Sunday, January 31, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

"What’s really interesting, in a way, is this most fake and televisual of presences asserting authenticity. All the other candidates have funding that is occulted in one way or another, he states — he’s using his own money.  Which is another way of saying – other people try to be sneaky about buying the Presidency of the United States, and he’s being honest about buying the Presidency over the counter, straight up.  Yes, he says, the Presidency can be bought, and I’m doing it right in front of you, with my own money, like a respectable businessman.

It’s all a bit weird for me. It feels just that bit too much like the news out of the US is being generated by a computer that ate books by me and about thirty of my comrades and is spitting out algorithmic stories."

-Warren Ellis

RIP Paul Kantner

Earlier in the week I had posted some Jefferson Airplane on my 50 year vintage blog. Had recently done the same with David Bowie slightly before he died. Afraid to post anything else...

Of course, without Surrealistic Pillow, there'd be no surrealistic picnic

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Selective Pre-History of the Major Republican Nominee for President of the United States of America

In the same year that Fred Trump founded his honeypot, a real estate investment firm that would transform him from a man of modest means into a mogul worth roughly $250 million at the time of his death in 1999, he was arrested during a brawl a Ku Klux Klan rally.  The Klan’s power and influence during this part of history is hard to underestimate.  In 1915, twelve years before Donald Trump’s father was arrested, Birth of a Nation became the first film to ever be screened at the White House by an adoring Woodrow Wilson, whose quotes on white supremacy made it into later cuts of the film.  Both Warren Harding and Harry Truman may have also briefly dabbled with relationships with the Klan, as did other prominent business leaders, celebrities, and public figures.

I’ve seen no other record of Fred Trump engaging in racist rhetoric or endorsing hate groups elsewhere in his career. So there is a possibility that his involvement with the group was what one might call a youthful mistake.    The late Senator Robert Byrd, another prominent public figure with Klan ties, had a spotty relationship to civil rights for years, but by the end of his career became one of the NAACP’s strongest advocates and consistently called his membership in the Klan the biggest mistake of his life.  However, it’s possible to speculate, and not unreasonable given what came after, that Donald Trump was raised in a household where white supremacy was second nature and where hatred of ethnic or minority groups was commonplace.

Fred Trump’s real estate business was a resounding success.  He scored contracts to a number of high profile projects.  This included some genuinely important work building low-income apartment housing in the Bronx and Queens, creating affordable spaces in the big apple for immigrant, black, and other working class communities.  His son Donald began working at the firm in 1968 and, as was the style at the time, was groomed to become president of Trump Management Corp. only five years later.    Fred Trump retained control of part of the company, but father and son split their interest.  Fred would continue his work in the Bronx and Queens while Donald would take Manhattan.

In 1941 in nearby Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders was born to Jewish immigrants, his father lucky enough to be the only sibling to emigrate to America in time to avoid the Nazi invasion of Poland.   His father did not have a massive corporation to bequeath to him.  He sold paint.  Bernie Sanders would have to work his way up, attending the more low-cost Brooklyn College for two years before transferring to the more prestigious University of Chicago.  Trump too was a transfer student, starting at Fordham and then moving on to the University of Pennsylvania to finish up in Wharton’s undergraduate business program.  At the time, Chicago and Wharton were both renowned as being first-in-class for the two programs the future presidential candidates would study in, political science and business respectively.    

Strangely enough, the two men would also face their first serious challenge in a similar terrain, one that crisscrossed the intersection of politics, business, and race relations.  In 1962, Bernie Sanders the young man, Chairman of the social action committee of the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE, a radical chapter of the University of Chicago’s NAACP presence), organized sit-ins to protest the discriminatory housing practices of the University’s off-campus housing rentals.  Black students were being told that housing was unavailable while concurrently white students in the exact same circumstances were being offered places to rent.   The sit-ins lasted 15 days and ended with University officials reluctantly allowing CORE members to study segregation and weigh in with suggestions.  Not an overwhelming victory, but a marked strike in the battle against segregation.

Eleven years later, the cultural landscape had changed greatly, which is not to say that America was a bastion of racial harmony.    Those thinking that the deep south was the last major holdout in desegregation into the 1970s are sorely mistaken.   In 1973, a racial discrimination in housing lawsuit was brought against the Trump Management Corp.  Similar to what was taking place at the University of Chicago over a decade prior, potential black tenants found that listings had mysteriously been filled when they went to look at them, but white tenants were able to rent these apartments free of hassle. 

To defend his case, Trump hired Roy Cohn as his lawyer.  If Cohn’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s something of an archvillain of history.   Although he’s largely a footnote in this story, it’s worth stating that Trump chose to defend himself from discrimination claims by hiring the guy who proudly executed the Rosenbergs, initiated the Lavender scare expunging gays from government alongside his colleagues J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy, and then became one of the earliest high profile (closeted) gay men to die from AIDS in 1985 (Tony Kushner even made him into a character in his Angels in America play).  At Cohn’s behest, Trump countersued the U.S. Government for wrongful litigation, a claim that a federal judge promptly threw out.   The best the government could do though was to settle for a sizable sum in 1975 without Trump ever admitting fault.  However, the lawsuit did not die there.  A few years later, it was dredged up again when it was alleged that Trump continued to discriminate and was not complying with the terms of the suit.

While Sanders would temper his radicalism for more of an outsider-from-within approach to establishment politics, Trump too would learn from his civil rights challenge and began to master the art of the phony lawsuit.  Throughout the 80s and 90s, he defrauded New York City of millions of dollars in public money.  Many noble civil servants fought back, but Trump’s high priced friends and bankrolled politicians largely gave him what he wanted.  At a time of recessions, mass unemployment, spiraling crime rates, the drug crisis and the burgeoning HIV epidemic, a time when the needy could have severely used the aid, Trump used bankruptcy and other legal loopholes to rake in millions off the backs of New York taxpayers.   He’d use power and influence to win city contracts and then refuse to complete them until he could blackmail the municipal authorities into agreeing to his conditions, including ludicrous public subsidies to his already massively profitable real estate business.  Given carte blanche to build up midtown in the 80s, Trump was sued numerous times for harassing tenants and letting buildings slide into ruin so he could tear them down and replace them with hotels and high rises. 

