Saturday, September 21, 2013

All-American Blackmail

It has been a life-long dream of mine to be the director of the CIA.

Likewise, Fidel Castro has pledged to not shave his beard until the world-wide victory of socialism.

But Karl Marx is dead and Coca-Cola is alive.

It looks like the comandante will have to hit the earth with his facial hair intact.

What Fidel and I have learned from our days on this green earth is that not all dreams are meant to be.

And it would be great if someone could convey this message to the Tea-Party wing of the Republican party when it comes to repealing Obamacare this year.

In effect their position is that a government shutdown or a default on national debt are preferable to Americans getting subsidized healthcare.

Forget winning elections to overturn laws, time is of the essence here.

Republicans are both portraying Obamacare as a disaster in the making and yet fear that gullible Americans might get hooked on it.

Obamacare is like crack cocaine. So bad and yet sooo good. And Republicans want to end the party before the pipe hits the lips.

I can understand the conservative position, the mid-century Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek proposed a theory in his book, the Road to Serfdom, where social programs enacted by liberals lead to dependence on government which leads to a totalitarian regime.

This of course has never happened in the real world. All dictatorships whether left-wing or right-wing came to power as a result of a violent struggle, the one possible exception is Hitler's Germany where the Nazis did win a plurality of the votes in a democratic election but then they rapidly seized total power (ironically one of their central tenants was combating the spread of communism).

Basically, in the history of humanity there has never been a welfare state that slowly devolved into a dictatorship.

There was never a gradual gentle easing into a totalitarian state. No more that you can gently crack a head with a hammer.

Lenin's slogan in the early days of the Soviet Union was, "he who doesn't work, doesn't eat." Which strikes me as a bit removed from the sentiments of the bureaucrats in charge of implementing Obamacare or the grassroots liberals who have their back.

But like all theories floating about in political movements, the one proposed by Professor Hayek did not need reality as validation. It survived because it suits the world-view of its adherents. It creates and ideological link between innocent-seeming liberals and evil humanity-crushing dictatorships.

The tree-hugging hippy mom isn't just misguided she is a useful idiot moving America into an atheist, socialist superstate.

Today Republicans control exactly one-half of the three branches of government. They rule the House of Representatives (though Democratic candidates had more overall votes, the way the legislative districts are drawn gave a resounding victory to the GOP).

If repealing Obamacare was a truly All-American crusade we would not have a second term of the Obama presidency nor the Democratic controlled Senate.

Tea Party crowd revels in their love of democracy. But their modus operandi is basically undemocratic. They don't view themselves as being on-par with other political movements that represent other parts of American society.

The Americans who voted the other way don't have a seat at the table. After all, if they voted Democratic, are they Americans at all?

On the contrary, Tea Partiers are the true Americans fighting for real Americanism against the forces of darkness. They have no more compulsion to compromise with their opponents than Bolsheviks had in working with other parties after Lenin seized power. Both movements saw themselves as the sole holders of the truth, the quintessence of history was in their grasp.

And so it is possible that the whole of American society, 60% to 70% of which doesn't identify with the Tea Party movement could be held hostage to that movement's religious demand to repeal Obamacare to preserve Western Civilization.

If the government shuts down or - even worse- if it defaults on its debt, the Tea Party movement would be like a guy shouting, "this house is on fire! this house is on fire!" and when the smoke failed to materialize, sets the house on fire himself to prove that he was right.

To defund Obamacare conservatives in the House have declared thermonuclear war on American economy, I can only hope reality will call their bluff.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Moon Watcher

Today I experienced a few moments of happiness.

I stumbled out of my vehicle in a state of intoxication.

I looked up an saw the moon.

The moon was pretty. Surrounded by the fog and clouds. I decided to give it a soul. I imagined the moon watching from above as a helpless observer of all the foibles of our species. The wars, the triumphs, the famines, the apologies; the moon watching from above the sad, beautiful and dull mass of humanity convulsing and bleeding in its incoherent melody.

I lay on the wet grass in the back of my apartment building watching the moon. I could feel the moisture moving up the layers of cotton garments covering my body until the water made contact with my Slavic skin.

