Yes, The New Yorker
I've been subscribing to the New Yorker for years. Sometimes I wonder why. They actually supported the American invasion/destruction of Iraq in 2003; these days, they seem to think we're on the road to economic recovery, that the Obama $12-trillion bailout of the banks (i.e., the rich) makes sense, and that no fundamental restructuring of the U.S. economy (i.e. capitalism) is called for. What can one say. But once in a while, they catch me by surprise, and this happened during the last three issues: Jan. 4, 11, and 18. In a nation of dolts, a few little points of light. Let me be specific.
From the issue of Jan. 4, "Shouts and Murmers" column by Paul Slansky, we learn the following:
1. After watching a tape of his guest Michael Moore singing "the Times They Are A-Changing," Larry King asked him if he wrote the song.
2. A health-care-reform protester brandished a copy of what he called "the U.S.S. Constitution".
3. The mayor of Baltimore [Sheila Dixon, Democrat] was convicted of taking gift cards intended for poor children and using them to buy electronic gadgets for herself.
4. A Missouri legislator [State Rep. Cynthia Davis, Republican] suggested that a food program for low-income children was expendable, because "hunger can be a positive motivator." (You need to google this, folks; her face is really the face of America. I also have the impression she doesn't herself miss too many meals.)
From the issue of Jan. 11, article by John Cassidy, "After the Blowup":
1. Cassidy interviewed Eugene Fama, the Robert R. McCormick Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, regarding the crash of late 2008. Prof. Fama told Cassidy, "I don't know what a credit bubble means." "We don't know what causes recessions." He added that the mortgage collapse "was a government failure; that was not a failure of the market." Basically, he feels that the market is sound and self-regulating.
2. Then Cassidy went next door to Fama's son-in-law, John Cochrane. Cochrane explained that the cause of the 2008 crash was Obama getting on TV in Sept. of 2008 and announcing that the financial markets were near collapse.
3. He then went one floor upstairs to talk with Raghuram Rajan, one of the few scholars who warned about the coming crash as early as 2005, pointing to deregulation and trading in complex financial products as red flags. Senior Fed officials and prominent economists dismissed this as alarmist, and Larry Summers (now Obama's top economic adviser) said that this kind of talk supported "a wide variety of misguided policy impulses." (Rajan had in fact been the chief economist at the IMF from 2003 to 2006.)
These are good examples of something we've discussed on this blog before: folks with high IQ's being morons. Robert McNamara had a high IQ, and was a complete idiot (something he basically admitted before he died--too bad it took so long, he could have spared us Vietnam); and a war criminal to boot. The same can be said of Dick Cheney. Fama, Cochrane, and Summers are undoubtedly brilliant; they are also little more than buffoons. It's kind of interesting, reading Cassidy's interviews and hearing these educated clowns staring reality in the face and denying it. (Not unrelated to all of this is the Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi on Goldman Sachs; posted 2 July 2009 at rollingstone.com; quintessential reading, amigos).
Moving on to the Jan. 18 issue, an article by Claudia Roth Pierpont called "Found in Translation." This is about contemporary Arabic literature, something Americans couldn't care less about. (Shit, they couldn't care less about American literature, who are we kidding?) In general, as Henry Kissinger once pointed out (and he was one to talk, eh?), Americans aren't interested in non-American points of view. They certainly aren't interested in how they are seen from the outside (see my previous post). But Ms. Pierpont does a good job of taking us into books that deal with the living realities of our "enemies": Alaa Al Aswany's "The Yacoubian Building"; Elias Khoury's "Gate of the Sun"; Ghassan Kanafi's "Palestine's Children"; and a few others of note. They are windows on a rich and complex world, and personally, I look forward to reading them.
And speaking of an impoverished and simplistic world, let me reprint the poem by Campbell McGrath in the Jan. 11 issue, entitled "Shopping for Pomegranates at Wal-Mart on New Year's Day":
Beneath a ten-foot-tall apparition of Frosty the Snowman
with his corncob pipe and jovial, over-eager, button-black eyes,
holding, in my palm, the leathery, wine-colored purse
of a pomegranate, I realize, yet again, that America is a country
about which I understand everything and nothing at all,
that this is life, this ungovernable air
in which the trees rearrange their branches, season after season,
never certain which configuration will bear the optimal yield
of sunlight and water, the enabling balm of nutrients,
that so, too, do Wal-Mart’s ferocious sales managers
relentlessly analyze their end-cap placement, product mix,
and shopper demographics, that this is the culture
in all its earnestness and absurdity, that it never rests,
that each day is an eternity and every night is New Year’s Eve,
a cavalcade of B-list has-beens entirely unknown to me,
needy comedians and country singers in handsome Stetsons,
sitcom stars of every social trope and ethnic denomination,
pugilists and oligarchs, femmes fatales and anointed virgins
throat-slit in offering to the cannibal throng of Times Square.
Who are these people? I grow old. I lie unsleeping
as confetti falls, ash-girdled, robed in sweat and melancholy,
click-shifting from QVC to reality TV, strings of commercials
for breath freshener, debt reconsolidation, a new car
lacking any whisper of style or grace, like a final fetid gasp
from the lips of a dying Henry Ford, potato-faced actors
impersonating real people with real opinions
offered forth with idiot grins in the yellow, herniated studio light,
actual human beings, actual souls bought too cheaply.
That it never ends, O Lord, that it never ends!
That it is relentless, remorseless, and it is on right now.
That one sees it and sees it but sometimes it sees you, too,
cowering in a corner, transfixed by the crawler for the storm alert,
home videos of faces left dazed by the twister, the car bomb,
the war always beginning or already begun, always
the special report, the inside scoop, the hidden camera
revealing the mechanical lives of the sad, inarticulate people
we have come to know as “celebrities.”
Who assigns such value, who chose these craven avatars
if not the miraculous hand of the marketplace,
whose torn cuticles and gaudily painted fingernails resemble nothing
so much as our own? Where does the oracle reveal our truths
more vividly than upon that pixillated spirit glass
unless it is here, in this tabernacle of homely merchandise,
a Copernican model of a money-driven universe
revolving around its golden omphalos, each of us summed
and subtotalled, integers in an equation of need and consumption,
desire and consummation, because Hollywood had it right all along,
the years are a montage of calendar pages and autumn leaves,
sheet music for a nostalgic symphony of which our lives comprise
but single trumpet blasts, single notes in the hullabaloo,
or even less—we are but motes of dust in that atmosphere
shaken by the vibrations of time’s imperious crescendo.
That it never ends, O Lord. That it goes on,
without pause or cessation, without pity or remorse.
That we have willed it into existence, dreamed it into being.
That it is our divine monster, our factotum, our scourge.
That I can imagine nothing more beautiful
than to propitiate such a god upon the seeds of my own heart.
And so there we have it, my friends: X-rays of the American soul. It can only get worse, as (most) readers of this blog well know. Let's hope the New Yorker will be around to document the vacuity, the ignorance, and the continuing descent. If we are going to commit suicide (and we are), might as well do it with our eyes open, don't you think?