Friday, November 2, 2018

50 Years and Counting: 1968 is Still Undead

Originally published this at PopMatters 10 years ago, but the link appears to be slightly broken:


1968 is Undead: The Grim Legacy of Night of the Living Dead


Pictured Above: early right-wing militia




"It's like they're pretending to be alive"- Mike
 Isn't that what we're doing?"- Riley

                                    -Land of the Dead (2005)


To what do we owe the dead? 

This is a question that lingers through the background of all of George A. Romero's zombie films from his pivotal genre-defining debut  Night of The Living Dead to 2007's new media manifesto Diary of the Dead. It's one we pose when we revisit events on their round-numbered anniversaries.  1968, the year of Night of the Living Dead's debut, turns 40 this year and it's worth noting that it has stuck with us long after December 31, 1968. 

In a way, 1968 never really stopped happening.  It never really went away.  It just transmogrified, like a zombie, a specter, a ghoul, haunting and informing the future.  The revolutionary ideals of that time and the reactionary backlash against them are undead in today's culture, try as we might to bury the past.  Despite the sheath of disambiguation that confounding, deifying, or otherwise revisionist historicity has covered upon the era, its soul and its memory persist, even as we aim our redneck shotguns for its brain.  It's like we owe 1968 something.

To what do we owe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, both assassinated in 1968 (in the case of King, mere hours after Romero wrapped up post-production)?  The spirits of both icons are embodied in the Junior Senator from Illinois, who seems to possess King's capacity to inspire hope and Kennedy's youth and vitality, though Obama’s specific policy initiatives have adapted themselves to the political mainstream and disavowed King's pacifism.

To what do we owe the P.O.W.?  In this election cycle, he's represented by a decorated veteran who stayed in captivity for over five years, withstanding injury and disease, though as a politician he has frequently been known to sell veterans down the river and create tons of new dead soldiers. He even voted against a bill that would have restricted the intelligence community's use of torture methods.

The grim legacies of civil rights, war, and internment extend beyond the inspirational narratives of the presidential candidates though.  They cross over to the dead and dying bodies of Katrina, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.  It is that dark patrimony which inscribes itself in our culture the deepest, despite all evidence of our institutional progress.   It is perhaps to those dead, the faceless anonymous masses, that we owe the most.

Romero's career trajectory is a straight arrow towards overtly political allegory, but Night of the Living Dead is very much a shell of a storyline, what Umberto Eco refers to as an "Open Work" or Opera Aperta.  The film tackles the complexity of a changing world with a distilled narrative, archetypal characters, and a broad, indefinable threat.  This openness allows for a multiplicity of interpretations. 

Unlike Romero's later films, Night of the Living Dead was written with no specific polemic argument in mind.  But it did shoulder with it the albatross of rising violence from the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras.  Its imagery is evocative without being directly allusive, from the space probe carrying dangerous levels of radiation back to earth to the Molotov cocktails Harry throws out the window at the zombies.  Even the film's much publicized racial subtext is grafted onto the celluloid by years of critical equivocation.   Leading man Ben was originally imagined to be a white trucker, but unknown black actor Duane Jones, who gives an electrifying and nuanced performance, wowed Romero in the audition process.

Thus, Night of the Living Dead, much like 1968 itself, is as much about public perception and cultural reception as the actual events that transpired.  It's a film subsequent generations will be able to readily revisit, still finding its subversive content harrowing, insightful, and prophetic. 

Set in rural Western Pennsylvania, the film is the story of a group of stragglers banded together in a house where they attempt to protect themselves from a heretofore unnamed menace (the word "zombie" is never actually uttered in the film) that has begun to claim the lives of their friends and loved ones.  As a monster movie, it's oddly absent many of the normal conventions of the horror film, even by today's standards.  Its enemies are lethargic and witless, barely even a threat.  They quiver at the sight of fire and are defenseless against hillbillies with shotguns.  In fact, it's exactly the inconsequentiality of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead that defines the film as a true watermark in cinematic history. 

Rather than focusing on the pure visceral terror of its villainous corpses, the film turns its cameras on the supposed protagonists for whom a dynamic power struggle begins to emerge.  After Ben rescues Barbara, who has just witnessed her brother's death at her father's grave site, they discover the house of Harry Cooper, whom we find hiding in the basement with his wife and his infected daughter.  The Coopers ignore the disturbance that Ben and Barbara make in their attempt to secure the site as Harry adopts an isolationist view point. 

"We luck into a safe place and you're telling us that we gotta risk our lives just because someone might need help, huh?" Harry asks Ben, who is incensed by Harry's lack of basic human altruism.

"Something like that," Ben replies acerbically.
Harry and Ben spar with one another immediately and start struggling for territory.  Harry claims the downstairs, where there's only one door to defend.  Ben prefers the upstairs, where he can scour for supplies and plan an exit strategy if need be.  Their quarrel is more about control than survival.  "If you stay up here, you take orders from me", Ben shouts to Harry at one point.  
Tom and Judy, a young couple who have been hiding with Harry and Helen Cooper in the basement, side with Ben and take refuge upstairs.  Tom helps Ben board up the house to keep the zombies out, but in doing so, it soon becomes clear that they're also fencing themselves in.  Trapped in a space with no exit, it doesn't take long for them to discover that hell is indeed other people. 

The breakdown in communication is a running theme throughout all of Romero's work.  In Night of the Living Dead, Ben and Harry won't let the very real task of escape and survival interfere with their constructed social hierarchies.  Barbara, after an initially courageous escape, is rendered catatonic by both the trauma of seeing her brother killed and, not unimportantly, her powerlessness to stop it.   In the face of a patriarchal power structure that renders her and the other females in the house ineffectual, Barbara panics and slowly loses her mind. Despondent and petrified, she voices a desire to be let outside so she can save her brother.  In the process, she smacks Ben, who retaliates and strikes her back, his fists rendering her practically mute for the rest of the film. 

