Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Swallow the Rabbit Whole II

When I returned from Five Days in Paris in 2006, I vowed that I would return to my lifelong reading practice of wandering around history ... and force the mad snippet practice of Internet browsing into the background. I do not know how successful I have been with the latter, especially given the madness of following the present madness that my kind American hosts call a presidential election. But my vow to return to history has been ... well, just perfect.

As I wander around the ages, I keep coming back to Central Asia. You see, I think we have long underestimated just how critical has been the Central Asian role in constructing world civilization, and that role has always been radical but not always nice. So I read Hugh Kennedy's When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, a rather popular but well-written history of the Abbasid dynasty from 749 to ca 935, then John F. Richard's The Mughal Empire from founding in 1526 to the effective end in 1720, though they lingered in dissolution and feebleness for another century and half, and now Colim Imber's terse dissection of the first three and half centuries of what became the Old Man of Europe, The Ottoman Empire. I am plowing through the last one because I am anxious to move on to a period I have never before studied in the form of Roger Savoury's Iran Under the Safavids. (Honesty demands that I note that in the midst of this jag, I indulged in Efraim Karsh's Islamic Imperialism: A History ... and I promise a post on that some day.)

So there's my reading ... and it all makes me wonder how the hell the 'publicans ended up with their standard being borne aloft by the increasingly dish-rag-like John McCain. Dynasties were based on the charismatic notion of infixed authority ... that is to say that the ruler is corporeally given to rule. Hence the authority of idiots when they come along, hence the felt necessity to preserve a dynasty (see the Abbasids) long after they were powerless. Hence the fear and trembling in front of a genuine ruler. Nothing new here.

I like to argue that authority and authenticity flip in the movement into modernity. So, where the Ottoman subject quivers in front of a dribbling fool like Ibrahim I (r 1640-48, then deposed and murdered), he does so because authority proves authenticity. That there is a Sultan, he must be real.

But no one quivers in front of John McCain. The networks worry themselves into a lather about who is "presidential" ... that is, who appears to be authentic. Once they prove that to themselves, they will anoint that one with what we can call authority. The present, long-running configuration is that no Democrat is authentic, but all Republicans are. I remember someone a long time ago explaining this to me. When Republicans splay a football-sized flag across their convention, this is natural. When Democrats do it, it feels like pandering ... or at least we are made to think it ought to feel like pandering. This is akin to atheists feeling ashamed that they skipped church every Sunday morning.

Still, no one quivers in front of John McCain. Somehow dubya had the Kevorka, if I may. It was lost on those of us with brains ... and in that, I include the cyncical reactionaries with brains who pretended to believe they believed in him when in fact they believed in a Sultan-styled presidency where any moron with a world-consuming smile can "lead" a dark cabal which operates hidden and without principle. Reactionaries think that this is good for us, notwithstanding five millennia of earth-shattering proof that cheaters never prosper ... at least not for very long.

McCain is a cheater ... and I am not referring to his reasonably rank treatment of the first wife whom he dumped for miss frozen-face rich-bitch wife number two "who cares how many houses we own." No he is a cheater because notwithstanding all the maverick tripe, he lies and lies and besides he never tells the truth. But that is nothing new ... it is that his transparency is not the knee-slapping type of fake-rube dubya, but the lies of a terrified little man way out of his depth who is making the case that he is capable when in fact all he believes is that he is deserving.

Today's "suspend the campaign" thing, surely that is the last straw. I am of the view that a genuine capitalist recoils at the prospect of a bail-out, and that a genuine socialist figures the bastards had it coming. McCain can't figure out who he is ... his obvious and evident discomfiture presently derives from a man once sure of himself in that simple "I was a POW" manner who has now strayed so far from his fairy-tale narrative that he cannot figure out where he is.

Meanwhile, Obama is plain ... well ... presidential. Calm, magisterial, unperturbed. Notwithstanding ... understand the tongue-in-cheek ... the touch of the tar brush, isn't this the authenticity our nervous tail-ending commentators seek? They are so damned close to saying it ... even George Will has gone over to the dark side ... there is only one president in this race, and it is Barrack.

So nerve-wracking. Like being told that either you will be beheaded or you will be crowned. Kind of like old Ibrahim I who lived in captivity his whole life, trembling lest the executioner arrive at any moment. And then he became Sultan, still trembling, and devoted himself to 8 years in the harem, apparently given especially to fat women. Didn't save him. He ended his days being strangled in a prison cell.

Do we get strangled or do we inherit the kingdom? Hold on.

Tonight's drinks ... a Manhattan (Wild Turkey and Carpano Antica with both Angostura Bitters and Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6, garnished with an organic maraschino cherry) followed by a Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (Bullet Bourbon with CuraƧao, Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, water and ice). I'll try to get some pix up before I go to bed but after Project Runway. Sorry if the logic is a little tormented here .. .I am still decompressing from my Summer of Toil ... that'll just have to be the excuse.

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