Trump likes to present himself like he was an easy mark, a moving target because of his wealth and infamy and will always be quick to point out how unsuccessful many of the suits against him were.  But there’s a clear pattern in each of them, a man of enormous power and influence stepping on the disadvantaged to clear way for a new gentrified, upper-caste Manhattan.  With Roman-esque indulgence, he gilded his buildings in gaudy splotches of gold to intimidate the rabble and entrance the investor class.   

In one instance, the king of Casinos sued the New York Lottery on the grounds that their video Quick Draw game would put an undue burden on the welfare state.  One could find plenty of people who sympathized with Trump’s sentiment, but the message was clear; gambling is a luxury of the monied and the peasants need to be protected from themselves.  Apart from that, this was largely seen as a business move, Trump being leery of seeing legalized gambling move to New York after his Atlantic City casinos had already started to lose money to the Indian casinos that had moved into Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

For someone who takes U.S. identity very seriously, Trump has certainly had a share of nasty things to say over the years about those for whom America is actually their birth rite.   Trump went on a rampage in the 1990s, using his lobbying powers to argue against tribal sovereignty to protect his casino empire against competition.   He persistently harassed the Pequots, owners of the Foxwoods Casinos, by insisting that they were not really Native Americans and no such tribe ever existed.   He ran brutal, insulting smear campaigns against the Mohawk people to stop a casino from being built in the Catskills, including ads in the local papers that depicted them as violent, junkie, smugglers and implying that if the casinos were allowed an influx of drugs would follow.   He was quoted as saying  "One of my executives told me the only good thing about the Indian reservations is that we don't see (crime figures) anymore." (Anquoe, Bunty. “Trump slams Tribal Sovereignty”. Indian Country Today. 20 Oct 1993)

"I've got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! “  Trump once also said with disapproval as quoted in a book written by the former COO of Trump Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City.  “I hate it...Laziness is a trait in Blacks. It really is. I believe that. It's not anything they can control."  Though Trump had carefully resigned these comments to private conversations throughout his career, he couldn’t resist using the institutionally embedded fears of white society to his advantage.   

Never was this more apparent than during the infamous Central Park jogger case of 1989.  The case came about when a VP of the Salomon Brothers Investing Banking firm was brutally raped and assaulted while jogging through Central Park one morning, leaving her in a coma for roughly a year.  Five suspects were arrested quickly, all of them either Black or Hispanic and teenaged.  Before the case even went to trial, Trump took out a full page ad in the New York Times calling for New York to “Bring Back the Death Penalty”.  The fact that the alleged perpetrators were minors did little to deter Trump, who in a show of pre-Twitter fury, announced “Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”  The ad was filled with all the popular code words for equating minorities with some kind of subhuman criminal underclass.  Years later, DNA evidence and the confession of a serial rapist who chanced upon one of the accused exonerated all of the young men, but not before they had each served several years and had their lives destroyed by the case.  Trump rejected the decision to acquit and published an op-ed in the NY Daily News insinuating that they may still be guilty.

Based just on this aggressive stance and his renunciation of Mexicans as “rapists”, one might think Trump were a chivalrous champion of women’s autonomy.  Shockingly, this is not the case.   In addition to the litany of sexist remarks lobbed at reporters, colleagues, celebrities, and others, there’s the whole matter of his former wife Ivana Trump.  During the messy divorce proceedings of the early 90s, a deposition proclaimed that Ivana told confidantes that Trump had raped her.  The incident describes a “violent assault” in which Trump pulls out giant clumps of his wife’s hair and then assumedly forces himself on her.    When this was publicized, Trump responded by calling the author of the book in which the story appeared as an “unattractive guy who is a vindictive and jealous person”. 

Not content to toss around petty insults, Trump sent an army of lawyers over to Ivana.  What proceeded after that is up for speculation, but given the history of how rape allegations against powerful men historically pan out it’s likely that she was “convinced” to respond by denouncing the allegations in the book.  Even after what was surely a massive intimidation effort, her sentiments , which were sued into an addendum of the book Lost Tycoon, still come off like someone describing a sexual assault; “As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent.  I referred to this as a ‘rape’, but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense”.  IE, she won’t be pressing charges against the man who yanks out her hair, smacked her around, and then (consensually?) aggressively fucked her. 

Their divorce was even granted on the grounds of “cruel and inhuman treatment” and Ivana was barred from discussing her marriage to Trump without permission by way of a gag order.  When asked about this years later by The Daily Beast, who dug the issue up from the archives, Trump’s lawyer flippantly (and falsely) replied “by the very definition you can’t rape your spouse”.

Trump even once suggested that Mike Tyson be able to essentially buy his way out of his rape charge by paying millions of dollars to rape victims in exchange for jail time.  Well, Trump said that, but then later said it wasn’t what he meant.  Like, you couldn’t do it all the time.  Just in this one special instance.  And sure, he’s happy Tyson’s in jail.  Because when Donald Trump says it isn’t rape, it’s not rape.  And when Donald Trump says it’s not an aristocracy purchasing special rights, it’s just one special time in which assets can be turned into bribes to victims of sexual assault to keep silent.    Perhaps as payback, Tyson recently endorsed Trump.

Or there was that time when Donald Trump tweeted “26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”, suggesting that the natural inclination of every male is to rape whenever they can get away with it.  Or perhaps he was just talking about the men in the military. It’s difficult to tell, but there’s really no good angle you can put on this, or the fact that the tweet is still up there, still searchable by a major candidate for the highest office of the land. 

