Not In Kansas Anymore...

Click your heels, and see if home is where you hang your hat, or somewhere else inside yourself as this simple, postmodern girl takes on L.A.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Just to get out of my own bullshit for awhile....

I can't say I'm a big fan of Arianna Huffington- she always seems to be dressed better than whatever vague ideas she's trying to push forth when she's campaigning for office. But as a political commentator and private thinker, I tend to get interested when she's got something to say. Her mannerisms and social graces deftly belie some earnest efforts to really provoke the way we think about culture, economics and politics. So when I'm feeling like my mind is rotting into oatmeal from the endless news-pablum that gets pushed my way, ( y'all know I don't watch the news; I went into that months ago during my Anderson Cooper Crush Phase- if he can't help things along with his paticular brand of cut-to-it, touchy-feely telejournalism, then fuck it, I'm not watching. But I DO read the news, people, I'm not a hermit!!) I go poking my head around TheHuffington Post ( ). She's got everyone and anyone on there, and nary a dull moment to be had. I know, it started off slow, but patience and persistance has proven its merit.

And yes, it has a slant, but it's pretty basic: things suck, and we all know it, so what to do? As a good European ( Huffington is Greek, which while that's techinically Mediterranian, let's not forget Greece as Rome's model, and Rome as the model for pretty much everything The Western World ever tried, after that.), I suspect Huffington goes with the European notion that by rustling up things in a meaningful dialogue ( NOT just the endless punditry you see on nightly news shows) , it can stir people to change. She's probably assuming alot about American citizens: their level of interest, education ; often overlooking the unfortunate fact that how whatever socioeconomic class one falls in to in this country has alot to do with your particular set of biases, probably more so than in other Western nations. ( Not to mention the sheer size of the US, which can create a sense of disconnect from a unified "American Exprience" between coasts. Something that French philosopher Benard Henri-Levy noted in HIS book American Vertigo :

But I digress. ) Underneath all that European idealism , though, , she is interestingly optmistic enough --just like Levy-- to get the sensibility of what Americans really all wonder about, as people-- rich, poor, Latin, Black, White or Other, --which is: why does it all feel like it's going to hell in a handbasket, and what can be done? And personally, I like the whole stir-the-tempest-in-a-teapot-and-get-a-riot-on-the-steps-of-the-Sorbonne kind of going at it. It's far more up close and personal and motivating, which is what really gets things done in the end.

I hope. It could be that I'm overly infatuated with some Gallic model of socio-political antithesis-to-synthesis or something. To split some hairs, I should say that I'm not a Marxist, but I like the idea of ideas affecting the concrete reality we live in, which is....oh, god, I could go on forever. Let me get to my point, because that's a whole other conversation, altogether.....

So John Cusack has a blog on the Huffington Post, and of course, since I have a not-so-secret crush on him, I went to take a peek. I was blown away by some postings he had made regarding the Blackwater scandal, and totally riveted by his interview with Naomi Klein ( Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which is one of thos must-read books for anyone who gives a damn about what's going on now in Iraq, et al). Before I get into it all, I feel the need to make elucidation here:

One of the reasons I have such a huge crush on Mr. Cusack, as my friends well know, is that he is a brilliant subtle actor who tries very hard to shuck and jive his way through the Hollywood system to make funny, smart, original films. (Yes, and the fact that he is sardonically witty, and at 41, still smoking hot, helps alot too). But something I never mention and plays a big part in my affection for him is his ideology and autodidactiscism- he's remarkably well-educated and adamant about his positions politically, socially, artistically. He's most openly and adamantly against neo-con agendas currently running the show in Washington AND his emphasis on the human payout for all of it. And he makes no secret of how this affects his choices in art-making. And I tend to be very interested in what he has to say because of that, and usually agree with his points,which makes it all the more provocative to consider him as a person and an idealist as time goes on.

( Another aside: See, you gotta love a guy like that. All my recent forays into dating just bring it all home to me even more, that integrity and intellect are a potent attraction. Alot of people don't know this about me- I'm the type of gal who has to have someone with her who is going to engage her brain in a powerfully intellectual way or else nothing happens-- no spark. I can't stand the idea of letting my mind go to seed while I sit across the breakfast table from someone for 30 years. What's the point? I don't care if he looks like frickin' Robert Redford ( somewhere during that whole "The Way We Were" period? Yeah.) and has the stamina, -ahem- of a racehorse, if I can't talk to him, we're done. And by talk, I mean REALLY talk- about issues, ideas, books, art, The Whole Nine,not just who won the Grammys and Britney's latest dillemma -- although I admit I enjoy that, too. But again, I digress.).

So, bottom line: in sharing this with y'all, I'm not just promoting the latest notions of my ever-persistant crush object. I'm trying to share it because I think it's important, and the fact that it comes out of the mind and mouth of my crush object is just a lovely fringe benefit for moi. So without holding out any longer, here's a link to his conversation with the absolutely wicked smaht and pen-knifed Naomi Klein, via the Huffington Post:

For me, it was interesting for a number of reasons, one of which being because I saw Blackwater through Anthony's eyes; a flip side to this conversation I think is highly relevant ( BTW: yes, that's who he worked for. I happen to know vis-a-vis a secondary source he is no longer employed by them and is moving back to his hometown in the Midwest for reasons unknown. Thusly, I feel it's safe to disclose. ). Cusack's comment that "You build a frontier, you get cowboys" is dead on when I compare insider stories from Tony, and all the things they were allowed to do. No one is more right when they say this is a privatized war, a war that is being bought and paid for, and because of old outstanding regulations from Eisehhower's era about defense contractors immunity, it's one without limits on Means to Ends.

