Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

I’ve Been Reading John Ashbery Again

We sit in your living room and talk about our parents. Your mother is suffering from brain cancer. The doctor has removed a quarter of her brain and still has not been able to get all of it. She now suffers from dementia and blinding migraines and spends most of her days in bed at the aid of your arthritic father. My father wrapped his car around an oak tree on his way back from the bar. He lost control and hit a ditch. The car rolled five times before striking the seventy-year-old oak. They had to cut down the tree in order to get him out. My retired mother cares for him now as best she can. She got West Nile in 2007.

— The goddamned bills, man. I’m trying to help Dad make sense of them, but the shit just doesn’t add up. Half the time they haven’t even run them through insurance first. A fucking disaster, the man is almost eighty years old!
— Dad’s life insurance company fights Ma at every turn for every little thing. He qualifies for home care, but they keep telling her she can’t access the money until she pays out of pocket first, almost like three grand, and then it has to be out of a pool of caretaker facilities they approve, many of which Ma’s already reached out to and they say they can’t help because where Mom and Dad live is “out-of-area.” Well if it’s out-of-area, according to the life insurance company, technically she qualifies to hire whomever she desires, provided they have some kind of medical bonafides, nursing assistant-type license shit. But most of these workers are tied up with the facilities, which have harsh penalties against them if they take freelance jobs, and it’s illegal in the state to work over forty hours a week as a freelancer for “insurance purposes” so most people who qualify are at the facilities because it ain’t cheap to get the medical license to be a fucking baseline medical worker and they need the money! Mind you, Mom’s not classically trained in the art of medicine, she’s just learning all this shit as she goes. She didn’t go to school to learn how to cath him or clean him up after he shits all over himself or how to maintenance a feeding tube when it gets clogged with Sustenance Shakes. But she’s expected to hire a professional medical worker from the approved health facility in order to get a fucking 75% discount from the life insurance company… after she’s already paid three grand out-of-pocket. Fuck. She couldn’t even get access to his information at first to even start this nightmare because she hadn’t “processed the necessary paperwork” that they hadn’t even sent her to begin with.

Peach and mint scent the air from your hookah. The anarcho-folk singer, Adam Forbes, plays from the smart-home speaker you won at a company raffle and we’re watching the famous work of Helda Stipp on mute from the 75-inch HDTV your wife purchased last Cyber Monday.  It is the 1987 classic: “die Geschichte des Kapitalismus: ein sich selbst Scheißefress Schwein” (Capitalism’s History: A Shit-Eating Pig Eating Itself). Helda was one of those good ole Eastern German gals, though she escaped and lived in West Berlin starting in the 70s.

— Eric Hobsbawm once called her Marxism “historically immature” and herself “intellectually exhausting” at a cocktail party Brian Eno was throwing. This was when he was working on Lodger with Bowie.
— I didn’t know about this.
— She told him to suck her dick. So the apocryphal story goes.

The hookah smoke rises obscuring portions of the screen, which only adds to the disorienting sensation of the short animated artwork.

— I think the hash is finally taking hold.

Helda’s work is a never-ending maelstrom of images in constant conflict with each other or themselves. The characters in “Schweingeschicte” (its accepted shorthand) are these hyper-pleasant Disney-esque creatures and peoples who are doing unspeakable things; horrible images that can only be conveyed through the lens of cartoon animation. The more gruesome they are, the more wholesome the images. They are constantly tumbling, rolling, falling over, wrestling, killing, eating, fucking in this spiraling fashion. All the moments inspired by historical events or personal moments of Stipp. If the sound was on, we would hear this droning of machinery and what sounds like cash registers mixed in with white noise and a marching drum beat pounding off somewhere. Every now and again, a heavily distorted sound comes through while you watch. At first, you don’t understand what it is, just some other obscure bit to add to the cacophony. But as you get to the end of the nearly twenty-minute piece, you understand it is a cry for help. It is in Spanish. It is the voice of a woman, shouting out in terror and pain, from a recorded assassination of Bolivian socialist, Marco DeLaViva, in the early 80s. He was an ardent critic of Pinochet and openly trying to arm leftists in Chile for revolution. He wanted to be President of Bolivia. He was giving a street interview when a man steps behind him and cooly lifts a pistol to his neck and pulls the trigger. His wife is the woman who cries out: “won’t someone help us?” over and over again in the film. Marco and Helda were good friends. She holds back nothing in Schweingeschicte. The images and sounds build the impression of this indefatigable cycle being powered by some unseeable yet still felt evil that attaches itself to us and in doing so creates this sense of dread and inseparability that only compounds our complicity and shame. We’re watching it on YouTube. We have it on Repeat for deeper effect.

A five-second ad break interrupts to encourage us to buy a program that will teach us to code and whatnot. So we may then create our own websites and advance our own platforms with ads such as these.

Adam Forbes is also on loop. We’re listening to his latest album: I’m Sad Too, OK? It is an entire collection of songs that have no real lyrics. He merely mumbles melodies in a mewling voice above well-constructed musical arrangements. He said Schweingeschicte was on his mind a lot while making the album.

— It’s funny. I actually remember Adam Forbes interviewing Helda once, back in like 2007.
— Oh yeah?
— Right. It was this seminar/Q&A-type thing at John Hopkins.
— What?
— Yeah, well, they had just commissioned her to do some mural or something for them. In the end, I think she just made a bunch of erections coming out of pill bottles and poor people dying of AIDs, so they scrapped it–but anyway, it was a pretty good session. There was this student or whatever at the end that asked Helda something about art. You know, it was one of those annoying “duty of the artist” kind of questions, especially in the political realm. But she had this brilliant answer. I’m not going to do it justice, but it was something along the lines of: It’s impossible to separate the artist from the art, or the viewer from themselves when interpreting the art. The art affects the person who then affects the next art and that in turn affects the next people, and so on. And a collective will, or truth, forms over time in this cycle. That interwovenness is perpetual and works all over the place. And the same is true for the person and politics. You can’t separate one from the other and each feed into one another and so changes cannot come from the individual but from the collective. So in a sense, the artist has no more duty or call than the next person: I’m not doing a great job of it. It’s on YouTube. Maybe I’ll find it to watch next.

Who’s Got It Better Than Us?

Alas! Another year has come and gone. It blossomed in late summer with cautious optimism and a tinge of fear. Then came the ulcer-inducing rage and disappointment of early fall. And soon after Thanksgiving (when just enough time passed to make yourself delusional) another belittling loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Throw in a whole off-season to wonder why you even watch sports and you’ve got yourself the life-cycle of a Michigan football fan…

Following the 56-27 loss to Ohio State, there has been some more much-needed soul-searching amongst fans (because there’s never enough!). Many emotions and thoughts have been shared about the state of Michigan football within the last month. Most of it has been understandably negative. We have only ourselves to blame for rooting for this team. We hold the blinders that prevent us from seeing what so many others around the nation see. With each succeeding disappointment (commonly known as the “current Michigan football season”) fans become a little more agitated, disillusioned by what they witness. They call out in horror at what they witness. Their voices are many, but a cogent analysis has been (to one degree or another) yet achieved. Not all the points have been rightly considered; other, more erroneous, ones have been given too much attention. In light of this, I’ve compiled a list of the most compelling ideas about the Michigan football program and added my own thoughts. It is with this list I hope fans will better understand and cope with their grievances and be able to articulate them thusly at any time: to family members at wakes, co-workers on vacation, first dates, random strangers in check-out lines, or wherever the elderly are located.

So without further ado, let’s cut this cadaver open and see what we’ve got!


For years now, there has been a constituency within the Michigan fanbase who have spoken of a recruiting gap between Michigan and Ohio State.[1] They have argued that this gap between the two schools is (in part) why Michigan cannot best Ohio State. More talented players have committed to Ohio State than Michigan over the years and allowed them to have the consistently better team year in and out. This growing recruiting gap explains how Michigan consistently plays second fiddle to the Buckeyes; and what’s worse, the gap has only widened since Jim Harbaugh took over the program in 2015. Until Michigan out-recruits Ohio State, they cannot hope to beat them.

