When I get home, on the other side

My grandmother Susan Lee died this morning. She was 84. She was born as Susan McArdle into a farming family in the area around the village of Katesbridge in County Down, on the road between Banbridge and Newcastle. As an adolescent, she left her family and her home in the countryside to go to Oranges Academy in the hard city of Belfast, where she learned to be a nurse. She came to the United States in 1960, first to Chicago, and then to Boston, and then to Connecticut. She was a profanely tough woman, and one of the most fiercely independent people I have ever come across. Ireland — and specifically when I was next going there — was one of her favorite topics of conversation. It was the last thing we talked about this past Sunday. She wanted me to tell her how much money I would need before going home for Christmas. That is always the term used by Irish immigrants, home. Ireland was very obviously still home for her.

Part of her independence and toughness meant that she could occasionally be resistant, fiercely so, to things that would help her.  Very few people could tell her what to do. She could hold a grudge. For the last 6 months or so, she had been living in the Portland Care and Rehabilitation Centre, being cared for by the kind, gentle, patient elder care workers there. They were for the most part, women of color, unlike my grandmother. They were for the most part immigrants, like my grandmother.

Over the past 6 months, I have been spending an hour with her for 2 or 3 nights a week, and in turn being in the company of the women that cared for her and other elderly residents at the facility. The strength these workers exuded was awe-some to me. Awesome in the old sense. I am in awe of them. I don’t have the strength to perform the labor they do.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that Corey Long — who used a homemade flamethrower to defend an elderly comrade and himself from white supremacists in Charlottesville this past summer — is an elder care worker.

After my grandmother’s death today, I understand with new clarity the ferocity of a picket line I stood on a few times a week in the summer of 2010. My friend Danny and I ran a crew of canvassers for a local advocacy group headquartered in the Parkville neighborhood of Hartford. For an hour most days, the 6 or 7 of us would go over to walk the line with the 1199 Healthcare workers striking at the Park Place Health Center in Hartford. We felt happy to be there, and the workers were mostly happy for the solidarity and tolerated us. The strikers were mostly women from the Caribbean, their shouts at scabs in Wackenhut vans accented with a cadences of the places they came from. Maybe Hartford was home to them. Maybe they still felt that their islands were home, the way my grandmother felt about her own island.

In addition to old union songs, they sang gospel songs on the picket line, refashioned to their strike. The one I remember is an Otis Wright tune:

It soon be done, with troubles and trials
When I get home, on the other side.
I’m gonna shake my hand with the elders
Tell all the people good morning,
Sit down beside my Jesus
I’m gonna sit down and rest a little while

In their version the striking elder care workers replaced the name of Jesus with “residents:” Sit down beside my residents, I’m gonna sit down and rest a little while. The original song is of course about death. These women were fighting to be with their residents, fighting to be beside them in the last days and months of their lives. The work of an elder care worker is something to behold. It is not like other work.

My aunt Susanne and my mother Sonya spent a great deal more time at the Portland Care and Rehabilitation Centre than I did. They both work in health care. Susanne is an oncology social worker, focusing on helping those living with cancer find and access the care they need. She works and labors around slow and painful death on a regular basis. I was born while my mother was in medical school in Belfast in the 1980s. She did her residency in the trauma wards of Troubles-era Belfast hospitals, treating cops and IRA men who had shot each other, while British soldiers stood in the hallways outside, frisking her going to and from hospital beds. Today in America, she treats the mentally ill in a free market libertarian paradise of a state (New Hampshire) that criminally under funds the treatment of those living mental illness, in the midst of an opiate crisis. My grandmother, my mother, and my aunt have all worked to alleviate  suffering in their careers. For their work they have been comparatively well paid.  

The industry that looks after the sick does not pay elder care workers well. The average wage nationwide is slightly higher than $10 an hour. There are few professionals that we put such trust in as those that look after our elderly. They are a rare category of worker in whom we vest our emotional well being. That the nationwide average wage is 2/3rds of a living wage is shameful. My uncle Patrick worked as an elder care worker for a time. It was hell on his back, lifting, stooping, scrubbing, spending the last months of people’s lives with them. He also was not paid enough.

I believe that I will never forget the (mostly) women that cared for my grandmother toward the end of her life. Through their work, they allowed me to be close to my grandmother, allowed me and my family to be good to her. She hadn’t always allowed us to be. My grandmother had a sharp tongue. She could call people names. The care workers who looked after her dealt with this as they prepared and served her food, cleaned and bathed her, helped her use the bathroom. In her death, they gave me the number to call for a priest, and then for a funeral home.

Among my grandmother’s people, people of a certain generation, country people, there is an Irish folk spirituality. There is a belief that when someone dies, a window in the room must be opened. The soul must be allowed to escape. After my grandmother’s death today, my family and I shuffled about in the hallway outside the room where my grandmother’s body was, bumping into souls coming and going. I am sure we made the jobs of the workers there a little more difficult with our clumsy, tearful presence. A kitchen worker appeared with a pot of coffee and pastries. I asked her what her name was and I instantly forgot it.

When you encounter grace in the world, it can lay you out. Grace makes itself apparent in the simple elegance of coffee in the hallway. A health care aide called Melissa — with a thick, swampy North Carolina accent that will always stick in my mind — was grace to me today. In my grandmother’s confusion of the previous weeks, she would occasionally think Melissa was Susanne or Sonya, and call out to them by name. I would nervously correct her. “That’s Melissa, Nana. She works here,” I would plead. My grandmother would get frustrated with me. “That’s okay, Michael, you don’t need to correct her,” Melissa would tell me. This happened perhaps a dozen times. Grace was Melissa giving up her name for my grandmother’s comfort. Melissa hugged me today as I cried.

Elder care workers do this work for a fraction of what they should. Those who look after the sick are made of rare stuff. Those who look after the elderly approach saintliness. As they constantly emit a tenderness and an elegant grace to those under their care, today I must send some back. Love and solidarity to all the elder care workers, nurses, nurses aides, phlebotomists, nursing home cooks. Love to those who work to allow people’s souls to escape the troubles and trials of this world, who work to allow families’ souls to find each other. 

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Crumpled Up Paper Tigers

The Gazette is having some difficulty. The newspaper is having a very tough time trying to decide what, exactly, it is that Trans activist Esteban Torres did to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at Thursday’s vigil for Orlando’s dead in Montreal’s Gay Village.

We know, of course, that Torres threw a crumpled up piece of paper at the Premier, and shouted “Revolucion” into the microphone. The action is on video and there were hundreds or even thousands of witnesses. There is little confusion about the events of the matter. But what the Gazette is struggling with is how to term the event.
To begin with, it was definitely an “incident.” Of this the Gazette is sure. Here it is in the headline that accompanies the article.  

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Then however, in the caption to a photo of Torres in a police chokehold, Torres’s throwing of the paper becomes a “scene that required his arrest.” A criminal scene, a scene requiring that Torres’ neck be placed in the vicegrip of a police forearm.

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The lede of the story offers a third verb: “accosted.”

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Two graphs later, and there is a fourth verb: “approached.”

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In the following graph, reporting what actually took place, the Gazette gives us a verb resembling what actually took place:

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The issue of slapping is called forth, even though there is video showing no such attempt.

By the sixth paragraph of the Gazette’s story, “incident,” “scene,” and paper whipping have given way to a new and very different word: “attack.”

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Maybe attack  was the word used by the Sûreté du Québec spokesperson. Maybe not. We don’t know. There are no quotes around the word in the article to indicate if it was police or the newspaper that introduced the word.
Then in another photo caption, the word now being used by prosecutors to charge Torres, rears its head: assault.

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Eric Pineault, the president of Fierté Montreal (which organized the event), characterizes not just the paper-ball-incident, but Torres as a human being. “I didn’t know he was violent,” Pineault told the newspaper.

Pineault added, “There was no damage but I condemn this act. It’s not with violence we will advance our rights. It rolls them back. It’s really out of place.”

Now we are treated to phantom violence. There was no damage, but it was violence. There was no violence but there is violence.

As Marc-André Cyr points out at Ricochet, Fredy Villanueva would have loved to have been “attacked” by a crumpled up ball of paper, rather than the bullets he was actually attacked by.

Embedded in a thoroughly silly story waffling about whether or not politicians have enough security the next day, the paper inexplicably mystifies and obscures what happened to Couillard. Whereas the paper had reported on the Thursday the 16th that Torres “whipped what appeared to be a crumpled piece of paper” at the Premier, by Friday the 17th, the paper reports with considerably less clarity and more menace, that Torres threw a black object at Couillard.

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Incident becomes a scene becomes an attack becomes an attempted assault.

A piece of paper becomes a black object.

