Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Tag: politics

Deep Historical, Intellectual, Political, Social Significance in the Picayune, or… “Covfefe”

It started in the wee hours with a tweet. If the last word of the preceding sentence doesn’t tip one off, what follows should be of glaring unimportance. Then again, Twitter has never had a direct feed to the id of a sitting President/Prime Minister/Royal Figure/Dictator/Etc. until fairly recently.

But there it was, sprung into life like a gadfly from the bowels of a dying mule:

“Despite the constant negative press covfefe”

It was a typo. An honest mistake that humans, because of their proclivity to err, make. Anti-45ers had a good laugh at the author’s expense. Even those on the right (or at least the Anti-anti-45ers) were able to make some jokes, too, though pointed at their opponents.

Yet, in the growing spastic shitshow that is the White House, we sit front-row to the unyielding horror of ineptitude playing out before our eyes as the knell of decency and hope for good governance play throughout the theater.

A Clockwork Orange

Me. Every day.

For we are witnessing the dumpster fire that is our nation’s political system, and the Fourth Estate’s coverage of it, unfolding further. Case in point, the White House had an opportunity to confirm what we all knew, make light of it, and move on. But that didn’t happen. Instead, under directions from the Oval Office no doubt!, that poor man-sized baby Sean Spicer doubled down on the illusion of 45’s infallibility: “The President and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”

This hurdled sections of the nation into an unnecessary state of confusion. It left the possibility open for meaning. Thus, devoted masses of 45 were whipped into a frenzy to defend their fearless, persecuted leader. They plunged into the deepest historical and linguistic waters to vindicate the author. One could say they “covfefed” with the dearest conviction.

Then, evangelical Trump-supporter Joshua Feuerstein went on the other festering wound of American culture to tell his audience of 45’s greatness: (https://www.facebook.com/joshua.feuerstein.5/videos/1041724925930189/)

The “researcher” (Dianne Marshall) Feuerstein cites does indeed claim to have solved the mystery of “cuvfefe.” In fact, according to Marshall, covfefe is: “an Antediluvian term for ‘In the end we win.’ ”  Sadly, she never provides any evidence to support her claim.

Anyway, we all know it’s bullshit because it was a typo, but that didn’t stop Marshall from writing such claptrap, or Feuerstein from publishing this misinformation to his audience (the video topped over two million views), promulgating the mystery of “covfefe” and the myth of 45’s greatness.

So why still focus on this? Well… apart from it being an obvious insult to history and intellect, and a continuation of this hardcore political lampoon, there is also a deeply troubling element of a cult of personality solidifying here. His voters are turning into believers in the idea of a Trump. And there is no limit to their faith. Once this idea ossifies in their minds, there will be very little to reverse it. As Weber pointed out, the charismatic leader has authority over his supporters in part because they have chosen to believe in him.

If the implications of this don’t terrify you, you probably think Comey is the reason Clinton didn’t win.

Personal Crisis in “Politics, Saviors, and Political Culture”

In Robin Marie’s brief, but wonderful post on the romanticism of individuality in the American Mind (by looking at the Hunger Games and The Man in the High Castles series), she calls for us to abandon: “our fetish for extraordinary individuals and learn, instead, that a durable collective freedom can only be won, indeed, collectively.”

The whole piece is worth a read and nicely intersects with where my head has been at (off and on) for the past year or more. There is something deeply troubling with a tradition of messianic fantasies shared by members of the political Left, Right, and Center. But as I’ve thought more about the subject, it is not only the image of a singularly championed individual that should frighten us, but the few who have the engines of power (fueled by massive amounts of capital) to steer this nation, too.

I was thus inspired to write the below comment (oddly enough, while listening to Tangerine Dream’s “Loved by the Sun” on repeat). There were a few questions I posted, and I’d like to open the floor to any reader. Give it some thought, and if you care to share, please do.

Another wonderful post.

“… suggesting that individual moral intuition will always be superior to the morality of collective reasoning and effort.”

