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Tuesday, February 18, 2020


The Heraclitians claim
that you don’t step into the same river twice
while all rivers are the same
in the Platonist’s eyes

Let us take a case:
the river of my skin
- a time lapse camera would show
From the body within

the belly of my mother
to the belly of my tomb
the skin flowing like a river
in which I swim.

The flakes, hairs, pores, moles, scratches
acne, scars, rashes, tags
are carried along in snatches
- they appear, they flow, they lag

and it all gathers in wrinkles in the end.
- I said swim? We are drowning in this river
and at every elbow bend
the river is drowning in us.

Being and becoming, the luck of the drowned
by and  by we’ll moulder in the cold, cold ground.

- Karen Chamisso

Friday, February 07, 2020

Making the Dems competitive

I am thinking about what will make the Dems more competitive with orange turd, and in the short term, it is obvious to me: better glasses. Both Warren and Sanders are still stylin the 70s,, 80s look. Come on! I think the presidency is worth splurging a little Both of them would look much chic-er Warren might want to look at the St. Laurent cat's eye style, here: 
Warren would totally rock with this look. I remember the green party candidate who ran for the presidency in france, years ago: Eva Joly. Even those who didn't vote for her had to give her the contest on the glasses: outrageous green and red frames that said: i'm on the next level. Well, that is maybe not the message that Warren wants to send. But the St. Laurent's scream, to me: I'm confident not only that I'm going to turn that Trump into a dump, but that I might literally turn him into a toad by doing a bewitched blink.
Sanders, on the other hand, needs I think something heavier. In my opinion, he could really thrill the masses in these Tom Fords. The glasses he has right now, too often he is obviously looking over the lenses. This is not good! It gives him some tad frantic energy, which is fine when you aren't the frontrunner, but now? I'm not talking the Scorcese "these glasses have invaded my face and now I have to pay them a vig" type glasses. But something heavier and slicker, something that anchors the look and says, I want Medicare for all, and I am cruisin' in these ultra frames, my companeros - for the people, united behind really groovy frames, will never be defeated.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

On ACRONYM and the aristocracy of the mediocre

"And we have a situation where as a party if we are the good guys we have to be the good guys — not engaging in this,” Ganapathy told me. “There’s a reason why so many Americans think politics is an elitist plot to make a handful of people wealthier, and it’s kind of true." - see the outline article on ACRONYM and SHADOW - and weep
Ideology is excreted from practice. The practice in the American political establishment, since at least the seventies, is to professionalize it - to make it a source of juicy contracts and positions, with the credentialing done by people who have made those juicy contracts - and not necessarily won an election.
One fights for candidates. Is Sanders better than Warren? Is Biden acceptable? But in the political world, these are just actors in the larger movie, which is not about making the world or the country a better place, but about notches in the CV, leading to tv appearances and quotes in the newspapers, which leads to ever more money. It is a very white world - and a very close knit, insider dealing kind of world. These are people who, themselves, never have fought a campaign as anything so vulgar as a candidate. Rather, they develop "synergies" with candidates, or boast in the press that they are developing state of the art digital platforms to get a progressive - or conservative - message out, which means they have hit the hot spot: "doing well by doing good", as the rich donor class likes to say. Even though they are doing well by undermining good.
Ideology is excreted from practice, The political system in the US, in the 70s, was pathetically easy to buy. And in the next forty years, it was bought at knock down prices and turned a huge profit - with taxes sinking on Capital, the social insurance structure open for scamming healthcare services while being enervated from within, the huge expenditures for the military, and last and least, the campaign industry, where the point is to go to rich donors and canalize a living for yourself, your family and associates while making your services "indispensible" to politicians - who benefit by becoming lobbyists after their defeat or resignation, and whose family members get into the honey from the first. Its an adhoc aristocracy of the mediocre.
The GOP was always an adhoc aristocracy of the mediocre, propped up by the petrochemical industry. The Dems needed their own tycoons to party with, after they had sucked the unions dry. And with finance and tech, they found them.
So it goes on the fall down down down the dark ladder. Americans enter this century as, for the most part, bankrupt pions, fronted by billionaire monsters and celebrity monsters.
I write this as a goof, a mark. I have long thought that somebody like Trump, with his insanely low numbers, would be impossible not to beat. Watching the Dems get fucked up by the D.C. poltical management industry that is among the stupidest group of peeps ever to get an ivy league education and a head start from a trust fund (I omit, here, the Supreme Court - of course, they always win the palm for sheer stupidity), I have the sadness that Charley Brown must feel every time Lucy pulls away the football.