Ben's aggression and its intimation of domestic violence, makes him a complexly rendered and three-dimensional protagonist, perhaps moreso than most films today, which tend to unrealistically deify African-American heroes as “magical negros” or the unassailable “black best friend”.  He is a decisive and well-spoken leader, poised and responsive to the changing demands of his situation, possessed with a sense of chivalry, but unable to control his aggression, which later leads him to first assault and then shoot an increasingly belligerent Harry Cooper.  

At the time of the film's release, images of black nationalists like the Nation of Islam militants responsible for Malcolm X's assassination and those in the burgeoning Black Panther Party/black separatist movement were horrifying whites like Harry and Helen, who sought safe haven, stability, and isolation from the racial tensions of America's cities in the suburbs.  Though desegregation and other civil rights laws slowly trickled traces of tolerance into mainstream society, the fear of black militancy still permeates throughout society today.  In 21st century America, unconscious prejudices are legislated or policed into the popular imagination via crack downs on gang violence, draconian penalties for drug abuse, and capital punishment enforcement.  In electoral politics, the fiery rhetoric of Barack Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright, the confoundingly misinterpreted "terrorist fist jab", and a manufactured news story on a missing lapel pin have painted the current Democratic presidential candidate as anti-American and hostile in some above-ground circles, while Sarah Palin's separatist husband and open advocacy of armed insurrection go largely unscrutinized.  One need only imagine how pictures of Barack Obama with a gun would go over to see the divide between Black and White gun ownership.

The only person in the house to advocate for cooperation is Tom, though even he does so in a way that is divisive.  "We'd be a lot better off if all three of us were working together," Tom says of Harry, Ben, and himself, failing to even consider the women.  Film historians have alternated between readings of Night of the Living Dead as either a feminist or antifeminist text. Certainly, the women are not complicit in the bumbling corruption of the male leadership, but they are not allowed a chance to be either.  Their passivity and hysterics could be read as a kind of "problem with no name", subjugated upon them by the intimate oppression of the men, who offer them no role in their own life narrative.  Even so, this is still a rather narrow portrayal of womanhood that, sadly, is not completely alien from standards in Hollywood today.  In terms of the political landscape, one needs only look at the rhetoric that tailed the Hilary Clinton primary run and, to a lesser extent Palin's V.P. bid, to see how mainstreamed misogyny still is in American culture.

Only Helen Cooper is allowed a small degree of independence and it seems to have only come after years of suffering in domestic misery.  "We may not enjoy living together, but dying together is not going to solve anything", Helen says to Harry at one point.    

Though she directs this comment specifically towards her husband, Helen's words could easily be transferred to both the struggles in the house and those beyond it.  The 1960s, with its rapid social change and equally rapid schisms, created a vastly splintered vox populi.  At the political level, the quagmire of Vietnam appeared to have no exit strategy nor vision of what victory might look like, which is also true of the Cold War in general.  Communication broke down amongst rulers, Generals, the young and old, the working class and leisure class, the black power and women's lib movements, the antiwar pacifists and the New Left Trotskyites, the veterans who continued to support the war (like John McCain) and those who came to oppose it (like John Kerry), the energized activists and the hippy drop-outs, and so on.  The mass movement of young idealism even came to define itself as countercultural, or against society. 

Much of the legislative movement since 1968 has been an attempt to close those divisions, either by pushing the radical movements of the sixties to the fringes or by compromising and undermining many of the hard-fought victories of that era.   However, if anything, the world is more multivalent and stratified than ever.  Yet, the political sphere has been atomized into an easily quantifiable series of demographics, constituencies, and axises.  There's the indeterminably vague "War on Terror", an inculcation of Samuel Huntingdon's wrongheaded Orientalist “Clash of Civilizations”, which has promulgated such polarizing dogma as the infamous "with us or against us" Bushism.  And then there's the mass bureaucratic bungling of the September 11th tragedies and the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which speaks to a national security state emboldened by endless outpourings of capital yet so disabled by its own crisscrossing inadequacies and addictions to perfunctory procedure that it is practically unable to function.  In this instance, Romero's ongoing thematic topoi of the communication gap seems most piquant.  The radio and television broadcasts of Night of the Living Dead, and perhaps even more poignantly so in later films like The Crazies and Diary of the Dead, depicts a government unable to protect, alert, and prepare its citizenry for a national crisis.  In fact, Diary of the Dead, in which the government and the media conspire to willfully manipulate news footage to manufacture new truths, uses real Katrina broadcasts as part of its found footage.  

Yet despite the political fragmentation, the world itself is also more globalized and interconnected than ever before, with industry and the internet playing equal roles in the expansion.  The protest movement now encompasses hundreds of pet causes. Antiwar protestors have united en masse in larger numbers than they ever did in the 1960's.  Ironically, it's the relative pacifism, solidarity, and unity of these demonstrators that has perhaps denied them the headline-grabbing press of a more confrontational 1960's leftist resistance movement.  Despite the relative invisibility of activists on the national stage, the privileged and powerful still maintain the same callous disregard for their critics and are all too willing to suppress their rights to free speech and free assembly in order to relocate these grievances into the margins of discourse.  Dissent’s scarcity inside the daily operations of the state make it seem extreme and anomalous, though it's actually far less so than it was 40 years prior as there’s perhaps more to protest now than there ever has been before.

