All posts by Edward Curtin

When Time Stands Still

The intimate human experience of time standing still is universal, although rare.  When we undergo it, we are stunned.  Silence seems to enclose us. It is the correlative to the more common experience of time passing at different speeds, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, despite clocks.  These universal experiences do not accord with the teleology that underlies the modern world with its scientific principle that leads to entropic death triumphant. They are therefore, as John Berger, the English writer and art critic, writes, “dismissed as subjective, because time, according to the nineteenth-century view, is objective, incontestable and indifferent; to its indifference there are no limits.”

As a result of living within this scientific and technical presupposition that the background ticking of the clock is the only truth and time is a one-way street, we are now living inside a hopeless mind-frame of a scientific theocracy that says all will end in entropy.  This is nihilism; for at the end of this clock time is nothingness, the infinite void.  This is the unstated “future,” but a future that is also now, a noxious injection that surreptitiously poisons people at the well of their lives where cracks in the consensual reality open and other truths fly in, or as Emily Dickinson said, “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul/And sings the tune without the words/And never stops – at all”

The one-dimensional finality of the view of time as death triumphant is the nihilistic future Nietzsche said was coming, and it is here.  And being here, it tries to reduce any experience that transports us beyond time to personal lunacy and worthy only of dismissal. It reduces human subjectivity and transcendent joy and despondent suffering to the ravings of a madman. Facts are facts says this unstated premise, and if you don’t get that, you are a joker and will be rendered invisible.

In the new movie “Joker,” the suffering Arthur Fleck, the eponymous Joker, is abandoned by a cruel American society whose capitalist order cares not a whit for its regular people, and in a penultimate scene when Arthur is appearing on a late night television show where the snide and condescending host mocks him and his attempt at comedy, Joker says to the host:

Comedy is subjective, Murray. Isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what’s right or wrong. The same way that you decide what’s funny or not.

In that quote lies our current fate, the dark night that has descended on our world since Nietzsche issued his warning. The system that knows and controls so much decides human truth and what is good and evil, always of course, deciding in its own favor, even to suggest that all is woe and all hope is gone while heading to the bank with its ill-begotten lucre.

No wonder all the media, mainstream and alternative, are today filled with headlines and titles screaming about our impending extinction, doomsday, and the apocalypse. The end days are near.  Just as our fictitious “telling of time” with advanced technology has sped up since the simplest clock and speed has devoured space, so too have all the admonitions to prepare for the end of the world, as if you could.  Just pack your suitcase and you’re off.  These warning are often accompanied by assertions that humans, having contaminated the planet, don’t deserve to survive; that humans are vermin; and that, anyway, it’s too little too late, we don’t have time.  Extinction will be arriving shortly, even if we protest its arrival.  It’s hopeless, so don’t have children, or, if you have them already, teach them that “life is a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.”  A one-way trip to dusty death where the trains run on time and the last stop is Nowhere.

Such political commentary, while often based on obvious problems caused by systemic structures of capitalist exploitation and technological hubris, implicitly rejects millennia of human experience and the testimony of the world’s great art and spiritual experience.  It rests upon a metaphysical assumption disguised as science that brackets out any word to the contrary.  It is the triumph of technical reason over the revelation of hope that is rooted in love, sexuality, and the human body, not abstractions.

“Our totalitarianism begins with our teleology,” writes Berger in his brilliant essay, “That Which Is Held.”

He adds:

What is ahistorical is the need to hope.  And the act of hoping is inseparable from the energy of love, from that which ‘holds,’ from that which is art’s constant example.

Such as the painting of a plaid suitcase by a little-known artist that hangs in my mental museum.  My father once went on vacation, and when he arrived at his destination and opened this suitcase, he found that it is was empty.  He had forgotten to pack and was overcome with joy at the realization.  He wanted for nothing.  This was his masterpiece, created when he wasn’t looking.

Just yesterday, I was being thought by these thoughts as I took an early morning walk by the neighboring lake.  A group of geese, like battleships on the sea, greeted me with their honking, and as I dawdled along, they dove to show me their white asses, as if they were college boys out on a drunken lark, mooning anyone who passed.  It seemed as if I were being mocked for allowing these thoughts to drift into my mind, guests that I did not summon but came uninvited.  Many days I feel as though I am visited by words and images that transport me into reveries of time lost and time found and time beyond time.  Rilke captures a bit of this with these words:

O longing for places that were not
Cherished enough in that fleeting hour
How I long to make good from far
The forgotten gesture, the additional act.
Who, among us, has not heard such words whispering into our silences?

Then I stopped by a swampy area at the end of the lake and took a look through the gently swaying bushes. A blue heron stood stock still on the far side, as if it were a statue or a silhouetted profile on an ancient Greek vase.  I froze and watched intently, lost in the sight of the bird’s eerie stillness.  For an instant I was that blue heron.  Its immobility and my stop-time staring seemed to fuse us in the way one is transported into a cataleptic state when watching dust motes in a flash of sunlight or unexpectedly seeing the full moon hanging on the world’s edge when stepping outdoors with night coming on.  It seems at these moments that a crack opens in the conventional reality machine that runs the world and one shivers with an erotic happiness that transcends description. Berger calls these “enclaves of the beyond.”

When I finally shook myself loose from being the heron, I walked on by myself but with many voices whispering in my ears.  Kris Kristofferson, whom I had recently seen in a documentary on country music, was singing “Me and Bobby McGee,” which took me back to a night years ago when a woman I knew played the song over and over for me as she drank wine in her low-cut dress, coming on to me, even as my then wife sat with us.

There is an infinite sadness in this memory, the loneliness of her yearning, not just for sex but for love, for a relationship, for tenderness, for “that which is held,” and while I remember the night vividly, I sadly can’t remember her name and she slips into the penumbra of the dreamy past.  But vividly alive, present.  She walks with me as I head down the road, where the sign reads: Rough Road Ahead.  The words live:

Then somewhere near Salinas, Lord, I let her slip away/She was lookin’ for the love I hope she’ll find.

Just a moment of time out of mind.  A moment the time-keepers can’t imagine.

We know it.  We live it. We use and are used by our memories and forgetteries in equal measure, thinking we control the flow of life, which we don’t.

There is an experience that lovers, writers, singers, and athletes have. Everyone has it at least once in a lifetime, or so I hope. It is called by some “being in the zone,” by others “being unconscious,” by others “ecstasy” and “inspiration”; in all cases it transcends clocks and the underlying bias of our age.  It is hope incarnate. It is time out of mind. By discounting it, we embrace hopelessness, nihilism.

Living in the age of abstractions, we tend to abandon the body, the earth, and the chance that we might redeem this sordid era.  By remembering that hope lies in the shadows, in the unexpected places and faces that flash through our times even when we are induced to believe we are only dreaming, we have a chance. But only if we reject the belief that entropy is time’s arrow.  Therein lies the real danger that will result in our forgetting of how instantly time can stand still in the ultimate sense, as it did for the Japanese victims of America’s murderous rage on August 6, 1945.  Galway Kinnell, in his poem “The Fundamental Project of Technology” reminds us to remember:

The children go away. By nature they do. And by memory,
in scorched uniforms, holding tiny crushed lunch tins.
All the ecstasy-groans of each night call them back, satori
their ghostliness back into the ashes, in the momentary shrines,
the thankfulness of arms, from which they will go
again and again, until the day flashes and no one lives
to look back and say, a flash, a white flash sparkled.

Where was the lightning before it flashed?  To us it wasn’t.  Its flashing was it.  It was its act. But the nuclear weapons that we once used and are now preparing to use already exist and if they flash again all time will be extinguished and we will be gone with it.

The road ahead is rough indeed.  A despairing teleology will not save us.  We need to see it for the trap that it is.

Rhythm, melody, and movement: from these life is born and sustained.  They are also integral to art – music, writing, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. – even when they are apparently absent, as with my distorted perception of the seemingly immobile heron. They lie at the heart of spiritual experience, as breath is the inspiration that carries us along.

As I walk up the hill past the lake and my respiration increases, I see Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture, “Tall Walking Figure” in my mind’s eye. Its immobility implies movement, just as the ticking of the turning clock down through the ages has implied the earth’s solid resistance to time’s final victory, as the seasons turn and renew themselves timelessly.  Movement and stasis, time and the timeless. Such paradoxical inclusiveness pertains to still-life painting as well.  While seemingly immobile, and defined by some as dead life encompassed by the presence of the absence of movement and change, the essence of all living things, such paintings come to life in the encounter with the living.  Relationship is all. To grasp the paradoxical nature of art – and life – one must approach them as an artist and see the wholeness in broken pieces.  “Everything is broken,” Bob Dylan sings, “take a deep breath, feel like you’re choking.”

It seems that way.  But I am enjoying my walking reveries and so will let John Berger have the final word:

There is no question of looking away from the modern world and its practices.  There is no question of a Pre-Raphaelite flight back to the Middle Ages.  It is rather that Dante advances toward us.  And in the specific purgatory of the modern world, created and maintained by corporate capitalism, every injustice is grounded in that unilinear view of time, for which the only relation conceivable is that between cause and effect.  In contrast to this, in defiance of this, the ‘single synchronic act’ is that of loving.

