated effort to purge and censor innocent Jewish artists, while Israel's program was more of a knee-jerk punishment of innocent Jewish artists. And while Netanyahu and Goebbels both complained of the boycott that ensued from their country's actions, Goebbels was the only one with the opportunity to brag about cracking down on internal boycotts, claiming internal boycotts "had been made impossible" by his party's seizure of power.

The question becomes: would Israeli censorship resemble that of Nazi Germany if they had comparable power, and how does that factor into who wins the Joseph Goebbels lookalike contest? Maybe we can use the a recent article by Michael B. Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States to settle this. Because when you can't force Israel to suddenly become Nazi Germany, the next best thing is to wait for peace talks and let the politicians brag about their power.

He cheered on Israel for its high-tech economy (yet does not credit it for the preservation of the "democratic system"), and spent some time early on contrasting the Good Guys with the Bad. "Bereaved mothers on Israeli television," he wrote, were "urging [Israeli] leaders to persist in their peace efforts" while "Palestinian mothers praised their martyred children and wished to sacrifice others for jihad." While Israel is so democratic that it allows Arabs to serve on the supreme court and in parliament, the Palestinians apparently can't even muster up enough votes to prove "enthusiasm for living side by side in peace,"  which Israelis strongly support despite the fact that if you were to imagine being an average Israeli you would have "fought in several wars, as have your parents and even your grandparents, ...you've seen rockets raining down on your neighborhood and have lost close family and friends to terrorist attacks." In summary: Israelis - a hardy and noble, yet desperate bunch.

Would Netanyahu find any of these factoids disagreeable? Perhaps not. So why am I so quick to shift the label from him to Oren? It's the second-to-last paragraph of the article, wherein he heaps praise upon his leader's glorious "yearning" for "a peace that will last for generations — our generation, our children's generation and the next" which he expresses despite having to put up with "great improvements in [Israeli] society." Or as Goebbels put it, "Our children and their children will erect monuments to their fathers and mothers for the pain they suffered, for the stoic steadfastness with which they bore all, for the bravery they showed, for the heroism with which they fought, for the loyalty with which they held to their F├╝hrer and his ideals in difficult times."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Frank Caliendo Gets the Demoralization Treatment

Quite a few people out there are knocking Frank Caliendo. You might disagree, but there are people who are not impressed with the man or his humor. Some sing his praises. It seems to me these are the sarcastic Democratic party members who enjoy ripping on the GOP. (1) ("Annoying Republicans is not just patriotic, it's fun.")

Personally, I was never all that impressed with his humor, but I was definitely in the camp that stood in awe of his knack for mocking President Bush's arrogant posture:

Others similarly admit to liking his impressions, but not much else. (2) But his fiercest critics seem to have been primarily annoyed by an advertising blitz on a TV network hosting his show. (3) ("I can’t stand this guy or his lame DirecTV commercials. He is NOT good and not even remotely funny.")

He himself finally admitted that they got a little carried away, though he teased the critics back a little (4):
I say to those people, 'I'm sorry, but watch the show and maybe TBS wouldn't have to promote it as much,'
Why does a man who can mock the style of powerful people with exactness, with no threat of violent repercussion, get himself into a position where people are hating him? (I hope I didn't just answer my own question.)

It's probably because our media function similar to that of imperial France as described by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (5), who found attempts at controlling public opinion to be common in "the period  in which 'private' energies in society were most plentiful." He described "[t]he 'normal' exercise of hegemony" in these words:
Between consent and force stands corruption/fraud. This consists in procuring the demoralization and paralysis of the antagonist (or antagonists) by buying its leaders—either covertly, or, in cases of imminent danger, openly—in order to sow disarray and confusion in his ranks.
DirecTV and whatever other stuff Rupert Murdoch owns not only have succeeding in buying off the antagonist, but have made him the subject of intense hatred.

I suppose I can write about this as crudely as I want because I really don't see him much of an antagonist to the ruling class to begin with, considering his bizarre rewriting of history (see embedded video above or go here):
[Bush] could never get himself out of the things Clinton got himself into.
Oh really? So it was Bush that got impeached, and Clinton that got off scott-free? In Gramsci's words (I believe Orwell is credited for saying nearly the exact same thing)  "[t]elling the truth is always revolutionary." (6) By those standards, Frank Caliendo's fall from grace wasn't too far (that is, in his professional life).

