Tag Archives: government

“The Revolt Against the Law” by Umberto Eco

I have been slowly working through Turning Back the Clock, a collection of essays by Eco. As I read this essay, there was a passage that really struck me.

… and, even before his guilt was decided, the masses in front of the TV were gloating over his humiliation and disgrace, as if watching a variety show in which the amateurs make fools of themselves. It was bad—bad for those who emerged innocent and bad for the guilty too, because the price they paid was higher than that called for by the law.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 182)

As I read this, it dawned on me just how much, as a society, we do this here in the US. I confess that I have been guilty of this myself. When I hear that someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum has been “accused” of some wrong doing, I have been quick to use that to justify my pre-established conceptions about that person. People on the left do it with Trump, and people on the right do it with Hillary. We have gotten to a point in our collective culture where what we accept as the truth is that which supports the beliefs that we already have. It’s a dangerous place for us to be in as a society.

One of the reasons I read is because it allows me to reflect upon myself, and I am humble enough to recognize when there are areas where I can improve as a person. This is one of those areas. Now that I am aware of this tendency, I am going to try not to engage in it. I’m sure I’ll fall short, especially as Mueller forges on with his investigations, but it’s about progress and not perfection.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 8: Anti-Government Sentiment

donquixote_cover

I think it is a pretty safe assertion that most people today at one point in their lives have had a negative view of government. We see the corruption, the bickering, the greed, and the meanness that permeates the institution. Well, if it is any consolation, these feelings have been around probably as long as there have been governments, so it’s not surprising that we find instances of anti-government sentiment in Don  Quixote.

The first one I will share is when Sancho is telling his wife of his plans to become a governor. Teresa’s anti-government stance is borderline anarchist, where she feels that no government is good.

“Nay, then, husband,” said Teresa; “let the hen live, though it be with her pip, live, and let the devil take all the governments in the world; you came out of your mother’s womb without a government, you lived until now without a government, and when it is God’s will you will go, or be carried, to your grave without a government. How many people are there in the world who live without a government, and continue to live all the same, and are reckoned in the number of people…”

(p. 574)

It is later asserted that even an idiot can become a governor, that education and intelligence are not requisite for being in the government.

… and moreover, we know already ample experience that it does not require much cleverness or much learning to be a governor, for there are a hundred round about us that scarcely know how to read, and govern like gerfalcons.

(p. 803)

And finally, one that made me chuckle. When discussing whether Sancho should bring his donkey Dapple with him to govern, Sancho point out that there is no shortage of asses in government.

“Don’t think, senora duchess, that you have said anything absurd,” said Sancho; “I have seen more than two asses go to governments, and for me to take mine with me would be nothing new.”

(p. 814)

As I watch how uncivil our government and democratic process have become, it becomes apparent that it is the loudest, craftiest, and most offensive who are winning in the political arena. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with one last quote:

God help us, this world is all machinations and schemes at cross purposes one with the other.

(p. 775)

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The Black Monday Murders: Issue 03

blackmondaymurders_03

This is the third installment in a complex graphic novel about Wall Street power brokers drawing on occult powers to maintain wealth and control. The story is so labyrinthine that with each layer that you peel back, you uncover more questions and uncertainty. It’s like a puzzle that gets more complicated the more you work on it, which makes reading this both frustrating and exhilarating.

There are some great quotes in this issue that I would like to share.

But this is how secrets work, no? They hide in the shadows until they grow into something… uncontrollable.

I find this quote fascinating because it is true on multiple levels. On a personal level, when you keep secrets, those secrets morph into something else that is often detrimental to an individual. I was told that we only as sick as our secrets, and I truly believe this. When we hide things in the shadows of our consciousness, it changes us in ways we often cannot imagine. But this is also the case on a larger scale. I cannot help but think of governments and corporations, these massive institutions that specialize in hoarding information and secrets. While this may seem beneficent at first, especially when the keeping of secrets is done with the best intentions, the institution begins to change, and we are left with something else, something that exists solely to gather and keep secrets, which are the currency of power.

The other quote that intrigued me regards Wall Street.

The history of Wall Street is written in blood… it’s an industry built on human sacrifice.

Humans have always sacrificed themselves for money, symbolized by Mammon. They sacrifice their happiness and exploit others for the pursuit of Mammon, the manifestation of greed and material wealth. People become nothing more than objects to exploit in the endless quest for more power and more wealth, because once you get caught in this trap, there is never enough, you are always left wanting more, and more, and more. This is the dark side of our material world.

As I watched Wall Street rally this past week, I could not help wondering about the forces that fueled this surge and what it means for the average person. Those who are in power and have access to secrets see sociopolitical events differently than most of us. I wonder what they see in our future.

