Author: Ezra Jones

A man who likes cheese. Born and raised in southeastern Massachusetts, Mr. Jones found no sense of meaning to the existence of the area (nor saw a future for his generation there), and left at the first opportunity. After spending a couple quiet years at Ithaca College, he traveled for a year before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area for five years. Among other things, he worked in the tech industry, served in the trenches of the Occupy movement (and witnessed its triumph and immediate collapse in Oakland firsthand), rediscovered art, and wrote for the news and views. The last person of a creative mass exodus who also forgot to turn out the lights, Mr. Jones now lives in the Chicagoland area, where he may or may not be teaching.

Market panic attack, Greek edition

Never have I seen Wall Street and the stock markets this scared in my life, in anyone’s lifetime. You don’t see it in the numbers or trades, but in the periphery, the things they talk about. They’ve realized that people are starting to notice a detachment between how the markets work and how reality works. You see the paranoia in Greece and Spain. Something’s coming for them, not in the way they wanted to.

Karl Polanyi, that venerable economist, once referred to the economy as merely another social institution. Social institutions last only as long as the people believe in them. What we have seen in the past couple is an indication that people are slowly starting to the realize that the market economy, by default, does not benefit them but benefits from them. When they stop believing in the market, it starts to really panic.

The market economy has become the golden idol of the mainstream left and right since the hammer and sickle fell from the Kremlin, and loyalty to its whims is the truest symbol of elitism there is. There’s a reason the term “caviar socialist” exists, after all. But when the market, in its Molochian chaos, decides to step on a nation, the situation tends to not end very well for it.

Greece will be the first example of this. Today, the general election triggered by the Hellenic Parliament’s refusal to elect Wall Street/World Bank fat cat Stavros Dimas into the sinecure position of President will bring about a massive change. For the first time, a leftist party not directed by a single Marxist idea but rather broad range of thinking will enter government. The Coalition of the Radical Left, known by its Greek shorthand SYRIZA, will win the election. It’s only uncertain just how much.

The handwringing I noticed in the weeks leading up to this election reflects the paranoia of the markets. The Independent, that piece of toilet paper that happily wipes the ass of the market after it shits, called SYRIZA, a legitimate political party that has been in existence for more than two decades and has no militant wing to speak of, “rebels,” and its leader Alexis Tsipras a communist Harry Potter. Some call that “cheeky British humor.” I call that “pissing in your trousers.”

Bloomberg, run by a man who practically played a lapdog to Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan while he was Mayor of New York during Occupy, wasn’t that much better. It has flustered at the thought of SYRIZA winning the election, but at least acknowledged it happening. But it tried to soothe old Dimon and his gang of losers first by saying that former political scion George Papandreou’s new party To Kinima would prevent the markets from being troubled. Once it realized that Papandreou was merely leeching off voters of the sclerotic Panhellenic Socialist Movement/PASOK, it, along with the Financial Times, fawned over Stavros Theodorakis’ To Potami as being a “kingmaker” that will tame SYRIZA’s supposed ambitions. Now they’re saying that Tsipras might find it easier to have a coalition partner, simply because he can backpedal on his rhetoric. As if he has to do that. It’s laughable, really.

What the markets fail to realize is that a lot of this is their doing. Greece is in a mess because the markets begged for them to act like Americans upon joining the Euro, along with taking a sour bet by running a Summer Olympics that will take as much time to pay off as the Vietnam War. Then, when it was clear that this was a terrible idea, they expected the country to turn arch-conservative with its finances.

These efforts at market excess were curried by the elites, led by PASOK and the conservative New Democracy. It is elite by every standard: Papandreou is a member of a dynasty that dates back to the first Prime Minister after liberation from the Germans, and whose father was the first socialist PM in Greece after the end of the junta in the 60s and 70s. His family had emigrated to America before he was born, only to immigrate back when it seemed like a good idea. He was roommates at Amherst with his eventual rival and current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Both went on to even more elite schools after that: Papandreou to the London School of Economics because they tend to shun foreigners at Oxbridge, Samaras to Harvard. How posh can you get?

