What I’ve been watching: Eastern European Class Struggle Edition

A few months ago I watched a Croatian limited series called Uspjeh (Success). It was pretty good and then I found it had stuck in my mind in a lot of ways and I only figured out why a few days ago.

In short, it’s one of the few things I’ve seen that uses class as a storytelling device without being patronizingly didactic. I’d even missed that aspect of it until I thought about it structurally and then it fell into place.

The setting is Zagreb, but the picturesque historical center is avoided and almost the entire story takes place in the outskirts of communist era housing estates (their own thing – there’s no real equivalent in western europe or elsewhere) and offices and the occasional modernist skyscraper (which look as out of place as any brutalist monstrosity). It could probably be reworked slightly for any (non-Soviet) Eastern European capital.

In short. The four main characters represent four classes currently found in post-communist Eastern Europe. In order:

Haris, Vinka, Kiki and Blanka becoming new besties…..

Blanka: Is from the underclass. In Poland this might be referred as ‘margines’ (the margins) or ‘patologia’ (pathology). A high school student, her mother is dead and she lives in a communist era high rise with her father whose main pasttimes are getting blackouit drunk and beating her up. She’s taken up with a would be gangster boyfriend who seems to be grooming her (probably wanting to turn her into a prostitute). She gets in a fight with him when she catches him with another girl and the story is set in motion.

Kiki: Is precarious working class. He can’t hold down any job very long due to a sick son and is about to lose his apartment. He’s hoping a crucial meeting with a bank officer at the last minute can stave off disaster but the official isn’t in that day and no one else in the bank wants anything to do with him beyond kicking his scrubby ass out of the building.

Vinka: Upper middle class (semi-professional). She has a stable management position and seems…. oblivious. This is very true in the region. In modern Eastern Europe this class develops a kind of… tunnel vision tuning somethings out while obsessing about others. Driving her daughter to school she gets stuck in a traffic jam when a car bumps hers from behind. She gets out to investigate and a thug starts punching her (and the few who try to come to her aid).

Haris: Wealthy professional. A well-known architect he’s become rich by designing buildings for corrupt officials which end up standing empty. Now that he’s gotten wealthy through a banal kind of corruption he’s having a spiritual crisis and wants to go straight and ends up having a breakdown just before he’s due to present his design for yet another doomed to be empty building, this one on wetlands that are supposed to be protected.

That evening, the four stories come together in a fit of violence which ends in a death and now the four are bound together and have to protect each other from ending up in jail.

Overall the portrayal of class is very accurate in that the characters’ behavior always makes sense in terms of class. From Blanka’s reflexive hostility to Kiki’s cynicism, Vinka’s disconnect from reality to Haris’s thinking he can finally afford to do the right thing all their actions (however mystifying on the surface) maker perfect sense in terms of their life stories up until that point. It’s also accurate that the first three characters live in buildings next to each other (that kind of economic integration is an Eastern European thing which has only started to break down in the last few years). There are also glimpses of other classes, from a local mafia boss to a corrupt builder and the civil service (represented as a mix of malovence, apathy, incompetence and misplaced idealism).

I don’t want to oversell it, it’s not perfect (or even great, it’s well above average and that’s it) but it’s the only thing I’ve seen in forever that utilizes class in a realistic way. And that’s enough.

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Too Broken to Fix, Too Late to Matter

The Polish government, in its usual cack-handed matter recently passed a bill limited the time that applications could be made for the resitution of property seized by the communist governmen. Contrary to most international media coverage, this is not primarily aimed at holocaust survivors and their descendants.

The whole issue is complex but the broad outlines are….

Warsaw (the most affected city) was utterly devastated in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and most of the city west of the Wisła river was litterally a big pile of rubble. Then after the war was over the Soviet Union (which had cooled it’s heels on the east side of the Wisła doing nothing except preventing other allies from trying to help during the uprising) forced the country into an unwanted economic and military alliance. The communist government nationalized everything and began rebuilding. Later there were other bouts of nationalization. While Warsaw is far from the most interesting or beautiful city in Poland the fact that it exists at all is kind of a miracle.

