At the Mountains of Badness

Art, Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

This space has been traversed for nearly four months by Jared Kushner, whom I first met about 18 months ago, when he introduced himself after a foreign policy lecture I had given.

-Henry Kissinger

About suffering they were never right,
The Old Ones: how little they understood of fear,
An old man at the mountain when a god draws near
Still mostly pines for a restaurant that’s bright
Enough to read the menu, still delights
That the soup is hot, the winter roads kept clear.
Worshipful terror is for the young, the shear
Effort overwhelms. There was one night
Quite recently when I, arising from
My sleeping soil, called the car and went
To a cocktail party where I met the son-in-law
Of our most recent deity; he seemed
All right. I did not find it evident
That he was yet prepared for Saturn’s maw.
He smiled pleasantly and blankly beamed.

Rainbow of Fruits

Art, Conspiracy and the Occult, Economy, Media, Poetry, Science, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized

The value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-
pressed juice. Much more. The value is in how easy
it is for a frazzled dad to knock the queasy
edge off the half case of Coors Extra Gold
he drank last night because his ex-wife told
him that he’d never keep them. The kids. Her breezy
iPhone alto happy. Remarried a cheesy
real-estate asshole with a Beemer and a billfold.
Fuck you, Kim. “Hey Daddy,” Jaiylyn calls,
“we’re gonna miss the bus.” He sighs and hits
the button. Nothing. The pouch, it seems, is one
day beyond the best-if-used. It all
becomes quite clear. He chews two aspirin, grits
his teeth, and goes to the closet to get his gun.

Even Hitler Didn’t

Art, Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Leave the seat up. Put the coffee grinds
in the sink. Use the water glass instead
of the wine glass. Leave just a heel of bread.
His secretaries thought him very kind.
His taste in music really was sublime.
His taste in art was lousy, and he mostly read
trash, but it’s true he’d fought well and bled
for his country. He loved his dog. In short, combined
a number of admirable qualities with those
few regrettable decisions that he made;
well, wouldn’t all of us, if forced to choose
between the genteel poverty that goes
with shitty painting and with global war, obey
the sentimental tug, and kill the Jews?

for Sean Spicer

From Russia, with Love

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Economy, Media, Poetry, Uncategorized, War and Politics

WASHINGTON — An unusual question is capturing the attention of cyberspecialists, Russia experts and Democratic Party leaders in Philadelphia: Is Vladimir V. Putin trying to meddle in the American presidential election?

The New York Times

Out on the summer-melted steppe a cloud
of hungry, black and biting flies now hovers
over the brief wetlands like a lovers’
humming lips at your burning ear, loud
because he’s near to you, because you’ve allowed
yourself to press against him under the warm covers.
But the flies are actually all the whispering others
to whom you—meaning it—also avowed
to be faithful, love and cherish: you promised to keep
his secrets while between you there were no
secrets at all. And then, too soon, the fall
creeps back and the lengthening night brings a deep
and freezing chill, and the flies mate and go
to lay eggs and die. None of them ever call.

A Secret Memo

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

But the crucial issue is not when, but how.”

I will be with you, whatever.
But this is the moment to assess
Bluntly and boldly, whether

The danger is, as ever,
That action acts to make a mess
Which lingers with you, whatever

Plans, resources, clever
PR pitches you address
To your blunted people, whether

Or not they’re listening. Never
Forget our gaudy, tawdry press
Has stuffed them full of whatever

Trash they think is pleasure.
I hate them all. George, I confess
I can’t decide whether

Perhaps the better endeavor
Would be to self-invade. God bless
Us, be with us whatever
Chance, fate, or weather.

Eternal Recurring Meeting

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Uncategorized, War and Politics

The Pentagon said Friday that it had killed ISIS’ finance minister, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, whom many analysts consider the group’s No. 2 leader.

CNN

The inbox full. The voicemail light is blinking.
Who leaves voicemail anymore? he asks
himself. There are too many red-flagged tasks
today. The boss called off. Sick? He’s drinking
again, for sure, and the worksheet isn’t linking
to the right data set. Each day, he masks
the long-dawned sense: his office is a cask-
et; he is dead already; Death is winking
at his glass door; his new assistant waits
in the wings for the whirring warning. Success? Success-
ion. Years ago he had a home, a wife.
Now he has a list of meeting dates.
When he explodes at last they’ll slap on some fresh
paint and give the next in line his life.