We all probably know that from just reading Time once in awhile. However, I really see Naomi's secondary point about Green Zone bubbles being the real and possible long-term result of the current administration's choices to use private contractors for their dirty work . Anthony always talked about how spartan the conditions were in his bunker, but lemee tell you something: he had a safe, regular life there with crucial means for survivial, like water. Food. Heat. Access to outside communication. He was essentially living in a Drury Inn in the middle of a war zone. Ms. Klein's thinking projects this kind of setup to become de riguer not only in places such as those but in any place that is suffering from instability, including on these shores ( she uses Katrina debacle as an example). Hearing the discrepency between Tony's day-to-day setup and his immediate surroundings from his private daily reports back to me reveal an expedience and exploitative propensity with companies like Blackwater. We secure the plots of safety, now you buy them back. It sets up an economy and socio-political structure that thrives on instability and fear. How does that go back to an even keel, a mindset functions and profits from stability and peace? We're creating a monster of sorts, and that's Klein's main point.

What I would love to discuss with both Mr. Cusack and Ms. Klein, though, is the Oh-The Humanity factor, with an added twist. It's no secret we're all suffering from because of this way of doing business/war ( no difference) costs lives. Both of them do address the cost to the American people because of the aforementioned rotting-from-Freedman-applications-and-its-attendant-moral-bankruptcy in our governmental infrastructure; and both of them go on and on about the horror of it all equalling deaths and loss of lives by innocent civilians. Additionally, if you've seen "Grace Is Gone" ( , there's a significant nod to military loss as well. Nothing could be more true and appropo.

I would offer, however, the cost to our society is also seen in the psyches of the Blackwater employees coming home. In terms of damage, it is just the same the cost to a military family's, only without the psychological comfort of "serving" or the notion of " duty and pride". Just like anyone having been there and transitioned back into regular life, they have trouble assimilating. Some of them, like Anthony, are ruined people who will require extensive care to become familiar with their humanity again. And that's a price we will all have to bear as the fallout from this mess continues, into generations, psychologically, as well as economically, ideologically, and socio-politically. The choices that we are making to implement a system of privatized combat from companies like Blackwater are apparent in how that strategy changes the face of war and economics. But Blackwater working how it works-- making cowboys-- costs us, too. It changes the way the war game is played, and those playing that game from inside Blackwater can count on being twisted in ways that a soldier isn't, BECAUSE of that Means and End morality. First of all, it normalizes that morality and gives it a solidified place in war culture, so to speak. Secondly, no one mourns those cowboys or gives them a welcome home, not even the company that they've sold their souls to for the opportunity to make some money to support their families.

Simply the way the company is run changes the people involved and the choices they will make, and I've seen it up close. Looking at it from the inside gives a whole different scope to the picture, long term. Especially when we're talking about how an economy can afford to pay out to private contractors - where do they come from, those applicants, and why do they need the work? We all talk about how the opportunity was there, ( and Klein says, in part created) and how it's fucking up the entire sense and sensibility of our government, but the opportunist in people like Erik Prince ( the head of Blackwater) is ceratinly making the pay out in the human lives of his employees without a conscience. How that will play out in the long term at home is another side to consider, I say.

My point: Seeing the side of the less-sympathetic participants in this thing we call a war brings it all home very sharply for me, and should be a flip-side view that might also come into play in this dialogue. At this level of complication and relationship with money and government , it's not only changing the shape of global politics, economies, but also in the psychological on-the-ground living conditions and emotional lives of the people who live and breathe it. Even as far removed from the combat as Americans are in actuality, we are still affected by what comes back from that place, no matter which party you were playing with, especially in regard to personal relationships with those who make it back.....or those who don't.

While the tit-for-tat backscratching has taken itself to a place never seen before, to a place where incestuous gladhanding between business and government is pushing the boundaries of intermixing the two to a dangerous point, it's not just lofty and high and away in the ways that it will continue to affect American citizens and their lives....and what do we have to look forward to when this all dumps itself for the next Shock and Awe we will need to keep this kind of economy running? Naomi is right: the next big commodity will be your survival, ( and I add, how you live, in an existential sense, what the shape of your life will take day-to-day in your psyche), --on every level you can imagine.

So take some time, think it over, and choose wisely, when you're voting this year. Ask yourself if the party in question profits from extending war or prefers to risk the more complicted option of rebuilding and negotiating civility ( peace being a little naive at this point, I think.)

Oh, and if you make art, don't forget to stir the pot. It's part of arts' purpose- one of them, not the only one, but an important one- because provoking questions, feelings and thought is the spark to the flame of any change. Don't you agree?
To wit:

....And that's my op-ed piece for the day. Just so y'all know I don't totally fall into narcissism ;). (Maybe I should go back to grad school and not subject any of you to all of this,not to mention shaping it up from rambling and near-incoherent to a well-honed point, making it not so sufferable to slog through, hmm? A question to ponder. Input welcome.)

At any rate, good night and good luck.