In 1989 Poland was able to peaceful dissolve the alliance with the Soviet Union (which had reached the point of no return on its road to collapse). Soon after demands for resitution began for which the country was completely unprepared. The country had managed to peacefully negotiate itself out of communism but 45 years of that broken system had left the economy and infrastructure in a shambles. State enterprises were bleeding money, inflation ate up people’s life savings and the country was affected by a massive housing shortage that was the lingering result of the devastation of WWII and the communist government’s use of scarce housing as a method of social control. One sociological article from the late 1980s pointed out that the housing shortage affected and shaped people’s lives the way that natural disasters might in other places.

The process of former private owners trying to reclaim nationalized property was never easy. Necessary legal documents had largely been lost in the war and the claims, based on pre WWII property divisions often had little relation to cities rebuilt after 1944. Further, in the case of Warsaw, what was left in 1944 was often, again, a pile of rubble. People were demanding not financial restitution but any buildings built after 1944 (often long after).

Over the years the process became contaminated by corruption of various kinds. This article does a good job of outlining the major points. If anything the article doesn’t mention some of the worst practices. There are also cases of new ‘restituted’ owners locking the front doors so that people can’t leave their apartments (in one case neighbors and local stores made deliveries in a bucket on a rope to a woman imprisoned inside). There’s been at least one murder of a person resisting the practice of ‘cleansing’ buildings of unwanted tenants.

At this point it needs to stop. Communism has been over for 30 years, enough time for those with legitimate claims to come forth. The whole process can’t be uncorrupted or reformed without rewriting the entire Polish legal code from the ground up. It’s not a mess that can be cleaned up – it needs to be cleared out.

Some of those opposing this law aren’t even pretending they’re working for the dispossessed or their descendants and are trying to to retrieve heirless property…. for reasons.

There’s not much I agree with the current government about but this is one point where I do.

I’m not entirely against restitution but it needs to be realistic and in kind rather than physical property. Financial restitution of the market value of property in 1939 adjusted for inflation is about as far as I would go.

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American Dysfunction… coming to a country near you?!

I’ve been watching an obscure youtube channel lately that is updated almost daily. It features drive by videos of the worst, most dysfunctional areas of Philadelphia.

It’s gripping and horrific. Trash is piled up on the streets along with homeless tents and a rainbow set of addicts are shooting up or nodding off or passed out on the sidewalk.

Streets of discarded humans

A new drug cocktail (known as ‘tranq dope’ among other names) causes users to more or less pass out on their feet or amble like zombie extras in the Walking Dead. Others kneel on the sidewalk.

I remember decades ago first hearing the phrase ‘irrelevant for production’ applied to groups of human beings and that was followed by ‘irrelevant for consumption’. These are people who have no place in the current reality and have been discarded like the garbage on the street they’re OD’ing in. And something tells me they’re going to be having lots of company because many governments seem to be actively working to shove as many of us onto the streets as they can. Pass the tranq dope….

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History repeating…

Not too long ago there was an outburst of anti-Ukrainian prejudice in one of my classes. A student said she didn’t like Ukrainians, didn’t want them around and wasn’t happy that there are so many of them in Poland in general or in the city we’re living in in particular.

The student was, of course, Ukrainian herself and spent a few minutes explaining and elaborating on the idea that the biggest enemy of Ukrainians in Poland are other Ukrainians. Some students seemed a little taken aback, but I just smiled and said “Yeah, I’ve heard that before… I sympathize.”

Partly I sympathize with the idea of leaving your country only to be bumping into to the people you wanted to get away from (I have a mild version of that myself and tend to absent myself whenever I hear an American voice).

And partly I found it amusing because I have heard it all before – from Polish people when they talk about other Polish people abroad. I’ve heard lots of complaints from students going to the UK to earn some spending money and finding themselves surrounded by other Poles (followed by stories about how hopeless they were) and partly from a few who decided to move. One friend was moving to America and had bought a guide which constantly admonished the reader to steer clear of other Polish people in the US (notorious for… trying to exploit newcomers).

The only thing that surprised me is that the students hadn’t heard any of this before and it seemed a little weird to them. The idea of either especially seeking out or avoiding their countrymen when outside of the country or being embarrassed about their worst specimens… just wasn’t on their radar (and some of them have traveled/lived/worked abroad).