On the face of it, sure, a team that can recruit top-tier talent to their school each year has a great shot at winning a lot of games and beating teams that have not recruited as well as them.

However, there are a few counterpoints that undermine this thinking. These counterpoints don’t outright negate the common sense logic of the “recruiting gap” argument, but they do allow for a more nuanced point-of-view on the subject.

First, some things to never forget about recruiting ratings and rankings:

  1. It’s subjective, not all scouts will agree exactly on every player.[2]
  2. Not all players turn out to be as talented as they were projected to be.
  3. Not all players stick around at the original university they committed to, so rankings don’t mean much if you can’t get the talented players to stay.

But, let’s just say these variables had no effect on recruiting. Let’s take the rankings at face value. Below is a table of averaged class rankings.[3]



Avg 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Bama 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1
LSU 8 15 6 2 7 3 7 14 5
Auburn 5 23 10 8 8 9 11 12 12
Mich 26 7 5 23 42 6 5 22 9
OSU 8 5 2 4 7 4 2 2 17
PSU 33 50 33 24 14 19 15 5 12
MSU 32 38 39 24 23 18 35 29 32
Wisc 42 61 43 33 39 37 38 41 28
Iowa 28 42 56 55 58 46 41 41 40


Even if we were to accept the “recruiting gap” argument, we already run into some trouble.

If recruiting rankings matter so much: How does Michigan lose to Wisconsin and Penn State this year? How was it even close against Iowa? How does Michigan lose to Iowa in 2016? How can the 2017 Michigan team (by far the “worst” team in the Harbaugh era with the lowest collectively recruited upperclassmen) perform better against Ohio State than the 2019 team in The Game? Not just that, but in 2015, how does Michigan State beat Ohio State? Or Penn State in 2016? Or Purdue last year? Or this year, how is Alabama not undefeated? Or how have they not won the national championship every single year since 2011? How did they lose to not just LSU, but Auburn, too? Even with Bama’s starting QB injured, the gap between Alabama and Auburn was larger than Ohio State and Michigan’s.[4]

To add insult to injury (per ESPN’s researchers), from 2016 to 2019, Michigan has out-recruited Ohio State in total number of four and five star recruits: 71 to 69. Per the same source: in that time, Ohio State has had eighteen players drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft; Michigan has had four…

Clearly, there is something more to winning college football games than recruiting.



Much ado was made about Ohio State’s quarterback, Justin Fields, after his comment: “I think we care about [winning The Game] more than they do to be honest.” Some within the Michigan community took offense. Others (including former Michigan players) saw it as a telling indictment against the Harbaugh-led program.

“Fields’s comment couldn’t possibly be true! Why now, just look at all the tears in the eyes of these Michigan players, the heartbreak! How could you possibly suggest they did not care? And Fields is a first-year transfer from Georgia. What does he know of the importance of The Game, the tradition? My god, the tradition! Harumph!”

“He may have been at Columbus for less than a year, but he sees the obsession and the wanting to beat Michigan. They’ve got nothing but true believers over there, who want to win! And tears be damned! These guys just care more so they never have to cry!”

Passionate arguments aside, both appear to agree on this concept of “caring” or “willing” that is lacking.


The caring/willing for victory is a simple enough concept, it is the “we just wanted it more” ideology. This type of phenomenal thinking makes sense on a certain level, but sadly it is only a superficial one. Every player and coach wants their team to win. One does not simply “want” it more than one’s opponent. Both sides want the win equally. You either want to win or not. And every goddamned team wants to win every game. To not is a ludicrous standpoint. So when there is equal want, force decides. You want the victory? So does the other side. You’re going to need to take it from them. How so? Will power certainly isn’t going to block that 280lbs defensive tackle rumbling at top speed at you, or make a field goal, or catch or pass a ball, etc. etc. Someone needs to be put in each of those positions to make those respective plays. And then someone else is going to need to coach these persons on proper technique and get them into the gym so they can work out to become stronger and build endurance. And all these someones also need to study game film and learn their opponents and game plans and so on and so forth, you get what I’m driving at here…

Fields, whether wittingly or not, was making this other point: Intentions are all well and important, but the doing (and more importantly doing it well) is the foundation of any act. It is the difference between willing a victory and having the will to win. And even though there is no way to will victory into being. To work towards it at the highest mental and physical capacity with the most consistency is the best one can do and it often yields the results you desire.

For years now, Ohio State has demonstrated this dedication and work ethic with respect to The Game that Michigan has not.

Or perhaps not, perhaps there are supernatural forces at work…



“Here we go…” might be the unofficial phrase of Michigan football fans. They tend to say it more than “Go Blue!” or “Hail to the Victors” combined. Whether it is a bad turnover, costly penalty, missed “sure bet” field goal (or badly needed one), dropped passes, missed assignments, out of position player on a crucial down, misread/executed offensive or defensive play, or any given type of inexplicable decision made by a player or coach, there is no shortage of head-scratching, hair-pulling incidents that happen in a Michigan football game that fans cannot help but wonder: “Are we cursed?”

Any given successful play can depend on any amount of luck, it is a game of odds after all. A quarterback throws a pass that bounces off the back of a lineman’s helmet, up into the air, right back into the hands of the quarterback and he rushes for a crucial first down or better. A kicked ball hits the field goal post and bounces through for the points. Right before the running back can cross the goal line, at the last possible inch, a defensive player knocks the ball loose and it falls into the hands of another defensive lineman and prevents a score. These are all lucky moments. They are abrupt, unplanned moments that could have been to the detriment of a team, but instead, work to its benefit.

Of course, being unlucky is the other side of contingency. When these unplanned moments during a game do turn calamitous for a team. Both luck and unluck, though, cease to exist after a certain point. Indeed, frequency is that point. Once something becomes common, almost habitual, then it ceases to have that frenetic quality it needs in order to qualify as a lucky or unlucky moment. If the quarterback continuously throws the ball into the back of his linemen’s heads, or the kicker continuously hits the post, or the running back always fumbles, these are not unlucky moments, these are inept players that need to either be benched or coached better, probably both.

In the case of Michigan, especially this year, the level of frequency with which unfavorable moments happened should leave no doubt which they suffer from.



Michigan fans are a prideful bunch. Much of the recent ire over the state of Michigan football comes from a deep, deep disappointment of current teams failing to live up to their expectations, steeped in a long tradition of winning…

Here are some facts for you to chew on, buddy!

  • The Michigan Wolverines are the winningest program in college football history.
  • They have claimed elven national championships.
  • They have the most Big Ten titles.
  • They have a winning record against all their rivals.
  • The program is an iconic brand and has been since the great modern Michigan paterfamilias, Bo Schembechler, stepped foot on campus and rooted such lore as “Those who stay will be champions” and the “Michigan Man.”

What more evidence does one need to induct this scion into the Halls of College Football Greatness!? Who dare refute?!


…a more detailed look at the records of the Michigan football program, however, will offer a more nuanced, sobering picture.