The news media in Night of the Living Dead feeds the protagonists contradictory information, in part galvanizing their estrangement from one another.   Yet, while the news media has always been an unreliable source of information, recent years have seen it grown even more insidious in its masking of realities.  Diary of the Dead takes on the blackout of media in the bloody 21st century.  It reacts to the disappearance of corporeal violence from the video game news coverage of the Iraq War.  The blood of Iraq, the bodies, the corpses, are only accessible to those who would seek it out in the new media world.  Even those more sanguinary images that did make their way to the major news networks, like the torture candids from Abu Ghraib, were tempered for primetime audiences with weak stomachs. 

Night of the Living Dead was made with the videographic and photojournalistic iconography of the carnage in South Vietnam fresh in its memory. Its groundbreaking gore found root in the footage returning home of dead young soldiers, razed villages, and shattered communities.  In 1968, the famous photograph by Eddie Adams of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon sent shockwaves throughout the globe.  The roves of dead bodies lining the countryside in Night of the Living Dead bellow a silent scream of inquiry, perhaps like Loan's defenseless victim- "To what do we owe the dead"?

The tenets of revenge fantasies, like those carried out in the wake of the Gulf of Tonkin or September 11th, seem to dictate that all we owe the wrongfully killed is still more dead bodies.  Justice, by its Western cultural definition, demands that aggressors pay for their sins in pounds of flesh.  Yet, by this logic, the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of these vengeance strikes (over 1,000,000 civilian casualties are logged by most counts in Vietnam and conservatively 100,000 civilian dead are estimated in Iraq) should return upon their attackers the same degree of vigilance.  It’s a recursive strategy that ensures an ever-growing cavalcade of corpses.  As King's role model Mahatma Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the world blind".  Or, maybe just zombifies us.

Romero's gore though is always subservient to the plot, not vice versa.  He's often conversely lambasted for not delivering enough entrails and praised for offering up the most enthralling and inventive executions. But the balance of the violence in Romero's scripts is always deliberately tipped.  As bloody and disgusting as the Dead films are, Romero consistently embeds his tragic villains with a sense of pathos (in later films he even sympathizes with them).  The excitement of seeing the zombies get killed in a Romero picture is always countered with a repulsion towards those who delight in their deaths.  It recalls Guy Debord, whose writing inspired the May 1968 student and worker uprising in Paris.  Debord, a lifelong revolutionary, once said "Victory will be for those who know how to create disorder without loving it".  Those who gleefully murder their zombie enemies without reservation offer no solutions to the "epidemic of mass murder" (as the radio announcer refers to it).  They are simply symptomatic of it, as Ben's grisly fate cruelly illustrates at the end of Night of the Living Dead.

The paradox of Romero's zombies is that they are archetypal forces who embody a wealth of contradictions.  They can represent new ideas and sweeping changes acting en masse to overthrow an established order, or their lifeless bodies can be stand-ins for cultural conformity.  The zombie as a figure functions equally well as an other, a figure of dread whose changes threaten to alter everyday living, and a faceless drone, like one of Theodor Adorno's "prepared corpses", whose inability to negotiate his or her station spells doom for humanity at large.  What exactly the zombies are can never be precisely pinned down because, as the mantra of Romero's later films goes, "They're us". 

To what do we owe ourselves?  To what do we owe our future corpses?  Will we go on living like we're already dead, like the past is inevitable, like we're doomed to repeat ourselves, doomed to recapitulate the terms of our decease?  "I am trying to scare you," Diary of the Dead's film student Debra narrates as footage of war, disease, panic, and terror screen behind her voice in George A. Romero's most recent film.  "Maybe you'll wake up.  Maybe you won't make the same mistakes we did".  40 years and counting…

Saturday, October 27, 2018

In Which All the Dream We Worked Hard to Achieve Are Set Aflame



the Halloween mix is a profane and necessary ritual and rite.  2018's is above. Setlist is below. As above, so below.

1. Robert McNaughton- The Stalk
2. Robedoor- Cadaver Dogs
3. Libra-Tema Di Marco
4. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow-Hacking/Cutting
5. King Dude- Satan's Ghost
6. Karel Gott- Schwarz Und Rot
7. Anthony Child- 5000 Spirits
8. The Sound of Feeling- Hex
9. Dopplereffekt- Sterilization
10. Jean-Pierre Massiera and Bernard Torelli- Radio Galaxia
11. Piero Umiliani- Synthi Waltz
12. Occult-Oriented Crime- Rodrigo Syntese System
13. Gazelle Twin- Better In My Day
14. Cowboy Junkies- Me and the Devil
15. Gilbert, Hampson, Kendall- Fotala
16. Daniela Casa- Occultismo
17. Depeche Mode- Little 15
18. Broadcast- Hammer Without a Master (Underdog mix)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"The case made by prison abolitionists has rhetorical force, and I think a certain persuasive power. It makes both emotional and logical appeals: emotionally, it invokes the human love of liberty and hatred of coercion, while logically, it proposes that the costs of prisons outweigh their benefits. 

It also, to a large majority of the population, almost certainly sounds completely insane.

As Gene Demby notes, while people agree that liberty is great and all, they quickly remember the “What About My Cousin?” question: they remember a person they knew who was genuinely violent and dangerous, and realize that they feel far safer knowing that person is locked up. Then, they remember all of the crimes that were worse than those committed by their cousin, and the abolitionist position begins to seem even loopier. Nevermind my cousin, what about Ted Bundy? What about serial rapists and armed robbers and hedge fund managers? Are you saying that they should be left free to roam about society perpetrating their evil deeds on the unsuspecting and upstanding? How naïve can you possibly be?