Or the morals and ethics of a few to the many. I lately find myself in a bit of a cognitive feedback loop on this subject… or maybe it’s a reoccurring waking nightmare? In an age of Citizens United, the political arena seems to pit David Brock and his “do-gooding” liberal billionaires against the Koch Bros. and remaining members of the Legion of Doom. And there appears to be no end in sight to this political-financial arms race playing out in our elections across the nation—not just congressional or presidential elections, but the state level, too.

And I have serious doubts/fears about putting hope into the hands of either of these wealthy cadres. Regardless of where one finds oneself on the political spectrum, this current landscape should be downright disconcerting. And yet, when I hear dear friends/family members comment on how they (as Trump supporters) are OK with antithetical billionaires running their respective cabinets because: “that’s how the Founding Fathers intended it to be: disinterested elites to govern the flock” or some liberal pals of mine talk about how billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg need to “get off the sidelines” and really combat the “new red menace” I wonder if the terror on my face quite aptly describes the situation in its entirety.

At this point, I usually scramble for some solace from the past, anything to beat back the creeping despair. I like to think about the Gilded Age (very simplistically, I confess) and how movements arose from such inequality that gave rise to better living conditions (granted much later, and often not enjoyed by those who suffered then), labor unions usually come to mind first. But I quickly remind myself that in today’s world such social apparatuses are on life support.

In light of this, the image of the messianic individual (from the left or right) is quite appealing to a society that is reeling from anxiety and has little agency other than to shack up with one side funded by millionaires/billionaires or the other—which only intensifies your call for small-d democracy and durable collectives.

But… to get back to history…

What example(s), if any, of the past can be used for this goal? What was a durable collective that “worked”? How did it come to be, what was the context of its genesis and success?

critical-theory

Pork Soda in a Time of Tremendous Tremendousness

“Art” is malleable. Not only is a work’s meaning derived through the individual’s consciousness (both creator and interpreter), but the same consciousness over time. It is through this subjective-temporal evaluation that a larger appreciation, or contextualization of said work can be realized in its totality.

But as much as the observer is analyzing the work, the “Art” also acts as a tool of analysis on the observer, and as much can be said about the evaluator as the work being evaluated. Not only are the work and viewer being evaluated, both then and now, but the surrounding apparatuses that construct the scenario.

So when we revisit a painting, or novel, film, musical album, etc. we are not only attempting to arrive at a better understanding of the work, its creator’s intention, and all the like, but of ourselves and the extending circumstances we find ourselves in, too. These moments can give way to beautiful, personal intellectual satoris, but also act as wedges to reinforce particular myopias. We may very well emerge from the cage, shackles untethered, only to never realize we are inside a prison.

Not similar but running parallel to this risk of shortsightedness is the misreading of the past: events, works, or people. This type of thinking can be seen in certain opinion articles claiming certain actors in the past (Richard Rorty, David Foster Wallace, or even the Frankfurt Scholars) had predicted the rise of Trump and conditions of 2016 that would precipitate his election. These thoughts are a) flattering to the thinkers they label as prescient minds, b) fun to read and remember the pleasures of said thinkers, and c) completely ahistorical and thus silly.

The anachronism is best dismantled in Andy Seal’s critique from the wonderful USIH blog.

Neither Richard Rorty, David Foster Wallace, nor Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin and the rest of the Frankfurters were capable of reaching such heights of clairvoyance, no matter how brilliant they all were. To claim otherwise is a dangerous form of closed-mindedness and recklessly treats the past with little reverence, and history as a plaything.

Why. With such logic, one might credit the band Primus’s 1993 album, Pork Soda, as being much more than some “goofy” “amalgam of elements that have no reason to be joined together in a sane universe,” but an artistic cri de cœur against the decline of the human condition in this ever-modern world and a quickening doom at the hands of the 45th President. It would not be difficult to then say that Les Claypool predicted Trump!

trump-soda-3

It starts with a brief overture called, “Pork Chop’s Little Ditty”. A quaint intro of mandolin and faint percussion lulls the listener inward to this unknown world. Like a mixture of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain and the promises of Trump’s slogan, it seems colorful and wholesome until (with the slap of a bass guitar) you nosedive into the macabre of “My Name is Mud”. From that point forward, you experience a wholly different realm, one that feels very much like an alternate reality but in retrospect is a death knell foretold: it signals the undertow of hillbilly malice about to be unleashed.