The Deep State Goes Shallow: “Reality-TV Coup d’etat in Prime Time”

This article was first published on February 21, 2017, one month after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, more than two-and-a half years ago. What was true then is even truer now, and so I am reprinting it with this brief introduction since I think it describes what is happening in plain sight today. 

Now that years of Russia-gate accusations have finally fallen apart, those forces intent on driving Trump from office have had to find another pretext.  Now it is Ukraine-gate, an issue similar in many ways to Russia-gate in that both were set into motion by the same forces aligned with the Democratic Party and the CIA-led Obama administration. 

It was the Obama administration who engineered the 2014 right-wing, Neo-Nazi coup in Ukraine as part of its agenda to undermine Russia. A neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda. This is, or should be, common knowledge. Obama put it in his typically slick way in a 2015 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakiria, saying that the United States “had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine.” 

This is Orwellian language at its finest, from a warmonger who received the Nobel Prize for Peace while declaring he was in support of war. That the forces that have initiated a new and highly dangerous Cold War, a nuclear confrontation with Russia, demonized Vladimir Putin, and have overthrown the elected leader of a country allied with Russia on its western border, dares from the day he was elected in 2016 to remove its own president in the most obvious ways imaginable seems like bad fiction. 

But it is fact, and the fact that so many Americans approve of it is even more fantastic. Over the past few years the public has heard even more about the so-called “deep state,” only to see its methods of propaganda become even more perversely cynical in their shallowness.  No one needs to support the vile Trump to understand that the United States is undergoing a fundamental shift wherein tens of millions of Americans who say they believe in democracy support the activities of gangsters who operate out in the open with their efforts to oust an elected president.

We have crossed the Rubicon and there will be no going back.

*****

In irony a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed; he affirms to deny and denies to affirm; he creates a positive object but it has no being other than its nothingness.

— Jean-Paul Sartre, Existential Psychoanalysis, p. 154.

It is well known that the United States is infamous for engineering coups against democratically elected governments worldwide.  Voters’ preferences are considered beside the point. Iran and Mosaddegh in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Indonesia and Sukarno in 1965-7, Allende in Chile in 1973, to name a few from the relatively distant past.  Recently the Obama administration worked their handiwork in Honduras and Ukraine.  It would not be hyperbolic to say that overthrowing democratic governments is as American as apple pie. It’s our “democratic” tradition — like waging war.

What is less well known is that elements within the U.S. ruling power elites have also overthrown democratically elected governments in the United States.  One U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated because he had turned toward peace and opposed the forces of war within his own government. He is the lone example of a president who therefore was opposed by all the forces of imperial conquest within the ruling elites.

Others, despite their backing for the elite deep state’s imperial wars, were taken out for various reasons by competing factions within the shadow government.  Nixon waged the war against Vietnam for so long on behalf of the military-industrial complex, but he was still taken down by the CIA, contrary to popular mythology about Watergate.  Jimmy Carter was front man for the Tri-Lateral Commission’s deep-state faction, but was removed by the group represented by George H. Bush, William Casey, and Reagan through their traitorous actions involving the Iran hostages.  The emcee for the neo-liberal agenda, Bill Clinton, was rendered politically impotent via the Lewinsky affair, a matter never fully investigated by any media.

Obama, CIA groomed, was smoothly moved into power by the faction that felt Bush needed to be succeeded by a slick smiling assassin who symbolized “diversity,” could speak well, and played hoops. Hit them with the right hand; hit them with the left. Same coin: Take your pick — heads or tails.  Hillary Clinton was expected to complete the trinity.

But surprises happen, and now we have Trump, who is suffering the same fate – albeit at an exponentially faster rate – as his predecessors that failed to follow the complete script. The day after his surprise election, the interlocking circles of power that run the show in sun and shadows – what C. Wright Mills long ago termed the Power Elite – met to overthrow him, or at least to render him more controllable.  These efforts, run out of interconnected power centers, including the liberal corporate legal boardrooms that were the backers of Obama and Hillary Clinton, had no compunction in planning the overthrow of a legally elected president.  Soon they were joined by their conservative conspirators in doing the necessary work of “democracy” – making certain that only one of their hand-picked and anointed henchmen was at the helm of state.  Of course, the intelligence agencies coordinated their efforts and their media scribes wrote the cover stories.  The pink Pussyhats took to the streets.  The deep state was working overtime.

Trump, probably never having expected to win and as shocked as most people when he did, made some crucial mistakes before the election and before taking office.  Some of those mistakes have continued since his inauguration.  Not his derogatory remarks about minorities, immigrants, or women.  Not his promise to cut corporate taxes, support energy companies, oppose strict environmental standards.  Not his slogan to “make America great again.”  Not his promise to build a “wall” along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Not his vow to deport immigrants.  Not his anti-Muslim pledges. Not his insistence that NATO countries contribute more to NATO’s “defense” of their own countries.  Not even his crude rantings and Tweets and his hypersensitive defensiveness.  Not his reality-TV celebrity status, his eponymous golden tower and palatial hotels and sundry real estate holdings.  Not his orange hair and often comical and disturbing demeanor, accentuated by his off the cuff speaking style.  Surely not his massive wealth.

While much of this was viewed with dismay, it was generally acceptable to the power elites who transcend party lines and run the country.  Offensive to hysterical liberal Democrats and traditional Republicans, all this about Trump could be tolerated, if only he would cooperate on the key issue.

Trump’s fatal mistake was saying that he wanted to get along with Russia, that Putin was a good leader, and that he wanted to end the war against Syria and pull the U.S. back from foreign wars.  This was verboten.  And when he said nuclear war was absurd and would only result in nuclear conflagration, he had crossed the Rubicon.  That sealed his fate.  Misogyny, racism, support for Republican conservative positions on a host of issues – all fine.  Opposing foreign wars, especially with Russia – not fine.

Now we have a reality-TV president and a reality-TV coup d’etat in prime time.  Hidden in plain sight, the deep-state has gone shallow.  What was once covert is now overt. Once it was necessary to blame a coup on a secretive “crazy lone assassin,” Lee Harvey Oswald.  But in this “post-modern” society of the spectacle, the manifest is latent; the obvious, non-obvious; what you see you don’t see.  Everyone knows those reality-TV shows aren’t real, right?  It may seem like it is a coup against Trump in plain sight, but these shows are tricky, aren’t they?  He’s the TV guy.  He runs the show.  He’s the sorcerer’s apprentice.   He wants you to believe in the illusion of the obvious. He’s the master media manipulator. You see it but don’t believe it because you are so astute, while he is so blatant. He’s brought it upon himself.  He’s bringing himself down. Everyone who knows, knows that.

I am reminded of being in a movie theatre in 1998, watching The Truman Show, about a guy who slowly “discovers” that he has been living in the bubble of a television show his whole life.  At the end of the film he makes his “escape” through a door in the constructed dome that is the studio set.  The liberal audience in a very liberal town stood up and applauded Truman’s dash to freedom.  I was startled since I had never before heard an audience applaud in a movie theatre – and a standing ovation at that.  I wondered what they were applauding.  I quickly realized they were applauding themselves, their knowingness, their insider astuteness that Truman had finally caught on to what they already thought they knew.  Now he would be free like they were. They couldn’t be taken in; now he couldn’t. Except, of course, they were applauding an illusion, a film about being trapped in a reality-TV world, a world in which they stood in that theatre – their world, their frame. Frames within frames. Truman escapes from one fake frame into another – the movie. The joke was on them. The film had done its magic as its obvious content concealed its deeper truth: the spectator and the spectacle were wed. McLuhan was here right: the medium was the message.

This is what George Trow in 1980 called “the context of no context.”  Candor as concealment, truth as lies, knowingness as stupidity.  Making reality unreal in the service of an agenda that is so obvious it isn’t, even as the cognoscenti applaud themselves for being so smart and in the know.

The more we hear about “the deep state” and begin to grasp its definition, the more we will have descended down the rabbit hole.  Soon this “deep state” will be offering courses on what it is, how it operates, and why it must stay hidden while it “exposes” itself.

Right-wing pundit Bill Krystal tweets: “Obviously [I] prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics.  But if it comes to it, [I] prefer the deep state to Trump state.”

Liberal CIA critic and JFK assassination researcher, Jefferson Morley, after defining the deep state, writes, “With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most – perhaps the only – credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”

These are men who ostensibly share different ideologies, yet agree, and state it publicly, that the “deep state” should take out Trump.  Both believe, without evidence, that the Russians intervened to try to get Trump elected. Therefore, both no doubt feel justified in openly espousing a coup d’etat. They match Trump’s blatancy with their own.  Nothing deep about this.

Liberals and conservatives are now publicly allied in demonizing Putin and Russia, and supporting a very dangerous military confrontation initiated by Obama and championed by the defeated Hillary Clinton.  In the past these opposed political factions accepted that they would rotate their titular leaders into and out of the White House, and whenever the need arose to depose one or the other, that business would be left to deep state forces to effect in secret and everyone would play dumb.