So it’s obvious that the power structure, despite looking like there’s some political spectrum, was built entirely on keeping the markets happy. While the Greeks enjoyed somewhat decent economic growth bolstered partly by the Olympic Games, ND cooked the books and PASOK allowed it to happen, creating an illusion of glory. The establishment had it under control, with the only release valves being the Communists under Joseph Stalin and the Popular Orthodox Rally.

Then the banks of Wall Street overcooked their books and screwed everyone over.

When Papandreou came to power in 2009, his lieutenant, the somewhat less posh Evangelios Venezelos, discovered the cooked books. The PM announced the problem and tried to get it under control, but this being the Great Recession, the odds of that happening were similar to finding water in California these days. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, the Greeks became the storied boogeymen that were out to destroy the somehow already haggard European Union, setting off a chain of bailouts on the continental periphery. It was only by imposing severe and draconian austerity measures that supposedly were in the best interests of the Greeks that the continent was saved. The country was expected to become Germany, and suffer while they do so. The markets were relieved.

This latter narrative is what the markets, and the EU, would like to believe. In the country itself, however, we see a different narrative: If you aren’t in the elite, chances are you’re unemployed, or you know a friend who was. Maybe you know some friends who are homeless and are transient, especially if you’re young. If you have a job, you took a massive pay cut back in 2011 if you were lucky enough not to get laid off. You feel worthless. You don’t need to go far to know that, outside of your country, your nationality is now an epithet for sloth and dubiousness.

The markets, symbolized by the Euro, had betrayed you. Economists would say you deserve it, citing the overwrought Summer Olympics and that you have a hard time paying taxes. But those excuses can only last so long. While you don’t hate Europe, you don’t like the fact that it’s stepping on your head for something you don’t entirely control.

More importantly, the establishment betrayed you. PASOK first, then ND. Sure, Samaras put up a nice facade at first, attacking the bailouts and throwing out one of his most significant rivals in the party for daring to support them. But when push came to shove, he turned heel the moment it became clear that his continued control of the country would count on it. So both parties are still shamelessly praying to the golden idol.

The feeling of anti-establishment thinking has never been stronger in Greece. And there are few people who come close to leading that sentiment than Alexis Tsipras. Born mere days after the fascist junta fell, he’s as anti-elite as they come: Local to Athens, his parents were from the countryside. While active in politics, he studied engineering at a great local university and worked in construction for a while.

Tsipras has come to represent a unique strain of leftist thinking: One built on the diversity of opinion rather than a singular agenda. Unlike the American left, overtaken by social radicals intent on squabbling over who is the biggest victim in the room, he’s kept everyone on the same page. After all, everyone in the room is equally in the room is a victim, for they are Greeks beaten down by the bean-counters in Brussels and New York as well as the elites in PASOK and ND.

He cuts himself as young (only 40), charming and cunning. But more importantly, he’s actually competent as a leader: With such strains of thinking as classical Marxism, Trotskyism, feminism, ecosocialism, eurocommunism, even super minor strains of leftist thought like Luxembergism, you would think that SYRIZA wouldn’t last a few weeks as a small group, let alone 10 years as an electoral coalition and political entity. But that is a testament to Tsipras’ leadership.

He’s also a fighter, and that’s what makes him dangerous. Rather simply making a case on being a leftist party, he turned this election and the previous two into a referendum on the euro that has been stepping on them. Just by being that alone and unique in how they handle it was SYRIZA able to take over PASOK as not only the party of the left but also a legitimate alternative to what had been standard European politics.

It’s important to understand this election is not a referendum on the European Union. Outside of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, the nationalist Independent Greeks and one or two factions of SYRIZA, everyone in Greece wants to stay in Europe. Their problem has never really been with Europe as a whole. The problem is the market economy that seems intent on ensuring the only thing Greece is allowed to do is suffer. It’s just that SYRIZA is more willing to let an exit from the euro be an option than anyone else in the room, and that’s what scares the markets. It means the Greeks don’t believe in them anymore.

Which brings me to To Potami, or The River. The current estimates are saying that SYRIZA will be a few seats short of an absolute majority (though it’s possible that they could still get it, especially if the Independent Greeks don’t get enough votes), meaning they will need to partner with another party to run the government. Golden Dawn is out of the question, the Independent Greeks are bit too rightist for their own good (though they could still join on a patriotic front), and the Communists are still run by Joseph Stalin.