For Primus is, in many respects, a more apt representation of white working class ethos than the sitting President or any member of his cabinet. It’s unorthodoxy is only matched by its simplicity, and its irreverence for what mainstream pop culture audiences (i.e. typical bourgeois consumers) is indicative in its apoplectic distortion, manic guitar solos, and un-artful lyrics which either offer cheekiness or champion quotidian life. One sees this working class attitude unveiled best in songs like: “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” “John the Fisherman” “Shake Hands with Beef” “Those Damned Blue-Collared Tweekers”: and particularly on this album we find “The Ol’ Diamondback Sturgeon (Fisherman’s Chronicles, Part 3)” and “DMV”. Primus is the soundtrack to white working class id. And in Pork Soda, the band is demonstrating this spirit from the very start.

The song”My Name is Mud” is concerned about a man who has, in the heat of argument (“a common spat”), murdered his friend (“sonsofbitch who lies before me bloated, blue and cold”). It is a chilling representation of the repressed rage of the white working class, who feels marginalized and whose concerns (mainly about their livelihood) are not taken seriously. So they have lashed out, mostly in the form of voting into office the only man who seemed to notice them, but also in the most extreme examples through reified hate (few though they maybe, still terrifying). It is a new reality we find ourselves in, to which Primus says: “Welcome to this World”.

The song perfectly captures the world to come over the next four years: a world of unfettered neoliberal economic policies that will enrich the already wealthy and place an unbridgeable gap of inequality in the void of gutted welfare programs designed to aid the lowliest, and where hardcore rightwing policies suppress goodwill and civil liberties in the name of national strength and homogeneity, cultish adulation, and “pink champagne and swimming pools”. For the sociopolitical atmosphere that will be unleashed on the nation will be tolerated by many for the sake of prosperity. But as the song suggests with its clownish melody, this is a mean joke. The affluence imagined by many but experienced by few cannot resolve the existential dilemmas of what it means to be human in this world. In the absence of meaning, with close to half the nation in a state of nationalist fervor, when the dreams of the left and the attempts of liberalism have failed against outright hostile capitalist hegemony and ruling class power, perhaps the only remaining option is the big fail for some. To excuse themselves from the world completely, which may have been what Claypool and the boys were getting at in the song that immediately follows: “Bob”. A song that tells of a friend “who took a belt and hung himself” in his apartment. A moving dirge of Claypool’s artistic friend “who drew such wondrous pictures in the apartment where he lived” and was found “dangling” by “his woman and his little bro”. It is a cry of pain, not only at the loss of a friend but what Bob represented. The closest expression of what it means to be human can only be found in those “wondrous pictures” or songs of Claypool, or in “Art” at-large. But in an ever-shrinking market world, aided by big data, where algorithms enhance a homogenous culture industry, and someone’s human worth is equivalent to their net worth, the marginalized artist is rendered valueless. For the survivors, like Claypool who learn of Bob’s passing, we are left with the same powerful image looping through our memories and the weight of its meaning, like the chorus that plays out the song until Claypool is reduced to illogical scatting: “I had a friend that took a belt, took a belt and hung himself // Hung himself in the doorway of the apartment where he lived”.

The album is full of these lamentations. It may have been unclear for people of the early nineties to understand or appreciate Pork Soda until now when the true genius can be appreciated some twenty-three-plus years later.

In fact, the fingerprints of 2016 are all over this album.