Monday, February 03, 2020

On Free Lunches

I want to cull this from  page 2 of Greg Mankiw’s popular Essentials of Economics – used by hundreds of Econ 101 classes, tucked under the arms of thousands of students, who paid a hefty price for it:

You may have heard the old saying, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Grammar aside, there is much truth to this adage. To get something we like, we usually have to give up something else that we also like.
I like to think of them, those thousands of scions of upper class households, products all of them of years of free lunches, nodding to this crackerbarrel truism. One of the great principles of education is to blind yourself to the self-evident. It is part of one’s self-fashioning, and it is especially useful as these scions go on to get positions in the upper ranks of management, investment, etc., and can look about them and say: I earned this.
By their truisms you shall catch them – this is the rhetorical ratcatcher’s faith. My faith, really. The crack in the neo-classical economics façade – the underpinning of that big neo-other, Neoliberalism – appears here.  If one looks deeply enough, many of the ideological decisions that go into the neoclassical model congregate around the idea that there is no free lunch – or as Mankiw translates it, there are almost always trade-offs.
The first and most important of those decisions is that the local difference between the person who pays for and offers the lunch and the person who eats it, free, is of no concern to economics. Thus, all sociology is given the bum’s rush at this banquet. The economist’s truth stops at the fact that if there is a free lunch, someone is paying for it, and that in the end, we are all someone. And it is true that if x is paying for y’s lunch, if we just move a level upward we can treat them as variables, so that y paying for x’s lunch is the same thing. But what if that move up the level is missing an essential fact – which is that there is always somebody paying for the lunch, and somebody eating it free? And what if there is a whole class of x’s who offer a whole class of y’s free lunch?

Saturday, February 01, 2020

In a bar on the rue quincampoix

In a bar on the rue quincampoix
by Karen Chamisso

Cressida, I thought of you
wasting away in Margaritaville
as the hour came on to that gray and blue
moment -click - when it is time for a girl to chill.

Do foxes not have holes? I at least have one
on Rue Quincampoix, where I’m a known quality
where I’ve come to have my fun
where I’ve drunk my quantity.

In the glint of the lounge light there
I set up with a gin and tonic
a notebook opened on the sputtering flair
of a word – the chatter here is trans-Atlantic

the gals are Cally, the guy is German
and the French sociopetally clustered in the corner
eye contact is made by a man determined
to ask me what I’m writing – if he could have the honor

-well he can’t – I’m sorry – as you know
Cress, I too dive into the wreck
- and so many wrecks from long ago
- and so many from last week

- playing phrase and fable solitaire
to  find and wind my lash fine thread
through dead men’s eyes and dead men’s stares
the old old slag, the old old dread

- in particular, tonight: tart. A sweet, a pie
all the endless jar between honey and vinegar
I go to the OED, cause it don’t lie
I go to the Online, for the war

“Everyone wants a piece of the attention pie”
first came the sweet then came the bitter.
Adored the adored, but where incense upward flies
better be careful of the hitter

beneath the embrace. Cherchez la femme fatale
because she materializes suddenly, Cress, you with the bored
drawl,  cig in hand, like Lauren Bacall
that tall drink look - “will you walk in my lord”

and in a rush I see a visionary Gita
from Barbara Stanwyck to Gloria Graham
from Cressida to Nana, from Lana to Rita
from Hollywood Blv. to Iliam

Aaa…nd – and here the poem was interrupted. Just as I was about to put my migraine geometry to work, dot by dot, mapping out a state of exception that has lasted lo these patriarchal millenia, just as the postman always rings twice was going to disturb Cressida and Diomedes in their tent in my scratchin referorama, my friend Marc and his boyfriend (Luc?)  come barreling in the door, bringin in a night that will end I can already see at Cox,  heatseek my table and Marc lifts me up just as “Bonny and Clyde” comes on the P.A. and we dance a two step, and then start singing and the Frenchies join in in freaking out the American girls who haven’t yet experienced the French joy in singing along that sometimes just breaks out, a distant echo of Ça ira secularized, lyed and dyed and finding its objects in the popular song – of long ago.
Marc says, what is the poem about tonight?
“Vous avez lu l'histoire de Jesse James
Comment il vécut, comment il est mort

