Cognitively There

Culture, Justice, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Like, you’ll go: “Person, woman, man
camera, TV.” So they say,
“Could you repeat that?” Someday
the words won’t come; your lips will fan
the toaster-oven air; you’ll say, “Woman?
TV? Radio? Opera? Fannie Mae?
Elephant? Alligator? Matinee?
Mother? Birthday boy? Afghanistan?”
If you get it in order you get extra points,
although they say no one gets it in order, but for me
it’s easy. Nevertheless I sometimes fear
that each word unremembered thus unjoints
its ordered re-remembering. Words flee
the fit mind. The mouth speaks. I’m here.

Ashokan Farewell

Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

War

I was one of one hundred and fifty-three
signers, and am a veteran of the Twitter
wars; many good men, and brave, now litter
the twilight screens; they yearned to live as free
Americans: now their souls flee
the quiet fields; their blue checks glitter
amongst the angels: absent God’s transmitters
of this dream: that we might disagree
about how many Jews died in the camps
or whether white folk are permitted words
that black folk use between themselves without
the ad hominem and vitriol that stamp
out freedom, turn men into beasts, mere herds
of cows denied their human birthright: clout.

An Open Letter

Culture, Education, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

Our cultural institutions now must face
a trial unlike any faced before:
@litboner69 called me a bore;
a sophomore undergrad said that my race
informed my sense of self, and worth, and place;
they didn’t put my book in the front of the store;
they added diaspora studies to the core
curriculum; now my promotion case
is held up with the provost just because
I hold a few unorthodox views:
that Blacks are more athletic by design;
true women lack men’s moral flaws;
Arabs just aren’t quite as smart as Jews.
For this you’re telling me I should resign?

All Good Things

Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Media, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

Last night I woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall asleep, so I did what any normal person would do: I lay in bed in the dark and fixed Star Trek: Picard.

Picard was a hash, the obvious product of too many cooks combined with network pressure to turn a show about a retired near-centenarian in a Utopian future, in which starship captains teach androids to play Cyrano de Bergerac more convincingly as a hobby while they whisk across the galaxy faster than the speed of light, into a hack action feature, Flash Gordon meets  The Expendables. But Michael Chabon, the American novelist who became, in Hollywood’s dour argot, the “showrunner,” had at least a glimmer of a good idea. Utopias only remain interesting for so long; eventually, the capacity for drama is exhausted by the absence of internal conflict.

The problem: Star Trek already examined—and already examined better—the “darker” side of its universe in Deep Space Nine, which set its characters on a frontier and considered what happens when this advanced society brushes against remnant capitalism, labor unrest, the fallout of previous wars and occupations, the rebellions of its own borderland citizens, and finally faces a war of near total mobilization and all the compromises and crimes it is willing to commit and suborn in order to win and to survive. Against the latter seasons of DS9, Chabon et al. didn’t stand a chance.

Well, they were either too clever or too arrogant to recognize that, and so they tried, depicting a Federation exhausted by its own principles, closing its borders to refugees and fighting an internal conflict against a class of artificial un-people and swearing and generally enacting an incredibly on-the-nose, Very-Special-Episode, Have-You-No-Decency-Mr. Trump version of Earth and the Federation at the turn of the 25th century. With a sword-wielding warrior monk. In Star Trek. It . . . did not engage.

But Chabon’s instinct wasn’t entirely wrong. There was an interesting story to be told about an exhausted Utopia, but it required a subtler touch. The setting should not be that different. The Romulan homeworld has still been destroyed, but unlike Picard, which imagined that the destruction of a single world in a vast “Star Empire” somehow sent every Romulan fleeing toward the neutral zone, this was a terrible but localized catastrophe: a Hurrican Katrina of the galaxy’s future. Ever since the Dominion War, a fraught but durable peace has prevailed. Many Romulans have ended up resettling on Earth and throughout the Federation. Picard can even have his former Tal Shiar friends and caretakers.

Picard is still old and grouchy, frustrated with what Starfleet and the Federation have become, but emphatically not because they have become Space MAGA. Rather, he is exhausted because, contra the Picard that was made, true artificial intelligence has become commonplace. Bruce Maddox unlocked the secrets of the positronic brain, and with Voyager’s return, The Doctor’s sentient holomatrix has been replicated thousands, millions of times. There are not automatons; they are full, independent people. Moreover, they are more than people, and far from the race of super strong, super intelligent slaves that Picard fretted about in the courtroom drama of Measure of Man, they have come to dominate those areas of the Federation—Starfleet in particular—where once the highest peaks of human achievement were attained. Picard is not prejudiced against them; he is not an anti-android racist. He just looks at a society that more than ever has sunk into mere luxury—travel, food, consumption, fine wine—without the countervailing force of achievement and exploration, of striving and struggle for knowledge, and feels . . . exhausted. Has humanity become little more than a tired race of cosseted pets?

Then, in flashback, we see a precipitating event: a Borg Cube (yes, the same Borg Cube that the actual show cursed us with) en route to attack the Alpha Quadrant. But this time it is dispatched with almost comical ease. A fleet of Federation ships—neat-sentient ships, crewed by superhuman androids and holograms—sets upon it near the former Romulan neutral zone and easily defeats it. (Before, by the way, the Romulan sun goes nova.) It founders in space. Humans and Romulans begin the Borg Reclamation Project. Only . . .

