Here I Am

Here. Here I am. My first weekend here in this beast of the city. The snow has fallen and encased the new apartment. The maze of the city closes in around me. I’ve left Elysium for an engagement with the edges. To the West the wave of mountains rises against the plain, houses are sprawled across in patchy subdivisions from here all the way to the northern farmlands. The city is always growing, already too big for itself.

Elysium the Beautiful breeds insanity. One loses touch, drifting into the mind of strange paranoias and bizarre scenarios of good and evil. I’m happy to be away from all that nonsense. The secret life of farmers and suburbanites. Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Everywhere the Word goes out, “I own this, as far as I can imagine. This is mine. No government or people will take it away.” Yet, wildfires rage, with no satisfactory explanation, for we know no history and only want life to be simple.

I have been assured, by those who claim to know, that I am the victim of a strange conspiracy and here I sit in quiet winter solitude, contemplating that possibility. It occurs to me that I’ve been around for too may lifetimes not to be able to smell evil when I encounter it. After all, evil’s really just a mirror of myself, or a part of me anyway. I know it too intimately not to recognize it in others.

There’s plenty of evil in this world, mostly pushed by ambitious hucksters with boring agendas, something about telling us who to fear and who to hate. Then they sell us books and dvd’s and lure us to their online sites where the major promotion is themselves. They are mostly paid very well by the very people they claim are the ‘adversaries,’ those whose interests are served by turning people against one another. They point at the Jews or the Blacks or the Chinese or the ‘Socialists,’ or whoever is leaving those ‘mysterious’ con trails in the heavens, seeding our precious air with their filthy mind control.

Oh shit, I’m just tired of all this. I’ll just walk away from it now, away from these helpless fears, away from useless arguments that ignore history and are only angry frightened screaming into darkness. The people downstairs are my companions, shouting mindlessly at the t.v. while their Broncos win. There is no place to hide from the world here and it’s somehow soothing to be alone, away from anyone that can be trusted.

You once complained about a teabag that was folded beautifully in a paper pyramid – a waste of paper, time and energy! – you said. You only felt compelled to complain. “Where is the ocean,” you said, “Where are the trees?” “Where is the desert?” What is the real question?

When I came to the city I thought that I was leaving a refuge and returning to the edges of the world. I was wrong to think so, to find out that the vast maze of city provides the only real refuge of anonymity. I am totally submerged in the great darkness that’s civilization with all of its pain and glory. Every face that I see is a lie and there is little possibility for truth, only acceptance, abandonment and perhaps some ultimate contentment while surrendering to the oceanic flow.

I don’t know where this life has taken me. I am both pirate and defender of this realm and I bellow from within a font of night jewels. I no longer need your company or your approval and I will do what I must to see us to the end. Your spies and secret sailors, those who reveal all of the hidden plans are useless now. The plan is older than the wind that blows above the deserts and will continue at all costs and we will either serve or fail given our own particular gifts.

Welcome to the new world order.

Spielberg and Kubrick

 

Ever since seeing it for the first time I’ve regarded “A.I.” as Steven Spielberg’s most challenging and interesting film. The creative collaboration between two directors with such different styles (but similar obsessions with detail) is almost diabolical in it’s interweaving. One can almost sense the tension between their approaches in every scene, making every moment a trajectory toward another revelation of the unexpected. Spielberg’s urge toward resolution struggles against Kubrick’s insistence that there are no clear answers to who we are or where we’re going. We never really know whether the affections that surround the protagonist are ‘real’ feelings or merely the programmed responses of an automata, or whether it matters. The unrelenting action of a Spielberg movie becomes the container for a path that leads us toward serious contemplation.

Kubrick very purposefully handed this project to his friend with a very specific outline (including musical scores) to be completed after his death. One of his underlying themes is to question the very emotional agenda informing the majority of films, and certainly those of Spielberg. On one level the movie is a debate over our motivations for going to the movies, whether to open ourselves to unique points of view or merely to have our familiar button’s pushed?
The tension comes to a crest in the last scene, which has sparked numerous debates and harsh criticism, but which embodies the movie’s essential paradox. Some have criticized it for catering to Spielberg’s emotional agenda by leaving us on a note that’s overly sentimental. With the exception of this film, I’ve often thought that Spielberg’s films would benefit by cutting out the last 15 minutes of ‘tying it all up.) I believe, however, that this conclusion is inevitable to the degree that we identify with the character of the automata (played brilliantly by the young Haley Joel Osmet) instead of seeing that the overall outlook of the film, from the beginning shots of a drowned city to the final one of the lights going out, is that humanity is quite likely a species doomed to be a figment of memory in an otherwise indifferent universe..

