Friday, August 29, 2008

Things That Have Happened in My Lifetime

My summer reading has filled me with sorrow at how harsh the world can be and makes me more disgusted with myself for the attention I pay to my own bourgeois concerns. I’m not sure how I ended up on the brutality summer reading tour. It culminated this weekend with an outstanding George Packer article in the New Yorker about a visit to Burma. I learned it is uncool to say “Myanmar” because this name is the anointment of the military dictatorship of what Transparency International reports is the second most corrupt country in the world, second to Somalia. I am feeling beaten down and trivial by a lot of what I’ve read over the last few months and my attempts to form here some sort of cogent response have dogged me for most of the summer. I am still feeling bruised by the stories of Africa from Say You’re One of Them by Uwen Akpan but I have always been curious about Burma and took on the Packer article which indeed, was salt on my wounded heart.

The Burmese government doesn’t even do lip service to providing services to citizens and is shockingly upfront about existing only to enrich the personal coffers of high ranking regime cronies. The ruling junta doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the world’s condemnation and it doesn’t hurt that the two most populous nations in the world, China and India are competing there for its oil resources. In a nation where the government has displayed nothing but indifference for its citizenry for decades, the saga of the recent cyclone was utterly gut wrenching and burned more permanent images of human suffering to my psyche, adding to the ones I’d recently acquired thanks to Father Akpan of Nigeria. As brutal as the Jesuit’s stories were, they affirmed the existence of a loving God and the absence of consciousness that must be heaven.

George Packer is not a priest. A former Peace Corps worker, he has traveled to, and courageously documented some of the most terrifying and violent and destitute places on the planet. He recounts the Burmese government’s refusal of foreign assistance and complete indifference to the cyclone that killed nearly 150,000 and left hundreds of thousands of others in unimaginably dire circumstances. The Burmese, including a number of former political prisoners Packer interviewed, have no faith whatsoever that the junta will ever act towards improving the lives of the citizenry. Their choice not to believe in the possibility of the dictatorship’s demise, in the going beyond that, remarkably, frees the Burmese of cynicism. Cyclone relief was primarily a matter of Burmese individuals coming to the aid (sometimes thwarted, or worse, by the government) of their neighbors. With China and India throwing in their moola it seems unnecessary for Burma to be bowed much by international pressure. I pray Burma’s freedom but I am inspired by the goodness and transcendental dignity that springs from her peoples’ resignation and in spite of their suffering.

Because we live in slightly better circumstances than an iron fisted corrupt junta, there is reason for cynicism. I cannot access any information on Obama’s website without providing my e-mail address. This is not a requirement of the McCain campaign website.

Hillary is out because Barack fears that the image of Bill sticking a cigar up a twat still looms large and embarrasses us all. Biden is in, pandering to those voters who still have to stop themselves from calling an African American man “boy”. A big white working class white paternalistic white man to assure a certain demographic that he won’t let the uppity young colored boy get out of control.

Sarah Palin was a runner up for Miss Alaska and inevitably bikini photos of her will be on the web before I even post this. Plus with roots in Idaho and Alaska, inevitably there are poses with guns. Maybe with guns AND in a bikini. Maybe an AK47 and a friggin’ thong. How many presumptive republicans will jack off to visions of Sarah whipping off those glasses and turning into a regular little fuck bunny? But she’s pro-life and is the mother of a Downs Syndrome baby so she shoulders the yoke of her beliefs and you can be sure they’re going to trot out the poor afflicted thing and gush about Saint Sarah and the patience and love it must take to rear it, hear that chick voters!

My kids asked last night if Obama isn’t really legitimate heir to the title first African-American candidate for president, being only half black and I told them that they themselves are biologically only half Jewish but that won’t make a mite of difference when they come to round up the Jews. There are fifteen nations in the world that will not admit bearers of Israeli passports so fuck anyone who would begrudge me the moment of Obama standing there accepting the nomination. As a footage archivist, images of hatred are etched in my brain. I have seen the little girls being hosed down in Alabama a million times and I have not numbed to it and fuck anyone who was not brought to tears by Obama’s little girls in their party frocks up on that stage.

You have to sell your soul to sign on to his website and he was a nonce late in severing his affiliation with the Reverend Wright. There’s also the connection with Chicago felon Tony Rezko, although the crooked developer had insinuated himself with enough other big name politicos to bring down the government. This is all fodder for the cynical but it was hard to invoke this when Obama made the first presidential nomination speech to address rights human rights for gays and lesbians. He has been forthcoming about his failed father and at the risk of seeming too wussy or touchy feelie, Obama challenged American men and subtly a bit more specifically, African American men, to take responsibility for their children. Good that he has Biden to do all the butch stuff.