Look at the song “Nature Boy”—about a man who shelters himself in his room/house, gets naked, and masturbates to bottomless pits of porn, is irritated by the fact that his “genitalia and pectoral muscles aren’t quite what I’d like them to be”, and craves his privacy/secrecy: “But you don’t see me” “No one can/should see me”—which is a clear portrait of hyper-agro men’s rights Internet trolls who scurry through the web to prey on decency and spread their vicious hate-mongering, anesthetized by the veil of faceless avatars, deindividuation, and outright psychopathy. There is also “The Air is Getting Slippery”, a clear nod to the environment spinning radically out of control while Average Joes (portrayed by Claypool here) focus on Pink Floyd and hanging out at the bar, completely oblivious to the creeping doom set upon them. “Air” connotes two other thoughts. There is a nefarious quality to the use of the word “slippery” both used in the title and song. As if, this destructive change slips our grasp of it, or slips by and grows more dangerous by the year without our intervention. Of course, the other side of “Air” only  hinted at is the suppression or outright willful ignorance of vested interests in climate change’s cause. They try their best to evade or silence evidence and knowledge and let humanity rot because they: “don’t give a F***”.

“Pork Soda” addresses the confounding stupidity of modern life and our inability to comprehend it, to which consumer culture can only prescribe more capitalism: “Grab yourself a can of Pork Soda // You’ll be feeling just fine // Ain’t nothin’ quite like sittin’ ’round the house // Swillin’ down them cans of swine”. In one of the least-known songs of Primus, “The Pressman” is certainly a diamond in the rough. Not only does the song relentlessly drive at you with it’s haunting melody (again, simple but effective), hypnotic in its quality, but the lyrics Claypool writes vividly paint the picture of rightwing media in today’s society. A Bannonesque protagonist tells us of his days reporting the news: “I deal with fantasy // I report the facts”. A clear nod to the “alternative facts” we are accosted by daily, an endless spew of disingenuous half-truths, logical fallacies, misrepresentations, misquotes, and outright fabrications from this bile hurricane blazing across our news feeds. For Bannon and his ilk, they have done what hard-right reactionaries are best at: take the humanist logic of liberals or the left and use it as a cudgel for their own purposes. So, the rightwing media takes relativism (which they despise in theory, but use to their advantage in practice) and bludgeons our concepts of “facts” and “truth” until they are unrecognizable only to their own side. They gerrymander the American Mind, cutting out large swaths of the country like Swiss cheese, and build a wholly separate country with their “fountain pen[s]” and “stain” our memories, so that when we use history to look into the past we confuse the victims for the villains and carry this broken translation with us into the future.

Even the instrumental tracks carry this prescient, unwavering grief. How else can one explain the song “Wounded Knee”? Clearly, in the advent of the Dakota Access Pipeline (as it continues to unfold) one must not forget what happened at Wounded Knee. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that this song was released on Pork Soda! In any other year, on any other album, the song makes no sense. Only listening to this album in the context of 2016 can one truly appreciate all the correlations!

But the clearest example of the album’s instrumental disquietude comes in the song “Hamburger Train”. It plays out like a psychedelic jam session, only some joker slipped us a bad dosage of the electric Kool-Aid and we’re having a very bad trip. What better way to explain the emotional, psychological trauma we felt that night?** The song comes towards the end of the album, as did the election in that god-awful interminable year. While you listen, you can almost feel the walls melting around you and world collapsing as you did well into the wee hours of that night, only to realize it is the physiological reaction of your brain when hope partially dies. By the time the distorted guitar comes into focus again, bleating like a stuck sheep, so too does the realization of what is to come—paralyzing you in waves of terror. It summons a sense of cosmic dread to stay henceforth until the song collapses under the exhaustion of its own inertia right into the arms of the second rendition of “Pork Chop’s Little Ditty”. It plays again like a taunt to remind us civilization and barbarism are tied together by the same dialectical rope, and it has just swung quite negatively.

And so it makes perfect sense to close out the album with “Hail Santa”, which for obvious reasons is the band’s darkest, cruelest joke of all: combining imagery of the fascist salute with the personification of capitalist joy. It welcomes us to this new world by leaving with a wave and wink to the amalgamation of these two forces: our 45th President.


