Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rock'n'roll Suicide

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is an album about rock'n'roll. Its tracks deal with different aspects of the rock'n'roll world, and try to figure out what it is that made it such a sensation. The picture that arises is this: rock'n'roll is an ecstatic experience, as powerful as any religious experience. It is generated in the psyche of kids who feel alienated from the society they grew up in, and carry a certain shared sensibility inside them, a repressed "inner self" that they cannot express in the terms provided by their parents' culture. But then they encounter someone from an alien culture, who provides them with the music that speaks for that "inner self", and by identifying with that alien, they are set free. The result is a sensation of eruption, as if your bottled-up spirit breaks loose. That joyous eruptive sensation is what rock'n'roll is all about. Following that eruption, you also find other kids who are like yourself, and come together to share a bond of love and unity. But the rock'n'roll experience is a temporary one, and the sensation inevitably fades away. After a while, the music doesn't cause the same joy, and the unity in the group unravels. Eventually, you are brought down from the heights of rock'n'roll happiness, and back to the old and boring everyday existence. 'Rock'n'roll Suicide', the closing track of the album, is the record that asks: what then?

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette

The opening is a reference to the poem 'Chant Andalous' by Manuel Machado, who wrote: "Life is a cigarette / Cinder, ash and fire / Some smoke it in a hurry / Others savor it." In other words, you can either take your life slowly, or burn it quickly. Our hero wanted to live an exciting life, to burn as brightly as he could, and after a few false starts, when he pulled on a finger instead of the life-cigarette, he finally found a way to do it. But now his flame has burned out, while he's still a young man. What is he going to do with the rest of his life?

The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
You're a rock'n'roll suicide

Rock'n'roll is a joyful experience, but it is also a form of spiritual suicide. You can experience rock'n'roll when you have an alienated part in your being, an "inner self" that is repressed by society, and provides the energy for the rock'n'roll eruption. But rock'n'roll sets this part free, and transforms you: your outer-identity is now compatible with your "inner self", and the alienation is gone. And with it, goes the ability to feel the ecstasy of rock'n'roll. For just a short while, you experienced something cosmic, and got a glimpse at an existence of total, wall-to-wall happiness. But then it fades away, and you fall back to the ground, back to where you started from, but worse: after you've put your "inner self" out on display and let it become just another identity, you can no longer use it to generate rock'n'roll.

You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock'n'roll suicide

Our hero is out of cigarettes, and his time is out of joint. Once again, Bowie invokes Chuck Berry's famous definition of rock'n'roll: "Just let me hear some of that rock'n'roll music / Any old way you choose it / It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it / Any old time you use it". In 'Starman', Ziggy referenced these lines to tell us that he has come to bring rock'n'roll back, and even managed to deliver. But now his brand of rock'n'roll has played itself out, and we can no longer use it. Our hero tells us that he feels too old to lose it and too young to choose it, or as Jethro Tull would put it some years later: too old to rock'n'roll, too young to die. After living the rock'n'roll dream, everything else loses its taste, even food. How can he now go back to live the regular life, when he knows that there's something so much better?

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don't let the sun blast your shadow
Don't let the milk float ride your mind
It's so natural - religiously unkind

Stumbling blindly through life, he almost gets run over by a car. Cars, of course, are an essential part of rock'n'roll poetry, a symbol of discharge and freedom, from the days of 'Rocket 88' (considered by many to be the first rock'n'roll record) up to the modernized glam of T. Rex. But Bowie mentions cars only twice in the album, once in the opening track and once again in the closing, and he uses them to describe the shattering of the rock'n'roll dream. Who is driving that Chevy that almost runs him over? Could it be Don McLean, on his way to the levee to relive the glory days of rock'n'roll, only to find out that it had run dry and the music had died? McLean's 'American Pie', that reached #1 on the charts just as Bowie was developing his Ziggy character, is another record about the death of rock'n'roll, but its hero at least has an alternative to fall back on, as he has religious faith. Our hero doesn't have that faith, so he remains a vampiric presence, hiding away from the daylight, a shadow of a human. Until…

Oh no love! You're not alone
You're watching yourself but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! You're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain

In the pits of despair, he finds salvation. The beginning of the passage clearly paraphrases Jacques Brel's 'Jef', in which the singer is trying to convince his despairing friend to get up from the sidewalk, and start living again. We imagine our hero sitting on the pavement, after being almost run over by the Chevy, where someone comes and picks him up. What Bowie tells us is that it doesn't matter who you are and what your experience was, there will always be others who can identify with you, who can understand your pain. And one of those others now comes to offer our hero a helping hand, and show him a new love.