A dose of cynicism is a good thing if it is only a small counterpoint to hope. Cynicism unbalanced by hope is really only fear. How can we, with our wife cancelling headphones and craft beer and ice cream maker genuinely be cynical? I can call a potential vice president a fuck bunny on my blog and I will not disappear for reeducation in the night.

My children know my reservations about Obama and about American politics and about America in general but they saw me weep last night when a black (Jew, woman, afflicted, anointed) man stood before a nation where less than a generation ago fire hoses were set upon black children. The images my children gobble from the t.v and the internet are so much more cynical and so less inspire righteousness than anything I was exposed to as a back in the fifties and sixties. We have a different and darker world view and even our children are not spared this. Without hope in excess of cynicism my children will never see the light to make the world a less harsh place. My tears during Obama’s speech may attest to my shallowness. I reacted exactly as the strategists had hoped. My defense of the moment as so friggin’ huge I might tattoo it on my ass may have been sanctimonious but I want my children to bear witness that despite all the corruption and hatred and brutality in the world, it is a better place than when I came into it. If we can fight off the lassitude and fear that is cynicism it is within all of us to make it better still and mellow the harsh.

Shabbat Shalom.


FionnchĂș said...

What moved even cynical me (and picking a pro-life, pro-gun, beauty queen pageant runner-up with even less experience than Obama for contention to be an old man's heartbeat away from the White House takes some clever market research) last night, despite my spouse's claims about my Scroogosity to the contrary, was Obama's strong embrace of gay rights. For me, this is the step forward that's the boldest, as it widens the civil rights movement of O's mentors into every neighborhood and many families even more intimately and inescapably. There's no "neighborhood" or "ethnic enclave" here that can separate the child from the parent-- at least so we may grow to hope. I trust that more people finally accept this, and I do applaud Obama for his assertions and his strategies here.

As one who may be three degrees (or is it two?) degrees of separation from the ubiqutiously postered candidate six weeks younger than me, his rise through the ranks due to his race-- or until college on the mainland his relative lack of identification with such categories as we on the mainland catalogue are schooled to classify each other-- does not surprise me as much as my spouse. My dorm floor in college freshman year, with my roommate from Punahou, Barry O's alma mater-- and I guess the same graduating class-- was as mixed as expats with "rock fever" escaping from Hawai'i or those of us from California could be. Always, with me being the token white minority in school here, I might parse the achievement of O based more on his appeal than his substance, as I don't "see" him as much of America has. A black student put it nicely for me: Obama wants to transcend his color but both blacks and whites, she thought, would not let him do so.

I think many of us in wildly diverse L.A. (as in those few of us natives who grew up in the city limits) the latter half of the 20c matured with a more complicated relationship to multiculturalism and ethnicity than in most of the U.S. For me, Obama comes from that blended milieu. However, to stand on the platform last night, he needed to reinvent himself, as a more standard pol "from" the Southside of Chicago where he had to align himself with and against the black and liberal power blocs that formed within the Democrats for the past 75 years. He's the harbinger of our trans-racial, blurred Brazilian future, even if as Layne observes he has to bring in the "working-class" big white guy to give him credibility.

And, Layne will undoubtably share in a future post how difficult it is today on the Net to find real info on the whole Neil Kinnock-plagiarized speech scandal that torpedoed Biden in his earlier presidential bid. Already NPR tells of thirty changes attempted today by one user with a suspiciously intimate handle to Sarah Palin'e entry. Winston Smith at Minitruth may not be fictional after all.

harry said...

Yeah, I'd have trouble trusting the wisdom of anyone begrudging you your tears at the historical moment. The public sphere altered on Thursday night. Beyond any valid criticism of "his" politics, strategies, posterings, failings... the moment was a signpost, an affirmation, a respite earned. I think in a sense that's what he meant when he said "this has never really been about me, it's been about you..."

And "she" may be a fuck bunny, but the hair still sucks. Hockey mom indeed. Makes me remember the mother of a friend in elementary school... rode in their car (a Rambler) with a box of kittens and their piss and Larks spilling out of the ashtray. She (and in my mind Palin) had spagetti sauce splattered on her sleeve. And smelled, ripe from giving the bowling lessons that was her main source of income. But I digress.

Thanks for your analysis... you are as good at cultural commentary as you are at the confessional shit.