  • If Michigan wins the Citrus Bowl against Alabama, it will be their fourth 10-win season in five years. Michigan has not had four 10-win seasons in five years since the 70s under Bo Schembechler. The next time? The turn of the 20th century under Fielding Yost.[5] By comparison? Alabama has had twelve straight seasons of at least ten wins. Oklahoma has only three seasons since 2000 in which they did not have double-digit winning seasons. And Ohio State? They only did slightly worse: four seasons that didn’t end with ten wins since 2000. And before then? They had five 10-win seasons within six years under John Cooper. All three have national championship claims as well.
  • Jim Harbaugh is 2-11 vs Top-10 teams, and 10-13 vs Top-25 teams in his five years at Michigan. He was 2-2 vs Top-10s and 6-6 vs Top-25s in his four years at Stanford. But this losing record has not been uncommon to Michigan. In the years between 2008 and 2014, Michigan went 1-10 vs Top 10s, and 5-21 vs Top 25s. From 1990 to 2007, they went 25-14 vs Top 10s and 54-37 vs Top 25s. Michigan hasn’t had a winning record against Top Ten teams since 2007, Lloyd Carr’s last year (in which they were 2-1). They haven’t been undefeated against Top Ten teams since 1999 (yup, Tom Brady). And they haven’t been undefeated against both Top-10 and 25 teams since… you may have guessed it: 1997 (the last time they won a national championship).
  • Michigan’s last national championship since 1997? 1948.
  • Michigan hasn’t been the out-right Big Ten Champion since 2003 (they shared the Big Ten title with Iowa in 2004, the last time they had any claim to the title).
  • Michigan hasn’t beat Ohio State since 2011 when it was coached by interim head coach Luke Fickel.
  • Bo Schembechler never won a national championship. He didn’t even win the Rose Bowl until 1980, which happened to also be the first bowl he ever won at Michigan (he started coaching “the team, the team, the team” in 1969). He was 5-12 in bowl games.
  • Michigan is 17-25 in bowl games since Bo arrived. 1-6 against Top-10 teams in bowl games since winning the national championship game.
  • Michigan’s record against their rivals in the last ten years (in order of most to least importance: Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Minnesota): 1-9, 4-6, 4-3, 5-1.


Another thing to point out is that Jim Harbaugh never won a conference championship at Stanford, but that has nothing to do with Michigan football…



Well, the Michigan football program has two obvious problems: 1) it isn’t an Elite football program; 2) the narrative promoted by the program, certain analysts, and the fanbase at large is that it is still one of the Elite programs in college football.

As I see it, there are two tiers in college football (Upper and Lower) and each has its own classes (Perennial Championship, Elite, Good, Above-Average, Average, and Poor), though the lines can blur. Below is just a brief explanation of the separate classes in the “Upper Tier”:

Upper Tier

Perennial Championship Program: wins conference championships and competes in, and occasionally wins, national championships in a five-year span; has a winning record against Top-10 teams and Top-25 teams respectively in that timeframe
Elite Program: competes in, and/or wins, conference championships, and may compete for national championships within a three-year span; has recorded wins against Top-10 teams, and has a winning record versus Top-25 teams in that timeframe
Good Program: competes in conference championships or is in the conference championship race (finishing #2 or #3 in the respective division or conference) at the end of the season within three years; has wins against Top-10 and Top-25 teams in that timeframe

Teams rise and drop from within the classes, sometimes none occupy whole classes, but there is a distinction between each that have obvious discrepancies seen when certain classes play each other.


Michigan has not been a Perennial Championship football program since the time of Fielding Yost. The perception that Michigan plays national championship-caliber football year in and year out has not been the case since the turn of the last century. It is inappropriate and delusional for Michigan supporters to treat the program any differently. They haven’t even been Elite for some time. Since Bo came to Ann Arbor in 1969, they have only been a pre-season AP Top-5 team fifteen times and only No. 1 twice (1981, 1989). And they have only finished in the Top-5 nine times, and been the No. 1 ranked team only once (1997), which has an asterisk because Nebraska claimed a national title, too, that year (and that’s how we got the BCS basically). Michigan has been a two or three-loss team every year with few exceptions since Bo, and when there are exceptions they have tended to go in the “worse” direction.[6] Arguably, the program’s “best” decade of football was the 1970s and they claimed zero national championships and only one outright Big Ten Champion title (to be fair, they won a total of seven and dominated the conference at the time along with Ohio State). Lloyd Carr had a few shining moments in the late 90s (of course, 1997) until he ran into that brick wall named Jim Tressel. Carr probably should have stepped down in 2004 after falling short to Texas in the Rose Bowl. It was already apparent Michigan was losing its ability to defeat elite teams. But the end of the 2006 season was really the nail in the coffin. Losses to Ohio State and USC cemented Michigan’s place as a “Good-not-Elite” program. It could have been at that moment Michigan amicably parted ways with Lloyd Carr and reached out to a plethora of coaches. The one that comes to mind is obviously Nick Saban. But there was the opportunity to hire from Jim Tressel, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, and/or Pete Carroll’s coaching trees, etc. There were plenty of opportunities to attract a coach who either had experience coaching elite programs or came from one, someone who could come into Michigan, stop the bleeding, and elevate it back into Elite status. That did not happen, of course. The powers that were selected Rich Rodriguez[7] (and after his failed tenure, Brady Hoke) and the rest is sordid history…

Hypothetical revisionism is all well and fun, but it does us no good. The point is, Michigan is not an Elite program and it is nowhere near being a Perennial Championship-level program, and it has not been one for a long, long time. Fans need to stop this. If they want to hold Harbaugh to a high standard, that is fine. The man was brought to Ann Arbor to beat Ohio State, win Big Ten championships, and possibly play for the national title. He has fallen far, far from that. Credit is due to Harbaugh for turning things around, as thankless an achievement as that seems to be. In the seven years prior, Michigan was an Average-to-Above-Average program. He received a group of players that had potential but were not coached well enough. His predecessor, Hoke, had inherited a group of talented, though raw and often undersized, players playing in a still physical conference. And Rich Rod, for all the negative things that can be said about the coach, was not set up to succeed with the program Lloyd Carr passed on to him. All matters were heading in a downward trajectory, and Harbaugh has put a stop to that. As is often the case with historical moments, what is happening now is just a consequence of events that took place long ago by people who aren’t even around. You may have no control over how you got to now, but you need to be the one to move on in it. Jim Harbaugh has done a lot to fix the missteps of three preceding coaches, athletic directors, boosters, etc. who helped create the mess that was Michigan football. He has set the broken bone and taught the program to walk again, but now it needs to run. The players need to be coached better, motivated more effectively, the coaches need to prepare and scheme better. New recruits don’t want to come to middling Good programs when they have an opportunity to go to Elite or Perennial Championship programs. Is Harbaugh the man for the job to do that? That is a serious question everyone invested in the program needs to ask. If there is someone better for the job, then that person needs to be brought in. If not, then persistent calls for improvement and patience need to be both equally employed.

That is often easier said than done for fans, especially when a narrative of traditional greatness is embedded in your psyche. But that is the other part of the problem. Michigan fans really need to disabuse themselves of the lore of Michigan Greatness. To think that Michigan has been anywhere close to the regional Elites like Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Oregon (and USC before them) and the newly arrived Clemson in the past twenty years is insane. The program is far from it and it will take a great deal of time and effort before they can reach that status. The sooner fans can come to terms with this, the better.

But these are key elements to being a fan of a sports team: stoicism and realism. You revel in the times of success (because you know they are fleeting) and wallow in the dearth (because it fucking sucks to lose). The more you pour your time and energy (and money) into something, the more you expect some goddamn results! And it can be downright painful to have to endure hardship year after year after year after year after year after… But in the end, that is all a fan can do. It is imperative to remember the fan is just a spectator. That is all a fan can do: watch and experience the results. Of course, you can stop watching or attending games, or purchasing merchandise, etc. but then you cease to be a fan, which honestly is OK, too. I certainly don’t shame or judge those who simply cannot stand watching a team they have invested so much in continue to break their hearts. It is a relatively thankless, and all things considered, trivial pursuit, but one that also possesses some of the most wonderful, memorable moments social life has to offer.


I was in Ann Arbor in 2003 when No.5 Michigan hosted No.4 Ohio State. The winner would be the outright Big Ten Champion and play in the Rose Bowl. Michigan was coming into the 100th Anniversary of The Game as an underdog with back-to-back losses to the Buckeyes for the first time since the early 80s. They had not won the Big Ten outright since 1997, which was also the last time they went to the Rose Bowl. The mood was tense to say the least. What were we fans on the precipice of witnessing? We did not know. But as the teams took the field and Michigan players started to go toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes, we started to gain a bit of hope. When Steve Breston punched it in, capping a 90-yard scoring drive, giving Michigan the 7-0 lead before the end of the First Quarter, the nerves began to settle. Then Navarre hit Braylon Edwards on a 64-yard touchdown pass, and again later to cap off an 80-yard scoring drive, putting Michigan up 21-0. I remember looking at my brother in the stands, his face matted in maize and blue, and asking: “Is this real? Who the hell are we watching?” It was a stunning turn of events. The two Ohio State fans next to us, faces beat red as their scarlet jackets from excessive tailgating, were just as speechless. It was such a wonderful experience, to be a first-hand witness to a glorious historical moment in Michigan football. And even though Ohio State would crawl back to make the game interesting for a short while in the second half, in the end, there was no doubt, Michigan was the better team.