Such is the shape shifting violence of crumpled up pieces of paper that the SPVM might throw them at protesters the next time they want them off the streets. 

 

 

Guilt Upon the Body

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This originally appeared on hazlitt.net

The Hillsborough Disaster and the inquest into it were about lying cops. After 27 years, the right words are finally being used to talk about the dead.

The lasting image is one of bodies, in shapes and places no body should ever be. A leg swings up, trying to catch the edge of a balcony, hands grasping. Fingers wrap around the bars of a cage in desperation. Chests and lungs have no room to expand to take in breath, and bodies in motion become lifeless and still. Hypoxic, their airways crushed, the bodies are loaded onto advertising hoardings, carried across a football pitch, a place where few bodies are ever permitted. The sacredness of the pitch collapsed, morphing into a makeshift trauma ward, as emergency medicine replaced the game they had all come to see.

Before we see the bodies, we see only faces, an ocean of faces, swaying and pulsing and singing, a motion and a sound that, now, after, sicken. The crush begins. The yellow PRESTO Engineers Cutting Tools sign, cluttered with the frantic limbs of those escaping, its colour and typography indistinguishable in memory from the bodies falling over it, hangs over so many images. The befores, the durings, the afters. The pale grey of the terrace concrete, the blue of the painted cages, the green of the pitch, the black text of the ads. The grainy footage coming across television screens of that day in Sheffield is all bodies and words, bodies and words. Too many bodies, and all the wrong words.

Read the full essay here.

New Haven Swamp Roots Revival

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This piece was written for the great new zine Put Down Your Phone, New Haven

Here’s a thing about Connecticut: It occasionally feels as if we are at the periphery of something. Like we’re at the edge of the New York thing. Maybe it feels like a place between Boston and New York things. I propose a different geographic orientation, one that is more interesting: This is where the water drains down into the sea. We’re in the swamp down here.

The last show I saw at the tragically short lived Up All Night Collective in North Haven was a show featuring three bands that likely wouldn’t booked to play with each other anywhere else. The first set was Death Black Birds, whose alt-country set that had slow, rolling guitar solos and a Neil Young cover. I drank whiskey out of a beer can and swayed with my eyes closed. Next was Ambitions. I opened my eyes and made fists and sang along. And then the mighty Make Do and Mend reminded me what 2008 was like. I’d missed that. Felt like Wallingford. Ambitions with its neo-youth crew and MDAM with its pop punk and the Death Blacks with their twang didn’t sound like each other, but they all sounded like Connecticut. RiP UANC.

Death Black Birds, along with Bilge Rat, Laundry Day, Copper Blue, and Swamp Yankee are some of the new-ish bands currently defining for me what constitutes a “Connecticut sound” in a post-Wamleg reality. Our state gets its name from the Mohegan word Quinetucket, which I think means “beside the long tidal river.” To speak with tongues of those that came before us, ‘Connecticut’ means a swampy, watery place.’ That’s what this new music sounds like to me.

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade living north of Connecticut — either further north in New England, or all the way up in Quebec. So I’m usually watching the Connecticut River flow south and pool up in the marshlands of where I grew up. If we take New England as a unit (which we should), and consider the New York border as the edge of the earth (because fuck New York), we’re at the bottom down here. The woodsy folk of Vermont and New Hampshire, the tough guy hardcore of Boston and Brockton, the fuzzed out post-punk of Western Mass, and probably even the noise stuff out of Providence all works pretty well down here. Everything from New England drains down into us, pooling and mixing. (This is a better way to think of us, rather than as ‘a place between.’)

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While crossing a number of musical boundaries — you couldn’t really say that any of them really sound like the others — all these bands incorporate a certain earthiness, and they all would (or do) sound good on shows together. I’ll take them in order of how the thoughts came to me.

The only voice you hear on Danny Ravizza and John Longyear’s new Swamp Yankee tape Kelo v. New London, is that of Susette Kelo talking about Pfizer Pharmaceuticals getting ready to knock down her home. What follows are five tracks of instrumental finger-picking guitar accompanied by a sometimes mournful sometimes joyous cello. I’ve been hearing versions of these tunes for a while, but what I was entirely unprepared for in this recording is the anger. A holdover perhaps from the hardcore that we were all surrounded by, the guitar plucks and cello crescendos are buttressed, help up against the wind, by a fury. It’s a soundtrack to a very specific landscape: the horrors of development policy in Connecticut. It’s been said that American empire  destroys its own cities as well as others. Swamp Yankee knows this. They’ve written an album about how that works in Connecticut.

Death Black Birds is one of my favorite bands to come out of Connecticut in a while. They take the most alt-country elements of their previous band, Baby Grand (RIP), and spin them into a slow burning, dripping twang. Like Swamp Yankee, the songs on the first EP, 2014’s Shouldn’t Be and Luna from 2015 are concerned in a big way with landscape, though less specifically about Connecticut. I listened to the first EP a lot this summer while sitting in traffic on hot windy nights smelling the fresh tar from the repaving they were doing on 91. Those were nice drives. Pedal steel guitar is good for the summer. Luna, since it came out in October, has filled some of the void left by the death of Jason Molina. Like Molina, Death Black Birds’ songs are about the intersection of the landscape and the body: the blood and the moon, the stars and the swingin’ low from them. Luna is structured around its fourth track, the 13 minute epic “Shane.” The song is like a wave, and when it finally crests and breaks, it rips you under.  

Who better to navigate the dark waters of the Connecticut swamp then a rat that lives in the dank hulls of a ship, a Bilge Rat? Mike Kusek’s loopy singing voice translates well from his soft acoustic folk songs to the slow building post-punk of Bilge Rat. The new EP Townie Garbage also brings us to the theme very important for all these bands, that identity of being a townie; of being one who is from here, who was here before you and will stay after you go.

Alex Burnet in Laundry Day sings an important question on the heartbreakingly sad and beautiful “Hey How’s Heaven?”: Do they sing songs? Are there townie bars? Copper Blue has a smokey, whiskey drunk song called “Townie Fucker Blues.” The last tune on Bilge Rat’s EP as much as describes a night at Three Sheets: “Look at the townies, they bike in the bar room, write on chalk boards and knock each other down.”

Being a townie in New Haven is an important identifier, with so many Yale kids running around. As I’ve learned, people outside New Haven know the city for Yale and Yale alone, while New Haven townies never pay Yale much mind, except to rage at it. Three Sheets is an important institution in this regard. It feels as though it centers us. The people from all these bands drink there and play their music there. It feels like a downtown respite from Yale’s constant creep.

These are townie tunes. And I’m glad for them. They remind me of home and keep me going through the Quebec winter.

Miles Davis helps me mourn better than a flag

In the most famous scene of Louis Malle’s 1958 noir Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, Jeanne Moreau’s character drifts along blurry boulevards, directionless in the Paris night. The camera stays fixated on her, and her face displays at once an odd combination of desperation, determination, and exhaustion. Miles Davis’ trumpet — which he played while watching the footage — keens, mirroring her loneliness. At one point Moreau shakes her head “no,” as if to both keep herself awake and deny the onset of her new reality. As she passes a parked car, she brushes her fingers against the headlight, as if to remind herself the world is still there.

She is looking for someone, someone she thinks she has lost. “Julien” she gasps, thinking she has found him, but her eyes deceive her. A sad finality creeps into her face as she gazes into a store’s lit up window display. The scene makes an unfamiliar and unsettling inversion of that most beautiful of Paris traditions. She has been walking the city, looking for hours. 

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I used to watch that scene to remind me of the beauty of that city, of visiting it as a child and falling in love with it. Now the scene makes me think of the Bataclan. It makes me think of the hundreds or maybe thousands of mothers, brothers, fathers, sisters, and sweethearts who lived out this scene for real on the streets of Paris this past weekend. Drifting, exhausted after hours of looking for those they weren’t sure were still alive, after the series of coordinated attacks that have left at least 129 dead.

Malle’s scene illustrates a basic truth: that much of what mourning entails is a profound, deep, and almost bottomless uneasiness. After a loss, and especially after losses that come suddenly or through trauma, the world becomes a different and unfamiliar place. Nothing feels comfortable or friendly. For some, the city or the world will never regain its familiarity. Time is cleaved into the before, and the after. Like Moreau’s character, our senses try to deny this new reality. We recognize people on the street we know to be gone, and call out to them in our minds.

