Search results for 'An Angry man'

“An angry man — that is my subject.”

2 Aug

That’s my favorite opening line of any translation of the Iliad by W.H.D. Rouse.  Granted, it takes its liberties with the wordiness of the original Greek:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,

πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν

ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

and the more literal translations: “The wrath do thou sing, O goddess, of Peleus’ son…” (A.T. Murray).  Fagles’ “rage” is better than “anger” and closer to the Greek “menos,” which, perhaps for no other reason than that it’s the first word in the Iliad, is truly terrifying, but the curtness of Rouse’s opener conveys the message better; he’s angry – too angry for too many words; don’t talk to him; better to not even get too close.  He’s angry and, in fact, his anger is the subject; it’s the whole story.  He’s begged, cajoled; nothing works.  His best friend pleads with him – yok.  He’s offered gifts and treasures far surpassing the one insignificant thing they took from him but the taking of that thing has so lacerated his rightly gigantic ego that he won’t budge.  The Achaeans send their wisest to plead with him – the ones he himself respects the most – and he and Patroclus roast their best meats and pour their best wine for them, in what is literature’s seminal account of Middle Eastern hospitality: not because of the kebab or the wine, but because the feast is entirely about the honour of the host and pleasing the guests is irrelevant.  This guy, especially, has no interest in pleasing his guests; once he’s done his duty as a host he sends them packing with a litany of insults to deliver to Agamemnon that would leave a Russian truck driver’s ears ringing.

Rage is good.  I always thought so and think we’ll suffer as a society now that we’ve banished it to the corner where all our stigmatized emotions sit.  It just needs to be channeled, motivated by something other than blind ego: namely, by fully aware ego.  Even Achilles — once his rage stops being about his bloated self and becomes attached instead to his love and grief for his friend — goes to work decimating the Trojans, delivers some of the most deliciously bloody sections of the Iliad, and stages a wake the likes of which I’m envious that I’ll never attend: with games, massive quantities of food and drink, and the sacrifice of scores of sheep and goats and beautiful horses and twelve Trojan princes.

Achilles’ Rage (no more info)

Achilles’ sacrifice of the 12 Trojan prince POW’s at the funeral of Patroclus. Part of a wall painting in the Francois Tomb, Vulci, 350-330 BC. Museo Torlonia, Rome.

So you see it needs to be given the form of discipline, just as everything needs form; not tempered or minimized or put in contact with its feminine side – please, God…  Women have the right to and are certainly, perfectly and obviously capable of rage as well; but it’s not to be domesticated.  I’ve been watching athletes use it or succumb to it all summer now.

We all know I’ve been watching my man Phelps closely.  He’s not just a hero of mine and one of the greatest athletes of all time; I just wanted so badly to see him stick it to the bloodthirsty mobs who, back in 2009, were howling for his just crowned and anointed head because he had smoked some pot.  My heart sank after that first event, the 400m individual medley: fourth place?   I couldn’t believe it.  I thought they had gotten to him, psyched him down, the Lochte-mania.  In fact, the mobs did immediately start trashing him: “oh, he’s just been coasting a lot…” “oh, maybe at his age…”  What?!  He’s almost a year younger than Lochte!  As he stormed out to the lockers in a rage, I hoped he hadn’t succumbed to Djokovitis, the racket-smashing loss of concentration that’s plagued Nole since the spring.  I knew inside he was hanging his head.  Then silver in the relay, ok.

But then he came in second in the 200m butterfly, the event that he’s had in his pocket for almost a decade, so silver just wasn’t good enough, even if it tied him to Larisa Latynina, the Russian gymnast from the 1960s with the record of eighteen Olympic medals that she had held for forty-eight years.  Or because that was the medal that tied hers.  That was precisely the medal he had wanted to be gold.  He got out of the pool, looked at the clocks, threw his swimming cap back into the lane and stomped off again.

But there was something different about his anger this time, an “I’m better than this…” tone.  And sure enough, he came right back out and surpassed Latynina, who was watching in the stands, with his nineteenth medal – a gold one this time — in the 4x200m relay.

From Duncan White at The Telegraph:

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

Latynina was great:

Larisa Latynina won 18 Olympic medals in gymnastics for the Soviet Union, but she attended swimming Tuesday night. Michael Phelps was racing. He was trying to beat everyone in the pool and Latynina’s record as well. And when the moment came, she knew exactly what a great champion should do. She put on her lipstick.

Latynina joked in recent weeks that it was time for a man to be able to do what a woman had done long ago. And that it was too bad Phelps was not Russian.

Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, winner of 18 Olympic medals, waving to the crowd during the women’s team final.  (Rolf Vennenbernd/European Pressphoto Agency)

This year in New York, Latynina did meet Phelps and presented him with a medal she had won in a Soviet-American dual meet in 1962. She found him “very simple, smiley, lovely to talk to.” They discussed training and, Latynina said, Phelps acknowledged that he had wearied of swimming and was ready to retire after the London Games.

She understood.

“I think a person should go for sport only as long as they get pleasure from it,” Latynina said. “As soon as they stop enjoying it, they should stop.”

And like she had been the lucky charm — or the older athlete mom that got to our Cancer Mikey’s heart (they’d met before — see article), our man has been cruising on gold ever since.  But I think that it’s just that he took control of his rage.

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

You wouldn’t think it, eh?

For other Phelps posts see:

“Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of the previous Greek post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or my original 2009 “Michael Phelps” and check out tag box at lower right.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Great Krugman on Putin

22 Dec

putin-russia-military-750a_4eeedb96f23edfb4cd42615d86323da2(click — if you can stand to…)

In today’s Times: Conquest Is for Losers: Putin, Neocons and the Great Illusion

Good for someone to remember these things — and say them straight up to.  Whether it’ll sink through Russian heads is not a call I can make.

“First, why did Mr. Putin do something so stupid? Second, why were so many influential people in the United States impressed by and envious of his stupidity?

“The answer to the first question is obvious if you think about Mr. Putin’s background. Remember, he’s an ex-K.G.B. man — which is to say, he spent his formative years as a professional thug. [My emphasis] Violence and threats of violence, supplemented with bribery and corruption, are what he knows. And for years he had no incentive to learn anything else: High oil prices made Russia rich, and like everyone who presides over a bubble, he surely convinced himself that he was responsible for his own success. At a guess, he didn’t realize until a few days ago that he has no idea how to function in the 21st century.”

And from me August 3rd: From the Times: Putin uses the Church…and the Church mostly lets him… ‘Позор…’  

“Does anybody remember that Putin was a KGB agent for decades — not just a cop, an agent of an instrument of mass state terror with perhaps no equal in history — and that part of his job was ruining the lives of anyone who engaged in the kind of religious pilgrimage these people are?  No.  It’s like that never happened.  And though my stomach turns when I see him on news footage solemnly standing with his candle at Easter, engaging in the non-stop crossing and bowing that Russians do in church, I’m also just stunned by his brazenness.  The word Позор (pa-zor’) in the heading of this post means “shame” but as I was trying to find somewhere to cut and paste it from I came across its etymology.  It originally meant “remarkable,” or someone or something remarkably “watchable,” from the root “zor” for vision.  And this is, in fact, the response Putin provokes: you simply stand there, staring and dumbfounded by his shamelessness.

“As for Russians themselves, sometimes I get so angry, not just at their acceptance of the political manipulation of an Orthodox Christianity that’s important to me, but at their general passiveness, gullibility, and willingness to play along with anything that promises even some tiny alleviation of their suffering, that I just want to think that they deserve their fate.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

To Murray, man?! To Murray?!