** Incidentally, the song for conservatives on November 8th was: “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” 

Mr. Drompf Heads to Swampland, USA

Mr. Drompf was furious. The United States of Animals had become rather curious. And only he could save it. He told all the animals so. Atop a mahogany podium, with his best suit and finest bleached rat’s nest, he told them in a voice strained and low:

mr_drompf2

“You see, and we all know this folks, I’m the only one who can fix Swampland, Swampland, it’s sad to say, is terrible, just terr-i-ble! look at it, it smells, it’s hot, nothing gets done because you have all that brackish water and lily pads, don’t get me started with those lily pads, folks, they can’t support your weight, you get wet, it’s disgusting, I can’t stand it, we deserve better and I’m going to get you better, trust me, you know it, or my name ain’t Tummy Jeronimous Drompf, you know me, you know what I’m capable of, these swamp dwellers, they don’t care, they love it, but we need better and I’m going to get you better, I’m a toad, I don’t live in the swamp, I live on dry land, that means I can fix it, we’re going to do it, folks, send me in, I’m ready, because, and we all know it, we all know it, it’s gonna be great, simply fabulous, I’ve got the best folks in mind to handle it, you got me, the best, you can picture it right now I’m sure, it’s gonna be beautiful after I’m done with it, I know beauty, I’m a toad, vote for me: Tummy Jeronimous Drompf!”

And so on the day, the animal kingdom gathered in the Great Election Hall to begin shouting out the name of the candidate they preferred. Of course, it was not their voices that mattered as much as those of The Chosen Few—a much smaller hand-picked herd. The Chosen Few would ultimately elect the next leader. In truth, this was an antiquated system. One that should have been replaced long ago, but no one had apparently thought to do so. Instead the animals began to yell the name of their candidate, and although most of the animals did not want Mr. Drompf, his supporters were the most adamant. They locked arms and with a gurgling howl began to chant the “Call of the Drompf”…

“DROMPF! … … … DROMPF! … … … Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf: DROMPF! DROMPF!

Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf: DROMPF! DROMPF!”

The chant was simple enough to cut through the clutter and it grabbed the attention of enough of The Chose Few. Soon they began to chant along with the crowd, too:

“Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf: DROMPF! DROMPF!”

The animal kingdom was a bit stunned, including Mr. Drompf himself. But he pulled up his sleeves and began to work hard indeed:

“I have the greatest plans, the best, you’ll see,” he claimed via tweeting bird. “No one knows what I know, no one but me!”

And soon the animal kingdom began to see what Mr. Drompf had in mind:

He hired Mr. V. Russ Mosquito to run the National Blood Bank, the Big Bad Wolf to oversee Housing, a Mr. I.M. Öblverius K. Ostrich as head of the EPA, the seasoned General Kiddo Warhawk as head of the Cabinet for Peace, a Giant Turd for Sanitation Director, and a crypto-fascist pile of nuclear waste as his Chief Strategist. In fact, all of the members of his cabinet were of this merit.

But his genius was not stopped there, though it was all some could bear. For being the great builder that he claimed, he hired construction crews to drain the Swampland he so shamed—using Drompf family-owned bulldozers and Drompf Premium Hosers of course. He drove back the brackish waters and the not-to-be-spoken-of lily pad. Everyone was pleased, and even his critics thought: “He might be all that bad.” He built a giant levee (made of solid gold) to keep it all behind… but only for a short period of time.

By the next day, even more construction workers were brought in to lend a helping hand. Much to the confusion of many, even Mr. Drompf, they started laying pipes that stretched far into dry land. Many animals became uneasy anew, save Mr. Drompf’s supporters who were few. For they mostly lived in silos that insulated them from the outside world.

Then, very suddenly one day, a great roar could be heard. It was no call of the wild; it was not caused by dog, horse, or bird. Someone had released the levee and all the dark putrid waters came rushing through. The swampy water ran down the pipelines with ease, and the horrible roaring sound grew and grew.

Finally, with a great burst! the waters soaked all the animal kingdom, quenching an unwanted thrust.

