Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas, etc.

I. A QUICK UPDATE: I haven't been keeping up with my blog this month as much as I would have liked. I keep struggling with trying to find the right balance between the real and virtual world. As for my "best of the decade list", it won't be coming anytime soon. Sometime next year, but I don't know when. I decided to not limit myself with an arbitrary deadline, so I'll get to it once I see everything I want (read: am able) to see. It'll take some time.

* * *

II. CHRISTMAS: Last year I told my family I was finished with celebrating Christmas... They reacted by getting annoyed and blamed me for ruining all of their fun. To prevent them from thinking I was doing it out of selfishness (or whatever possible reasons might be conjured up), I decided to get everyone presents as per usual, while asking for nothing in return (stating point blank that I didn't want anything). It didn't exactly work, but I did get less than ever before. This year I said the same thing; however, I also cut out buying presents for everyone else. I'll see how it goes.

What follows is something I found that sums up a few of the many reasons I've been slowly opting out of Christmas over the past two years and also sums up much of my current state of mind and mood.


the revilement by unbelievers Tim Kreider

* * *

"...What gets me down is a sense that events and feelings are spiraling out of control in the world in ways that I am ultimately unable to affect – ways that these postings, whatever their other value, are irrelevant to. The feeling was brought home to me, acutely, last night, when a friend suggested we go into a major metropolitan shopping Mall, which, given the season, was draped in holiday decorations, bathed with uplifting music, and filled to overflowing with Christmas shoppers.

I'm sure my senses and feelings were heightened because of the unusualness of the experience for me personally. I don't frequent Malls. Ever. At any time of the year. Last night was the first time in more than a decade I'd even set foot in such a place. And, of course, around Christmas it can be a surreal experience even for those who are habitués of such settings. But, whatever the reason, I was deeply moved by the experience.

I know I wasn't supposed to, but I kept thinking about everything going on outside that enormous, artificial stage set, everything that has been going on for years: the trashing of the earth's environment, the corruption of the American political system, including the ways business and special interests have used it systematically to betray the public interest, the squalor and poverty of the undeveloped world (many of whose inhabitants had sewn the clothing or glued together the products people were gawking at or eagerly purchasing), the coming catastrophic shifts in the earth's climate (first fire then ice, as Robert Frost put it), the calculated horrors of American foreign policy, including the war in Iraq and America's support of Israel's hateful treatment of the Palestinians. I studied the faces, gestures, voices, and body language of the people around me, and what I saw was discouraging. I looked for passion, for conviction, for thought, for presence of mind, but all I saw was distraction, unawareness, unconsciousness, inattentiveness, inadvertence.

I know, I know. It's people shopping in a friggin' Mall, for gosh sake. What in the world did I expect them to be doing or thinking? They can't picket or they’d be thrown out. They can't get on their knees and pray or they’d be asked to leave. They can't organize protest marches or make speeches or the police would be called in. I realized that, but as I studied their faces I became convinced that being at the Mall was not what was stopping them from doing these sorts of things. The people whose eyes I looked into didn't rally and picket anywhere about anything. They didn''t agitate for social or political change under any circumstances. They didn't throw themselves on their knees and pray to God to save their souls even on Sundays.

Don’t get me wrong: I don't mean that they don’t have strong feelings. They do; but they save the expression of them for other parts of their lives. They yell at their boss or their wife; they get irritated when their children spill something on the sofa; they get excited going shopping the day after Thanksgiving; they get lathered up at sporting events; they honk their horns at drivers in front of them when the light changes – but they didn’t get really worked up about the other kind of issues. They are certainly never bothered by them enough to do something that might inconvenience them or cost them money. I guess they feel that if something doesn’t directly affect them, it doesn’t really matter. But the fallacy, of course, is that these things do affect them, and will, in the future, affect them even more than they do right now. But they can't see it. They just can't. Somehow their imaginations have failed. As my mother would say, they can’t see past the ends of their noses.

