Putin, Go Away!

In preparation for an anti-Putin march on February 4th, Russian activists placed a huge banner saying “Putin, go away” right in front of the Kremlin:

This is all kinds of cool.

Who Concerns Romney?

Once again, I don’t like or support Mitt Romney in any way. However, it disturbs me that I just scrolled down 26 different posts in my blogroll, bashing him for the following statements:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

“The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor,” Romney responded, after repeating that he would fix any holes in the safety net. “And there’s no question it’s not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor . . . My focus is on middle income Americans … we have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.”

In any political campaign, he said, “you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich–that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor–that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans.”

What Romney did here, in my opinion, was to reiterate the 99% versus the 1% slogan that the very same bloggers who now bash Romney for this statement have promoted for months. He is a little more honest than the #Occupiers in that he, at least, recognizes that we don’t have a uniform 99% of dispossessed people in this country. He, at least, does distinguish the people at the very bottom from those who have incomes of $100K or $1,000,000K per year. I think it’s very important to start mentioning the fact that there are huge differences in the lifestyles of the $150K and $15K per year crowds. As you all remember, I could never make my peace with the #OSW crowd because of its insistence that the millionaires, the almost-millionaires and the very poor were all in the same boat.

Now, as for Romney’s decision to focus on the middle class in his campaign, once again, he is doing the exact same thing that the #OSW has been doing. I think by now everybody has recognized that #OSW is all about the terror that the middle classes feel at the prospect of slipping down the social and financial scale (do I need to quote Zizek again?). So Romney is saying openly that he will concentrate on the concerns of such middle-class people. Even though, in my opinion, he vastly exaggerates their number, he is being far more honest than the #OSW has been.

We all know that, as a Republican presidential candidate, Romney could not possibly be expected to concentrate on the plight of the very poor. So why are we bashing him now? For being honest and voicing what most of the #OSWers feel but never admit to?


What If the Diamond Is Too Small?

I normally adore Last Psychiatrist’s posts but this one is just too bizarre. What should a man do, this talented blogger asks, if a man proposes to a woman but she thinks the diamond ring he is offering is too small. Last Psychiatrist’s suggestion to such a man is to analyze his own motives and recognize his own manipulative and shallow nature:

The truth is that you knew when you bought it whether the ring was what she wanted. What you were banking on is that she’d accept it anyway.  It was a kind of test of her love.  That’s why this offer of the less than “perfect” ring that she rejects can be understood to be a defensive maneuver: you don’t want to marry her.  “You know what, you’re absolutely right.”  Not so fast.  I mean you’d be much happier just dating her, living with her, status quo.  And you know, if she just waited, someday, someday, someday, you’ll be rich; and then you’ll buy her a really nice ring. Yummy.  Nothing the kind of woman looking for a perfect ring now wants more than a wait-and-see guy.  You’re with her (partly) for her looks, yet you expect she’ll gamble those looks on a single horse race that starts sometime in 2025.

I’m from a different culture, folks, so many of the things surrounding this whole culture of proposing marriage is very alien to me. First of all, I don’t get this idea that one person decides to get married and makes a surprise offer to another person. My powers of imagination fail me when I try to figure out how this scenario can possibly transpire. I mean, if people are together, have a relationship, talk about things, how is it humanly possible that the subject of marriage is never discussed? Don’t people normally have plenty of conversations about their take on marriage, their attitude to the future, etc.? Or do they just studiously avoid the topic to create this weird atmosphere of a surprise?

I also really don’t get this whole diamond-giving tradition. It makes me feel kind of ashamed to consider the idea that a man I love will give me this hugely expensive gift while I just sit there. I have heard the whole spiel about the diamond being a symbol of his love. But if we are exchanging symbols of love, why doesn’t he get a diamond? Is it supposed to mean that my love should be bought? (Please note that I’m saying I, me, myself. This is how I feel, but nobody else is required or even asked to think the same way. This is  just me expressing my thoughts on my blog. There is no personal criticism of anybody implied, really.)

So if this guy with a rejected diamond were to ask my opinion, I wouldn’t tell him to analyze his failings as a human being. I’d tell him that this entire system where men need to beg and pay to have sex and romantic relationships and women need to look for sponsors / providers to whom they can sell sex and romantic relationships destroys any possibility of a genuine, loving and uninhibited human contact. Yes, the ring is a symbol, but is it a symbol of something we really want to perpetuate?

Why is one person sitting there waiting for another person to approach, ask for a date, pay for a meal, call for a second date, propose, give an expensive ring just because she has a vagina? Why is one person taking the initiative, making choices, facing rejection, paying, saving like crazy to buy an expensive ring just because he has a penis? What possible sense can this make? Isn’t it possible that the vagina-owner is more into taking the initiative? While the penis-owner just happens to dig diamonds?