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The X-Files: Annual 2016 – “Illegal Aliens”

XFiles_Annual2016

Once a year, IDW publishes an annual special edition X-Files graphic novel, which is a little longer, a little better quality, and double the price. This year’s is a little on the silly side, set in New Mexico and playing off the pun between undocumented immigrants and visitors from outer space. There is nothing groundbreaking in this book, and nothing deeply thought-provoking; it’s just a whimsical story, fairly well written and illustrated, that is kind of fun to read, but that’s about it.

The illegal alien pun is kind of cliché for me, so honestly, I found that the least interesting. The thing that I found the most entertaining was Mulder’s observations on pro-gun conspiracy nuts.

Mulder: I’ll make it. I was doing some research. Have you heard of the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories?

Scully: Half-baked government haters who thing the government wants to take their guns?

Mulder: Right, emphasis on half-baked. But there’s something about it that bothered me. When we put on a tinfoil hat because we think the government is trying to invade our brain, we’re assuming a certain level of sophistication, right? We believe we’ve progressed as a civilization to where the next great existential danger will come from threats beyond our conception.

Scully: Are you arguing on message boards again?

Mulder: Yes, but hear me out, Scully. These people, they think, they really think, the government is going to use a coordinated training exercise in the southwestern United States as cover to take away everyone’s guns. Logistical concerns aside—when did our conspiracies become so lazy? Have we fallen so far that the grand plan to enslave the human race is eliminating the threat of small-arms fire?

I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I read this, especially considering all the social media chatter about how “if Clinton gets elected she is going to take away all our guns.” It’s the same thing you hear about every Democratic candidate. It’s never happened, and yet the fear and myth persists.

Anyway, if you are an X-Fan, you’ll probably get a kick out of this book; if not, you will see it as nothing more than a waste of $8, which could have been better spent on a latte and a defrosted piece of coffee cake from Starbucks.

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“Revisiting History” by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

This essay is included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. Since most of the essay concerns Italian politics and media (a topic which I know little about), the names and references were somewhat meaningless to me. Still, there are a couple sections that discuss fascism and dictatorships that I found interesting.

There seems to be a belief that true political change only occurs through extreme action or revolution. But Eco points out that this is not really the case, that a Fascist Revolution is gradual.

At school they spoke to me about the “Fascist revolution,” but afterward it became clear to me that Fascism hadn’t arrived overnight, like the tanks in Budapest or in Prague, but crept into the country gradually.

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 166 – 7)

As the election campaign in the US heats up, the rhetoric and tweeting and social media noise is reaching epic levels. As such, dialog and debate is being suffocated, as I see it. People are no longer open to constructive debate and only seek validation of their already established views, and anyone who expresses disagreement with those views is attacked ruthlessly. This is creating a dangerous environment which, as Eco points out, is ripe for the rise of a dictatorship.

In other words, the absence of political debate spells dictatorship, in which criticism is forbidden and newspapers that don’t toe the government line are closed down.

(ibid: p. 177)

Thankfully, the United States is not a fascist country, nor is it ruled by a dictator, but it would be naïve to pretend that we are not moving close to a precipice that we could easily tumble over. Looking back over the past 30 years, you can see the trend towards intolerance for dissent, factionalism, tribalism, and a stark division between the political right and the left. If this trend continues, it will not end well. I hope that the current ranting will move back toward constructive debate.

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“Foreigners and Us” by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

I have to say, I was intrigued by the title of this essay (included in Turning Back the Clock), particularly given the distrust of foreigners that many Americans currently feel. There are some correlations between the essay and current affairs in the United States, but not ones I expected.

The first correlation is in regard to news media. Eco explains how the veracity of news is determined by whether the views expressed support the established views of the reader. This has been taken to the extreme in the US, where people on the left see MSNBC as the source of truth and those on the right assume FOX News is the source of truth. But the fact is that both sources are biased and the truth lies somewhere else.

By this reasoning, if a public prosecutor accuses us of a crime, then he is an agent of the plot, and if he acquits us, he is virtuous and upright. It’s like saying that The Economist is trash because it criticizes the Polo candidate, but The Times is a model of journalism because it is more indulgent toward him. Where will we end up if we fall into such barbarism?

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 158)

Eco also points out that many politicians now rely on negative campaigning to differentiate themselves from the opposing candidate. It’s the “Vote for me because I am not that person” ploy, and it seems to resonate. I hear people saying they will vote for one candidate solely because they do not like the other candidate.

