Tuesday, September 24, 2002

We're not in it for the oil, oh no.

Peter Maas's blog points to an article that clarifies what's in store for the disruptive Europeans that dare oppose the Imperial orders:

As The Washington Post helpfully explains, countries that support the invasion will find their oil companies rewarded with reconstruction and exploration contracts. Governments that drag their heels or oppose the U.S. will be shut out of a country that holds the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. James Woolsey, the former CIA director, is blunt about the situation: "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them...If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."

Monday, September 23, 2002

Socialism

And while I'm on the subject of Usenet, the huge advantage it has is that somebody will say the things you know you think and spare you the effort of articulating them, and in some cases of, er, researching them too. I've long wanted to say something about Socialism, and lo and behold a thread sprang up on rasff about it, and these posts, uh, had bouncing me up and down on the chair.

I bow to the wisdom of rasff:

Dan Goodman:

Roughly speaking, socialism means that the means of
production are owned by _the people who work in that
factory or business_. I believe that _in theory_, this was
the law in the Soviet Union and other parts of the second
Russian empire.

Under socialism, there isn't supposed to _be_ a national
government or even local governments. Anarcho-communists
believe that this can be done immediately. In the Marxist
version of socialism, there was to be an interim government
which would prepare the society for full socialism.

There is some evidence that Marxist-Leninist governments
have not given the withering away of the State as high a
priority as theory calls for. This failure has been
variously attributed to Lenin, Stalin, and Russian
tradition.


Ken MacLeod, quoting http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/tmp/backward.htm

[...] this book, having produced a great impression on
people who are really enquiring into Socialism, will be
sure to be quoted as an authority for what Socialists
believe, and that, therefore, it is necessary to point out
that there are some Socialists who do not think that the
problem of the organisation of life and necessary labour
can be dealt with by a huge national centralisation,
working by a kind of magic for which no one feels himself
responsible; that on the contrary it will be necessary for
the unit of administration to be small enough for every
citizen to feel himself responsible for its details, and be
interested in them; that individual men cannot shuffle off
the business of life on to the shoulders of an abstraction
called the State, but must deal with it in conscious
association with each other. That variety of life is as
much an aim of true Communism as equality of condition, and
that nothing but an union of these two will bring about
real freedom. That modern nationalities are mere artificial
devices for the commercial war that we seek to put an end
to, and will disappear with it. And, finally, that art,
using that word in its widest and due signification, is not
a mere adjunct of life which free and happy men can do
without, but the necessary expression and indispensable
instrument of human happiness.

and finally and most particularly - for all those people, yes Italian comrades I'm talking to you - who think the USA are a bastion of reaction:

Michael J. Lowrey

Last night, I went to a dinner with 700 other folks,
celebrating the 90th birthday of Milwaukee Socialist and
ex-Mayor Frank Zeidler. The local Lutheran Bishop mentioned
that when he came to Milwaukee, Frank gave him a tour of the
city, and eruditely explained an enormous amount about
Milwaukee history. He called his brother in the Seattle
mayor's office to talk about this amazing ex-mayor he'd met,
and his brother said, "You mean Socialist Mayor Zeidler is a
Lutheran?"; the Bishop said, "You mean Lutheran Mayor
Zeidler is a Socialist?"

In Milwaukee, Socialism meant a lot of the lakefront and
riverbank lands were bought by the taxpayers, and made into
parks, instead of incredibly expensive condos. It meant
housing being built for poor people, and run by an agency
responsive to the taxpayers AND the tenants. It meant a
pioneering Health Department, and good sewers, when such
public improvements were scorned as interference by
do-gooding busybodies. It meant a world-class City Museum
that was a haven for scholarship, with an extensive
publishing program and even its own ethnographic and
zoological expeditions to Africa and Central America. It
meant Mayor Dan Hoan trying to arrange a store to sell war
surplus at cost to the local citizens, with nobody
profiteering. It meant a city government that kept its AAA
bond rating, because the Socialists believed in
pay-as-you-go government (they didn't want to mortgage the
people's future to bankers). It meant schools open to all
the children without subjecting them to religious
propaganda. It meant the cleanest, least corrupt government
this reform-minded state has _ever_ seen in its history. It
meant that when a former party leader advocated working
together with the KKK because they had been so successful
among working-class Americans elsewhere, the sonofabitch was
expelled from the party and his vile suggestion denounced in
ringing terms by then-mayor Hoan. It meant trying to make
the city a better place for honest working people, rather
than running around posturing about how "revolutionary" you
were (and being sneered at by the 'revolutionaries' as mere
'sewer socialists').

It meant, in Frank's own words, "a way of life based on
cooperation, rather than competition."