Now the game has changed.  It’s all “obvious.”  The deep state has seemingly gone shallow. Its supporters say so.  All the smart people can see what’s happening.  Even when what’s happening isn’t really happening.

“Only the shallow know themselves,” said Oscar Wilde.

Public Notices/Private Questions/Musical Dreams

Throughout our days we all notice many things that elicit questions that quickly pass through us as in a dream. Here are some that a man caught on the fly, asked to respond, and found they all responded in songs, songs that didn’t exactly answer his questions but set him to dreaming. This is an invitation to dream along.

*****

Two women out walking do not stop talking. An elderly man and woman out dining do not start talking.
Who says the most?

Hello in There“, John Prine

Every morning at sunrise, a simple, mild, and gentle man, seemingly somehow disabled, a camera hanging around his neck, stands stock still and half-hidden by reeds and bushes at the edge of a lake. For hours he waits to take photos of wildlife – deer, coyotes, bear, herons – emerging from the woods and lake’s edges.

What is it about wildness that he seeks to capture with his camera?

Like A Bird on a Wire“, Leonard Cohen

In a small New England town known as a haven for tourists and wealthy second-house owners from the city, the local Saturday morning farmers’ market features a parade of dogs being shown off by their visiting owners.
Who is on the leash?

Hound Dog“, Elvis Presley

A new 6th grade teacher reports to her department head that she is disturbed by the large number of her students who want to be addressed as “they.” She recounts how she just returned from taking her daughter to college at a prominent state university where all the professors who gave talks to parents and new students introduced themselves by saying how they wished to be addressed: he, she, they, etc.

Is this what it’s all about in today’s schools of show and tell?

What Did You Learn in School Today?“, Tom Paxton

A liberal New England regional newspaper refuses to publish an op ed article by a well-known local writer about how the chief U.S. propagandist has recently been named the new CEO of National Public Radio. When the writer asked the paper’s editor if he would consider it newsworthy if the newspaper named the chief propagandist it’s CEO, he received no reply.

Why might that be?

I Ain’t Marching Anymore“, Phil Ochs

On an old town road in the hills of western Massachusetts, passers-by comment on a certain small stretch where the smell of wild thyme overwhelms the senses when they go by. No thyme can be found.

Are these people imagining that the time has passed away, or they?

Who Knows Where the Time Goes“, Judy Collins

A violent thunderstorm with massive lightning bolts brings down scores of trees and power lines in the early fall evening. Roads are flooded and rivers and streams overflow their banks.

Where, asks an eight-year-old boy to vacant faces, was the lightning before it flashed?

Chimes of Freedom“, Bob Dylan

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military kills 32 sleeping pine nut farmers and 40 other civilians at a wedding, including children, between September 19-23, 2019 as part of the American “war on terror.”

Whom does this keep awake at night and who sleeps soundly thinking they are safe?

A Love Song to Americans“, Edward Curtin and David Neal

An old woman named Martha is overheard saying to her son, who is sitting beside her: “Martha is dying.” The son asks: “Why are you referring to yourself in the third person?” The mother answers: “It’s more comforting that way.”

Is this truth or denial?

Changes“, Phil Ochs

Another old woman is heard to say to her daughter: “Sometimes you don’t know where you are until you’ve left.”

And when we’ve left, where do we want to be?

Where’ve You Been“, Kathy Mattea

Graffiti spray painted on a wall near the railroad tracks: “You come early of late, but you used to be behind before, but now you’re first at last.”

And you?

It’s Too Late”, Carole King

The orange and black sign by the winding lake road up the hill from the twisting river announces “Rough Road.” It sits there in the fall air like a glowing jack-o-lantern announcing some enigmatic truth. The town authorities wish to repave the road and remove the sign. A poor man protests to the Select Board, a group of successful residents. They are flabbergasted by his reasoning. He says they are trying to smooth over the truth of life.

Which side of the road are you on, or do you usually walk the line?

Walk the Line”, Johnny Cash

Julian Assange’s father, after visiting his son in prison, where he is ill and held in solitary confinement 22 hours a day, is asked by an interviewer what are his concerns if his son is extradited to the U.S. under the Espionage Act. “They will murder Julian one way or another,” says John Shipton.

Why do so few Americans and Aussies care that their countries are run by mass murderers?

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, Liam Clancy

Radio announcer: “I’ll talk about the weather with you in a few minutes.”

Is this the intimacy we crave?

The Dangling Conversation”, Simon and Garfunkel

A big sign on the wall inside a General Dynamics military defense plant announces: “Nothing important ever shows up in the newspaper. Reality is top secret.”

What is this reality that we are not supposed to know?

Follow”, Richie Havens

The local community college announced in the fall of 2018 a new certificate program: Training to become an Addiction Recovery Assistant to work in the substance abuse field. In the fall of 2019, as the college’s enrollment continued to fall and pot stores were springing up all around the area, the same college offered a new certificate program: A Cannabis Certificate Program that offers students training in cannabis cultivation, processing, preparation, retail, and outreach.

Guess what’s next?

Sunday Morning Coming Down“, Kris Kristofferson

On March 28, 2019, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, David Trachtenberg, testifies in front of a Congressional committee that the American policy of first use of nuclear weapons is necessary for American security. In August 2019 the world is given notice that the U.S. has officially withdrawn from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In September 2019, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Kahn, warns the world that the conflict with India over Kashmir is making the chance of nuclear war far likelier. As the U.S. continues to surround Russia with military forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to warn of the growing threat of nuclear war.

It looks like the world is heating up, doesn’t it?

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, Bob Dylan

Will NPR Now Officially Change Its Name to National Propaganda Radio?

Back in the 1960s, the CIA official Cord Meyer said the agency needed to “court the compatible left.”  He knew that drawing liberals and leftists into the CIA’s orbit was the key to efficient propaganda.  Right-wing and left-wing collaborators were needed to create a powerful propaganda apparatus that would be capable of hypnotizing audiences into believing the myth of American exceptionalism and its divine right to rule the world.  The CIA therefore secretly worked to influence American and world opinion through the literary and intellectual elites.

Frances Stonor Saunders comprehensively covers this in her 1999 book, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA And The World Of Arts And Letters, and Joel Whitney followed this up in 2016 with Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, with particular emphasis on the complicity between the CIA and the famous literary journal, The Paris Review.  By the mid-1970s, as a result of the Church Committee hearings, it seemed as if the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. had been caught in flagrante delicto and disgraced, confessed their sins, and resolved to go and sin no more.  Then in 1977, Carl Bernstein wrote a long piece for Esquire – “The CIA and the Media” – naming names of journalists and media (The New York Times, CBS, etc.) that worked hand-in-glove with the CIA, propagandizing the American people and the rest of the world.  It seemed as if all would be hunky-dory now with the bad boys purged from the American “free” press.  Seemed to the most naïve, that is, by which I mean the vast numbers of people who wanted to re-stick their heads in the sand and believe, as Ronald Reagan’s team of truthtellers would announce, that it was “Morning in America” again with the free press reigning and the neo-conservatives, many of whom had been “converted” from their leftist views, running things in Washington.

So again it is morning in America, this September 6, 2019, and the headline from National Public Radio announces the glad tidings that NPR has named a new CEO.  His name is John Lansing, and the headline says he is a “veteran media executive.”  We are meant to be reassured.  It goes on to say that Mr. Lansing, 62, is currently the chief executive of the government agency, The U.S. Agency for Global Media, that oversees Voice of America, Radio and Television Marti, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, among others.  We are furthermore reassured by NPR that Lansing “made his mark in his current job with stirring defenses of journalism, free from government interference.” The announcement goes on to say:

Lansing has earned an advanced degree in political agility. At the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Lansing championed a free press even as leaders of many nations move against it.

Governments around the world are increasingly cracking down on the free flow of information; silencing dialogue and dissent; and distorting reality,’ Lansing said in a speech he delivered in May to the Media for Democracy Forum. ‘The result, I believe, is a war on truth.’

He continued: ‘Citizens in countries from Russia to China, from Iran to North Korea, have been victimized for decades. But now we’re seeing authoritarian regimes expanding around the globe, with media repression in places like Turkey and Venezuela, Cambodia and Vietnam.

So we are reassured that the new head of NPR, the chief of all U.S. propaganda, is a champion of a free press.  Perhaps NPR will soon enlighten the American public by interviewing its new head honcho and asking him if he thinks Julian Assange and Chelsey Manning, by exposing America’s war crimes, and Edward Snowden, by exposing the U.S. government’s vast electronic surveillance programs of its own citizens, deserve to be jailed and exiled for doing the job the American mainstream “free press” failed to do. What NPR failed to do. Perhaps they will ask him if he objects to the way his own government “interfered” in the lives of these three courageous people who revealed truths that every citizen of a free country is entitled to.  Perhaps they will ask him if the U.S. government’s persecution of these truthtellers is what he means by there being “a war on truth.”  Perhaps they will ask him if he thinks the Obama and Trump administrations have been “distorting reality” and waging a war on truth.