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

party pic

The Party Pic
Karen Chamisso
It is just human nature to stand in a party pic
and gargoyle to the unknowns outside this magic circle
in your Alex McQueen threads while
your blush fails and the flash bounces
                                               off of your forehead.
His hands are comfortably round your waist
this host, not so cute as an octopus,
but coming on all tentacles and tan unattached
once the starter wife is ejected from the copilot seat.
It is just human nature for him
to stand in the middle and tycoon
a picaro of the scandal mags and loose with money
an advisor of sorts: a knower of politicians in their winter.
Your beaming smile on his left and hers on the right
Do you wonder about the captions for this night?
I know already that if I’m in this group of teeth
I will be retouched
since I am all blurs in the flash aftermath
my pic presence running for the exit.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Who's the racist? The tie between economics and racism

From Willettsmag

What is the tie between racism and economics? I watched the NYT video of Sanders explaining his take on it – that economic misery creates the need for an enemy other to explain it. This explanation is in concert with the general American mainstream idea that racism is concentrated in the most ignorant and poorest. Yet, at first glance, one would think that if the economic system is racist, then the people who benefit from it most would be the most racist.
This takes “racism” out of a certain imprisonment in the notion of sentiment, and makes it a socially constructed intersubjective bundle of characteristics. I think that is a better place for beginning this discussion.
With this beginning, we can ask again about economics and racism, with the corollary that the way in which the onus of the racism discussion singles out certain classes as racist and ignores others is, itself, part of the structural racism we are talking about.
In the U.S., recently, the question has been: what is wrong with those white people making below 50 thou per year and voting for Trump? And the answer is that they are voting for white solidarity. Yet here’s a puzzle: how about those same voters voting for Obama in 2012? And how about Romney’s overwhelmingly white voting constituency? In fact, Romney seemed to have cleaned up with the over 50,000 per year white voter. And yet, who spoke, then, about the upper class white sense of entitlement?
I am not saying that the Romney voter was per se racist. I am saying that the correlation between voter and candidate doesn’t give us an absolute x ray of racism in America. It does give us a starting point for talking about white supremacy as it insinuates itself into the symbols of well-being.
Well-being is a word from economics and sociology. I like to think here of an exchange between Nassau, an English liberal economist in 19th century England, and Tocqueville. Tocqueville wrote, in Democracy in America, that in England, “the good of the poor ended up being sacrificed to that of the rich.” Nassau made the classic move that we see economists regularly make today: he disputed the idea that the salaries of the working class weren’t rising.
Tocqueville wrote back:
You attack me on this point, of which you are certainly a very competent judge. However, you will permit me to disagree with your opinion. Firstly, it seems to me that you give to the phrase “good of the poor” a very restrained interpretation that I hadn’t given it: you translate it by the word wealth which applies particularly to riches. I had wanted to speak, myself, of all the things which could concur in the well being of life – consideration, political rights, the ease of obtaining justice, the enjoyments of the mind and the thousand other things that contribute indirectly to happiness. I think, lacking a contrary proof, that in England the rich have little by little attracted to themselves almost all the advantages that the social state furnishes to men. In taking the question in your narrow way, and in admitting that the poor man gains a momentarily greater profit in cultivating the land of another’s than of his own, do you think there are no other political, moral, intellectual profits attached to the possession of land, and which compensate beyond, and principally in a permanent manner, the disadvantage that you signal?
Tocqueville here asserts the broader sociological claim. It isn’t the claim that Marx might make in exactly this way, but in fact, Marx began his career with a series of newspaper stories about the abolition of certain common forest rights that kept commoners from gleaning in forests – and he recognized, in that seemingly small moment, a central truth – that property is not derived from law, but from forces that shape the law. Property, then, can’t be the sole interest of the working class – because it is an illusory object, one shaped by Capital itself. And in this sense, one could reconcile the left interpretation of Marx with Tocqueville’s, to me, wonderful sense that interest is defined by “all the things that concur in well being”.
In the American system, the white settler self-image was long based on being superior to other races – blacks and indigenous Americans, and later, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. That sense of whiteness was bound up, then, with what Tocqueville calls “consideration”. It was an intricate bind, and persevered after the 1870s, when it should have changed.  It changed enough to eventually assimilate to the vast influx of immigrants in the late 19th century. But it wasn’t until the Civil Rights era, of course, that the basis of the racist system was attacked.
The upper class in America, which was and is overwhelmingly white. To get a grasp of how the white upper and middle class made its money in a racist system, and how people of color didn’t, there’s a nice article by CityLab here. 
In the Civil Rights era and afterwards, the white upper class did develop its own version of anti-racism. They called it “color blindness.” I won’t go into the critique of color blindness here. I will simply point out that, in the wealthy world, which is full of curated diversity and overwhelming whiteness, color blindness  is the way in which the wealthy have reconciled having such an enlarged measure of well being – so many buckos! – with living in a system that “privileges” them, as they will agree. Privilege is a much pleasanter word than racism, or white supremacy. Profiting off white supremacy seems… ugly. Something we can safely let white blue collar workers do.
This is not to let the peckerwood element off the racist hook. I grew up in working/middle class white Georgia, outside of Atlanta, and I saw and heard enough there to know that Sanders is underestimating how much racism there is among working class whites. At the same time, I’ve seen their kids go to schools that are unimaginable for the upper class set, schools that are sixty percent black, for instance. I’ve seen and heard those kids, and I know that their social lives are full of uncurated diversity.
The direction of the question about economics and racism is, then, wrong. We should be asking about how the colorblind, liberal ethos has substituted for the reality of profiting from the racist economic system. And we should ask about how white supremacy still exists as a major factor in white working class life – and floats especially free for those who have no college education and whose incomes range between  50 thou to 200 thou. This is where Trump and Romney and all the GOP make their votes.  To make anti-racism a factor among those that concur to create well-being is, it seems to me, not a liberal, but a radical goal. 