Which leaves To Potami, run by talk show host Theodorakis. People are making them out to be some form of “taming” force because SYRIZA will need the votes, and To Potami would rather stay on the euro. The problem is that they are not taking into account a couple key points:

  1. Theodorakis and Tsipras are closer in belief on the bailout documents that have been harming Greece than most believe,
  2. Theodorakis has no political experience whatsoever.

The last two TV personalities that started a political party and entered a democratic parliament were Beppe Grillo in Italy and Yair Lapid in Israel. The former has let his 5-Star Movement self-immolate due to Occupy-level infighting, while the latter was eating out of Bibi Netanyahu’s hand until he realized the food was shit and called his Yesh Atid out of the Knesset. Both are polling poorly now. The odds are likely that Tsipras could easily outplay Theodorakis. If the former can control a bunch of Trotskyists and feminists with giant egos, what’s one talk show host?

ND will not win reelection this time around, that much is certain despite bailed out Goldman Sachs’ claims to the contrary. They betrayed the populace, and their partners will be either non-existent (the Democratic Left) or close to it (PASOK). They were very close to defeat the last time, and were likely only saved because their friends in Brussels still had some sway over the populace. Not anymore.

So what happens after the election? Things get fun. Over the course of the election campaign, outsiders from Europe, including World Bank snout and EU prez Jean-Claude Juncker, had made the ever ominous elitist threat that they “hope” the Greeks will make the “right decision.” ECB president Mario Draghi has threatened to prevent access to the way-too-late quantitative easing program if SYRIZA dares to try to move the foot off the country’s head.

However, the last time the Greeks were asked to be treated like this, their response was a rather simple one: “όχι!”

No wonder you can smell the markets’ fear.

(Image source)

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Intellectual bankruptcy, gaming, and schmuckbait

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s possible to create a schmuckbait-to-thinkpiece conversion ratio. It plays to both sides of the cultural political debate: Just find one thing that triggers a person, and they write some longform piece that is all about “THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYTHING.” Sometimes, they even throw in some intellectual criticism as though to settle the score in a smart way. It’s fun, fascinating, and you can probably make a drinking game or bingo or both about whatever cultural tragedy du jour is a meme. And really, that’s what memes that trigger emotions are: Schmuckbait. We’ll be getting to our colleague and latest victim to this in a moment.

Given that I’ve recently acquired a Nintendo DS and have been playing the Zelda games on there with some enthusiasm after having been consoleless since 2007, you might think I have some opinions on #GamerGate/#GameOverGate/Zoe Quinn. I actually don’t, really. Been too busy living off Twitter lately (though a rebirth is in order). But more importantly, I’ve come to understand that once you bring gamers into an argument, you might as well take your ball and go play elsewhere before they start calling you a faggot who likes to be fudgepacked by niggers in the ass (redundancy intentional) or a camwhore slut who deserves to be raped and murdered (and lord help you if you’re non-white or TG). Why? Simple:

A group gathering on the Internet + anonymity and/or lack of consequences = High chance someone’s going to act like a fuckwad.

We who have had enough experience in the gaming business refer to this as the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, or the GIFT. Supposedly devised either by Jerry Holkins or Mike Krahuliak (I think the former, since the latter just seems to have intellectual Tourette’s), it explains why most Internet discourse ends up turning into a shitstorm, more than anything else.  Gamers just happen to be specialists at this because, well, hormones + competitiveness + overstimulation = mental vomit. While this matter has long been limited to the forums and other dank locations of the Internet, Twitter and Tumblr and other social outlets have caused the GIFT to be amplified by 1800 decibels. It’s enough to punch out a black hole the size of the Solar System. Why? Our inane propensity to share things as though they were shiny. Even if it’s our own dick pix.

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Ruminations and persuasion

Around this time 73 years ago, the Prime Minister of Japan, Fumimaro Konoe, had been in constant talks with the Emperor, at the time the head of state and military.  While Konoe was no squish in terms of nationalism, he also saw the then-developing idea from the Imperial Japanese Army of a preemptive strike against the United States as a bad idea: They did not have the resources to conduct a three-front war over China/Korea, southeast Asia, and the Pacific, especially with the third front being opposed by an enemy not bound to any war and having far more manpower and materials to use against them.  It is in fact the reason they avoided war with Soviet Union at the time, even when the latter was invaded by the Third Reich the same year.

