No better than tsarist Russia

In 1682, the year of Peter the Great’s accession to the Russian throne at the age of 10, there was a coup fomented through a misinformation campaign from one of the warring factions. At issue was the legitimacy of Peter as the heir to the throne. While one influential faction of lords backed Peter, the opposition wanted his half-brother Ivan to rule the kingdom. The campaign of misinformation that climaxed with a revolt of the Streltzy, the palace guard, used well-known propaganda tactics to incite violence among masses. How did they do it? By spreading a lie that Ivan had been executed. And since this happened in the absence of the free press or any kind of checks and balances to verify the story, the fearful pawns, pre-primed into anger, their preconceived notions confirmed, did their job. The bloodshed was ghastly and occurred before the eyes of the child tsar, scarring him forever and informing his ruthlessly pragmatic ruling style. Ivan, very much alive, stood next to Peter on the stairs of the palace while the unleashed mob, unable to stop even in the face of seeing Ivan alive, bludgeoned members of the royal household.

The sleazy manipulation tactics of misinformation campaigns have come a long way. Fox, Drudge, Bannon and the like, are keen psychologists first, and purveyors of misinformation second, aided by the technological advances of the 21st century. The trick with misinformation is that in order to make it credible, it has to be at least somewhat true. Misinformation is just the composted cow manure that helps grow the seeds of emotional volatility among the mob. This emotional volatility, once watered by peer validation (just look at the comments on Breitbart), is not subject to rational examination or logical argument. This is the agitprop of dictatorships, so successful at steering people to go against their own interests. They turn off higher cognitive functions in favor of the autopilot of the reptilian brain. That’s the danger, this locomotive of unrestrained and unexamined toxic emotionality.

This is what the new President-elect has willfully unleashed and legitimized. Yesterday’s “meeting” in his Rapunzel tower with the leaders of the main stream press was a chilling and direct threat to our Democracy, which cannot exist without the freedom of the press. The report of this meeting on Breitbart was met with cheers for the dictator to destroy the mainstream media and put them all in jail. This is what abject fear looks like when it owns you. This is the addictive drug of righteous anger, the only relief they can get from that fear. Breitbart and the like are the drug dealers that will take their addicted followers’ last dime to further their own agendas. And the masses are willingly bringing themselves to be slaughtered.

This ugly blob of toothpaste will take some time to wrestle back into the tube.

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Ouroboros in Arkadia

I changed the name and look of this site for several reasons. First, I am not inclined only to write poetry or creative prose. I am inclined to roar in the aftermath of this election. I wanted thr site to convey a cleaner message, with fewer artistic flourishes that may distract from the message. I wanted it to be more readable, and the current template provides that.

Now, the name. An “ouroboros” is a snake consuming itself starting with its own tail. Arkadia, in addition to my own personal childhood paradise, is a mythical dwelling of the Greek god Pan. So, a self-consuming snake in paradise, that is the image. Make of it what you will. For me it’s a powerful image of this moment in our history.

As always, thank you for reading. Expect more blogging about my take on the current events.

How propaganda works

Earlier today I came across a report that Steve Bannon, our President-Elect’s newly appointed chief strategist, suggested that Silicon Valley had too many Asian CEOs. This was a year ago in November. (You have to wonder why the HuffPo is resurrecting this story now, and knowing how Bannon operates, also wonder if he planted it.) To this our populist anti-elites President-Elect responded, “When someone is going to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Stanford, all the greats… we throw them out of the country, and they can’t get back in… I think that’s terrible.”

Dissent among the ranks? Don’t be fooled. This is a strategy, or will be used as such even if a priori it was just a conversation. There are two thoughts I have about how this will go down.

1. Bannon stays in the position given him and continues to lob lunatic fringe ideas into the ether, just so that our President-Elect can counter them and thereby increase his sanity quotient in the public’s eye.

2. The job offer to Bannon is rescinded, which makes our President-Elect look even more sane and even willing to strike a compromise.

Either way, Bannon is a multipurpose tool, on the one hand allowing our President-Elect to appear at least somewhat sane, and on the other winking to the neo-nazi base that their atrocious agenda is represented. And either way, it will make all of us liberals pant with admiration, and we will settle back and watch the rest of the inferno that will be his presidency through the lens of this single push-pull dynamic. This will obscure all the other atrocities going on underneath.

Given Bannon’s cunning, I think he must prefer the first scenario. So we need to push really hard for the second. And stay vigilant and not give our President-Elect a pass on anything that remotely resembles like a dismantling of the ramparts of our Democracy.

This is how professional propaganda machine works.

I am nasty woman, and I know you, Mr. Trump

 

hillary-clinton-nasty-woman
Photo credit: Getty images
Dear Mr. Trump,

I am not a beautiful woman. I am in my fifties, short, a little fat, with unruly hair, which in its new stiff and graying incarnation requires frequent cropping. In adolescence my bushy eyebrows were a unibrow I resisted waxing. When I was a girl, I had a gaping diastema, which mercifully all but disappeared without braces. I never took to make-up or pretty clothes or elegant shoes with six-inch heels. In short, not supermodel material. And yet, despite being what you, Mr. Trump, would have called “a dog” or “Miss Piggy,” I too have experienced sexual harassment and assault from males of varying ages, even those old enough to be my father or grandfather. I am proof that your, Mr. Trump, strategic campaign to discredit your alleged victims by disparaging their looks as evidence of your innocence is no evidence of your innocence. Because, let me tell you, even “dogs” get sexually assaulted.

