Category Archives: Arts and/or Entertainment

Madonna Wishy-Washes Apartheid Israel at Eurovision

Art-washing is a PR tactic that uses famous artists in ways that divert attention away from bad behavior. An ad designer who combines a Monet water lily image with an oil company logo is one way.

Recruiting an international pop icon like Madonna to sing at a music festival in the creepy political climate of Tel Aviv is another. Zionists uncomfortable with the growing Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS) are always on the prowl for a new gimmick that will put a fun or progressive face on their deplorable government.

In the past, Israeli apologists have tried redirecting calls to restore Palestinian human rights by pointing to the gay-friendliness of Israel. This is called pink-washing. Others have suggested that treating Palestinians like second-class citizens is all right because of the disproportionate number of contributions Jews have made to the worlds of art and science. A rationale that seeks to justify one group mistreating another group because the former has had more of an opportunity to develop innovative ideas. This is a form of white-washing.

Last year Israeli Netta Barzilai won The Eurovision Song Contest. Her win meant Israel would not only get to host the world famous festival in 2019, it also might have a chance to spruce up Israel’s image for major print media and a wide audience of television viewers.

And who better than Madonna “The Queen of Pop” to put on the dog and send a global message that it’s OK to play apartheid Israel? Everyone already knew she’s a mega-star with a history of doing outlandish things — what would the surprises be on stage? Surely curiosities like these would help distract music fans and others from thinking about the unlawful and shitty things the Israeli government does to Palestinians. Promotors needed someone with her star power to stand up to BDS so they bet heavy on her persona and offered her a million bucks to sing a couple songs. 

Madonna isn’t just a performer, she’s also a shrewd business woman and advocate/student of the Kabballah (a form ofJewish mysticism). Although she doesn’t consider herself Jewish, she observes Shabbat and had a bar mitzvah for her son. Sometimes she’ll wear a Star of David or, a cross if she’s feeling sentimental about Jesus getting nailed to one. Other times she might put on a Moroccan Berber head dress and mix and match ethic jewelry.

Being hard to pin down is one of her strong suits. When fans thought she was through acting out sexually on stage, she offered to give anyone who voted for Hillary Clinton a blowjob in 2016. A while later, she was off on a pilgrimage to visit the tomb of a Sufi mystic in Turkey. Who knows what she’ll do next — keep ‘em guessing is her modus opperandi.

She’s super rich too. Guinness World Records has her as best-selling female artist of all time after selling 300 million records. Plus she’s the richest female singer in the world worth 800 million dollars. Lady Gaga comes in tenth with 275.

With money like that, Madonna the “material girl” and seeker-of-esoteric-wisdom, can be as spiritually eccentric as she wants. Spending 10 thousand dollars a month on Kabballah Water or throwing a Kabballah cocktail party at one of her lavish homes in New York, Beverly Hills, London or Tel Aviv is within her budget. It’s rumored she once tried filling up a house radiator system and swimming pool with the blessed 5 dollar a bottle water.

Given this level of notoriety, her audience was no doubt on tenterhooks wondering what her show would be like on closing night. She did tell Reuters “I’ll never stop playing playing music to fit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” Eurovision has a policy that prohibits performers from making political statements on stage. What would she do?

Her singing performance received mixed reviews, but she stumbled when it came to honoring her own pledge about speaking out against human rights violations. Her act that included a pair of hand-holding dancers briefly walking around wearing a Palestinian or Israeli flag didn’t add up to much. It said virtually nothing about war torn Palestinians who have been denied human rights for over 5O years.

So Madonna, pick up your million bucks at the office and hit the road. Don’t forget your costume eye-patch and 5 dollar bottle of water. And good luck in Kabballah school – maybe you’ll graduate after finding out life is a lot more than esoteric insights. You’re headed toward pop icon history now, but sitting on the fence and remaining wish-washy about human rights, puts you on the wrong side of it.

High Fives to Jimmy Dore for Laughing Russiagaters out of the Room

Jimmy Dore is a comic who has taken on Russiagate, a deadly serious matter.  He is one of those brave souls who count themselves as progressives but dared to call into question Russiagate.

There are those who will tell you that Trump is a despicable human; and so if Russiagate tarnished Trump, the argument goes, what did it matter whether it was true.  (The proposition that Trump is more monstrous than his predecessors, Obama, W or the Clintons is highly dubious to say the least – but that is a different topic.). There is, however, a very good reason why it does matter whether the charges making up Russiagate are true; for opposing Trump over his tax policies or stance on health care is quite a different matter from labeling him a Manchurian Candidate who colluded with Vlad Putin in 2016.  Russiagate put a US President in a position where he was unable to negotiate crucial issues with the other nuclear superpower.  To do so invited charges of being a Putin puppet, as evidenced by the howls that went up from the Establishment and most progressives over the Helsinki Summit.

What if the tensions between the US and Russia were to spin out of control in hot spots like Syria, where troops from the two nuclear superpowers pass within a whisker of one another, or Ukraine or even Venezuela?  To extract us from such a predicament, Putin and Trump would need to make concessions to one another, as Kennedy and Krushchev did successfully in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  But with the cloud of Russiagate hanging over his head Trump could make no such concession without being labelled a treasonous Putin puppet.  So Russiagate took away from Trump the ability to negotiate his way out of an existential threat should one emerge.  As such it should have been based on the highest levels of evidence.  In fact, it was not based on any hard evidence at all – there was none for the central charge of collusion.  And the Mueller investigation finally admitted this.  Given this, those who knowingly concocted Russiagate owe us all a great apology, for they committed the most serious of crimes by creating a situation that potentially threatened the existence of the American and Russian peoples – and perhaps all of humanity.

The absurdity of Russiagate and the absence of evidence for it was evident from the start.  But very few on the progressive side broke with the mainstream media and the Democratic Party political herd to say so.  That carried the risk of being shunned in progressive circles.  Or as one brave Russiagate dissident said under his breath, “I don’t have much social life any longer.”  That fact, in itself, is a sad commentary on what is called “progressivism” in the U.S.

Nevertheless, a handful of Russiagate debunkers emerged on the left, including Robert Parry and others at Consortium News, Aaron Maté now at The Nation, Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept, Michael Tracey, Stephen F. Cohen of EastWestAccord.com, Ray McGovern of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone, Craig Murray and others. They deserve enormous credit for poring over the detritus that the media dumped on us 24/7 for over two years and refuting it, one noxious bit at a time.