Trump’s Twitter is instructive at examining the id stream of consciousness of entitled white privilege, be it through his support of the birther movement, his retweets of blatant white nationalists, his soft approval of various international tyrants, his repetition of conspiratorial anti-Muslim myths, and more.   But it’s important to focus on what is now being considered a pre-history of the candidates specifically because of the long-term effects that our collective cultural amnesia seems to have brought upon us. 

The media seems to renew its shock at Trump’s proven bigotry at every pass, the cycle of which has admittedly accelerated in the algorithmic infotainment.  However, there should be nothing outlandish or baffling about new statements in which Trump wants to deport 11 million immigrants or ban Muslims from re-entering the country after visiting the Middle East.  It falls perfectly in line with someone who has been groomed in the doctrine of white male upper class privilege and has exhibited a history of white supremacy and sexism throughout his career.  Ta-Nehisi Coates recently stated “It really isn’t too much to say, if you’re going to govern a country, you should know its history”.  And it’s also true that if you’re going to choose a candidate to govern a country, you should know their history.

I only had knowledge of a few of the above biographical tidbits when NBC announced that they’d be giving him a show over a decade ago, which was hard to stomach at the time, even harder as it gained credence and appeal in popular culture.  It should have disgusted nearly all of us, but we were caught in the whirlwind of culture’s trajectory, high off of seeing a self-branded Rand-ian ubermensch “Winner” stomp on “Losers” and declare them “fired”.  It was an abusive, disgusting term when this became normative.  From Karl Rove to Simon Cowell to Tucker Max to fat-shaming shows, Trump, absent any context, must have not seemed to be the most hideous monster among us.

Trump has even played this to his advantage at times.  In 2000, he was running in the primary as the potential Reform Party candidate and presented as a less crazy counterpoint to the unequivocally racist Pat Buchanan (who himself became a correspondent on MSNBC as Trump’s reality show took off).  Dana Milbank of the New Republic followed him around for part of his campaign:

“As part of his California trip, Trump toured the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he was led from one disturbing display to another: hate speech, Bosnia, Rwanda, the civil rights struggle, the Holocaust. But Trump seemed detached, focusing his attention on the presentation rather than the content. Shown a video of a racial confrontation, he remarked: "Good actors." He spent an hour or so wandering around the exhibits, muttering "fabulous" and "unbelievable" and "brilliant execution" and "extraordinary" and "outstanding." The mood was occasionally broken by Roger Stone's telephone, which played the "Grande Valse" whenever there was a call.

After a guide asked the TV cameras to leave, Trump quickened his pace, galloping through the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust in about three minutes. Rejoined by the cameras, Trump slowed down and was handed a guest book to sign. He paused thoughtfully, as if searching for the perfect sentiment, then scribbled two words in the book: "great work!" He underlined "great" three times and dotted his exclamation point with a loop. He then contrasted his own tolerance with the "racist" views of his Reform opponent, Buchanan, whom he linked to Hitler. But even here Trump sounded like a developer. He marveled that Hitler came to power "so brilliantly." Fabulous! Great work, Adolf! “

Pols continue to act in puzzlement over Trump’s success and act as if we had no way to see him coming, but not only should Trump’s shift into lite-fascism not be surprising, neither should his support.  It’s exactly the types of things all of us polite liberals find so horrifying about Trump that his supporters adore.  They are aware of the hate and find it refreshing, which is why his approval rating is so high on sites like Stormfront.  This is what happens when you actively choose to forget or misremember macroaggressions and ignore microaggressions as they occur.  We’ve trained him to be this way by allowing him to get away with it all and remain a figure of public fascination. 

He has been sued dozens of times and frivolously wasted courtroom time with his own baseless lawsuits countless times, yet he’s never seen a jail cell. Like all other things, he demands our attention and we’ve given it to him.  Trump is a clown and a villain, yes.  But his clownery is our shame, and his villainy is our history.  Only in choosing a different future can we ever truly rid ourselves of him and his ilk.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Management or Barbarism

Catching up with Corey Robin today from links to links on previous posts, but he's very on point here about the real, unspoken, reason Obamacare is actually just a slightly less shitty version of private insurance in this post from 2013.  Worth noting as Hilary continues to make the case that all we can do is make adjustments to this deeply flawed model:

"There is a deeper, more substantive, case to be made for a left approach to the economy. In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.

The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts — one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government) — and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.

In real (or at least our preferred) life, we do have other, better things to do. We have books to read, children to raise, friends to meet, loved ones to care for, amusements to enjoy, drinks to drink, walks to take, webs to surf, couches to lie on, games to play, movies to see, protests to make, movements to build, marches to march, and more. Most days, we don’t have time to do any of that. We’re working way too many hours for too little pay, and in the remaining few hours (minutes) we have, after the kids are asleep, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is done, we have to haggle with insurance companies about doctor’s bills, deal with school officials needing forms signed, and more.

What’s so astounding about Romney’s proposal — and the neoliberal worldview more generally — is that it would just add to this immense, and incredibly shitty, hassle of everyday life. One more account to keep track of, one more bell to answer. Why would anyone want to live like that? I sure as hell don’t know, but I think that’s the goal of the neoliberals: not just so that we’re more responsible with our money, but also so that we’re more consumed by it: so that we don’t have time for anything else. Especially anything, like politics, that would upset the social order as it is."

-Corey Robin, Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness, Jacobin

It seems that this bureaucratic focus is just an extension of the goal of neoliberal tech, which is all about life management, as opposed to actually living life.  Facebook, for instance, encourages us to subscribe to as much content as possible and then charitably offers to curate that content for us, to make the job of keeping track of all this stuff we're interested in easier.  Meanwhile, we could be out exploring, engaging with, our ignoring these interests as we choose.