For me, one of the difficult things about the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 — in which a gunman shot and killed his mother and then 26 children and educators and then himself — was the way in which I began to see familiar faces on the news. There was Lt. Paul Vance, the Connecticut state police spokesman who I had previously interviewed while working as a reporter in the state capitol just a few months before. There was the Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, the effervescent, ebullient, beloved lefty who has been my congresswoman since the early 90s. On CNN, that terrible kaleidoscope of horrors, I watched these familiar faces speak with familiar voices about unfamiliar and horrible things. It was a personally familiar set of people who spoke from my small corner of the world about one of the worst mass shootings the country had ever witnessed. The uneasiness from that day will stay with me for a long, long time.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks Parisians have gathered together in massive groups in the Place de la Republique, just blocks from the Bataclan concert hall where most of the bloodshed took place. These gatherings, the #PortesOuverte hashtag, and the spontaneous singing of Le Marseillaise in the aftermath of the attacks point to another truth about loss and trauma captured in Moreau’s face and in Miles’ trumpet: the loneliness.

Of course the other thing captured by the waving of flags and the singing of national anthems is the other truly predictable outcome of traumas like the one the people of Paris have experienced: the nationalism. Those who sing Le Marseillaise must also sing of ‘impure blood,’ watering their furrows: Qu’un sang impur/ Abreuve nos sillons.

François Hollande took to the airwaves Friday night to announce a war that would be “pitiless,” waged by “a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow.”

And there, in Hollande’s tough talk, is the sickening dissonance embedded in the use of nationalism to mourn. To mourn is to acknowledge that things have changed, that the loss is final. Those who died had a real presence in this world, and it will be different without them. They will not return. 

I cannot hate the person that relies on a flag. I understand and respect that different people have different ways of grieving. Flags are occasionally symbols of solidarity. But here, the flag seeks to say nothing has changed.  As a perhaps understandable notion of defiance, the flag reinserts the familiarity we have lost. Le Tricolore on facebooks, the singing of Le Marseillaise, the chants of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A’: all try to say ‘they have not beaten us,’ but mostly just manage ‘things have not changed.’ But things have indeed changed. People are dead. Refugees fleeing bombs will be imprisoned at the gates of Europe, French Muslims will be targeted, their mosques burnt. The Paris banlieues with their Cités will be further pushed from the city.

In announcing his bombing campaign, Hollande used the language of war and empire (which is also the language of exchange) to enact what the flag demands: to balance the books of death, to square accounts by fire. 

In Sandy Hook, Connecticut, the town decided to demolish the school where the massacre took place. This was a mourning that acknowledged that nothing would ever be the same. The school could never exist again. Of course, one of the literary devices the Gospels use to emphasize the crucifixion of Christ — the central moment of Christianity — is the tearing of a flag.

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51)

The flag robs us of true mourning. It surprises no one but saddens many that the Bradenburg Gate, the Empire State building, the great icons of the cities of the west did not light up with the green cedar of Lebanon, where ISIS killed 43 in Bourj el-Barajneh on Thursday, near the neighborhood shelled by Israel ten years ago. Likewise the cities of empire do not weep for this weekend’s dead in Baghdad. 

A friend — who writes to me from the 11th Arrondissement and is thankfully alright — points out that some people, in a heartbreakingly sincere attempt to mourn the dead of Beirut as well as those of Paris, have merged the Lebanese flag with the French flag for a Facebook filter, and have unwittingly recreated the colonial flag.

In addition to the attacks on Beirut and Paris, two cities again linked by empire and blood, this week also saw Remembrance Day, the planned collective mourning for the dead of the battlefields of Europe during World War I. The traditional symbol of Remembrance Day is of course the poppy. As we know, the poppy has become a tool used to deepen and extend the empire, rather than to mourn its victims. Some have pointed out that Remembrance Day is occasionally called ‘Armistice Day,’ as a throwback to a time when wars were thought to end.

And this is perhaps a difference between the ‘remembrance’ of nationalism, and the ‘mourning’ of flesh and blood people. The remembering demanded by the flag prevents us from escaping the past. It is a remembering that slithers up and coils itself around the throat of the present. This is a remembrance that prevents us from imagining a future.
Mourning is important. It moves us toward healing. Defend mourning against the state that would steal it from us. Mourning does not abide a flag.

of course he did

Deep down, we always knew that David Cameron had fucked a pig. We knew all along that the executive authority of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was — and thus will ever be — a man who fucks pigs. It could never have been any other way. Through the years of austerity, of a Thatcher with a humanoid face, of racist dogwhistles, it was always plain to see, if only we’d had the courage to see, that the Etonian was a pigfuck.

This is not some private pathology of the leader of the Tory party. That could be forgiven or ignored. No, this was an act (if this new biography is to be believed, of course) that was performed for the sake of an elite coterie of the ruling class. Cameron thought it necessary to fuck a pig to bind himself to them, and them to him. Cameron fucked a pig to attain and to maintain power. He was not desperate. He could have done a million things other than join the Piers Gaveston society. But he thought it necessary. And this is what we’ve always known about him. He was never someone who was not capable of fucking a pig.

If you already know the answers to your questions, then why ask?

Because what actually is austerity, other than an act of crass depravity, performed for the sake of the elite? Austerity proves to the powerful how powerful they are. Is austerity any different than burning a £50 note in front of a homeless man, except on a massive scale? Cameron’s act with the pig was an act of semi-private, semi-public savagery, performed in the service of power. He did so in order to gain acceptance to the secret societies that serve to prepare people like him for the savageries of maintaining power in the adult world.

The Value of Aylan Kurdi

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A Chicago Tribune headline: “A Tweet reminds the world: Steve Jobs was a Syrian migrant’s child.”

The tweet reminded us.

It has reminded us that it is a bad thing when the body of a Syrian child named Aylan Kurdi washes up on the shores of Turkey, the child not having made it to the safer parts of the world. These babies should be rescued, the tweet has reminded us.

They should be rescued — not because they are the young form of the human species, and the tiny red t-shirt captures the joy and trust in the world specific to a 3-year-old — but because they may one day invent iPhones, and become iconic symbols of innovation, design, and disruption.

David Galbraith, the tech-human who tweeted the tweet, tells the Chicago Tribune:

“It seemed to be that what the most precious thing in the world, a small child, was washed up on the sea shore like a discarded object of no value, when a child with a parent of the same nationality, given opportunity had created the largest company in the entire world. And here we are seeing an acrimonious debate, about stopping migrants.”

The tweet reminded us, because we’d forgotten. We had forgotten that Syrian babies may, someday, triumph and become something more than Syrian babies. They might someday become objects of value, rather than discarded objects of no value.  We had gotten so lost in the images of despair and tragedy that we had stopped thinking rationally. We were getting too angry about the walls constructed in our world. The thinking was becoming muddled by pain and rage. The tweet has reminded us to think strategically about all of this.

Picture the Liberal Humanists of the west standing out on the beach, staring through binoculars at a boat of refugees:  What wants, what needs, what fulfillment of American desires, what secret values lurk in the bodies of these people packed in ships on the horizon? What can they do for me? 

Aylan Kurdi should’ve been rescued because he might’ve become Steve Jobs. Not because he was Aylan Kurdi. Not because he was a 3-year-old boy.

How do you feel?

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How does the American propensity toward random mass shootings make you feel? Burn a bundle of sage while making the sign of the cross. Face south.

How does the possible nuclear deal with Iran make you feel? Resembling a wolf as much as possible, howl at the moon during the fall equinox.

How does the ongoing California water crisis make you feel? Tweet a selfie that best encapsulates the despair of a dying planet. Tweet it with the hashtag #thirstyforchange

How does the European migrant crisis make you feel? Lay down in the middle of a circle of candles in your bedroom with the lights off. Make sure your arms, head, and feet are all pointing in the cardinal directions. Recite your favorite verse from the book of Revelations until you feel satisfied. Have a friend live tweet.

How does criminal justice reform make you feel? Put your fist as far into your mouth as possible and try to make sounds that express something before you vomit.

How does police impunity make you feel? Construct a doll out of twigs, mud, and twine. Place the doll in the middle of a field on the first Thursday after the harvest moon. Instagram it with #pleasestop #please

How does school desegregation make you feel? Draw a small amount of your own blood. Five mLs will do. Smear the blood on an ace of diamonds playing card. Afix the card to the weather vane atop your house if you have one. Wait for spring.

How does the partially failed promise of the Arab spring make you feel? Deprive yourself of senses as much as possible by sitting in a salt water room temperature bath while listening to white noise. Think of your childhood. After an hour, Instagram it with the hashtag #ReadyForHillary

How does the restructuring of bankruptcy law by the Republican-led congress in the early 2000s make you feel? Obtain three hairs from the tale of a pregnant cat. A black cat is preferable, but any pregant cat will do. Boil some holy water. Mix the cat’s hair, the holy water, and the dust from a fallow field into a paste. Rub the paste on your face and chest.

But above all, vote!