In Your Own Clever Way

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Poetry, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

1) You in your own voice describe them as “muscular”

Philippe Reines to Marc Ambinder

There’s nothing new here. We have known it all
since we grew out of our college commitments;
got our WaPo gigs; became assistants
to undersecretaries; bought our Falls
Church houses; unsolicited, got called
by Blitzer’s harried booker when a different
call-in pundit’s call was dropped. This persistent
shock that gambling’s going on recalls
that scene, you know the one, that quote I can’t
quite place my finger on; but why is it wrong
to give a little courtesy to those
on whom one’s access is dependent, grant
anonymity, bury a strong
lede from time to time, soften one’s prose?

For the Rest, Trump

Conspiracy and the Occult, Economy, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Though in the wild he is not a Muss-
olini, or not quite, he has a dear-
ly bought and bald-headed public fear
that the old order’s order has shaken loose,
the locomotive stalled, the red caboose
has rolled off backward, feckless, foreign, queer;
the goggling passengers try to smile, sneer:
the question of ticket class is too abstruse,
and yet they have been left behind; they are
getting drunk and telling the waiter that
they’re going to have him fired, but their hist-
rionics never leave the dining car.
The bosses don’t care anyway. Back at
the station they quibble over who’s a fascist.

No Homo Economicus

Conspiracy and the Occult, Economy, Plus ça change motherfuckers, War and Politics

As a rule, I’m suspicious of economic explanations, because I regard economics as a fraudulent pseudoscience, although in my more charitable moments, I allow that it might just be a kind of Becherian proto-science, a vast expanse of arithmetical phlogiston that our descendant generations will regard as very nearly quaint. The civic discourse of the present era is completely dominated by economics; young pundits with degrees in philosophy begin to be taken seriously only when they start dropping its jargony solecisms into their op-eds. Economics actually claims to be both a behavioral science and a physical one, even though it appears to believe that its natural laws derive from the word problems at the back of the book than vice versa, and anyway it has a record of near total failure at figuring out why things actually happened or predicting if and when they will happen again. All that said, I’m going to propose a sort of economic explanation for the fact that the government just can’t stop spying on us.

I think we need to see programs like the NSA’s immense and unanswerable but also totally wasteful and unproductive spying program as a form of rent-seeking. That isn’t to say that it isn’t also weird, evil, sinister, and creepily totalitarian, and it isn’t necessarily to claim that it’s a sign of gross incompetence either. For instance: rent-seeking investment banks are very good at what they do, which is balling up other people’s money, auctioning it off, and charging everyone for the privilege of having someone else direct their losses. They are useless, unproductive, and destructive, and they can seem incompetent if you take as their task the purported reason for such institutions to exist, which is to generate wealth for their clients while directing their clients’ wealth toward investment in productive enterprise, but if you understand them for what they actually are, understand that the purpose of Goldman Sachs is to rob people to grow Goldman Sachs, then their incompetence begins to seem a little more like a form of genius.

Well, the surveillance state is at its root—and this isn’t to discount all of its other more nefarious acts and ends, but simply to regard them as symptomatic rather than causal—an ongoing argument for its own existence, a self-replicating machine whose only real purpose is itself. What on earth will the government do with all this data? Well, it will hire more people and discover that this particular dataset is broad but shallow which will necessitate gathering billions more bytes which will continue to have precisely the same effect of necessitating more, more, and more until, hopefully, one day the machines become actually intelligent and decide to devote their considerable processing power to something more necessary, like playing chess or writing metrical poetry.

Some of us nerds recognize it: information is still sufficiently scarce and finite to function as a kind of currency, and the spies are just taking a commission at every point of exchange, but at least when VISA does it with the old money some satisfied customer may walk away from some satisfied merchant. You might consider the NSA program, and others like it, as a kind of information tax without benefits—it’s an absolute requirement, universal and un-appealable, but it doesn’t even cold patch a pothole on the information superhighway. When Google maps your brain into a computer you might get a coupon out of it, some provision of service in exchange. In the meantime, while I believe that we should fight and protest these intrusions on our privacy and personhood, I also come down on the vaguely optimistic side; just as JP Morgan has no idea what to do with its billions other than make more billions, I don’t think the government can do much with this titanic volume of information but add to it. It is morally but not practically outrageous; it’s an exercise of mere accumulation, which isn’t a sign of malevolence so much as of a chronic and probably terminal decadence.