It was one of those moments when I realized things really are different now and that I need to dust off old ideas that used to be true but which are increasingly irrelevant.

I really hope that in a few years Ukrainians won’t be mortified by their own when traveling or living abroad – that would be a sign of real progress.

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Eurovision 2021: Finale and Summary

After the first and second semi finals comes the big night….

Bye Bye Awards…. (in order of appearance).

UK: Affable looking singer in an under-powered performance of a forgettable song (I can’t remember a single thing about it).

Spain: Wimpy ballad that kind of went nowhere. He spent part of the time standing under a large Moon and I found myself wondering about the possibility of it falling and cutting the whole thing short.

Germany: Upbeat little ditty that I might not have hated….. who am I kidding? I’d hate it in any context. Featured a dancing middle finger to the audience (and the feeling was very mutual).

People can't believe Germany's 'middle finger' Eurovision entry - Wales  Online

Germany expressing its love for Eurovision

France: Very Piafesque. Not completely updated (as opposed to revived) but delivered with a lot of intensity and a real feeling of momentum toward the end. Best thing France has done at Eurovision in decades.

Netherlands: I want to like this but partly it sounded as if it were from a musical called Lion Kings of the Caribbean. I liked that the chorus was in Sranan (creole language from Surinam) but the English lyrics were woke and dreary.

Italy: A hard rock number delivered with glam rock flair and the lead singer wore a type of bondage overalls while rockstarring his best all over the damn place. Enough energy and commitment that even I (not a hard rock fan at all) was won over.

In the final voting, it turned out, longtime betting favorite Italy won (thanks to a massive win in the televoting), with France and Switzerland in respectable runners up.

Nul Points Award

Major shock when the televotes were announced. The UK (with no votes from the judges) got skunked by the public as well. But… he took it stride and owned the moment with good humor big bows and spraying beer like champagne.

Will Ferrell's Eurovision: Story Of Fire Saga Predicted James Newman Getting  No Points

Losing with class

And a good thing too, as his reaction took a little bit of the sting out of the next three (Germany, Spain and the Netherlands) who also got nul points.

All the countries getting no points and finishing at the bottom had byes into the final. It would be so much better for the big 5 and the host country to exit gracefully in the semis than be rushed into the final for this type of humiliation.

The Babel Award

In a big break from tradition the top three and number five rated performances were not sung in English. The winner was in Italian, the two runners up in French and number five was in Ukrainian. Maybe viewers are decided that committed and competently performed numbers in other languages can connect with audiences more than simplistic songs in international crap English (which tends to the awkward and weirdly affectless simultaneously).

Final thoughts…. I barely watched any interval acts or extra features. I did happen to see the second semi interval act which featured a dance duet between a guy on a bike and a whirling dervish.

This makes perfect sense in Eurovisionese….

But I’m so glad Eurovision is back. May it never be cancelled again!

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Eurovision 2021: High notes and hard rock

So Eurovision is back! And yesterday was the second semi-final.

Rundown:

San Marino: A high energy number I would like except the human piece of garbage known as Flo Rida was part of it. Fool needs to take care of his kid and not mess up Eurovision. San Marino, you are dead to me.

Estonia: Earnest under-powered ballad. I wanted to like it and… couldn’t.

Czech Republic: This sounded like some song that came in second or third a couple of years ago in the Swedish selection process. Not any particular song, but it tries so hard to sound like a Swedish entry…. pass.

Greece: Youngest performer and I feel bad because I don’t like the song or performance.

Austria: Almost a power ballad… and a committed performance but the repititions of “Is this what you want?” kept reminding me I don’t want this.

Poland: Oh Poland, why do you even try? Polish musical tastes don’t jibe well with much of anything and this is an undistinguished up tempo number that appeals to…. who?

Moldova: Didn’t like the video and the song is only so so but a strong committed performance by a Eurovision crazy lady and a high note at the end held for over 15 seconds won me over. Keep on keeping on, Moldova!

Iceland: I honestly can’t tell the difference between their songs this year and last year. Kind of nice seventies soft-funk and the performance is fun… but on tape because someone in the band tested positive… no more zoom entries!

Serbia: Three Eurovision crazy ladies for the price of one! Their upbeat song mixes Balkan and latin vibes. Da da! Si si!