A standout among these dissidents is Jimmy Dore, a nightclub comic with a YouTube show run out of his garage in Pasadena. Dore took on Russiagate just as he took on the Dem Establishment and backed Bernie in 2016, and as he now offers high praise for Tulsi Gabbard, the peace candidate for 2020.  Jimmy Dore made the exposure of Russiagate fun.

Dore enjoys raising a simple question in the wake of the Mueller report:  How did a “jagoff comedian,” as he calls himself, who claims on occasion to smoke marijuana when he gets out of bed in the morning, get Russiagate right when grads of the Columbia School of Journalism and pundits like Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow and David Corn got it so wrong?

Dore has the answer, taking Maddow as an example who earns $30,000 for every single show.  For that and the celebrity career that goes with it, she lies – simple as that.   Dore even allows that he might be willing to lie at $30,000 an hour. But, he laments, the invitation has not been forthcoming.  And what is true of Maddow and the other Cable “News” talking heads is just as true of the upscale propagandists who dump their extrusions into gilded receptacles like the NYT, WaPo, New Yorker, NPR.  In contrast to be a Jimmy Dore or any of the other truth tellers requires a considerable dose of courage, because swimming against the mainstream can be a career terminator as Chris Hedges once of the NYT and a number of others can testify.

One of Dore’s approaches is especially powerful.  He provides a quote from the mainstream media, an establishment journalist or a faux progressive, reads it and then tears it apart.  Dore likes to play down his intellect – a good comic shtick – but the precision of his takedowns tells another story.  The takedown is followed by invective that is as accurate as it is impassioned.  Dore’s invective for which he has considerable talent would turn Jeremiah green with envy. In this task he is usually aided by his fellow comic, the insightful Ron Placone and Dore’s wife Stefane Zamorano, who styles herself The Miserable Liberal.

It is very satisfying to watch Dore in action – and funny.  In fact, at the gym I watch Jimmy on my iPad to save me from looking up at the omnipresent fake news on CNN.  My cardiac health, as well as my mental health, over the past two years has depended on his show.  If Dore were a physician, he could bill me.

You can best appreciate the Jimmy Dore show by going to YouTube and watching an episode.  I recommend this one, “Mueller Report Drops! Aaron Maté Explains.”  Here Maté also names the names of the fake progressives who caved to the Establishment narrative and some of the heroes who did not.  Dore expresses his usual sympathy for Mate’ for having to live among journalists most of whom compromise themselves whereas Dore gets to dwell among comics.

For a dose of truth, sanity and fun – catch the Jimmy Dore Show.  Russiagate is behind us but Dore already has the bogus basis for war on Venezuela and Iran clearly in his sites – along with the 2020 election and its rich veins of hypocrisy to mine.

Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance

Rim Banna, a famous Palestinian singer who translated Palestine’s most moving poetry to song passed away on March 24, 2018, at the age of 51. Rim captured the struggle for Palestinian freedom in the most dignified and melodious ways. If we could imagine angels singing, they would sound like Rim.

When Rim died, all Palestinians mourned her death. Although a few international outlets carried the news of her passing at a relatively young age, her succumbing to cancer did not receive much coverage or discussion. Sadly, a Palestinian icon of cultural resistance who had inspired a whole generation, starting with the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, hardly registered as an event worthy of remembrance and reflection, even among those who purport to champion the Palestinian cause.

Compare Rim to Madonna, an ‘artiste’ who has stood for self-aggrandizing personal fame and money-making. She has championed the most debased moral values, utilizing cheap entertainment while catering to the lowest common denominator to remain relevant in the music world for as long as possible.

While Rim had a cause, Madonna has none. And while Rim symbolized cultural resistance, Madonna symbolizes globalized cultural hegemony – in this case, the imposition of consumerist western cultures on the rest of the world.

Cultural hegemony defines the US and other Western cultures’ relationship to the rest of the world. It is not culture as in the collective intellectual and artistic achievements of these societies, but as a set of ideological and cultural tools used by ruling classes to maintain domination over the disadvantaged, colonized and oppressed.

Madonna, along with Michael Jordan, the Beatles and Coca Cola represent far more than mere performers and fizzy drinks, but also serve as tools used to secure cultural, thus economic and political dominance, as well. The fact that in some cities around the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere, Coca Cola “flows more freely than water” speaks volumes about the economic toll and political dimension of cultural hegemony.

This issue becomes critical when a pro-Israel Madonna decides to perform in Israel, as she has done repeatedly in the past, as part of the Eurovision contest. Knowing who she is and what she stands for, her decision should not come as a surprise; after all, in her September 2009 Tel Aviv concert, she sang while wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Of course, it is essential that artistes of her caliber and the contestants representing 41 different countries, are reminded of their moral responsibilities towards occupied and oppressed Palestinians. It is also important that Israel is confronted regarding its unrelenting efforts to mask its apartheid and war crimes in Palestine.

Indeed, the whitewashing of Israeli human rights violations using art – also known as “art washing” – should not be allowed to continue when Gaza is under siege, where Palestinian children are shot and killed daily without remorse and without the least legal accountability.

This is why such artistic events are important for the Israeli government and society. Israel has used Eurovision as a distraction from the blood and gore that has been taking place not far from that venue. Those who labored to ensure the success of the event, knowing fully how Israel is using the brand as an opportunity to normalize its war against Palestinians, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

But, on the other hand, should we be the least surprised? Aren’t such global music events, as Eurovision, at the heart of the western-centric globalization scheme of cultural hegemony, which sole purpose is to enforce a capitalist view of the world, where western culture is consumed as a commodity, no different from a McDonald’s sandwich or a pair of Levi jeans?

Calling on 60-year-old Madonna to refrain from entertaining apartheid Israel can be considered beneficial as a media strategy, for it helped highlight, although momentarily, an issue that would have been otherwise absent from news headlines. However, by placing so much focus on Madonna, and whatever human rights’ values she supposedly stands for, we also take the risk of inadvertently validating her and the consumerist values she represents. More, in this Madonna-driven trajectory, we are also neglecting Palestine’s cultural resistance, the core drive behind Palestinian ‘somoud’ – steadfastness – over the course of a century.

In response to her critics, Madonna answered, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” In the eyes of many who are ignorant of the facts, such an answer may appear as if an ‘empowered’ response to those who are trying to sway a genuine, pure artiste from following her calling.