...Prison abolition and prison reform can actually be reconciled fairly easily. The ultimate goal is prison abolition, because in a world without hatred and violence there would be no need for prisons, and the goal is a world without hatred and violence. In the interim, prisons must be made better and more humane. It’s not that you should, in the world we live in now, open the prison gates and give murderers probation. It’s that you should always remember that even if you think prison is a necessary evil, that still makes it evil, and evil things should ultimately be gotten rid of, whatever their short-term necessity. You can be both pragmatic and utopian at the same time."

-Can Prison Abolition Ever Be Pragmatic?, Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Look What You Made Me Conclude



Taylor Swift started dating Tom Hiddleston when he was in the middle of doing promotion for Ben Wheatley's adaptation of High Rise. So, it's more than likely they at least had one discussion about J.G. Ballard

Thursday, September 20, 2018

RIP LJW


Above, a playlist I made from last.fm scrobbles for my cousin's funeral


As the youngest of three, I didn’t have younger siblings to chase around and terrorize, but I did have a gaggle of cousins. When we were young, we were all pretty close and played together routinely at family gatherings as an ensemble. Though Lucas was not the closest in age to me, I found myself paired with him far more often. Even though our personalities were wildly different and he did things like, as a three year old, try to smash a telephone into my face, foreshadowing his eventual lifelong love of pro wrestling- the closest thing resembling a sport he could tolerate, I felt a strong bond with him.

There were awkward tween and teen years where we barely conversed, but only because we seemed to be operating on different wavelengths, not different altogether frequencies. He was discovering and celebrating the musical canon when I was looking for inroads to defy it. His Kevin Smith and Moby phases came a bit later than mine, but he was also 6 years younger. But once we had both reached adulthood, I think we were able to connect again on an even plane.

Sometimes, I think the connection I felt was somewhat aspirational since I just liked and respected Lucas and felt like we were both the outcasts of the family. We both retreated into pop culture and wrote about it at length, obsessed over ephemera and minutiae and were fascinated by the parts that were seemed hidden or obscured by an excess of light elsewhere. I’d venture that this came from a similar incentive on both ends- an escape from our families or the structures and barriers that had seemingly been put in place by them. But while in my case, it was a sort of banal but ultimately harmless nuclear family structure and the flattening, nullifying impulses of the suburbs that made me seek hidden solace in the fantasy world, for Lucas it was a legitimately difficult home life. Struggling against these circumstances, I’m sure the comfort of the new worlds presented within film, TV, music, et al. seemed too enticing to live anywhere else. We were both relatively introverted, but whereas I can barely string together a sentence without writing it down first, Lucas was careful and well-spoken off-the-cuff when he wanted to be, with a sharp and clear-eyed memory. He was also funny as hell when he wanted to be, which was surprising since he otherwise carried with him a kind of persistent gravity and pathos, a sort of lingering sadness that didn’t seem like it could be quelled, but which was offset by moments of pure joy.




Lucas’s goal was always to be on the radio, an experience he fell hard for when he worked at his college radio station. When he moved out to LA, he asked if I knew anybody in radio. I didn’t, but tried to put him in touch with some media contacts that I don’t think he ever reached out to. I imagine he was disappointed to find that on-air talent jobs in radio were few and far between, didn’t exercise much autonomy in music selection, and didn’t really pay squat. I’d found this out myself while working in promotions for Cumulus Media adjacent the popular local radio jocks right out of college, one of whom a thoughtful and sensitive Husker Du fan reduced to building a kind of sub-Howard Stern persona and hawking Whitesnake tickets at car dealerships for aging sports dads. I too hosted a college radio show, both in college and after, which was a blast, but I found it odd that this was Lucas’s focus since I think he would have been disappointed in the disconnect between what radio could be and what it actually was. My major passion, writing, had become largely decommodified in the push to digital. After attempting to freelance for some time and conferring with fellow writers on what life looked like for the average writer, living hand-to-mouth and chasing down publishers for meager paychecks, I made the choice not pursue the hardships, uncertainty, and strain of that path and settled in to a 9 to 5. Lucas chose the difficult path.

Living and working in a husked out industrial shell of small town America in Upstate NY, he was resolutely miserable and I encouraged him a number of times to just pick up and go (as Amanda and I had done), but money was always an issue for him, way moreso than it ever was for me. It took him a while to cull together money from vulture lawyers looking over the estate of his father, who passed away in 2013, but when he did he embarked off to Los Angeles. It doesn’t seem like Lucas ever landed on the radio, but he wrote, did some standup comedy (training with Second City), and collected odd jobs, assisting on projects like the Turner Classic Film Festival and the Razzies. In the meantime, he made a go of freelancing, getting the opportunity to interview Tommy Wiseau and watch/comment on hours of archival TV for work, things that must have been akin to those moments of pure joy alluded to above. While I have other family who have gone into media, Lucas’s drive was creative. He either didn’t see much value in the other kind of work or knew it wasn’t for him, even if it meant money would continue to be an issue. And with him gone, that seems to leaves me alone in the family as the other one (that I knew of) for whom creativity and imagination is more important than professionalism or other traditional measures of success.

After the initial shock of hearing he had died, that’s the feeling I can’t shake- that he left me alone in the family, or even moreso, that he himself was alone on the west coast and needed me. Maybe not me, but someone. Either way, I wasn’t there. He abruptly shut off social media at one point and I didn’t have his phone number. With the pace of life, I wasn’t able to keep up, which is a shitty excuse.

We still don’t know how he died, and it’d be stupid to speculate on what happened. The only important thing worth mentioning is that he was 29 years old and 29 is too goddamned young to die. It’s probably stupid for me to think in these terms too- who am I to know what he needed- I hadn’t talked to him in years, but Lucas was the first person I remember knowing as a baby. I watched him grow up and live his entire life. As an adjunct older sibling, I modeled interactions of how to play with younger kids and see shades of my son in those moments (Lucas and Oliver both love(d) Michael Jackson). My aunt would always me pictures of him, which I kept on my bulletin board, like a little brother I was proud of. And when I first got deep into writing in middle school, I would name almost all of my main characters Luke, because the name to me epitomized cool.