I have to admit I especially studied the faces of the young people. They are our hope, after all. We know that the older generations – my own generation and older – have conspired with the systems that have created the problems we now face.

We know that the older generation's passive assent to the way things are has created the way things are. It would be unrealistic to look to them for change. The young are our last, best hope. So I studied the faces of twenty–something boyfriends and girlfriends with their arms wrapped around each other, of young husbands and wives pushing strollers, of the noisy, roving bands of giggling high school girls. I searched for a flicker of awareness of the problems that surrounded them – and that they would inherit from their elders – but I saw nothing. Just nothing. To tell the truth, in their eyes, if possible, I saw even less interest in the problems of the world than I saw in their parents' eyes.

When I returned home, I looked up a passage I remembered reading in Curtis White's The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves: "In the Grundrisse Karl Marx argued that one of the most conspicuous products of capitalism is stupidity. And there is no shortage of stupidity around us at present.... Still Paul Virilio's idea in Pure War that we're unconscious has more explanatory power.... Unconscious in what sense? North Americans are not speaking to their culture; they're being spoken by it.... It is the unconsciousness of the pure and passive 'spectator,' to borrow from the vocabulary of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. The spectator sees all but takes responsibility for nothing. Both our political leaders and the leaders who control the major media outlets are equally mouthpieces for accepting 'the way things are' – foreclosing on all deviant perspectives, constantly reaffirming the orthodox rubbish we think we already know."

But the faces I had looked at told me that White's critique didn’t go far enough. It's always convenient to blame someone else – our "leaders," the "media," the "system." But the truth is that the problems were not created by someone else; they were created by us and by people like us. And they are re-created every day of our lives, as long as we continue to allow others to define who we are and what we want. We can't blame the media or the politicians. It's like blaming movie producers and television executives for our films and TV shows. We get the movies we patronize. (edit: Yes, and No. See the Robert McChesney video I posted in Exiled: The Best Films of the Decade, and Johnathan Rosenbaum's excellent book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Movies We Can See.) They make the television we agree to watch. Similarly, we get the politicians we vote for. Election after election, Americans vote for politicians who tell them what they want to hear. It's a fallacy to think that the people in the Mall want to hear the truth. They don’t want to be waked out of their slumber of unreality. They prefer to sleepwalk – even to the point of death. I think of the amazing scene in Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice when, for the best reasons in the world, the father has the doctor give a sedative to his wife because he does not want her screaming about the end of the world to wake her little boy who is upstairs sleeping in his crib. Better that she and he sleep through to the end – and beyond.

Is this what we have come to? (Though there will be no sleeping through our end, of course.) When I stared into those eyes at the Mall, I kept thinking of the artists trying to wake us up, of the shamans and teachers trying to deepen and enrich our souls, of the holy men and women trying to move our hearts to awareness. But I also thought of how few real artists, teachers, and shamans there are in our culture. I thought of how marginalized, outnumbered, and out-gunned the real ones are by the cheap imitations, and of how the quiet, spiritual voices are drowned out by the incessant scream of the mass media for peoples’ attention. I thought of how many aspects of our culture are devoted to persuading people to sit back, forget their troubles, and enjoy themselves, and of how much of our culture is organized to induce states of distraction and unawareness just like the carols, decorations, sale banners, and crowds in the Mall.

What can be done? Can anything be done? Or is it too late?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Peace on Earth. Good will toward men."

(To read a few responses to the above message, go HERE.)

* * *


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sincerity

Rachel Uchitel
tiger woods nude girlfriend

Tiger Woods: "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves."


Kalika Moquin
tiger woods girlfriend naked

"I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children. I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness."


Jamie Jungers
jamie jungers nude

"As the final round of the Chevron World Challenge begins, I would like to extend my heartfelt thank you to everyone affiliated with the event, especially our amazing title sponsor, Chevron."


Modesta Briones
tiger woods girlfriend naked                                                           in her house near Parahuaco oil well #2.
                                                           Doctors amputated her lower leg because
                                                           of a cancerous tumor



"I am so grateful to [Chevron] for their efforts, and I am sincerely sorry I was unable to fulfill my duties as host and player in this important event."