Infinite City: Blue Vandas (Dorcho’s on 139th and N. Vorschein)

I’m sitting at the counter in Dorcho’s on 139th and N Vorschein. It’s been around since the late 20s. The decor clings to the epoch when diners “mattered” (something an arthouse punk I know said to me), which might make it post-war 1950s. The brown floral linoleum peels at the edges, reminiscent of a dried lakebed, or withering bouquet. The entropy is most visible near the entrance, around corners of the booths, and beneath the door to the bathroom, exposing the burgundy-painted concrete lying beneath. The walls are covered in a crude wood panelling, sections of which have warped around the ventilation system of the exposed kitchen. At night, when the room is colored in tungsten, the walls nearest to the storefront windows show how faded they have become from UV radiation. The two-tone quality accentuates the aesthetic binary of the diner, the counter to the front, the booths to the back.

Dead-center, the kitchen consists of one large blackened griddle with sundry knobs and compartments housing various thawing meats and variations of starchy sides. The decades of grease, dirt, fluids, anything transmitted through the conduit of ill-washed hands have formed a thin coagulum. It gives off a certain blue-collar sheen, or in other words: filthy luster. The health inspector’s grade “Q-” hangs alongside the framed pictures of the past: headlines from local newspapers spanning the centuries next to photos of past store owners as they age, their families, a collage of human continuum.

Blue vandas perch on the windowsill facing the street, and on rainy days (like this one) they produce an exquisite sadness, looking almost longingly out at the rain drops as they hit the glass and fall in sporadic patterns. They are well-cared for, the flowers. Their petals environ the white plastic vases that hold them forming a purple canopy (dark blue in the shade of thunderclouds) with starlight pistils at the centers. Their beauty invokes an emotional, intellectual response, some natural provocation similar to staring into flame.

My waitress, Madonna, tells me they’re the current owner’s favorite. She has a garden of them atop the building. “Cuts ’em every Sunday or so and puts new ones down.” That’s a lot of flowers. “You better believe it.” Madonna tells me some other things, opening up as women do once we realize the other isn’t a threat. This impromptu civility transforms from blue vandas, to awful weather, to my order, to Madonna complimenting me on my glasses and necklace, to a brief conversation about cervicoplasty, and then a historical account of the place: It opened the week the market crashed. It changed hands a few times, from one relative to another, but has been under the ownership of this little ole grandma named Barney for the past fifty years. Her father had a heart attack at the griddle and she inherited the business at nineteen.  Flash forward a few decades, add a couple of kids and ex-husbands later, she now spends most of her days sitting in one of the few booths towards the back speaking Portuguese to the Angolan immigrants who live around the area.

Madonna motions and I turn to notice Barney sitting in the back speaking with an Angolan? as she sips on her coffee? tea? from her skylight blue mug.

“A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E. plays. I know now because Madonna tells me—it’s her iPhone playlist.

I steal looks over at the old owner of Dorcho’s. Her eyes are fixed on her interlocutor. Her lips move calmly as she explains? argues? jokes? with the other person. Her face and hands hint to at least four? five? decades of labor. The word “velleity” pops into mind, though I can’t quite imagine why. Then I look back at the photographs and newspaper clippings over the years, all spread across the wall behind me. Customers conversing, eating, ignoring the captured past hanging muted above them. I look at the stories of the pictures and headlines, I follow them from the door, flitting from framed image to article and other, children growing old, interchangeable men and fashions from one frame to the next, “Best Diner” “Best Burger” “Dorcho’s Fights Back” “75 Years and Counting” “Local Diner Does OK”, all the way to the back where Barney sits.

I follow the points and I counter-reference them with Barney. And I wonder about the in-between moments, all the pluses and minuses that make the sum, the production not the product, those ignored or forgotten moments that are almost as important if not more than the important ones. And for a moment, I start to pull away from myself, staring deep into Barney’s sad beauty, overcome and alive, and start to understand something until Madonna sets my meal down in front of me.

“Surf’s up!”