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Don't watch the news

I never watch TV news. We don't have a tv, for one thing, but I don't stream tv news either.
It may be that not watching tv news gives one a different take on politics, beyond ideology. I have my take cause I have certain lefty ideas. But I also have my take because my filter for the news is delayed, and in print.
My impression from everything I have read about the news media is this: that it is dominated by rich white men. They are the decision makers, they edit and report the news, and the picture they make pretty much reflects the world of rich white men. It is also the case that the demographic that goes most strongly for Republicans consists of rich white men.
Perhaps this explains a curious phenomenon among my liberal friends: an exaggerated sense of Trump's political popularity. I ran into this a lot at Christmas dinner this year. Although the last two years have been the worst for the GOP since 2006, the persistant belief is Trump ueber alles.
Obama, it must be said, was terrible for Democrats, and good for himself - thus, during his administration, the Dems lost something like a thousand seats on the state and national level. Trump has had a similar effect on the GOP. When the GOP can't even win the governorships of KY and LA, you know Trump's pull is limited. However, in contrast with Obama, who won quite handily in 2008, Trump won the electoral college by the merest hair in 2016. In the three key states, MI, PA AND WI, he won over HRC by something like 120,000 votes. What that means is that he starts out from an extraordinarily weak position. Still, to credit the big Orange idiot, he also spent half of what HRC spent on the election.
He definitely will outspend the Dems this time. But the configuration is really against him. He hasn't expanded his base. Not an iota. Those who voted for him last time will vote for him this time. If the Dems pursue the illusion they are going to lure Trump voters back, they are going to be in trouble.
But the Dem base is larger. And the potential for getting votes for those who stayed home in 2016 is enormous. Why, then, is this confidence not shared among the Dem elite and my liberal friends?
Frankly, most of my liberal friends are white. And many of them do watch the tv news. Their filter for what is happening is through Trump's most ardent demographic. More, I feel like the division between working class culture and upper middle class culture, which has become enormous under neoliberalism, works to make it the case that few upper class liberals that I know really know any working class people, white or black.
Trump is in it for the excitement. Thus, he allowed Pompeo to put him in an incredibly stupid position. But he also has a very injured sense of being pushed - which is why he got rid of Bolton. I have no idea what will come next, but I am still betting against a war with Iran and that Trump will run within his bubble. I argued against the war with Iran business in 2007, and I still think the argument holds today. Also, I don't think Trump wants to borrow the 400 billion dollars he would need to do this. He wants to run on a great economy.
And racism and misogyny, of course.
In any case, remember: old white guys are grossly overrepresented in the media machine that "reports" on the U.S. Never let that fact fade from your watching life. My two cents for the day.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