Nadir's Big Chance

More great thoughts from Corey Robin on some of the frustrations of the downfall of the Clinton Complex, but found this to be particularly important:

"Unlike purists of the left and purists of the center (who are the most insufferable purists of all, precisely because they think they’re not), I look at the various fits and starts of the last 15 years—from Seattle to the Nader campaign to the Iraq war protests to the Dean campaign to the Obama campaign to Occupy to the various student debt campaigns to Black Lives Matter—as part of a continuum, where men and women, young and old, slowly re-learn the art of politics. Whose first rule is: if you want x, shoot for 1000x, and whose second rule is: it’s not whether you fail (you probably will), but how you fail, whether you and your comrades are still there afterward to pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes.

Though I’ve not been involved in all these efforts, I know from the ones that I have been involved in that people are learning these rules.

But at some point, you have to put that knowledge to the test. Now the Sanders campaign is putting it to the test. Is it too soon? Maybe, probably, I have no idea. None of us does.

But you can’t possibly think we got anything decent in this country without men and women before us taking these—and far greater—risks, taking these—and far greater—gambles.

Sometimes I think Americans fear failure in politics not for the obvious and well grounded reasons but because they are, well, Americans, that is, men and women who live in a capitalist civilization where success is a religious duty and failure a sin, where Thou Shalt Succeed is the First Commandment, and Thou Shalt Not Fail the Tenth.

Is it not the right time for the Sanders campaign? The Republicans control the Congress, Sanders might lose to Trump or whomever, we don’t have the organizational forces in place yet? Well, re the first two concerns, when will that not be the case?

As for the third, well, that’s a very real concern to me. But we won’t know in the abstract or on paper; we have to see it in action to know.

Right now, the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire are telling the pundits and fetters: we are reality, deny us at your own peril. (I’m fantasizing a campaign where Sanders racks up more and more victories, and the pundits get more and more hysterical: he can’t win, he can’t win!) Maybe the putative realists—for whom reality seems to be more of a fetish or magical incantation—ought to listen to them."

To this I'd add- the important concept of privilege.  Since it is largely middle and upper class people who regularly vote and who always have the least to lose when flipping a coin between Republican/Democrat or Hilary/Sanders, they tend to go safe.  It's easy to ask the poor to keep dying poor if it will have no real effect on you.  It's easy to ask other countries to keep deflecting our bombs if it makes us feel a little safer  It's easy to...&on&on&on&on...

The Intellectual Public

"The public intellectual is not simply interested in a wide audience of readers, in shopping her ideas on the op-ed page to sell more books. She’s not looking for markets or hungry for a brand. She’s not an explainer or a popularizer. She is instead the literary equivalent of the epic political actor, who sees her writing as a transformative mode of action, a thought-deed in the world. The transformation she seeks may be a far-reaching change of policy, an education of manners and morals, or a renovation of the human estate. Her watch may be wound for tomorrow or today. But whatever her aim or time frame, the public intellectual wants her writing to have an effect, to have all the power of power itself.

To have that effect, however, she must be attuned to the sensitivities of her audience. Not because she wishes to massage or assuage them but because she wants to tear them apart. Her aim is to turn her readers from what they are into what they are not, to alienate her readers from themselves. The public intellectual I have in mind is not indifferent to her readers; her project is not complete without them. But there’s a thin line separating her needing readers from her being needy of and for readers. And it is on that thin line — that tension wire between thinker and actor, intellectual and celebrity — that she must stand and balance herself. "I want to make 200 million people change their minds," said Gore Vidal, a writer who, not coincidentally, stretched that wire to its breaking point.

Though the public intellectual is a political actor, a performer on stage, what differentiates her from the celebrity or publicity hound is that she is writing for an audience that does not yet exist. Unlike the ordinary journalist or enterprising scholar, she is writing for a reader she hopes to bring into being. She never speaks to the reader as he is; she speaks to the reader as he might be. Her common reader is an uncommon reader."

-Corey Robin, How Intellectuals Create A  Public, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Gioia- "Circling"

forthcoming on Godmode

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Work Becomes the Idol

Scattered thoughts on Steve Jobs written a few years ago when 2 biopics were planned and I was hearing a lot of love for the late Apple guru at my job.

The man who created a phone where you can talk to yourself, the man perhaps most responsible for crippling consciousness to the point where teens now human sacrifice themselves en masse so that they don’t have to pay attention to driving for five minutes.  And then people praise him for his vision. The religious leader of capitalism, the Christ figure who delivered us from ourselves, who plugged us directly into the matrix.

His Stanford Commencement speech is porn for the privileged, inspirational claptrap as selfie, a passed hors d’oeuvres tray of 140 character bits wisdoms. The ideology of the gilded class is that everything is fine, that you only need to follow your dreams and believe in yourself and things will work out for you the way it statistically is almost guaranteed to not.  They preach this with such vigor, you could almost buy that they believe it. Maybe they even do. It doesn’t really matter. The important part is that we don’t believe it, but that we act like we do.  If we believed it, we’d be wildly disappointed.  We’d be a country suffering from pandemic levels of depression and anxiety that our dreams were not coming true.  But that’s not us, we’re America the bold and the beautiful, with dicks and guns so big that other countries deliver their talent to us, prop up our faux democracies, negotiate peace treaties on our terms, and praise our computer prodigies for their ingenuity.

We believe in the dream. We follow it, and when we filter down the most pragmatic dreams to the one standing in front of us putting food on our table and keeping the disgusting habits of the underclasses out of our way, we realign our dreams.  We make the dream what we have, what we own.  Every knock to our stability, every caveat, every cancer cell and its corresponding invoice, is the price paid.  Because dreams aren’t just dreamed, they’re purchased.  Those who can afford it can have great ones, but the rest of them at least get a piece. America the great bargain. 