In fact, Madonna is an expert in appearing as if morally-guided, yet never translating such morality to anything meaningful in reality. In a speech described as “powerful” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, Madonna declared during a Women’s March in Washington D.C. in 2017 “to the rebellion, to our refusal as women to accept this new age of tyranny. Where not just women are in danger, but all marginalized people.”

Of course, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian women – who have paid a heavy price for Israeli Occupation, war and marginalization – are not to be included in Madonna’s false revolution. And the chances are, shortly after she sings and dances in a jubilant, apartheid Israel, she will once more take on many platforms as if the Rosa Parks of revolutionary art.

While it is important that we keep the pressure on those who engage and validate Israel politically, economically and culturally, these efforts should come secondary to embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance. Behaving as if Madonna’s stage shenanigans represent true culture, while ignoring Palestinian culture altogether, is similar to academics addressing decolonization from the point of view of the colonizer, not the colonized. The truth is, nations cannot truly rid themselves from the colonial mindset without having their narratives take the center-stage of politics, culture and every other aspects of knowledge.

“The intellectual’s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and, even more, without feeling and being impassioned,” wrote Italian anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci. This entails the intellectual and the artist to feel “the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and, therefore, explaining and justifying them.”

The truth is that appealing to Madonna’s moral sense without immersing ourselves passionately in the art of Rim Banna will, in the long run, do Palestinians no good. Only embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance will, ultimately, keep the self-serving, hegemonic and cheap cultural messages of the Madonnas of this world at bay.

A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

Special for Dissident Voice and LA Progressive, part of National Poetry Month, 2019

*****

I’m thinking a lot about creativity. About young people, 6 or 7 years of age, so ripe for learning and how we as mentors and teachers should not only respect how their inner voices count, but allow them that exploratory space.  Words as expressions of rebellion. Empathy. Rage. Regret. Laments.

Words, sold now as marketing tools, have less and less power as we have devolved into a country of business-speak, unheralded words of death-ray politicians, tweeting twats and Tweedledum’s and Tweedledee’s. Words even in creative writing programs are branded, marketed and sold as, hmm, a type of group think. MFA (masters of fine arts) programs are destructive to the outsider’s realm of seeing, hearing, touching and his or her own consciousness and subconsciousness.

Poetry, of all the practices, seems the least understood and many times destroyed the most by instructors and teachers attempting to over-analyze or over-classify what it is they think poetry – and a poet – is.

Here, early on, I’ll forward a big slash to the market of the MFA – creative writing programs, their in-house literary journals, and the bourgeoises siphoning off any remarkable revolutionary thought in creative writing.

Rebellion, and Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas fighting against the dirty and perverted capitalist dictator, Somoza. Here, first, revolutionary, Gioconda Belli.

What Are You, Nicaragua?

What are you—
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you—
a flight of birds
guardabarrancos
cenzontles
hummingbirds?

What are you
a roar of rivers
bearing polished, shiny stones
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you—
A women’s breasts made of earth
Smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you—
Singing of leaves in gigantic trees
Green, tangled and filled with doves?

What are you—
Pain and dust and screams in the afternoon
“screams like those of women giving birth”?

What are you—
Clenched fist and loaded gun?

What are you, Nicaragua
To cause me such pain?

Thinking like a kid is what the credo should be for adults, especially in this lobotomized world of consumption and endless war and digital dungeons. Dreaming like a child. Sketching worlds and fantastical dreams like a youth.

Instead, many MFA programs are like buttoned-down harbingers of the generalized professing: “Believe us professors and grad students as we are the key to creative writing, and do not stray, as we are the arbiters of fine arts, the word, poetry, life.”

John Steppling:

The practice of writing, the philosophy is, Firstly, a resistance to formulas and solutions. Writing and art pose questions, and if the mystery leaves the work, leaves the process, then usually, the work has died. Institutional forces demand standardized steps and conditions in their creative writing programs … because the institution knows, deep down, that art is there to destroy it. Even the word “creative” is probably suspect, but such are the conditions under which writing is taught. It is an intuitive and unconscious process, and even if done, for some film work, in partnership – it is still solitary.

One cannot write outlines and then follow them. This is what CPAs do, or insurance salesmen preparing their district conference sales quota speech. If one were to know where a narrative was going, one would have a stillborn project on one’s hands. The play or screenplay has within its narrative, an idea of itself. Narrative provides a space for character. The truth of a character is at once indelible and totally opaque. This idea is the reason, I suspect, we have art at all.

Art is not about communication, nor is it about moral instruction. It is about awakening. But it is also a discipline, and a practice. Those Neanderthal cave paintings, found in places where only one person might see them, at a time, is worth keeping in mind, at least when audience questions arise. You don’t write for an audience. Nor do you write for yourself. That is the paradox and the riddle.

Being able to recognize the truthful from kitsch is the basic foundation for starting on having a practice.

I’ve been a poet a long time, since, of course, virginal youth, and then into my teens, until death do me part. My journey has been, as Steppling states above (referencing story and play/screen writing), a series of awakenings.

The shadow of lamentations, too. Nothing heroic is happy and set upon a political or moral frame without first forcing us all to ask primal questions – questions about self in a world that’s insane. At least now, from pre-Industrial, or I imagine, starting with the ripping of tribal tides with so-called conquest societies, colonizers, we have to ask those age-old questions how to live through the mother and father haven been ripped up by superstitious and perverted religious and economic principles (sic). Insanity now, but our own relocation of the disconnected, by artists, is our sanity in an insane system, capitalism.

Words expressed – poetry – is the shaping of the amphora on the potter’s wheel. That wet healing clay, squished between fingers and synapses. The remarkable lifting of sediments from earth into the shape of creation, imagined first, then reimagined with each pump of the pedal of the wheel, each turning, each fingering and palming of clay into a work of art. Poetry.

National Poetry Month Poster 2019

This month, April, has been generally deemed as National Poetry Month. In the schools I’ve taught at. In some of the libraries I’ve perused, the posters and highlighted books are prominent. In many ways, pushing the word, and celebrating this form of creative expression is both herculean in the sense that almost everything in the USA has been co-opted by consumerism and blatant crass middling thinking and presentation; and it’s worthy of effort to have people leave the business world, the world of making money, into one of making stanzas. In addition, many slam poetry or spoken word events have been tied to the National Poetry Month, started almost a quarter of a century ago in the USA.

Here, National Academy of Poets has the month branded:

National Poetry Month each April is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.