two chamisso poems

Lucy's the boss
She loomed over my childhood
like a divorcee's vocation:
Lucy says put your hands on your head!
Philistine muse, crabby femme fatale
your schopenhauerian trick with the football
a mean koan.
Later she might have produced a line like:
I am big.
It is the pictures that got small.
Her choric darkness
Snoopy's anarchic daybreak
locked in eternal struggle.
I wrestle with Butler
under the table.
Dog germs! dog germs!
My barbies wait in a box
car crash odalisques
for her summons.
Lucy's the boss! Lucy's the boss!
so when did I stop wearing
my Peanut's gang pyjamas?

Moose agonistes

André Breton and Bullwinkle
set sail on a pea-green sea.
It was all a stunt, set up by a committee
to attract attention to a worthy cause.
Bullwinkle was uncertain. He was into the mob for a certain sum
which is why he took the gig. Usually, he had
a more certain sense of the perimeters,
what was expected of him. The bit with the rabbit
and the hat. The bit with the squirrel.
He and the squirrel hadn’t spoken for years –
it was a legendary quarrel. Supposedly, the squirrel once
even bit Bullwinkle, hard. Credits, money, usual
star vanity bullshit.
Bullwinkle put a poster up
in his dressing room: Beware of rodents!
it said, an X over a squirrel-like silhouette.
Breton, well afterwards everyone said
he’d misread the invitation.
Bullwinkle? he thought it said Bulgakov
an old Troskyist companero from Mexico City.
When the storm struck, the boat in which the camera crew
had set up was parted from
the Bullwinkle boat. The last anybody saw it
was through a fog, a moose silhouette surmounted
by a surrealist, the latter waving his arms.
Rocky, at the memorial service, broke down:
He was my best friend, he wailed.
Was it of the moose he spoke?
- Karen Chamisso

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

letter to mary shelley

Letter to Mary Shelley
Letters to the dead, or their conversations
No longer thrive among the literati.
We’ve all grown I-bound here, and no other demonstration
Is wanted, but only a sort of lyric potpourri
- which captures our moods and days
And is put quite nicely in quaint sachets.

I’m not complaining – I turn out my quire
And sometime make a little genius patter
Illuminating the soft and hard wires
That make up my neural personal matter
According to all the best popsci bestsellers
Apparently we’re just haunts in genetic cellars.

You were born to the royal anti-royal blood
the little red riding hoods of the revolution
but grew up, Gretel-like, to brood
on the wolf that might solve your family situation.
Then he came, dressed in robes of poesie
- which is how you eloped with the romantic agony.

I should tell you, Mary, we no longer brook
long letters written with that manual drolery
- letters as long as the chapters in your  book
in the tradition of epistolary -
rather we jerk out an email or fifty
under the burden of being short and nifty.

But what is a poet if not an anachronism?
a creature lost among  capitalist feeders
and accused of practicing onanism,
irrelevant,  being at best a loss leader
a prestige item with a hushed voice
on NPR, bloodless and choice. 

In other words, a downer. In other words, a monster.
so you see how much it’s in my line
to stir your shade, to disinter
you from the vaults of the gothic sublime
as you predominate in the culture
that has turned away from the bigwigs of literature.

You’ve had a husband. I’ve had too.
Why do we burn ourselves in the futile quest
to find a mate who is not askew
and will live and love beyond time’s test?
Yours,  his heart consumed in a barbecue
and mine, who I would have liked to have done the same to.

But you are thinking, you woke me up for this?
Couldn’t you bitch to some living friend?
I have other fans, who follow their bliss
by dreaming up quasi-pornographic ends
for me and my creature, a jumble anatomy
all cooked up for fan-fic fuckery.

