one kind of robot

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Years ago, HSBC ran a popular ad campaign that emphasized the importance of local knowledge. They’ve apparently abandoned their “world’s local bank” thing but for a while there, it was one ad series I liked seeing when I read The Economist.

The ad I remember most clearly was the use of the word “robot” and then different images of what this word would mean in different places in the world. In much of the English-speaking world, you’d get something like a Cylon – or a non-melting, non-bath-bomb version of the image in this post. But apparently in South Africa, you’d get a stoplight. Which suddenly made the poem I’ve chosen as today’s daily poetry selection make a lot more sense to me.

And the spirit/feel of this poem… well, it couldn’t be more timely. Also, sometime, you should ask a Scot to say “robot” for you.

It’s awfully cute. I didn’t even ask for the “wee” part. You can always count on a Scot to add that bit in for free.

I Am With Those
Ingrid Jonker
I am with those
who abuse sex
because the individual doesn’t count
with those who get drunk
against the abyss of the brain
against the illusion that life
once was good or had beauty or sense
against the garden parties of falsehood
against the silence that beats into the temples
of those who poor and old
race against death the atom bomb of the days
and in shacks count the last flies on the walls
with those stupefied in institutions
shocked with electric currents
through the cataracts of the senses
with those who have been deprived of their hearts
like the light out of the robot of safety
with those coloured african dispossessed
with those who murder
because every death confirms anew
the lie of life
and please forget
about justice it doesn’t exist
about brotherhood it’s deceit
about love it has no right

Original

Met hulle is ek
wat seks misbruik
omdat die individu nie tel nie
met hulle wat dronk word
teen die afgrond van die brein
teen die illusie dat die lewe
eenmaal goed of mooi of betekenisvol was
teen die tuinpartytjies van die valsheid
teen die stilte wat slaan teen die slape
met hulle wat oud en arm
meeding met die dood die atoombom van die dae
met hulle verdwaas in inrigtings
geskok met elektriese strome
deur die katarakte van die sintuie
met hulle van wie die hart ontneem is
soos die lig uit die robot van veiligheid
met hulle kleurling african ontroof
met hulle wat moor
omdat elke sterfte opnuut bevestig
die leuen van die lewe
en vergeet asseblief
van geregtigheid dit bestaan nie
van broederskap dis bedrog
van liefde dit het geen reg nie

Lunchtable TV Talk: Fleabag

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That quiet lull between the summer TV season and the standard, full-throttle autumn season gave me an opportunity to watch some stuff I might not have, such as the ITV production Victoria (don’t bother – it’s kind of crap except for Rufus Sewell, who is always good even when he is given crap material to work with; still, the series was renewed for a second season) and the dark comedy self-humiliation fest that is Fleabag. Let’s not get into the fact that I also dipped my toe (oh, who am I kidding? I jumped in the deep end) into the six seasons of Sex & the City, which I had so carefully avoided during its first incarnation. Despite there being no shortage of original summer programming that began and ended in almost staggered shifts, I still found myself, at times, with an empty queue (have watched most of what interests me so far on HBO Nordic and Amazon; can only access Swedish Netflix now so there are a lot of lovely films I cannot see in my old American queue. Kind of frustrating because I was not even trying to cheat the system: I pay for both an American and a Swedish subscription).

Maybe it’s this “empty queue” idea that also drives the nameless anti-heroine of Fleabag. She’s very funny, very awkward and a total mess – and she knows it. She breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the viewer quite often, and it works. I keep seeing lazy comparisons to Bridget Jones and Girls’s Hannah Horvath – but as I write, these are just that – lazy. Our nameless mess of a woman is so much more than both and completely confident in her lack of self-confidence. (Must be – even The Economist got in on the action of writing about Fleabag.)

It’s funny, it’s ironic, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty realistic, and in that way, it’s also heartbreaking. It somehow manages to be both the wound and the salt you pour into it yourself because you think you deserve to suffer, or like Canadian poet PK Page posits, because you believe that “suffering confers identity”. For the show’s lead, her “empty queue” is not a tv-watching list: it’s the emptiness of her life without her best friend, who has accidentally committed suicide; it’s the more distant but still fresh loss of her mother to cancer and the subsequent, if metaphorical, loss of her father to an uptight and horrible stepmother; it’s the tense but close relationship she shares with her sister. It’s mindlessly filling the emptiness with a queue of men and a, shall we say active, graphic and even rugged sex life? Sex queue as coping mechanism, and only through the six episodes do we see exactly how winding, dark and byzantine are the problems she is trying to fuck into oblivion or at least avoid.

Flea photo (c) 2014 Matt Brown.

When The Economist is Your Greatest Pleasure

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Nonetheless it is clear that pot is… a ‘performance-degrading drug’.