After the final whistle blew, I remember standing next to my brother. We stood in the sentient mass that was the Michigan fanbase, watching the students flood onto the field. I saw the players huddled around the vibrant Block-M in the middle of the Big House, roses held high in their hands as they chanted the greatest fight song in college football: “Hail! To the victors valiant. Hail! To the conquering heroes. Hail! Hail! To Michigan.”

There have been very few moments like this since. But I still remain a fan with the hopes that one day I will be able to feel jubilation like it again. It is a tricky thing for fans, holding onto the past. Our personal recollections or collective memories of the past inform our understanding of the present and beliefs about the future. I try not to let previous successes or hardships reign over my perceptions. Contingencies and ironies abound in life and I try to take them all in stride and due context. It’s about all I can do; it’s the best any fan can do in order to cheer on their team and enjoy a game they love.


So try to take it in stride, dear Michigan fans. There are many possible ways to go from here. But any which way we go, we must always Go Blue!



[1] There will be a lot of comparing Michigan to Ohio State. This is mainly because Ohio State has been the most-dominant team in the Big Ten conference for the last twenty years. The fact that they are also Michigan’s most-despised rival only adds to the bitterness.

[2] Case in point, the site Scout uses the player rating metrics of 247 Sports. However, their school rankings are wildly different at times.

[3] Averaged across 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rivals. Some years are only averaged between 247 and Rivals due to ESPN’s limited ranking lists.

[4] For all the talk Auburn fans give of wanting to sack Gus Malzahn. He is 3-4 against Alabama. Jim Harbaugh will never be able to produce that result in his first seven years at Michigan (if he gets there).

[5] To be fair, Michigan didn’t regularly play ten games in a single season for like fifty years, but still.

[6] This is not to pick on Bo Schembechler, or diminish the accomplishments made under his tenure. It is merely an attempt to further complicate the mythology surrounding the coach in the minds of many Michigan fans.

[7] For what it’s worth, Rich Rodriguez was one of the hottest names in town at the time of his hiring. What he had accomplished at West Virginia was seen as an amazing achievement (and it was) and his offensive schemes appeared to be exactly what Michigan needed in order to enter the new epoch of college football: The Spread Era.

Mistaking the Kratos for the Demos

There are many things that can be said about the recent events in Bolivia. A few things that must not be contended: It was a coup. It was politically motivated. The violence that has followed the coup (particularly against the indigenous peoples of Bolivia) is a clear violation of human rights. 

The recent events have also provided an opportunity to think about how democracy (or perhaps more accurately, power) operates.

Benjamin Kunkel posted the below thought (he later deleted it, though I’m not sure why) to which Chris Hayes responded with:

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 1.16.02 AM

Hayes’s response is a particular strain in liberal thinking. The idea being: democracy levels the political field and allows the sovereignty of “the People” to be expressed. If the People want a neoliberal leader or a conservative, etc. instead of a leftist one, then so be it. It’s a fine thought, but deeply flawed in its understanding of power and particularly how power is transferred.

This thinking fundamentally disregards the role (political and monied) elites play in the wielding and passage of power and how elites influence or (as we’ve seen in Bolivia) sometimes coerce the political course of the state.

Turn in any direction and we see the multifaceted ways the power of the elites and the privileged is used to rule over the majority of people in society. We see most eligible voters (especially those of lower social, material, and political classes) are disenfranchised, disincentivized, and discouraged from participating in politics and achieving their political and material interests. Voting is made odious and fair proportional representation is a far-off fantasy not even yet dreamt of in the social imaginations of most citizens. Actual attempts to bring about parity in both political and economic ways are met with outright hostile responses by the ruling members (or sadly, just those above the bottom rung) of society. Any actors outside of neoliberal or conservative (or simply put: capitalist) strains of thinking are ridiculed and questioned by corporate media outlets and their pundits (or perhaps more accurately: sophists), who take their time and effort to speak out from their very largely read or viewed soapboxes; they are undermined either by members of opposing parties or within their very own, and attacked by monied elites via funding and support to opposing candidates in every available election. The values or propositions of a more collective, social living are not taught or often ever considered in the education systems, even at tertiary levels, which themselves continue to deteriorate as the private is prioritized over the public to the detriment of those who cannot afford to access the evermore-exclusive modern society.

Notice, I’m not even referencing Bolivia in the above paragraph, or any of the other like-states that have suffered from the long, sordid history of tampering by the United States. I’m only speaking of the United States itself and its “democratic values” when it comes to more egalitarian practices.

To put it simply, if we look at the current state of affairs and evaluate them in a theoretical vacuum, we do a great disservice to understanding power and those (very few and select) in our daily lives who use it to their own advantage. And much more practically and importantly, it allows atrocities like the coup and subsequent racist violence in Bolivia to be seen as abrupt contingencies of the time rather than what they are: concerted actions taken by politically motivated actors keen on achieving a specific goal.

To lose sight of how power operates and its impact on politics is only to the detriment to the very people liberals like Hayes are so keen on elevating.

…Conquista Todo: “Welcome Home”

We sat underneath your pergola eating fruit. You were going on about the war and I lay there staring up past the intricate latticework of wooden beams into the green canopy above. Through the spaces of the criss-cross, I watched tree branches convivially wave back and forth. They played in the wind, flitting back and forth, and made sunlight dance with shadows on your face. The way the light and darkness shifted on your face underneath this green layer reminded me of the jungle; it reminded me of Raoul.

I lit a cigarette and thought of the guerillas. I thought about my time with them for those three long years. How I contracted every known tropical illness and probably a few yet known, almost died of dysentery twice. I remembered following them on mission after mission, an endless routine of deadly raids and sabotages; I recalled the firefights most vividly, the exhilaration and terror as the bullets tore like sparks of lighting through the air above us; how the sound of warfare made me feel so alienated, hunched down and surrounded by the hollers of the dying. I remembered being hunted. I remembered fleeing with the platoon at night while the soldiers tracked us down; I remembered being shot, laying there in the dark muffling my cries of agony while a bean-counter worked on my wound; I survived; I went back out on the patrols; I witnessed them chase down a retreating soldier, I witnessed their war crimes; I got horribly lost in the confection of the slaughterhouse. Some of it I captured, most of it I did not.

Raoul knelt above the reach and was playing with some guppies trapped in a small pool. I stepped into the water. Small plumes of sand kicked up every time my feet touched the soft bed below. The water was unseasonably cold, which the natives considered the sign of a good coming harvest. Most of those natives had been either killed off or relocated from these lands during the nearly thirty-years war. The few remaining family clans lived there illegally and tried to avoid the Army and guerillas as much as possible. Their absence, yet known presence, added to the haunted quality of the jungle. Many of the soldiers would talk to me and each other about how all the blood from the war, the violence, the utter animus seeped into the jungle and rotted the soil and trees; “the spirit of the jungle was forever changed.” Some would laugh as they told me this. It was their punchline to a joke I did not understand. The only kind of humor that can come from a warzone. Others lit cigarettes as incense candles and planted them at the base of the tree and said a little prayer to their ancestors and the jungle to forgive and protect them.

Over three years inhabiting the unholy grounds, we grew comfortable with the cursed setting, and the longer we spent there, the more we began to feel as though we were part of the jungle and knew it as part of our own body. It was why they were so successful in their raiding missions and (when necessary) retreats. They could just vanish and were never taken by surprise. They knew the jungle and it knew them and sided with their cause. So it was safe out on the reach.