Broadway: remade, rebuilt, re-ruined

Sunday May 17 was Graduation day for Yale University. The day is more properly called commencement, and refers to the time when Yale graduates commence the part of their lives where they don’t live in New Haven. The day was marked by the full closure of several blocks of downtown New Haven, massive police presence, and sun dresses. The interchange of I-91 and I-95 was completely closed for a full half hour to allow for the escape of Joe Biden, who had addressed the graduating class.

I was on the corner of York Street and Broadway when Biden’s motorcade happened to pass. It’s been a pastime of many in New Haven to complain that Yale’s recent restructuring of the Broadway strip has been to effectively keep the non-white and poorer populations of the predominantly Black Dixwell neighborhood away from Yale. This was at the very least the result, if not the outright goal, of the University’s buying up of most of the property on the block. An article in Sunday’s paper, however, laid bare the racism at the heart of Yale’s machinations. Ethnic and economic cleansing was the desire as well as the result.

Sunday’s edition of the New Haven Register featured a front page with two stories both running several thousand words in length about what a great place Yale is, and what the school has done for New Haven. You could read in the paper what the cops and the secret service were telling you in the street through barricades and wags of the finger. Stay away, this is not for you.

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The stories hung under the massive blue headline IVY + ELM, a photo of the Sterling Memorial Library and the text: Yale pumps more than $2B a year into city, region. The headline cleverly merges the city and the region as if the divided politics of the two in real life isn’t one of the big problems about urban policy in Connecticut.

One of the stories, by Yale beat reporter Ed Stannard, ran just over 3,000 words. The headline in the print edition gave us two words for the act Yale has performed upon Broadway. “Yale the star of rebuilding Broadway,” read the print version, while the web version of the story reads “Yale University and New Haven team up to remake Broadway for retail, restaurants.” Already there are some interesting differences between the version of the story meant for single day consumption, and the version archived to the internet.

“Remake” means “make something again, or differently.” Rebuild means build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.” So which act has Yale performed upon Broadway?

Yale’s Vice President for New Haven Affairs Bruce Alexander, of whom the article is essentially a profile, gives us yet a third word for the act Yale has performed upon Broadway. From the article:

“Alexander said he was walking on York Street near Broadway and noticing litter and storefronts such as barbershops and liquor stores. Since Yalies went through the area on their way to the Yale Co-op, he thought it needed an upgrade.”

An upgrade. A remake. A rebuild.

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The Broadway of the 80s (?)

When was Broadway damaged or destroyed so as to be rebuilt? Why would the Sunday print edition of the paper need to imply that it was? The headline and the article itself was quite obviously geared toward the parents of Yale students in town for the weekend, looking for a souvenir of the day. The choice of headline, articles, and layout reflects what is a truism about Connecticut’s cities in general: they are not built for the people that live in them, especially in the era of late capitalism.

The article doesn’t say when Alexander had this stroll along York Street and slouched toward Broadway, but Alexander has been Yale’s downtown property man since the late 1990s.  Before he came to Yale, Alexander negotiated with cities throughout America to build malls for the Rouse Company. The complaint of many that Broadway now feels like a mall rather than a city block is not a curmudgeonly gripe about the good ol’ days: that has been Yale’s goal for Broadway from the start.

Brian McGrath, the business manager of Chapel West Special Services District — a submunicipal development organization with its own taxation and zoning policies, currently trying to change the name of the Dwight neighborhood to Chapel West — illuminated to the Yale Herald in 2012 Yale’s philosophy behind the redevelopment.

If you want synergy, and you want the maximum number of customers, you need to run it like a mall. You need everyone opening and closing at the same time. You have some stores that close early? That’s going to ruin your mall. You can’t have a customer leaving trash on the sidewalk—that’s going to ruin your mall. You can’t have a customer attracting bums—that’s going to ruin your mall.”

This fear of their mall being ruined led Yale to force out a number of undesirable businesses along the road. Streetview on Google Maps has a feature which allows you to take a cyberstroll down Broadway and compare what the street looked like in 2008 to what it looks like now. The Yale Co-op, a locally owned bookstore, was forced out in favor of a Barnes & Noble branch. Next door, the new Apple store gleams into the night, and happily offers workshops to the New Haven Police Department. Next to the Apple store is the building York Sq Cinema used to share with a store selling Yale themed clothing. York Sq closed in 2005 and the building is now entirely Campus Customs. Cutler’s Record Store. Quality Wine and Liquors. Even the Au Bon Pain at the intersection with York was seen to be not fit for Yale’s purposes when Yale decided not to renew its lease back in 2013.

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The Broadway of the mind

Yale has had varying degrees of involvement with the closure of these businesses — Yale said it loved Cutler’s — but at the very least, the Art House theater, record store crowd ain’t the J Crew Kiko Milano crowd.

There were usually homeless people outside or inside the Au Bon Pain. Now they are gone. No longer will the homeless of New Haven be allowed to ruin the mall. Now the location is a “Emporium DNA,” where you can get a pair of shiny trousers for the price of a month’s rent.

But for Win Davis, the executive Director of the Town Green Special Services District,  it is the Apple store that is the jewel in the shitcrown that is the new Broadway The store on Broadway is “a huge get. … That’s a huge bellwether for our retail community and what is difficult about retail and something that Yale has helped us overcome is talking with people and getting people to come to town despite the census data.”

There are only two possibilities for what “despite the census data” means here: either despite the people of color, or despite the poor people. In New Haven’s segregation, there is significant overlap between the two categories.

Poor people will not be allowed to ruin the mall. People of color will not be allowed to ruin the mall. Barbershops will not be allowed to ruin the mall. New Haven is a mall and Yale kids are its customers.

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The Broadway ripe for ruin

It is further unclear in the above quote which “people” Davis was trying to convince to come to New Haven. Either he means national chains who want to sell their high-end shit despite the fact that 25% of New Haven residents live below the poverty line, or suburban types who would come into town, but have been looking at the census data and doing reconnaissance on the skin color of the people that live there and they don’t like what they see. Let us keep the community away so we can bring in a retail community, which along with synergy is an unspeakably horrible phrase that only signals the destruction of things we hold dear.

The remaking of Broadway as a mall is in fact a very old tradition in New Haven, representing no new ideas. As Mandi Isaacs Jackson details in her book Model City Blues, the 1960s saw an effort to “remake” New Haven as “New England’s Newest City,” as if there was no New Haven that existed before.

Here’s a 1960 pamphlet from New Haven’s Redevelopment Agency replicated in Jackson’s book, with an army of zombie housewife shoppers lurching toward New Haven.

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look out

As Jackson writes,

“[G]eographer Don Mitchell argues that inherent in spaces like the new downtown “shopping mecca” is the ‘percieved need for order, surveillance, and control over the behavior of the public.’ The primary aim of corporate planners, like those who planned New Haven’s new downtown shopping, parking, and hotel center, argued Mitchell, was to impose ‘limits and controls on spatial interaction.’ In this way, public spaces such as malls, shopping centers, and redeveloped downtowns become what Mitchell calls ‘spaces of controlled spectacle.’ But Mitchell also asserts that such spaces have never actually been inclusive, even in their most basic early forms–such as the forum of ancient Rome of the colonial town square. It was only through what he calls ‘concerted social protest and conflict’ that they were opened up. ‘Spaces were only public,’ he asserts, ‘to the degree that they were taken and made public.’”

Broadway must be made public again. They’ve ruined Broadway by making it a mall. We have to ruin it back.

Later Jackson quotes historian Eric Hobsbawm, who says that “the rebuilding and reorganization of cities is one of three strategies employed by the state to counter urban insurrections.”

Indeed, during New Haven’s last major insurrection of May Day 1970, Liggett’s (where the $1000 shiny pants store is now) boarded up and demanded freedom for the imprisoned Black Panthers of the city.

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Broadway’s past and possible future

Broadway is just one block in Yale’s master plan. Of Yale’s properties, only $108 million’s worth is taxable, bringing in $4.49 million in tax into New Haven. Yale owns a separate $2.5 billion dollars worth of property that goes untaxed. Here is a map of their empire. The arguments defending Yale’s designs on large parts of the city usually feature some variation of this: “New Haven without Yale would be Bridgeport or Hartford.” Whether this is more insulting and condescending to the people of New Haven who have no involvement with Yale, or to the people of Hartford and Bridgeport is an open question. The other argument is often “We need Yale for the money it brings in to the city.” This argument is a variation on the first, and we hear it parroted anytime Yale buys up another street (literally), or forces out a locally owned store for a high-end chain.

This is the nerdish warbling of a company stooge, and it makes us all look like assholes. As a friend pointed out in a Facebook discussion about this, that argument almost completely overlooks the fact that the money Yale brings into New Haven is meant to be circulated within Yale’s properties. The whole point of the rebranding of Chapel Street and Broadway as “The Shops at Yale” is that Yale money never gets spent at something that is not Yale-owned, and furthermore to keep non Yale people away from the area. (Observe the the closing of the Anchor, as an example.) The other work the argument performs is that it turns every complaint about Yale’s behavior into an argument about Yale’s existence. This this the stockholm syndrome of a hostage. We need them, so we can’t criticize them.