I regret not hanging on to that relationship tighter and I regret not coming out to visit him, when I know that would have meant something to him. I regret not being able to collaborate with him, to be creative in some capacity, or just encourage him to do a podcast or something like that to just let him know I though his voice was valuable and worth listening to. It’s too late to do that now, so perhaps writing this is the best I can do.

Below is a remnant from when we did collaborate- ages ago- on a song called “Jacolyte”, which I remember as being a theme song for a (imaginary?) pro-wrestler of some kind. The tape it came from credited the band as ORG, which still sounds like a pretty rad name for a band. It features myself on keyboard and Lucas on vocals. When I sent it to him around 2 years ago, he said it made him “unbelievably happy” and I’m gonna severely miss not having someone like him in my life.


A1 to A24

Twenty Musical Releases from Twenty Eighteen that I like in relatively descending order:

Tirzah-Devotion
Amnesia Scanner-Another Life
Charli XCX-Pop 2
Jenny Hval-The Long Sleep EP
Sophie -Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides
Oneohtrix Point Never-Age Of
AJA- AJA
Palmbomen II-Memories of Cindy
Let's Eat Grandma-I'm All Ears
Lolina-The Smoke
Shygirl-Cruel Practice EP
Grouper-Grid of Points
Various-Black Panther OST
Summer of Haze-P A C I F I C A
Janelle Monae-Dirty Computer
Pusha T-Daytona
Florentino-Fragmentos EP
Johnny Greenwood-Phantom Thread
Antonio Mendez-Highland Drive
DJ Taye-Still Trippin


Ten Television programs from Twenty Eighteen that I've liked in relatively descending Order

Atlanta 
Lodge 49
High Maintenance   
The Good Place 
Glow
Pose
Corporate 
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace     
Barry
The Handmaids Tale



Five films from Twenty Eighteen that I've enjoyed in relatively descending order:
Sorry to Bother You
Hereditary
Isle of Dogs
Annhilation
Black Panther



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Forgotten





Never forget that on 9/11, the country with the world’s largest military apparatus several times over with the world’s biggest intelligence gathering systems, failed to recognize or prevent an incoming attack on the American people by a previously ragtag group energized into international collusion by the U.S.’s massive sanctions program that killed roughly a million people in Iraq and motivated by the U.S.’s continued support for Israel’s apartheid settlements in Palestine. Never forget that no one was ever punished for this massive blunder, or that Richard Clark was the only one who ever even apologized to the victims for failing to protect their families. Never forget that families starved and people went without healthcare to pay for this military state that didn’t wind up making us any safer.


Never forget that the architect of the murders was partially radicalized and trained by the CIA to fight Soviets in an imperial tit-for-tat over an Afghanistan looking towards communism as one potential direction to go post-monarchy. Never forget that The Taliban offered to hand Bin Laden over but the Bush admin didn’t agree to their terms and had assumedly already cashed the checks paid to their defense contractor buddies so they proceeded to assault Afghani civilians. Never forget that because of the thirst for an assault, Bin Laden escaped over the Pakistan border and was able to evade capture for years.  Never forget that this war is still not over and it’s now in the hands of the world’s tallest infant who thinks he can privatize it. Never forget that Al Qaeda colluded with members of the Saudi Government and no interrogation or assault was ever conducted on what continues to be a strong US ally, currently busy carrying out their own atrocities in neighboring Yemen (a similar invasion into oil-rich Kuwait prompted the first Gulf War).



Never forget that the US launched a war under pretenses everybody knew were bullshit or specious or at best disputed at the time. Never forget that the major justification was an invented connection between Iraq and 9/11, based around what basically amounts to Infowars-style innuendo and rumor. Never forget that the fundamentalists in Al Queda and the secular Ba'athists in Iraq hated each other and never would have collaborated to carry out an attack as complicated as 9/11.  Never forget the Iraq war that killed at least a million people (a row of bodies that would stretch for NYC to Florida) had bipartisan support. Never forget that not one person was impeached or jailed over these massive war crimes. Never forget that Saddam Hussein had been cooperating with UN weapons inspectors and was actually reducing his weapons program prior to the invasion. 

Never forget that George Bush flippantly joked about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction at the White House Correspondents Dinner by displaying a picture of him looking under his desk, a line that got a major laugh from the fawning press. Never forget that Bush attempted to declare victory before the war had basically even begun by staging a media spectacle where Bush flew in and landed on an aircraft carrier and that propagandists would later stage the toppling of the Saddam statue.  Never forget that the Iraq war still isn't over.  Never forget that the administration used biological warfare including water and electricity deprivation, dirty bombs, and torture as regular tactics.  Never forget that the government hired mercenaries to carry out war crimes, and that the main mercenary boss now advises the president and his sister is in charge of the school system.

Never forget that the protests preempting the war were the biggest that had ever taken place in the entire world at the time, yet there was virtually no opposition to it within the legislature and there was virtual consensus of cheerleading approval across all the major news channels.  Never forget that anti-war voices were regularly silenced, cordoned off into free speech zones, and laughed off of the discourse as the bodies stacked.  Never forget the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, which argued that the US was within its rights to attack a country that had not acted aggressively towards it if it simply thought that the country may do so in the future.  Never forget that while we were destroying a country, the actual criminals behind 9/11 eluded escape for nearly a decade.