The entire system of courtship, romantic relationship and marriage is so contaminated by this stupid gender binary that it’s scary. Gender compliance is like a strange religion that people sacrifice their interests for on a daily basis. And what does it offer in return? Some vague and completely imaginary societal approval? Is it really worth it?

All that we need to disrupt the gender binary is simply to start asking ourselves, “Am I really doing this because I totally enjoy it or because I have decided that this is how things are done (passive voice) and I struggle to fit myself into the mold?”

The people who force themselves into the “small diamond=bad, big diamond=good” model are not shallow. They are just caught up in a gender binary that is so widely adopted as to seem natural. The only way of breaking the system down is not to dump on people who participate, but to question what is it that makes us see such a profoundly unnatural and weird system as something worth upholding at the cost of sacrificing a wider range of options.

Socialism Versus Capitalism: The Cooperative Model

I have two favorite coffee-shops. One, is located around the corner from where I lived in Baltimore and it’s very special to me because I loved living in that city and still cherish all of its memories. This coffee-shop is run as a collective and its self-proclaimed goal is to “subvert the logic of capitalism.” A cooperative means that the people who work there own the place. This is a small cafe, which means that it only has a few owners.

This coffee-shop is very quaint and special. There are a few things you start noticing over time, though. The floors and the tables are always far from being clean. The service is extremely slow and the snacks are not very carefully prepared. The baristas / owners have a tendency to condescend. The cafe doubles as a progressive bookstore, which is great. However, the baristas enjoy making snarky comments about the books one tries to buy from them. (“Pshhh! This is totally old. Are you just discovering it now?”) They also tend to throw out customers who don’t look like they belong ideologically. N. and I were asked to leave when a public screening of a popular progressive documentary started. We were in the middle of our drinks and had to pack up and leave (I was also blogging) under the collective glares and loud comments about “those Russians.” I attribute this to the fact that N. had gone there straight from work and was wearing a business suit and a tie. There was also a general dislike of the “Russians” that, as far as I have been able to gather, stems from the Russian-speakers’ visceral dislike of the word “Communist.”**

The other coffee-shop I love is a capitalist enterprise. The owner, a.k.a a vicious capitalist who squeezes out profits from his employees, is a gentleman in his sixties who started decades ago as a waiter and saved up to open a business of his own. He now lives and breathes his cafe. He is always there, serving drinks, cleaning up, mopping the floor, talking to customers. The place is spotless, the service is extremely fast, the owner knows every customer by name and greets us even after we’ve been away for months like we are his long-lost relatives.

Mind you, the cooperative cafe I described is only owned by a few people. Just imagine this collective ownership model extended to a large enterprise. You think this system makes the workers happy? No, it doesn’t. Happy workers aren’t mean to customers and have no need to bicker endlessly about whose turn it is to serve clients.

This has been my experience with collectively owned businesses every single time. As we all knew only too well in the Soviet Union, if something belongs to everybody, it really belongs to no one. If you believe in the cooperative business model, be prepared to see the quality of goods and services plummet. If you are ready to make that sacrifice for the sake of “subverting the logic of capitalism”, you are definitely entitled to that preference. I, however, have to admit that I after spending the first 22 years of my life in a country with horribly scarce and low-quality products and abysmally poor service, I’m kind of over that. (The last years of the Soviet Union saw an explosion of cooperatives, as you probably know. This model was abandoned as soon as it became legally possible because – surprise, surprise! – it does not work.)

As somebody who possesses no entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever, I really admire people who start their own businesses, work hard and enrich themselves as a result while providing me with stuff I need. Undoubtedly, the capitalist system has a multitude of defects. The collective ownership of the means of production, though, (i.e. socialism) is nothing but one huge defect. I’ve seen it fail miserably time and again in different countries and in different economic and cultural environments.

I know that after I publish this post and come to work, colleagues will grab me by the arm and whisper, “You don’t really mean you like capitalism, right?” And then a passionate lecture on the evils of colonialism will ensue. People love lecturing me, a colonial subject, on how colonialism is not a good thing. Which makes as much sense as me telling a gay person in a hectoring voice, “Have you thought about the plight of gay people? Because I read a book about it. . .” But I’ve seen what I’ve seen and I know what I know. I can’t pretend otherwise because this is not a popular point of view.

** I want to remind everybody that the Communist genocide claimed lives of about 11 million Ukrainians in 1931-32. I think, as a result of that, Ukrainians can be excused for disliking Communism as much as the Jewish people abhor Nazism.