While we celebrate poets and poetry year-round, the Academy of American Poets was inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), and founded National Poetry Month in April 1996 with an aim to:

  • highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
  • encourage the reading of poems,
  • assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
  • increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,

I’ve had some good opportunities to be around poets and live with them and their words. Heck, just a few weeks ago, here I was, in the Central Oregon coast, with Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford, whose own skin is tattooed with the words of his famous poet father’s literary gravitas – William Stafford. Here, my piece in LA Progressive and elsewhere, including the literary journal, Cirque“A Poet, the Pacific Flyway, and a Sonora Flash Flood Memory.”  And my poem about reconnecting to Stafford’s son, Kim, here on the Oregon Coast, a new home for me: “Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from ‘Oregon Trail’

Over the years I have front and center cajoled with poets, seeing myself as one of their peers while living in precarity and calling forth lamentations as a poet. It started seriously when I was an 18-year-old in Tucson hanging out with poets and fiction writers, as part of the University of Arizona’s poets/writers series. I used to hang out at and take classes in rooms at the Poetry Center at the U of A. I’ve helped out poet Richard Shelton with his writer’s workshop at the Arizona State Prison, and he wrote a book about his big project that involved many different cohorts and writers with some tough-living inmates: Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer.

Here I was, still a youth in 1975, when Shelton taught me in poetry classes and started his trips up to death row at the Arizona State prison. I got to be a part of that, Richard’s prison workshops. Not so ironically, shortly after graduating and becoming a journalist and part-time college faculty, I started incorporating that “prison workshop” ethos in so many other of my writing gigs with my own students in a federal prison, La Tuna, NM. I’ve done writing workshops, including poetry, with gifted and talented students in Austin, TX, and with gang-influenced youth in Segundo Barrio, El Paso. I’ve carried through with writing workshops in a life-long learning program at the University of Texas—El Paso, where I had, as an example of some of my students’ histories,  survivors of Dachau write about their lives, and women who knew Pancho Villa, and other interesting older folk, write poems while we worked on their memoirs. Writing workshops for just-released inmates in a homeless program in Portland, and writing projects with homeless veterans and their families, and poetry workshops for fourth graders, and more, have cascaded into my life.

Poetry teaching was always the razor edge way to get people to open up that creative and deeply drawn area of their humanity that is more etched with meaning than their own epigenetics or more fluid of their self-worth than the corpuscles flowing inside– the embedded humanity and horror of being alone in this world. Poetry, as Sapphire shows, can be triumph, momentarily, over evil and the scars evil produce in us all.

Here, though, some quick turn of words to express what poetry is from poets themselves:

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before. —Audre Lorde

I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. —Pablo Neruda

Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness. —Alice Walker

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful. –Rita Dove

As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor – those great tools of thought – and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world. —Naomi Shihab Nye

Luckily, Angie with Dissident Voice and Dick with LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive are opening up the digital venues for my limited standing column (in the month of April), as a format for some musings and personal and monumental ideas around the power of the word, poetry. Call it a cry out for something more real than the echo chambers of modern America.

More real than all the stuff I end up writing about in LA Progressive’s Terminal Velocity – Man Lost of Tribe or for Angie at DV which usually is tied to the politics of negotiating our own humanity and community and self inside the war that is killer capitalism. The most creative and psychologically real and satisfying things come to me as people I’ve touched and who have touched me, and, of course, learning to think like a mountain, as Aldo Leopold calls it in his Sand Country Almanac – imagine the poetry in this excerpt by Leopold, one of the fathers of conservation and environmental sanity:

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

It’s not a quaint thing, this poetry. Actually, many people do write poems, and see themselves as poets. Really, not just MFA students or older ladies waxing religious rhymes, but plumbers, construction workers, nurses, bookkeepers, and every form of human life.

The poem is a distilled world, as Rita Dove says. Neruda also has it right – it’s where you are from, inside the body of the world, as in forests, oceans, inside rain: that’s the germination of a poem. And, poetry should be rebellious and about revolution as Alice Walker states, and lived, as she told me twice when I’ve been to her readings and workshops.  That poetry is a bridge over fears, as Lourde states, makes so much sense. Bridging humanity over the troubled waters of the inhumane.

The direct line to human feeling . . . . and making our lives deeper in confidence, so much so there is transformation, even for the oppressed and imprisoned, giving meaning in the world and life is meaningful, no matter the circumstance, as Shihab Nye states.

I remember talking with Czeslaw Milosz at a reading in Austin, Texas. I was trying to drill down what poetry was, how I could parachute into the lives of gang members, spooks (inhalers of volatile compounds like gasoline), homeless war vets, young adults with developmental disabilities, survivors of sexual assault and invoke some solid concepts on why the poem – no matter what form it takes – is what Naomi states: imaging life as it can or should be or is honoring the word and creative practice of language in the art of detailing.

He was near the end of his life when he told me, In reality, whatever the poet attempts to say, all words are a type of lamentation. Despair, maybe, colored by something else that pushes down the blackness of humanity in this age of destruction.  Something like that. He went deeper, though. As seen in this interview in the Paris Review:

Of course, it’s true that people talk too much and without restraint. But poetry imposes certain restraints. Nevertheless, there is always the feeling that you didn’t unveil yourself enough. A book is finished and appears and I feel, Well, next time I will unveil myself. And when the next book appears, I have the same feeling. And then your life ends, and that’s it.

Two poems by Czeslaw Milosz to start the month:

In Black Despair

In grayish doubt and black despair,
I drafted hymns to the earth and the air,
pretending to joy, although I lacked it.
The age had made lament redundant.

So here’s the question — who can answer it —
Was he a brave man or a hypocrite?

A Felicitous Life

His old age fell on years of abundant harvest.
There were no earthquakes, droughts or floods.
It seemed as if the turning of the seasons gained in constancy,
Stars waxed strong and the sun increased its might.
Even in remote provinces no war was waged.
Generations grew up friendly to fellow men.
The rational nature of man was not a subject of derision.
It was bitter to say farewell to the earth so renewed.
He was envious and ashamed of his doubt,
Content that his lacerated memory would vanish with him.

Two days after his death a hurricane razed the coasts.
Smoke came from volcanoes inactive for a hundred years.
Lava sprawled over forests, vineyards, and towns.
And war began with a battle on the islands.

Next: Poetry as environmental sanity and rebellion!

Tidepools, Dungeness Crabs, Serenity-Fed Beaches and Recreation a Thing of the Past?