The American government was predictably angry at the time of the “southern strategy” being used by the IJA and Imperial Japanese Navy, and wanted attacks against Dutch and British colonies to cease, or they would move to war.  Konoe did not want that, but, as the fall turned colder, it seemed nobody in the Japanese government was particularly interested in what he had to say, despite being the head of the government.  The Showa Emperor was initially on his side, even arguing against his chiefs of staff over the fact that despite predictions of finishing up in three months, it had been four years since the invasion of China began with little headway against the united Nationalist-Communist army.  But then he too began ignoring Konoe.  In October, the last shot at negotiations failed, possibly sabotaged by certain military figures, and Konoe resigned.  Six weeks later, the Empire of Japan began its slow demise with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Asked to explain what happened, Konoe said this to his secretary:

“Of course His Imperial Majesty is a pacifist and he wished to avoid war. When I told him that to initiate war was a mistake, he agreed. But the next day, he would tell me: ‘You were worried about it yesterday, but you do not have to worry anymore.’ Thus, gradually he began to lead to war. And the next time I met him, he leaned even more to war. I felt the Emperor was telling me: ‘My prime minister does not understand military matters. I know much more.’ In short, the Emperor had absorbed the view of the army and the navy high commands.”

I think of this in the speech I heard last night.

At a time when the anticapitalist left and the traditionalist/libertarian right are in agreement on not having any further involvement in the Levant, knowing fully well the consequences of what will happen, it seems like nobody inside the Beltway seems particularly interested in listening to them, or the American people.  And just as well: Neither side, due to pure ideological spite, seems to have been persuaded not to join forces for risk of being “tainted” by the other side.  Thus, the Beltway gets further insulated from any outside opposition to this madness.

So then…who exactly are these people listening to?

The white radical’s burden

It’s rather fascinating to see the social radicals fight amongst themselves. Hilarious, even. Especially when it turns into a high school gossip match.

That is one takeaway from the “backlash” that spouted from Michelle Goldberg’s recent New Yorker piece, “What Is A Woman?”  While I haven’t read the piece in full, there are definitely some moments of introspection here and there mixed with some intellectual sloppiness (but then, social radical thinking was always filled with that).  It’s not a great piece, but it’s definitely readable, all things considered.  It’s one of those rare moments where the “radical” feminists actually take a look at themselves and say, “The fuck are we doing?”  It comes at a time when the radfems (such a dumb name) are really at odds with what social media has done to them: Creating nihilistic pursuits of ideological purity through groupthink combined with incentivized “sharing.”  But more on that in a moment.

More interesting in all this is not Goldberg’s piece, but responses from various “radical” transgender sources. Autostraddle, a “intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressively feminist online community” that is neither smart, funny, nor challenging or stimulating (but then I don’t watch television and film), dropped a turd of an article whose title basically states its own weakness:

“The New Yorker’s Skewed History of Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism Ignores Actual Trans Women”

Putting aside the fact that headline is incredibly long and ostentatious, it shows that the writer (some nerd who probably failed journalism class named Mari Brighe) is too busy focusing on their own personalized agenda to notice that they sound incredibly stupid when they say these things.  I mean, if it’s about these so-called TERFs – which, by the way, even my friends in the Down’s community called a retarded acronym – why would they discuss trans people in any great length?

Brighe tries to make a case about how awful Goldberg is:

Let’s start with the numbers. In the piece, Goldberg mentions the names of 14 radical feminist activists (frequently providing physical descriptions), and provides quotes from nine of them — including two from books penned by radfems. In contrast, she mentions and quotes a total of four trans women (zero from books), and two of them are quoted to supporting the radical feminist position.

Forgive me if I stopped after the first sentence. You’re forgiven if you’ve done the same: Slights disguised as statistics do not an analysis make. Utter nonsense. Maybe nausea, but that could just be because I haven’t eaten yet today.

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Violence as a matter of scale

It’s interesting what happens when you see two nations, diverse and distinct as they can be, interact. A minor hostile interaction can tend to escalate very quickly if you let it. When all you have is emotions and pure instinct to go by, a slight can become a fistfight very quickly. That goes with people. Communities. Nations.