--
Michael J. Lowrey
proud, today in particular, to be a Milwaukee "Sewer
Socialist"

Whine, whinge, grumble

Avedon Carol, whose blog I follow religiously, has posted a bit about adding links to other blogs. While I was nodding along, I started up an internal whine: nobody ever links me, wee, wee. I'm in but a few blogrolls. Poor derelict me. And then the familiar switch to the Guilt Trip (tm): it's my fault, I don't post often enough, I don't write about the right things, I don't suck up to other bloggers enough...

And they I gave me head a good whack and told myself in a pure Monty Python voice: Stop it! This is silly!

I don't keep this blog for the glory. OK, I like the glory, but for godsake, that's not the point. It's not a race. It's not an ego thing in that way. I may pepper this blog with grammar mistakes and disappear for a long time and write rubbish - but you can trust me on this, I'm writing about things I care, and because I care. As Francesco Guccini says in The Poisoned, I sing when I want, however I want, when I feel like it, without cheers or whistles, selling or not is not among my risks, don't buy my records... oh, all right, sounds much better in Italian anyway.

So well, I blog when I want, how I want, when I feel like it, without cheers or whistles, linking or not is not among my risks, shun my permalinks...

Oh, you're welcome to try for the final verse.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

All right . My address doesn't seem to want to show up in the template. I guess sooner or later Blogger will fix this annoyance, in the meanwhile it's this:
adaldan@despammed.com. Yes, that is a valid address. I fixed the comments too.

Comments

Seems like comments don't work today. I'm not sure why, but while I try to work it out, you can use my email, which I just added to the template and will hopefully show up soon. Yes, that is a valid address.

I managed to access my comments on the yaccs page and saw that Gary Farber was disappointed that I never responded to a comment he made. Well, yes, I try to check comments whenever I can but I may well miss them. I spend far too many hours of my time on Usenet being interactive, and there are none left for what is, after all, a much more awkward medium of interaction as far as I'm concerned, that is, a comment box.

As a matter of fact, I'm a bit disappointed at the general move away from Usenet and towards blogdom. I like blogs, I read them with pleasure, I'm all for opening them to discussion, but I don't think they can or should replace Usenet. I'm usually active on rec.arts.sf.fandom. rec.arts.sf.composition, it.comp.macintosh, it.cultura.fantascienza and it.arti.fantasy. I can easily be reached there.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Tearing down the house

They're tearing down a house near my place.To be honest, it wasn't a particularly pretty house, one can even go so far as to say that it was unreedemably ugly. It sits on a T intersection and the side looking out on the main street is a drab two-stories oblong body, neither old nor new, of a depressing maroon color. On the side, coming out from the narrow street I live in, if you throw a look to your left side, there is a gate and you can glimpse the other side of the house, obviously older, painted white, looking on a grassy courtyard. It's no beauty either but a pleasant place to live, sheltered and sunny. The grass tended to grow wild and was cut down periodically by who knows whom - because the house was obviously deserted. There were trees, and it was very popular with the cats, especially when the grass was high.

I understood they were tearing it down because I finally worked out that the four concrete blocks they had erected in the fenced-in section of the street in front of the house were for a crane, and because they were throwing things out of the abandoned rooms in the back.

I stopped and looked and felt the usual stab of pain. Furniture, old, lumbering, ungainly and out of fashion, but obviously having missed its chance to become antique, was piled on matteresses and other unidentifiable debris of somebody's past life. When you see such things, furniture being cleared out from somewhere where people once lived, it means one thing: somebody died in there. An old woman, usually, living among her outdated things and finally giving up. When I was hunting for this house I saw a couple of houses like that: tidy, neat, sparse, with that desperate love for the physical objects that keep you anchored to your past. When my next-door neighbour, the lovely Dorina, finally died in her still lively and present 85th year, I saw the same thing happening: a lorry stopping outside, and people throwing out her things to be carted off. The big mirror of the dining room cupboard shattered. The dining room cupboard itself, a lumbering monstrosity in well-cared for blond wood, was uncerimonially ripped from its nest and undignifiably shattered and loaded on the lorry.

That's what happens when people die, and of course there's no other way. People - children, if the dead had any - come and go through the heartbreaking task of separating out the chaff of your life, and the rest gets sold, if it can, or thrown away. Dying means this: that the things you cared for, that made your life comfortable, that have a piece of you in them, end up smashed and obliterated.

I left the condemned house behind (to be passed again and again, with constant regret) and bycicled off in the pleasant sun. September is a terrible month, with the same gentle cruelty Eliot attributed to April. Since Italy basically shuts off for August, coming to a complete and grinding halt while people go and do their thing at the seaside, September sees a coming back to life, which is the same thing, if I'm not mistaken, Eliot blamed April for. For the first week, while shops open up again and the traffic picks up and the incredible abundance of parking spots in the center evaporates, there is a Monday morning gloom in the atmosphere. It's still by all signs summer, it's hot and stuffy and the days are still long, but intermission's over, and from here on it's all a slide towards the long misery of winter.