Unlike many, when I want to reward myself or give myself a treat, I don’t buy a bottle of wine or a new pair of shoes. I buy a subscription to The Economist.

I find myself falling a couple of weeks behind because I devour these weekly publications from cover to cover. I cannot even explain why I devour it this way. It’s not casual. It’s like an overdose, multiple weeks saved up to take in all at once. Does not matter if the current event news is outdated. Maybe it is the sometimes tongue-in-cheek delivery and play-on-word titles and subheadings in articles. Maybe it’s the topics. Sometimes it’s just the slightly annoying way the magazine prescribes “solutions” and offers up its opinions (I don’t always agree with its assessments but appreciate that such a thing is churned out weekly).

I could have taken a digital-only subscription, but I like carrying the magazine copies around with me to read whenever I am stuck waiting or flying or what have you. And I am never disappointed. There’s always something – even in a slow news week.

A few weeks ago it was an entire special report on Turkey and its move toward being a “sultanate” under Erdogan. Then it was an entire briefing on legalization of cannabis. When David Bowie died, which filled me with unreasonable, irrational grief, the magazine dedicated not one but two pages to his obit and titled/subtitled articles throughout the entire magazine with his song titles and lyrics (and even did this a few times weeks after he had died). Small touches here and there, small things that give me a chuckle. It feels like a strange indulgence, but there are worse, more destructive pleasures to indulge.

Hillary needs a new tune

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Hillary Clinton does not know and has never known another way to be.

She can change the song, the genre of music and even the format (digital upgrade or streaming!), but she is still the same person with the same values (no matter how she tries to shift the narrative around and adjust her “tone”) as she always has been.

Her belief that it is her destiny and her time to become president somehow even lead her to a place where she makes her own achievements and qualifications sound like an excuse/defense. And sometimes ill-advised ones: “Before it was called Obamacare it was called Hillarycare!” Yes ,we know you know ALL about the complications and intricacies of this because you tried it as First Lady and failed in a big way – even spawning exhaustive publications about the failure (and her inability to cooperate and make deals that contributed to that failure).

Every statement by an opponent is a defense, along the lines of: “But but but… I was appointed Secretary of State!”

All these protestations and throwing in factoids about herself highlight one of the clear weaknesses of this – and all – her campaigns. She tries in a flat and false way to talk about them like they are about the American people, but they always come off being – or seeming like they are – about her. Meanwhile, the driving force of Bernie Sanders’s campaign IS the system and the people; he may mention his experience when he has to, but that is not driving the narrative of his campaign. An article in Salon states it succinctly: “His (Sanders’s) campaign is about us; it’s not about him.” and “Hillary Clinton’s campaign went south went she started making it about her and her experience.”

I am not really questioning Clinton’s credentials, her qualifications or her readiness. The laundry list of stuff she has done is impressive. I am questioning more the overall tone of what she presents (much like the episode of Friends, when Monica beseeches Chandler, “Sense the tone!”). But she stands for a lot of entrenched interests, the establishment and is, as The Economist put it, “the continuity candidate” in a season of change.

“Mr Sanders’s supporters want to undo the accommodation with business that the Democrats reached under Bill Clinton. But they do not hate their party: most strongly approve of Mr Obama, who is much closer politically to Mrs Clinton than he is to the Bern. That she is not doing better is largely down to her shortcomings as a candidate. Her well-funded campaign is being run by veterans of Mr Obama’s brilliant grass-roots operations and aims to emulate it in seeding and revving up networks of autonomous volunteers; but Mrs Clinton, a continuity candidate when the mood is for change, is not doing much revving. Mr Sanders’s campaign, which in 2015 netted over 2.5m donations, resembles the president’s more closely.”

When people crave change, they don’t care that the promises made are aspirational – they want to believe that the promised change is possible. Clinton’s insistence in the debate last night that the people deserve to know the nuts and bolts details of how changes will be accomplished is well taken – but for most people, it is a lot like how sausage is made. They don’t want to know, won’t look and will just eat what they are fed. Does anyone know how utterly impossible it was to get Obamacare reforms pushed through? And do they know the nitty-gritty of how that worked? Or did they just see that they may have gotten more options with it in the end?

The process of governing is tough – and Hillary is tough enough to do it – but it is not the process or bureaucracy that people want to hear about and is not what she should be campaigning on. She is reasonable and has a plan, but all it sounds like, despite her conversion(s) to different musical styles (following on the awkward analogy above), is a broken record – constantly breaking into song about how we have to work with the system we have.

That is the crux of the problem: the system we have is broken. That is what people are seeing, feeling and reacting to.

Standing up and bragging that you are the 30-year veteran of working within and creating a lot of that broken system is NOT going to help you.