the_diary_thing

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08.09.02
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"Hurtful? Right there is lie number one -- record companies are never "hurt." They'll do anything and not think twice about who they hurt if it makes money for them. Major record companies do not have feelings. Let's be real and say it like it is; they are cold-hearted impersonal scumbags. Blood does not flow through the veins of record company pigs."

-New York Dolls producer Marty Thau in the tresproducers blog 07/08/02

From one bad mood to another.


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(started 07.16.02 | 10:20pm EST) I'M IN A STRANGE MOOD. I've put this photo on my desktop at work - a Reuters image, full size across a 21" monitor, staring me in the face all day:

the troll of the Fed

There's a running bet around the office as to how long I can stare Alan Greenspan in the eye. The world editor gives me a day; the boss gives me three. I figure if I can make it till next week without seeing that face in my dreams I'm doing okay.

What's interesting to me - as a photographer and a fellow human - is that no light seems to issue from behind the eyes, just a kind of stygian gravity, sucking everything into it, turning day into night. I guess this is what comes of reading too much Ayn Rand.

I figure if I can take a week of Greenspan, I can move on to Maggie Thatcher or Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Putin maybe, or even Robert Mugabe. I think after 38 years on the planet it's time I really contemplated evil instead of just deploring it with the same, tired assumption of moral superiority that we mistake for virtue. It's either that or getting satellite t.v.

Speaking of Mugabe, there's a photo of him on Reuters today, visiting Fidel Castro in Havana. What on earth could they be talking about? It's too much to imagine them sharing pointers on how they're ruining their countries, or buttering each other up on the finer points thereof:

one bloodsucker to another

A LITTLE CHAT FROM HELL
a short play by Rick McGinnis

Castro

You're batting .300 these days, Roberto. A couple of years ago I had you pegged as a lackey of the imperialists, all that bullshit about fair elections and the like. But you've really turned it around lately, my friend. Cheers!

Mugabe

Thank you, Fidel. You know, I really believed in all that democracy crap for a month or so, but then I realized that, any way it turned out, I'd be out of a job sooner or later and, frankly, what was I gonna do? I mean, could you imagine me sitting around some fucking golf course with Ian Smith, sharing war stories and lime daiquiris? What a sad little circle jerk that would be! I mean, really, kill me now. Not that I've got anything against Ian. I mean, I'd rather be locked in a five-by-nine foot cell with him than that old pussy Mbeki any day!

Castro

I have to admit to a bit of envy, you nasty old cocksucker. You're really drawing out the whole farm confiscation thing longer than anyone imagined - it's like watching a really great porno. I was telling Raul the other day that it brought back memories. Damn, the best week of my life was reading the Yanqui newspapers when I nationalized the banana plantations and tobacco farms. I used to lay awake at nights imagining the hole that I was burning through John Foster Dulles' stomach!

Mugabe

I know - it's fucking great! You should have seen the look on Mandela's face last week in Durban. He'd love to rip my head off and piss down the hole, but he's got to keep up the whole saint trip. You know, "Ooh, look at me, I'm Nelson Mandela! I ended apartheid! I'm so fucking special! I'm more Gandhi than Gandhi, I don't have to wear no fucking diaper and I even got rid of my old bitch of a wife!" What a fucking old fruit. It was priceless, man, priceless!

Castro

Oh, I envy you Roberto, I really do. I mean, I'd love to confiscate something from somebody around here, but what the hell can I do? I - or the people, I should say of course - already own everything. Hell, the sugar market's down the pisser so I had to shut down half the cane plantations this year - I'm telling you, I sometimes wish that I'd payed attention in Econ 101 instead of cutting classes to play baseball and chase pussy in Vedado. I mean, I guess I could give the plantations to Raul and confiscate them from him, throw him in prison for a year just for the fuck of it, but that wouldn't be much fun at all, you know what I mean?

FIN

I'd love to be a fly on the wall there, I really would. I mean, the whole contemplating evil thing, right? Just this week, Havana's probably ground zero for that sort of thing. (finished 09:06pm EST | 07.16.02)

It took me almost a month to write this entry. I've been busy with the movieblog, it's true, but the subject that I took on, inspired by a rush of sarcasm - the misery and hopelessness of a whole continent - utterly defeated me. Articulating an opinion was a lot less easy than just narrating my banal week in retrospect. I've developed a solemn admiration for anybody who grapples with this hopeless subject day after day. And that's nothing compared to the pity I can't help but feel for the millions who live with it.

"We're lucky people," my wife likes to say whenever news of something particularly awful makes its way to us through the t.v. or the morning newspaper. No kidding. I'm warning you, this is a bitter slice of my mind on offer - three weeks or so of pondering bad government and the failure of diplomacy. Cyanide pills are available on the way out.


