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What Does It Take to Get a Meal Here, an Earthquake?

In Indonesia, the government-funded Muslim Ulema’s Council (MUI) has recently issued two remarkable fatwas that, first, prohibit smoking by pregnant women, children, or people in public spaces, and that second, forbid potential voters from abstaining — or from voting for candidates who aren’t “credible” –, since these voting choices could be seen as being “dangerous for the state” (Ali Mustafa Yaqud, Deputy Chief of the Fatwa Commission, Metro TV, February 3, 2009, Western Indonesia Time).

The edicts are refreshing for those who want to breathe well, and for those who seek political insight into the fact that “the state” — even when it’s a strongarm state — usually wants and needs some legitimacy, and often seeks it through voting, but voting on its terms, sans thoughts, options or people that are not “credible.”

In the late 1960s, surveys of US business leaders showed — amazingly, to today’s mentalities — that they actually feared revolution in the United States. Today hardly anyone even imagines it.

Today you have Marxists for Obama, and former Marxists who worked for Bush (the neo-cons). In today’s America, as in most of the world, revolution is no longer credible.

But, then again, looser talkers are now saying the same about what’s called capitalism, or at least about Wall Street investment banking, which was about as solid and credible as you could get, until those weeks last September, when, as they say, it suddenly vanished into air, taking potentially lifesaving billions of imagined dollars with it (potentially lifesaving, that is, if those dollars had been used for things like food, instead of finance fun)(On the concepts of rich people’s imagined and/or cybered money vs. poor people’s earthbound earnings, see News and Comment postings of June 3, 2008 [“Drawing Your Last Breath Hungry. Burma, Food Crisis, Wall Street, and the World Economy”] and Nov. 21, 2007 [“Bangladesh and Wall Street After the Flood: Two Different Kinds of Property.”]).

It’s said that sensitivity to ground shifts tends to depend on an organism’s constitution. Some claim that horses feel earthquakes before we do. And even among people, it does seem to be true that some are slower on the uptake than others.

I once sat in a Sumatra eating hall wondering why screaming people all around me were stampeding, until I looked up and noticed that the hanging light bulb was swaying back-and-forth as the earth quaked.

The MUI — originally created by the dictator, Suharto, is showing some deep political insight. You want people on board. You want people signed-on. As their spokesman put it: “We must have a credible president.”

But if people get off, refuse to affix their X’s or signatures, run politically amok (an Indonesian word) — what then?

What do presidents do, even if their boys have guns? That depends, in part, on how many guns.

But the point is this: sometimes rulers win, and — also — sometimes they don’t win.

With conditions right, the mountains really do tremble.

And politics is not geology.

In politics, the rocks can think. They can meet and say ‘Let’s have an earthquake.’

People tried it in Central America and got smashed. Red huipiles ran moist with grief tears.

But people are now trying it in South America — and from places like Bolivia, there are tremors.

When a person gets tremors, which — for a person — is bad, they may find, bizarrely, that nicotine helps.

But when a state gets the shakes, suppression can get messy, so preemption is clearly preferable. Thus, the minimal-choice election. Thus, the demagogue who stirs hope, but not food pots.

In the Indonesian language, to say something is ’empty talk’ (‘omong kosong’) is to say something harshly insulting. It’s worse than, in English or Spanish, crying ‘bullshit!’ or ‘mierda!,’ which makes sense, since bad as feces can be, empty talk can be even more damaging socially, especially, say, if it’s on the ballot, and if the sum total of your political choice in life is voting either for package of empty talk A or package of empty talk B.

In such situations, common sense works, and it translates into any language:

It doesn’t matter what they say. It matters what they do. And if they don’t do it, get up and make them do it.

You could call that ‘Do it yourself.’ You could call it ‘Revolution.’

But as the old US borscht-belt joke says, “You can call me anything you want. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”

More articles by:

ALLAN NAIRN writes the blog News and Comment at www.newsc.blogspot.com.

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