Thursday, 22 January 2009

Ok! Good start...

I'm a cynic, but like I said, I'm hoping for the best. This was a happy surprise this morning.

Fingers crossed for more of the same...

Good luck, USA.

I wish you well. Really I do. Hopefully all the hysterics of the inauguration are behind you now and you can just down to it. I remember at the time of the election, though, being a little nervous of the toxic combination of unrealistic expectations and inflated hyperbole, and it looks like things are getting worse.

There was a strange tone to Obama's speech. The rhetoric did soar, at times, or aspired to do so, but too often I thought it sounded like Martin Luther King, Jr. reading the shipping forecast. Which is preferable to George Bush II reading the shipping forecast, so I suppose that's progress. But what speech could done everything that speech was supposed to do?

I liked the more prosaic bits. The bits about the real economy and the hard words about world affairs. There wasn't a 'The only fear...' or an 'Ask not...' moment, but that's a good thing, I think.

And it again we need to make the point that the US does not get to clothe itself in glory here. You do not get credit for getting rid of one of the most idiotic, disastrous men to ever lead a modern democracy. That was constitutional necessity. And what was he doing there in the first place?!? Two terms! That's not an accident. It's not even unfortunate. It's just stupid. And just because the President's father 50 years ago wouldn't have been allowed to eat in a restaurant around the corner from his son's new work does not now mean that you are the World Leaders in Freedom and Opportunity. It just means that you've caught up with the rest of the world. Welcome to the twentieth century, America.

I don't want to rain on the parades, professionally, but without a realistic view of what this actually means the real gains will be lost, and the ongoing problems -- again -- glossed over. African-Americans have a right to celebrate, yes, and others who have been disenfranchised for so long by such a narrow-minded conception of democracy, too, but should these be celebrations or collective sighs of relief? less triumphalist and much more of the about-frickin'-time, this-is-an-adequate-start! school, perhaps? And we should hear nothing from the White Men of Washington about This Day confirming American's long-recognised place as the Greatest Democracy in the Free World; the mouths behind those grey beards should still be busy reciting apologies for ongoing injustice and long-overdue reparations only just begun.

The other worrying thing is how little, it seems, might actually change. God was Everywhere in front of the Capitol Building, which can't be a good sign. There was too much of the old certainties, the old self-belief in divinely-bestowed national privilege. Manifest Destiny for the twenty-first century? I hope not. There were other noises, too, a New Humility, perhaps, which after the Bush Days would be most welcome, yes. Let's just hope there's more of that.

Chomsky has always argued that the world would not have been substantially different had Al Gore won in 2000 (passim; please don't make me find the original quotation), and any detailed investigation of Democratic Presidents' records beyond the broad brushstrokes of nostalgia will suggest that he's right. (Of course Chomsky's right. He's always right.) I hope it's not the case this time, but I don't think it looks good. Let's hope the overtures to Iran are more than just empty gestures, though it might have been good to start with not remaining silent on the Israel-Gaza conflict?

As ever, someone else says this much better than me. Here's a clip of American 'comics', post-inauguration. Go to the Daily Show clip at 1.20-ish. Why IS cheese nice on Italian food, but disgusting on Chinese food?

Here's hoping he doesn't mean it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Futility, stupidity and counter-productivity

In light of my complete inability to say anything about what is happening in Gaza right now, I'm afraid it's time to revisit, who explain it the best. And do so in an entertaining, let's-avoid-work sort of way. It's the kind of thing that education should be all about.

First, play the game (picture above). Beat the terrorist baddies.

It's called September 12, which is even sadder, because it shows how little we learn.

Then, when you've learned your lesson and are feeling smug, for a further exercise in futility, to really depress yourself, play Madrid.

Which game is more fun to play? (And no, that's not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. I think the answer explains a lot.)

And let me know who wins.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Fascism or Bureaucracy?

What little joy I've been able to reap from the barren plains that was the second half of 2008 (yes yes other than from my children, blah blah blah) has still come from that Eddie Izzard Star War Canteen Lego Dramatisation that I first encountered and blogged about, oh, three months ago.

Students in my seminars this term will know exactly what I mean, but here's a reminder:

I could watch that over and over again. And I have been. But I can finally put my finger on what I really like about it: it is the narcissistic injury, the puncturing of omnipotent phantasy. The undoing of the Nietzschean Superman by the Everyman or, rather, the anonymous face of Bureaucracy.

Well, of course it is, Shitforbrains! Such 'insight' is hardly worthy of even a few bytes of an increasingly crowded cyberspace. But what's interesting, for me, is where my sympathies lie here. Now, normally, I would revel in such a fall. I want to be there, feeding Nietzsche's Superman the kryptonite enema. (Does one 'feed' an enema? Clearly more research is needed here...) But here I'm definitely on Jeff Vader's side. Maybe it's because I am the Dark Father now. But I definitely feel like I'm getting slapped with a wet tray by Mr. Steven's minions.

So what's wrong with that? Well, it means that I've got some phantasies of omnipotence of my own. An inner asshole I need to come to terms with. But we knew that. No, I can't kill catering with a thought. What it really means is that the choice we all face is now, finally, clear. If we can choose not to be governed by the will of the Superman, does that mean that we are condemned to be ruled by the mediocracy of the bureaucracy?

But I can't credit for this insight, this sagaciousness. We were discussing these very ideas -- narcissism, authoritarian tendencies, anal aggression, the transcendental signifier, you know, as you do -- in a seminar last month. (The fact that I cant' remember which seminar, for which course, is symptomatic of my state of being last term. And maybe my teaching in general?) And one student, in some frustration, blurted out, 'So, that's my choice? Fascism or bureaucracy?'

Brilliant. Succinct. And completely right. Remind me to give an 'A' to whoever said it. (If it was you, I'm sorry; I must be repressing the knowledge that most of the really intelligent things said in my seminars are said by other people.)

So, is that the choice? Well, at least it feels that way at the moment. I haven't decided if that says more about the structure of power and authority in our culture, or my own mental state. Or both. I'll get back to you. Maybe I need to go back and read more Bakunin et al.

(Now I've done it. I'll have to come back to that Bakunin article at some point...)

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Wishing you a not quite so shitty 2009...

was how I rang in the New Year. Someone wished me a Happy New Year and I quipped that I would settle for...

There's been worse years, and certainly I've not had it so bad. But I gave up writing -- of any sort -- from early November. I haven't even managed so much a smudge here in cyberspace for two months. I gave it up, to stop the guilt from yet another unfinished job from tearing its way, Alien-like, from its fertile incubation in my guts. For which I blame, not uncharacteristically, the Protestant Work Ethic -- oh, well, that, and the absolutely depraved culture of academia -- but I'll give you grief about my 8 weeks of 20-hour days another time. (Hopefully when the pain has subsided and I can be a little more philosophical about it all.)

Anyway, while other bloggers have been busying themselves over the holidays, it seems (from the evidence of my 'unread' folder), I took a couple of weeks off, from working, from blogging, from just about everything (except, of course, being a Dad, which I rather enjoy). But I'm back now, and my determination to write -- here, there -- isn't so much this year a resolution as it is an opportunity, given that I'll have less teaching to do this term than I have since the first year of my PhD. Which, for the record, was now 12 years ago. Fuck.

Don't ask me, exactly, what I'm going to put here, though. More of the usual shit, I suspect.

Watch this space.