In other words, your life cannot be reduced to one cigarette. Life offers you an endless array of cigarettes, and when one is burned out, you will always be able to strike another match, and start a new. You do NOT commit spiritual suicide with rock'n'roll, as our hero thought in his tangled up head. True, you exposed your "inner self" and destroyed it, but the "inner self" (as Bowie has been telling us for a while now) is not a fixed thing. When you transformed yourself and created a new identity based on your former "inner self", a new "inner self" was created along with it, and can now form the basis for a new transformation, a new identity, a new joy. You are never too old to rock'n'roll when you're too young to die – there will always be ways to revive the rock'n'roll experience. Just like Ziggy once came as a hand that reaches down from the skies to take the kids to heaven, someone else now comes to offer a hand to the post-Ziggy kids, and asks them to turn on with him, to burn brightly once more in an existence full of excitement, beauty and love:

You're not alone, just turn on with me
And you're not alone, let's turn on and be
Not alone, gimme your hands
Cause you're wonderful, gimme your hands
Cause you're wonderful
Oh gimme your hands

…and a sublime chord of hope and harmony brings the story to a close.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hamas aid

"Free Gaza!" rings the slogan, as the world is becoming increasingly moved by the plight of the Gaza people, and applies growing pressure on Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on it. Human rights activists from all around are on the move, setting out to rid the world of another evil. Before you pick up your gun, however, tarry a while and ask yourself: are you sure you know what you are fighting for?

Gaza, as you probably know, is ruled by the Hamas movement. You probably don't like Hamas very much. You probably deplore their religious fundamentalism and their authoritarian policies. Perhaps you also disagree with their terrorist tactics. Perhaps you've also heard of the Hamas Charter, and you know that it calls for the destruction of Israel. Yes, all these things you know about Hamas are true, but they are not the worst part, the part which compels Israel to retaliate the way it does. So, before you go any further, please allow me to introduce you to the core of the Hamas ideology, and the true nature of the Gaza government.

Following are excerpt from the Hamas Charter, with interpretations. I took the English translation of the charter from the Palestine Center website. Let's let Hamas tell us about itself.

"Hamas is calling upon the Arab and Islamic peoples to act seriously and tirelessly in order to frustrate that dreadful scheme and to make the masses aware of the danger of coping out of the circle of struggle with Zionism. Today it is Palestine and tomorrow it may be another country or other countries. For Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there..." (article 32)

This is the gist of modern Anti-Semitism. Modern anti-Semites do not say they hate all Jews, only "Zionists". But their definition of Zionism has nothing to do with the actual Zionist movement. For the anti-Semite, a "Zionist" is a Jew who wants to take over the world and enslave it. The "proof" for this conspiracy is a book called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a famous 19th century text written by an anti-Semite which pretends to be a guide book for Jews on how world domination is to be achieved. The anti-Semite defines himself against this imaginary "Zionist" danger, and his whole existence revolves around it: he can never quit the fight against Zionism, because it is the core of his identity. Hamas, we see here, is driven by this kind of Antisemitism, so it can never give up the fight against Israel.

There are several types of Antisemitism, and this is the most dangerous of them all. Why? Because these dreaded "Zionists" cannot be identified. There is no Jew out there who says he wants to take over the world, there are no Jewish organizations teaching The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So how does one fight these scheming Zionists, if one cannot even identify them? Well, we saw what the anti-Semite solution was in the past: the Nazis, who held exactly this type of Antisemitism and believed that there is a worldwide Zionist scheme to take over, set out to preempt that danger by annihilating all the Jews, figuring that all Zionists would perish in the process. Genocide is the only logical solution of this type of anti-Semitic ideology.