 
 
 
 
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CONSUME

Martin Gilbert, Israel: A History buy it

The Strokes, Is This It? buy it


I know, I know, I'm late - terribly late - on the whole Strokes thing. Give me a break - I turned 38 last month, and I'm no longer anyone's prize demographic for anything but Viagra and colonoscopies. I have, on the other hand, been playing this record twice a day, if I play it once. Of course, I remember when this kind of stuff - retropunk, '77 style - was new, but in lieu of any new Television records, this will do nicely.

And I've been ashamed, actually, about how little I know about Israel, apart from vague, possibly secondhand memories of cute girl Haganah soldiers in shorts and work shirts, so the Gilbert book - and a whole stack of others - are my penance.

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(started 07.17.02 | 09:33pm EST) MORE NIGHTMARE KLEPTOCRATS on parade. A photo of Muammar Qaddafi with Malawi's president, Bhakile Muluzi, doing the crypto-military thing on Qaddafi's whirlwind tour of southern African basketcase states like Swaziland (where King Mswati is buying a 31 million, Canadian-made, private jet, twice the national health budget of a country where one in three adults have AIDS), Mozambique (which owes Qadaffi US$140 million which it can't pay back, so you know he got to keep his hotel bathrobe) and Malawi (which sold off its grain reserves last year - they say the IMF told them to do it - and can't account for where the money went.) All of these countries, by the way, are on the verge of a famine that the WHO estimates could kill 60 million people. Not that you can tell by looking at the fine tailored suits wrapped around the bellies of Mr. Muluzi, or King Mswati, or Mozambique's President Chissano.

(Almost three weeks pass at this point, as some casual research into international aid spins me into a depression and I'm unable to write a thing in this journal. I'm sorry, but I bit off more than I could chew, morale-wise, with this subject. "Big picture" subjects with no apparent hope of resolution tend not to trip off the fingertips, so to speak. Maybe I should stick to writing about prostate exams.)

No place in the world invites hopelessness as readily as Africa. As I write this, white farmers in Zimbabwe have days left before the deadline Mugabe has imposed on them - they have to vacate their farms, with no compensation, in order for the wicked old freedom-fighter-turned-despot to turn the land over to his supporters and cronies. A whole growing season has been lost, and years of management expertise in industrial farming is about to be lost. Regardless of what you think of the regime that encouraged white ownership of most of the arable land in former Rhodesia - a miserable legacy from which to govern a country, but one that would, with time, have been mitigated - there's no denying that Mugabe's tactics stink of opportunism, of scapegoating, of a short-term political fix at the potential cost of thousands of lives.

The only silver lining to the final expulsion of the white farmers is that when things go wrong - as they no doubt will - Mugabe will have no one left to blame. Of course, thousands will die that way as well, violently, probably, and not slowly, by starvation. It's a mercy so negligible as to be no mercy at all. I can only hope there's a hell in store for someone willing to inflict such misery in the name of power.

Of course, there's plenty of blame to go around. Almost fifty years ago, in the waning days of the colonial powers, the Bandung Conference of "non-aligned countries" (non-alignment is one of those political terms that meant everything in 1955 when leaders like Tito and Nasser used it, and almost nothing nowadays) tried to forge a kind of commonwealth of mutual aid for what they knew were difficult times ahead. Aid ended up, ironically, coming mostly from the west and former colonial powers, and the political future of too many of the delegates at Bandung was one of warfare, assasination, exile and misery. It's a sort of irony that someone like conservative apostate writer Paul Johnson (socialist turned conservative) can turn into a wholesale indictment of "the Bandung Generation":

"The second fallacy or disease which Nkrumah (and others) contracted at Bandung, which operated as a mutual-admiration society, was the notion that the emergence of the new nations from the malign process of "underdevelopment" required leadership by charismatic personalities. This idea was implicit in Leninism, which endowed vanguard elites (and their guiding spirit) with quasi-sacral insights into the historical process. It was also implicit in Ghandhiism, which gave a determining political role to the self-elect "holy man" and was a primary influence on the Bandung generation. Nehru, Sukarno, U Nu, and then Nasser and Nkruman - and many others - were not just political leaders: they were spiritual leaders too, in the sense that the nation incarnated the spiritual yearnings of a people, and the "liberators" incarnated the nation."

- Paul Johnson, Modern Times

Lately, Johnson has (inevitably, for an Englishman) become an old Tory poot - an especially tiresome one these days, increasing the sum total of boredom in the world with his endless Spectator columns about old master landsapes and painting in the Swiss alps - whose opinions are best taken leavened with a ten-pound salt-lick. His version of latter-day Africa history is a devil's advocate kind of take which has an audience among neocons under thirty, conservatives over sixty, and bitter enclaves of Afrikaaner, Brit and French ex-colonial stalwarts who actually read, and who make sure they only bring it up when no "kaffirs", "wogs" or "negres" are around. Taking it seriously in public is the equivalent of buying lifetime seats at history's bear-baiting arena - ugly, pointless, shortsighted and socially incorrect. Imagine finding anything bad to say about Ghandi!