Certainly it strikes me as the same type of thinking that would operate in the coal towns of Appalachia, where, robbed and exploited by the company store, the townsfolk plead with the company to be nice to them.

Is New Haven a place of its own, or is it a company town? (And let’s be clear: Yale is a company as much as or even more than it is a University. Its University Properties real estate holding company has done things like bought out locally owned stores and left the storefront vacant because they didn’t like the fact that booze was being sold so close to campus.)

What is the purpose of New Haven? Is it for the people that live there to be able to live happy lives, or is it for Yale to crank out raw materials and provide these raw materials with ample shopping opportunities? Let’s ruin the mall. They haven’t won yet. Skate it like Jim Greco did in the 1990s. Wear punk patches. Be drunk. Sneer. Don’t buy. Don’t cede.

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A protester in Burundi, in the streets against President Nkurunziza’s third term. Photo: Phil Moore/AFP

“In brief: Swagger is the manifested expression of a deferral, a deferral of rage’s coming undone, coming apart, coming out. Of rage becoming raging. It is the held-out appearance of holding back what rage cannot be, cannot do while still being rage. Not just baring its teeth, but becoming the snarling consumption of whatever exists at a time.

And we swagger because we do not know how to part with our rage, which we cherish and press cutting close, but we learn to swagger — or rather, we’re swaggered, briefly, while the wind blows and things burn and our hands are full — because we know it darkly all the same.

Because what you have or don’t have, or what has you or doesn’t (or better: what has us and you feel as a hot stone in your intestines) is rage, and swagger is the just momentary sense — and the walk with it, and the angle of the head, and how a group surges briefly into view — of containing rage, being able to let it go or not. “

-Evan Calder Williams, Rage and Swagger, from Roman Letters (2011)

Walls that fall and walls that don’t

The 30 seconds of a commercial come across the television and have the effect of a half-asleep half-woken dream. A quick stutter step of the heart, a stubbed toe while climbing a flight of steps, and a sharp intake of breath. A hiccup. What was that? We are jolted awake, frightened and a bit confused.

The trouble is, however, that the short sharp violences are no longer nightmares but are bleeding into the waking world. The hallucinations designed to make to get us buy and/or kill have mutated.

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Here’s a wall. It is mudbrick, there is a dusty pickup truck with broken windows on the left and some sort of ruined contraption with wheels on the right. The contraption is covered with dirty blankets that were once colorful and once maybe kept someone warm. It is calm and still. There are some goats and sheep who bleat. A deep voice tells us about walls:

“Walls are barriers. They divide, separate, segregate. We’ve seen walls before.”

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Then there is a bloodless explosion. The rock and debris slam into the camera lens, and several men with guns suddenly pour through the newly destroyed wall like a swarm of bees and start shooting, seemingly at nothing, maybe the goats. There are no screams as the man on the right kneels and fires his rifle.

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“They always fall,” the ad concludes.

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Even an imperialist clock is right twice a day.

An experiment: Mute the ad and watch it. There are the Marines with their tanks and helicopters destroying things and shooting stuff. Horrific though it is, it makes cognitive sense. We’ve seen that before. Then the logo of the Marines appears. The American military shoots things and blows stuff up. This is well known.

But then close your eyes and listen to the voice over. No one actually says “Marines.” What do you see when the voice talks about walls? “We’ve seen walls before. They always fall.” If I ignore the gunshots, I see a lovely happy raccoon with a hacksaw and some nice birds flying away with barbed wire from a poster for a Montreal anarchist march against the deportation of immigrants.

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The ad operates on several levels of confusion, and that is exactly the point.

The words divide, separate, and segregate of course trigger for many Americans images of the Black Freedom struggle of Black people in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s to be treated as human beings. American segregation, then as now, was not primarily enforced by walls (though it sometimes was). It was and is primarily a dense network of social codes and economic relations that exist without the use of walls. Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” is not about a wall on 110th Street. It is rather about the invisible boundaries of American life that, while of course policed by violence, retain their power precisely because there is no wall.

The Civil Rights movement which the ad references against segregation and the violence that enforced it was, to be sure, a democratic uprising against the white terror of the state. The movement against segregation is here, through the ad, mobilized as being part of a tradition which now somehow magically includes the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Advertising on behalf of the government has been called propaganda, but more simply stated it is Public Relations. PR is the process of selling the actions of the powerful to those bodies whom power acts upon. As Stuart Ewen has written in his book PR!: A Social History of Spin, public relations grew as response to the democratic movements of the early 20th Century. He writes of a man called Ivy Lee, one of the early PR gurus. Lee famously warned the businesses for whom he worked, “the crowd is now in the saddle. The people now rule. We have substituted for the divine right of kings the divine right of the multitude.” As Ewen explains, “the history of corporate PR starts as a response to the threat of democracy and the need to create some kind of ideological link between the interests of big business and the interests of ordinary Americans.”

Here in the ad, the rhetoric arising from the threat of democracy — the civil rights movement, or even more contemporary activism around separation — has been captured, retrofitted, and redeployed.

The ad tries to reference the liberation of persons from structures that existed primarily without the use of walls, but of course there are still many walls. In real life, the walls that divide, separate, and segregate referenced by the ad are functions of states, and the borders needed to define and construct the state. The most famous wall that fell down, in the mind of the American military-media complex, is of course the Berlin wall. The images of East Berliners taking the sledgehammer to the wall and peeking out the other side have been etched on the mind of the world — and certainly Americans after decades of Cold War media — as a symbol of human triumph over the totalitarian state. This is clearly the primary association the ad is drawing on, because it is far easier to link the American military to the fall of that wall and the Iron Curtain in general.

So the ad performs a neat trick, the contortionism of which is so insidious it must be named. The ad men have fused the metaphorical use of the word wall or barrier in referring to these wall-less systems, with the physical walls whose destruction we might associate with liberation. It links the struggle against segregation in the United States to the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(The coding the ad deploys with the rusty jeep and the mudbrick wall and the goat are too obvious to even really be considered implicit. The ruined wall is explicitly in the Middle East or Africa, not in America or Europe.)

***

Among the many lies the ad tells is that walls always fall. Sometimes walls go up. Some of the walls that today divide, separate, and segregate are in the West Bank, in Belfast, and on the U.S.-Mexico border. These are walls the U.S. Marine Corps has no interest in taking down, and will never take down. In the West Bank and on the Mexican border, the American military explicitly or implicitly reinforces these walls.

The ad is the work of the Atlanta office of J. Walter Thompson, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. (Also the same ad agency which gave us a character called Rastus the Chef,  Aunt Jemima, and the binding of salad to the nation-state.) In a statement to the publication Adweek, which tracks the advertising industry, the account manager Sean McNeely says “Young people from all walks of life see America differently, but its enduring values anchor them in their call to serve.” On J. Walter Thompson’s website, in describing this latest ad campaign, the company explains further that:

at a time of division and conflicting views of what it means to be an American, … [the ad campaign] modernizes traditional symbols of patriotism, reinforcing that the Marine Corps defends the ideals that make Americans proud—such as freedom and multiculturalism—and making a direct connection between the Corps and events in our nation’s history where social progress was made.”

So, young Americans see America differently, and there are conflicting views about what it means to be an American. Naturally. But what they have in common is they all see walls and all walls fall, not because of social movements and struggle but because they are exploded by the Marine Corps.

The language of “conflicting views of what it means to be an American” is particularly interesting. It hints at the fact that we all have different relationships to that thing called “America.” For some people, America is police violence. For some, it is the military. For some, America is the thing which has built a wall that separates us from our family south of the border, that would deport a child and break up a family over a set of papers, that would call our existence illegal. The Marine Corps, or at least the ad agency it has contracted to since the 1940s, has come to this understanding. No matter our relationship to power in America though, we can all join the Corps. Oo rah. So some walls are going up and some are coming down. Sometimes walls divide and segregate.

Sometimes though, they are the walls of your house.

If the kidnapping of the language of liberation in the Marine Corps ad is upsetting, the IDF are operating on an entirely other level. A friend on Facebook points out a 2006 (!) piece from Eyal Weizman in Frieze magazine. IDF commanders in the West Bank and Gaza, it seems, are cribbing from Deleuze, Guattari, and Debord’s theories of the city for use in their occupation of the Palestinian territories. One particular commander theorizes about a reimagining of the use of space in the city. A wall is a barrier that separates indeed, but it separates the soldier from the space he needs to occupy. Therefore it must fall.