I dig your objection, or my projection
(shades and shadows, death and the double)
girl – aren’t we the girls who’ve made
our project to cause a lot of trouble
to nitpickers, naggers, and no-nothing butts
who tend to write letters addressed: stupid sluts?

But I have a reason – here we come
Into, technically, the finis of this discourse
this insinuato – for unlike some
I’m keen on rhetorical resource
You, who learned the ancient Latin and Greek
will recognize of what I speak -

Okay, enough, incipit the story:
A friend who is always discovering the bizarre-est
Paris, Fragonard’s ecorchés,
or  sketches by some necrophile symbolist
invited me to the Hôpital St. Louis
where plaster casts from the nineteenth century

are exhibited to the select who ask
for tickets, a dwindling group it seems.
Physicians in training once had the task
of noting horrors that appear as though in dreams
of the worst that can happen to the human skin:
the 19th century payment for each sin.

The crowding, hovels, debauchery and then some:
Hence the lesion-ridden penis, tumerous nose
adenomas, sarcomas, in a waxy gum
painted then and signed – it’s art I suppose
from which I’m sure that you can learn a bunch
by peering closely – just ask Edvard Munch.

The painter visited here, with some acquaintance
In the 1890s, when  nihilism was the rage
and then painted The Inheritance
where a syphilitic child lies like an open page
on his mother’s lap, diseased to the bone
- it obviously fed Munch’s  misogynistic jones.

The modern Prometheus – we never got it right
did we? In each vitrine a tragedy
 beauty and labeled deformity fight
out the issue of  transcendent agony -
limits imposed by the messes we are
and get into, on this tiny star.

This agony, it isn’t romantic
- these casts do not display the noble body parts
that went into the making of your maniac
a monster science born of the modern arts
mixed with the superstitious  – that was clever!
But these diseases are of another weather.

Frankenstein’s head – via James Whale –
would fit right in here: green skin, thick brow,
forehead scar, the morphine user’s pale
the doctors and the casters would have loved to see
Frankenstein in the clinic for an advisory!

Did you approve from your heavenly perch
The cinematic annexing of your IP?
I’m sure you recognized in the monster’s lurch
through that landscape your demi-divinity
- “so dusk, so obscene and blind”
this untrammeled product of the human mind.  
Myself, my head would not fit here
- my fault is beyond this wax, God’s truth -
though I’ve seen diagrams that make clear
that the HOX proteins have failed to induce
the inhibition process that would lend opacity
– undermining the bod’s ombragenous capacity.

Yes, I’m the girl with no shadow. You missed
a subject so subdued to your dyer’s art,
no shadowless girl in some dying fire hissed
its matter into your gothic heart.
A monster me –  and not a faker
writing lit’s greatest monstermaker!

I’ll wrap this up – it has grown quite a size
- just I thought the scene of me here was for you.
I’m sure it has given you a surprise
that out of all of Percy’s crew
You are the studied, the referenced celebrity:
Quite up there with Byron, Keats and Percy.

My friend and I left the hospital grounds
and went for coffee to dissipate
the horrors that made their circus rounds
in my dreams, which I won’t relate:
it’s morning here, time to work, and so
sincerely, Karen Chamisso.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

analogy fallacy

The analogies between the UK election and the upcoming American one remind me of the analogies that used to be tossed around in 2003 between occupying Germany after ww2 and occupying Iraq. They are analogies that simply ignore all the salient factors. In the UK, there is a genuine grievance among Labour's working class constituency about how the EU works, which led to Labour having the impossible task of trying to straddle a fundamental issue, becoming a house divided against itself, running against a flamingo fascist who had been in office all of two months by having to run on the flamingo fascist's chief issue.
In the U.S., on the other hand, there is no Brexit. There is an impeachment that lays out Trump's corruption, which - destined to defeat in the Senate - can provide delightful issues to hammer the Republicans indefinitely. There's the fact that, after four years in office, Trump appeals, massively, to Republicans, and not very much or at all to anybody else. Bush was re-elected with a very respectable 35 percent Hispanic vote, according to exit polls. I doubt Trump gets 20. The local elections earlier this year prefigured Labour's massive defeat, while the local elections this year are a clear signal that the electorate is riled up, and will vote against the Dems - as happened in the Governors' races in KY and LA, and in the Democratic triumph in Virginia, among other races.
The elites in the press have long turned into neolib fanboys. Culturally, this means they really, really despise workers. And fear them - this is a meme that goes way back in the history of capitalism. The neolib trick is to try to meld together, say, LBGT issues and NAFTA, or an economic policy favoring the plutocrats in all things with a cultural shift to the "left" allowing trans-"transgressive" artists space in the Style section. It turns favored marginals into entertainment objects which are mulled over by the kinds of people that worry, otherwise, that the Democrats are getting too "radical". In France, the same chemistry is at work - the "deuxieme" gauche, which isn't gauche at all - the type of "lefties" who accepted minister positions with Sarkozy and now fight to please Macron - has broadly the same op-ed beliefs.
Anyway, given the media peeps that try to "run" the narrative in America (all singing the same, Trump is uniquely awful real Americans love him! song), the Johnson analogy will come out heavily over the next media cycle, but I don't think it will make too much of a difference. The disconnect between the political establishment and the grassroots in both parties is deep and getting deeper. My advice: don't believe the hype!