Serbia's Hurricane - Eurovision 2021 First Rehearsal | wiwibloggs

Serbia attempting the difficult triple-crazy-lady and nailing it!

Georgia: Yet another earnest not quite power ballad. I guess they’re trying for the same mood as last contest’s winner but…. not working for me.

Albania: Strong energetic crazy lady vibes. I’m in!

Portugal: This song sounds like what you’d get if you crossed Elton John and Bonnie Raitt in 1974 and then sent the offspring back in time 25 years and he released his first album in 1973 and this was the lead single. The song is okay…. but the vocalist produces some spectacularly ugly sounds when he tries to sit on notes.

Bulgaria: The sort of thing I usually hate (vulnerable pixie girl contemplating the cruelties of life) but…. she carried it off.

Finland: Dark horse of the evening. The video was okay but this hard group came loaded for bear and produced the strongest performance of the evening. Just. On. Fire!

Finland tunes in to Blind Channel - Eurovision Song Contest

Finland doing what it does best. Rocking out.

Latvia: I wanted to like it and probably would have liked it more had it followed Georgia or Estonia… trying for a crazy lady vibe but…. Apparently her song last year was a lot better.

Switzerland: Another song that’s easy to confuse with last year’s entry, but in a good way. It has all the strengths (maybe more) than last year’s song. Strong vocal over an atmospheric backing.

Denmark: Late 70’s early 80’s sound and a lead singer that looks like he has to catch his breath between verses. I’m all for it, but I’m not sure how the audience is taking it.

Seven were eliminated (Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia and Denmark) the only one I really will miss is Denmark….

And on to the final this Saturday!

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Eurovision 2021: Back! And that’s enough!

Eurovision is back! I love Eurovision beyond all rationality and was very upset about it being cancelled last year.

Now it’s back and the first semi-final is over. The excitement and happiness of the crowd in Rotterdam was touching as people got ready to dive into the silliest culture event of the year.

All the acts chosen last year were invited back (with new songs). Most of which seemed really similar to their last year songs. That’s okay.

Running order:

Lithuania: Last year’s favorite (and winner of an informal, unofficial balloting) back with a similar song. Higher energy number to get things off with a bang.

Slovenia: Kind of anonymous song. The singer did what she could with it but…. kind of anonymous.

Russia: I’m not sure about this. I find it hard to believe that the chorus isn’t taken from some old Russian folk song… is that allowed. A lot of it was in Russian so that’s nice but it was hitting culture notes that I dont’ get.

Sweden: Sweden always has a slick pop number that the judges love. It’s pretty good but not a winner.

Australia: Just sad. The lockdowned freaks in Australia didn’t go to Europe and they had to video in a performance. This could have worked last year, but not now.

Macedonia: Sad sack song delivered with heart and my favorite dumb gimmick of the night a disco mirror vest which sent out a blinding light when the spotlight hit it.

Ireland: What’s going on? Is this another video? No! She’s interacting with tiny props placed close to the camera so they look big (instead of interacting with the audience). The song isn’t bad, but ignoring the in-person audience is probably not the best option.

Cyprus: Similar to the song Fuego a couple years ago and Bad Romance by Lady Gaga… okay. Not my thing.

Norway: Feathered angel wings, sunglasses, demons and singing about being a fallen angel. Norway, I love you! Never change!

Listen to “Fallen Angel” by TIX! – ESCBubble

Where else but Eurovision?

Croatia: High energy dance number. If you like high energy dance numbers at Eurovision then you’ll like this.

Belgium: Supposedly a famous group and a nice song… but not really Eurovision material. They keep repeating lyrics about being in the wrong place – and they’re right.

Israel: I was wondering about the reception, especially since the song is called ‘Set me free’. The number was fun and she threw in some coloratura high notes in for fun.

Romania: Song was kind of a mess and apparently hadn’t been going well in rehearsals. I find the singer to be fun and interesting but the song… no.

Azerbaijan: Almost exactly the same song with a few changed notes and different lyrics (Mata Hari instead of Cleopatra). On the other hand she gave it all she had and it was one of the most committed performances of the night.