The IDF commander: “The enemy [the Palestinian resistance] interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”

If you are a Palestinian for whom these walls constitute a home, a place of safety, this creative re-imagining of walls is horrific. A Palestinian woman quoted in the article: 

‘Imagine it – you’re sitting in your living-room, which you know so well; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal, and suddenly that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else. The children are screaming, panicking. Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror experienced by a five-year-old child as four, six, eight, 12 soldiers, their faces painted black, sub-machine-guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?”

While the article is worth reading in full, this passage from Weizman is illustrative: “when the military ‘talks’ (as every military does) to the enemy, theory could be understood as a particularly intimidating weapon of ‘shock and awe’, the message being: ‘You will never even understand that which kills you.’”

So if we return to the advertisement, the dissonance of the voiceover with the image is a mindfuck, and it is meant to be. Our eyes and our ears lie to each other. We become disoriented. In this short Adam Curtis clip about Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin’s strategists, Curtis says that Surkov purposely deploys a strategy of confusion in order to consolidate power around Putin in what Surkov has termed ‘nonlinear war.’ If power — through media and culture — can undermine our ability to perceive the world around us, power can adopt any shape it likes, Curtis says. The IDF have been operating on that basis for at least a decade in that respect. The Marine Corps’ ad agency is only catching up.

The other possible explanation for the ad is what psychiatrists call projection, where we project onto others those impulses and conditions we find repulsive within ourselves. We externalize that about ourselves which we cannot rationalize. Walls really do divide, separate, and segregate, although the United States is the one building them, not tearing them down. The ad therefore lies to us about the American military in order to absolve it. It fights those characteristics — those which the American military machine is often accused of — in others.

But unless they are someone’s house, tearing down walls is still a good thing, by and large. The scariest thing is that a youth of 18 years of age would join the Marines thinking it the best way to tear down the walls. The dog will poison itself in the driveway with ethylene glycol because the leaked antifreeze is sweet to the tongue.

Or Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Banquo in MacBeth:

‘Tis strange:/ But oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/ The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/

win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/ In deepest consequence. (Act 1, Scene III)

Or perhaps, Chuck D said it best:

I got a letter from the government the other day./ I opened and read it. It said: they were suckers. / They wanted me for their army or whatever./ Picture me giving a damn, I said ‘never.’

Stay silent, Marshawn

In fin de siècle Paris, Félix Fénéon was known only slightly more than he is today, though his impact was massive. Said to be the first French publisher of James Joyce, as well as an early benefactor of the burgeoning pointillism movement, the anarchist Fénéon was also a suspect in the bombing of a cafe where the politicians and industrialists of the day hung out. These were his public lives. For years, he labored anonymously on the night shift of the newspaper Le Matin, crafting terse, tense poems out of the news, pioneering a style known as faits divers. Once asked by a friend to publish a collection of his writing, Fénéon replied, “I aspire only to silence.”

Marshawn Lynch aspires only to silence.

All year, during locker room press conferences and media days, Marshawn has refused to answer even basic questions from the assembled sports press.

His obstinate rejections of the ridiculousness of the Football hype machine have reached soaring, operatic heights. In his silence we find arias. Most recently, in response to some meandering stupid question about joining the hall of fame, Marshawn simply begins to shout people out. Oakland. Westbrook. His teammates. The “real Africans out there.”

Observe how, in this moment, Lynch’s face is full of desperate, exhausted pain until he finds his mantra: “I’m thankful.” Listen as the questions of the reporters grow more crazed, and Marshawn simply gets calmer as he repeats himself. I’m thankful. I’m thankful.

Marshawn’s attitude toward the sports press is resistance of the commodification of athletes’ bodies, of the use of labor for the gain of capital. The NFL and its disciplinary apparatus, which uses and discards its workforce at a rate like few other enterprises, has worked itself into a lather. Lynch will not do as they ask. That, more than the actual silence, is why Lynch’s attitude is such a threat. “He’s such a good jumper, but he won’t do it when we tell him to.

This man, whose feet cause earthquakes, will not twirl in your silly pageant. Marshawn dances for that which he chooses to dance for. It is only in refusing to speak that Marshawn can speak. In speaking for no one, he speaks for us all.

In histories of the Roman triumph, the quasi-religious state ceremony held for military heroes of the empire, there is sometimes the figure of the slave or the jester who sits in the carriage with the conqueror. As they pass the adoring crowds in this great festival of the state, the jester whispers in the ear of the conqueror, “you are mortal.” Half joking and fully in earnest, the jester cuts the conqueror down.

The Super Bowl is today’s Roman Triumph. The game itself, which is the part Marshawn Lynch cares about, is the least important part of the spectacle. More than football itself, the Super Bowl is about the vortex of voices and shouting and cheese and cash and flesh that swirls around it.

This matrix of commerce around the Super Bowl, like late-capitalism itself, will not abide a void. While we flail in noise, awash in big data, screams and streams, hollow rages and false joys, hysteria and snowmageddons, Marshawn quietly whispers: no. Even at the Super Bowl, the gaping yawn of infinity gnaws at us, fraying our nerves. Our machines, not being able to perform their allotted task, sputter and froth with rage. “He mocks us!” cry a few reporters, sulking around the  Verizon Super Bowl Central, the name given for the week to a sun-baked drunken parking lot in Glendale, Arizona. Even the commissioner sputters along, unsure of how to handle Lynch. Lynch must speak, the commissioner wheezes, for it is a “privilege” to play in the Super Bowl.  Et in Arcadia ego.

Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to answer the question is a memento mori. His refusal is the skull of Yorick in the hands of the gravedigger. Ask all you want, Marshawn tells us. There are things you will not know. Your knowledge has limits. There are still mysteries. You are mortal. Let us dwell quietly in the silences. Fill your notebooks and your broadcasts with your own thoughts, for you are not entitled to mine.

Marshawn Lynch tells the emperor – mic’d up and makeup’d, live and in high def, on repeat over and over – that he has no clothes. Marshawn has two middle fingers in the air on the biggest stage there is. Fuck your stupid bullshit and your charade of gombeen scribblers who only hurt me. Long live Marshawn Lynch and shoutout to Oakland.

Goodbye to Hostage Calm

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There are two lines from literature that I’ve always associated with the hardcore and punk music. And specifically the music I grew up with, played the way they play it where I grew up.

The first quote, from the Irish Marxist/teacher/guerilla/novelist Máirtín Ó Cadhain: “Action is passion, and passion itself the meaning.”

And another from the poet Wallace Stevens: “Everything matters.”

The breakup of Hostage Calm means little in terms of the actual world I live in now. I haven’t seen them in a long time, and I hope the guys in the band won’t be too hurt if I say that the music from the last few years hasn’t been my favorite stuff by them. As they got bigger and known by a lot of people outside Connecticut, I felt their new sound didn’t quite excite me the way their early stuff did. But that doesn’t really matter. What is important is the way they made me feel once, and why their breakup hurts regardless.

When At All Costs played its last set in the Meriden Masonic Temple in the summer of 2007, it was the end of an era, to be sure. I had graduated high school and was going to move to Canada for college. Nobody knew what to say, because there was nothing to be said, really. After the set, Chris was sitting on the stage drenched in sweat with steam rising off him, accepting the thanks and gratitude from what seemed like hundreds of kids. I gave him a hug and told him that he and his band had more of an impact on my life and on my world view than he’d ever know.

Chris and I went to highschool together at the prep school in Wallingford. It was a 10 minute walk from the Wallingford American Legion, but it was more like the other side of the planet. I hated it and most of the time walked around with a clenched jaw, like a dog ready to bite. Most days were spent waiting till 3 in the afternoon when Chris and I would go listen to hardcore music and drive up and down route 5, punching the dashboard and talking about why good music was good, and about the value structure of punk and hardcore. Most weeks were spent waiting till the show at the Wamleg on the weekend.

A friend of mine who was not into Hardcore or Punk came to a show once at the Wamleg and said it reminded her of a religious revival. I resented the comment at the time, which I felt was sneering and dismissive. I now find the analogy interesting, and the linkage between passion and the religious experience is maybe more relevant than I knew at the time. (“Without the P.O.C.” I sang gang on that too.)

So when AAC played its last show, all that was over. It was over in that particular way that, I think, only kids in local punk scenes can understand. The only time we would hear AAC again was in our cars or our bedrooms.

Though we might try, our stomps would never again hit the floor as hard as they did during that breakdown a minute into Keep It Clean. At one AAC show at the Wamleg, I remember feeling that if I stomped so hard that I shattered every bone in my foot, it’d be worth it. Passion itself was the meaning. It still means more to me than almost anything that the AAC guys asked me to do gang vocals on the direction EP. I got a shitty scribbly tattoo of Connecticut on my skinny flabby arm and tore all sleeves off my tshirts and that was why.