Conflict takes a lot to inspire these days, but it’s far easier to incite it as the number of people you need to provoke grows ever smaller. It’s made all the more so when you see the other as not just some other person, but as something else. If you think that Other person isn’t respecting you and your space in that moment, what do you do? Are you calm enough to let it slide? Do you run away, as some would argue here? Or do you fight?

It’s admittedly strange to compare violent conflicts of recent, especially because the reasons and methods are so diverse, and because sounds so simplistic. But applying the economics of scale, you become more appreciative of what is happening from a holistic perspective, even you don’t have a complete understanding of things. In two such conflicts, the lack of clarity makes a comparison apt. When you have two distinct groupings, clarity is beyond important when a mistake is made in interaction. Sometimes, that requires patience.

Three teenagers kidnapped and killed. Or maybe they were killed already, and the butchers had made a large mess in the clear-up. Or maybe they were kidnapped and accidentally killed. The killers are (not) state-mandated terrorists. Or they’re (not) militants associated with the government. Or they’re (not) just a bunch of morons with AK-47s and some unabashed sense of righteousness. Or the leadership admitted their (non) role in the situation.

A teenager is shot and killed. Maybe he was (not) a suspect in a robbery. Maybe he was (not) reaching for a cop’s a gun. Maybe he was (not) picking a fight. Maybe he just said (did not say) “fuck off, pig” with his hands up. The cop’s a rookie. The cop’s a veteran. The cop is (not) hiding something. The cop is (not) hiding. There are (no) death threats.

All this information is as much a jumble as the items found in a trash can. Yet we seek to answer this slight as fast we can. Why? Why bother asking? We demand justice, revenge, blood. Screw the first two words, we’ve always wanted blood. It’s one of the few things we yearn for more than sex.

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The conflict of individual against community

Andrew Sullivan, acting a bit more of a spin doctor than usual after reading Mark Lilla’s sobering piece on the modern political context we live in, declared an empathic victory in the name of individual freedom earlier this week, calling modern America a nation of libertarians in an acid-laced bit of wankery the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Windsor decision – or his recent compensatory tirades on manliness, depending on your view of wankery. Money shot (because he’s too much a coward to say it himself):

The core idea of this post-ideological new age was simply expanding the freedom of the individual – and it was embraced economically by the right, socially by the left, and completely by the next generation of pragmatic liberaltarians.

The blather on display here is incredibly detached, and fails to seriously take into consideration that individual freedom has not been triumphant, but in fact contracting more than it has been expanding thanks to government and corporate interests.  But to discuss that at length would be a hindrance, and any response would likely be apathetic.

Instead, let us focus on the core problem Sullivan attempts to address in the post: The matter of foreign policy in response to this development, as well as the loss of hegemony following the quixotic crusades that were Iraq and Afghanistan. In fairness, Brooks’ calls for a return to worshiping the American Dream and the glory that is the nation’s “exceptionalism” (a word which people tend to forget was coined by Stalin as an insult) comes off as dense and paranoiac. It shows him clinging to the old parameters of which the world existed, a time that barely has meaning now. But to call Sullivan’s own response nonsense would be a bit of an understatement:

But there is another, saner response to this, and Lilla points the way. It is to re-exercize the intellectual muscles that created and then defended the idea of democratic capitalism – and to use them, first of all, to address the democratic deficits in our own too-often bought-and-paid-for republic, to build and defend intermediate institutions that check individualism’s acidic power – families, churches, neighborhoods, school-boards, sports leagues, AA meetings. And so we match gay freedom with gay marriage and military service, embracing libertarianism but hitching it to institutions that also connect it to the community as a whole.

To start with, where does Lilla even mention this, other than in a vague hint about the potential of reactionary right with the parable of the golem? Even then, he was more making a point than suggesting a solution. Also, what that has to do with foreign policy is beyond anyone’s imagination.

Sullivan’s extrapolation seems more a desire to display his Thatcherite paternalism than anything functional, for many of his suggestions are institutions designed to strangulate individuality. The military are specialists in this line of business: Nothing strips away individual freedom more than being trained against nature into becoming an efficient killing machine. Yet families, churches, any community-style organization are also capable of undermining the independence of the individual.

But then, that’s the point of a community, and therein lies the modern conflict that Sullivan fails to appreciate.
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