The dream of course is finding satisfaction in work.  No one dreams of finding satisfaction in love, in family, in leisure.  Those things are naturally pleasurable. You don’t have to dream them, they happen. Work becomes the idol, living in praise of work, in praise of Jobs.

They’d have you believe that we’re still in the garden and the snake is selling something at the Apple Store, the best-selling item of all time, a narrative, an autobiography, an i.  iDream.  & iDream.  &iDream. 

"The form of wood, for instance, is altered by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to dance of its own accord."

-Marx, on Commodity Fetishism

The Rumors- The Rumors

New on Remissive. A more "rock"-ish mix of newly finalized tunes(mostly composed early naughts or earlier)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Static Waves

"The strange thing about television is that it doesn’t tell you everything. It shows you everything about life on Earth, but the true mysteries remain. Perhaps it’s in the nature of television. Just waves in space."

-Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Requiem for Hans Gruber

"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer"

Die Hard is one of those films that's difficult to put in historical perspective since it so quickly became a parody.  Studios immediately latched onto the format and used it to sell every action picture they had- "It's like Die Hard on a..." (boat, train, bus, et al.), but it was truly different than the hard-knuckled high body count generic action flicks of the time.  The Chuck Norris and Dirty Harry pictures always seemed to take aim at rotting ideologies, usually with some kind of arch-conservative, Islamophobic, or anti-Soviet bent.

Die Hard, and by extension its principal villain, played with brilliant poise and affect by the late Alan Rickman, was one of the first movies whose villain was less a demagogue or some kind of ethnic stereotype than a good old fashioned slash n' burn capitalist, an economic rather than ideological terrorist.  In fact, it's insuated that Gruber was once part of a West German terrorist group (probably akin to Baader Meinhof or those active in the 70s) but  was ultimately just involved to swindle them.

But that's not say that there's no insinuation that financial terrorists and political terrorists aren't of the same stripe in Die Hard.  At one point, Gruber compliments Mr. Takagi on his suit; "John Philips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat gets his there".  When Ellis comes in to negotiate, he tries to find common ground, stating "business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen. What's the difference?"  Garbed in a suit to rival his white collar hostages at the Nakatomi headquarters in Los Angeles, Rickman's Hans Gruber could have faded into the scenery at the Christmas Party, and in fact does at one point, nearly tricking the hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) into buddying up with him.

Gruber is charismatic, slick, and professional, which makes his sudden spurts of violence all the more disturbing.  Gruber executes two hostages in the course of the film and in each scenario he is cool and collected, acting like an enlightened European gentlemen making quick but appropriate "human capital" decisions or negotiating a trade deal.  His extended pan-European cadre are equal parts thug and character actor, but they represent the "global scale of business" (including an American hacker).

There's obviously a sort of play on the 1980s hysteria of economic dominance- thinking that the meteoric rise of the U.S. economy was soon going to be subsumed by the equal ingenuity of Japan (typified by Nakatomi) and Europe (Hans, et. al.).  The American hero and there hostages are presented as pawns in all this, not perfectly innocent (a brief mention of Nakatomi CEO Takagi's time in an internment camp, the corporation's "legacy of greed'") but not directly implicated in this specific global conflict.  And though McClane largely saves the day through a strong display of force, the military forces (vis a vis the police and then the FBI) are shown bumbling their way through counterterrorism tactics that not only  threaten civilian lives but actually abet the terrorists; when the police shut off the power, it turns off the final lock to the $640 million of negotiable bank bonds that the group is seeking.

The fun of the film is in the interplay between Gruber and McClane, though it's arguably Rickman's show.  While McClane is mainly in survival mode, reacting to each scenario with creative violence and quick quips, it is Gruber's fight to lose and there's a surprising amount of pathos that Rickman brought to this role, particularly given that the spiritual kinship of the film to a Looney Tune short.  Gruber lays out a perfectly executed plan and even amidst CEOs and finance-types, he's easily the smartest guy in the room, but he quickly loses control when he engages in a cat and mouse game with McClane/Roy's anarchic/rascally "cowboy".  Gruber can't seem to believe that he is being outwitted and outgunned by a blue collar meathead and it slowly begins to unravel him.  Meanwhile, McClane is largely responsible for running around and fucking shit up.

Unfortunately, this breakthrough role also typecast Rickman for years.  Although he was pretty much the only watchable thing in drek like Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, his role as stock villain followed him for a good part of his career. Yet, he stole the scene in nearly ever film he found himself in.


It’ll be a good idea to get rid of you,
because the Earth would look better without you.

Children are like sparrows,
but they don’t build nests in dead trees.
And the U.N. agency isn’t responsible for planting trees.

Use yourself as a bargaining card,
as a piece of paper with a poem on it, a piece of toilet paper,
a piece of paper for your mother to light the stove
and bake some loaves.

The weather forecast:
The sun is lying in bed because it has a temperature.

The bones, clothed in flesh and then with skin.
The skin gets dirty and gives off a horrible smell.
The skin burns and is affected by supernatural factors.
Take yourself as an example.

Don’t give up hope.
Take heart from the exile from which you are fleeing!
This is intensive training for living in Hell
and in your harsh conditions.
My god, is Hell somewhere on Earth?

The prophets have gone into retirement
so don’t expect any prophet to be sent your way for your sake.
For your sake the observers submit daily reports
and are paid high salaries.
How important money is
for the sake of a decent life"

-Ashraf Fayadh, scheduled to be executed in Saudi Arabia for apostasy, from his poem "The Last of the Line of Refugee Descendants"

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Jukebox Heroes (We Can Be) (re-post)

Not quite the above but close.