3 Aug

To Murray?!  Are you shitting me, Nole?!

Get your bronze and get out of England.  Don’t nobody even talk to me right now.  I’m the angry man.  Beating Murray would’ve gotten Novak’s No. 1 ranking back and an Olympic Djok-Roger fight could’ve been the match of all our lifetimes.

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Tarlabaşı II: Elif Batuman, Beşiktaş, Kuzguncuk and “diversity”

2 Aug

A couple of problems I have with this New York Times article from last month  —  “Poor but Proud Istanbul Neighborhood Faces Gentrification”  — that prompted this Tarlabaşı series (see “Tarlabaşı I”), other than that it’s so confusingly written that one can’t exactly tell what the Beyoğlu municipality has in mind for the area, which may be their plan and not the fault of the writer.

One, is the “migrants” bit in the first or second paragraph of the article.  Yes, Istanbul continued to attract migrants until the early twentieth century from all over the Ottoman Empire and even the independent and impoverished successor states of the Balkans, men like my great-grandfather and his son-in-law, my great-uncle.  But the Greeks, Armenians and Jews that lived in Tarlabaşı in the 1940s and 50s where not migrants.  They were born and bred — mostly far more than two generations — Constantinopolitans who would’ve gotten somewhat apoplectic if you told then they were migrants.

Two, is that contemporary Tarlabaşı is not “diverse.”  It’s almost 99.9% Muslim and probably about 80% Turkish and 20% Kurdish – maybe with a very heavier demographic tilt toward the Kurdish end, which is natural because you would have run away to the big city too if your villages were being constantly bombed and flattened and what’s essentially the sürgün* of Kurds westward had been going on for decades.  That’s not diverse.  It’s probably pretty representative of the poor of the rest of the country.  If by diverse we mean the ex-pats that’ve found a good rental deal there and the artists who live in Tarlabaşı, that’s a whole other story.  In that case, maybe it’d be a good idea that artists recognize that they’re always the anti-diversity seed for every gentrification: they move in, their blending in with the locals is “cool” at first; the bankers, the lawyers, and the academics with a little bit of money follow the coolness (they have to do something), and then the ‘hood is gentrified and the funky artists can’t live there anymore…along with the neighborhood’s working, or maybe completely impoverished, classes.  And then come the wine bars.  Maybe the artists should go straight to Yalova or Tekirdağ, or Poughkeepsie or Scranton, so there’s no fear of the yuppies following them.  What do you think?  Demographically emptying neighborhoods, like the East Village and Williamsburg were here in New York in the eighties, obviously went first.  A mahalla with a stay-put, clannish population, like the Greeks and Italians and Bosnians of Astoria, obviously doesn’t let the process go that far, which is why Astoria has its share of artists and actors and writers and gay guys but still has functioning ethnic communities with their clubs and bars and butchers and produce shops at the same time and in the end remains far more interesting — and far more New York – a neighborhood than Williamsburg has become.

Astoria (click)

Williamsburg

But gentrification is not the issue.  The buzzword “diversity” is and that’s not even the Times’ writer’s fault.  “Diversity” and “multicultural” are words that have filled Turkey’s stock portfolio for several decades now: the less diverse İstanbul, especially, became, the greater the ubiquity of those words became; for tourists obviously, but, more importantly, for internal consumption in a dynamic so complicated that it’s always been tough to outline for me or figure out at all.  Post-eighties, late-twentieth-early-twenty-first-century, modernizing, haltingly democratizing, Turkey has a great investment in these words.  I mentioned in one of my first posts The Name of this Blog,” that:

“All this unpleasantness is usually excised from the contemporary Turkish nostalgia phenom.’  I remember on my first trips to Turkey as a teenager in the eighties even, often finding myself in the confusing position of being told: ’Oh, lots of Greeks used to live around here,’ in a smiling and totally sincere attempt at bonding and with a totally blissful indifference or maybe ignorance as to why they didn’t anymore, leaving me feeling both touched and irritated.  Granted, people have become markedly more sophisticated since then.”

Or have they?  I admit to asking this question with more than a significant dose of bitterness because the issue makes me angry.  Maybe I just want to expect – or eventually be able to expect – better from Turks.  I know what Greek nationalists think and they’re hopeless, because the bitterness of Neo-Greek impotence springs from an eternal source.  They think only Greeks ever lived in Greece.  They think there were never any Turks in pre-1913 Greece.  They don’t know how hard the Neo-Greek statelet made life for Salonican Jews between the wars (even as a little nostalgia phenom’ has developed around them in Salonica, a city hungrily looking for cultural capital).  They don’t know that Muslim Albanians were massacred and expelled from western Epiros during WWII.  If it were up to them, they would expel the Turkish minority from the north-east – were it not for fear of Turkey’s response (see Çiller’s famous comment about the Turkish army in Athens in 24 hours, the bully-face of the Turkish state at its grossest) – and they simply ignore the Macedonian minority of the north-west, terrorized and intimidated for decades, if they even know or are willing to admit it exists, etc., etc.  There’s no point in going on.  I detest Greek Turk-hatred; it’s so beyond obvious to me that it’s a projection of the total failure of the whole Neo-Greek project – politically, socially, economically and culturally – and I bow up like a friggin’ cobra whenever I sense even the slightest whiff of it.

But sometimes I wonder if I prefer Greek animosity to Turkish arkadaşım-s and kardeşim-s or silent smiles.  Elif Batuman is a writer I love.*  She wrote a very funny book on Russian Studies academia in the U.S. and she’s been The New Yorker’s guy in İstanbul since she moved there in 2001.  She writes truly – not just hilarious – but perceptive articles on modern Turkey, which remind you why — if one does – you love that country and its people.  In the March 7, 2011 issue of the New Yorker she wrote a brilliant piece on İstanbul’s Beşiktaş soccer club, “The View from the Stands,” and soccer in Turkey generally that said so much about the country she should look into writing a book about it.  (Her writing often betrays her, also, as a woman who really likes men; I don’t mean “likes” like that; I mean has a deep and genuine appreciation for them and their company — she’s a guys’ girl.)  Anyway, at one point she writes:

“Hakan quoted a much repeated cliché: ‘Armenians support Beşiktaş, Jews support Galatasaray, and Greeks support Fenerbahçe.’  Nobody ever says whom the Kurds – Turkey’s largest minority – support.”

Really?  Batuman recognizes it’s a cliché and probably also asked herself the same question: What city is he talking about?  Granted the p.r. guy, for lack of a better word, for Beşiktaş’ mob-like fan club is an Armenian.  Other than him…?  How many of İstanbul’s estimated 50,000 Armenians, 25,000 Jews, or 1,500 Greeks have been to a Beşiktaş game?  (I mean…forgive me the stereotype, but the idea of a good Jewish boy going to one of the high-testosterone matches Batuman describes, with their brawls and stabbings, strains all belief; one of the old Greek ladies from the Balıklı old age home would be there first.)  Or how many of Beşiktaş’ fans, unlikely to even be from İstanbul (and whom Batuman makes you like so much you want to hang out with them), have even met one of any of the above ethnic groups – out of a city of almost 15 million?