There is no greater failure than the failure to respond to this ecological crisis. We need a wartime-speed mobilization and a just transition to race to zero greenhouse gas emission and to take carbon out of the atmosphere in order to restore a safe climate. We are called to heroism in this hour of grave consequences. We still have an opportunity to fight for all humanity and all life on Earth to avert the worst of the disaster as it is still technically and economically possible.

— Bill Kucha, founder of 350 Oregon Central Coast

Sometimes being a journalist and fiction writer puts me in a compelling world of everyone else’s narratives and predicaments. Small towns, flyover states, even countries like Mexico and Vietnam where the average Western reader holds some bizarre beliefs about the places and the people. The universal truths, though, abound, especially in small towns. I have a deep well of respect for people I just meet but get to know deftly, and this idea that small towns have small town thinkers is balderdash.

These people I meet on my journey keep me going on, even though I know we are cooked as a society (planet), as well as all modern cultures, because of the convalescing power of 7.8 billion people on earth ravaging, pillaging and trashing the planet in a race for more, more, more incubated in and encouraged by the insanity of religions and economic systems that have cemented the me-myself-and-I egocentricity into each generation, here and now and into those yet born.

I’m in Otis, Oregon, a spit of a town near Lincoln City in the county of the same name, along the Central Coast of Oregon, a most gorgeous and biodynamic place. So breathtaking that these towns of Newport, Depoe Bay, Yachats and Lincoln City are magnets for those dreaded invasives called California Erectus.

Last week (Jan. 14-19) I ended up at a nighttime lecture series at a small community college, Oregon Coast CC, for a lecture by two divergent characters, Bill Kucha, an artist and environmental activist strumming his folk guitar and slide-projecting some of his canvas art, and then first with Evan Hayduk, restoration specialist with the Midcoast Watersheds Council.

Hayduk had his Power Point all warmed up to tell the 50-plus attendees the challenges to this central coast with inundation from melting waters caused by global warming. This lecture was wonky and science driven, a good way to contrast a science team’s work through the auspices of a non-profit environmental group, and the work of the artist, Bill, who had been a teacher at the small community college since 1976.

See the source image

The entire suite of issues surrounding the impacts of climate change/warming are interesting for many of us who like to drill down into ecosystems challenges/forces/impacts generated by humans as we utilize some heady (and indigenous people’s) systems thinking approaches to figuring just how quickly and messily the impending distruptions to civilization and natural systems will face us down.

Tidal wetlands were part of the main course in this scientific evening, and Hayduk and his small team have looked at the sea level rise (SLR) predictions as they will play out in some of Oregon’s 23 central coast estuaries. These are unique ecosystems that provide so much for humanity, to include the beauty of the varied and strangely adapted flora and fauna, but also the water filtering and tidal surge buffering benefits for all living things.

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Evan made it clear early on that two-thirds of shrub and forested marshes have been lost due to human development – farms, homes, roads, industries and logging. The fight – if it is even a legit tussle – is to work on what will happen to the tidal Sitka spruce and forested swamps over the course of 150 years, where the projected (very conservative) sea level rise will be eleven and a half feet (11.5 feet) by 2060 (why the climate scientists always feed us conservative projections I still do not fathom).

These swamps in the estuary life zone are vital to the nursery environment of protected waterways for Chinook, chum, and Coho salmon as well as for sole, anchovy and shellfish when they are vulnerable small fry. Imagine, plowing-over and diking-away these truly amazing ecosystems that are positive carbon sinks, help reduce flooding from storm surges, and provide filtered water from creeks and rivers coming to the sea from higher up and deep in the Oregon Central coast highlands and mountains.

The crowd was compliant and attentive, and again, after more than 40 years in the trenches around conservation-environmental activism and all the other aspects of my life galvanized to social justice, restorative justice, poverty, policing, education and imperialism, I get a déjà vu from the same good people and well-intended projects mired in the cesspool that is corporate control of all ecosystems, all urban and rural planning opportunities, and all of our citizen rights to health, happiness, and safety.

Preaching to the choir is one term people use, and this night it was the choir that was hopeful that some good and dramatic change might occur through the work of guys like Hayduk and the artistic philosophy of Bill Kucha.

The proposal was clear: strategic planning and working with shutting down the harvesting and clear cutting of forests owned by private entities (40% of Oregon forests are held privately). Evan repeated that 35 percent of Oregon’s carbon emissions come about because of the poor forest practices of the state’s mostly evergreen woods.

Carbon released into the atmosphere, and its relationship to melting ice and larger ocean waves and more turgid, unpredictable weather systems is rock hard in the evidentiary trail, even given how ignorant politicians are around the entire climate change issue. It seems baby steps are for this existential crisis, however, here on the Oregon Coast, the Oregon State marine sciences wonks have been studying the Newport line, a geographic pathway from Newport out into the ocean, now going on sixty years. The work is a concerted study of ocean acidification, dead zones (oxygen-free sections of the ocean bottom), parasitic and deadly algae blooms and the amount of non-point pollution coming off roads, industries, clear cuts and agriculture. From an article written Feb. 2018, the reporter is detailing the great work and early beginnings of this Newport Line:

The existence of the Newport Line was critical in bringing to the region the most sophisticated, extensive system of ocean monitoring ever developed. In 2014, the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a massive federally funded ocean monitoring program, followed the Newport Line to deploy a section of the Endurance Array, a network of moored buoys, cables and gliders that collects colossal amounts of data.

OOI monitoring data have documented the increasing occurrence and severity of bottom hypoxia (low oxygen) along the Oregon coast in the summertime. Other measurements are now contributing to our understanding of ocean acidification, a result of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Newport Line data helped scientists to identify the “warm blob” of ocean water that lingered off the Oregon coast from 2014 to 2016, wreaking havoc with oceanic food webs.

As oceanographer Angel White jokes, “What do they say about time series? Never start one and never end one.” Some climate phenomena cycle on the scale of decades, so even the Newport Line’s 56-year record might only capture a single cycle.

Regular monitoring is generally regarded as the job of government, not universities, so many local oceanographers feel that NOAA and other agencies should foot most of the bill. White and other scientists who rely on Newport Line data recently submitted a letter to potential funding agencies encouraging continued support. The Newport Line has served as a foundation for studying the impacts of climate variability and ecosystem response … the length and consistency of the Newport time series provide a powerful context for studying ecosystem impacts from unpredictable changes of the ocean and climate variability, they wrote.