But, alas, he's right on this one, but he wasn't the first person to notice that African strongman kleptocracies and righteous "people's regimes" quickly learned to play the west like a harp by soliciting aid money that went into high-profile projects like dams and steel mills instead of agriculture and education - slow-earners without flash or monumental appeal, a UN-approved version of the Great Leap Forward. Times have changed, and schools and farms are legitimate aid targets again, but only after filling the landscape of Africa with pointless dams, empty high-rises and derelict steel mills, like the one in Dar Es Salaam mentioned in this New Republic piece. It only took a few decades, and the loss of millions of lives, but who's counting, especially south of the Sahara?

What's really ironic - and possibly a sign of hope - is the say that George W. Bush has gone against every previously stated position his administration has ever made and promised to increase aid to the "developing world". What's even more astounding is that Senator Jesse Helms - frightened, like all of us, by the grim turn the world has taken in the last year, and perhaps even persuaded to uncharacteristic altruism by his own impending mortality - has supported the idea, reversing a lifetime of opposition to foreign aid.

At the same time that foreign aid has developed some unexpected converts, it has developed opponents on the anti-globalization left, who regard it - and the IMF and World Bank strings that often go along with it - as a contributing factor to widening inequality between rich and poor countries, indeed something of a conspiracy to maintain that gap. It's a creative abdication of logic - the equivalent of accusing a rich man of paying someone to squander that money, haunt your conscience and, eventually, plot your destruction out of a simmering resentment that you've funded - but the nightmare world of global politics has always encouraged fantastic scenarios, especially when some of them have turned out to be true. If genocide and peacekeeping is the "problem from hell", then foreign aid and economic intervention is a problem from purgatory, a different, duller, more seemingly endless kind of hell.

A glance at the numbers is both horrifying and hopeful. One third of the $8 billion dollars of World Bank funds given to Indonesia since 1960 have been embezzled; 1.2 billion people live on less than a dollar a day; the world's three riches individuals are worth more than the 48 poorest countries. At the same time, global adult literacy has gone from 47 to 73 percent in thirty years; it took a century and a half for the average lifespan of a European to grow from four decades to six, while it only took four decades to manage the same thing in the developing world; aid in the form of agricultural technology has increased grain harvests in a country like India almost sixfold since the early 1960s. Malthusian zero-sum theories of global famine and "population bombs" predicted by Paul Erlich and books like Famine 1975! have been mercifully disproved. And yet...

Sometime yesterday, in the early evening, the deadline for the eviction of all white farmers from Zimbabwe passed. There have been editorials and op-ed pieces, but there's no news yet - like any awful little thug, Mugabe will wait as long as he can before he's sure he can get away with it, but when he's sure, he'll unleash more horrors. It should make the back pages of the front sections of the papers by the weekend, and maybe deliver a few Reuters photos to my desktop by the time I'm back at work on Sunday. It sounds all sane and fine for a liberal magazine like The New Republic to defend the successes of foreign aid, and hopeful when a conservative one like the National Review urges aid be given - but only when a country and its government make concrete steps toward reducing corruption and autocracy - instead of dismissing the whole idea out of hand.

We have, hopefully, finally reached the stage where finger-pointing and scouring history for blame can be put aside, the job at hand finally so looming that something - anything - needs be done. What makes me sad is that I've used the word "hope" - alone, or as part of words like "hopeful" or "hopeless" - almost a dozen times in this entry without for a minute imagining that there's any at all. I want to be proved wrong, more desperately than I've ever wanted to be wrong about anything before.

One thing's for sure, though. Nothing will change until Mugabe is gone. (finished 02:57pm EST | 08.09.02)

I only wish I'd put a copyright on the whole fucking Irrational Exhuberance thing, I'll tell ya.

(started 07.17.02 | 09:33pm EST) THE FIRST THING I'M DOING when I get back to work on Sunday is change my desktop. I've been staring at Greenspan for almost a month and that's probably thirty days too many. A week away from the first real vacation K. and I have taken in years, and I'm as morbid as an undertaker at a church fire. I have got to lighten up sometime soon. (finished 03:10pm EST | 08.09.02)


Robert Ward, Virgin Trails buy it

IT'S FINALLY OUT! A couple of summers ago, I travelled with Robert "los Bob" Ward through north and central Spain, and I can say that, among the man's other virtues, he's an impeccable travel companion. His book will let you share the experience of travelling with "los Bob", along the pilgrimage routes of Europe. A really amazing read.

Dennis Bock, The Ash Garden buy it

Another book by a friend. A novel about the bomb, among other things. It's still there, hanging over everything, despite every attempt to pretend that, along with the wall, if just went away ten years ago.

Martin Parr, Boring Postcards USA buy it

Exactly what the title describes, and my favorite "art book" in a couple of years. A perfect coffee table book, for very small coffee tables.

Daniel Yergin & Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights buy it

A "big picture" book, about the last century of economic history. Told as a conflict of economic faiths - Keynes vs. Hayek, Galbraith vs. Friedman, "planning" vs. "market". The basis of a really excellent PBS series, and one of the most entertaining books of its type in years.

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