"The Zionist invasion is a mischievous one. It does not hesitate to take any road, or to pursue all despicable and repulsive means to fulfill its desires. It relies to a great extent, for its meddling and spying activities, on the clandestine organizations which it has established, such as the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions, and other spying associations. All those secret organizations, some which are overt, act for the interests of Zionism and under its directions, strive to demolish societies, to destroy values, to wreck answerableness, to totter virtues and to wipe out Islam." (article 28)

Modern Anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory. It believes that Zionism is directing things from behind the scenes, and prepares the ground for its final takeover of the world. Actually, it is arguably the mother of all other conspiracy theories. It was born in Germany in the 19th century, and the Nazis adopted it, but the Nazis stopped short of blaming only the Jews. They believed that there are other evil clandestine organizations working out there, whose members are not Jews, but are still evil. The Freemasons, for instance, were on the Nazi list, and the Nazis sent them to the concentration camps. Hamas, we see, is not that pluralistic and generous in assigning the blame. According to its ideology, all these other organizations are merely fronts for the Zionists, as the Jews are behind everything. Hamas, we see, is more anti-Semitic than the Nazis.

"The Muslim women have a no lesser role than that of men in the war of liberation; they manufacture men and play a great role in guiding and educating the [new] generation. The enemies have understood that role, therefore they realize that if they can guide and educate [the Muslim women] in a way that would distance them from Islam, they would have won that war. Therefore, you can see them making consistent efforts [in that direction] by way of publicity and movies, curricula of education and culture, using as their intermediaries their craftsmen who are part of the various Zionist Organizations" (article 17)

Apparently, those conniving Zionist have also invented Women's Lib, for the sole purpose of distracting the Muslim woman from her sacred duty, which is to stay at home and raise Jihad babies. This is typical of anti-Semites: anything they don't like, they describe as a Zionist tool. If Hamas will be allowed to have its way, it will use this to oppress the people under its rule, and any type of behavior it doesn't like will be branded as "Zionist", and brutally put down. This is what will happen if you "free Gaza".

"The enemies have been scheming for a long time, and they have consolidated their schemes, in order to achieve what they have achieved. They took advantage of key elements in unfolding events, and accumulated a huge and influential material wealth which they put to the service of implementing their dream. This wealth [permitted them to] take over control of the world media such as news agencies, the press, publication houses, broadcasting and the like. [They also used this] wealth to stir revolutions in various parts of the globe in order to fulfill their interests and pick the fruits. They stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions we hear about here and there… They also used the money to take over control of the Imperialist states and made them colonize many countries in order to exploit the wealth of those countries and spread their corruption therein. As regards local and world wars, it has come to pass and no one objects, that they stood behind World War I, so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate… They also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials and prepared for the establishment of their state… There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it." (article 22)

In short, the Zionists are behind every bloodshed, corruption and violence. Or, to put is as plainly as possible, the Jews are the root of all evil in the world. History tells us that when one group of people defines another group of people as the root of all evil, they will move to annihilate them on the first chance they get.

The Hamas Charter, then, leads to one logical conclusion: all Jews must be exterminated, in order to save the world. But in case it wasn't clear enough…

"Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them." (article 7)

In short, it is the religious duty of every Muslim to kill the Jews, to bring about Judgment Day. I did not bother to quote them, but the entire charter is laced with quotes from the scriptures, to prove that Allah supports the movement's anti-Semitic ideology. The Nazis, to remind you, never announced publicly that they intend to kill the Jews. Hamas is not that shy about its true intentions.

Antisemitism has always been a part of the Palestinian discourse, ever since the 1930's, when some Palestinian leaders borrowed it from the Nazis. However, it has usually been more of an overtone, not so much part of the ideology. With Hamas, it becomes the core of their ideology, the raison d'etre of their existence. So when the Palestinian people, at the first chance they got, voted for Hamas to lead them, Israelis were shocked and angered. A logical Israeli reaction would have been to regard this as a declaration of total war and react accordingly, but we Israelis choose to believe that the majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas for reasons other than Antisemitism, and we prefer to keep the peace process alive. Therefore, Israel keeps negotiating with more reasonable Palestinians, and in the meantime places a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from amassing weapons, and a strict embargo to prevent the Gaza economy from growing and getting stronger. We have vowed not to let the Nazi monster rear its ugly head ever again.