Many politicians have run for office saying that they wouldn’t behave like the Soviet Union, or Haider, that they weren’t Nazis or Stalinists, that they harbored no authoritarian ambitions, that they didn’t want their country to be reduced to the level of those governed by Idi Amin Dada, Francois Duvalier, Saddam Hussein, and so on.

(ibid: p. 160)

But the thing that stands out the most for me in this essay is a section regarding Americans, how we are a diverse culture bound together by rules of coexistence.

It’s hard to say who the Americans really are, because they are the descendants of the old British Protestant pioneers, Jews, Italians, Irish, Poles, Puerto Ricans, and God knows how many others. But what makes the United States a nation is the fact that all Americans have absorbed a fundamental principle, one that—when the time is right—also fuels their patriotism. The principle is very simple: This is the country where I make a living and allows me, if I can, to become rich, so I must accept some of its rules of coexistence.

(ibid: p. 161)

Maybe this was the case in 2003, but I see a growing disregard for the rules of coexistence in this country. In fact, there seems to be a reaction against the rules of coexistence. A growing number of very vocal individuals appear to want rules of exclusivity that favor one group above others. I find this a frightening trend and one that is bound to end poorly if it continues.

As the 2016 election campaigns continue and the rhetoric becomes more vitriolic, I feel powerless to do much other than share my thoughts and watch how it all unfolds.

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“On Mass Media Populism” by Umberto Eco

TurningBackTheClock

This essay, included in Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, is actually comprised of several shorter essays on the same theme. It’s very timely, considering the media circus surrounding the presidential primaries here in the US.

Anyone who is even vaguely aware of the US primaries will likely agree with Eco’s assertion regarding how a politician can dominate the media.

He makes promises that—good, bad, or indifferent as they may seem to his supporters—are a provocation to his critics. He comes up with a provocation a day, and if they are bizarre or outrageous, so much the better. This allows him to occupy the front pages of the paper and the breaking news on television, with the result that he is always at the center of attention. The provocation must be calculated to ensure that the opposition cannot avoid picking up the gauntlet and reacting vigorously.

(p. 134)

One thing I found enlightening in this essay was Eco’s explanation of how news stories use structure to validate their arguments while positioning their view as the truth in a debate.

Television works this way. If there is a debate about a law, the issue is presented and the opposition is immediately given the chance to put forward all its arguments. This is followed by government supporters, who counter the objections. The result is predictable: he who speaks last is right. If you carefully follow all the TV news programs, you will see this strategy: the project is presented, the opposition speaks first, the government supporters speak last. Never the other way around.

A media regime has no need to imprison its opponents. It doesn’t silence them by censorship, it merely has them give their arguments first.

(pp. 144 – 145)

Finally, Eco asserts that electoral campaigns have become a spectacle focusing on appearances.

The electoral campaign emerges as a spectacle of form, in which what matters is not what the candidate actually stands for but how he appears to others.

(p. 155)

So what is a voting citizen to think about all this? It’s a legitimate question and one that Eco poses as the conclusion of his essay.

When you finish reading, you wonder: Is this really what democracy is all about? A way to gain public favor, based only on orchestrated appearances and a strategy of deceit?

(p. 156)

Ever the idealist, I’d still like to believe that democracy means more, that it is still about advancing humanity and civilization. As always, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read thought-provoking stuff.

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“The 2001 Electoral Campaign and Veteran Communist Strategy” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco

While this essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, explores the 2001 Italian election, there is a lot that is relevant to the 2012 election here in the US.

Eco first points out that advertising principles play an important role in electoral campaigns: “From the model of advertising they have taken the constant repetition of one symbol plus a few simple slogans, as well as a shrewd color scheme.” (p. 121) In the US electoral race, this is standard across the board, and every candidate must use some color combination of red, white, and blue.

One thing I have noticed about the 2016 US political race is how aggressive it has become. Eco points out that this was also the case in the 2001 Italian election: “… every opposing point of view was branded as against the people, accompanied by constant complaints about the aggressiveness of others.” (p. 123)

Possibly the most frightening similarity is the stanch refusal to compromise on anything. Politics in the United States has become so polarized that it no longer matters what the policy or idea is—if it was presented by the other party, then it must be rejected completely. This was also the case in Italy, as Eco explains.

The 1968 model also lives on in the tactic of never giving an inch to the adversary, but always demonizing him whatever his proposals are, then refusing dialogue and debate (such as turning down interviews with any journalist seen as a lackey of power). This rejection of compromise was based on the constantly reiterated conviction that revolutionary victory was imminent.

(p. 125)

As I read this, I could not help but consider the Republican refusal to consider a Supreme Court nomination from President Obama asserting that the next president (meaning a Republican based on their victory conviction) should fill the post.