I took photos of men replenishing their canteens and cooling their bodies down. I took shots of men taking buckets of water into their porous caps and rushing them atop their heads. A small waterfall of river water cascading down their faces. Young men standing near the water, holding their rifles, laughing and nodding. The Lieutenant smoking a cigarette and discussing the map with his staff.

Raoul kept trying to catch a guppy in his hand. He had this silly way about him. He was a child, no more than twenty. He was a farmboy by nature. Conscripted into the local guerilla outfit when he was twelve or thirteen. He didn’t really know. It had been a while since he had seen a calendar and he wasn’t taught to keep track of time the way people in the city did. His family called it tiempo de tierra. He had been with the men for four or five years, give or take one or two. He joined the rebels with his older brother, Eduardo, who died a few months into their first year. Miliaria. It was a powerful loss for Raoul. It hardened him. Made his resolve even more intense. But he was still a farm boy at heart. He was in many skirmishes, but still a farm boy. He fired guns and burned crops, exploded bridges and destroyed supply lines, but still a farm boy. Lost a few fingers, bit off in a card game gone bad, killed the family of the leader of a pro-government village in front of him before immolating the hysterical man. Raped a few women. Killed livestock for sport. Ate rotted food. Got dysentery. Gave it to me. Cried for Eduardo in his sleep, cried for his mother and father and his other siblings. Sang revolutionary songs with a blithesome timbre. Played with guppies in a reach. 

I wonder if people who visit the Museum and see the original hanging on the wall also see these things in Raoul’s face like I do. Events make a person. History poorly remembers them. Undoubtedly, the folks who have bought the mass-produced versions of his playful moment to hang in their hallways or living rooms, or the people flipping through their magazines and stumble upon him in the Madison Avenue advertisement don’t see it. They don’t see him. They see a kid playing in a pool of water with an assault rifle strapped to his back, his smiling face turned profile so you can observe his gaunt features and lacking teeth. Regrettably, that’s what I had seen at first when I was freezing him in time.

Worst of all, the only context that offers any nuance to his existence and endears him to the masses is the last event that had the most impact on his life.

Shortly after I took that photo, Raoul was shot dead. A sniper had fired a 7.62 bullet through the left eye socket. It ripped through him so quickly… I didn’t take a photo of the aftermath.

“What are you thinking about?” The sound of your voice and the roar of the cicadas retrieved me from the battlefield. I was lounging again in your hot backyard. Your dog looked up at me with its tired, drooping eyes for a moment and then went back to sleep. The ice in my cocktail shifted and clinked.
“Nothing much… The war.”
“Are you thinking about the boy?”
“In a sense.”
“It’s a real shame. All that bloodshed. He lost his life—and for what? The rebels’ government has fallen and the ruling class is back in power again. Utterly meaningless.”
“Meaningless. Hmm… have you ever heard the story of the Battle of Bergamo? During the French Revolution? No?”

“During the War of the First Coalition, Napoleon cut his teeth as a general of the Army of Italy. Northern Italy was seen as a secondary front, but Napoleon essentially leads the ragtag Army to not only crush the Italians (or more precisely the Piedmontese) and the Austrians down there, but he totally ends the fucking war which eventually sets everything else into motion and sees him become Emperor and completely wreak havoc on Europe, upending the old feudal and monarchal ways of living, etc. etc. It all started with his planned invasion of Northern Italy.

“But that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s actually right after the war. As this first campaign has wrapped, and the treaties have been signed, a regiment of the Army of Italy and a regiment of the Habsburg-Austrian Army stumbled upon each other outside the small town of Bergamo. Now, sadly, word had not yet spread to the generals in command that the war was over. So the French general (I don’t remember his name and it’s not important to my point) sets up his men and cannons on one side of this river… I forget the name of it as well.

“Anyway, the French are all set up on one side and the Austrians on the other of this river and the only way across for several miles is this one bridge that maybe, maybe fits four or five guys across and is over a hundred yards long. So essentially, these two regiments, which were actually larger than a typical size but I’m not going to get into why, they start blowing the hell out of each other while one side or the other keep making charges to get over the bridge day after day after day. One squad of young men after the next trying to rush across that bridge to the other side to break through the enemy and seize the day. But because both had equal strategic strength, both remained at a gory stalemate. The French would try to take the bridge, be stalled and then have to retreat; then it was the Austrian’s turn; both sides were encouraged to charge every time because they thought they finally had the advantage. The only real result was one row of young men, farmers, tradesmen, fathers and sons being gunned down after the next on that bridge. Each day brought the stench of sulfur and rot, great clouds of gunpowder obscuring the sight and burning their eyes, a cacophony of artillery and musket fire, and the screaming, the horrible screaming. Again and again, until at dusk when they called a ceasefire in order to retrieve their dead as to relieve the tremendous burden of all those corpses on the bridge.

“On the last day, the French general was preparing one last assault attempt on the Austrians. He had lost a majority of his troops and the will to fight on was waining. But honor and duty compelled him to try once more to seize the bridge and win the battle. It was as he planned his men’s last death march that a courier arrived to inform him the war was over. As he and the other Frenchmen exited their tents that morning, they were welcomed to the sight of a vacant bank on the other side of the river. The Austrian’s had a faster courier and left in the night. The Battle of Bergamo was over. No one won.

“All told, over five thousand soldiers lost their lives on an undecided fluke battle that was commenced a week after the war was over. Almost no one remembers it and certainly none of their names…

“Now. Tell me one more time about Raoul’s meaningless life.”

I’ve Been Reading John Ashbery Lately

We sat on your makeshift couch in your calico brick apartment and talked awhile. I remember asking you how your bisexuality was going. “I’m in between legs at the moment,” you said. I didn’t quite understand, but then it sank in and I gave you one of my “a-ha!” laughs. You appreciated the effort. We talked and talked and talked and you smoked inside because “Fuck the police” and we got drunk on your cheap wine. Your teeth were a hideous violet. I think to tell you this but then forget until now. I twirl my hair and remember my dad always yelling at me for doing it. “You’ll pull your hair out!” I tell you this. You laughed at his stupidity, then paused and delivered: “Wait. It can’t, right?” You cackled the way you do when you’re high. It makes me laugh. Your head kicked back and cast a shadow against your juandicing wall (darkening pale maize due to your indoor habits). Your arms were crossed, your body arched back and contorted along the contours of the ha-ha wall of pillows. Your yellow teeth faded in and out with the tungsten of the room. Your cigarette still burned between your fingers, crossed like legs. I watch the ashes cascade like fallout over you.

“Relationships are toxic these days because people are too afraid to love and don’t have the time to be,” I say. I heard it on a podcast the other day, but most of the people at Sharon’s uptown party don’t know this.  “If that were only half of it,” you said.  You were sipping on Sharon’s expensive wine. You smoked another cigarette, different from your typical brand. You had sunglasses on. You were drunk. You weren’t high. You laid on the floor and kept inexplicably circling your two arms stating you’d been pilloried, but I think you meant to say dizzy instead. I think about my ex. I imagine sunshine, a beach, smiling, delight, pleasure, and how much better it all is without me. I look at you and your twirling propellers and giggle.

You told me about how you used to create fake sites like: http://www.itsthetruth.com or http://www.whatweusedtoknow.com and send clickbait ads to conservative hangouts with titles like: “Something Millennials Are in a RUDE Shock For” and “Seven Things MILLENNIALS Don’t Understand that Boomers Never Forgot” with images of laughing hipsters or the American flag. “Of course, what they didn’t realize,” was that they’d followed a link right to pictures of Tub Girl.