Never forget that after the towers fell and the president told people to shop, and people shopped for merchandise with crying firefighters on it, the actual first responders quietly died from preventable ailments brought on by inhaling smoke and debris and it’s now thought that more first responders will die from the environmental effects of the attack than perished in the towers. Never forget that for years the Republican Party paraded around 9/11 as a totem of their own patriotism while never assuming responsibility for any of these horrible acts, doing everything in their power to slow/redact key elements of the 9/11 commission, ripping up the bill of rights for the PATRIOT ACT, building a national security state that just happened to be friendly to personally affiliated contractors like Bechtel and Haliburton, and in the case of ghouls like Guiliani charging exorbitant speaking fees for their 9/11-based expertise. Never forget that we stayed in Iraq for years before ISIS emerged when the country could have stabilized to make sure we would have a stake in their oil industry, and that we fought a shift towards renewable energy during this period because of our investment in the region, a move that may eventually wipe out life as we know it on this planet.


Never forget that while these wars weren't quite as deadly as past ones were for US troops, this was largely thanks to modern medicine, and many returned home severely disabled, limbless, and with massive mental health issues. Never forget that veterans came home to a dysfunctional VA system that eventually became so backlogged with benefits requests that it had to start warehousing them. Never forget that those who did die were frequently put in harm’s way for no reason. Never forget that veterans’ families who spoke out against the war(s), such as the Sheehan and Tillman families, were massively red-taped or sustained aggressive character assassinations in the press.
 

Never forget that in the wake of 9/11, the US set up an indefinite detention center that rounded up immigrant and domestic Muslims and courted them off to a prison island without trial, where they were tortured and in several cases killed.  Never forget that Guantanamo Bay is still open. Never forget that the bile directed against Arab populations began almost immediately after the towers fell, with racist, Orientalist perspectives spouted ad nauseum without rebuke in the national press and on TV, spurring an unending stream of discrimination and harassment toward families of Middle Eastern descent living in the country peacefully.


Never forget that as bad as 9/11 was, we did mini-9/11s repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistans.  We bombed weddings, mosques, hospitals, roads, bridges, et al.  While it's clear our sorrow for the 9/11 victims runs deep, we've never quite come to terms with the suffering we caused in its wake or taken accountability for the devastation.  As Bush-era cronies cycle through history again as new Trump appointees or newly minted resistance heroes, it's clear that we've chosen to forget.  No matter how many times we repeat the mantra.  We keep forgetting, over and over like a Beckett play refrain.   Never forget. We’ll forget.  Never forget. We’ll forget.  Never forget.



Friday, August 10, 2018

SPACE FORCE




In all honesty though, every story on this Space Force whatever-it-is is very light on rationale so i posit these, which all stand an equal chance of being true:

1. Most obvious: great way to reverse robin hood state capital into defense contractor pockets, as with the five other military branches

2. Purposefully trying to undermine American military for foreign agent by making ours look stupid



3. Building an actual death star. Expect an equally stupid vulnerability too (see #7)



4. As stated in my other post, Bezos/Musk/et al. see earth as fundamentally uninhabitable in the near future and are building the infrastructure to be able to leave and defend themselves against the frothing hoardes looking to hitch a ride on their space yachts

5. I Was struck by the line in WaPo that they are interested in a new military branch "with its own chain of command and uniforms". We do know Pence and Trump are both big fans of pageantry. And plenty of new seats to fill with America's remaining grifters and snake oil salesmen

6. Making concerted effort to take away space from every kid who ever looked up at the stars and dreamed that it might not be as shitty as the earth is



7. After yesterday's revelations that the CEO of Marvel is secretly in charge of the VA, leaving the door open for Disney and Star Wars to control space.

8. Speaking of product placement, Naomi Klein's book No Logo has a section called "No Space' which posits that advertising has sought to occupy every functional part of what was once the commons...but in "No Space" she forgot about actual space! SPACE BILLBOARDS! CH-MUTHAFUCKING-CHING!

9. Comet headed towards earth to mercifully kill us all will really cause a panic in the markets so it needs to be shot down without much of a fuss

10. We're all stuck in a weird nightmare and our unconscious is running out of ideas



11. Space is indeed the place, as Sun Ra predicted, and therefore must be colonized and the Arkestra transformed into an Applebee's

12. Since we live in the dumbest reality, the Mr. Show sketch about blowing up the moon must now happen

13. Running out of places to get away with abusing children out in the open

14. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, or a whimper, but with a series of increasingly unlikely novel scenarios haphazardly assembled at the whim of a manchild who'd like nothing more than to cake the planet in gold and asbestos and then move on to destroy another planet



15. For now I am become death, destroyer of worlds. Look on my works, ye mighty and despair. Nothing beside remains, round the decay and the buffet of useless apps, fidget spinners, and the jerry mcguire monument.

16. We will create all the moments you thought you'd never live to see. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. But all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain, swept up in runoff of the great flood, burying the coastlines and eventually drifting us back into a modern panagea where our descendants will bath in the corpse-soaked water of our past mistakes.

17. The savage late capitalist mind does not understand freedom. It only understands force. Space force.

18. As indicated in the Bardo Thodol, in order to reborn, one must surrender to the void. But first one must find the void. Floating in the black emptiness of space, one mirrors the giant ego staring down the chasm of loneliness of the virtual/ social media sphere, but with all its contentless identity building kits and toolboxes dissipating into the ether of the universe's vast scope and one's sense of insignificance within it. Freed from one's career as cog in systems of oppression, absent the desire for definition, and liberated to experience pure humility at the cusp of nihilism, one can return in prepartion for the nuclear eradication of the self and the culture built in its tribute. Ready to experience connection to the universe, a force from deep within space bonding all of us, the atomization and alienation experienced daily recognized as mere illusion, and elevating collective consciousness to a higher plane.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

RIP Sam Mehran















Another apparent suicide. Talented guy and very young too (only 3).  I'm only now seeing the connections he had between various projects I've enjoyed throughout the year.  He's probably best known for a group (Test Icicles) that I never particularly cared for, but then started produced a wealth of treasures during the chillwave/Altered Zones era (I had forgotten about that Katie Rush EP, which I really enjoyed but never wound up downloading).  And then had connection to the more hypnagogic-sounding Matrix Metals and Outer Limit Recordings, a kind of second-tier Haunted Graffiti.  A greatest hits mix would surely reveal as in the few samples above that he knew his way around a melody.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Capitalist Haircut: Socialism or Barberism?