Think Maybe

Here is certainly one of the most valuable sites on the Internet, devoted to independent cinema focused on the issues facing our world. Do you truly want to know what is happening outside of the Matrix? This is like taking the ‘red’ pill:

Thought Maybe

Among the best on the thoughtmaybe.com site are the films of Adam Curtis. His documentaries meld the straightforward documentary narrative commentary of ‘Frontline’ with an impressionistic style reminiscent of the films of Jean Luc Godard. Curtis goes far beyond ‘Frontline’ in revealing how historical situations emerge out of the assumptions and delusions with which we’ve been programmed. Unlike those who sell conspiracy in order to make a buck and keep us feeling victimized Curtis delivers a coherent analysis and critique of our civilization and how we got here. The secrets held in plain sight are revealed in the context of unfolding history. Are you ready to take off the blinders?

The Films of Adam Curtis

Given the current pitched battles in Afghanistan I particularly recommend the film called Bitter Lake, which traces that country’s history with the Britain and America going back to 1946.

It’s a Good Time for Doctor Strange

(upon leaving Santa Fe)

The darkness intensifies
The mountain no longer calls me up
Fall has arrived
The world descends into chaos
Syrian women screaming at the gates
Children drowning

When we invented the internet
(The children of psychedelia)
We rejoiced to think the world was saved
Through communication
And good will
Peace. Love. Music

Instead we unleashed
All the demons of our forgotten histories
They swarm around us
And above our heads
Threatening our souls
Stealing our eyes

War creeps toward us
Like a fungus
It despoils the land
And crushes hopes
Except for those insane dreamers
Of the Apocalypse

There is no Rapture
No conspiracy
No escaping into worlds of mind
No avoiding our mirrors
There are only the revelations
And awakening

I came to this place for refuge
And respite from the World City
Where mostly we live
I came to recover the questions
And for 28 years I’ve been a fox
An outlaw cast into cause and effect

Now I’m riding the ox
Feet first
Head first
Back to the war and peace zone
Excuse me I mean
The zone where deals are made

America loves the deal maker
Is entertained by the drama
House of Cards
Madmen
Breaking Bad
The guy with the Big Hair

“I can sell you this handy device
With accompanying extras
If you take advantage right now…!”
That familiar hum of gangsta
The power broker
The guy wearing the suit
The thing about demons
They are nourished by our weakness
Our worst qualities
Our fears and angers
Our arrogance our guilt
They steal it from our veins

I believe in heroes
And stories of heroes
When we are lost
Uncertain and facing death
Honestly
They teach me not to panic

The stories help us to navigate
Unless they swallow us
They grow ever larger
The library of earth is always expanding
The record of our existence and imagination
Stored in narratives

We are always on the brink
Of life and death
Of miracles
When we can step back
We see the patterns
And the path

The city is a refuge
Galleries museums bazaars
For trading myths and memories
Separate from the real art of the world
Those inarticulate hearts
Of everyday pursuit

Who is this
What is my purpose
Am I just a ghost
Passing by in site seeing buses
Wandering the narrow streets
Filing through the Plaza

I pass you everyday
I don’t even see you
Whispering all around me
Like whiffs of shadow
Your reality
Only parallel to mine

To you I’m like the ghosts of soldiers
Looking down over the divine city
From the old hill fort
On the bluffs
Constructed out of mud
Now dissolved into mounds of sand

We wonder about Chaco
The ancient villages
The multistoried structures
The trails from everywhere
The total abandonment
What if it were a retirement community

The Spanish overwhelmed the pueblos
Until the villages rose up
A compromise was reached
Leaving saints to be martyrs
Until the soldiers of a white army
Postponed all agreements

While friends are anchors
That hold us to the earth
They are shadows growing more real
Even as they drift
Into the past
Becoming memory

Real cities breed desperation
There is real madness on the streets
Eyes that beg for mercy
In the midst of plenty
Not every part can fit
But every part has purpose

Revelations

“Write the things you have seen and what is and what will be.”

Mike Doughty is a wizard of words who fronted the group ‘Soul Coughing’, one of my favorite performance entities of the late nineties. This past year he had a vision of the “Book of Revelations”, surely one of the most influential and hallucinatory word epics of all time, as a rock opera.

The performance was sponsored by one of my favorite spoken word podcasts, Kurt Anderson’s Studio 360.

Although I don’t identify primarily as a practicing Christian, this piece reveals to me the power of language in a whole new way.

Here it is, in full.