Then the gloom wears off a little bit, kids go back to school, the pace picks up, and in the long slanted gentle shadows you begin to appreciate the gold in the sun, the soft breath of the wind taking off the bite of the heath, and it's still a month of pleasant evenings out, though you have better take a jacket out now. And the thunderstorms have left off almost completely. It would be a nice period to go to the sea if you could swing it.

It's a good period for the reckoning of what you've lost. Yesterday I went for the first time to the Busonera Hospital, once I think the Sanatorium, and though a friend had prepared me I was still gobsmacked by the rabbits. Rabbits everywhere, lean wary springly beasts eyeing you suspiciously and munching on the grass in the aisles, Richard Adams country. Amazing and marvellous for animal-deprived urban kids like me. I crouched down to get a better look at them. The rabbits, as proper rabbits, sidled off. I wonder where they came from, if they used to be used for something hospital-related and then where freed or escaped. In all this wonder and grace we are both alive, me and the bunnies, and death presses in from all sides. To drive the point in, the TV has started two days ago showing burning buildings and falling people, spreading pomposity and fake sentimentaliy over it all like quicklime. I guess I'm in danger of adding my spadeful.

Yesterday during a nap a voice floated up to me, as things happen to do when you are half-asleep, stretches of fictional dialogue o random noise generated by your subconscious: I cannot talk about September 11, the voice said, a bit baffled. And as a matter of fact, I find it hard to do, for some reason. You think that what you have to say on the Big Solemn Occasion has to be of undying significance, and I don't feel properly up to undying anything right now. So maybe I'll end up posting this late. No big deal.

What I lost then. I lost the Manhattan skyline. Yes, I know, this seems awfully cold, but I'll get to the rest. For now - since it wasn't my neighbourhood and it wasn't my town and none of mine were there, I suffered no personal loss of a tragic nature. But I did lose the Manhattan skyline, for all time and all eternity. I'll never see it again with mine own eyes.

I saw it only once, for no more than a few dozen seconds, a from a long way away. I changed planes at New York to go visit a friend of mine in South Carolina, my only time in the States, and the only glimpse I got of the Famous Skyline was from the airport tarmac. I was sitting by the window in the plane, I pulled up the shade and there it was, black on gold in the sunset, unmistakable, and gosh, it really was like in the pictures. I gazed at it in wonder for about thirty seconds, then the woman sitting on my side growled at me to get the damn shade down that she'd got the sun in her eyes, and I, starteled, obeyed. Shutter down on the Manhattan skyline, well, that Manhattan skyline, for what I fondly thought was only the first time.

I know New Yorkers weren't so thrilled by the design. I liked them, though, perhaps because I saw them from so far away, and I could appreciate their joyous, fearless standing up taller than everything else in sight, and by a good deal, too. It didn't look an arrogant or proud standing to me, it just looked like a perfectly understandable ambition to strike a pose. Besides, I liked the way they unbalanced the profile of the land, introducing verticality were it wasn't supposed to be, introducing stark geometry were only geological fuzziness belonged. They made the horizon look like an ikebana, deliciously antisymmetrical in its paired symmetry. (When the stars threw down their spears, and watered heaven with their tears?)

I'm stupidly sentimental that way. Pulling down building gets at me even when there are no people inside. Were it for me, I'd build them back where they were, how they were. I would very much like to see their serene sharp geometry back. It'd be easier than replacing the Bamyan Buddhas, anyway. It'd easier than replace the people. It would be easier than erase the pain, terror, despair, agony. It all went down and it's buried in the past but it was there and we cannot unlearn it, I cannot unlearn it.

Some things cut at you because they happen to you, to yours. Some things cut at you because you see them. Some things cut at you because you hear them told. Some things cut at you because you're human. Some things cut at you because you are a good human.

The dead get at me a lot less than the dying. They're all dead now but I'm not the only one I guess that keeps imagining them dying. When I see dead, dead people fished from the sea after a wreck of immigrant desperation, dead people plopped down in the dirt shot, I always think of my partner. I always think that for somebody that body is that kind of death. With the dying, I see myself in them, I try to model the terror and the fear, and I guess I'm not the only one, and I guess I'm not the only one to understand that there is an unbridgeable gap between the worst of my imagination and reality, that I can only project about. I prepare my last words - what would you say, and to whom, if you only had five minutes on a phone?