The first time was when I was six. At a birthday party, a man, the father of one of the guests, invited my friend and me to climb into his lap. We did, since to do otherwise would have been disrespectful, and sat facing each other. His breath smelled of cigarettes and vodka, and he proceeded to slither his fingers into our underwear while making darting boozy eye contact with us. It didn’t take us long to abandon his lap. At that time, I was naïve enough to think his behavior unusual, and told my parents what happened. I recall the man being invited to our apartment for a “talk,” and subsequently witnessing him leave the said apartment with the look of a ghost. I don’t know what my parents said to him, but I am grateful they took me seriously. We never mentioned it again.

Fast forward five years, and I am on a crowded bus going across town, my grandmother seated in a window seat, when I feel a hardness push into my buttocks. The hardness doesn’t back off even when the crowd disperses. I am frozen partly from curiosity and partly from fear. He stood behind me the entire 30-minute trip, pushing up against my dress with a dropped waist, the pattern of large crimson poppies like handprints on the grey silk of the fabric. His crotch and my eleven-year-old ass were the only points of contact between our bodies, and I did not dare turn to look at him. When everyone alighted at the final stop, his appearance surprised me – short, balding, clean, no attempt at eye contact. I wouldn’t learn the word “frottage” for another decade.

My final brush with sexual assault came during my medical residency training in Boston on a morning commute on the Red Line. It was your kind of a pussy grab, Mr. Trump, except it turned into a grabus interruptus, as I knocked the offender’s hand out of the way before it reached its destination. Still I commuted by bicycle or a car for the rest of my training.

These three incidents, so familiar to most women, were propped on a lattice of smaller, though no less damaging assaults. The boys in third grade who, standing behind me in line, laughed about the lack of space between my chunky thighs. A family friend my grandmother’s age, after hugging me a little too closely for a little too long, gazing hungrily at me, commented on my beautiful smile. A colleague camp counselor, a handsome youth of eighteen, who in response to my particularly clever debate point, bored his icy stare into my face and called me an “ugly shit.”

So you see, Mr. Trump, even though I am an “ugly girl,” I know you. The likes of you have groped me and frottered me and tried to grab my pussy. And when I didn’t meet their standards, they “educated” me about my place in this world. I am in good company: Rosie O’Donnell, Angelina Jolie, Carly Fiorina, your daughter Ivanka, your many wives, Miss USA contestants have all fallen prey to your third grade worldview. And when all else fails, when your catastrophically microscopic vocabulary has been exhausted, it is the conclusion “nasty woman” that sums up your opinion of anyone who bruises your Chinese porcelain ego.

Mr. Trump, you don’t really have standards – not moral ones, not ethical ones and not beauty ones. The truth is, Trump, you would grope me and frotter me if I allowed it, and you would feel like a king if I encouraged it. You are that simple. Because small men like you, Trump, require constant affirmations of your dominance, no matter how insignificant, the way a vampire requires blood. And if I thwarted your attempts or worse, revealed them to the world, you would ridicule the very idea that you could ever notice an “ugly dog” like me, let alone expend your sexual energy on her. And some men would laugh knowingly. Because that’s how they got away with it too.

Mr. Trump, on the eve of your epic loss to the most qualified candidate ever to run for the office of President of the United States of America, I and the majority of my fellow Americans see your bluster for what it really is: the final desperate gasps of a would-be emperor without clothes. And what poetic justice there is in witnessing the land mines of your own words and deeds take you down. I should pity you under such circumstances, and then try to access compassion. But, Mr. Trump, I am just an ordinary nasty woman. I am sitting back to enjoy the spectacle. Pass the popcorn, please!

Blood and ashes

Blood and ashes — what is the difference?
We are blind to grey on brown
But red on white is in the visible spectrum
Ashes are fleeting — they love the wind
You say blood stains permanently
An optical illusion determines the outrage
Either suffocates
Blood to snow, ashes to dust
— In our proud acalculia
Could two thousand brown bodies ever equal
A dozen Parisian intellectuals?

The permanence of the stain

Four-and-a-half hours
Blood, forlorn, pooling on pavement

What misplaced sense of justice
To deny the question
What slithering sanctimony
To walk away smirking
What fervent delusion
To clothe this naked emperor

As if namelessness could
End the story
As if namelessness could
Change the past
As if namelessness could
Remove this stain

To Akhmatova

Anna Andreyevna, you haunt me
Born in my city once in June
From your lips and fingers
Elixir of truth to power
Too valuable not to burn
Mothers’ grief crafted in ink
Bores its way direct into my body
Gray, windy, tersely generous
A woman ill, a woman alone
The voice of a nation and a lover
Words made promise in lines
Pressing against stark buildings
Gates of wrought iron with chains
Losing, staying, bargaining
Witness to disappearing breaths
Meeting devil obliquely

Anna Andreyevna, my distant sister
I tip my pen to you and
Light this poem like a candle
Your shadow my flag

I am a little late with this, but here it is, on the occasion of 125th anniversary of Akhmatova’s birth on June 23.