Revelations

From Selma to Montgomery 50 Years On

I finally got around to seeing the movie ‘Selma’ and I had to drive to (of all places) Los Alamos, to see it, as it had been replaced in Santa Fe by a movie about white retirees in India. Over the past month or more the film was always on the top of my ‘must see’ list, but it kept getting shuffled to second place by something else, like the movie based on a book by my favorite author, or what turned out to be a crappy biopic about Alan Turing. The Turing movie had made me a little leery of seeing another historical biopic as that one was so absolutely formulaic and boring as a film. At any rate, a sense of urgency hadn’t come over me until ‘Selma’ had left my neighborhood for a place that’s even whiter than Santa Fe.

Partly it was hearing about the anniversary celebrations and march in Selma and partly it was watching a speech by someone I consider to be a truly great president. The film is an extraordinary document, in that it views history through the eyes of recognizable human beings. It breaks totally free of the usual revisionist image of absolute sainthood, portraying Martin Luther King as a flawed and passionate man motivated by righteous anger as much as by compassion, and as a brilliant and intuitive tactician who knows when to advance and when to have patience.

I have seen, time and again, these same qualities displayed in our president. I sensed that in his Selma speech Obama, in his always carefully modulated and tempered manner, allowed a bit more of that anger to graze the surface. This is one of his best and definitely one of his most challenging, as it pulls no punches about where America sits regarding racial prejudice and politics, as opposed to where so many people think we are. I’m sure that it’s being attacked by conservatives for its audacity, criticizing their lily white intentions or impugning their sense of christian righteousness. His characterization of Americans explicitly steers away from the doctrines of ideology that govern our oppressors:

“That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.”

Just a couple of week’s ago, when Obama spoke at the White House Prayer Breakfast he riled up the demagogues and their simpering allies with his critique of the common crimes committed historically in the name of virtually all religions. He offended some southern white christians by mentioning the truth about their own history and by avoiding their demand to continue dividing the world into waring factions of the faithful. Just last week, the Prime Minister of Isreal had the disrespect to use our congress as his platform to declare himself and his nation to be on the side of the most extreme factions in American politics. (The long term damage this has done to the relationship of Isreal and the United States – beyond the commercial interest of buying and selling weapons – is immeasurable).

The fact of the matter is that, at least since the Age of Reagan, there has been a swelling of reaction in this country against all people of color. Conservatism has become a code word for bigotry and the same sort of white crackuhs’ who for generations tortured and terrorized the black populations in the south are now the very same people making the legislative agenda in Washington. The truth is they never went away. Reagan simply got them to switch parties. Nowadays they dress better and talk better and most of the times they even manage to appear respectable. They even have their own television channels. To openly criticize them is to be accused of ‘reverse racism.’ Well, most of them happen to be white, and virtually everything they advocate reflects an underlying assumption of white supremacy so, what the hell, let’s just openly play the race card and stop bullshitting with each other.

Yes, things have improved for most people. I was five or six before I even knew black people existed, seeing one for the first time riding the bus downtown with my grandmother in my very segregated (at the time) northern city of Cleveland. I remember being threatened as a young campaigner for Louis Stokes, who became the first black mayor of a major city in the United States. I spent my high school summers in dialogue with mostly black students who were my fellows in Upward Bound, one of President Johnson’s War On Poverty programs, while the city borke out in flames all around us. When Barack Obama was nominated to run for president I had strong doubts that this country would ever elect a black man to be its leader, and I was proved wrong.

However, as Obama says in his speech, our march is not finished. How could it be? The wounds we’ve inflicted on one another don’t just go away without a long time to heal. Between the end of the civil war and the 1970’s over 3200 blacks were murdered in this country by white people, for no other reason than that they were black and somehow ‘offended.’ An enormously disproportionate number of people of color are imprisoned or excluded from the political process. As we’ve been shown, time and again, many of our communities are still governed by brutality.

In my years as an adult I’ve watched our society’s attitudes toward diversity broaden while at the same time I’ve watched the rise of political forces that seek to keep us back in the age of ignorance and intolerance. Obama’s election, perhaps more than any other single factor, served to flush much of the lingering hatred and prejudice out of the ol’ woodpile. The dawning of the Internet has accelerated this process of exposure. Talk radio and comment sections are dominated by bigotry, and ignorance has become a public virtue. While the right has organized and thrust itself into power the liberal left has acted like petulant short sighted children for the most part, angry because they don’t get the favors they demand and using this as justification for crapping out of the political process.

What I most admire in those who have been and are great leaders is the quality of patience, bred through a sense of true compassion and a willingness to take chances, risking unpopularity when the situation demands. These are the people with whom I choose to stand.