The below was originally published on a different (now defunct) blog in June 2006.  It does not necessarily reflect my current headspace.  The NYT piece mentioned is part of a series published around that time on the culture-jamming phenom that became known as Wyatting:

In the NY Times Magazine's "True-Life Tales" segment of its new Funny Pages section, Wendy McClure tells the story of bar that gets hijacked by Brian Eno. The story reminds me of vaguely Situationist experiments my high school friends and I would undertake in the crowded Pleasant Valley Diner (now known as the Arlington Diner), which was not actually located in Pleasant Valley, but in rather Poughkeepsie, which seemed only fitting for this particular hole-in-the-wall.

We would usually stumble in sometime between midnight and 4 A.M., eyes glazed, sometimes drunk, and generally giggling and fumbling like manic miscreants who had simply transferred their private late-night shenanigans to a public setting, much to the disdain of those around us for whom we were like the obnoxious table you can hear coming in from a mile away and cross your hands in prayer that they won't be seated next to you. To us, the diner was a mystical and esoteric over-caffeinated world, unstuck in time. It was a gluttonous land of jello and brownie sundaes and cheese fries and breakfast at two in the morning.

I'm always surprised when I meet someone who has never been to a 24 hour diner or experienced it at its peak existence; in the dead of night on a weekday. It may not be said establishment's busiest time of day, but it is rarely empty.

In these wee small hours, all the graverobbers, insomniacs, and other social miscreants can gather without judgment in a blissfully solitary and morose timeout from the strains of the quotidian purgatory assigned to those not following the American God's plan. The all-night diner is like the bar at the edge of the earth, where we can all enjoy one last pint before falling off into the abyss of the rest of our nowhere lives. Truckers, stoners, late-night lovers with nowhere else to go, quiet loners, people with secrets, people with phobias, people with sleep-deprivation habits, people who are running away, people who are afraid to the let the night end for fear they might wake up and realize it never happened, people who need to talk. You can imagine 95% of the conversations that leads to a late night diner experience being relatively the same. "I can't sleep/I can't stop thinking about it/ I have something to get off my chest/ I need to get the fuck out of this place...let's go to a diner."

And then there was us, for whom "Let's go to the diner," was like Lebowski and company saying "Let's going bowling." It was as natural as the air. After a long night of concentrated slackerdom, it was just suitable that we make a public appearance to reveal what we had produced that night, that being, of course, nothing.

The diner was the epicenter of nothing. Nothing for the public record, at least. It was where nowhere got done better than anywhere else. Not only for us nobodies and our reliance on late-night virtual reality of video games and altered consciousness and depended on being anywhere apart from the stale and stoic here and now, but for the others for whom the diner promised something more in the way of nowhere; secrecy, sanctuary, and solitude. Amassed amidst one's peers, the freaks who just couldn't obey the unspoken national bedtime, it was a judgment-free zone.

It was nowhere, with only the vague whiff of capitalist enterprise grounding the entire weird world in any semblance of popular ontology. It was not necessarily a means of escape, but rather a members-only club for professional escape artists. These were people who trafficked in escape. It was their trade, their hobby, and their passion. Not that they were any more or less guilty than the other shmoes who slept soundly at night and resisted the temptations of coffee, cigarettes, and cheese fries, but it was the late-night diner patron's skilled methodology at the craft of escape that assembled them all together in nowheresville.

Smoky hole-in-the-wall bars offered escape too, but bars were designed to act counter to one’s one sense of control. A few drinks in and you didn’t have to leave it inside anymore, it all came tumbling out.  This makes bars perfect for extroverts and diners perfect for introverts.  Introverts hide in diners from those in bars who won’t ever shut the fuck up. 

When the bar met the jukebox, bar owners found that people were drawn in by the jukeboxes and the democratic principles of freedom of choice that it promised. You could be the DJ and dictate the soundtrack to your evening.  Previously, music had functioned more like Muzak in bars- something to drown out along with your sorrow, the loungechair to Eno and Satie's armchair. Sure, there had been bars with hot jazz, warm feelings, and sexual tension before the recent influx of twenty-something or younger alcoholics colonized the local bar scene, but they were more of an urban establishment that overall alienated the country and city folk, whose parochial instincts begged them not to flaunt their bacchanalian urges.

As the bars crowds increased, the clientele's purchasing power increased as well. Happier people with happier music drank more, faster. They pumped more money into the jukebox, which got louder and louder to shout above the rowdy customers. Conversely, as the jukebox grew louder, the bar tended to fill closer and closer to capacity. The fresh faces that flooded in were younger and more energetic, punch-drunk, obnoxiously self-confident, sexually aware, and worst of all, completely guilt-free and unashamed. The parading and partying lot quickly transformed "nowhere" into "somewhere" and sent all the nobodies packing.

Sure, this didn't completely extinguish the sad and lonely late-night bar, but I like to think that much of the customer base relocated to the 24 hour diners (many of which serve alcohol). The diners still had the jukeboxes, but kept them relatively quiet, most of them even insulated within a single booth so as not to disturb nearby tables. Sure, much of it was the same stupid, snotty pop-rock trash that played at most of the newly-converted "spring-break" style college dives, but at least the volume was kept at a civilized volume level, goddamnit.

It was within this context that us, the young and the lethargic, bizarro world composites of those young and energetic belly-shotters from the late-nite bar scene, would stumble in with the ace up our sleeves for tonight's game of holdem hostage with psychological variables. Our weapon of choice for the night's mental roulette: David Bowie's "Fame."

It was well-known that the Pleasant Valley Diner contained one of the few jukeboxes still around using 7" vinyl for it's selections rather than CDs or cassettes. What we discovered independently, much to our psychotropic amusement was that there was a scratch embedded about 10 seconds into the thin white funk of David Bowie's infamous hit collaboration with John Lennon. The interesting thing about this scratch was that it could be have been carved by Grandmaster Flash or Peanut Butter Wolf themselves. It was a perfect half-loop of the song's main riff that sounded like a Steve Reich-concocted exercise when unearthed to its full capacity.