Pamela Ramirez
tiger woods girls                                                           born blind in her right eye, the likely
                                                           result of water contamination



"I am especially grateful for all those who have offered compassion and concern during this difficult period... I would like to ask everyone, including my fans, the good people at my foundation, business partners, the PGA Tour, and my fellow competitors, for their understanding."


Flor Valarezo
tiger woods naked                                                            with her daughter Liliana Cecilia, 4,
                                                           shows the skin cancer on her leg at her
                                                           home in Sacha



"What's most important now is that my family has the time, privacy, and safe haven we will need for personal healing."


(The bottom three photographs are some of the many people affected by Chevron-Texaco's activities in Ecuador — the dumping of over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest which has resulted in abnormally high cancer rates, miscarriages, and birth defects. The case — consisting of thirty-thousand Ecuadorians vs. Chevron-Texaco — is still ongoing. Tiger Woods entered into an extensive five-year partnership with Chevron Corporation in 2008. He is aware of their horrible reputation1).


* * * * * * * *


Tiger Woods is a symbol of America, a symbol projected and recognized throughout the world. In this sense he represents my country well: a multiracial man adorned in clothing made in Malaysian sweatshops, traveling the world to speak on behalf of the corporations that own him2, all of it hidden behind the veneer of a shiny smile and backed with a bag of clubs. And he's out to cover the world in golf courses wherever there is profit to be made!

In 1998 Tiger Woods was in Hacienda Looc, one of the Philippines beautiful seaside communities, on behalf of sponsors looking to promote golf and build new courses in the region. The plan was to destroy the farms and the "low impact and low level-commercial agriculture that sustains more than 7,000 peasants who populate Hacienda Looc's four villages"3, and replace it with a tourist center and golf course called Harbortown.4 Like the corporations he represents, it's clear that Tiger doesn't care where he gets his fill as long as it gets it. He takes what he wants wherever he goes, consequences be damned — which is why his extra-marital conquests are more or less a given and should be shocking to no one except those who allow themselves to see only the well-crafted facade. All of this makes him another symbol: capitalism personified.

If only Woods was being scrutinized for partnering with Chevron or helping boost the sales of Nike, notorious for their sweatshops, or for building a golf course in Dubai, etc. But this will never happen, of course, because many of Tiger's sponsors own the mainstream media by making them wear the very same logos. It's also not an exciting story to tell as it's very complicated and filled with many "boring details."

All of this "news" has been constantly bombarding us. Meanwhile I've heard only a sound bite about this recent New York Times article: "Since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people [in America] has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage." Sadly, this isn't shocking to me.

"Lakes around the U.S. have been permanently damaged by negligent dumping of nitrate-laden runoff from golf courses, and their construction in hot and arid regions create severe depletion of water resources. [...] Some developers use waste water from residential developments in an effort to avoid depletion of local water resources. This has often resulted in the contamination of local streams. Here, in Austin, the three 18-hole courses located on the Barton Creek watershed use up to 300,000 gallons of waste water a day, leading to contamination of the creek with phosphorus, nitrogen and fecal coliform bacteria." (Lush Green, Muddy Waters)

Golf course displaces farmers, taints water. "In addition to the lack of jobs, the biggest challenge facing Lam Son residents is the pollution of Rong Tam Spring, the sole source of water in the area. The spring, currently part of Phuong Hoang Golf Course, has been tainted by chemicals such as insecticide, which is used to clean and keep grass green."

Clubbing Southeast Asia - The Impacts of Golf Course Development. "The dangers of the high pesticide and fertilizer use at golf courses was illustrated at the Sapporo Kokusai Country Club in Hiroshima township on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, where managers had organic copper compounds spread on the grass to keep it from rotting under the winter snow. When it rained, the chemical was washed into the water system, killing over 90,000 fish in a nearby aquaculture project."


