Thrown on the Sure

Culture, Education, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, War and Politics

The past as precedent is overrated.
Even its angel gazing back across
the racked, wrecked pile of death and loss
can never turn to see what it’s created
now. The present is the wreck, abated
briefly; the past, a stone, but we are moss
fuzzing the surface, a broken pebble tossed
into a sea. A story often related
about the same sea is that a king
stood at its edge and ordered the tide to cease.
We’re told the moral has to do with pride.
In fact, Canute was warning: worshipping
a man’s short power and swiftly expiring lease
blasphemed. The waves went on. He ruled and died.

Resident Chumps

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What I felt when Donald Trump won the presidential election last night was weirdly akin to what I felt on 9/11—yes, that 9/11: not terror at a catastrophe whose suddenness and magnitude were unprecedented in the history of the world, but rather sad, weary recognition of a smaller, more acute disaster whose antecedents and precedents were all too obvious, an inevitable result—I won’t hesitate to use that word—of a long series of choices that we’d made. I didn’t predict the hour, and I was very, very surprised when it arrived. But I wasn’t shocked.

We are in for a long and unproductive argument about whether or not Trump’s victory represents the revenge of the economically forgotten against the managerial political class or the petit-bourgeois revolt of classic fascism or some stinking eructation of the perpetual sin of American racism. I think it is at once all and none of these things. All of them are symptoms of the deliberate disorder of an unequal society in which the power, wealth, and influence—the real power, wealth, and influence—accrue endlessly to the same tiny sliver of the population, leaving hollow communities in the wake. Even people who are doing well by American standards—I am personally doing very well by American standards—are mostly doing so at greater personal expense to themselves and their families, their friends, and their communities.

This isn’t meant to be a defense of racism and sexism and homophobia and all the other sins against identity, which are evil and wrong. But just as we recognize that terrorism, which is evil and wrong, has roots in the deliberate policies of the American government, so are we obligated to recognize that the persistence of prejudice, even as it tilts into violence, is not the result of some inexplicable defect in the innate character of human beings, but the savage, misdirected lashing out against nearer, vulnerable targets when the real enemy is so impossibly powerful and distant. Wrongs have explanations; they even have reasons.

I didn’t know Trump was coming, but I knew a Trump was coming when I saw the response to the financial crisis. There are plenty of other ills of the American empire, but that was so viciously unjust and so close to home. (I anticipated a Trump as long ago as high school, when I saw what America had done to the old coal town where I grew up, but that was just an inchoate dread that turned me into some kind of political radical.) Sooner or later, I thought, all the useless pablum about everyone getting a bachelor’s and learning to code while the Blankfeins of the world walked free, prospered even more than before, would bring this upon us. It was like a magic spell. It was a misdirected prayer to a trickster god, and here we are living in the accidental fulfillment of our vain rulers’ stupid wish.

Sure Trump was lying—bullshitting is probably a better word, since I don’t suspect he tells untruths instrumentally; he just lives in a collapsed distinction between true and false. But he acknowledged the material circumstances of the country out there, all those people, poor and middle-class alike, who are outside of the communion. Is their rage pathological? Yes. But he had the wherewithal to diagnose it and turn the endemic into a contagion. It got him just enough bodies. Meanwhile, a vaccine existed. The mildest—I mean, the mildest—sort of redistribution would have done it. Instead, we said: go be a programmer, as if everyone could, as if that would do anything for the people who’d still remain in Uniontown, PA.

I happen to believe our civilization will survive this. The Romans managed plenty of crises without collapsing; we focus on the ending only because it appears in retrospect the most spectacular. (In fact, it was slow and almost imperceptible to those who lived it.) Inertia is a powerful thing. I guess I counsel something like a cautious vigilance. I do however think we should stop pretending it’s all malice without cause. It’s shameful; it’s embarrassing; it will be dangerous, and we should be prepared. But no matter who they are, let’s not collapse on the old canard that they simply hate our freedom.

We Didn’t Start, We’re Fired

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soap

Blame millennials for the missing bar of soap.
But blame their parents for the rest of it:
the postwar settlement they turned to shit;
the rising seas; the flattening and declining slope
of income growth; the OD rate for dope;
George Bush invading Baghdad in a snit;
“prestige” TV; Armstrong’s hematocrit;
Fox News, CNN, the man from Hope.
Even the awful form of this complaint
is accidentally due to Billy Joel,
another boomer bastard: they’ve destroyed
the world in increments, but now they faint
at the minor foibles of the kids today, a whole
generation dad left unemployed.

Skinks for Rump

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Milo Yiannopoulos, the sort of post-Warholian Z-list celebrity aspirant that the anti-social era of social media hocks up with silly frequency, is a public face—a mascot is maybe the better word—of an equally irrelevant but sociologically and aesthetically interesting not-quite-a-movement called Twinks for Trump.