So in eternal pursuit of this question I buy Streets of Memory: Landscape, Tolerance, and National Idenitity in Istanbul, a book by Amy Mills from the University of South Carolina about Kuzguncuk and the narratives of social change that are told by its inhabitants.  Kuzguncuk is a lovely neighborhood on the Asian side of the lower Bosphorus.  It once had a large Armenian and Jewish population and a slightly smaller Greek one.  Beginning in the 1940s and into the 50s, as the minorities left for other neighborhoods or left Turkey all together, rural migrants, especially from the Black Sea coast, started to settle in the area.  But it was one of the ripest gentrification fruits in the city, dripping and ready to drop like a cracked fig: quiet, as the Asian neighborhoods of the Bosphorus are (quieter and prettier generally than their counterparts across the water; their only drawback is that in the summer they roast in the setting sun for the entire afternoon), close to Üsküdar and Kadiköy and their easy connections to the European side of the city, and still so architecturally intact that several good-ole-days, neighborhood soap operas have been shot there.  As for the quarter’s former or remaining minority residents, Mills’ doesn’t get very much out of them; the old Turkish residents of the area have the usual smiling, nostalgic accounts of their lives with the others, but are generally silent about what happened to them, or at least uncomfortable about going into details (as are the non-Muslims themselves), and the young Turkish gentrifiers of the area are, of course, too busy fighting their usual war against the newer, richer gentrifiers that the former are sure will destroy their mahalla-paradise.

The skala at Kuzguncuk (above).  Houses in Kuzguncuk (below) by Selma Arslan (click)

But after several chapters of interesting but kind of non-conclusive ethnography and lots of interesting accounts (the Greeks are the most secretive and unhelpful of her subjects — perhaps because they’re the most recently and deeply traumatized), Mills drops a theoretical bomb — for me at least — in her conclusion that summarizes everything I’ve always suspected about the issue:

“But why do non-Muslim minorities become the subject of nostalgia?  As I demonstrate in chapters 2 and 4, the nostalgic emphasis on minority cultures in Istanbul is a way of reinforcing a sense of cultural and social difference, a way of othering, that ultimately works to co-opt minorities back into the predominantly Turkish imagination of the city.  Thus nostalgia embraces and reinforces a nationalist context that defines social difference (without which, there wouldn’t be social difference) along ethnic and religious lines.  If we interrogate the cultural politics of this nostalgia, we see that nostalgia constitutes the flip side of silence.  By focusing on the dimensions of interethnic neighborhood social life that emphasizes togetherness and sharing, nostalgia erases fissures and differences.  In chapter 4, I discuss how nostalgic memories of life on the main street smooth over the violence of particular antiminority events in Kuzguncuk: the erasures accomplished by nostalgia actually reify the ideology behind the dominant national narrative, that Turkey is an inherently Turkish nation.  Nostalgia for cosmopolitanism, by sustaining the erasure of difference, writes minorities back into a seamless collective, and so nostalgia for minority places and people is part of the discursive field that dispossesses minorities of place.  Minorities comply by maintaining silence regarding their experiences of Turkish nationalist discrimination and by assimilating, thereby ensuring their safety.  In this way, the primary function of the nostalgia for cosmopolitanism is to sustain and mediate social and personal experiences of ethnic Turkish nationalism.  The conclusion is that in Istanbul, cosmopolitanism is imagined locally in ways that perpetuate the notions of social difference and inequality that cosmopolitanism, as an ideal, claims to transcend.”

Hard to say more than that; it strips “İstanbul nostalgia” down to its basic – if not hypocrisy – then at least its unintentional disingenuousness.  But there is probably one more layer that needs to be excavated there and a connection that may need looking in to.  Under the fanatically secular project of the Republic, which permits the doublethink simultaneity of pure Turkishness and gracious cosmopolitanism that Mills nails on the head to “co-exist,” may run, ironically, the frequently bloated claims of tolerance and egalitarianism that Islam has often made for itself.  There’s a suspiciously similar paternalism: “We’re in control here, but as long as you lay low, you’ll be ok…” that seems part of the foundation of both ideologies, and that might not be a coincidence.

And that’s also why Batuman’s Beşiktaş fans can recite the classic trio of vanished ethnic groups but never say what team the Kurds support: because Turkey has 14 million Kurds, and they won’t “lay low.”

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

*Sürgün means deportation in Turkish (I don’t know if it’s originally a Turkic word).  The Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Safavid and previous Persians, the Romans — all used them for strategic military purposes and to disperse peoples whose unity was considered threatening or subversive.  The Byzantines used the method extensively to re-Hellenize the Greek peninsula after the Slavic invasions of the 6th century, moving Anatolian Greeks to Greece and Slavic groups to Asia Minor; a cynic will tell you that exchanges of populations and ethnic cleansings are nothing new.

**You can find most of Batuman’s work for The New Yorker here, though most of it is behind their bitchy pay-wall, and her book: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

See Tarlabaşı I and Tarlabaşı III

Mexicans, Achilles, anger and Michael Phelps

18 Jan

I’ve suddenly had a sudden non-stop bombardment of hits from México — which I never get — on this post on Phelps from London games.  Can anyone tell me why now?

**************************************************************************************

“An angry man — that is my subject.”

That’s my favorite opening line of any translation of the Iliad by W.H.D. Rouse.  Granted, it takes its liberties with the wordiness of the original Greek:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,

πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν

ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

and the more literal translations: “The wrath do thou sing, O goddess, of Peleus’ son…” (A.T. Murray).  Fagles’ “rage” is better than “anger” and closer to the Greek “menos,” which, perhaps for no other reason than that it’s the first word in the Iliad, is truly terrifying, but the curtness of Rouse’s opener conveys the message better; he’s angry – too angry for too many words; don’t talk to him; better to not even get too close.  He’s angry and, in fact, his anger is the subject; it’s the whole story.  He’s begged, cajoled; nothing works.  His best friend pleads with him – yok.  He’s offered gifts and treasures far surpassing the one insignificant thing they took from him but the taking of that thing has so lacerated his rightly gigantic ego that he won’t budge.  The Achaeans send their wisest to plead with him – the ones he himself respects the most – and he and Patroclus roast their best meats and pour their best wine for them, in what is literature’s seminal account of Middle Eastern hospitality: not because of the kebab or the wine, but because the feast is entirely about the honour of the host and pleasing the guests is irrelevant.  This guy, especially, has no interest in pleasing his guests; once he’s done his duty as a host he sends them packing with a litany of insults to deliver to Agamemnon that would leave a Russian truck driver’s ears ringing.

Rage is good.  I always thought so and think we’ll suffer as a society now that we’ve banished it to the corner where all our stigmatized emotions sit.  It just needs to be channeled, motivated by something other than blind ego: namely, by fully aware ego.  Even Achilles — once his rage stops being about his bloated self and becomes attached instead to his love and grief for his friend — goes to work decimating the Trojans, delivers some of the most deliciously bloody sections of the Iliad, and stages a wake the likes of which I’m envious that I’ll never attend: with games, massive quantities of food and drink, and the sacrifice of scores of sheep and goats and beautiful horses and twelve Trojan princes.

Achilles’ Rage (no more info)

Achilles’ sacrifice of the 12 Trojan prince POW’s at the funeral of Patroclus. Part of a wall painting in the Francois Tomb, Vulci, 350-330 BC. Museo Torlonia, Rome.

So you see it needs to be given the form of discipline, just as everything needs form; not tempered or minimized or put in contact with its feminine side – please, God…  Women have the right to and are certainly, perfectly and obviously capable of rage as well; but it’s not to be domesticated.  I’ve been watching athletes use it or succumb to it all summer now.