Here's what I wrote in November, 2003
Historical analogies cannot take the place of historical analysis - Leon Trotsky

Jay Bergman, in an fascinating article on Trotsky published two decades ago in the Journal of the History of Ideas, noted Trotsky's borrowing of terms and phrases from th
e French revolution, and the way the neurotic recapitulation of this reference misshaped and ultimately falsified his analysis of Stalin. It is Bergman's thesis that one of the intellectual causes of Trotsky's failure on the level of practical politics was his habit of casting the contemporary history in terms of the French Revolution. Marx had already mocked the French revolutionists habit of clothing their every act in the language of Republican Rome, as if they could exchange their button up trousers for togas. Bergman has some fun in showing how the scare-word 'Thermidor' was thrown around in the early years of the Russian Revolution. The Mensheviks, in exile, poked at Lenin's NEP as a pernicious backsliding to capitalist norms. For them, here's the proof that Bolshevism was descending into its Thermidor. When Trotsky was still close to the center of power, he dismissed the analogy out of hand. However, once he was clawed out of the center of power, the old black magic of analogy appealed to his mind like that last pipeful to a pothead. Suddenly, the the Thermidor analogy seemed golden. This was a product of the fateful historical experience of the counter-revolution, i.e. Trotsky's being kicked out on his can, in the Soviet Union. One should always ask, when an historical analogy is offered, who benefits -- for usually it aggrandizes the image of its maker in some way. In any case, as out of Thermidor grew the context in which Napoleon emerged, so too, in Russia, out of the counter-revolutionary bureaucratic forces within the Bolshevik party grew the context in which the Soviet Bonaparte, Stalin, emerged.

There are serious problems with treating Stalin as a species of Bonaparte. Stalin himself thought he was a species of Ivan the Terrible. What is most interesting about the analogy, perhaps, is that both Bonaparte and Stalin came from peripheral cultural zones - Corsica and Georgia - to dominate the hegemonic center. So did Hitler, for that matter. But such insights into historical states of affairs afforded by analogies have to shuck off the analogic form in order to become serious. In other words, suggestion has to cede to hypothesis, and hypotheses are brutal.

Bergman is damningly succinct about Trotsky's problem.

"Trotsky, desperately seeking for something from the past that would make sense of the present and promise vindication in the future, failed to recognize (except on rare occasions) that historical analogies, especially inappropriate ones, can often obscure more than they clarify, particularly when the object of one's analysis - in Trotsky's case, Stalinism - proves to be far more rooted in a nation's history and culture than any transnational comparison or analogy might suggest. Indeed, the categories Trotsky borrowed from the French Revolution - Jacobinism, Thermidor and Bonapartism - were too much the product of one historical epoch and national history to be useful in explaining, or even in helping to explain, the evolution of another."
Given the way in which analogies are usually imperfect or completely fallacious guides to the future, their use as a justification for strategic choices is where the metal hits the road and buckles, crashing the plane into the schoolbus. Bremer, in Iraq, famously disbanded the Iraqi military under the premise that it was exactly like the occupation authorities in Germany disbanding the Nazi army. The insanity of this kind of justification will, I am sure, run rampant in the shop offices of the D.C. election consulting firms. We'll see what Democratic candidate suddenly decides to revamp according to the formula that Trump, like Johnson, is the heavy favorite. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

macronery overreaches!