I used to teach hundreds of students a year for decades as a community, university and alternative school teacher, and my English classes were always steeped in the issues of the day, and those that are affecting youth when they turn middle aged and old. The planet was always a big part of the courses, and like it or not, so was history and politics. The number of students coming to my college classes who were shocked by the knowledge base of an English prof around technology, science, and engineering was always high. Many students learned for the first time not just what the voices of the people’s history of the United States are (Howard Zinn, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz) but also the voices of Rachel Carson, John Lilly, Lois Gibbs, Tim DeChristopher, Winona LaDuke, et al.

Clearly, PK12 is failing these youth, and their lack of understanding of basic systems – natural, ecological, geophysical, etc. – is not just sad but dangerous. That’s not to say political insipid’s like Reagan or Sen. Inhofe and the heads of Shell, Exxon and PB are any better off intellectually.

At this OCCC lecture (the 32nd in a run of presentations), an on-going series since 1993 called the Williams Lecture series after former professor at OSU and OCCC and a noted revisionist historian, William Appleman Williams, Bill Kucha let the audience know that the Newport City Council, under the auspices of Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, just signed on Nov. 5, 2018 a “proclamation recognizing climate change awareness.”

We shifted to some folk songs and environmental ecosophy by Bill, who was citing Paul Hawken’s latest book, DrawdownThe Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

Bill also walked the audience through the current battle to reshape the narrative on climate catastrophe and paradigm shift away from fossil non-renewable energy. He talked deeply about Oregon’s “100 by 50” proposal of having the state on 100 % renewable energy by 2050. He talked about Our Children’s Trust, groups of youth around the country (but started in Eugene) taking the on the US government by going to federal court to sue them for the irreparable damage done to their futures by their policies at the behest of the fossil fuel giants.

There was talk about the Buddhist philosophy around not arousing “hungry ghosts” and “learning how to become awake” in this big time of  change and one where we all are seeing things being destroyed, which for Bill gives us the purpose now of “being a bridge for change. . . . We are the first generation to face climate change and the last one that can fix it.”

There were moments where Bill got choked up, looking at the ways young people might be able to plug into this crisis moment. He talked a lot about finding joy in the world.

Interestingly, the Capitalist world, especially in predatory consumeristic capitalism, the “hungry ghosts” are corporations using propaganda, war on nations, and violence turned on their own people and land to accomplish the ungodly desire of wealth accumulation and unending resource exploitation at any cost.

I might have justified my 60-mile round trip in my 19-year-old three-cylinder Chevy Metro to get to the talk as a necessary journey of enlightenment, both mine and any readers reading this piece, but in reality, I am a male of white privilege, with a vehicle and a place to call home in a country that has invaded other countries and supports the largest war machine ever seen by humankind with millions of deaths since 1945 by direct and indirect soft warfare or direct overt wars. I faced gale force winds and monsoon downpours to get there, but no rain of terror by US-made bombers or drones dropping Hell-fires missiles around me.

There is a luxury embedded in talking about  a New Green Deal, carbon taxing and decrying regular poor people for flying in jets to see loved ones or go to Disneyland, when one is living in a country that sells trillions a year in war equipment, bullets and bombs in the name of “never negotiating our lifestyle and exceptionist mentality to anyone or anything.”

I remember giving food offerings to the hungry ghosts at Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam, called Vu Lan day or month. Don’t upset those departed, these living spirits, or else bad luck befalls you, that’s what the scientists from Hanoi joked about, but sort of believed, too.

Hungry ghost” is one of the six modes of existence (Six Realms). Hungry ghosts are pitiable creatures with huge, empty stomachs. They have pinhole mouths, and their necks are so thin they cannot swallow, so they remain hungry. Beings are reborn as hungry ghosts because of their greed, envy and jealousy. Hungry ghosts are also associated with addiction, obsession, and compulsion.

Guys like Bill have a deep line of hope and look toward times past when many saw the world thousands of years ago as centered around a gift economy, one where commodities were not utilized in trade or daily work was not slave wage labor.

He sees this time of the Anthropocene as hope rising, and he thinks today we have a new face of humanity emerging, one that is “not egocentric, is willing to make contact with nature, and is willing to pray and ask for forgiveness.”

The audience listened to his songs, and looked at his haunting images. What the audience left with from both Evan and Bill is the bearing witness of all these calamities calls for action; and Bill emphasized the very idea of this great turning occurring now – a time unfolding where we are learning what it means to be human and how to ask for forgiveness by being healing, caring and heartfelt.

This shift of consciousness around sustainability is featured in Joanna Macy’s film, The Great Turning.  Here is the basic expression Bill was all jazzed up about at the lecture:

In the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago, the domestication of plants and animals led to a radical shift in the way people lived. In the Industrial Revolution that began just a few hundred years ago, a similar dramatic transition took place. These weren’t just changes in the small details of people’s lives. The whole basis of society was transformed, including people’s relationship with one another and with Earth.

Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way.  [source]

Hope is an interesting thing, and I align myself mostly with the Beyond Hope under girder in Derrick Jensen’s essay of the same title:

Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ’50s and ’60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

Does anyone really believe that Weyerhaeuser is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone really believe that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely? If only we get a Democrat in the White House, things will be okay. If only we pass this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. If only we defeat this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. Nonsense. Things will not be okay. They are already not okay, and they’re getting worse. Rapidly.

My point of going to the lecture and reporting on it and discussing it deeply is not to rain on anyone’s parade, especially those who have the gumption to study the problem and face the challenges of tackling it personally, collectively, politically, economically and spiritually.

photo of deforestation

But the forces of evil and the force of big energy are grotesque and powerful. Just here on the coast, in Coos Bay, the proposed Canadian fracked gas pipeline terminal at Jordan Cove coming from Canada, Wyoming, Colorado and other states to bring in fracked gas. Over 400 streams and creeks will be crossed, and in Oregon, 230 miles of clear-cut forests (two football fields wide) will take the pipeline which will have 70 percent fracked gas from Canada and 30 percent from Rocky Mountain states from Malin in the southwest part of the state to Coos Bay on the Oregon coast.

The American and capitalist calculus– jobs over safety, income over community health, paychecks over the rights of nature – is a tough formula to beat in a society that is addicted to oil and expects oil prices to be low (compared to Turkey and Eritrea at $10 a gallon!).

What is the Jordan Cove LNG Project?