Years later, in the show’s present, a slow-dawning and then terrifying realization. AI is beginning to die. A (apologies for the gross topicality) sort of virus has entered their systems, incurable and seemingly contagious. And then . . . Bruce Maddox disappears.

And then mad, bad Admiral Janeway calls Picard out of retirement to pursue the mystery. For who now can command a starship, at least among the mere humans. And here Picard puts together his ragtag team on an old, pre-AI ship. Seven of Nine, who instead of a new character we don’t care about is the one living in ragtag isolation, so far from her former place in a collective! Hey, a couple of the kids from Below Decks, now All Grown Up. His Romulan friends, who may have motives of their own. And thus they quest out into the galaxy, a crew on a ship trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the androids, what happened to Bruce Maddox, leading them eventually to the Borg Cube, the mystery of the android plague, the destruction of the Romulan sun, and the question of whether a Utopia can remain vital forever.

Axes to Grind

Books and Literature, Culture, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Capture

Being intersectional also means
existing where two plotted lines will cross,
where X plus A is Y you’re at a loss
to please the fascists and the communistic queens,
stoic farmers and mewling teenage scenes,
both wheat and chaff, both gold and foaming dross,
Israel’s psycho settlers and Hamas,
faculty and staff, adjuncts and deans.
Be everything to everyone, and at
all times tell every multitude that they
are self-contained within your sprawling mind:
each man and woman, goldfish, dog, and cat,
aspiration, measure, cloud, and day
exquisitely together, unaligned.

Ukraine

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

I’d like to have a single, perfect call.
You on your side of the sea, and I on mine;
I with my morning coffee, you with wine;
the flights of fleeing geese, and chilly fall’s
first breath across the window pane. It galls
me: not to be very special, very nice;
not to be able to, friend to friend, entice
you not to be a criminal at all.
It isn’t fair. It isn’t true, nor good
when friends, such as we are, cannot aspire
through conversation’s friend, the telephone,
to be vague and yet completely understood:
what is it to talk, if not to conspire
against corruption’s favorite word: alone?

The Turd Rome

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

We are drifting, in the absence of mind and will, toward a moment of civilizational self-negation.” -Bret Stephens

Western Civilization is a college
course invented by a claret-stained don
whose half-remembered Greek and passing knowledge
of the Gothic, Punic Wars, and Aragon
lulled the drowsy Bridesheads of the year of nine-
teen something into a vague embrace of beauty,
truth, and another glass of fortified wine:
then told themselves they had a solemn duty
to the plays they hadn’t read; basilicas
they found a little gaudy; philosophers
forgotten once they’d lost the syllabus;
spoken Latin; naval officers.
In town, Idomeneo, King of Crete
plays to an opera house of empty seats.

The Princess and the Peon

Art, Books and Literature, Economy, Education, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

We need a Disney Princess who one night
awakes in a sweat in her vast, cold bed to find
a prickling guilt in the back of her lovely mind:
what she has inherited is neither just nor right;
out in the fields of wheat, the peasants’ plight
is that his labor and his wealth are unaligned;
the commons closed, his status thus declined—
the owners took the surplus. Where Princess might
once have called the maid for milk and gone
back to bejeweled dreams and tiny snores,
this time she rushes to the palace’s marble stairs,
cries to the dawn that there will be a dawn,
princes brought down to raise up beggars and whores,
collective ownership, and headless heirs.

The Simp-osium

Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

dank

Democracy dies in dankness. A ring of smoke,
it goes wafting to the ceiling of the studios
you share with several twenty-something bros
you sort of knew in college; another toke,
and then the conversation turns baroque:
what if all the mind believes it knows
is just a holograph? can we suppose
that Croatan were aliens at Roanoke?
What were we saying? Yes. Democracy.
Boy-fucking Plato thought it was a bad
idea, mostly, prone to demagogues;
reason crowded out; stupidity
inevitably ascendant; even a mad
king better than a congress of rabid dogs.

Broad Street in Lower Manhattan

Culture, Economy, Education, Justice, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

“The idea that people can then ride in on the subway with a bomb or whatever and come straight up in an elevator is awful to me,” said Claudia Ward, who lives in 15 Broad Street and was among a group of neighbors who denounced the plan at a recent meeting of the local community board. “It’s too easy for someone to slip through. And I just don’t want my family and my neighbors to be the collateral on that.”

-“In New Proposed Subway Elevators, Some See a Terrorism Risk

Let me tell you about the very rich.
They hate their children and live in glass towers.
The simplest pleasures are beyond their meager powers
of imagination; mostly, they like to bitch
about the minor incursions of normal life, the itch
of unsanctioned human contact, the fleeting sour
stench of the breathing millions they’ll rush to shower
off in their marble hangars. A muddy ditch
or a modest home appear as misery
defined; they do fear violence of a certain kind,
not terrorism, but a reborn Terror
without the killing—like, meeting the delivery
boy, or paying cash, or waiting in line.
Mere human contact is their Robespierre.