We would usually play at least two or three selections first effectively allowing the experiment to run its course as an intrusion seemingly untouched by human hands, a natural diversion. When the remixed "Fame" came on, in all its minimalist glory, practically no one ever noticed the error until at least several minutes into the song. Any reasonable kid with pop music in his veins would be able to immediately detect the glitch, but Poughkeepsie was not exactly a music lover's town. And besides, people were too deeply entangled in their own personal wreckage to notice the outside world's. When they did react, their reactions were subtle; irksome movements, irritated grimaces, baffled pauses mid-sentence.

The waitstaff, the innocent victims in all this, were likely the first to notice, but they were usually so busy or exhausted that it took them several minutes to respond. In the meantime, there would be no customer complaints. Some seemed refreshed by the crack in monotony, as if the skipping record suddenly put this nowhere diner on the map. Others were perturbed by the demanding forces of this instructive phenomenon, which vied for their attention in the exact opposite way that the loud bar jukeboxes did. They didn't want to be distracted from their distractions. For them, it was hard enough keeping everything in place as it was.

We felt like real hooligans doing it. We felt like merry pranksters, shaking up sensibilities and altering perceptions. I secretly longed for someone to explode in laughter at the fractured beat's insistent refrain as we often did during the song's umpteenth return, not being able to contain ourselves. No one ever joined the laughter. Perhaps they were scared of letting go of their problems that easily in this vulnerable land of nowheresville. Or perhaps they truly were not impressed and thought we were just a bunch of punks tormenting them with our sick sense of humor.

I liked to look at the experiprank as less of a psychosocial study or a cheap guffaw at the expense of the emotionally-less-fortunate and more of a literary flourish emerging life's narrative ether. I saw it as a lecture to all those dead and trapped souls, a prophetic gesture by a slacker visionary who was sure he didn't want to be one day struck at the nowhere diner in the nowhere town with nothing but a naked lunch to show. I wanted to illuminate the grave dangers of time standing still and the dizzying effect it had on those who remained trapped within the endless cycle of the mind's penetrating cognitive tricks. I wanted to illustrate how a steady diet of sameness could spawn an allergic reaction that could be fatal without some interjected variation and how an attempt to camouflage into the scenery could ultimately be the kind of glaring defect that ultimately gives you away.

Okay, so maybe this wasn't what I was thinking about at the time, but I certainly felt a kinship with the song's unaltering ritual. The junk food lifestyle was not enough and the immobility of my immediate surroundings was causing me to grow ever more claustrophobic. My complacency was turning into complicity. And yet no one was speaking up. Why would no one call us out on the song's neverending descent into mind-numbing, unresolved tension?

Rather than rattle up their sensibilities, most of the diners just stared into their coffees, patriotically content to permanently reside in their nowhere, a land they'd give their whole lives away for if it came down to it. In a world full of dreams and nightmares, of waking states and REM sleep, this was a place that represented that blank time of night when the mind is neither dead nor active. Pleasant Valley was free to be located in Poughkeepsie and Poughkeepsie was free to be represented in a single diner. It was beyond borders, beyond judgment, beyond forgiveness. Reciprocity of the damned. It was all nowhere, asking no fame, no favors, and please, please, please no futures.

Winter SGS

Recent additions to the Singles Going Steady set

not least of all on David Bowie's "Blackstar" a few days before his passing

& also on:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Knowledge Comes With Death's Release

Shortly after I moved into an apartment, my first apartment, with my wife (then my gf), she brought home a cat.  We already had a rescue cat and I wasn't interested in getting another pet at that time.  I promised her though if she found one that was "fluffy and white with six toes on its paws and blue eyes" that we could consider it, thinking this an unlikely scenario.  I returned from work one day to find this mystical alien cat in my house.  My wife declared that she was rescuing him from a young child who was going to name him Cinderella or something, but to me he resembled a fanciful Thin White Duke with snow white tan, equal parts gorgeous and ferocious. So, of course we called him Bowie and he's still around 10 years later.

On a long card ride to somewhere when I was about 12 or so, our family made a pit-stop at some middle America strip mall to stretch our legs.  One store was a giant emporium with an impressive collective of bargain cassettes in the back where I was able to score dirt cheap copies of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Low, and Lodger.  I'd already had the Rykodisc hits collection ChangesBowie on CD, but the journey into deep catalogue Bowie absolutely changed me.  Nothing could have been further from "Ziggy played guitar" than the second side of Low (of which nothing appears on ChangesBowie), but this the point.  There was no real David Bowie.  It wasn't about getting to some existential core, but finding out the ways in which we've become alienated from culture's central rot.  It was a key to bringing the weirdoes closer together.  I still felt isolated and outside, but here was a transmission that served as a point of entry to something grander percolating in the realm of art.

Sophomore year of high school, a girl asks me to make her a mixtape of David Bowie songs.  I like to think that my careful curation of this mixture of hits and deep cuts had something to do with the fact that we'd eventually date for some time and remain friends to this day.  Noël would expand my horizons greatly beyond the raw pulp I'd assembled so far from magazines and peer endorsement, introducing me to the Beats (who had greatly inspired Bowie, particularly Burroughs) as well as the surrealists (ditto) and broadening my range on punk/new wave/synthpop (which, it can't be understated, wouldn't have existed without Bowie).

Freshman year of college, a girl I'm trying to impress brings me back to her dorm room, which is littered by Bowie ephemera.  I try to convey how pivotal he is to my life as well, but she refuses to call him by his name.  She only refers to Bowie as "God".  She remains unimpressed with me and I don't blame her.