Nothing — and I think this is still true — made me feel the way I felt during an AAC show. After AAC finished playing in Meriden there was a very real sense that I would never be in the same head space again.

But then the Hostage Calm demo appeared. I don’t even remember where it first appeared, maybe on myspace or something. It was fast and loud and it had breakdowns and screaming. It was just as urgent — that feel-it-in-your-teeth music — as AAC. But it was more relevant. It was about a world beyond Wallingford and Durham, but it was about those places too. LENS, which came out within the year, was the same.

(The acoustic guitar intro on LENS cued the listener — or me anyway — to the fact that the album was following in the footsteps of another angry, intelligent, and amazing band from Connecticut: With Honor. I don’t know if that stylistic reference was intentional, but that’s how I took it.)

The demo and the LENS full length came at the tail end of the Bush administration, when the sense of hopelessness was acute. Chris had been singing about the wars since at least the winter of 2004-2005 (“the true victims of 9/11 are still above ground” holy shit was that a brave and true thing to say), but now the songs sang about the war that existed on every street corner of American life. More than anything, these songs raged against a certain fatalism, against the idea that we would all inevitably ‘grow up’ or and lose our youthful value structures; that the assaults of American life would beat us. It called out the billboards, the TV ads, the congress, and the news channels. It named them as the rot we all knew they were. LENS expressed — without belaboring the point like I felt some of HC’s later albums did — the elemental sadness and loneliness of coming of age in a post-9/11 Bush’s America.

The cover of the demo had Hostage Calm spelled out like Hartford Courant, the newspaper where we read how the bastards who ran the country made us all feel insane — where they gaslighted us for thinking otherly. The LENS cover has a couple of punks walking around an empty Yale Bowl, a monument to what we thought was great, but we now knew was completely vapid. The message was Fuck Heroes, and it was spelled out in the images and on the landscape that we all knew so well as young people in Connecticut. The kids in Boston had American Nightmare, and we had Hostage Calm.

But do not despair. At the same time, these songs reminded us that we could look to each other for support. You could, and should, throw rocks at the moon every night till the day you die. Don’t ever let the size, power, and totality of the structures arrayed against you stop you from fighting them. But at the same time, don’t ever forget to turn and face the people standing beside you, the ones that are holding you up, throwing rocks next to you. The songs were about us, and they were about where we were from. As H20 said, “I realized my heroes are the people I already know.”

And this is what I’ve always felt good hardcore does better than any other music. There are political ramifications to be found in friendship. Solidarity is not an idle concept, and there is political in the personal. Don’t fucking talk about it, fucking do it. The poet Wallace Stevens — who was, in his own way, a CT punk from Hartford — wrote: “It matters immensely. The slightest sound matters. The most momentary rhythm matters. You can do as you please, yet everything matters.”

I learned that in a basement on Swan Avenue and at the Wamleg at a young age, earlier than I would have without hardcore and punk. I’m sure of that.

The indie music people in Montreal where I was living when I was listening to the demo and LENS didn’t, couldn’t understand this. The sincerity and earnestness of hardcore was a joke to a lot of them. This was about the time of the start of the irony outbreak, when nothing could ever be serious, where everything was a mere gesture at something else, when nothing — musical or otherwise — could ever be what it actually was. This music, I felt, was music that only kids from central Connecticut, from home, could really understand.

I bedroom moshed in my dorm room, and people thought that was kinda quirky or weird.

***

There is a part at the end of ‘Lacuna’, my favorite Hostage Calm song, that I’ve always felt captured this feeling best. They are, I think, some of the best punk lyrics ever written about a particular personal/political moment:

If you come around, past midnight,
outside your highway lives,
you’ll see what’s born in the headlights
on roads we rarely drive.
And if you see me on the streets,
and mistake me for a friend,
just understand there’s times and places
where some can’t be so weak as to claim
they’re happy.

Push the gas pedal a little harder and go a little faster just as the song does during the word “happyyyyyyyy-argh!” For a moment of blissful exasperated rage, the song and your car are flying along a back country road in Durham, probably along the Bone Ride that connects Durham and Wallingford, or maybe Pent Road toward Tri-Mountain doing 70 mph, or maybe along Route 5 as you race the Amtrak train past the steel plant and factories. A little dangerous maybe, but goddammit you have to, so you don’t do something that’s more dangerous. This is a managed chaos. You slow down as the road runs out, and back to reality, just as the song slows down and starts to sputter. This is what throwing rocks at the moon feels like. You’ll never hit it, but you keep doing it because you have to. You can’t not.

Action is passion, and passion itself the meaning.

It matters.

That’s hardcore and punk music.


To the guys in Hostage Calm if you’ve read this far, and particularly to Chris, Tim, Tom, and Brett: Thanks.

Debate is Raging

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The town was the scene of fierce debate this week, as debate raged for control of the territory. Debating insurgents attacked with small debate arms, while the loyal debaters fortified their debating positions. Debate bombs fell from the sky, dropped by the debate air support, though it remains unclear how effective the debate air strikes will be. The insurgents have reportedly procured surface to air debate missiles, which would present a strong debate challenge to the debating superiority of the government forces.

Meanwhile, a debate contagion spread in West Africa, and western nations debated closing the borders to debaters coming from the debating nations.

Raging debaters also debated debate on the nation’s airwaves, as police were accused of debating another young man to death. Defenders of the police debated whether the young man was himself debating at the time of his death.

A Harvard Square Rumination

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Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts is something of a shopper’s dream. Every block has the high end consumer goods pressed up against those kind of college town neighborhood institution-type joints selling specialty sandwiches or books or pipe tobacco. The higher end stores are those ones that pull people from the suburbs into the city, those ones you can’t get at the regular mall, or even the outlet mall; those stores that deftly managed to have just enough locations to make it a household name, but not enough to dilute the brand so they can keep prices high. Then right next door, you’ll find that type of quirky-but-quintessential weird-but-wonderful type of place that revels in the way it does things differently from everyone else: that place will never franchise, that is distinctly of this place. This is maybe what American cities used to be like before the frozen yogurt crusade.

(As far as tobacco is concerned, if you like to smoke cigarettes while you shop, you better have a full pack, as the square’s many homeless will ask you for one, hoping to cut the hunger until it’s time for the Tuesday meal at First Parish of Cambridge on Church St., or maybe the Thursday meal at Christ Church on Garden St. In the rain, the requests for smokes are a bit more desperate, as one can’t smoke the soaked discarded butts outside the T station like one can in the dry weather.)

The streets of Harvard square lend themselves to shopping, the way they wrap around and converge for a moment and then split and carry on. The streets keep you going, keep you moving, like capital. Every store is just down the block, or up the street from everything else. There are no true “corners” to delineate one block from the next. There is just flow. This is good for the shopper, as the gentle swerve of Massachusetts Ave brushes the equally gentle swoop of Brattle Street that moves you from the Qdoba to the Chipotle past a number of newsstands and back again on a Möbius strip of mediocre burritos and Harvard sweatshirts and copies of the New Yorker. Then Brattle curves back around and joins Cambridge St where we might remember that we forgot something in that first store and “wait what about this store’ and we are hamsters on a wheel, gnawing on the metal bars.

And this is maybe just the model for the spaces constructed around Ivy League schools: the fantasy of tradition that locates you very distinctly in this particular place bound up with hyper commodity fetishism that places you squarely in the elite and ownership class. Harvard Square is thus, and downtown New Haven is currently undergoing the same structural assault. Morningside Heights happened during the Giuliani administration.

***

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This velocity without movement — this circulation without redistribution — is what fascinates me about Harvard Square. A panhandler’s eye-view of the place reveals a lot. That is, a view that sits still, that doesn’t buy, that doesn’t circulate. To sit still, you might hear a young high school-age tourist from a Midwestern state on a college visit wonder aloud: “why are there so many panhandlers in Harvard Square?” To sit still, you might notice that the security guard outside the Bank of America actually has a gun on his hip, prominently displayed, and is wearing a flak jacket and combat boots. This man before us is prepared to kill or die or both for the Bank of America. I’m not sure I believe him though. He seems to spend most of the day looking at his phone rather than scanning the crowd  for potential threats to the bank. The gun is only a six-shooter, and my guess is that it’s not loaded. And who does the bank think it’s kidding by putting him there? If the bank gets robbed, this 9 to 5 Rambo is calling the cops like everyone else. But in an atmosphere of velocity without movement, the gesture of the gun is the important part. It sets the timbre for our shopping. That, of course, is how money and guns always work.