Finally, there are stark similarities between Berlusconi and Donald Trump regarding popular appeal and the reasons behind it, particularly that because he is rich, he is better qualified to be a leader.

Nor should we ignore the populist stamp of some of the arguments with which people, even those of humble origins, used to demonstrate their liking for Berlusconi. The arguments are: (1) being rich, he won’t steal (an argument based on the man in the street’s slipshod equation of politician with thief); (2) what do I care if he looks after his own interests, the main thing is that he look after mine too; (3) a man who has become enormously rich will be able to distribute wealth among the people he governs…

(p. 126)

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, as is evident when you compare Italy’s 2001 election with the current American one. Sadly, though, people ignore or forget the lessons that history offers. I can only hope that this tendency changes in the future, but, if history is any indicator…

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Analysis of “Easter 1916” by W. B. Yeats

Easter1916

Easter Uprising: Image Source – British Literature Wiki

Since today is Easter, I decided to reread Yeats’ great poem regarding the Irish uprising against England on Easter in 1916. It is fairly long, so I am not going to include the entire text, but here is a link to the poem online should you want to read it in its entirety.

Easter 1916

I will include the fourth and final stanza of the poem, since that is what I will focus my analysis upon.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmer name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse–
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The stanza begins with references to sacrifice and stone. The leaders of the uprising sacrificed themselves for Irish independence, and there is a symbolic connection to the sacrifice made by Jesus in leading his followers to spiritual freedom. I see the reference to “a stone of the heart” as having multiple meanings. On one hand, the English government has hardened its stance against the Irish rebels; additionally, the Irish have become hardened in their stance against English rule. But also, since Christ was buried in a cave blocked by a stone, the stone becomes a symbol for the heart of the Christian faith and the promise of resurrection. Hence, although the rebel leaders are executed (like Christ was executed), the cause will continue in spirit and their martyrdom will be the rock or foundation of the revolution.

Yeats then continues by emphasizing the importance of murmering “name upon name” in order to keep the memory of the executed leaders alive. One gets the sense that Yeats is implying the need for a national invocation, where by chanting the names of the fallen leaders, their ideals and their spirit will become part of the collective consciousness.

Next, Yeats expresses how the rebels died for a cause, or a dream, and he ponders whether it was a “needless death” or whether their sacrifice was worth it. “England may keep faith” implies that Parliament will not change its stance against Irish independence and that likely a longer and bloodier struggle will ensue. It is also worth noting that 1916 was the middle of World War I, so I cannot help but wonder if Yeats viewed the struggle for Irish independence as a microcosmic symbol of the larger conflict that was ravaging Europe at the time.

Yeats decides to commit the story of the uprising to verse, and names the leaders who were executed:

I write it out in a verse–
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse

This has strong symbolic significance. For Yeats, committing something to verse is instilling it with deep spiritual power, almost like making it immortal. So by immortalizing the martyred leaders, he is ensuring their rebirth and resurrection, guaranteeing that their cause will live on.

The last words are somber, though. He acknowledges that the revolution is important and right, but suspects that it is also symbolic of the end, in the same way that the resurrection of Christ, while glorious and beautiful, signals the beginning of the apocalypse. Compare the ending of this poem to the ending of “The Second Coming,” Yeats’ famous apocalyptic vision:

“Easter 1916”

Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

“Second Coming”

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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US Constitution: Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 – Regarding Appointment of Supreme Court Justices

Constitution

Almost immediately after the passing of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican senators vowed to block any appointment by President Obama to fill the seat, stating that the “American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice” (source: Huffington Post). To this, my brother who holds a Master’s Degree in History asserted that Republicans “quote the Constitution verbatim when it comes to ‘The right to bear arms’ but they ignore it when it comes to the President’s obligation to appoint Supreme Court justices.” I decided to read the part of the Constitution concerning appointment of Supreme Court Justices, since I had not read it since college.

[The President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

(Source: Cornell University Law Dept.)

The Constitution is very clear here. Nowhere does it state that the American people should select Supreme Court Justices; it is solely the President’s responsibility, and it is the responsibility of the Senate to provide “advice and consent.” Rather than obstructing the nomination, the Senate should expedite and assist in the process. This is what the Constitution demands.

I find it troubling that the US Constitution is being used in the same manner the Bible is often used—to be cited when it justifies what a group or individual believes in, but ignored when it contradicts those beliefs or opinions. The Constitution is the defining document that dictates how our government should operate and how our laws should be interpreted. If we begin to disregard sections for the sake of partisan politics, then we start down a very dangerous and slippery slope.

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