Here’s the speech:

Transcript

Video

The Storytellers

This morning the first thing that I saw in my inbox was a link to the story of how a neighbor of the elementary school in Newtown who sheltered a group of kids and a bus driver for several hours while the horror unfolded next door has been harassed by people who believe that the shooting of 27 people was a government hoax. These are the same people whose obsession is to uncover the “conspiracy” behind every tragic event in order to either line their pockets or to build a case for an overthrow of the powers that be. Of course the fantasy of conspiracy isn’t backed by any sort of political or cultural awareness. All one needs is a superficial, if fantastical view of a world made only of victims and those in control. 
 
A very dark climate is rising in the wings since the election and re-election of a black president and in the wake of a steady repetition of the scenario of mass killings. The cloud of distrust is more extreme than anything I’ve seen since the early seventies, and in several ways is much more divorced from reality. From the buzz that prevails in the news and online I’d make a guess that at least a quarter of the American population is at this moment suffering some form of psychosis. By that I mean that their interpretation of reality is radically at odds with any sort of objective measure of what is really going on. Of that quarter precent probably at least half represent the most heavily armed non-military segment of the population. They are afraid, very afraid. The unfolding of events in the real world so contradicts their expectations that they must go to extraordinary lengths to construct scenarios and story lines that explain it. If they have even a casual relationship with rationality is a matter entirely secondary. I may be that a storm is coming. I can very easily see a scenario of federal troops facing right wing militias as we saw repeatedly throughout the eighties and nineties in rural counties Deep in red state America. There have already been many threats. 
 
Of course Glenn Beck and Alex Jones and David Icke are ready and waiting to feed all of our fantasies of victimization with their fast-growth industry based on the promotion of conspiracy theories. Both on the political left and the right and even among the New Age fantasists of Santa Fe their float variations of essentially the same narrative. In every version of the story somewhere at the nexus of all important world events a single nefarious cabal meets together in various hidden skyscraper penthouses in order to map out the ultimate future for us all.    

 
I recently finished Umberto Eco’s latest novel The Prague Cemetery, an historical fiction about a hypothetical figure in the late nineteenth century who is responsible for the creation of one of the world’s most notorious ‘political’ tracts. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most infamous conspiracy document of all time, as it was used by everyone from the Catholic church to the Nazis and the Stalinists as an excuse to persecute and eventually attempt to exterminate the someone (usually the Jews) designated as the servants of evil. It purports to be an account of a secret nighttime meeting between all of the rabbis of Europe in an obscure Jewish graveyard in order to map out their plan for total world domination. Eco’s book, which is based extensively on historical records, indicates that the document was patched together over several years from previous works that attributed the ‘plot’ to everyone from the Jesuits to the Masons to french anarchists…to anyone that someone in power needed to be a convenient scapegoat for covering their own crimes. Eco’s main character is a thoroughly despicable figure named Simonini, who is devoid of moral center or any scruples when it comes to dealing with others, who views everyone else with contempt and whose sole pleasure in life is the consumption of fine foods. As an excellent forger and impersonator he finds himself in the middle of much of the political turmoil of the time, employed by all sides to help incriminate their enemies. The essential revelation he gains along the way is that there is really only a single conspiracy theory which can be reworked to fit any historical circumstance and directed against anyone we prefer to view as our villains. Just give it a few tweaks here and there…
 
I’ve been hearing various variations on the same theory since I was a teenager in Cleveland and peered into the front window of the local John Birch Society office across the street from my church. There were all the familiar players: The Federal Reserve and the IRS, the One World Government, the Rothchilds and the Jews, the Illuminati, etc., etc. The same cast used by Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin and which is now used by tax evaders, gun toting militias and Fox News.  
 
Eco’s character of Simonini is an apt model for modern creatures like David Icke and Alex Jones who make their living by spreading paranoid narratives to the frightened and gullible. Perhaps the biggest irony in the recent Newtown shootings was that the perpetrator was brought up in an atmosphere of conspiracies and end times paranoia laced with automatic weapons, and his first victim was his mother, a true believer who spent her time on ‘prepper’ web sites. I look around me, here in ‘progressive’ Santa Fe, a land of many a mystical fantasy and wonder how any of my acquaintances spend similar hours tracking the unfolding of some ‘master’ plan. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of this as a conspiracy. Like the work of Simonini it’s really nothing but commerce. However, the product being sold, as can be seen in the vicious threats and attacks on a man who helped people fleeing from the slaughter, is poisonous in the extreme. 
 
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*Note: It is with some trepidation that I’ve included links to the web sites of those who I regard as some of the worst people in the world. On consideration, if you’re gullible enough to dine on this stuff you’ll have probably discovered them already.