* * * * * * * *


"After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf. I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."


obama tiger woods

1The Nation, When Tiger Met Chevron: "Ka Hsaw Wa, co-founder and executive director of EarthRights International, wrote in an open letter to Woods, "I myself have spoken to victims of forced labor, rape, and torture on Chevron's pipeline--if you heard what they said to me, you too would understand how their tragic stories stand in stark contrast to Chevron's rhetoric about helping communities." ERI's request to meet with Woods or someone from the foundation has been met with silence."
2 Other sponsors include: Tatweer: The Tiger Woods Dubai. (See: Johann Hari, The Dark Side of Dubai. Dubai also refused to allow a Jewish tennis player a visa to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships). AT&T: "AT&T was one of the telecommunications companies that assisted with the government's warrantless wire-tapping program on calls between foreign and domestic sources." And of course Nike.
3 C.L. Cole, The Place of Golf in US Imperialism. See also The Golf War.
4 I haven't been able to find out how this story turned out (ie, if the resort/course was ever built) but the fact that Woods was there to promote it is the entire point. If it was stopped it was stopped by the residents.


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Sunday, December 13, 2009

the trap


"It is possible to get out of a trap. However, in order to break out of a prison, one first must confess to being in a prison. The trap is man's emotional structure, his character structure. There is little use in devising systems of thought about the nature of the trap if the only thing to do in order to get out of the trap is to know the trap and to find the exit. Everything else is utterly useless: Singing hymns about the suffering in the trap, as the enslaved Negro does; or making poems about the beauty of freedom outside of the trap, dreamed of within the trap; or promising a life outside the trap after death, as Catholicism promises its congregations; or confessing a semper ignorabimus as do the resigned philosophers; or building a philosophic system around the despair of life within the trap, as did Schopenhauer; or dreaming up a superman who would be so much different from the man in the trap, as Nietzsche did, until, trapped in a lunatic asylum, he wrote, finally, the full truth about himself — too late...

The first thing to do is to find the exit out of the trap.

The nature of the trap has no interest whatsoever beyond this one crucial point: WHERE IS THE EXIT OUT OF THE TRAP?

One can decorate a trap to make life more comfortable in it. This is done by the Michelangelos and the Shakespeares and the Goethes. One can invent makeshift contraptions to secure longer life in the trap. This is done by the great scientists and physicians, the Meyers and the Pasteurs and the Flemings. One can devise great art in healing broken bones when one falls into the trap.

The crucial point still is and remains: to find the exit out of the trap. WHERE IS THE EXIT INTO THE ENDLESS OPEN SPACE?

The exit remains hidden. It is the greatest riddle of all. The most ridiculous as well as tragic thing is this:

THE EXIT IS CLEARLY VISIBLE TO ALL TRAPPED IN THE HOLE. YET NOBODY SEEMS TO SEE IT. EVERYBODY KNOWS WHERE THE EXIT IS. YET NOBODY SEEMS TO MAKE A MOVE TOWARD IT. MORE: WHOEVER MOVES TOWARD THE EXIT, OR WHOEVER POINTS TOWARD IT IS DECLARED CRAZY OR A CRIMINAL OR A SINNER TO BURN IN HELL.

It turns out that the trouble is not with the trap or even with finding the exit. The trouble is WITHIN THE TRAPPED ONES.

All this is, seen from outside the trap, incomprehensible to a simple mind. It is even somehow insane. Why don't they see and move toward the clearly visible exit? As soon as they get close to the exit they start screaming and run away from it. As soon as anyone among them tries to get out, they kill him. Only a very few slip out of the trap in the dark night when everybody is asleep."

—Wilhelm Reich

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jello, Penny & John


I.

JELLO BIAFRA: One thing that's lost on many people who play this kind of music now is that our band itself was started as a prank, especially on people who would come to early punk shows seeking singles bar action. In particular I was attracted to the early Negative Trend, where Rozz would leave the stage and get into altercations with the audience. It got to a point where it was hard for them or Flipper to get any gigs at all, because of the anxiety surrounding their very existence. The same thing with The Germs — they definitely explored the idea of breaking down the bullshit barrier between "artist" and "audience."