Perhaps not. Of course not.

Don’t laugh, for the joke will be on you if you listen to NPR and its sly appeal to “liberal” sensibilities.  If you are wondering why we have had the Russia-gate hoax and who was responsible (see/hear Russia expert Prof. Stephen Cohen here) and are now involved in a new Cold War and a highly dangerous nuclear confrontation with Russia, read Lansing’s July 10, 2019 testimony before the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: “United Sates Efforts to Counter Russian Disinformation and Malign Influence.” 

Here is an excerpt:

USAGM provides consistently accurate and compelling journalism that reflects the values of our society: freedom, openness, democracy, and hope. Our guiding principles—enshrined in law—are to provide a reliable, authoritative, and independent source of news that adheres to the strictest standards of journalism….

Russian Disinformation.  And make no mistake, we are living through a global explosion of disinformation, state propaganda, and lies generated by multiple authoritarian regimes around the world. The weaponization of information we are seeing today is real. The Russian government and other authoritarian regimes engage in far-reaching malign influence campaigns across national boundaries and language barriers. The Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation machine is being unleashed via new platforms and continues to grow in Russia and internationally. Russia seeks to destroy the very idea of an objective, verifiable set of facts as it attempts to influence opinions about the United States and its allies. It is not an understatement to say that this new form of combat on the information battlefield may be the fight of the 21st century.

Then research the history of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Voice of America, Radio and Television Marti, etc.  You will be reassured that Lansing’s July testimony was his job interview to head National Propaganda Radio.

Then sit back, relax, and tune into NPR’s Morning Edition.  It will be comforting to know that it is “Morning in America” once again.

Jeffrey Epstein and the Spectacle of Secrecy

When phrases such as “the deep state” and “conspiracy theory” become staples of both the corporate mainstream media and the alternative press, we know the realities behind these phrases have outlasted their usefulness for the ruling elites that control the United States and for their critics, each of whom uses them refutably or corrobatively. These phrases are bandied about so often that they have become hackneyed and inane.

Everything is shallow now, in our faces, and by being in our faces the truth is taking place behind our backs. The obvious can’t be true since it’s so obvious, so let us search for other explanations, and when the searchers search, let us call them “conspiracy nuts.”  It is a mind game of extraordinary proportions, orchestrated by the perverted power elites that run the show and ably abetted by their partners in the corporate mass media, even some in the alternative press who mean well but are confused, or are disinformation agents in the business of sowing confusion together with their mainstream Operation Mockingbird partners.  It is a spectacle of open secrecy, in which the CIA, which created the “conspiracy theory” meme to ridicule critics of the Warren Commission’s absurd explanation of the Kennedy assassination, has effectively sucked everyone into a game of to and fro in which only they win.

“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”

Only by stepping outside this narrative frame with its vocabulary can we begin to grasp the truth here in our Wonderland of endless illusions.

Death, sex, power, intrigue, murder, suicide – these are the staples of the penny press of the 19th century, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, Hearst’s New York Journal, the tabloids, today’s mass media, and the CIA.  People hunger for these stories, not for the real truth that impacts their lives, but for the titillation that gives a frisson to their humdrum lives. It is why post-modern detective stories are so popular, as if never solving the crime is the point.

To say “we will never know” is the mantra of a postmodern culture created to keep people running in circles. (Note the commentaries about the Jeffrey Epstein case.) Elusive and allusive indeterminacy characterizes everything in the culture of postmodernity. Robert Pfaller, a professor at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria and a founding member of the Viennese psychanalytic research group “stuzzicandenti,” put it clearly in a recent interview:

The ruling ideology since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even earlier, is postmodernism. This is the ideological embellishment that the brutal neoliberal attack on Western societies’ welfare (that was launched in the late 1970s) required in order to attain a “human”, “liberal” and “progressive” face. This coalition between an economic policy that serves the interest of a tiny minority, and an ideology that appears to “include” everybody is what Nancy Fraser has aptly called “progressive neoliberalism”. It consists of neoliberalism, plus postmodernism as its ideological superstructure.

The propagandists know this; they created it.  They are psychologically astute, having hijacked many intelligent but soul-less people of the right and left to do their handiwork.  Money buys souls, and the number of those who have sold theirs is numerous, including those leftists who have been bought by the CIA, as Cord Meyer, the CIA official phrased it so sexually in the 1950s: we need to “court the compatible left.”  He knew that drawing leftists into the CIA’s orbit was the key to efficient propaganda. For so many of the compatible left, those making a lot of money posing as opponents of the ruling elites but taking the money of the super-rich, the JFK assassination and the truth of September 11, 2001 are inconsequential, never to be broached, as if they never happened, except as the authorities say they did. By ignoring these most in-your-face events with their eyes wide shut, a coterie of influential leftists has done the work of Orwell’s crime-stop and has effectively succeeded in situating current events in an ahistorical and therefore misleading context that abets U.S. propaganda.

The debate over whether Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide or not is a pseudo-debate meant to keep people spinning their wheels over nothing. It attracts attention and will do so for many days to come. There are even some usually astute people suggesting that he may not be dead but might have been secretly whisked off somewhere and replaced with a dead look-alike. Now who would profit from suggesting something as insane as this?  The speculation runs rampant and feeds the spectacle. Whether he was allowed to kill himself or was killed makes little difference.

It’s akin to asking who pulled the trigger that killed President Kennedy.  That’s a debate that was intended to go nowhere, as it has, after it became apparent that Lee Harvey Oswald surely did not kill JFK.  John Kennedy’s murder in broad daylight in public view is the paradigmatic event of modern times. It is obvious to anyone that gives minimal study to the issue that it was organized and carried out by elements within the national security state, notably the CIA. Their message was meant to be unequivocal and clear: We can kill him and we can kill you; we are in full control; beware. Then they went on to kill others, including RFK and MLK.  It takes little intelligence to see this obvious fact, unless you wish not to or are totally lost in the neighborhood of make-believe.

As it was with Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald, so it is with Epstein. There will be no trial.  Nothing is really hidden except the essential truth.  Guess, debate, wonder, watch, read to your sad heart’s content.  You will have gotten nowhere unless you step outside the frame of the reigning narrative.

A corollary example of another recent national headline grabber, the Mueller investigation, is apropos here.  Douglas Valentine, expert on the CIA and author of The CIA as Organized Crime, said in a recent interview that in all the endless mass media discussions of the Mueller investigation, one obvious question was never asked: What is the CIA’s role in it all?  It was never asked because the job of the corporate mass media is to work for the CIA, not to expose it as a nest of organized criminals and murderers that it is.

What is important in the Epstein case is the deep back story, a tale that goes back decades and is explored by Whitney Webb in a series of fine articles for the Mint Press. Read her articles and you will see how Epstein is just the current manifestation of the sordid history of the American marriage between various factions of the American ruling elites, whose business is sexual exploitation as a fringe benefit of being willing members of the economic and military exploitation of the world. A marriage of spies, mafia, intelligence agencies, sexual perverts, foreign governments, and American traitors who will stop at nothing to advance their interests.

It is a hard story to swallow because it destroys the fairy tale that has been constructed about American “democracy” and the decency of our leaders. Webb’s articles are not based on secret documents but on readily available information open to a diligent researcher. It’s known history that has been buried, as is most history in a country of amnesiacs and educational illiterates.  The average person doesn’t have Webb’s skill or time to pull it all together, but they can read her illuminating work. Often, however, it is the will to truth that is lacking.

While Webb places the Epstein matter in an historical context, she does not “solve” the case, since there is nothing to solve.  It is another story from a long litany of sex/espionage stories openly available to anyone willing to look.  They tell the same story.  Like many commentators, she draws many linkages to the Israeli Mossad’s long-standing connections to this criminal under and over world in the United States and throughout the world.  She writes:

Ultimately, the picture painted by the evidence is not a direct tie to a single intelligence agency but a web linking key members of the Mega Group [a secretive group of Jewish billionaires, including Epstein’s patron Leslie Wexner], politicians, and officials in both the U.S. and Israel, and an organized-crime network with deep business and intelligence ties in both nations.

If anything is obvious about the Epstein case, it is that he was part of a sexual blackmail operation tied to intelligence agencies.  Such blackmail has long been central to the methods of intelligence agencies worldwide and many arrows rightfully point to the Mossad.

However, while throughout Webb’s articles she draws linkages that lead to the Mossad, she only suggests CIA connections.  This is similar to but milder than a point made in an article written by Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist, Did Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein Work for Mossad?  Giraldi writes that the CIA “would have no particular motive to acquire an agent like Epstein.”  This makes no sense.  Of course, they would.  The CIA and the FBI have a long record of such activities, and to hold such a club over the heads of presidents, senators, et al to make sure they do their bidding is obviously a strong motivation.

Valentine’s point about not asking the question about the CIA’s involvement in the Mueller investigation pertains. Does Giraldi believe that the Mossad operates independently of the CIA? Or that they don’t work in tandem?  His statement is very strange.