I though about a girl I loved in Seattle. I am 27, but I never experienced requited love. I was and (to a degree) still am in love with a person who feels little if anything for me. In the context of my life, love is a pathetic longing. A melancholic parasite that brings no happiness, an emotion I wish I never known. The love I know is something I hate.

I wanted to share the moon and my happiness with this girl.

But I didn't want to send an email that would be ignored, nor did I want to deal with the response if it (miraculously) materialized.

So I wrote a draft email as I often do when I want to talk to her. When my rational mind blocks my sad and needy desire to make another attempt at an emotional connection. My draft folder in my gmail account has a few of these sad testaments.

This one read, "The biggest curse in my life is only seeing beauty in you."

Melodramatic but sincere. The sincerity of a drunk man laying on wet grass near his apartment door, watching the moon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Work-Life Balance

I earn my money laboring in a call center.

Recently my supervisor was walking by my corner workstation.

To her question of how I was doing I replied, "With every call, a small part of me dies."

"Good," she answered, "you could use to lose some weight."

"That's cold," a cubicle neighbor chipped in.


During my scheduled break I ventured for a walk. Randomly, in the empty hall, I encountered a large paper box filled with (unused) tampons and maxi pads. I took a single tampon out of this treasure trove and continued out of the building for my fifteen-minute walk.

Upon returning from my stroll, I endeavored to throw the tampon at a male colleague.

After retrieving my prized possession from my amused associate who threatened to soak it in his Mountain Dew bottle, I drew a smiley face on the tampon.

Then -in a high pitch voice of a children's show puppet- I proceeded to tell a number of corny jokes I found on the internet while waiving this anthropomorphic tampon as if the speech was coming out of it.

My coworkers questioned my sanity and begged me to stop. But I refused, the call volume was low and I had time to kill until the end of my shift.

I left work with a reaffirmed conviction that my life lacks a certain kind of meaning.

Monday, September 16, 2013

When the King Gained Some Weight

Before my mother was able to bring my grandmother to America she hired a lady to stay in our Moscow apartment and take care of my grandmother. 

I don't remember much about her at this point. Alas, I can't even recall her name. She was single woman in her thirties or late twenties. She had a white dog, played piano. She was religious and her room (my childhood room) was adorned with Russian Orthodox icons. 

The one thing about her that does stick to my memory is her fondness for Elvis. In fact, in her quarters, pictures of the King shared shelf-space with images of Russian saints. 

One time when I was vising Moscow for the summer, my friend, this lady and I were sitting around the television watching her tape of an Elvis documentary. The movie progressed to the later stage of Elvis' life. 

This is when teenage Ivan decided to pronounce that Elvis has gotten pretty fat. 

I meant no malice with the statement and saw it as a simple proclamation of fact. But she must have taken it the wrong way, because she quickly snapped back, "we'll see how you look at that age."

I was taken aback a little, I looked to my friend for consolation but he burst out laughing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Al Qaeda's Air Force

Generally speaking, the ability to distinguish differences and make nuanced judgments is considered a sign of intelligence. 

A person unable to differentiate chickens from turkeys because both are flightless birds would be viewed as an idiot and handled with patronizing pity.

This basic notion is routinely uprooted in politics where "leaders" are often made by making crude generalizations and grouping unrelated things together in order to make things simpler for "the folks."

Enter the Canadian-Texan Senator Ted Cruz and the Ohio Congressman Dennis "I have a hot British wife" Kucinich both of whom -at different times- described potential US involvement in Syria as America acting as "Al Qaeda's air force."

"It appears what the president is pressing for is essentially protecting his public relations because he drew a red line, and, essentially, the bluff was called," Cruz said.

Now just to make sure that we're all on the same page..

Drawing the red line was President Obama warning Assad not to use chemical weapons. To use Ted Cruz's phrasing, Obama's "bluff being called" was Assad gassing his people in spite of Obama's warning and killing over a thousand people. 

So -in the senator's view- Obama is now proposing a strike on Syria not because over a thousand of people were gassed to death but because he is "protecting his public relations" on account of his bluff being called. 

Senator Cruz doesn't want American presidents to make rash decisions like warning dictators against using chemical weapons in the future. 

Sarin gas in Syrian lungs is a-okay, as the Senator said, “we certainly don’t have a dog in the fight.” 