[...]

Our band's sound, lyrics, packaging of records (which has gotten us in trouble now) and just plain attitude of the band itself I saw as one great big prank against the entertainment industry. In 1980 we were approached by the CBSs and Warner Bros of the world to whom we said, "What we want is artistic control." They said, "Fine! We'll give you all the artistic control you want if you just change your name!" Since then we've been putting out our records ourselves.


In 1980, The Dead Kennedys were invited to the Bay Area Music Awards to play one of their most popular and musically palatable songs, California Über Alles. About 15 seconds into the song, Biafra, the lead singer, yelled out "Hold it!" and the music screeched to a halt. He continued: "We gotta prove we're adults now. We aren't a punk rock band, we're a new wave band." The four members — all wearing dress shirts with an "S" painted on front — flipped their neckties from behind their backs, forming a dollar sign.

dead kennedys pull my strings
They then began to play Pull My Strings — a song written specifically for the occasion. They took the #1 Billboard Top Pop Single of 1979 — The Knack's My Sharona — and spoofed the refrain to launch an attack on the music industry and the values of those who'll do anything in an attempt to make it big. The song was recorded live, performed only once.


pull my strings


BIAFRA: I think we've been a long-term thorn in the sides of big record companies because we didn't disappear in six months — perhaps that's why we've been singled out for prosecution instead of entertainment industry creatures like Ozzy Osbourne or Slayer or AC-DC.

INTERVIEWER: It's funny that families of victims of the "Nightstalker" never sued AC-DC, whose songs supposedly inspired his murder sprees.

BIAFRA: Yeah, but judging AC-DC and their fans by a guy like the Nightstalker is like judging all born-again Christians by Mark Chapman, who reportedly killed John Lennon as "a favor to the Lord." I mean, who encourages more kids to wind up dead: Ozzy Osbourne, or U.S. armed forces recruiting ads?


II.

BIAFRA: I heard two pranks about the band Crass in England. They negotiated with a teenage bride magazine, Loving, because they wanted to reach sixteen-year-olds hung up on the whole soap opera. Then they recorded a song, "Our Wedding," totally attacking that idea but camouflaged by schmaltzy music. It was sung by Joy de Vivre from Creative Recording and Sound Services (CRASS). The publishers actually went ahead and included it as a flexi-disc insert without deciphering the lyrics beforehand! After the issue hit the stands, they had to recall the copies. As a result, Crass gained access to the straight media and were able to voice a lot of criticism not only about the wedding syndrome, but about society in general.

Then they "leaked" to the press a cassette tape of an alleged phone conversation between Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on the feasibility of launching a winnable nuclear war! This caused quite an uproar. Oddly enough, Reagan and Thatcher didn't even deny the conversation — they just said, "It must be a KGB plant." Apparently it was very deftly spliced together from radio and TV news statements.


In 1963, a UK pop music show called Ready Steady Go! hosted a contest where people were asked to send in their portraits of The Beatles. The winner got to meet the Fab Four on national television and received two albums of their choice. Jeremy Ratter (later "Penny Rimbaud" — member of the legendary anarcho-punk band Crass) heard about the competition and decided to enter. He took a friend's guitar and cut it down the middle, mounting each half on the end of a board painted with Beatles graffiti. On top of the graffiti he painted the four Beatles, portraying them, as he would later describe in his autobiography Shibboleth: My Revolting Life, as "street-wise desperadoes." Finally he took a mannequin arm and placed it so that it was reaching out of one of the guitar halves. He called the piece "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." It was all perfectly designed to win. A week later Ratter got a call inviting him to the studio. And it appears as though he did all of it just to play a small prank on The Beatles.




III.

The title of this post is a play on the #4 U.S. pop chart single of 1968 — Dion's Abraham, Martin & John. Bob Dylan performed a cover of the song during a 1981 tour, with the original "John" (John Kennedy) becoming a clear reference to John Lennon who was killed just a year before — 29 years ago today.