  • 230 miles, 36 in diameter, Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline
  • Jordan Cove Project is owned by Veresen, a Canadian Company
  • Using all Russian Steel to construct the pipeline
  • Will run through 400 streams and waterways including underneath the Klamath River, Rogue River, and Coos Bay
  • First fracked Gas Export Terminal on the west coast-Located at Coos Bay, Oregon
  • 4 billion dollar project so it’s twice the size of the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline)
  • All of the natural gas being exported will be sold to companies in Asia, Japan already having an agreement with Jordan Cove

Why should we care?

  • Pipeline would run through traditional tribal lands and burial sites of the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk, Modoc and Klamath Tribes of Northern California and Southern Oregon
  • “We live on 10,000-year-old ancestral land along the Trinity River, which is a tributary of the Klamath River. What effects the Klamath affects us.” -Thomas Joseph- Hoopa
  • 80 miles of old growth forest will have to be clear cut for the pipeline
  • 8 of those acres are home to endangered spotted owls
  • 300 landowners will have the pipeline running through their property with the use of eminent domain
  • Pipeline comes as close as 200 ft from the front door of some of these residents
  • A “leak” with a LNG pipeline would be an explosion with a 600 ft blast radius
  • on both sides of the pipeline has to be cleared to ensure that a wildfire won’t heat up the pipe
  • Several miles of the pipeline will run through recent wildfire areas
  • It is estimated that 2 tankers per week would be needed to maintain the LNG in the pipeline
  • Tankers would be crossing frequent migration areas of up to 7 species of endangered whales, including the Grey Whale in their route to and from Japan
  • This will spike the level of ship strikes in the whale population     [ source]

For Bill and his 350.org Oregon and for Evan who is looking at the effects of sea level rise coming into estuaries, the thought of that methane coming through Oregon is not a happy one. Then, add to that the transfer of that fracked energy into carbon pollution, plus the amount of electricity needed to bring the fracked gas down to minus-260 degrees (Jordan Cove would by the largest user of electricity in Oregon), and we have the quintessential dilemma facing a capitalist world of transnational money, transnational consolidated power in the hands of the .01 percent versus the loss of wildlands, forests, species and even individual land owners’ property.

The Lakota Sioux prophecy states there will be a big black snake (pipeline) that will come to the land and bring destruction to the people and the earth. That big black snake for Oregon is the Jordan Cove pipeline.

Our power comes from our ancestors standing behind us, holding us up to have the strength to face anything. As tribal people, we know that possession of the earth is not an actual thing, so we are using our power to protect the earth and water from the abuse and destruction of greedy corporations. Our stewardship of the earth has been passed down to us from thousands of generations that have done the same.

My little Inupiaq heart is both constricted and expanded for my brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. And I can feel in my bones that the voice of our people will be heard, and every American will join us in protecting the earth for generations to come, by defeating corporate greed and killing the black snake before it ever takes a breath.

—   Tara Dowd, an enrolled Inupiaq Eskimo, was born into poverty and now owns a diversity consulting business. She is an advocate for systemic equity and sees justice as a force that makes communities better.  [ Inlander]

 

Inside Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Anonymous British street artist Banksy made headlines in October when his $1.4 million artwork Girl with Balloon self-destructed by passing through a shredder concealed in its frame at a London auction moments after it had been bought.

But in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, a much larger Banksy art project – a hotel boasting “the worst view in the world” – appears to be unexpectedly saving itself from similar, planned destruction.

When it opened in March last year, The Walled Off Hotel – hemmed in by the eight-metre-high concrete wall built by Israel to encage Bethlehem – was supposed to be operational for only a year. But nearly two years on, as I joined those staying in one of its nine Banksy-designed rooms, it was clearly going from strength to strength.

Originally, The Walled Off Hotel was intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, turning the oppressive 700-kilometre-long wall that cuts through occupied Palestinian land into an improbable tourist attraction. Visitors drawn to Bethlehem by Banksy’s art – both inside the hotel and on the colossal wall outside – are given a brief, but potent, taste of Palestinian life in the shadow of Israel’s military infrastructure of confinement.

It proved, unexpectedly, so successful that it was soon competing as a top tourist attraction with the city’s traditional pilgrimage site, the reputed spot where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity. “The hotel has attracted 140,000 visitors – local Israelis, Palestinians, as well as internationals – since it opened,” says Wisam Salsa, the hotel’s Palestinian co-founder and manager. “It’s given a massive boost to the Palestinian tourism industry.”

Exception to Banksy’s rule

The Walled Off Hotel was effectively a follow-up to Banksy’s “Dismaland Bemusement Park”, created in the more familiar and safer setting of a British seaside resort. For five weeks, that installation in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, offered holidaymakers a dystopian version of a Disney-style amusement park, featuring a nuclear mushroom-cloud, medical experiments gone wrong, boat people trapped on the high seas and the Cinderella story told as a car crash.

But unlike Girl with Balloon and Dismaland, Banksy appears uncharacteristically reluctant to follow through with the destruction of his Bethlehem creation. Some 21 months later, it seems to have become a permanent feature of this small city’s tourist landscape.

Given that Banksy is notoriously elusive, it is difficult to be sure why he has made an exception for The Walled Off Hotel. But given his well-known sympathy for the Palestinian cause, a few reasons suggest themselves. One is that, were he to abandon the hotel, it would delight the Israeli military authorities. They would love to see The Walled Off Hotel disappear – and with it, a major reason to focus on a particularly ugly aspect of Israel’s occupation. In addition, dismantling the hotel might echo rather uncomfortably Israel’s long-standing policy of clearing Palestinians off their land – invariably to free-up space for Jewish settlement.

Israel strenuously claims the wall was built to aid security by keeping out Palestinian “terrorists”. But the wall’s path outside The Walled Off Hotel seals off Bethlehem from one of its major holy sites, Rachel’s Tomb, and has allowed Jewish religious extremists to take it over.

A rare success story

In sticking by the hotel, Banksy appears to have been influenced by Palestinian “sumud”, Arabic for steadfastness, a commitment to staying put in the face of Israeli pressure and aggression. But significantly, there is a practical consideration: The Walled Off Hotel has rapidly become a rare success story in the occupied territories, boosting the struggling Palestinian economy. That has occurred in spite of Israel’s best efforts to curb tourism to Bethlehem, including by making a trip through the wall and an Israeli checkpoint a time-consuming and discomfiting experience.