This article does a good job of surveying the intellectual landscape of modern democratic socialism, even if it sort of ignores the material organizing and  community building being down on the ground*.  It comes so close to being a fairhanded depiction of the ideas and reasons why socialism is so poised in this moment to present a real challenge to ingrained hegemonies, the limitations that challenge may have, and why it’s still a legitimate practice even if its implementation in a world all-encompassed by capitalism will prove incredibly difficult.   Then, it veers off into an odd sideline about the core essentialism of competition and the righteousness of the Open Markets Institute and New Brandeis movement, an anti-monopoly project named after a supreme court justice who tried to limited corporate and moneyed powers, in order to scold socialism for being short-sighted about the continued viability of a more restrained capitalism. 

I don’t oppose on principle to the idea that New Brandeis movement and DemSoc bear some similarities, nor am I obviously opposed to a more ethical capitalist system as one infinitely preferable to the legitimate hellscape we currently have.  However, Edelman ascribes a naivety to today’s thinkers that can only read like bad faith after the cogent presentation of actual DemSoc principles that precedes it.

Incidentally many of the precedent of Louis Brandeis (who himself was a millionaire) which set restrictions on the brutal and nakedly corrupt robber barons (many of whom could put Trump to shame) were eventually rescinded in tandem with the growing power of neoliberal global corporations**, which speaks to the major critique of why competitive markets driven by the profit motive always betray the people; the easiest way to compete is to not compete.  So anytime a corporation or a capitalist enterprise can eke out a competitive advantage in the form of tax breaks, loopholes, or lobbying for rule changes that disenfranchise or threaten millions of people, it will always gravitate towards those things because the danger of not doing them will put you at a competitive disadvantage. 

New Brandeis seems to think that regulation and intervention will quell this impulse by driving too-big-to-fail enterprises back into an equitable competitive marketplace and “save capitalism” as Robert Reich puts it. There’s a few problems with this, but two major ones. The first is that no it won’t.  History bears this out from Brandeis to New Deal to the post-war boom on to neoliberalism.  As Pikkety proves in Capital in the Twenty First Century, inequality is a feature and not a bug of capitalism. So, yes, controls are necessary but they are far from inevitable.  And when they are eventually dominated by capital that is tenacious, decentralized, and international in scope, the collateral damage from externalities is massive (hunger, imperialism, environmental devastation, et al).  A great small-scale example of this can be seen in the Open Markets Institute itself, which once received massive funding from the more liberal-leaning wing of the 1% via the New America Foundation think tank until the entire project was terminated at the behest of Google execs who didn’t think they needed to come under the microscope.

What folks like Barry Lynn, Elizabeth Warren, and Robert Reich like to imagine is that they can dial back individual corporations to a point where they are no longer political organs, essentially atomizing them to individual units just as laborers and consumers are themselves alienated under capitalism.   But business has always been aware that its designations and classifications have always been fundamentally political in nature, and through its use of lobbying wings, think tanks, and PR campaigns, can turn collectivist when industry goals are threatened.  Indeed, at the superstructural level, business’s main form of competition has never been between separate firms lobbying for market share, which is why mergers and acquisitions are hardly acrimonious for anyone but labor, the “human capital” that gets shaved off in the proceedings.  Instead, business’s main competitor is the federal government.  This is a race in which capitalism will always win because while a federal economy based in capitalism relies on strong markets to create taxable revenue to fund its endeavors***, enterprises don’t need strong, disciplinary government monitors to survive.  Which is not to say they don’t require regulation, particularly under neoliberalism.  Neoliberal institutions do require regulators, but ones that can serve common interests- to moderate inflation, dissuade bankruptcy, bailout mismanaged assets, quell labor uprisings, privatize public services the government can’t support, and ease any hindrance to trade movements.    And with no wall between the public and private sectors, there’s always a steady continuity of principle that flows openly from Ivy to market to polity and back and forth and onward from estate to estate. 

The second problem with the notion, however idealistic, that governments can ensure fairness in markets through the correct cocktail of shackling, investment, and social welfare is that the strongest regulations, the kind that actual have teeth and exert a measurable power over their subjects- those ARE socialism.  Democratic socialism tips the scale in the relationship between publicly accountable bodies (labor unions, consumer unions, worker co-ops, representational government, regulatory and watchdog agencies, juries, et al.) and their now subordinate but still limited accountability corollaries (executives, stockholders/stakeholders, institutions, incorporated tyrannies, intellectual property, supply chain, et al.) with the reserved right to nationalize or eliminate aspects deemed to be against the public interest.   You can tax into existence all of the capitalist offsets you want, but ultimately you’re not creating ethical capitalism.  You’re temporarily inconveniencing capitalism with a watered-down simulacrum of socialism that doesn’t have the market strength to compete with unbridled clout of the business world.  Sure, a wider safety net will give consumers and labor more power to navigate the marketplace, but as long as there’s money to be made the means of survival will always be commodities available to sell or scale to the right bidder, particularly in a system with a tiered class system of haves and have-nots.  There’s a reason that despite the best efforts of the civilized world, slavery has never fully disappeared.  Slavery and poverty and exploitation are natural states in a system where the distribution of all resources have to be bartered in order to be quantified at all.