The CIA is organized crime, and if Epstein is Mossad-connected, he is CIA also, which is most likely.  No one like Epstein could have operated as he did for decades without being sustained and protected.  Now that he is dead there will be no trial, just as there will be no mainstream media or justice department revelations about the CIA or Mossad.  There will be a lot of gibberish about conspiracy theories and the open secret that is the spectacle of secrecy will roll on. There will, of course, be much sex talk and outrage. We will anxiously await the movie and the TV “exposés.” Most people will know, and pretend they don’t, that the country is ruled by gangsters who would pimp their mothers if it served their interests.

Those of us who oppose these criminals – and there are growing numbers all over the world – must avoid being sucked into the establishment narratives and the counter-narratives they spawn or create.  We must refuse to get involved in pseudo-debates that are meant to lead nowhere.  We must reject the language created to confuse.

If revolutionary change is to come, we must learn to tell a new story in language so beautiful, illuminating, and heart-rending that no one will listen to the lying words of child molesters, mass murderers, and those who hate and persecute truth tellers.

As John Berger said, “In storytelling everything depends on what follows what.  And the truest order is seldom obvious.”

A Dreaming Stranger on a Train

Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.

— Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome, April 1, 1987

News headlines for July, 2, 2019 seen at a kiosk in Grand Central Station: Trump says tanks will be on display July 4th as a sign of the nation’s firepower; bombing kill dozens and hurts schoolchildren as Taliban talks resume; Israel is blamed for deadly missile strike in Syria; could a mandatory Keto diet improve U.S. military performance; and Japan resumes commercial whaling.  The traveler saw these notices of strength and power and passed them by in disgust.

On the train from New York City, the advertisement on the wall with a picture of a disconsolate white guy read: “They say laughter is the best medicine.  But not when it comes to ED.”  The traveler, whose first name was Ed, couldn’t help laughing, which was a relief after his previous revulsion.  He wondered why in the 1990s so many men allegedly and suddenly came down with sexual impotence.  Was it connected to that other fake medical disease, attention deficit disorder, or to the dawning awareness that American military bravado was a cover for growing weakness?

He remembered that when he was young, he had had an erector set made of metal, and in order to raise something up, you had to use screws and nuts. But that was just play construction and the socialization of boys. Now the pharmaceutical companies had, in an Orwellian fashion, created a new word for male impotence (powerlessness), a mechanical functional term, as if the human body were a machine and men were innocent little boys. “Erectile Dysfunction” – a simple engineering problem.

First create the problem, then sell the solution.  Maybe all these damaged men weren’t powerless, just mechanically challenged.  Or if they felt powerless but were not sexually impotent, what might be the cause of this feeling?  Were they mentally challenged?  Screwed by Big Pharma’s propaganda?  Gone nuts in a world where technology was rendering them superfluous except for some sperm in a bank?

When he got home, the sojourner, a man of words, wondered further.  He saw this advertisement and realized the truth must lie in numbers, a lot of numbers.  Didn’t analytics rule the day?

Fierce Pharma

4.3 million men in the UK experience erectile problems: That’s a lot of men.  That’s more men than there are words in this newspaper, in fact.  That’s twenty five times more men than there are words in the English language.  More men than all the words in all the novels Charles Dickens ever wrote, even.  So a lot of men will be glad to know that Viagra connect is now available without a prescription.

In The Wall Street Journal for July 1, 2019, which he found lying on the adjoining train seat, it was reported that Surterra Wellness Inc., a cannabis start-up company, had named the former Kellogg Co. chief financial officer Fareed Khan as its next finance chief. Also joining Surterra were William Wrigley II, the former CEO and chairman of the famous Wrigley candy and gum company, and Ed Brown, the former CEO of Patrόn Spirits Co.

He thought of John Kellogg with his clean-living movement and his obsession with creating anaphrodistic foods like Corn Flakes to curb sexual urges, and he wondered if Ogden Nash’s famous lines needed to be amended: “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”  Should Nash’s words now read: Candy is dandy, liquor is quicker, but cannabis is satoris?  Also unfathomable in its ability to generate great profits and higher delusions?  These new Surterra guys seemed to think so.

When a woman got on at the next stop and sat down next to our traveler, she immediately started fingering her phone, and when that continued for the next twenty minutes, it so irritated him that he decided to take a nap.  He dreamed of how he was a ridiculous man, akin to Dostoevsky’s ridiculous man, but that he was traveling to a place where being ridiculous was a sign of sanity, not an excuse for mockery because the age he was living in was demented. When he awoke the woman was gone.  He tried to grasp the meaning of his dream, but was interrupted by his arrival at his stop.  Like Dostoevsky’s character, he dreamed he was taken to a different planet, but he couldn’t say where it was. He heard these words: “And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that’s the chief thing, and that’s everything; nothing else is wanted — you will find out at once how to arrange it all.” Hearing these words, he felt less alone, not exactly a stranger on a train.

But when he got home and emptied his backpack, he saw that a small pocket tape recorder that he had purchased and fiddled with before boarding the train had been turned on to the record mode the whole time.  He rewound it and played it forward to make sure it was clear.  About halfway through he heard these words, each interrupted by a short pause: “I know-I know-I knooow-yeh-it’s true-I know-yeh-aaah-aaah-yeh-yeh-aaah-mmm-yeh-right-really-aaah-I know-good for her-yeh-yup-right-good for her-yeh -yeh-seeya.”  The phone call of the woman in the next seat had been recorded, her eloquent half of it, anyway.  His dream vanished.

He placed the tape recorder on his desk and read a quote by Samuel Beckett, the author of Waiting for Godot, that he had copied out before he took his trip.

Perhaps that’s what I feel, an outside and an inside and me in the middle, perhaps that’s what I am, the thing that divides the world in two, on the one side the outside, on the other the inside, that can be as thin as foil, I’m neither one side nor the other, I’m in the middle, I’m the partition, I’ve two surfaces and no thickness, perhaps that’s what I feel, myself vibrating, I’m the tympanum, on the one hand the mind, on the other the world, I don’t belong to either.

Then he went to bed and back to dreaming.

He awoke to this headline the following day: “Navy Seal Accused of War Crimes Acquitted of Murder” for killing two Iraqi civilians and stabbing to death a teenage prisoner.

When Warriors become Saints

As I sit on the small balcony on the top floor of an old house in the working class neighborhood of Alfama in Lisbon, Portugal, it is early evening, the time for wine and voices wafting on the fragrant breeze through the twisting cobble-stoned streets.  The National Pantheon (Panteao Nacional) stares me in the face.  I stare back, and then look up to the heavens and to the cross that is silhouetted against the blue sky.  It crowns the Pantheon’s massive dome.  On its façade stand three statues, only one of which I can see clearly.  She is Santa Engracia, a Christian martyr from before the period when the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized and legitimatized Christianity, transforming the cross into a sword. It was her church before the state found it acceptable to convert it into a space to glorify its secular saints and its military and political prowess.

Rome never dies, although it falls in different guises but is resurrected by the human urge to dominate others.  The savage complicity between church and state perdures through the ages.

Wherever you go, the monuments and statues glorifying humanity’s violent history are always presented as a form of liberation. Tourist attractions. Generals, princes, and kings atop horses, brandishing swords and guns, “grace” squares and monuments as a reminder to the common folk of who is looking down on them and to whom they should look up, or look out.  Yet even when they do show obeisance to their “masters” who rule them from the heights, the commoners are left out of the spoils of empire, and if they object, they are taken out without hesitation.

On a clothesline outside the windows of the house across the street where a woman peeks out, the pants and underwear humbly sway to a different tune, a sad Fado moan that seems to ask: What has happened?  Has it always been like this?

I am tempted to tell the underwear it has but realize its job is to cover-up, not expose the truth.

Rilke, a German language poet of most delicate sensibilities, asked from one of his castle abodes provided by one of his many rich lady friends:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me

Among the angels’ hierarchies?
And even if one of them
Pressed me against his heart
I would be consumed in that
overwhelming existence.

But down below, the omnipresent graffiti on the walls is a bit less circumspect.  It shouts: Fuck the elites! (Translation provided)

The old poor murmur their prayers and the angry young spray their rage on every canvas they can find.  Both seek hope outside the museums and mausoleums erected by the wealthy to glorify themselves.

And fate answers: It’s the same old story, a fight for love and glory.  Those seeking glory, the rich elites, the powerful with the guns in all the countries across the planet, with a few exceptions, smash the lovers and the humble people as they struggle to keep faith and hope alive. Who will liberate them?

Who among the elites will hold the arm of the old Portuguese woman on the one crutch as she teeters on her struggle up the steep hill to the little grocery store?  “Orbrigada – Deus te abinҫoe” is her response to a stranger, whose heart aches.

Here in Lisbon there is a famous tourist attraction, Castelo De S. Jorge, a massive hilltop castle and fortress overlooking the city.  Built by the Moors in the eleventh century, it was conquered by Dom Afonso Henriques, who became the first king of Portugal, and began what is so nobly described as “its golden age as a home for the royalty.”  Royals are always noble, and castles and mythic saint/soldiers like St. George intimate friends.  It is a marriage made in hell.

The Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola, was a soldier seriously wounded in war at the age of thirty.  He subsequently underwent a religious conversion. He founded the Jesuit order eighteen years later and was sainted in 1556, sixty-six years after his death.  Having been educated by the Jesuits, I vividly recall the motto of my Jesuit high school that adorns the school seal, Deo et Patriae, a not so subtle reminder of how my priorities should be linked.  I have failed that test, just as I failed a freshman mathematics exam, probably because I couldn’t figure out what two plus two equaled, since I was reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground at the time and might have thought it was five because I believed I was free and not what Ignatius urged Jesuits to be – “as if a dead body” in obedience to the Pope.

The so-called rational ones have brought the earth to the point of extinction with their instrumental rationality and their diseased souls.  We are living in the Crystal Palace that Dostoevsky so mocked long before the crystal turned digital. One plus zero may equal one in such a glass house, but such counting will not protect us from the whirlwind we have conjured from the smart man’s equation of E=mc

Only a spiritual equivalent will save us, as James Douglass has so eloquently argued in his slim but powerful book, Lightning East to West: Jesus, Gandhi, and the Nuclear Age, where, taking up Gandhi’s suggestion, he argues that there is a spiritual equivalent to Einstein’s law of physical change that we must discover that will allow for a radical transformation of society and the world.  Douglass’s country is the world.

I, however, am reminded of a very different Jesuit-trained American (one among many), who has passed the American indoctrination exam “admirably” and who has worked assiduously for God and country and followed that American motto of “In God We Trust” when he recently led the CIA in its holy wars under President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner – John Brennan. Was his excuse he was just following orders, “as if a dead body”?

I think the dead children in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and so many other places he helped to destroy would not buy that excuse. Yet Fordham University thought to honor him.  Is this what the Jesuit motto means: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem (for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humanity)?

Has Fordham ever heard of the Nuremberg Trials?

In the men’s room of St. George’s Castle, there is a wall dispenser selling M&Ms.  Imperialism and colonialism take many forms.

It is hard to say what’s new since humanity’s savage history just rolls along.  The technology changes, but people do not. Spray paint is about 75 years old, about the same age as nuclear weapons, both products of WW II.  One leads to “Fuck the elites,” while the other says, “We are the elites and see what we can do to the Japanese.”

War spurs technological development like nothing else, and as the brilliant French social thinker Paul Virilio has shown with his war model, “history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems.” Modern societies, with increased technological speed, the administration of fear (terror), and digital gadgetry, are engaged in a battle for people’s minds through technological perception management.  Virilio makes it clear, following on the work of his fellow countryman Jacques Ellul, that built into the technology is the “integral accident,” by which he means that every new technology creates its own potential “accident.”

While most people welcome new technology because they have been conditioned to think only in scientific and positivistic terms, they fail to see the price to be paid.  The nuclear bomb, nicknamed “The Gadget” by its one-dimensional, sick scientific inventors, is an accident waiting to happen, unless human madness first leads to its intended use once again.

Or unless we can first discover the spiritual power to eliminate what we have created.

Now we have what Virilio calls the “information bomb,” the glut of information that overloads people’s ability to think clearly or to concentrate, but a boom to the elites who think they are in full control of people’s minds and the technology they promote.

On the ramparts of Castelo De S. Jorge, the tourists snap photo after photo with their cell phones, failing to realize that these memories they are “shooting” from the heights where canons once shot the infidels, have imprisoned them in a dungeon as deep and dark as the one in the castle below their feet.

Visiting castles, like so many trips into the past, can awaken one to the truth of human history or put one to sleep.  It is usually the latter.

The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gassett, who lived here in Lisbon for a year after fleeing Franco’s Spain, said it best:

The only genuine ideas are the ideas of the shipwrecked.  All the rest is rhetoric, farce.

We are all shipwrecked now, not just the Portuguese sailors long lost at sea never to return to home despite the lament of the Fado singers.

If we are to make this earth our home again, we had better learn to sing a different tune.  If not, we will be eliminated by accident or intent, and no one will be singing for our return.  It is a harsh truth, but quite simple.

In the Foz district of Porto, Portugal on the Atlantic, in the park and on the beaches, children play and laugh and the music of their voices rises into the air to remind me that they are our hope on this dark and tempestuous sea on which we are shipwrecked, hoping to find our way home.

Dostoevsky said it well: “The soul is healed by being with children.”

Can we hear their voices, singing?

Much Ado About Nothing: Asking Who Won the Political Debates

It amazes me that alternative journalists would spend even a minute writing about the ongoing Democratic Party debates.  They are meaningless and they are not debates. How many times do we have to go through this ridiculous charade before this can be accepted once and for all?  The “debates” are farces, total theater, as are the Presidential elections. They don’t matter.  The political quiz show of duopoly is fixed.  Discussing who has won is the height of absurdity.  It legitimizes the system of oppressive duopoly.  It is political “jeopardy,” and only the fixers win when they suck us into watching and opining.  One expects the corporate media to do their jobs and drone on endlessly about nothing, but not those who oppose this anti-democratic sham.

Emma Goldman is alleged to have said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”  She was right then and is right now. With the exception of JFK, who was assassinated by the national security state when in his last year he radically turned against its war agenda, not one American president since has posed the slightest risk to the systemic power of the elites who own and run the country. If anyone ever did, they would not be on the ballot or in office. Here and there, a candidate running for the nomination of one of the ruling parties makes it into a debate only to be marginalized for bluntly attacking war policies; e.g., Tulsi Gabbard in 2019.  Those who enjoy the support of capitalism’s invisible army (the CIA) and Wall Street’s corporate merchants of death are allowed to present nuanced “anti-war” positions that their backers know are lies but suckers bite on in their desperation to believe that the system works; e.g., Obama in 2008.

Because Emma Goldman opposed the U.S. war and conscription policies during World War I, she was charged and imprisoned under the Espionage Act in 1917, “for conspiring against the draft,” a form of state imposed slavery.  Like Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, she was punished for telling the truth to the American people and the world. To contemplate their confinement in these prison hellholes sickens the soul.

When I was young and was seeking release from the Marine Corps as a conscientious objector, I spent quite some time pondering prison life, something I was expecting and preparing for but surprisingly avoided when the Commandant of the Marines released me so I could “take final vows in a religious order.”  It was an outright lie, something I never mentioned in my C.O. application, but it allowed them to save face while getting rid of a troublemaker.  Ironically, as a religious young man, I had often thought that the life of a Catholic priest or nun, in their respective celibate rooms in rectories or convents or monasteries, was similar to the life of a prisoner, and it struck me as very depressing.  Even a few years in a federal prison felt more liberating, so I steeled myself for that possibility by reading Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, and Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, among others, and disciplining myself physically, mentally, and spiritually for what never came to pass.

Now the world is our prison, as John Berger wrote in 2005 in a stunning article with the understated yet hopeful title, “Meanwhile.”  Because he was not caged by traditional categories of conventional thought but just wrote, trusting that words were winged creatures that rise and fly out of sentences into the unknown, Berger was able to discover truths that many feel but cannot articulate.  Often referred to as a Marxist art critic, such a description fails to capture the liberated nature of his writing, even when he is describing how we are imprisoned:

I’m searching for words to describe the period of history we’re living through.  To say it is unprecedented means little because all periods were unprecedented since history was first discovered….The landmark that I’ve found Is that of a prison.  Nothing less.  Across the planet we are living in a prison….No, it’s not a metaphor, the imprisonment is real, but to describe it one has to think historically….Today the purpose of most prison walls (concrete, electronic patrolled or interrogatory) is not to keep prisoners in and correct them, but to keep prisoners out and exclude them….In the eighteenth century, long-term imprisonment was approvingly defined as a punishment of ‘civic death.’  Three centuries later, governments are imposing – by law, force, economic threats and their buzz – mass regimes of civic death….The planet is a prison and the obedient governments, whether of the right or left, are the herders [US prison slang for Jailers].

At the heart of this prison system is financial, not industrial, capitalism, and the system of globalization fueled by the Internet that allows speculative financial transactions to be continually performed instantaneously. Speed is the essence of cyberspace, a placeless “place” that allows this worldwide prison system to operate.  Space, time, nationalities, local traditions, and idiosyncrasies of any sort are washed away by this tyrannical flood of abstract power controlled by the jailers and their henchmen in and out of governments.  This planetary prison’s “allotted zones vary and can be termed worksite, refugee camp, shopping mall, periphery, ghetto, office block, favela, suburb.  What is essential is that those incarcerated in these zones are fellow prisoners.”

The prisoners that are us are often just dimly aware that they are prisoners, but dimly is better than unaware.  For the jailers also use cyberspace to misinform, confabulate, lie, confuse, and convince the prisoners that they are not in cells but are free on their cells and had better be on constant alert to protect themselves and get theirs, theirs always being some commodity, which comes in many forms, including political candidates, sometimes “new and improved” and sometimes just “bright and new.”  The prisoners are always free to choose more of the same, if they can be conned.  While everyone “knows” these candidates sell themselves and that’s what debates are about – “if you liked that (one), you will like this (one)” – the jailers create what Berger calls “a hallucinating paradox” that keeps the prison population believing that the rigged system somehow works for them since they are exceptions to the rule that renders others moronic suckers.