We all know I’ve been watching my man Phelps closely.  He’s not just a hero of mine and one of the greatest athletes of all time; I just wanted so badly to see him stick it to the bloodthirsty mobs who, back in 2009, were howling for his just crowned and anointed head because he had smoked some pot.  My heart sank after that first event, the 400m individual medley: fourth place?   I couldn’t believe it.  I thought they had gotten to him, psyched him down, the Lochte-mania.  In fact, the mobs did immediately start trashing him: “oh, he’s just been coasting a lot…” “oh, maybe at his age…”  What?!  He’s almost a year younger than Lochte!  As he stormed out to the lockers in a rage, I hoped he hadn’t succumbed to Djokovitis, the racket-smashing loss of concentration that’s plagued Nole since the spring.  I knew inside he was hanging his head.  Then silver in the relay, ok.

But then he came in second in the 200m butterfly, the event that he’s had in his pocket for almost a decade, so silver just wasn’t good enough, even if it tied him to Larisa Latynina, the Russian gymnast from the 1960s with the record of eighteen Olympic medals that she had held for forty-eight years.  Or because that was the medal that tied hers.  That was precisely the medal he had wanted to be gold.  He got out of the pool, looked at the clocks, threw his swimming cap back into the lane and stomped off again.

But there was something different about his anger this time, an “I’m better than this…” tone.  And sure enough, he came right back out and surpassed Latynina, who was watching in the stands, with his nineteenth medal – a gold one this time — in the 4x200m relay.

From Duncan White at The Telegraph:

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

Latynina was great:

Larisa Latynina won 18 Olympic medals in gymnastics for the Soviet Union, but she attended swimming Tuesday night. Michael Phelps was racing. He was trying to beat everyone in the pool and Latynina’s record as well. And when the moment came, she knew exactly what a great champion should do. She put on her lipstick.

Latynina joked in recent weeks that it was time for a man to be able to do what a woman had done long ago. And that it was too bad Phelps was not Russian.

Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, winner of 18 Olympic medals, waving to the crowd during the women’s team final.  (Rolf Vennenbernd/European Pressphoto Agency)

This year in New York, Latynina did meet Phelps and presented him with a medal she had won in a Soviet-American dual meet in 1962. She found him “very simple, smiley, lovely to talk to.” They discussed training and, Latynina said, Phelps acknowledged that he had wearied of swimming and was ready to retire after the London Games.

She understood.

“I think a person should go for sport only as long as they get pleasure from it,” Latynina said. “As soon as they stop enjoying it, they should stop.”

And like she had been the lucky charm — or the older athlete mom that got to our Cancer Mikey’s heart (they’d met before — see article), our man has been cruising on gold ever since.  But I think that it’s just that he took control of his rage.

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

You wouldn’t think it, eh?

For other Phelps posts see:

“Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of the previous Greek post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or my original 2009 “Michael Phelps” and check out tag box at lower right.

(My original 2009 “Michael Phelps” for the event that started it all.)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone.

19 Aug

Digging up dirt is their business, and the higher the target, the more cheap glory accrues to their little souls.  We have one of the greatest athletes in history, photographed by one of the greatest artists of our time (do we understand that that’s what the Greeks did?), and they’re worried about the “rules.”  The idea that super high-end professionals likes Phelps’ agent and p.r. people, the entire Louis Vuitton corporate world, and Annie Leibovitz and her p.r. people, all knew about this rule — which is new, by the way — and deliberately flaunted it, is absurd.  But let’s see how this plays out.  There are no limits to people’s pettiness. 

If they take away any medals I’m going after somebody; I’m not kidding.

Beautiful work on Leibovitz’ part — goes without saying.

The other part of the ad below.

“Swimming champion Michael Phelps might be in hot water with the International Olympic Committee after photos of his posing in a bathtub for part of a Louis Vuitton ad campaign were leaked on the Internet.

Phelps was photographed for the campaign in a bathing suit and goggles in a bathtub reportedly by photographer Annie Leibovitz. The photos were released during a time when Olympic athletes are banned from participating in marketing campaigns.

The regulation was introduced this year by the Olympic Committee and is known as Rule 40, prohibiting athletes from participating in advertising from July 18 to Aug. 15, which included periods before and after the Olympic Games.

The photo of Phelps in the bathtub next to a Louis Vuitton bag, however, popped up on the Internet in early August, appearing on Paper Mag and the Los Angeles Times, among other websites.

Athletes who break Rule 40 can face sanctions, including financial penalties and disqualification from games, which can mean a loss of medals, as outlined in the Olympic Committee’s guidebook. 

The U.S. International Olympic Committee and Louis Vuitton declined to comment. Representatives for Leibovitz did not immediately return calls from ABC News.”

For other Phelps posts see: Michael Phelps“;  “An angry man — that is my subject.”; Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains other Greek heading, or check out tag box at lower right.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι

4 Aug

No more to be said.

“The medal was Phelps’s 22nd over all, the most by any Olympian; his 18th gold; and his 6th in London. Phelps’s week has been something of a farewell tour, marked at different times by sadness or smiles, memories and melancholy. He has seemed to soften around the edges, letting people into a life so long closed to outsiders as he pursued swimming history, but he never lost his edge.”

The vultures’ll continue hounding him, come up with the tritest dirt; as soon as they had to stop dissing him when he shook off his initial losses in London, the sleazebag press had started going off on stories about why his father was absent — a real wound for him — and not like Lochte’s, red-faced and slobbering over his son after every event.

Knowing his anger and sensitivity about his relationsip with his father, I can only imagine how that infuriated him; and can now guess at how the 2009 witch-hunt and the American public repentance machine he has had to bow to all these years must’ve twisted up his guts in rage: Michael Phelps.  Maybe now he can fulfill my fantasy and publicly declare: “I’m Michael Phelps and fuck all y’all.”  And take a good, deep hit.  And not just a hit.  Drink.  Eat whatever what you want.  Sleep late.  Travel.  Fuck a lot.  And then eventually think about what’s next.

‘Cause whatever this tough, driven, generous and fundamentally All-American good-natured kid does next, he’ll kick ass and the gods’ll all be behind him as he does.

Twenty-two medals — eighteen gold.  The greatest Olympian in history.

*************************************************************************************************************************************************

“But tell me: how did gold get to be the highest value? Because it is uncommon and useless and gleaming and gentle in its brilliance; it always gives itself. Only as an image of the highest virtue did gold get to be the highest value. The giver’s glance gleams like gold. A golden brilliance concludes peace between the moon and the sun. Uncommon is the highest virtue and useless, it is gleaming and gentle in its brilliance: a gift- giving virtue is the highest virtue.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

By Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images (GOTTA click)

For other Phelps posts see: Michael Phelps;  “An angry man — that is my subject.”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of this post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or check out tag box at lower right.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Michael Phelps

26 Jul

Another favorite athlete.

Michael Phelps, of course, has been let out of the mothballs of American moralism for a few months now.  He brought his polis glory at Olympia, did good by the friggin U.S. of A for a long time and then was clapped in the stocks and packed away into a closet for the major crime of having taken a bong hit of some plain old weed like everyone else.  Subway, I think, never totally withdrew their sponsorship, but, in general, the kid was abandoned for years till some commercials started reappearing again recently – but the whole thing, until the absolute eve of the Games, has been kind of low key and sotto voce.  “60 Minutes” had an interview with him Sunday night that I didn’t stand to watch for cringe of the sorries and guilts and mea-culpas that his p.r. people are probably still making him recite.  In any event, it’s obvious from the spate of light porn ads we’ve been subjected to that Ryan Lochte is the media’s swimmer sex-star for these Olympics, though there’s no indication — as London preliminaries have shown — that he’s as fierce a swimmer as Phelps.