If your fundamental worldview though is that monopolies arise only because people become “unprincipled” and “greedy”, it may be hard to reconcile that things won’t be different if you just realign the musical chairs of millionaire CEOs.  It was once the vision of techno-libertarian-utopians in Silicon Valley to create a world where mere access to democratizing tools and information sets would somehow liberate the masses, who could then insert themselves into the free market and, with Ozymandias-like zeal, found empires that could live by the mantra “don’t be evil”****.  But as soon as the difficulty of restrictions challenged the wide-eyed techbros’ bottom line, their true colors began to show.  And they could attend all the burning man festivals, infuse their ethos with the simplistic minimalism of the Buddha, and even hang-wring hard for UBI; the end goal of a capitalist is always more capitalism.  Competitive institutions animated by self-preservation are wont to take on a life of their own like any other species competing for resources. When this occurs, even the most altruistic and benevolent of the managerial class will fall in line for the greater good of the company.  Here, ego death means complete absorption into the machinery of the market.  So then the more classically liberal/enlightenment aspects of capitalism do not solely get ruined or compromised by the presence of “cronies” or “casino capitalists” or by decadence or corruption or any other modern day corollary to Catholic vice (sorry, Scorcese), though there’s certainly a fair share of real scumbags and sociopaths who gravitate to positions of private power.  Societal villains also encompass a host of really nice philanthropic people who mean well and are trying hard to make the world a better place, but who also operate vast networks steeped in human suffering and misery who seem to have no choice but to pull the levers in the way the board votes.

The final point is that it’s only cooperatives and collectivization that can bring together marginalized groups in a system founded on white supremacy and male supremacy without a complete reset of all existing power structures. Absent that, the fundamental societal drive of competition under capitalism will only encouraged splintered tribalism, which will be ripe for exploitation by those whose position is at the top of the class hierarchy.  Protection in the form of ideology in the form of alienation from the ruling class in the form of friction- be it white vs brown, young vs old, men vs women, documented vs undocumented, passing vs not, light-skinned vs dark-skinned, authentic vs synthetic- pre-existing tensions can be bottled,  distributed, and exacerbated in the detritus of mass culture and reinforced institutionally.   Parity and equity and interdependence and striving for equality may not ever undo the damage already done, but a fundamental realignment can redistribute power in a way that can address and begin to restructure these relationships. Reparations under capitalism are still just offsets. Reparations under socialism model the ideal structure of societal formation.   And without massive reparations- for all underclasses who’ve been underserved by the preservation of inequality- what good are well-regulated markets to those who continue to be crushed under the gears of a business culture whose country club networks or even vaguely meritocratic hiring practices require either preexisting privilege or affirmative intervention as a point of entry?

Socialists these days face an uphill battle and are constantly finding themselves answering the question: why is socialism still relevant?  Why go back to these ideas after the failures of the 20th century?  How can we learn from those mistakes?  Though there’s sometimes a bit of bad faith associated with these questions, I do believe they are important to answer and worth the hard slog it may take to reintroduce these revolutionary concepts back to a culture dormant to class and other double consciousness.  I think the core question no capitalist ever seems to want to answer though is- why is capitalism salvageable?*****  Can we really not produce innovation or foster creativity or achieve the great feats we’ve accomplished under capitalism without the incentive of a make-pretend monetary system that’s at times insulting, degrading, alienating, exploitative, dehumanizing, and also willfully abstruse and arcane to boot? The things we value in capitalism rarely pertain to the structural confines nor the ideological pedagogy of the ism itself, but byproducts that any humane and just system could reproduce or even improve upon.  So, why not strive for a better world undergirded by principles actually worth believing in, which aims to support people whether they’re in need or thriving, rather than continue to put Band Aids on an economic system predicated on a perpetual reification of power struggles? 


*And though he’s probably noted most for his philosophical concepts, Marx was first and foremost a materialist.

**notably Olmstead vs United States, a landmark legal precedent for the “right to privacy”, which as we now know has been surpassed by a massive corporate and government surveillance state, which reserves the right to collect and stores personal information to a nearly unlimited extent

***though modern monetary theory may dictate that this relationship could be reversed, particularly in countries like the U.S. where money is ephemeral and virtual rather than backed by a fixed standard

**** Patents and even corporations themselves were oddly enough once part of the same utopian vision.  It was thought that by incorporating or protecting intellectual property, millions of individual inventors and entrepreneurs could compete in an equitable commons.  While this did drive a great deal of innovation,  its externalities exploded exponentially to the point where patents could cover things like the human genome and corporations surpassed the GDPs of entire countries and were legally anthropomorphized into a kind of homo superior that nested atop the legal food chain.

***** In the Rolling Stone interview linked to above, Robert Reich merely concludes that capitalism is the world we’re all moving towards so we better save it, but makes no case for what its fundamental value is   

Dissensorama




Though writing has been...let's say spotty lately, I did manage to contribute a few entries to PopMatters's 100 Great Protest Songs feature, all entries fell into the final section covering the current century (and in fact just this decade).  It's a great endeavor though limited space may have inhibited selection.  It was pitched as something expansive and different than a previous feature run on the site under the same category.  Still, there's some good stuff in there.

I wrote on Fatima Al-Qadiri, A Tribe Called Quest, and Anohni.

In preparation, I assembled a decent selection of unusual suspects that I may write further about at some point if I get the chance


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Forcefeel- Digital/Save the Bunnies



New two song single with a Joy Division cover putting the digital into "Digital"