So the question – who won? – is a good one, if you are a sports fan, but not when applied to the Democratic (or Republican) candidates’ debates.  Better to sing “Mrs. Robinson” along with Simon and Garfunkel: “Going to the candidates’ debate/Laugh about it, shout about it/When you’ve got to choose/Every way you look at it you lose.”

Those writers who wish to help their fellow prisoners should refuse to be herded into doing the work of their jailers and using language in a way that suggests the game is not fixed and they are not being seduced, as Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), the recent Williams College graduate, willingly was by Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 film, The Graduate.  Ben may have been put off by the suggestion that his future lay in “One word: plastics,” but if he were graduating from Williams or any other elite college and university this year or in any of the past twenty-five, a top career choice, flashing dollar signs, would be in the financial “services” industry, where he could join the financial tyrants in the use of cyberspace to imprison most of the world.  Our universities have become human “resources” departments (as people have become commodified resources like copper or nickel) for financial capitalism and the whole complex that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls “the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academe-Think-Tank (MICIMATT) complex, in which the corporate-controlled media play the sine-qua-non today.”

Alternative writers should refuse to rate the candidates or discuss their debates, but, like John Berger, think historically, structurally, and imaginatively, finding “enclaves of the beyond” for their fellow prisoners, little gifts, sunlight and blue sky through the jail cell’s window, not prizes for the winners.  That is not dissidence.

And while I am a harsh critic of the digital revolution, I realize Berger is right when he says:

Prisoners have always found ways of communicating with one another.  In today’s global prison, cyberspace can be used against the interests of those who first installed it.  Like this, prisoners inform themselves about what the world does each day, and they follow suppressed stories from the past, and so stand shoulder to shoulder with the dead.  In doing so, they rediscover little gifts, examples of courage, a single rose in a kitchen where there’s not enough to eat. Indelible pain, the indefatigability of mothers, laughter, mutual aid, silence, ever-widening resistance, willing sacrifice, more laughter….The messages are brief, but they extend in the solitude of their (our) nights.  The final guideline is not tactical but strategic.

“Meanwhile” is a hopeful word.  It implies that we are between times and the future is coming.  It can only be different if we do not play our jailors’ game, buy their lingo, and discuss the fixed quiz show that is American presidential politics.

“Liberty,” concludes Berger “is slowly being found not outside but in the depth of the prison.”

Happenings in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear.

— Buffalo Springfield,  “For What it’s Worth,” 1967

The Sunday newspaper had been left on the park bench.  Its book page had lists of best-sellers, as if numbers two through ten could be the “best” along with number one.  Absurdities were everywhere for the taking.  On the Non-Fiction Hardcover list, numbers 3, 5, and 10 each had the word fuck in the title.  The books were published by two old and respected publishing houses: Harper and Little Brown.  However, something was odd, for the word fuck was spelled f*ck.  These books were about hope, acceptance, and living the good life, cliché topics in a feel-good culture: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Everything is F*cked, and Calm the F*ck Down.  It seemed you had to be fucked first before you could accept the hope that the good life was coming your way.  He wondered if these publishing houses thought that by eliminating the “u” they kept their hands clean and were not descending into the gutter with hoi polloi, while simultaneously titillating potential readers.  Did they think readers would be offended by the word fuck, but would not be by f*ck?  Then it occurred to him that he didn’t know what the fuck non-fiction books were anyway.  Maybe he had been wrong all his life and the opposite of up was non-up, not down.

*****

On every table in the seaside resort’s breakfast room there was a brightly colored flower in a clear watered vase.  When he picked it up to smell the orange blossom, there was no smell and the water didn’t move.  He imagined an ersatz form of plastic happiness, a conjurer’s delight, where everything was a trick, nothing moved, not even water.

*****

Leaving the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in southern California where white and black Marines were regularly fighting and there were even some killings never reported by the press, the two young Marines escaped the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere on a weekend pass.  It was early February 1967, and they took an overnight bus up the coast to San Francisco where they wandered around and found a breakfast restaurant near Union Square.  There they read in the newspaper that for the week of January 12-19 the U.S. military had suffered its highest casualty count so far in Vietnam: 144 killed, 1,044 wounded, and 6 missing-in-action.  It jolted them awake more than the coffee.  Later that afternoon, the two naifs wandered into the Haight-Ashbury district were they were startled by the first waves of acid-dazed hippies, who would soon arrive in hoards for the “summer of love.” In the evening when they visited a bar for some beers, the waitress who delivered their drinks was topless. While they regarded this slight anomaly with manly indifference, she must have noticed their military haircuts that stood out among the longhairs, and so she served them buttons with their beers. The buttons read: Vietnam Love It Or Leave It. Heading back to the base, they knew where they didn’t want to go.

*****

The young man was studying for a PhD.  He was intent on learning what made the world and people tick. He was attending a small seminar at the home of his professor, a famous German emigre who had worked for the Rand Corporation and U.S. Intelligence. Each of the five students was to give a short presentation on the subject of fake news and the issue of knowledge, since the course concerned the sociology of knowledge. The student began his presentation by quoting a famous philosopher’s words: “In formulating any philosophy, the first consideration must always be: What can we know? That is, what can we be sure we know, or sure that we know we knew it, if indeed it is all knowable. Or have we simply forgotten it and are too embarrassed to say anything? Descartes hinted at the problem when he wrote, ‘My mind can never know my body, although it has become quite friendly with my legs.’ By ‘knowable,’ incidentally, I do not mean that which can be known by perception of the senses, or that which can be grasped by the mind, but more that which can be said to be Known or to possess a Knownness or Knowability, or at least something you can mention to a friend.” The student paused and the eminent professor said, “So very interesting. Who is that philosopher?” The student replied, “Woody Allen.” “He is very perceptive,” said the professor, “and yet I have never heard of him.  I will have to read his work.” The student realized he was in good hands with such U.S. intelligence and Rand Corporation experts, so he asked the professor’s wife for another glass of the German wine she was serving and toasted his good fortune with a wry grin. None of the other students got the joke.

*****

A young man was reading a book that he highly recommended to his uncle. Leafing through it, the older man came upon this passage: “the free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.” So what was the point of reading such a book, he wondered, since doing so was an exercise in pre-programmed absurdity since there was no freedom.

*****

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says: “Shit Happens.” Some people are just lucky, I suppose, and odd coincidences mark their lives. When he was just out of Columbia College and working for a reputed CIA front company, Business International Corporation, Barack Obama had a chance encounter with a young woman, Genevieve Cook, with whom he had a 1-2 year relationship. Like Obama and at about the same time, Cook just happened to have lived in Indonesia with her father, Michael Cook, who just happened to become Australia’s top spook, the director-general of the Office of National Assessments, and also the Ambassador to Washington. Of course, Obama’s mother, as is well-known, just happened to be living in Indonesia with Barack and Obama’s step-father, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian military officer, who had been called back to Indonesia by the CIA supported General Suharto to assist in the CIA coup against the President Sukarno and the slaughter of over a million Indonesian Communists and Indonesian-Chinese. As is also well-known, it just so happened that Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, trained in the Russian language, after teaching English in the US Embassy in Jakarta that housed one of the largest CIA stations in Asia, did her “anthropological” work in Indonesia and Southeast Asia financed by the well-known CIA conduits, USAID and the Ford Foundation. Then there is Cook’s stepfather, Philip C. Jessup, who just happened to be in Indonesia at the same time, doing nickel-mining deals with the genocidal Suharto government. Anyway, “shit happens.” You never know whom you might meet along the way of life.

*****

The hostess at the seaside restaurant had an eastern European accent, so he asked her where she was from.  She said, “Belgrade, Serbia.” He told her he was sorry for what the U.S. government led by Bill Clinton had done to her country and that he considered Clinton a war criminal. She said the bombing in 1999 was terrifying, and even though she was young at the time, she vividly remembered it. It traumatized her, her parents, and her family. Then she smiled and said that in the month she had been in the U.S. for her summer job, all the Americans she had met had been so friendly. He welcomed her to the U.S., and as he was walking away, he remembered that Clinton’s savage bombing of Serbia that had killed so many Serbian children and other innocents had been code-named “Operation Noble Anvil.” He wondered what kind of “noble” people would think of innocent children as anvils: “heavy usually steel-faced iron blocks on which metal is shaped,” and did the friendly Americans accept Clinton’s sick lies when he ended his March 24, 1999 war address to the American people with these words: “Our thoughts and prayers tonight must be with the men and women of our armed forces, who are undertaking this mission for the sake of our values and our children’s future. May God bless them, and may God bless America.”