Here’s a piece that I wrote back in 2009 when Mikey committed his major crime because I was so enraged by the whole incident, complete with American sheriff huffing and puffing about putting the bad guy away.  It’s not just about Phelps; it’s about athleticism, manhood, heroism and the twisted, perverted notions of all of the above that contemporary America suffers from, and as America goes, the rest of our world; one always wants to hope not, but one’s hopes are usually disappointed.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

February 2009

 

I’m writing to everybody because I think it’s important for as many of us as is possible to speak out against one of our most recent episodes of moral nonsense: the Michael Phelps issue with the bong picture and the whole issue of the criminalization of marijuana generally

My main intent is not to argue in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana use, but I have to start there to move further.  There are people better equipped than I am to argue that case, but I just need to state clearly that keeping marijuana use illegal is ridiculous and that eventually it’ll be recognized as an even bigger and more futile moral absurdity than Prohibition was.  Unfortunately that recognition will not help the people who have been harassed and incarcerated for it, the young people whose records have been pointlessly marred with meaningless arrests, the minors trapped in America’s private jail gulag, or those whose already underprivileged lives have been damaged irreparably by these laws.

I’ve never even smoked pot, but the moral randomness of this position is so mind-boggling that it makes my hair stand on end.  I’m not a doctor or a biochemist, but I can tell you for a fact that marijuana use is not even close to as destructive as even casual alcohol use can be.  And I can tell you with even more certainty that it’s not nearly as damaging to the body and spirit as the garbage that two-hundred million obese Americans shovel into their mouths every day without any legal interference at all.  McDonald’s will kill you or radically lower the quality of your life far faster than pot will – in fact, I think it should be illegal.

But beyond that, what I most want to put out there is my disgust at the spiritual and aesthetic bankruptcy of American culture that this whole circus has once again revealed: not just the trite outrage, the moralizing, the canned language of the ridiculous apologies and Protestant confessions, or the Puritan hand-wringing which always carries with it that nasty whiff of pure persecution that it has so often slid into in our history and into which it can easily slide again.  Spiritual and aesthetic bankruptcy are equivalent states – I can’t think of a better way to put that right now; how about “it is meet and right” to honour the beautiful — and even more than the unjust scapegoating and even real civil rights abuses this kind of stupidity can lead to, it’s another kind of emptiness that galls me: the fact that Michael Phelps is nothing for us but someone we can rip apart like this; that we’ll commodify him or trash him, but no sense of greater meaning ever comes from who someone like him is.

What do I mean?  I mean that in a healthy civilization Michael Phelps would put on his crown of laurels, call a press conference and say: “I’m Michael Phelps and fuck all y’all…”  And he wouldn’t even raise his voice.  “Look at me. I got fourteen gold medals. I’m a god.”  And step away – sorry, no questions.  Because gods don’t even apologize for their crimes, much less their little pleasures that are none of your business anyway.   But he can’t do that because we’re too little.  We’ve lost the sense of awe or worship or grandeur that could have received that.  We no longer understand a radical assertion of self; shitty selfishness we get alright — in the disgusting immorality of our politics and of our business and economic practices — but a radical assertion of power or beauty or manhood just freaks us out and we’re blind to the spring of good things that assertion can become for all of us.  We don’t know what to do with him.  We don’t even know how to destroy him, how to dismember him and eat him like some captive Aztec deity in the hope that we’ll gain some of his strength that way or be saved or whatever it is one wants out of absorption of the numinous.  So we make this magnificent kid grovel and humiliate himself for no reason.  And then we feel better about our own misery and impotence and impoverished spiritual world.

Carlyle said: “Great souls are always loyally submissive, reverent to what is above them; only small, mean souls are otherwise.”  Mean souls is right.  The whole sickening schadenfreude again, which that poor pendeja Paris Hilton didn’t even deserve, much less Phelps…  The wholly squirrelly attitude of  “ha, ha, big stud who thought he was above the law gets taken down a notch…put in his place…” even from intelligent quarters like the New York Times, like this inane piece of pettiness and daddy-preaching from George Vecsey.  We’ve lost any sense of real pride in a phenomenon like Phelps, but we’re all so quick to point out hubris when we think we see it.

Everybody is so happy to call him a dork now, a stoner, a callow fratboy.  But if we see him as nothing but a callow fratboy, that’s our problem, not his; it’s because we don’t recognize the Divine in anything anymore.  If you can look at Michael Phelps and not see the innocence of a Parsifal or a Galahad, you’re the callow one.  And if you don’t see that innocence, it’ll never be transformed into the heroism or strength of a Parsifal or a Galahad either.  You’ll dumb him down and box him in with ethical pettiness — meaning castrate him — so he stays like you.  You just see fratboys, so you’ll get fratboys; all that’s proof of is how far your spiritual imagination extends and that we’ll continue to progressively slide even further into a nation of callow fratboys than we already have.  Every culture gets the culture it deserves.

Kellogg’s dropped their sponsorship of Phelps….  Oooooo….  We’ve let Kellogg’s – Kellogg’s, malaka! the cereal! the vendor of bad carbs and high fructose corn syrup! — become a voice in this fake moral debate.  I wonder what the folks at Oscar Meyer have to say…or Wonderbread…or Pop-tarts, though I’m sure one company owns all of them.  We obviously haven’t turned a single page since the 50s then, and we deserve no sympathy.

Meanwhile, the first thing I thought when I saw that photo and the only real moral issue that it raises for me — the issue of who that scumbag was, the “friend” or fellow partier who took that picture and distributed it to the media — isn’t ever even mentioned!  The betrayal, the cheapness, and the way we cheaply use this traitor’s cheapness as an opportunity to do our moralizing and to turn Phelps into Hester Prynne, that he was probably even rewarded for it…. THAT doesn’t seem to scandalize or bother anybody!  Apparently betrayal and opportunism are now American moral ideals but the simple pleasure of a bong, enjoyed by a kid who more than deserves it and made us so proud…THAT’S a crime….

So, here’s some Cavafy that I think says it all — at least for those who “understand and step aside:”

One of Their Gods

“When one of them moved through the marketplace of Seleucia
just as it was getting dark—
moved like a young man, tall, extremely handsome,
with the joy of being immortal in his eyes,
with his black and perfumed hair—
the people going by would gaze at him,
and one would ask the other if he knew him,
if he was a Greek from Syria, or a stranger.
But some who looked more carefully
would understand and step aside;
and as he disappeared under the arcades,

among the shadows and the evening lights,
going toward the quarter that lives
only at night, with orgies and debauchery,
with every kind of intoxication and desire,
they would wonder which of Them it could be,
and for what suspicious pleasure
he had come down into the streets of Seleucia
from the August Celestial Mansions.”

(Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)

So step aside creeps and shut up — and be grateful you were there to see him pass.

(Below is the original Greek and a Spanish translation too)

 

Ένας Θεός των

Όταν κανένας των περνούσεν απ’ της Σελευκείας
την αγορά, περί την ώρα που βραδυάζει,
σαν υψηλός και τέλεια ωραίος έφηβος,
με την χαρά της αφθαρσίας μες στα μάτια,
με τ’ αρωματισμένα μαύρα του μαλλιά,
οι διαβάται τον εκύτταζαν
κι ο ένας τον άλλονα ρωτούσεν αν τον γνώριζε,
κι αν ήταν  Έλλην της Συρίας, ή ξένος. Aλλά μερικοί,
που με περισσοτέρα προσοχή παρατηρούσαν,
εκαταλάμβαναν και παραμέριζαν·
κ’ ενώ εχάνετο κάτω απ’ τες στοές,
μες στες σκιές και μες στα φώτα της βραδυάς,
πηαίνοντας προς την συνοικία που την νύχτα
μονάχα ζει, με όργια και κραιπάλη,
και κάθε είδους μέθη και λαγνεία,
ερέμβαζαν ποιος τάχα ήταν εξ Aυτών,
και για ποιαν ύποπτην απόλαυσί του
στης Σελευκείας τους δρόμους εκατέβηκεν
απ’ τα Προσκυνητά, Πάνσεπτα Δώματα.