Twinks—some of you already know this, so bear with me—are a gay sub-genre characterized by being young, thin, mostly hairless: the acceptable contemporary for the classically desired pubescent or pre-pubescent boy. The enduring beauty and sexual attractiveness of the adolescent male is one of those things that we’re very careful not to talk about too plainly in the age of gay respectability and marriage and the HRC (that’s the Human Rights Campaign, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, though if you squint, there’s not much difference). The preferred image of gay men specifically and queer people generally is of two fit, mid-thirties, slightly be-stubbled white professional studs who look disturbingly fraternal being married by Joe Biden. But the fact that there is a large gay sub-culture and a mountain of pornography that sexually fetishizes 19-year-olds who look like 15-year-olds is unavoidable, and the defense mechanism is to wink at it as a kind of joke. All those barely legal boys may be barely legal, but they are legal nonetheless.

Also note that twinks, by and large, are white. There are black twinks and Asian twinks and latino twinks, etc., but the group is definitely racially coded as Caucasian: its default setting so to speak.

The twink is a ubiquitous figure within the complex erotic taxonomy of gay male pornographic desire, but unless he is paired with another twink, his function is almost always the same: he is the actor whose youthful effeminacy and receptive position (i.e., he’s the bottom) serve as a highlighting counterpart to the masculine virility of his partner(s). So a common scenario would be to pair a twink with a jock: a slightly older, more muscular, more traditionally and recognizably masculine character. You can imagine the setup. The video is called “My Older Sister’s Boyfriend” or some such.

But equally common and more germane to the erotics of Twinks for Trump is the twink—the boi—and the daddy. The jock will be 29 or 30; the daddy will be 40 and up. In professional porn, the daddy will be somewhere between beefily athletic and totally ripped, a figure of obvious domination; in amateur porn, he’s probably got a gut and some unsightly hair in the small of his back. Either way, this is a sort of recapitulation of the same classical arrangement I mentioned above, where a grown and probably ostensibly heterosexual man gets to take care of his non-procreative sexual energy while the youth gets a figure of, if not wisdom, then at least strength and authority. Obviously this is all overlaid with the titillation of an aestheticized violation of the incest taboo. The video is called “My Mom’s New Boyfriend” or some such.

Unlike straight porn, with its inevitable ugliness and recapitulation of all the weird power pathologies of that strangest of afflictions, heterosexuality, gay porn, though it certainly can be ugly and exploitative, tends to read as good-natured and consensual, and most of these daddy-son scenarios are harmless fun. That said, there is something slightly depressing about the attempted sexual valorization of the daddy figure as an avatar of sexual potency and an object of youthful desire; it can’t avoid a tinge of self-parody, like an ex-NFL coach tossing a football through a tire swing as a euphemism for his pharmaceutical erection, and you can’t help but remember the other part of the exchange: that this older guy who probably can’t get it up without some pretty serious chemical assistance is also the guy with the money and the house and the reservations at the fancy restaurant.

So what you actually end up with is a superficially transgressive erotic exchange as a veneer for the most boring straight cliché: the hot young woman who dates the older guy for his money. And what’s sad about it is exactly what’s sad about Mike Ditka and that fucking tire swing: the exaggerated enacting of male virility only serves to show all the rest of the giggling world just how limp and pathetic daddy really is. No one other than another limply desirous daddy looks at this scenario from the outside and concludes that daddy is a hard, throbbing man’s man; quite the opposite. And the younger and more beautiful daddy’s boi, the less potent he appears, and the more we all titter when he excuses himself from the dinner party to re-up his Cialis in the restroom.

This is the excellent irony of Milo and the twinks for Daddy Trump. These little blond racist shitbirds have got it in their heads that they can help present him as a figure of phallic power, when in reality he—and they—become even more figures of fun. (Interestingly, by the way, the Classical world considered both impotence and well-endowed-ness to be pretty much equally hilarious and unmanly.) They are a punchline that comes to life and imagines itself as the comedian.

Cody

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The children aren’t the future; they are now.
My five-year-old, for instance, is concerned
that five-year-olds in China will have learned
integral calculus while he learns the cow
goes moo. Father, he asked, how can we allow
declines in public spending when it earns
broad wage-multipliers as returns?
Is Xi reformist, or is he a Mao?
And can we win the war on terror with
a formal legal apparatus that
constrains our agencies and binds their hands?
Do coastal elites represent a fifth
column? Is the Bible a samizdat?
Will I have to share the boys room with a trans?

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.