There was hope that Hamas, once in power, will become more pragmatic, and move away from its extremist ideology. If the Gaza government wants to end the blockade, all it has to do is announce that it recognizes Israel's right to exist. It should take them no more than five minutes, and it constitutes no capitulation on the part of the Palestinian people, nothing they haven't already agreed to in the past. But, even after years of blockade and war, the Gaza government refuses to do so. They would rather let their citizens suffer, than recognize Israel's right to exist. Why? Of course, because that would be giving up on their anti-Semitic ideology, the very thing that keeps them going. They can never do that.

Instead, Hamas uses a different tactic: let the people of Gaza suffer, and wait for the world to pressure Israel to lift the blockade. Once they achieve that, they will be able to import advanced weapons from Iran, with which they can totally disrupt Israeli daily life and economy, until they get Israel to agree to their demand: a long-term ceasefire, which will allow them to grow stronger and indoctrinate the Palestinian people on their anti-Semitic ideology, preparing them for the final battle to annihilate the Jews. They have time, and they assume that there are plenty of anti-Semites in the world that will help them, and many others gullible enough to support their "Free Gaza" campaign. And, guess what? They were right.

The last time that there was a government that was almost as anti-Semitic as the Gaza government was when the Nazis took over Germany. Back then, the world stood idly by and did not take the Nazis' anti-Semitic rants seriously, and the outcome was that 90% of Europe's Jews were wiped out. Horrified and dismayed, the world vowed back then never to allow this to happen again. Well, here it finally has the chance to stand by this vow, to oppose a government that has a self-declared anti-Semitic agenda. So what does the world do? That's right, it comes to the aid of Hamas.

Nothing has changed, nothing was learned.

Monday, September 27, 2010


The question of the morality of abortion continues to divide the human race, and remains tough to answer philosophically. I will attempt to take a stab at it.

So, is abortion murder? This question cannot be definitely answered - it depends on your set of a-priori beliefs. If you believe human life begins at the moment of inception (a belief that usually stems from a religious belief in the existence of a soul, which enters the body at that moment), then it is murder. If, on the other hand, you believe that human life begins only when consciousness is formed, then the notion that a cluster of cells can be perceived as a living human is ridiculous to you, and you will not see it as murder. And since we cannot prove or disprove any of these metaphysics, the debate is pointless.

But let's look at it from a moral perspective. Here we have to ask ourselves: why is murder immoral? There are, I think, two reasons.

First, each one of us has self-awareness, and knows that he or she constitutes an entire world, which wants to continue to exist. The thought that we will cease to exist horrifies us, and thus we perceive the act of terminating a person, an entire world, as morally heinous. What about abortion? Well, a fetus is not yet a self-aware consciousness, not yet a world that wants to continue to exist. Therefore, aborting it is not a moral crime.

You might claim that denying the fetus the opportunity to develop and become a consciousness is immoral. But this argument would be true only if existence was essentially a good thing, and existence, in essence, is neither good nor bad - it just is. Life can be either good or bad, so denying someone the possibility to be born into them is not immoral. Actually, a person born to parents who don't want him will most probably end up having a bad existence, so it could be argued that allowing him to be born is the immoral act.

The second moral crime involved in murder is the insufferable agony it wreaks on the people who loved the victim. Is abortion a crime, according to this criterion? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. Parents often develop emotional attachment to their unborn child early on, and already dream of their shared future. But other times they feel nothing towards the fetus save the desire to get rid of it. The moral question should be decided on these grounds.

Let's take a hypothetical case: a woman finds out she's pregnant, feels joy about it, and starts to plan her life as a mother. But someone doesn't want her to have that child, and forces her to abort it. I consider this case to be a murder like any other murder.

On the other hand, when no one wants the child, there is no suffering involved, and therefore no crime against morality.