I like to run. I joke with my friends that: “It’s good for me because I like to run from my problems. The only problem is I run in circles.” I like the joke. It’s stupid, like me. Most people laugh to be kind. But in honesty, it is the only time I get to think and melt fat. I take a strange pleasure in feeling the pain from running. It reminds me of death and how incredibly terrified I am of it. So much so, I eat carrots and peanut butter five times a week for lunch and run to turn my solids into air. It’s a queer sensation, to feel this gelatinous glob of waxen and fluids moving about in sharp pains, and burning and hurting just to work off half that mini-cupcake you ate three weeks ago. All in the futile attempt to forgo the inevitable, or at the most humble: prolong the expiration. I suppose this isn’t very original, not even unique. Everyone fears it. But everyone must go through with it. What do they say? That and taxes, right? I don’t run because of taxes, though. My asphyxiating debt? Sure. My modest cash depleted by The Rentier Society? Why not? My payments and payments and work for more money, and more payments and more work, and nothing quite seems to assuage anything and there is no help in sight, and I’m feeling extra, extra smol and I want to rip off my head, but why don’t I just go for a run instead?! Yes, definitely! —– (You laughed at me for running, you know. You said I was buying into the health culture industry. “Hook, line, and sinker.” Cackle, cackle, cackle. Your burnt blonde hair ruffled. Your mucilaginous belly wiggled and winked at me. You thought non-consumption was still part of consumerism. “We’re trapped in that sense and we need to come to terms with it.” Cackle, cackle, cackle.)

You once cried on my chessboard bathroom floor. Your face was slick. You put my okay wine into the toilet and a little on the tile. I kneeled down next to your slack body and rubbed your arm. You kept going on about apocalypse and how you didn’t think you could go on. You kept shaking your head. “Vicegrip” was thrown around a lot. I think I understand. I’ve been there. I’ve read Sartre; I’ve read Beckett, Kierkegaard, well the Oxford Encyclopedia version, but I basically understand his point. Existentialism. I know you. I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there myself. It’s tough, but hey, you’re tougher. Just get back out there, just get back out there and give it all ya got! You can do this, I believe it; I believe in you! I hand you some toilet paper. You accepted and shyly, poorly cleared your nose. I stood up to give you some time and space and you looked at me the way you do when I’m making a mistake. You lit a cigarette. You smoked and laughed. “You idiot. You big, dumb idiot.”

I remember you telling me you could never respect a man who took Thomas Bernhard seriously, but you’d let it go because you also understood it was too chic to bag on him now. “And the chicest move… is to never be chic.”

Music played inside the artless room. You were laying down, near the window. I sat next to you. “I wish I had a smoke.” Your teeth were terrible. I nodded and shrugged. You turned your attention back to the music. It reminded you of another song and you started to try and tell me about it. “It’s one of those good ones I like. You know, ‘the sad ones’…” That’s what I used to call all the songs you adored about the menace of suburbia and cancer of our existence. “… I was listening to this song and it just really struck me… But… you know the problem with music I also realized is… that it doesn’t have as much revolutionary power. You know, John Berger, the other poet guy I like, was wrong… Music ain’t got it… Shit. No art does. We’re just going on and on… and we’re thinking this shit we throw out there makes any difference… Goll-ly. We’re screwed, man. This is Hell. We’ve all died and are now experiencing Hell… It’s all pointless… It’s all so embarrassing…” And then you nodded off to sleep. It was a very long day in a very long year.

I’ve been reading John Ashbery lately. I like his work. I like the way he uses imagery, his focus on the inexorable engine of time and its soft killing way, the haunted acknowledgment of death. It’s this recognition of our horrid inconvenience that makes his tributes to banality so welcoming. He makes the plain a carnival, the pointless and frustrating unique and special. And that makes me think of you. And I start to miss you again. But then I go for a run…

Work for Love

Music is often a gateway drug for me to entertain certain (otherwise) malformed intellectual thoughts. And because I have a blog, I can post about them with little sense of shame or restraint.

Case in point, Ministry’s “Work for Love”.

Ministry is one of the more curious bands from the 20th/21st Century. They started in the New Wave tradition during the 80s and then quickly (de)evolved into an Industrial Metal group by the early 90s—two genres of music most people might find rather disparate. Quite frankly, they were ahead of NIN by a few years. They were one of those bands that contributed to, but missed out on, the historical contingency of their scene. Some may call them “ahead of their time” … I wouldn’t, but some may.

That’s not what I want to talk about, though. They wrote this song (off their first album) “Work for Love” and it has really stuck with me. Not necessarily for the song, per se, but what it conjures within me.

It is a fine toe-tapper about one man’s attempts to woo a woman. The steps he goes through to win her love are compared to the rigmarole one goes through to obtain and maintain a new job: he fills out paperwork, supplies a resume, interviews for it, works overtime to prove himself. This analogy got me thinking about our modern-day pursuit of love. And more precisely about it in an age of capitalism.

Now, I wanna preface the rest of this extempore think piece by acknowledging, in general, there are many elements that affect relationships, our search for them, and our concepts of love and whatnot. But one not nearly discussed as much as I’d like to see it (even in leftist circles) is the effect capitalist hegemony has on our love lives (or lack thereof).

In a world that puts such emphasis on exchange-value, individuals’ behaviors and mindsets become overwhelmed by a sense of worth. This sense in a capitalist society hinges on their individual contribution to capital. Are they doing their part to generate more profit? More accumulation? If not, they must not be a very “productive” member of society. With so much focus on capital accumulation, generating profits, growing business, making money, etc. etc. it’s no wonder the first two questions one tends to get asked in the United States are: Who are you? and What do you do? Depending on the answer to Question No. 2 and the other person(s), the rest of the conversation may or may not run so smoothly.

This commodification of human agency has a direct impact on the psyche of every person and can be spotted in all aspects of human life. Dating, relationships, concepts on love are no different.

The toxic sense of worth and its impact on how we perceive ourselves and others in relationships can be perhaps best-experienced on any of the wide selection of dating sites out there on the Internet. On these digital landscapes, which further alienate people into their hyper-specialized hovels, algorithms ask you to analyze and promote yourself, to demonstrate in so many words and images who you are and what value you bring to the table. The whole process is meant to showcase your individuality or… personality, but it only succeeds in further stripping your humanity away by dividing you into vast sub-categories only to be reconfigured into your online avatar. You are no longer human. You are a height and a weight with likes and dislikes who is funny and smart and good-looking but not too much of those things as to be intimidating or “unobtainable.”

This binariazation dehumanizes you and prepares you for the second stage: you and your ersatz profile enter into “the free-love market” as both customer and commodity. You judge and are judged based on the standards of a market-driven consumer society. Being a can of soup is bad enough, but what is worse is understanding that the large “variety” of potential partners has nothing to do with them and everything to do with what the sites’ algorithms say who you are. So if we are all cans of soup in the eyes of the market, then what is it about us that is endearing or our relationships that make them worthwhile?

Adding insult to injury, none of this was set up in the name of love, but profit. That two strangers may end up meeting and enjoying each other’s company (let alone fall in love!) is of absolutely no consequence to the creators of Match, OK Cupid, Tinder, Bumble, etc. etc. That you are on it is all that matters. You being on it drives profit for them. Your work to find love is generating free labor to them to increase their bottom line! (Incidentally, this is the case for Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. etc. YOU are the one driving the insane capital surpluses of these companies.)

Mind you, capitalism has and will continue to destroy peoples’ lives (including the quest for a meaningful relationship) without the aid of dating websites. And people have and will continue to have issues when it comes to dating with or without it. However, what capitalism does so effectively (and these “networking” sites exacerbate) is further the erosion of social-building scenarios and environments pivotal to human happiness, replacing instead with privatization, individualization, and alienation from one another into all these situations where we see each other as either competitor, tool, or product.

So ask yourself, when every aspect of your life can be tarnished by capitalism (even the search and experience of love): is it worth it?

Where is The Point?

I was walking through Trafalgar Square, listening to a little Billy Shears. It was a mild day. The sun blasted me with radiation and I felt the tinge on my skin. After a long winter, it was nice to feel something on my face other than a hollowing chill. Stunted cars passed along the periphery and occasionally squawked back and forth to each other in their abrupt shrieks as they drifted on. I walked in the opposite direction, silent, high. I was thinking about what I usually do: the past.

Out ahead, I noticed some chalk graffiti. The crude calligraphy acted like a type of timestamp. Not in world-time, but human. The curves and dashes of the individual letters were larger than necessary and left too much space between. The fast and loose execution implied hesitation, lack of assurance and practice. I thought of a child. A little boy with his pink/red chalk crouched over and writing these words and symbols. Just two words over and over again: “The Point” and above it was an arrow pointing in the direction I walked, north.