 

UNO DE SUS DIOSES

Cuando uno de ellos atravesaba el ágora
de Seleucia al caer la tarde,
en la figura de un hombre joven, alto y hermoso,
perfumada la negra cabellera
y la alegría de la inmortalidad en sus pupilas,
los que al pasar le contemplaban
se preguntaban uno a otro si alguien acaso le conocía,
si era tal vez griego de Siria o un extranjero. Pero algunos
que le observaban más atentos
comprendían y se apartaban.
Y mientras él, bajo los pórticos,
entre las sombras se perdía y la luz tenue del crepúsculo
hacia los barrios que despiertan
sólo en la noche para la orgía,
la embriaguez y la lujuria y todo género de vicios,
admirados se preguntaban cuál de entre ellos era éste
y por qué placer equívoco
hasta las calles de Seleucia descendía desde la augusta
beatitud de sus moradas.

Versión de José Ángel Valente

For other Phelps posts see:  “An angry man — that is my subject.” “Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of the other Greek-heading post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or check out tag box at lower right.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Genocide

4 Jun

Genocide: what is it really, and are we overusing the term?

Reposted from 2015 on last month’s occasion of Congress and President Biden’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Major moudza to Turkey.

Screamers

I watched “Screamers”* the other night, a 2006 documentary by Carla Garapedian about an Armenian-American synthpunk group based in California, who go around, among other things, “screaming” about the Armenian massacres of the early twentieth century and issues of genocide recognition generally.  They’re shown on tour, comparing Armenian experiences to those of Rwandans, Cambodians — Jews conspicuously less so — soliciting the support of U.S. congressmen, interviewing British aristocrats, Harvard professors and their own great-aunts and grandfathers telling their own story of the events they describe as the Armenian Genocide, all in an effort of course to get the Turkish government to acknowledge the “Genocide” as such.  And it left me with the usual thoughts I have on this issue: that this word – “genocide” – which is supposed to name an evil particular to our time and by naming it hopefully eradicate it, has come to be so overused as to be meaningless, was vague from its beginnings and has come to obscure more than it reveals about the phenomenon, if there is such.

Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor who originated the term, described it as such:

By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of an ethnic group . . . . Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups . . ..

T. Marcus Funk in Victims’ Rights and Advocacy at the International Criminal Court says genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part of an ethnic, racial, caste or religious, or national group.”

“…in whole or in part…” is controversially vague enough.  Then, how “deliberate and systematic” does it have to be to qualify?  And if its victims are members of any “ethnic, racial, caste, or religious, or national group,” is that not so all-encompassing as to include most of humanity?  What sets genocide apart then from any mass killing?  That it’s done to a socially or ethnically identifiable group?  Mass killing – apart from shootings in American shopping malls or movie theaters – is usually committed on such a group.  And by emphasizing that a “group,” usually an ethnic or minority group, is the object, it creates the unspoken assumption of irrationality, though most of the events we call genocides have and had a very rational end and, to be effective, must have used fairly rational means.  And thus I wonder if the word mystifies and, more importantly, decontextualizes to a point that ultimately may do more harm than good.

Obviously, our region gives us a variety of useful examples to look at.  Now, I often get emails here — most simply rants that I don’t bother publishing — in which I’m told that I am defeating the stated purpose of this blog by favoring one group over another or being so obviously preferential in some of my affections or animosities.  I’m told that I’m panderingly philosemitic; I don’t know about the “pandering” part, but otherwise, yes.  I’m accused of being both pro-Israeli and anti-Israeli, and anti-Palestinian and possessed of a blind good faith in Palestinian intentions and an enabler of their “tactics,” whatever that means; I guess if I can be all those things at once I may be doing something right.  I’m accused of being anti-Croatian: let’s leave that one to the side for a moment.  But mostly I’m accused of two things: that I’m pro-Turkish — this usually by angry Greeks — and that I’m a shameless apologist for Serbian criminality.

And here there is some truth: the two peoples may not much appreciate being linked in my heart, but one of the many reasons that I may have a special affection for Turks, or at least find myself defending them so often, is also one of the many reasons I have a special affection for Serbs: I think the two have historically been the most unfairly maligned groups in the region.  And that brings us back to the larger genocide discussion obviously.

It has always irritated me that critics of Serbia, both in the nineties and to this day, dutifully rehearse the main highlights of the “Serbian myth”: traumatic defeat at Kosovo; continued resistance to the Ottomans; among first to struggle for independence in the Balkans; a sincere if often faulty and undemocratic attempt to actually go through with the noble experiment of South Slav unity, only to have those attempts undermined from the get-go by a Croatia that was always a member of that union in bad faith; always supporters of Western causes only to be stabbed in the back after; further traumatic WWII memories – and then just blow them off as if none are legitimate, that they’re just the “mythical” or fictional building blocks of a national pathology that explains Serbs’ vicious behavior during the breakdown of Yugoslavia.

Nobody is denying the unscrupulous manipulation of the Serbian group ‘psyche,’ starting in the late eighties, by some of the most criminally opportunistic, thuggish politicians to emerge out of post-Cold War Europe.  Nobody denies the horrible war crimes of Serbs and Serbian paramilitaries, especially in the great victims of the Yugoslav wars, Bosnia and Kosovo.  But the simple fact is: Serbs had absolutely no reason to feel secure about their future in the states that emerged from the break up of Yugoslavia, especially not in Croatia, the West’s darling.  During WWII, the NDH, the Independent State of Croatia, the Ustaša, had a greater percentage of its population—Serbs, Jews and Gypsies — slated for elimination than any other of the Nazi’s puppet states in Eastern Europe.  The plan for the Serbs specifically was the famous “thirds” plan: kill one third, expel one third, convert the other third to Catholicism (the Ustaša was also fanatically Catholic and its support by the Vatican is one of the Catholic Church’s ugliest twentieth century moral “lapses”).  The numbers are uncertain, as always in these cases, but several hundred thousand Serbs were killed by the Croatian regime and – unfortunately – its Bosnian collaborators during the war.  Ustaša Croatia was the only one of the Nazi puppet states whose tactics even the Germans found excessive, and had to be told by Berlin to “tone it down” a little, because their viciousness was giving undue impetus to a Serbian resistance movement that was becoming increasingly difficult for the Germans to keep under control.  The reasons that post-Yugoslav Serbs might have felt insecure in independent Croatia or even an independent Bosnia are not simple “myths,” pathological obsessions with historical wrongs – especially when Tudjman’s Croatia started making all kinds of fascist noises again as soon as it gained recognition from its German buddies.