The Coincidental Fundamentalist

Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture

I’m about to finish revising my novel, The Bend of the World, which I hesitatingly call my first novel, because really, it’s my third. I wrote the first (mostly) during my senior year at Oberlin and my second a couple of years later when I was back in Pittsburgh and insinuating myself professionally into the world of arts management—still my day job. They had in common only that they were gay (I mean that in both the sexual and the adolescent insult sense) and terrible. The first was called The Atlas of the End of the World, and yes, I ripped off that title for my current work, since it was one of the few redeeming qualities. It also had a pretty good opening line: “That night we drove as if the driving would save him.” Ok, maybe a little histrionic, but not bad for a twenty-two-year-old. It was a bad pastiche of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Berlin Stories and Portrait of the Artist—I’m trying to make a joke about my Stephen Hero being a Stephen Zero. And failing.

My second novel was called Be That As It May, and once again, the title is the closest it gets to possessing a redeeming quality. Ah, no, to be fair, it has one good scene involving a drunken cop and a small-town gay bar. It also has a couple of really bad sex scenes, one in a swimming pool; sort of a fanfictive prefiguring of some of the hotter passages in Call Me By Your Name. My boyfriend’s first comment after reading the first draft of my new book was, “It’s not as sexy as your last one.” This was a compliment.

To my own credit, I guess, I pretty quickly recognized these first two forays as shitty work, although I did send the opening chapter of the second to a few agents and am to this day a little staggered by the generous restraint required to reply with a mere this isn’t really the sort of thing we’re looking for right now. I then spent a few years forgoing fiction altogether, until I started noodling around with my ongoing novel, whose opening quarter I think I rewrote six or seven times, and whose latter half kept wandering off. Literally. Like, the characters kept going to North Carolina, Florida, New York. They had no business going to any of these places, but I couldn’t stop them. I really wanted Johnny to give a talk on UFOlogy at a lousy convention center in Central Florida. I really wanted a conspiracy to involve the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. Or maybe more to the point, Johnny really wanted to give that talk, and that lighthouse really wants to be part of a conspiracy. Snip, snip.

A confession. I’ve always been annoyed by writers and artists who yak on about their process, a word I associate with a cloudy concoction made of one part self-indulgence and one part self-doubt, but long before my book appears to the public, I’m beginning to see how unavoidable it is, and how it must pay to have an anecdote at the ready. My friends and relatives keep asking me what it’s like to write a book, and I don’t actually know what to say. I imagine myself gazing off into the middle distance as a NPR personality warbles in my ear, then answering bemusedly, “Well, Steve, it’s like . . . writing a book.” In fact, once I managed to get myself a deadline thanks to the hard work of an editor and an agent who seem to think that this thing I’ve made is actually somewhat better than not half bad, I found the work of it a pleasure and joy, although I can now say, months into editing, that I am getting awfully tired of the little fucker. As to what that work consisted off, well, I just don’t know. Of writing? And as for what it all means? Uh, my Corporate Sponsors have asked me to emphasize the following message: It Is What It Is.

Hang with me, guys. Thesis: there exists a desire to see the process of creating a novel through the lens of what we popularly suppose a novel is. There are preexisting narrative and psychological expectations. There’s an expected shape to the thing. Or: the form of the work is supposed to mirror the form of the work. The story of the writer’s encounter with his own writing should follow a psychic and temporal line. The author should undergo an experience of self-revision, emerging from the ordeal altered by the events. His process should itself be a story. He should, in fact, be a character. Well, as much as I bitch about the expectations of narrative and the deranging influence of too much realism, my book does have a plot of sorts, but you won’t be surprised to learn that I have an equally hard time answering the question, “What’s it about?” I don’t really know. The conspiracy narrative was the formal model. Everything ought to seem uncannily connected, but with the indelible sense that it’s all just coincident. Actually, this is my personal theory of narrative in any event: a conspiracy theory of reality.