From a strategic pov, the Macron/Eduard Philippe proposals are curious. After all, the points system seems both so blurry and so technocratic that its real meaning – the gradual abolition of state support for the retirement of most of the working class, and the debauching of public service (conservative governments make th
eir case against government by the slice and dice method – they underfund state services, the services go to crap, then they say, justly, look at how crappy government is) could be achieved, and then they could creep towards the goal of raising the retirement age, and voila. But no: they decided to front and center what Philippe, comically, called “working just a little bit longer”. Hence, the crossing of the “red line” – the raising of the retirement age from 62 to 64 – and the turn of the moderate union, the CFDT – against Macronery. According to Le Monde, the house journal of Macronery, this has “shook up” Macron’s party – all of them, apparently, are pacing around their 800 thousand euro apartments in the 5th and 6th arrondissements going, we thought we had an understanding with the servants!
Historically, when a President of France is going to take a big dump on the population, he sorta disappears in Olympian fog, and his Prime Minister appears as the big target. This happened when Chirac tried this shit with Juppe, and it is happening now with Philippe. I suppose what is in it for the pm is that he gets a shot, latter on, as the candidate for president. But in fact, it is rarely a good position to be in. Juppe never recovered from the disaster of 1995. Philippe is now the face of “work just a little bit longer” – a phrase that will hang around his neck, I think, for the resgt of his career. Now that the Macronists have created an undreamt of unity – among the unions – in opposition to their quest to make France like Thatcher’s UK, what happens next is very uncertain. If the miners union under Thatcher had been able to leverage support from other unions and bring on a true general strike, who knows if Thatcherism would have recovered from the blow? But the Thatcherites were smart, and stuck to a divide and conquer policy.
The Macronists aren’t that smart.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

the strike in France

There is no more telling symbol of my lackadaisical – my bobo – leftism than the fact that as I write this, I am enjoying a manifestation in the little sidestreet near us in the Marais. Enjoying it, in fact, from our terrace. Adam, my boy, home from school because of the strike, and I have enjoyably stamped around the terrace swinging our arms and shouting Macron démission! I have a strong suspicion that the little group of militants, who are stopping the traffic on the Charlot, have slipped the cop net. Adam, who is convinced that all manifestation end in the throwing of lachromygene by the police, is expecting this denouement. Myself, I am not,  since driving a crowd up a narrow street is an invitation to disaster, but it is always possible, given the ultra-authoritarian tendencies of Macron’s horrible interior minister (the cop minister), Christophe Castaner, surely the worst cop minister since the dark days of the early seventies, when Raymond Marcellin declared war on the “ultra-left”. The Macronist theme of casseur, which, in my opinion, was a threat meant to bring out casseur and discredit the gilets jaunes, is waved around time and time again as Macron attacks social security in France, radically shifts the tax burden to the working class, and in general views himself as a Thatcherite modernizer.
Talk to any French conservative and they will tell you that France is a conservative country. This counters the image that dances in the heads of American lefties, dreaming of the Commune and such. But there is a great deal of truth in it, enough truth that it works against the liberal fantasies of the Thatcherite modernizer. The French like government subventions, they like vacations, they like social security, national healthcare, and free higher education not because they are leftists, but because they are a national inheritance stemming not just from the Popular Front 30s, but from the dirigiste Gaulliste 60s. Mitterand, that political chameleon, sealed the deal. True, the 35 hour work week is dead – but it was never very alive even after it became law. That desire to “keep your stuff” is working against Macron, whose contempt for the attitude, even as his stuff is the typical Davos crowd stuff, keeps his approval rating pretty low. In fact, I would not at all be surprised if Le Pen gave him a much bigger run for his money in the next election. Le Pen has tapped into the conservatism of the French vis-à-vis the dirigiste state – and we now know that Macron wants a sort of Gaullist foreign policy and a Thatcherite domestic one, the first of which has an appeal or interest only to Le monde’s editorial functionaries, and the second of which is the sure road to unpopularity, already gone down by Juppé in the 90s.
As I am finishing this up, the militants are still chanting in the cold December street. So far, so good.