In fact, he might not ever have been much of a source for grace at all, considering he mocked those in power, but also those who complained about his advertisements. And regarding jokes at the expense of power, Joanne R. Gilbert,  associate professor of Communication and director of Women’s Studies at Alma College, had an interesting comment. In her book Performing Marginality: Humor, Gender, and Cultural Critique (7) she channels the white male in such a situation as fearless and confident:
Indeed, men appear to laugh appreciatively at  jokes that attack them, often overtly. Perhaps by laughing a man is saying, "I'm a straight, white male - I am hegemony - hear me roar. No amount of joking no matter how well done, is about to unseat me from my power position any time soon.
With the example of Bush still not being in jail, I believe this is much more accurate than the laughter being "because he is threatened." Backing me up on this is Stephen Colbert, who doesn't just imitate, but relentlessly satirizes white male hegemony on his show. To him, laughter makes fear impossible (8):

When you laugh you're not afraid. And sometimes you laugh because you're afraid, but when you laugh the laughter (sic) [fear] goes away and its not just whistling past the graveyard. It actually just goes away when you're laughing.
There's still a chance to redeem yourself, Frank, by telling that Bush-loving idiot Murdoch to scram!

1. "Frank Caliendo" Onegoodmovie.org. Retrieved Tuesday, August 31, 2010  from http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gmarchive/2006/01/frank_caliendo_1.html. 
 2. "Official I Hate Frank Caliendo thread" Prosportsdaily.com. Retrieved Tuesday, August 31, 2010 from http://www.prosportsdaily.com/forums/showthread.php?t=278401
 3. "10/20: Frank Caliendo's "Frank TV" is back" Dayton Daily News.  Retrieved Tuesday, August 31, 2010  from http://www.daytondailynews.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/accessatlanta/radiotalk/entries/2008/10/20/1020_frank_cali.html
 4. "Frank Caliendo Apologizes ... While Still Shilling for His Show" MLB.Fanhouse.com.  Retrieved Tuesday, August 31, 2010  from http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2008/10/07/frank-caliendo-apologizes-while-still-shilling-for-his-show/
 5. Hoare, Q. & Smith G.N. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks (p. 80 fn. 49). International Publishers.
 6. "Antonio Gramsci Quotes" from ThinkExist.com. Retrieved Tuesday, August 31, 2010 from http://thinkexist.com/quotes/antonio_gramsci/
 7. Gilbert J. R. (2004) . Performing Marginality: Humor, Gender, and Cultural Critique. (p. 163) Wayne State University Press.
 8. "The Real Stephen Colbert (Out of Character)." Youtube.com. A clip of him on Meet The Press with Tim Russert.  Retrieved Tuesday, August 31, 2010  from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNvJZCFpdp8

Monday, August 30, 2010

Goebbels and Netanyahu

You can read here about the latest in boycotts against Israeli's settlements. Some "theater people using their positions in the theater for a political struggle against Israeli citizens" have decided to limit their acting to behind the "Green Line" which I assume is another way to say "the international border." The Israeli government is reportedly cutting funds and encouraging their replacement.

It has the effect of a purge of undesirable artists. Although not exactly the same, a comparison to Nazi Germany is quite adequate. In his book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Alex Ross writes about the Nazi's purging of Jewish musicians:

Hitler took power in January 1933, and by the end of the year most of the German cultural apparatus had fallen under the control of Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry. But music did not become a direct instrument of the state. Hitler wanted the ministry to serve the "spiritual development of the nation," and Goebbels agreed...... The Reichskulturkammer, or Reich Culture Chamber, had departments for each artform, including a Reich Music Chamber.... Musical life was not merely Nazified from above; to a great extent, it Nazified itself. Even the anti-Jewish clause in the Kulturkammer laws neglected to mention the Jews by name; cultural bureaucrats were left to decide which artists lacked "aptitude" for cultural life. Not surprisingly, all leading Jewish musicians were deemed inept.

It's a bit of a stretch. But as I found to be the case with CNN and cop-killers, it's the apologists who end up looking much more similar than the acts.

Goebbels (from a 1933 rally in which he attacked Germany's critics):
The boycott and atrocity propaganda they made in other countries was an attempt by International Jewry to accomplish by means of public opinion in other countries what had been made impossible by our takeover in Germany. They attempted to cause difficulties for Germany’s rebirth through a worldwide boycott campaign, and to render it ineffective.
.... Our country still faces a world boycott by International Jewry, even if it is not as open as it was earlier, and we are still threatened by a cleverly thought out and systematically executed world conspiracy. 

Netanyahu (from the article):

The State of Israel is subject to a de-legitimization attack on the part of different elements in the international arena, including attempts to launch academic and economic boycotts," Netanyahu said. "The last thing we need now is an attempt of boycotts from within."