What was the child trying to tell me? I wondered. The Point was just ahead. As I continued on and the cars passed I came upon another message. It was The Point again, but it was upside-down and the arrow suggested the other direction. Had I passed it? Had I, indeed, missed The Point?

I continued on and was soon greeted by another sign. This time I was informed The Point was actually across the street, or perhaps was the street itself. Are you trying to kill me? I asked the imaginary kid in my head. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and I kept going on my way.

Then the messages grew more cryptic, frantic, irrational. Arrows large and small, pointing in all different directions, The Point appeared everywhere, ending with a large bullseye with “THE POINT” at the center. Was this The True Point?

I was reminded of the games I used to play as a child. We used to gain such pleasure out of our absurdist forms of play. Children are quite good at it. Even if they cannot provide an entire conceptual apparatus, their little brains do make note of the irrationalisms around them and the frantic effect this perceived nature carries out. It is quite silly, isn’t it?

After a little while longer the graffiti failed to reappear and I was alone again with my thoughts. I realized I hadn’t seen any of these drawings when I walked south only a few minutes earlier. Or at least I didn’t remember them. How could I have missed it? What would have been my interpretation of The Point had I come across the bullseye first? What if I had witnessed the boy? Was it even a boy? Was it a child? What made me think of it as such? Who will know any of this once these rain clouds overhead unleash their payload and wash away any record of the intellectual footprint?

I suppose my word is the best we’ll have to go with then. But it was there. Just over there. The Point.

Quotidian Relics

Just the other yesterday, I finished Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street. It’s a wonderful collection of the man’s kaleidoscopic analyses of modern life in 1920s Berlin. He bounces from one subject to the next with all the grace and flow of an eclectic dancer. And like all good dancers, through his movements you recognize and cherish his brilliance.

Many sections of the work stand out to me, but I couldn’t help but dwell on his reflections on stamps, postmarks, and postage by and large. As he puts it: “To someone looking through piles of old letters, a stamp that has long been out of circulation on a torn envelope often says more than a reading of dozens of pages.”

For Benjamin, it’s not just the brunt of obvious historical linkage, holding a piece of the past in your hand, but the whole social and historical contexts interweaving in the moment. What’s on the stamp? A country, a castle, a king? Who created it? Who sanctioned it? What does the image convey in itself to the viewer? What is its significance in the system of postage? What do these links to the past tell us about ourselves? How do they affect our social imaginary?

Even the trivial postmark holds some weight to him. The variety of postmarks, the way they alter the image “[placing] a halo about the head of Queen Victoria” or “[giving] Humbert a martyr’s crown.” Or just the way they messy up the once pristine stamp with their sinuous lines, covering faces and bifurcating lands like earthquakes. Think of the lowly artists who were commissioned to create these works, what must they think of it now? Is the work tarnished after the black marking, or was it tarnished the day its creator signed the contract?

Just briefly interacting with these simple pieces of paper, conjuring up all these wonderful thoughts, creating this “stamp-language,” it is no wonder Benjamin concludes this section of One-Way Street with a lamentation. He sees the coming future of telecommunications: telegraphs, telephones, radio, etc.: as the great destroyer of stamps, postmarks, postage, like winter to flowers. “It will not survive the twentieth [century],” he closes the essay.

Benjamin got me thinking about this account I follow on Twitter. (Now that’s a helluva sentence!) Postcard from the Past (@PastPostcard), provides images of postcards sent over the years (mostly the 50s – 70s) from (mostly) British travelers and a brief out-of-context sentence the messenger wrote. The comedy or quaintness of each post is often spot on, but what attracts me to these posts is something similar to Benjamin and his stamps. I get to thinking: Who were the photographers who took these images? What about the people/locations trapped in their images? Who commissioned these postcards? What was the purpose? What does one make of postcards of abandoned English castles, sweeping landscapes, locals dressed in traditional ethnic attire? What did the manufacturers want the consumer to think about these images? What was it about these postcards that the senders felt compelled to buy and send along? These questions persist, but they tend to circle the drain of commerce. Capital tends to behave like an undercurrent at each modular point, interweaving the subject/land to the artist/photographer to the stamp/postcard to the consumer/sender, on and on.

Benjamin recognized this with the stamps. It was why he foretold of its demise at the hands of the more efficient telephone, et al. Capital does not care for the well-articulated illustration on the stamp or the essentially captured moment through the lens. Accumulation is king. Craftsmanship be damned!

And so, in the great empty time of modernity, these objects of the past are in direct threat of being discarded and forgotten precisely because of their perceived uselessness. In the world of capital, if a market-based value cannot be extracted from it, what use is it?

But it is important to remember that the accumulation of wealth did not produce these small works of art, neither did it create the wit or beauty of the words written on them, or the thoughts conjured up by the likes of minds like Benjamin’s. We must not accept the ground offered before us in these circumstances. The stamps, the postcards can be of great use to us still for whatever reason works for us in the moment. Because in these moments with these artifacts, as banal as they may be, they still contain great depths of our humanity.

And so it’s important to hold onto these items. Because we need to be constantly reminding ourselves of this simple fact: Humanity presses on. Not because of capitalism, but despite it.


Race and Truth (Or… More Bullshit Science is Supposed to Prove…)

PREVIOUSLY on Iaian’s Brain:

“Christ, I haven’t been paying attention to current events too closely. What have I missed? Let me just check what’s going on at The New York Times Op-Ed, that usually gets my blood boiling. Oh, what’s this? ‘How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’‘? Yes, yes this’ll do.”

And now the exciting conclusion:

Folks. There’s just no such goddamn thing as Race. Good night!

I really shouldn’t have to go further, but apparently scientific racism just never dies. (Andrew Sullivan certainly doesn’t seem to want to let it.)

So let me try to briefly roll up my sleeves and handle this. Because… nobody asked and it’s my site, I can do as I damn well please!

Firstly, what do I mean by Race and why capitalize it? I’d like to distinguish “Race” as a Platonist-like concept of something that exists in itself outside human intervention, as opposed to “race” which is a social construct that has deep historical and cultural roots. I flatly reject Race and any attempts to prove its existence through biological (or any other) means. Though I still recognize race as a real theory made by humans from beliefs and events with real-life consequences.*

In Dr. Reich’s first piece, he would like to have the reader believe: “it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’.” Furthermore, the consensus to the contrary held amongst those in the genetic and biological and sociological and humanities circles is dangerous because it: “denies the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.” (Italics mine)

What’s it all mean? Well, basically, Davey here wants us to believe that our genes can signify certain Truths about our Races—even when it comes to intelligence. (If your ears are already tingling, that’s because you’re picking up on the dog-whistle racism.) How does he reach such a “seismic” conclusion? You see, kiddo, he did a study a bit ago where some folks with prostate cancer had genes that linked back to West Africa. If genetics can be signifiers for certain things like diseases, why not intelligence? he says.

Hmm… there’s already a few problems. 1) There’s no such thing as Race. 2) Genes are simply an instruction manual to tell our body how to work; this runs the gamut, but they do not tell us to “be white”… that’s the job of society. 3) There’s no such thing as Race. 4) Simply because some gene(s) is found in West Africa does not mean it cannot be found elsewhere and the fact that Dr. Reich has not looked into this (or at least did not share his findings in his op-ed) and is quick to want to call this a racial trait should cause the reader’s bowels to inflame with dubiousness! 5) There’s still no such thing as Race. 6) Genes can be influenced by their environment. So even though a gene can be traced back to a certain region, it might not matter when the there and then of West Africa and the here and now of the United States are so vastly different and have different impacts on said gene. 7) Say it with me: “There’s no such thing as Race.” 8) Let’s jump to the glaring dissimilarities between using genes to track diseases like cancer and drawing the conclusion the same can be said for the social construct called “intelligence”. How does one describe intelligence? Is it like the lump of malignant tumor in your prostate, or more so a language classification of how society describes certain people with certain abilities in certain categories that are (to say the least) limited in their scope (I’m looking at you IQ tests!). Is racism a sign of intelligence? Are we more-intelligent white European descendants genetically predisposed to thinking we are racially superior to the rest? Dear Brutus, was it actually written in our stars all along? 9) There’s no such thing as Race! 10) The reader should be highly skeptical of anyone who tries to synthesize the very complex interplay of genetics into old social, historical tropes like “race” because… 11) And this is the most important point, there is no such thing as Race.

