“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Reporting on the Ukraine - the man in the devil suit did it!

I have this sick, deja vu feeling about the u.s. ukraine reporting:it shares the same vices and mindframe as the reporting on Iraq in 2002-2003.
It is important to be clear about what happened. The former president was deposed - and he was deposed, apparently, by groups that were opposed to him in the previous election. Unfortunately, none of these groups seemed to have any roots in those areas that voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych. This kind of thing happens all the time in countries that have no democratic tradition or institutions - one party, faced with the victory of another party, kicks that party out. It certainly is not an instance of overthrowing tyranny. That both sides are corrupt is pretty much a given in oligarchy ridden Ukraine. One doesn't have to be for I think running away was probably a good way not to get killed.
Unfortunately, the reporting in the NYT, the NYorker (with its pathetic series by Jon Lee  Anderson, the LRB (with its pathetic reporting by James Meek) and the NYRB on Ukraine has pitted good guy Maidan protesters against Putin. as the whole story - when it is a sideshow This is convenient to the American mindset, but it eclipses the reality of what is happening in the Ukraine. The regions that voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych are not being hypnotized by Putin - they are understandably disgusted by a Kiev centered political operation that has negated their political will. Over and over again, you read that they neither want to be part of Russia - nor accept the Kiev government as legitimate. Why is this position - which is pretty simple - simply ignored in this "series of portraits"? Because it inconveniences what Joan Didion once called the "narrative" - the way establishment newsmakers have determined a news story should go, whether it reflects reality or not. In fact, what is being missed is the framework for what is happening. To make it good Kiev versus bad Kremlin is a disservice to American readers. It will lead to Americans not being able to understand events in the Ukraine. It is overwhelmingly reminiscent of American reporting about Iraq, which similarly so mislead readers that the insurgency was wholly unexpected, and the whole unwinding of the occupation was a big enigma. If the press had done its job, that wouldn't have been so much the case.
But the press has long substituted one job - reporting - for another - lobbying - when it comes to foreign news reporting in the U.S. Thus, Ukraine is given to us in two historical periods - it appeared in the 1930s, when a georgian born dictator, Stalin, starved to death its people, and it appears in February 2014, when the Maidan protests gathered steam. However, a less supernatural view of the Ukraine would assume that it also existed in 2013, and 2012, and 2011, and 2010. From this angle, the question is who voted for the party of the Regions and where, A look at the map would show you that the Party of the Regions was extremely popular in the East. Here's the wiki map of the presidential election (the percentages are part of the total of the 48.95 percent that Yanukovych got in the second round of voting). This map indicates pretty strongly where the overthrow of Yanukovych is going arouse unhappiness. You don't need to posit some hypnotic power by Putin. Evidently, the power in Kiev is either going to have to compromise with these areas or occupy them. Or the Ukraine will split. This isn't really that hard to see or understand. The project of not understanding it, of ignoring it, of pretending that 2010 didn't happen, is a strong indicator that what we are getting in the mainstream media and the thought journals about the Ukraine is simply propaganda. Easy to swallow, since after all, Putin is a dick and a war criminal (and also the unexpected result of the last massive U,S. intervention in Russia, when the US aided and dragged Yeltsin to victory in 1995 in Russia). 
But don't believe the man in the devil suit is the main actor here.   

Friday, May 02, 2014


Perhaps Yeats was right, and beggary and poetry appear and disappear together. The argument for their deep connection can be divined in Daniel Tiffany’s argument for the form and function of obscurity in poetry, made in Infidel Poetics (see review here). Or at least I can borrow certain of his images and arguments to support the Yeatsian intuition.

First, however, one has to concede that poetry does something – it in fact does something about the way one thinks about doing things, what that activity if for, the matrix of exchanges in which it is enmeshed. To switch to Hegel-ese for a moment, beggary, outside of traditional society – the ancien regime stretching back to the paleolithic – loses its form, not its substance. It loses its hobo honor. Poetry, another artifact of that regime, is rivaled in modernity by journalism (under which I would include novels) and driven into a corner, where to save its form it has to resort to dodges that begin to displace its substance. Like the beggar, the poet doesn’t do anything for money. Money does something for the beggar and the poet – reward honors their rewarders. All of which collapses for the usual reasons given by the big thinkers.

Climbing down from these often scaled heights – I was struck by this riff on the rhapsode in Tiffany, which provoked the above thought:.

“The submerged affi nities of the rhapsode reach still further into the
well of the anonymous and indigent poet, touching the most ancient
artifact of poetic obscurity, the riddle: Sophocles called the Sphinx a rhapsode,
while Euripides and other commentators called her deadly riddle
a “song.” The Sphinx, who has no proper name, is called a rhapsode
because she was said to wander the streets of Thebes, homeless, reciting
her queer “demaunde” to strangers—habits recalling the vocation of Presocratic
thinkers such as Parmenides, who made his living as an itinerant
philosopher and composed his baffl ing treatise on Being in epic hexameters,
thereby adopting practices associated with the rhapsode.”

What a marvelous hybrid image – this Sphinx! I can definitely see the Sphinx sniffing around the streets not only of Thebes, but of where I currently live in Santa Monica, California.  Santa Monica needs a sphinx: with its definite edge that ocean – and its box of jigsaw puzzle pieces gathered from different puzzles and thrown all together. Here we have the rich, the aspiring techie, the screenwriter, the leisured, the shoppers, the tourists, the aged – often wheeled about with their heads at a disturbing cant and their mouths open, jaws too weak now to resist gravity – and the hobos everywhere – bums under trees in the park, mumbling to themselves on the steps of office buildings, amazingly weathered women sprawled by curbs under some vagary of palm shadow, sign welding white beards, many clothed in their entire wardrobe – I run into them every day as I wheel Adam about in his stroller. The tribe of the sphinx, except that rhapsody had definitely been downshifted, and the Sphinx can no longer riddle even the mere toddler of privilegem much less his pa.

But I do not write off the possibility that chthonic forces will one day emerge again – to put it in Yeatsian terms, the Great Year will not be gainsaid, neither will time stop.