Ukraine: Similar to last year’s number but a bit better. I was skeptical about this techno-folk number based on the video but they brought their A-game and absolutely destroyed the audience. Best performance of the night and she ended with a weird ululating trill I really want to hear again.

Eurovision-2021: Go-A band in final - Eurovision-2021: Ukrainian Go-A band  reaches final - 112.international

Ukraine tears the roof off the joint.

Malta: I liked last year’s effort better but this is pretty good. A “you go girl!” number with thematic similarities to Toy. The singer was a bit nervous and kind of made a hash of the first line but then recovered and looked like she was having a great time and so did everyone else.

I hadn’t been enthusiastic about this year but this semi-final pleasantly surprised me. Only 10 of the 16 can go on to the final and to no one’s great surprise Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Ireland, Australia and Romania don’t make it through to the final (Croatia was the biggest upset).

Next stop Semi-final 2 on Thursday!

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The Agenda on the Agenda

The tech oligarchy supports trans… ideology because it disrupts traditional feminism which has outlived its uselessness to digital capital. It doesn’t support trans-racialism because it blurs the lines between races which might lead to class consciousness.

Anything that the tech oligarchy pushes that doesn’t make any kind of rational sense on the surface probably ultimately serves to disrupt some potential threat to their power and influence.

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A Diet of Crazy Pills

I love conspiracy theories as interesting things to look at, not as ways of understanding the world. I’ve read and followed more than my fair share and though I’ve let my knowledge slide in the last few years I have a grounding in understanding the more popular theories and understand roughly how they’re built.

Here’s the thing. Almost all of the mainstream media coverage of covid makes me think I’ve stumbled on a new theory nurtured by a few people the details of which are still being made up as they go along. It has no internal coherence or mechanisms to reconcile the parts that don’t fit. It’s uncooked and flimsy and obviously…. not true, by which I mean that I do believe there’s a virus that’s dangerous to some people but nothing media or governments are saying about it seems to have any real connection to reality.

The whole course of media coverage has had a feel of… disengagement with reality from the beginning with asymptomatic (vs presymptomatic) transmission and exponential growth and contact infection. The long wrangles about whether masks work (at doing what and how and what kind of masks?) and how transmission even happens (airborne or water droplets) seem less like experts figuring out a new phenomenon and more like people revising a script during dress rehearsal and then making further revision in the intermission between acts.

Maybe all science works like that and looks like that close up while it happens. I’ve never been involved in the hard sciences (my own field is characterized by massive memory wipes so that phenomena can be rediscovered and passed off as new findings).

But in the last two or so weeks there seems to have been a major ramp up in patently silly stories that I can’t imagine anyone with any education actually believing…. In Australia the virus creeps escapes through cracks in doors (or through walls)? Covid causes diabetes? A person can get infected with more than one strain at a time?

This is less like reporting things from the real world and more like small children creating ever more elaborate lies about what happened to the cookies they weren’t supposed to eat before dinner.

Presumably this is prolong lockdowns as the Irish prime minister a few days ago let it slip that current plans are to keep borders closed for the entirety of 2021 (and probably longer).

This won’t end on its own and it won’t end through government action or vaccinations.

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The Most Important Book Nobody Has Read…

Back in the day when the world was more or less normal, I would often walk through a train station (I love train stations) on the way to or from work. There was (is?) a newsstand in the main hall that I would occasionally stop in for a few moments to scan the book shelves.

Weirdly, at some point a number of copies of The Governance of China by Xi Jinping… in English. This was odd because all the other books were in Polish, just this one wasn’t. I dismissed this as… I don’t know, just weird distribution thing like Scientologists buying L. Ron Hubbard’s terrible fiction to keep him on the bestseller lists… over the years I’d heard or read a few dismissive comments about the book but it seemed no one was paying attention.

Now I’m thinking that maybe more people should have taken this seriously. After all, his political philosophy has effected the largest change in the global socio-political order since the collapse of communism in 1989. And it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Almost every country on Earth has adopted the worldview and governing policies of the Chinese Communist Party without a shot being fired or a single wall falling.

Are there hints of a desire to export Chinese governance methods along with Chinese slave labor goods in the Governance of China? If so, then what else is in that book? Forewarned is forearmed as they say and it might be worth people’s time to see what else might be coming down the pike…

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