To the immediate right of the Bank of America’s armed guardian is a branch of the Spanish bank Santander, which in 2012 was one of many banks pushing the Spanish government to ask for a bailout from the European Union, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund to the tune of $125 billion. The bailout was meant to shore up the country’s banking sector in the wake of the collapse of the property market, which of course was spurred by the banking sector’s bad lending practices. Bank of America’s own bailout from the US government is listed at $45 billion, which is about $6.5 billion more than what it would cost to house America’s 3.5 million homeless, and set them up with a social worker at the cost of $11,000 each, as the state of Utah started doing this year.

Anyway, to answer that young tourist, the question of why there are a lot of panhandlers in Harvard Square, is the same question — or at least has the same answer — as a number of other silly questions: such as why is there a shop selling diamonds on Brattle Street or why is there a man with neck tattoos playing tin whistle outside the bookstore or why did Joe Biden make a campaign type speech at the Kennedy School of Government this month or why is there a fake mercenary outside the bank or why do people even rob banks at all?

Well, because that’s where the money is.

There are, it is said, a lot of smart people in Harvard Square, which may or may not be the same thing as there being a lot money. And here, from this vantage point, is the riddle at the heart of Harvard Square’s spatial and social dynamic: how is a pack of cigarettes like an Ivy League degree? It’s a bargain at twice the price for those that can afford it, while it lies somewhere north of diamonds on Maslow’s pyramid for those that can’t.

A Connecticut Yankee In a New Hampshire Gun Range

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For some time now, I have been unable to see people with guns as anything other than the guns themselves. That’s not a security guard standing by the bank door, that’s a Gun standing there. There is a Gun in the bank. There is a Gun walking towards my car to ask for my license and registration. The president is, at all times, surrounded by Guns. And so on.

With these gun-colored glasses that I went to the Manchester Firing Line Range in Manchester, NH. The state’s motto is ‘live free or die,’ and is a source of much pride here. I want to feel how the Gun feels with a gun.

When irony becomes something of a social value, the real needs to be sought out. Materially, there is nothing realer than a gun: “In this world, there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns, and those who dig.”

In the large foyer, there are two Guns standing behind a counter full of guns. Fat guns and skinny guns, short guns and tall guns hang on the walls around me.

One of the Guns smiles at me, and asks me how he can help. I tell the Gun I want to do some shooting, but I’m new and don’t know which gun to pick. He used to shoot a Sig Sauer .40 caliber, but now shoots a Beretta 9mm. Its lighter and he has back problems. He is very friendly. I pick the Sig Sauer and then there is some paper work, and IDs are brought forth.

He scoffs at my Connecticut drivers license, in a friendly way.

“Boo hiss. Do you live up here now, at least?”

“Yeah”

“Well you’re moving in the right direction.”

At this moment in our interaction, my initial impulse — plan a — is to say ‘fuck you, hillbilly. maybe I like Connecticut’. And then maybe show him the tattoo of the state’s borders I got as a teenager.

And say ‘Maybe I’m proud of the state’s efforts to restrict guns.’ And Maybe I used to go to punk shows in the Newtown Teen Center, less than a mile away from the school where a gas-powered semi-automatic AR15 rifle put a couple hundred bullets through the bodies of 20 children, ages 6 and 7 years old. The same age as my brothers.

And maybe, in the early 80s a young British soldier pointed a semi-automatic rifle at my father in West Belfast. And maybe a lot of soldiers, in that same situation, pulled the trigger.

And maybe that kids on the south side of Chicago have it a thousand times worse than all that. And maybe my heart is now pounding in my chest.

And Maybe I am growing tired of his friendliness wrapped in the threat of violence and his assumptions about me. Maybe Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that all the armies of the world could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River; that if we are to die as a nation, it will be by suicide. Maybe, Mr. Beretta-because-my-back-hurts, you don’t know shit about guns.

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I opt, however, for plan B, which is to laugh nervously and look at my shoes as he places the handgun and the bullets I have asked him for in a red plastic shopping basket, which feels very silly, like being at the farmers market. He tells me how to load the magazine, explaining that he’s “done it so many times” he doesn’t really have to look. I should look as I load the clip though, as I am a novice. This is true. I pay strict attention to every detail he gives me.

For my target, there is a selection of pieces of paper depicting all manner of zombies, monsters, and bad guys for me to pretend to kill. I choose a target which is supposedly the FBI’s abstract depiction of a human beings vital organs. The shape on the target looks like a bowling pin, with a small letter ‘Q’ at the center. The thin protruding head of the bowling pin represents the neck of a human being.

I take the target and the handgun shopping basket out of the lobby and walk through several glass sliding doors and soundproof walls toward the firing range. The Sig Sauer .40 caliber is heavy. It feels a bit unsafe in my sweaty palms, as I point it at the paper target. As I squeeze the trigger the recoil is stronger than I had expected, and I want to be done with this quickly. There is a Gun standing behind me who tells me to lean forward on the balls of my feet, not back on the heels.

After I heed the Gun’s advice, the bullets start getting closer to this paper target’s vitals, including a few that go through its head. Kill shots. The smell is of gunpowder, like fireworks in the backyard. With the ear muffs, the sounds are muted and distant, like Chicago.

The spent shells from the bullets rattle around my booth, and land at my feet. The adrenaline flows, and by the time the I shoot through 3 or 4 magazines, I am exhausted. I am exhausted with all of this.

Bedtime for the Statue of Liberty

Dannel Malloy, the Governor of Connecticut, has declined a request from the Federal Government to house as many as 2,000 immigrant children awaiting processing.

The federal government thought that the Southbury Training School, a depression-era school for people with intellectual disabilities, might be a suitable location to house some of the refugees currently massing on the U.S. border. The school once housed as many as 2,000 students, and now rests mostly vacant, with about 350 students, according to WTNH.

Put homeless children into a children-less home, the thinking went.

Malloy says no.

“A lot of it’s been closed for a long, long time and so folks have taken a look at it and there’s just no way that those buildings could be made ready in a short period of time,” said the Governor.

There Malloy stands, like the monopoly man with his pockets out, pleading poverty.

There is, however, $10 million for the new ESPN studio.

And $170 million for a swiss bank.

And $71 million for a health insurance giant.

And. And. And.

The list goes on. Connecticut is amongst the richest states in the country, in the richest country in the world.

And the statue of liberty blushes out of pure embarrassment.

 

 

Selling the teeth from out of our mouths

Taking their cues from Margaret Thatcher, the champions of austerity politics are fond of analogizing large and complex economic systems to the family or the individual. One doesn’t spend what one doesn’t have in the bank, they tell us while cutting spending for welfare and other systems that help the poor and working class.

Let us meet them on their terms.

If the city of Detroit were a human being, he would be selling the gold fillings from out of his mouth, and more or less at gunpoint. He would be doing so not to feed himself or his family, but to “please” his creditors.

According to the New York Times, some of Detroit’s creditors are demanding that the city sell the contents of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which a New York appraiser has valued at between 2.6 and 4.7 billion dollars.

According to the Times,

The appraiser, Artvest Partners, an art investment firm based in New York, said that because of these factors and the notoriety of such a forced sale from a venerable public institution, the bulk of the museum’s collection might raise as little as $850 million.”

So to clarify, those who have loaned one of America’s poorest cities money are demanding that the city sell some of it its most prized public possessions, but the sheer brutality of that act is forcing the city to sell on the cheap.

To continue the metaphor, the poor man is selling the gold fillings from out of his mouth, but no one will give him a good price because of the shame of it all.

And shame is the appropriate feeling here.

And last week, the Dow Jones hit record highs on the strength of the new jobs report.

The news of the value of Detroit’s art collection comes as the city – which is now managed under trusteeship, and is not afforded the luxury of democracy because of its debts – moves to turn off the water for approximately 90,000 accounts, to quench the thirst of the money lenders, so to speak.

As Gil Scott-Heron asked us all, “who will survive in America?”

Pure verb

“Out at OTB with a stub and a heart murmur, a flask and a fanny pack, a bastard on any track”:

The seers who interpret this script tend to congregate at places called off-track betting facilities (OTBs). Nothing beats watching a horse race at the track itself, but to watch a big race at an OTB comes close. The shouting, the tearing of paper, the morsels of information flung across a room, the flicker of dozens of televisions, the hyper-spikes and micro-crashes. I’ve never been on the floor of a stock exchange, but I imagine the OTB as its radically democratic mirror image. The minimum bet is two dollars. Look into the eyes of the teller at the betting window. Shoot laser beams of luck into her eyes that they might travel down into her fingers into the machine that prints your bet then south a thousand miles to Kentucky and into the hands of your horse’s jockey that he might know just the right moment along the backstretch to let the horse make its move. Pure verb. And some prayer.

Full piece: http://maisonneuve.org/post/2014/05/1/pure-verb-derby-day/