Now. I want to say I don’t think Dr. Reich is a eugenics-thumping racist. In fact, he really tries to distance himself in his second article and lame mea culpa/attempt to save face. He attempts his best to state his case again that he really doesn’t believe in the kind of old-fashioned Race all those Nazis and white supremacists were talking about. He’s a different kind of racist—I mean!—he sees a very narrow and specific understanding of how genetics can point to something he’s calling Race… but he doesn’t want us to worry about it. He makes this most breathtaking claim at the end: “…we do not need to be worried about what we will find because we can already be sure that any differences will be small…”

Uh-huh. Well, David. If your foregone conclusion (which has not been verified or agreed upon by any respected person in any related field) is so small and need not worry us (gee, one might want to say it’s… “negligible”), then… WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU WRITE THIS HUNK OF INCHOATE, UNSUBSTANTIATED DUMPSTER TRASH IN THE FIRST PLACE?!

Why, why you see it’s because Dr. Reich wants to protect us… from the racists!

The problem with this logic is that you’re continuously going to have to find buttresses against racists as long as they are still around. Racists gonna be racist. And if you say something like: “Actually, I think genetics do prove ‘natural’ disparities between human groups—like Africans and Europeans, etc.—and we can call these different groups ‘races’. And even though the results aren’t back from the lab, and might not be in for a while (or if ever), and even when they do come in, the disparity will be insignificant, and though I’m going off a very myopic sample base and drawing large conclusions my body of evidence can’t cash, I feel comfortable presenting my opinion and using my title of ‘Harvard Geneticist’ in The New York Fucking Times**… and also plug my book.” you are doing a real shit job of what you are purporting in the first place.

Case in point, Dr. Reich’s article was picked up by Andrew Sullivan, who then began soft-pedaling his eugenics claptrap again. I’m sorry, Andrew, black people just aren’t innately inferior to whites. I know your (and my) ancestors raped and pillaged and exploited nearly all of Africa for a few centuries, but that doesn’t lead to any useful conclusion of European (aka white) supremacy over Africans (aka urbans, err, I mean blacks), unless the conclusion you are trying to draw up is a racist one. Then, yes, I suppose I see how that’s quite useful. But you really have to work hard to make a whole group of human beings seen as lesser than you. It just doesn’t come naturally!

To let my pragmatic self take the wheel for a moment, what’s the cash value of an article like Dr. Reich’s? What use does it have for our social project? If one purpose is to engender a social imaginary that sees people of all colors as equals in an effort to combat the awfulness of racism, how does an article like this, supporting an unproven half-thought really get us there? As it stands, I don’t see how Dr. Reich’s stated opinions can help anybody but those who believe in some essential qualities of certain human beings that can be distinguished and help reify their imagined prejudices.

Ladies and gentlemen. Children and gimps. I know we all long for some answers in this deeply irrational world. I know we’re all just looking around, trying to make sense of why things are just so, and how incredibly easier and more satisfying life would be if we just had some core truths we could rely on. Sadly, it just doesn’t work that way. And when we lean too heavily on a tool of understanding like science to try and prove something True like Race, we’re only inviting ourselves to further bathos, disillusionment, and frustration. And more importantly, we’re elongating the agony of those who have socially and historically suffered for long enough.

I’d like to recommend a few books for Dr. Reich and anyone else out there that might be curious to learn about how silly, but violently dangerous, the concept of Race is. These books have helped me along the way.

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Racecraft by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Elise Fields
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

*It was brought to my attention that my use of Race in the original version of this piece did not offer a clear explanation of what I meant. This paragraph is an attempt to rectify that mistake.

**And shame on The New York Times. They pulled this kinda shit about fifteen years ago when they released some useless chart that misrepresented our genetic differences and ignored our overwhelming similarities. This kind of half-assed journalism really takes the wind of the Integrity Sails. [Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People, New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), p. 393]

What’s the Title? Tittle? Title.

We got stuck out near the desert with a flat tire. I was staring off at the sun and wondering why they say: “Caught a flat.” Why is that a turn of phrase? Term of phrase? Can that be right? Can it? What’s the term of a phrase? Fuck. What’s a turn of one for that matter. This language makes no sense. Who’s idea was the English?

Next thing I knew Merle was cursing the, uh, the… “Hey.” “What?” “What d/ya call that thing? Spigot?” “Spigot?” “Yeah.” “Who you calling Spigot?” “No. That thing.” “This?” “Yesh.” “I’m using it.” “What’s it called, a spigot?” “What’s a spigot?” “That’s my point. What the hell is that thing called?” “Aw hells bells, this thing here? It’s a doobermeringue.” “You’re shitting me.” “Like… literally? No.” “Of course not, unless we’re talking literary-rally fictionally. Then yes.” “Ah, you mean metaphorically.” “Do I?” “How the hell am I supposed to know? Aw, dammit! I swear—by the Stallions of the Valkyries!—I will shoot you in your stupid iron-wrought face, you goddamned double-crossing criss-cross abomination!” “Me, or the spigot?” “What. In the hell. Is a spigot?” “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t know what you’re working with over there. I think the actual name for it is ‘spigot.'” “What origin is that from?” “Huh?” “What human spit that out of their mouth when they saw whatever the hell a spigot is? Hounds of Love! this thing is really driving me nuts.” “Merle, you’re loosing me.” “You mean losing.” “Hmm… no I think I mean loosing.” “Huh?” “What?”

She went back to cursing at the metal apparatus… and I was trying to figure out if I was upset with her for having a man’s name. Was it her fault? She was a legal adult. She could change it if she wanted. What’s that saying: What’s in a name? Does that apply here, can I applicate it, is it applicatory to the application of… “Hey, Merle.” “What?” “What’s in a name?” “Letters, what else?”

Why did I say “legal adult”? As opposed to an illegal one? I suppose I don’t know what one would look like. A child? “Hey, what’s an illegal adult?” “I don’t know. What?” “No. It’s no joke. I’m asking.” “No joke? This goddamned tire is no joke.” “Of course, but what’s an illegal adult?” “A criminal. What else?” “Hmm… no I don’t think that’s what I’m getting at.” “Getting to. And we’re not getting anywhere if this abortus of a doobermeringue can’t help me take these goddamb niblets off the tire!” “Sure, sure, of course we agree, but I think my point is that—Wuthering Heights!—it’s too damm hott!! to think.” “You’ve got one too many consonants.” “Where?” “Right…     here ^” “Ah, I see. I was kinda going for an affect.” “You mean effect.” “I really don’t know. I’ve never known. They can both literally—like literary non-fiction, real deal Magillicutty—be the same thing.” “You mean mean the same thing.” “What’s the difference?” “Well… being and meaning are rather different aren’t they?” “Are they? Like if they are the same thing, then why would they mean different things? Like what does Heidegger have to say about all this?” “No, that’s Being. We’re talking about being.” “So many B/beings!” “Tell me about it. Hegel, too. Only with ‘negativity.’ The negativity of a negativity is a negativity with low-grade high-functioning anti-social attention-seeking personality disorder, but it always bends towards positivity.” “So says you.” “Yeah, it’s a flab-nasting wonder any of this gobbledygook has been able to pool into some sort of logical coagulum. Seriously, think about it… Diamond Dogs! I think I got it.”

I took a picture of her after she finished changing the tire. “I’ll post this. I’m so proud of you. I want to share this will all my friends.” “Oh yeah, post it where?” “Instachatty, TwertFace, they’re all the same… Booktwart…” “Very cool.”

Then we got the hell out of there.

Anyway, what was my point?