Bottom line: abortion isn't inherently immoral, but might be in certain cases.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Suffragette City

In 'Suffragette City', Bowie conjures up the memory of an important chapter in the history of liberalism, the chapter of the Suffragette movement. The liberal dream is to reach a world where every human will be free and equal, and able to pursue their happiness, and the Suffragettes, who struggled for and managed to secure women's right to vote, took us one step closer towards fulfilling that dream. Well, now we are after the nineteen-sixties, another glorious chapter in the history of liberalism. How much have we done to advance the liberation of women, to achieve the mission that the Suffragettes bequeathed us?

Hey man, oh leave me alone, you know
Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta
Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This mellow thighed chick just put my spine outta place
Hey man, my schoolday's insane
Hey man, my work's down the drain
Hey man, well she's a total blam-blam
She said she had to squeeze it but she... then she...

Our hero is a guy busy scoring with a chick (or maybe several chicks) who is an animal in bed. This was one of the victories of sixties liberalism, of the sexual revolution: it emancipated women from the Victorian perception that sex is something that they do only to please men, and allowed them to enjoy sex as well. The introduction of birth control pills in the fifties enabled women to have sex more freely, and by the early seventies, young women were aggressively sexual. Ziggy, as the next step in the sixties liberation, celebrates this development, in a piece of grinding cock-rock that is a paean to the sexual powers of women.

But there is also another side to the story. This promiscuity drags our hero into a world of sexual joys that leaves him with no time for anything else, and he sacrifices his friendships and his work, to get more and more sex. The mention of "schooldays" may be a reference to Chuck Berry's similarly titled record, in which the heroes are living in the tension between school's repression during the day, and the release of rock'n'rolling and making out during the night. Here, however, there is no tension, and our hero can get sex as much as he wants, which means that it doesn't give him any release either, and he has to delve further and further into the world of carnal pleasures to get the same effect. In the process, he gives up on any other aspect of his life.

Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you can't afford the ticket
I'm back on Suffragette City
Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you ain't got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight... she's all right

Again, this can be taken in two ways. As a straightforward celebration of sex, it describes the girls of the time as so wild that only a certain man, a man who has made the mental shift required by the sexual revolution, can handle them. The hero's friend is still stuck with the sexual inhibitions of the past, so he cannot come with him to this Suffragette City, because he'd only slow him down. But it can also mean that our hero is becoming someone whose friends can no longer lean on, as he is too busy scoring. This Suffragette City is a place of sexual paradise for a man, and it makes him forget about any other human value, betraying his friends and himself as he sinks further and further into it.

In short, it is another slice of Bowie's twofold edge. The song is celebrating the sexual revolution of the sixties, our new freedom, but at the same time hints that we are nothing but slaves to our base animal urges. It applies for women as well, of course: instead of trying to pursue the possibilities that the Suffragettes and their like have opened for them, they are squandering it all on immediate gratifications.

Hey man, oh Henry, don't be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can't take you this time, no way
Hey man, hey droogie don't crash here
There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes

The final verse gives us more of the same, showing the hero discarding his male friends in favor of female companionship. The "here she comes, here she comes" is lifted from the Velvet Underground's 'White Light / White Heat', suggesting that he is about to get his mind blown. The mention of "droogie", however, makes it more sinister. "Droogie" is how Alex, the hero of A Clockwork Orange, refers to his gang mates, as they go on their rampages of assault and rape. It suggests that our hero may be enjoying the free spirit of his female counterparts, but deep down he gives them no respect, and sees them as nothing but objects to satisfy his desires. The sexual revolution proclaimed that it would bring more love to the world, but the world that Bowie portrays shows, or at least hints, that the guys have not made the required mental shift, and instead of making love, they are exploiting the freedom to give the ladies a "wham bam, thank you ma'am" treatment. There is no love here, just lust.

'Suffragette City', then, can be taken as an anthem for the sexual revolution, but also as a song about decadence, about betraying values for the sake of immediate gratifications. If we take the latter options, then it is an attack on the liberalism of the late sixties, which is endangering decades of feminist struggles. And as part of the Ziggy story, it shows us how the Ziggy cult, which started out as a "church of man love" in which no one was to be turned away on account of their sexual orientation, deteriorates into a tasteless orgy, in which any other kind of human ties are severed. During the album, we followed Ziggy's efforts to take us out of our miserable existence and lead us to a happy world. All his work is now down the drain.