Turkey.  It’s maddening that what happened in early twentieth-century Turkey is never put into the broader historical context of the previous two centuries by groups like the Screamers or others who are bent on forcing Turkey to acknowledge the events as genocide.  You can talk and talk and argue and explain and then you come across a passage somewhere that condenses and puts it all into perspective.  The following is from Karen Barkey’s Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective.  Towards the end of a chapter where she’s discussing the deterioration of interethnic relations in the nineteenth-century empire, the penetration of European economic influence and the benefits that that created for Ottoman Christians and from which Muslims were excluded, she writes:

“If major misgivings regarding ethnic and religious difference and disparity were already well-rooted in the empire, competition and communal strife only got worse as Muslim refugees from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Crimea were settled in Anatolia.  Between 5 and 7 million refugees, mostly Muslims, were settled by the Ottoman government throughout the nineteenth century, mostly in Anatolia.  Kemal Karpat argues that between 1856 and 1876 at least 500,000 Crimean Tatars and 2.5 million Muslim immigrants from the Caucasus were settled in Anatolia, the Balkans, northern Syria and Iraq.  Not long after, in 1877-1878, the Caucasian population that had been settled in the Balkans was resettled in Anatolia together with a million others, mostly Muslims from the Balkans.  Another 2 million took refuge in Anatolia until 1914.  By the time of World War I, the immigrant [refugee] population of Anatolia represented nearly 40% of the total population. Such immigration, originating in the nationalist movements and independence politics of the Balkans, the Russian Wars, and the Ottoman defeats, brought in another element of Muslim discontent that not only altered the demographic balance of the empire, but also exacerbated social and economic tensions.”  [emphases mine]

Do we understand that?  Charles Simic has written: “Nationalists everywhere are unmoved by the suffering of people they hurt.”  But are the above figures enough to penetrate the armor-plated narcissism of the nationalist or even dent it?  Might some clubbing over the head be in order?  Let’s repeat them and see: in 1914, the year we’re supposed to think that Turks suddenly had a collective psychotic episode and just started massacring millions of people for no reason, 40% — forty percent – of the population of Anatolia, roughly the territory of contemporary Turkey, consisted of Muslims who had escaped from the various parts of the shrinking empire, usually under conditions that could be clearly labeled “genocidal” or definitely characterized as “ethnic cleansing” though for some reason they are not, and often, as Barkey alludes to, after having been brutally displaced twice in one or two generations: like the Bosnians who had settled in Salonica after 1878 and again in 1908, in such numbers that they gave their name to a neighborhood in that city, only to have to move once more to Anatolia in 1913; or the millions of Circassians, driven en masse out of their Black Sea homeland by Russia in the 1860’s and settled in the Balkans only to have to move on to Anatolia after Bulgarian independence.  Forty percent!  That is almost twice the percentage of incoming refugee population that Greece staggered under in the 1920s after the Population Exchange, and in an Empire that had dragged itself into a World War it was woefully unprepared to fight.

And here’s where we get to the question that every ethically honest Greek or Armenian has to ask himself: what did we expect Turks to do at that point?  Give up even what they had left?  Pack it up?  Go back to the Red Apple Tree?**  To expect that at some point Ottoman Muslims/Turks were not going to fight back in order to hold on to something, a state and territory of their own, is delusional in ways that only as totalizing an ideological structure as nationalism can produce.

51kGIPmTZdL

(what was a really fascinating, eye-opening book for me — highly recommended…)

At no point during the long blood-soaked mess of the past two centuries have Serbs or Turks been guilty of anything that everybody else wasn’t also doing.  Thus, one of my primary objections to the use of “genocide” as a term is that it becomes part of a tool in a chronology of preference, a political expedient for stigmatizing the bad guy of the moment.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when European powers were obsessing with how they were going to divide the crumbling Ottoman Empire among them, there were only Muslim perpetrators of massacre in the region, never Christian ones, only the “unspeakable Turk.”  Only a tiny group of more objective observers at the time of Gladstone’s hysterical campaign asked themselves how “speakably” the Bulgarians and their Russian supporters behaved toward the Muslim population of Bulgaria in the 1870s; only Trotsky had the intelligence and conscience to report the truth about the degree and intensity of Russian/Bulgarian atrocities against the Muslim population of those lands in the 1870’s and nearly resigned from his assignment as a reporter of a Kiev newspaper as a result — he could no longer stand to physically be around the sickening violence (See Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova‘s excellent: “War and Memory: Trotsky’s War Correspondence from the Balkan Wars”  for an excellent account of Trotsky’s reporting and, through it, his brilliant and morally courageous mind; how that mind and its obvious compassion became so twistedly cruel when he turned it on his own people and country a few decades later is one of the mysteries of Bolshevik perversity.)

Later in the century, after the Cold War gave Turkey a kind of favored nation status in the Muslim eastern Mediterranean, Turkey could and still essentially can do no wrong, even if it does conduct, like in Cyprus, campaigns of what elsewhere would be called ethnic cleansing or violates the human rights of its minorities and majorities on a systematic basis, intervenes by supporting radical forces in Syria for whom large-scale, murderous sprees are the norm..

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Serbia was “gallant little Serbia” standing up to the Austrians, beating back two massive assaults by Austria-Hungary, almost crossing the Danube into Austrian territory itself; only when Germany came to its aid was Serbia successfully defeated, and even then while putting up some of the most suicidal and vicious resistance in military history.  Serbia was a staunch supporter of the Allies in both World Wars – essentially the liberators of the Balkans in the First World War especially.  But by the end of the same century, when Serbs refused to play along with the West’s plan for what the New Balkans would look like, they were turned into pathological savages, and locked into a pariah status from which they have still not been allowed to fully emerge.

(To switch regions and periods for a moment, and examine the selective use of terminology, we never speak of the “genocide” of urban Germans or Japanese, do we, though they were a civilian population subjected to barbaric, mass, incendiary murder on a staggering scale and of questionable strategic uses and motivations other than punitive ones.)

But perhaps my most important objection to the word “genocide” should have become obvious from the above: mass murder and expulsion is what happens during nation-state formation and labeling this kind of mass murder and expulsion with some rare-orchid terminology obscures that fact.  As long as the legitimizing principle of the modern state is ethnic/tribal identity there will be groups who by their very cultural and/or religious character cannot uphold that legitimacy and will be oppressed by it.  And the time will come when they will have to be dealt with in some way or other, either through acculturation or removal, especially if their status leads them to separatist desires.  There is no such thing ultimately as genocide.  To observe the former Ottoman sphere, which is as good as any for our purposes, the rules are: form a state by grabbing as much land as you can and keep it by eliminating those who would be opposed to being part of your state.  It’s painful to say, because Bosnians got semi-trapped and stumbled into declaring independence by their two ravenous neighbors and suffered more than any in the Yugoslav conflict: but there was no Bosnian genocide, no attempt to eliminate the cultural/ethnic group that Bosnian Muslims were from the face of the earth.  There was the brutal, systematic, cruel ethnic cleansing of Muslims from parts of Bosnia that Serbia — and, of course, Croatia — wanted to hold on to because those Bosnians wanted to be part of a separate state of their own.  There was no genocide of Anatolian or Pontic Greeks, as many Greeks have lately started referring to the events of the nineteen tens and twenties.  There were decades of chronic, inter-communal violence, a war by an invading state, and the elimination of those that supported that invasion, and mostly not even through violence or by force, but by mandatory fiat agreed upon by the leaders of the countries in question.***  It’s painful to say – they’re a familiar people, one I admire, like, am close to — but as extensive as it was, as systematic and vicious in ways that set a terrible precedent for the rest of the century, it’s a little problematic for me to call what happened to Armenians in the early twentieth century genocide, though in the Armenian’s case I’m easy to convince. The CUP — the Young Turks — have always seemed to me to have been a bunch of loose cannons: a nefarious, often eccentric, make-it-up-as-you-go-along group of giant egos who seemed to be talking past each other most of the time and did their best in essentially ending the Ottoman Empire in the messiest way possible; and the Armenians were their single greatest victims.  But the fact remains: a people (Armenians), in a state (the Ottoman Empire) that was being torn in a million different directions, tried to form an ethnically separate state of their own (though they constituted a majority in no single region of the territory in question), and yes, often did so through violence, armed means and with outside military help.  And they were stopped.  That it was horrifying and its dimensions staggering and unique would be obscene to deny.  That it’s some “special” form of violence — qualitatively and not just quantitatively different — and not just an extreme example of what fundamentally happens during nation-state formation is simply unsustainable as a theory for me.  I had an Armenian-American friend, and we obviously didn’t see eye to eye on these issues.  I remember him once being incensed by what he called the “macho” insensitivity of a Turkish guy who had been arguing with him and who had said: “If we hadn’t done it to you, you would have done it to us.”  Well, it’s sad, but that’s probably the truth.