*****

The banal, 1967 hit song, “San Francisco” (Be sure to wear flowers in your hair), which was influential in enticing young people to come to San Francisco for the Summer of Love, was written by “Papa” John Philips, who attended the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and whose father was a Marine Corps Captain. “Papa” John’s wife had worked at the Pentagon and her father was involved in covert intelligence work in Vietnam. His neighbor and Laurel Canyon (Los Angeles) buddy was Jim Morrison of Doors fame, whose father US Navy Admiral George Morrison commanded U.S. warships in Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf during the “Tonkin Gulf Incident.” Frank Zappa, the father figure of Laurel Canyon’s many musicians who just happened to converge in one place at the same time where a covert military film studio operated, had a father who was a chemical warfare specialist at Edgewood Arsenal. Stephen Stills, David Crosby and many other soon to be famous musicians all came from military and intelligence backgrounds and frolicked in Laurel Canyon. Although they were draft age, none of them was drafted as they played music, dropped acid, and created the folk-rock movement whose music was catchy but innocuous and posed no threat to the establishment. But “shit happens.” In his disturbing book, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, David McGowan raises the question: “what if the musicians themselves (and various other leaders and founders of the ‘movement’) were every bit as much a part of the intelligence community as the people who were supposedly harassing them? What if, in other words, the entire youth culture of the 1960s was created not as a grass-roots challenge to the status quo, but as a cynical exercise in discrediting and marginalizing the budding anti-war movement and creating a fake opposition that could be easily controlled and led astray…. What if, in reality, they were pretty much all playing on the same team?”

*****

The reporter was interviewing four of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s young “executive governors,” who were all dressed in three-piece business suits.  They were in the process of conducting Transcendental Meditation’s week-long course leading to super-normal abilities, including flying, levitating, disappearing, x-ray vision, and other siddhis, or supernormal powers.  Their recent press release had advertised the course as “a new breakthrough for human life on earth” for any person.  The reporter was a bit skeptical that people could be taught – for a large fee – to fly or disappear.  He asked one of the executive governors, “Can you literally rise into the air and move horizontally; can you see yourself and can others see you actually fly?”  “Absolutely,” Larry Johnson replied without hesitation, “absolutely.  Once you eliminate all stress from your nervous system, you have unbounded, unlimited potential.  A human can achieve any desire he wants, flying is only one of them.”  “People will be skeptical,” the reporter continued, “How about a demonstration?”  “A public demonstration would cause too much of a ruckus,” said Johnson.  “And we couldn’t show you because we only do it for each other.  Actually, we do our techniques with our eyes closed, but we do peek out once in a while and see each other flying around the room.  You know, one of the siddhis is a technique for making yourself invisible, and the Mararishi has said, ‘Don’t peek out to see if you’ve disappeared.’”  Johnson giggled and added, “We can also teach people to x-ray their own bodies and see through walls. Absolutely, absolutely.  It’s all about infinite correlation.  Absolutely.”  As the battered reporter left the interview, he wondered if the Maharishi was a creation of the CIA.  He remembered John Lennon’s song lines about the Maharishi’s assistant:  “But he often spread rumors through his right hand man/Who used to be with the CIA”

*****

What is “exactly clear” is that Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills, Neil Young et al) toured with their Laurel Canyon buddies, the Beach Boys, in late 1967 (their other mutual bud, Charlie Manson, stayed out west presumably to work on his craft) and performed at a very odd venue for a “dissident” rock group, The U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  At that time nearly 500,000 American troops were waging war on the Vietnamese.  That concert was an odd happening, wouldn’t you say?

*****

If  everyone actually looked, they’d see precisely what went down, “what’s going down,” and why we are going down.  If you think many of these things “just happen” for no reason, then I guess you are just “f*cked.”  Excuse me, but it’s true.  Does the asterisk help?

The War Hoax Redux

The Trump administration has a problem: How to start another war – this time with Iran – without having a justifiable reason for one.  No doubt members of Trump’s team, led by the war-thirsty and perdurable John Bolton, are working hard to solve this urgent problem.  If they can’t find a justification, they may have to create one.  Or perhaps they will find what they have already created.  Whatever the solution, Americans should feel confident that their leaders, together with their Israeli and Saudi bedfellows, are not sitting on their hands.  Crazy people do crazy things.

After the Gulf War in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it slowly became apparent what alternative media and war critics had insisted was the case before and during these wars: That the U.S. government had achieved a propaganda coup by tightly controlling the media access to the truth and by getting the mainstream media (MSM) to do their bidding.  This ex post facto revelation was, of course, not prime time or front page news, but was reported bit-by-bit by critics or was buried deep within the news reports.  While some of the truth arrived, it did so obliquely, and corporate media devotees went back to their gullible and comforting sleep.

Yet once again Americans are being played for fools by the government and MSM.  The open secret, the insider’s fact, is that the U.S. plans to attack Iran if they can seduce enough Americans that they are threatened.  The Trump people know this, the corporate media shills know it, for the Bush-Clinton-Obama scenario, written years ago, is to act as if it weren’t so, to act as if a peaceful solution were being seriously considered. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc. all learned better.  The U.S. never seeks a peaceful solution.

As in 1991 and 2003, the MSM play along with Trump, who repeatedly says, or has his spokespeople say, that the decision hasn’t been made and that the U.S. wants peace. Within a few hours this is contradicted and confusion and uncertainty reign, as planned. Chaos is the name of the game. But everyone in the know knows the decision to attack has been made at some level, especially once the propaganda dummies are all in place.  But they pretend, while the media wait with baited breath as they anticipate their countdown to the dramatic moment when they report the incident that will “compel” the U.S. to attack.

The corporate media, however, always avoid the key question: How will the U.S. justify its fait accompli and what is its goal?  This question is too disturbing to broach, for it suggests that the fix is in, the show is rigged, something is rotten in the symbiotic relationship between a government intent on war and a media in that government’s service.

What could, in the eyes of the American people, justify a war against Iran, assuming the Trump administration even cares about justification?   Will Iran attack Israel?  No. Will Iran attack the United States?  No.  Of course, not, not least because it can’t, even if it wished to do so, which it clearly doesn’t.  Any such Iranian attack – absurd as such a suggestion is – would give the Trump administration ample justification for a war.

So what is the administration to do now that the news from so many quarters – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. – is so bad?  What, if they are intent on a war with Iran, are they going to do about the absence of a cause for war?  It seems that they are in a dilemma.

“Seem” is the key word.  Logically speaking, if there is a war plan, if there is a Bolton/Pompeo/Israeli scenario, then the gun on the wall in the first act of this deadly play, must go off in the final act, no matter how long it takes.  The audience is being primed by the administration and their media mouthpieces to expect a “smoking gun.”  But what might it be?

“Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud,” George W. Bush said at a staged pseudo-event on October 7, 2002 as he set Americans up for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.  It was all predictable,  blatant deception.  And the media played along with such an absurdity.  Iraq obviously had no nuclear weapons or the slightest capability to deliver even a firecracker on the U.S.

Now Iran is the Nuclear devil.  Now Iran must be stopped.  Despite clear evidence to the contrary, Iran has been and will be accused of developing nuclear weapons.  Saddam was said to have had them; Iran only developing them, yet both lies need no evidence, just rhetoric.

Nevertheless, it might be claimed that secret “evidence” must be withheld on “national security” grounds or for fear of endangering Iranian informers or their families.  Thus a preemptive attack could be justified on the grounds of preventing another “Ground Zero” (a misnomer when applied to the World Trade Center site, but conveniently evocative for stirring nuclear fears).

The American people, still severely shaken by the attacks of September 11, 2001, would surely be alarmed by such a “threat,” especially if it were linked to terrorism (on the high seas? In the air?), which has been the modus operandi of one administration after another.  Aren’t we at war with terror?    But it is a strategy – linking nuclear fears with terrorist fears – that the Trump administration may be hoping will cover its lack of evidence with emotional blackmail.  But it is a strategy that may not work, since, for some very odd reason, people may prefer facts to fictions.  I emphasize “may.”

Perhaps Trump’s neo-con henchmen’s  best option, therefore, is to promote or create a Tonkin Gulf incident, “unprovoked aggression against American forces,” as Lyndon Johnson put it when he lied to the world in order to get the war he wanted after JFK had been disposed of by the CIA.  It worked in 1964, so it might work again, especially with the help of our special “ally” in the region – Israel.  And today’s attackers won’t be aggressors, they will be terrorists, which seals the deal.  Bombs away!

It’s hard to say with certainty what justification the Trump war-crazies will settle on, but time is running out for them.  The news is bad from every corner, so something must be done.

Many years of secret American/Israeli planning for an attack upon Iran can’t be wasted.

The stage is set.  The charade continues.  The MSM keep preparing us for the “smoking gun.”  Something’s got to give, and propaganda geniuses are working overtime on delivering us an Oscar-winning justification.

Don’t buy it.

Especially since you’ve heard this before, and I’ve written it.  With a few minor changes and the substitution of Iran for Iraq, this column was published on the morning before George W’s infamous  (the 16 words about uranium from Niger) State of the Union Address on January 28, 2003,  fifty-one days before the invasion of Iraq, and one week before Colin Powell’s lies at the United Nations.

Shocked and surprised should be words eliminated from our vocabularies.