October 17th, 2008, I dance with my wife to our wedding song, Cat Power (who covered "Space Oddity") and her cover of "I Found A Reason" by The Velvet Underground (a band assembled in part by Andy Warhol, who David Bowie portrayed in the film Basquiat, and led by Lou Reed, whose best solo albums Bowie produced). "Soul Love" also plays at the cocktail party.

2012.  Our daughter is learning to talk, roaming about eyeing the framed LPs hanging above the shag carpet and vinyl panelling in on own basement, a preserved model of an 80s hang space from the previous owners.  "That's David Bowie!" she proclaims, pointing to Aladdin Sane.

Summer 2007. The wife and I volunteer to do face painting at music festival put on by a friend's guitar store.  In the midst of the fun, I get the Batman symbol on my head and my wife does the Aladdin Sane zig zag.  We return to our recently rented apartment in Philadelphia, the only white faces on a predominantly black street, where a block party is being held.  We introduce ourselves to our new neighbors with sloppy sweat-soaked paint on our faces, looking like maniacs.  They refuse to believe that we don't do this every day.  "We don't care what you do.  We accept you however you are".

1972.  Bowie says, without equivocation; "I'm gay, and I've always been".  He later downgraded assertions that he is "bisexual" and then "a closet heterosexual", but all disputes aside it's impossible to deny the impact of this inital statement, whether it was Bowie or Ziggy or some cypher or troll talking. Bowie, a major pop star dressing in drag and calling himself Lady Stardust, had created one of the first mass safe spaces for the LGBT community within the sleeves of his LPs.  Years later, coked out of his mind, he'd argue on TV that America was not a very homophobic place with a TV host who obviously thought he was nuts.  But Bowie seemed to believe it, like he'd just time travelled to some distant future where gays could live, love, and marry in dignity.

Years previous, on an album sporting a Johnny Rotten haircut, he'd send himself to space just a year short of the apollo moon landing. When Punk actually happened, Bowie was away in Germany inventing the next decade of music.  It was only when Bowie made the excellent Earthling album that he seemed slightly behind the curve, embracing jungle a couple years too late. But then again the lead single from that album was the world's first download-only MP3 single and he raved about how we didn't even tip the surface of what the internet was going to do to us as a people.

1999-2000.  A gaggle of stoned friends frequenting diners at the graveyard shift habitually put on David Bowie's "Fame" when we come in, which skips as it plays in perfect loop.  We measure how long it takes the tired, overworked staff to notice. David Bowie will never die.   His fame, his infamy, loops on eternally.

January 8th, 2015.  Rumors spread for years after David Bowie "retired" from music that he was sick, but now he was back, releasing his second of album this decade on his 69th birthday.  He had already released an insanely good 10 minute video and single with yet a new moniker, Blackstar, a term for an unknowable force- the annihilation of dark matter or the destruction of elimination of light, depending on how you think about it.  He signs off an email to his old friend Brian Eno with yet another moniker "Dawn".  David Bowie knows he is going to die, that he is going to become a blackstar, but this is not for us to know. It's all part of the performance.  A bedridden, ill David Bowie is not the real David Bowie.  He exists somewhere else, in the virtual realm, in the public imaginary.  In the anticipation of the incoming album, somewhere on the plain of music to come.

On the same day, he releases what is likely his last video single; "Lazarus", a biblical reference to the man Christ rose from the dead by the man who once played Pontius Pilate.  David Bowie may be gone, but he is not done with us.  He has given us a spectacular death and spectacular blueprints for a future past, receded present, and previously unthinkable future.

Feb 26th, 1966, Melody Maker.  A "nineteen-year-old Bromley boy";  "I want to act. I'd like to do character parts.  I think it takes a lot to become somebody else.  It take some doing...As far as I'm concerned, the whole idea of Western wrong.  These are hard convictions to put into your songs...The majority just don't know what life is"

We don't, and neither did that cocky little 19 year old either, but he found out.  And we will too.

Monday, January 11, 2016

There's a Paxman Floating Up His Arse

Part of the glory of the internet in fact is that it not only proves David Bowie right but proves the mainstream media so very very wrong

So Softly a Supergod Dies

word do no justice


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Xosar- "Chicago Morlocks"

from Holographic Matrix, a fantastic new (free)  little dark bleeter on bandcamp

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

MONO/POLY- "The Fuckin' Real"

Bass by Thundercat

New one on Hit + Run, which is a label to watch (Good stuff by Angles Dust and Zachey Force Funk last year)

Island- "Too Much"

My favorite cut from the Crazylegs Xmas sampler

Bjork- "Stonemilker"

Sadly missed this on first release, but it's lovely

Monday, January 4, 2016

Drax- "Razorblade"

Over 20 years after "Amphetamine", Drax is still making nasty trax, like this here banger on Perc Trax

Saturday, January 2, 2016

This is How the World Ends dir Gregg Araki

As a teenager who loved the hyperbolic teen trash of Araki's Teen Apocalypse trilogy, I was curious and skeptical when it was announced that he was developing a project for MTV.  The project was rejected for obvious reasons, not the least of which seems to be based on this unaired pilot that the electronica explosion never happened (The Chemical Brothers make an appearance and are featured heavily, as are Prodigy, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, Underworld, Basement Jaxx, the Orb).  I always just thought it would be something I'd never have the chance to see and then totally forgot about it when YouTube came along.  Alas, here it is available for all to see, playing like something akin to a PG-13 version of an Araki film. The style is still there- garish set designs with pop art typography, thin acting, thick and insipid lingo, nihilism, homoeroticism, reduction of teendom to its worst stereotypes- but as a trailer it doesn't really make much of an impact. It's very low concept. Not much actually takes place.  This is perhaps why the YouTube video is its perfect format.  A curiosity and time capsule, a piece of something that could have been.