No one in Screamers, not the experts or the humanitarians, not the musicians themselves, link what they want to call ‘genocide’ to the dominant political state formation of our time.  No one sees it as inevitable that if an “ethnic, racial, caste or religious, or national group” serves as the principle legitimizing force of state organization, that then some other “group” will have to be removed.  And the Helsinki Agreement’s contradictory support of both “minority rights” and “the right to self-determination” has, needless to say, been of no help in sorting out issues of this kind; Yugoslavia was the best proof of the amateurish, do-gooder thinking behind such ideas.

In fact one wonders if it was a Jew who invented the term because he and his were really the only one victims of the irrational beast we want to call genocide and are now using rather indiscriminately all over the place.  Because I can think of only one case in history where a people were not engaged in war with another country, nor in armed or any other kind of civil conflict with the surrounding population, who did not have a separatist agenda within the states they lived in or irredentist designs on parts of neighboring states, who did not constitute any kind of threat – at least real threat – to the society around them (were, quite the opposite, in fact, among those societies’ most productive and talented members), and yet became the object of a villainizing myth of incomprehensible irrationality that marked them for complete extermination anywhere in the world they were to be found — and that is the case of the Jews.  And since we have “Holocaust” for that singular episode of human horror, do we need  “genocide” at all?  Just to throw it around all over the place for every moment in history when one ethnic/religious group inflicted violence on another?

I hope I haven’t insulted — worse — hurt anyone.  I hope this is the beginning of a bigger discussion.

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* Check out the film’s Wiki site; one slightly unethical thing it does is to link the great Hrant Dink’s assassination in 2007 with the the fact that he appeared in the film the year before.  There’s also some slight misrepresentation in a scene where they show Turkish nationalists trashing a fifty-year commemorative exhibit here in Istanbul of the anti-Greek pogrom of 1955 and call it an “Armenian and Greek exhibit.”

** I have no idea of the origin of this myth, or whether it developed in late Byzantine or Ottoman times, but in Greek folklore the homeland of the Turks is a place in some distant indeterminate East called the Red Apple Tree, He Kokkine Melia, and in traditional messianic thought, when the City and Romania (what the Byzantines called their polity) were brought back under Christian rule, the Turks would go back to “the Red Apple Tree.”  Ironically, Constantinople itself was known to Muslims as the Red Apple, the prize conquest, in the centuries before the fall.  I have no idea if the two myths grew out of each other or are some kind of bizarre mirror images that paradoxically developed in opposition to each other.

*** And let us all here be disabused at once of the idea that the Population Exchange agreed to at Lausanne was something that Venizelos and his government reluctantly agreed to because circumstances on the ground had made any other solution impossible.  Lefterake, our Cretan levente, was enamoured of population exchanges and similar plans far before Lausanne or even 1919.  He thought that the section of the Aegean coast that the Allies gave Greece at Paris in 1919 was eventually going to be Hellenized through exactly such a voluntary departure of its majority Muslim population, thus giving a kind of tacit approval to the atrocities committed during those years by the occupying Greek army, and, always the careerist and opportunist, one of his earlier strategies at the Paris Peace Conference had been to promise Bulgaria eastern Macedonia (Kavalla, Drama), and move its Greek population into western Macedonia where they would offset the Slavic majority of those regions, in order to coax the allies into giving him Ionia — he was a twentieth-century nationalist social engineer of the crudest kind from the beginning.  For the definitive placing of responsibility for the disastrous Asia Minor campaign on Venizelos’ shoulders, plus an extremely competent analysis of the destructive consequences of his egotistical, polarizing political style on twentieth-century Greek political life, see Michael Llewellyn Smith’s Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922 — an excellent account of the entire period and a great place to start if, like me, you have embarked on a minor ideological mission to dismantle the entire Venizelos myth.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ionian Vision

Tags: 1919-1922, Armenians, Balkan Muslims, Bosnia, Bosnians, Caucasus, Charles Simic, Circassians, Committee of Union and Progress, Constantinople, Crimeans, Croatia, Croats, CUP, Cyprus, Genocide, Greco-Turkish war, Greece, Greek irredentism, Greeks, invasion of Anatolia, Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, Istanbul, Jews, Karen Barkey’s Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective, Kosovo, Leon Trotsky, Maria Todorova, Michael Llewellyn Smith’s, Population Exchange, Russo-Ottoman War of 1870s, Salonica, Serbia, Serbs, Smyrna, The Red Apple Tree, the Screamers, Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey, Turks, Venizelos, Young Turks, Yugoslav Wars

Rudeness in Europe: from a Quora discussion. I found these scarily accurate…

15 Dec

Rudeness is not as common in Europe as it might be in some countries, but it does exist. I grew up in Europe, have worked there and have been in pretty much any situation one can be in, so I feel I can reflect a bit.

Generally in Europe, rudeness isn’t a standard retort you have to expect. People are aware of a proper way to behave, and will stay on that level as far as possible. But a point can be reached, anywhere, where that bubble bursts.

And that point comes sooner, and will be more dramatic, in some places.

I’ve had the most traumatic experiences of rudeness in my life in the US, but I think it’s safe to say that you can experience rudeness verging on violence relatively easily in the following places in Europe:

  • Austria; I’ve been accosted and screamed at openly and for no discernible or justified reason there on many occasions, and I tread very carefully there these days, knowing that the pleasantness on display is volatile.
  • Germany; it takes a while for a German to blow up, but they are very confrontational, and will seek you out if you do something in public they disapprove of. Things can get loud and violent very quickly then. When I’m in Germany, I keep my head down, challenge no one, and try to be as invisible as possble.
  • Great Britain; there is a segment of the population which, given enough blood alcohol, will turn on people. Luckily, you see them and hear them coming from a mile away. Unfortunately, there are rather a lot of them. An English town centre on a weekend night is like a zombie apocalypse.
  • France; perhaps it’s a streak of Gallic fierceness, but the French can get unbelievably angry, often as a pack and in an organised fashion, and turn violent quickly. Well, what’s new. Any time some law gets passed, a few cars are turned over and set aflame in Paris for good measure. Let’s not forget that this is where kings got their heads taken off once. I’ve once had a dog set on me by a campsite owner near Chartres for parking the wrong way around.

Rudeness in Europe usually comes from an inclination to “set someone’s head straight” about a perceived transgression against their person or public order. So in a way, when you’re being treated like that in Europe, it’s usually a sign of vigilantism, and of you being perceived as a perpetrator of some kind.

This is different from Eastern European rudeness, which is more of the hungover and self-loathing variety [ 🙂], or Scandinavian rudeness, which is usually just social awkwardness bordering on the autistic spectrum [🙂🙂*]. Or Asian rudeness, which seems to increase toward the lower echelons of mental capacity. [My emphases]

* (I came across a tweet recently: that Scandinavians embraced Lutheranism so widely and quickly because it absolved them from the Catholic sacrament of Confession, where they would have to say more than ten words at one time.)

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