The Reign of Error

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What went through Loretta Lynch’s mind when Bill Clinton buttonholed her in that airport? I imagine her like one of those poor robots in an Asimov story, thrown into a fugue of helpless malfunction as the indelible rules etched into the very fabric of her mind looped back on themselves in unresolved contradiction. The people who arrive in these positions of appointed, administrative authority don’t arrive through some exercise of uncompromising brilliance, but through the application of the sort of subtle, anticipatory empathy—business schools like to call it “emotional intelligence”—that mark the climbers in any organization, a quality that used to mark a successful courtier before our democratic pretensions overran our good sense of what, exactly, our Secretaries and ministers really are and were.

On the one hand, her brain must have rebelled at the discordant vibrations of the appearance of impropriety; on the other, well, here is a former two-term president and Grand Poobah of the Democratic Party that appointed her, not to mention husband to that party’s current presumptive Presidential nominee—in other words, the actual archetype of the person from whom she is constitutionally, professionally inclined to curry favor. What was Clinton thinking? For all the nefarious theories out there, I suspect he just wasn’t. If there is a through-line, a plot thread to the bizarre picaresque of Clintonian scandals, it is, in the ironically apt words of G-Man James Comey, extreme carelessness. If the Clintons were once in a sense arrivistes (“He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place,” said David Broder in a moment of accidental honesty), their successful elevation to the highest order of the American aristocracy came in no small part because they so successfully affected the aristocrats’ most singular characteristic of simply not giving a shit about the consequences that should not—and would not—apply to them.

So when Comey processed before the cameras to pronounce Hillary merely a venial sinner, no one was really surprised—least of all, I suspect, Loretta Lynch, who would never have tethered her career to even a slight chance that she’d have to prosecute a potential US President. If she’d thought for one instance that the FBI might recommend an indictment, she’d have recused herself and tossed the job and the decision to some poor career prosecutor whose real intelligence and competence consigned him forever to the middle ranks. But as Comey uttered the magical incantation, “no reasonable prosecutor,” my own mind fled immediately to different moment, back in November of 2014, when St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCollough announced that a Grand Jury had “determined that no probable cause exists to file any charges against Officer Wilson and returned a ‘no true bill’ on each of the five indictments” after that same Officer Wilson, that August, had killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown.

Lynch’s decision to abrogate prosecutorial discretion and leave the question to the purportedly independent judgment of an investigatory body had the eerie echo of a DA trying to appear above the fray as he quietly works to avoid punishing a killer cop. Running the State Department out of a server closet in your basement and shooting an unarmed black youth are separated by a moral gulf as well as a difference of scale, but they are nevertheless bridged by a connection of a ubiquitous, official corruption that is both bland and deadly. It permits the murder of black men by agents of the state; it permits the un-FOIA-able (attempted, anyway) planning for mad wars and drone assassinations. Clinton defenders have seized on the data that numerous other high-ranking State and DOD officials have also conducted their business via private email; they imagine this is exculpatory, but it’s actually systemically damning. They’re all, it turns out, immune.

Our application of the law is exactly backwards; it applies with unfaltering severity to the least powerful and with increasing leniency the farther up the social and economic ladder you go. A black man can be murdered for having a broken tail-light; the official who murdered him gets “paid administrative leave.” A Private gets 35 years in prison for leaking a trove of war documents that—officials rushed to assure us—didn’t show anything we didn’t already know, while a former Secretary of State can blitz around the world with a password password and be reminded that she was a bad girl for not using 2-factor before successfully becoming the President of the United States. You can go to jail for running an online sports betting site, but Jamie Dimon…

I’m basically a pacifist and live in mortal terror of wars and revolutions, but it’s getting ever harder to look at the state of society without hearing the distant but swiftly approaching swish of the guillotines.

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.

Urinetown

Culture, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

pod

We bundled the children into the car and went
into Manhattan; the attendant at
the Icon garage wore a knitted hat
and smelled like grass; he had some kind of accent.
O, City of Finance, thin-crust slice, cement!
We expected young men dressed like cats,
beautiful, manly, in their junkyard habitats,
instead our babies saw some gender-bent
weirdos, two young women, clearly not
identified as male, one in a near
I-Dream-of-Jeannie outfit, enter the gents!
My boy began to cry. “Daddy, I’ve got
to pee!” Think fast, John! “Peeing’s queer!”
I cried, the modern father’s last lament.

Et in arcadia egomaniacs

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

Delete your account. Go into the woods
and find a stream. Become a rainbow trout
flashing in the shallows. Become a deer. Get out
of your body. Give away your purchased goods.
Be present, mood-less, beyond woulds and shoulds.
Muck in the rotting leaves with your whiskered snout.
Eat shit. Piss anywhere. Forget all doubt
and reason. Forget your streets and neighborhoods.
Let us do it together; let us be
as the first men and women were, wild
and naked, animals only, full of the sweet
fruits that the earth, a garden, gives for free
to all beasts, the bright sun mild,
the green, the cricket’s trill, the bird’s tweet.