People say horrible things about this, you know. I hear them. They say that too much fuss is being made. They say that they don't care. They remind themselves of the general reckoning of death, of human-inflicted death, and how much larger the toll of non-American still is. This is for me not so much wrong or horrible as beside the point. I don't care what nationality the dead were, I don't even feel the urge to remind people how many were not American to begin with. But the fact is, when you've spent so much time bothering people with the rest of the reckoning, in unsuspicious times, you feel precisely how to bring it up now, just as a way to redress the balance, would be belittling all those other tragedies. Things, like the Manhattan skyline, sometimes are in order even if they are unabalanced, with two sticky bits off to one side. People may bemoan the fact that no candles were burned for Srebrenica or Rwanda, but not me. I did burn them. I did mourn. I did try to get people worked up about it.

When Srebrenica fell I was in my parents' seaside apartment - as it happens, at the thirteenth floor of a smallish skyscarper that looked over the Adriatic. I remember reading the papers on the dining room table, and the fuzzy black and white photo of a woman hanging from a tree. She had hanged herself in the woods, after having gotten away. She was alive and on the way to some sort of miserable but probably safe haven. She had escaped what would turn out to be among the worst massacres in Europe after 1945, and she hadn't wanted to live in the resulting world. The dead one forgets after a while but some sort of dying are harder to dismiss. That silent turning away from what the world had been revealed to be like was ghastlier for me then than murder. A lot less dramatic than jumping from the upper floors of a skyscraper, but it had much the same effect on me.

I was at a graduation party in the evening and I got drunk and I started taking people by the lapels of their coats weeping, telling them that they were cutting people's throats on the other side of the sea from us right at that moment. Nobody was paying my too much mind then, and yes, no candlelight vigils were held, but I did mourn. And now, well - people are finally getting worked up, and I'd be inclined to call it a progress...

Were it not for the fact that I lost - we lost - so much ground. On September the 12th last year I had the usual meeting of my Amnesty group - we meet every Wednesday night, we plan for our modest and locally ineffectual fight and we trade black humor over the nasty surprises the world springs on us. I went, feeling dizzy and dumb, and I realized in a flash that nobody was going to give a flying fuck for human rights from then on. Seeing a lot of human beings dying on live TV wasn't going to awake feelings of fraternity and a new understanding of the precious quality of human life in people, fuck no. Well, perhaps in a few. The ones that already were awake to it before. But for the rest - there was going to be righteous rage, and merciless fear, and if what I cared about was dismissed as hilariously weak before, it was going to be branded downright traitorous now. Death and repression and torture would be welcomed instead of just happily let happen, and never mind that the victims counted the good and the bad, the misguided and the wise, the furious and the grieving. Never mind that humanity was a tresaure for humans, not for this or that national. Never mind. The time in between hasn't done much to prove me wrong.

The one thing it has done is teaching me the kind of fighting resignation that keeps you going. Oh yes, you and humanity spend the ages building, and then some murderous moron comes along and gleefully tears it all down, and calls it heroism. I am not an optimist. I am not a pessimist. I don't think there is a written guarantee in some Cosmic Book of Reckoning that the good, the just, the merciful, will prevail in the end. I don't think there is any malignant intention bending history towards evil. History advances haphazardly, and we can't derive any consolation at the end of our days by any progress made, because it can be lost in the next generation. Not by a will, but by something worse - chance.

You can only build back, and try not to make of the final result the yardstick of your happiness. You put one brick over the other because that's what humans do, and hope that you never find yourself wandering in that wood looking for a way out the unbearable pain of unconsolable grief and irreparable injustice. You shrug and go back to rebuild the wall even if you know you may never see it in your life as high as it was when you got there, though higher than it would be if you didn't. And try to find happiness elsewhere, in the pink glow of some sunsets that make you feel as if somebody switched a huge orange neon tube in the sky overhead, in the wary suspicious rabbits, in figs ripening in unsensitive innocence, in familiar music and new words, and such trivial things.

And yet, I can't understand how people can bear it to go on, how they can find any happiness in the nooks and crannies of the world, in the chinks of the world machine, if they lose sight of the backdrop of pain, if they can't feel the pain of every human beings as their own. It's only the general universal cruel and unfair pointlessness of it all that gives me the space to find solace and purpose. Given how it was unshakable faith in a purpose in the world that made at least some of the aformentioned morons believe that they could strike a great symbolic blow to something or other when they were just killing random people, feeling a vast cosmic pointlessness may make me less deliriously happy, but it sure makes me feel a lot more innocent.

Friday, September 13, 2002

I've been trying to express what I've been musing on these past few days, but it proved more difficult than I anticipated. Meanwhile (through Avedon's SideShow), this seemes to sum it up at least partly.