Syria is a diverse country. Around 70% of the people are Sunni Muslims. Around 10% belong to an esoteric Shia sect called the Alawites, the rest are Christians and other minorities. Allowites were used by the French colonialists to help rule Syria. 

The French elevated Alawites from an oppressed minority to the ruling class in order to have native Syrian stakeholders in colonialism (an old colonial trick). Assad's regime and his Alawite dominated army are a legacy of that arrangement. 

The Syrian rebels are Sunni Muslims fighting for the control of a country where they are the overwhelming majority. They are not saints and they were joined by radical Islamist elements who view the Alawites as sinister heretics. 

But its dumb and disgusting to equate all of Syrian rebels with Al Qaeda.

Its one thing to oppose a US strike.

Its another to insult all people fighting a genocidal regime by equating them with terrorism just because it suits your dumb fucking talking point.

There are few easy decisions in foreign policy or politics in general. Often the choice is between two bad alternatives. 

To be involved in another Middle Eastern conflict or to give Assad a free pass to gas Syrians who want his ouster. 

To cut out complexity and reduce everything to a black and white choice is a sign of stupidity or demagoguery. I don't know either Kucinich or Cruz well enough to know where they fall.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Never Again* (see footnote)

"This conflict is pitting Islamic extremists against an authoritarian regime with both sides shouting 'Allah Akbar' at each other, then let Allah sort it out."

Sarah Palin's outlook on Syria ends up ridiculing the very idea of monotheistic God. 

No fan of Mohammed's creed, Palin shows no sympathies in the Syrian civil war. Both sides -in her view- shout out a false name for a God of a misguided faith. Therefore, let this false God resolve this bloody war waged by unlikable people. America should stay out. 

This leads to a question of what is the role of Sarah's personal, freedom-loving God in this war? 

It is weird for a self-proclaimed devoted Christian to make a snide remark about God taking care of this war, even if the name for God she uses is foreign and abhorrent to her. This sentiment would me more rational coming from the lips of a militant atheist. 

After all, in Palin's view, the "real" Christian God WILL eventually resolve this war just as he created this world and manifested in all of its events. 

So why does using a different name of God make the idea of God's will "sorting it out" ridiculous in this context?

“So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot?” Palin wrote in a Facebook message to her followers on Friday.

Yes, yes you are. 

Mama Bear is joined in her condemnation of American involvement in Syria by none other than the famed MIT linguist and democratic socialist Noam Chomsky. 

"[T]hat aggression without UN authorization would be a war crime, a very serious one, is quite clear, despite tortured efforts to invoke other crimes as precedents,"

UN authorization would require an approval by the Chinese government which could veto any UN resolution as a permanent member of the Security Council. This government is known for -among other things- putting its last Noble Prize winner in a prison camp. 

But, hey, if the Chinese Audi-driven politburo doesn't sign off on a strike it is a "war crime" and a "very serious one at that." 

Now America is tired of playing the world police, and the world is weary of being policed by America. 

So although the Holocaust Memorial is adorned with the sentiment "Never Again" perhaps its referring only to genocidal acts committed by Germans again Jews not an occasional gassing of its people by a 3rd rate middle-eastern dictatorship fighting for survival. 

Pondering stacks of body bags filled with Syrian children, Palin says, "Let Allah sort it out." And she is not alone.

Obama has wound up not one but two American wars. He is not the one to lead the country into a careless invasion. The man prefers drones.

I'm not a fan of world police. But I also know the human race -my species- to be the sort of animal that cannot act morally on a consistent basis unless there is a present threat of violence for acting immorally. 

The military action proposed by Obama would be limited in scope. Not designed to win the war for the rebels or even to completely eradicate chemical weapons capability of Syrian government. 

All it would do is act as a deterrent. 

After the strike is over, Assad might still contemplate using chemical weapons. 

But his hand might be sweatier and and a little more nervous. After a cruise missile or two, the trigger man would not be so trigger happy. And when it comes to gassing civilians by their thousands, that is a good thing. 

If the critics of American intervention get their way, Assad's military could go on to gas their people to their hearts delight knowing that somewhere on the ideological spectrum between Sarah Palin and Professor Chomsky, the West will shrug its shoulders, lose its will and say "fuck it" as Syrian bodies pile up like so many unwanted ants, poisoned on the patio deck.