Israel’s attitude was highlighted last year when the interior ministry issued a directive to travel agencies warning them not to take groups of pilgrims into Bethlehem to stay overnight. After an outcry, the government ­relented, but the message was clear.

Salsa notes that The Walled Off Hotel has not only attracted a new kind of visitor to Bethlehem, but has also persuaded many to spend time in other parts of the occupied West Bank, too.

Salsa understands the importance of tourism personally. He was an out-of-work guide when mutual friends first introduced him to Banksy in 2005, shortly after the wall cutting off Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem had been completed. The city was economically dead, with tourists too fearful to visit its holy sites as armed uprisings raged across the occupied territories. The Second Intifada from 2000-2005 was the Palestinians’ response after Israel refused to grant them the viable state most observers had assumed was implicit in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Banksy arrived in 2005 to spray-paint on what was then a largely pristine surface, creating a series of striking images. It unleashed a wave of local and foreign copycats. The wall in Bethlehem quickly became a giant canvas for artistic resistance, says Salsa.

Much later, in 2014, Banksy came up with the idea of the hotel. Salsa found a large residential building abandoned for more than a decade because of its proximity to the wall. In secret, The Walled Off was born. “It was a crazy spot for a hotel,” says Salsa. “It felt like divine intervention finding it. It was close to the main road from Jerusalem so no one could miss us.”

Palestinians’ reality

Importantly, the hotel was also in one of the few areas of Bethlehem inside “Area C”, parts of the West Bank classified in the temporary Oslo Accords as under full Israeli control. That meant the army could not bar Israelis from visiting. “Nowadays there are no channels open between Palestinians and Israelis. So The Walled Off Hotel is a rare space where Israelis can visit and taste the reality lived by Palestinians.

“True, Israelis mostly come to see the art. But they can’t help but learn a lot more while they are here.”

Salsa is happy that the Walled Off Hotel provides a good salary to 45 local employees and their families. His hope in setting up the hotel was to “encourage more tourists to stay in Bethlehem and for them to hear our story, our voice”.

But Banksy’s grander vision had been fully vindicated, he says. “The Walled Off Hotel gives tourists an experience of our reality.

“But it also emphasises other, creative ways to struggle and speak up. It offers art as a model of resistance.

“The hotel magnifies the Palestinian’s voice. And it makes the world hear us in a way that doesn’t depend on either us or the Israelis suffering more casualties.”

Global impact

The hotel’s continuing impact was underscored last month when it was featured for the first time at the Palestinian stand at the annual World Travel Market in London, the largest tourism trade show in the world. The event attracts 50,000 travel agents, who conduct more than $4 billion in deals over the course of the show.

Banksy had announced beforehand that he would bring a replica of one of his artworks on the wall just outside the Bethlehem hotel: cherubs trying to prise open two concrete slabs with a crowbar. He also promised a limited-edition poster showing children using one of Israel’s military watchtowers as a fairground ride. A slogan underneath reads: “Visit historic Palestine. The Israeli army liked it so much they never left!” As a result, there was a stampede to the Palestinian stand, one of the smallest, that caught the show’s organisers by surprise.

Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism minister, praised Banksy for changing the image of Palestinian tourism by diverting younger people into the West Bank, often during a visit to Israel. “He promotes Palestine and focuses on the occupation, but at the same time he is talking about the beauty of Palestine,” she said.

At the Walled Off Hotel, however, Israel has made it much harder to see the beauty. Most windows provide little more than a view of the wall, which dwarfs in both height and length the Berlin Wall to which it is most often compared. That is all part of the Walled Off “experience” that now attracts not only wealthier visitors keen to stay in one the hotel’s rooms, but a much larger audience of day trippers.

So successful has the Walled Off Hotel proved in such a short space of time that even some locals concede it upstages the Church of the Nativity – at least for a proportion of visitors. A local taxi driver who was guiding two French sisters along the wall outside the hotel said many independent tourists now prioritised it ahead of the church.

Only wanting to be identified as Nasser, he said: “We may not know who Banksy is, but the truth is, he has done us a huge favour with this hotel and his art.”

Sanctuary in a police state

If Dismaland created a dystopian amusement park in the midst of a fun-filled seaside resort, the Walled Off Hotel offers a small sanctuary of serenity – even if a politically charged one – in surroundings that look more like a post-apocalyptic police state.

Along the top of the wall, there are innumerable surveillance cameras, as well as looming watchtowers, where ever-present Israeli soldiers remain out of view behind darkened glass. They can emerge unexpectedly, usually to make raids on the homes of unsuspecting Palestinians.

When I made a trip to the Walled Off in October, I parked outside to find half a dozen armed Israeli soldiers on top of the hotel’s flat roof. When one waved to me, I was left wondering whether I had been caught up in another of Banksy’s famous art stunts. I hadn’t. They were real – there to watch over Jewish extremists celebrating a religious holiday nearby at Rachel’s Tomb.

The hotel’s lobby, though not the rooms, are readily accessible to the public. It is conceived as a puzzling mixture: part cheeky homage to the contrived gentility of British colonial life, part chaotic exhibition space for Banksy’s subversive street art. Visitors can enjoy a British cream tea, served in the finest china, sitting under a number of Israeli surveillance cameras wall-mounted like hunting trophies or alongside a portrait of Jesus with the red dot of a marksman’s laser-beam on his forehead.

A history of resistance

The lobby leads to a museum that is probably the most comprehensive ever to document Israel’s various methods of colonisation and control over Palestinians, and their history of resistance.

At its entrance sits a dummy of Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary who 101 years ago initiated Britain’s sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation. He issued the infamous Balfour Declaration promising the Palestinians’ homeland to the Jewish people. Press a button and Balfour jerks into life to furiously sign the declaration on his desk. Upstairs is a large gallery exhibiting some of the best of Palestinian art, and the hotel reception organises twice-daily tours of the wall.

Entry to the rooms is hidden behind a secret door, disguised as a bookcase. Guests need to wave a room key, shaped like a section of the wall, in front of a small statue of Venus that makes her breasts glow red and the door open.

A stairway leads to the second and third floors, where the landings are decorated with more fading colonial splendour and Banksy art. Kitsch paintings of boats, landscapes and vases of flowers are hidden behind tight metal gauze of the kind Israel uses to protect its military Jeeps from stone-throwers.

A permanent “Sorry – out of service” sign hangs from a lift, its half-open doors revealing that it is, in fact, walled up.

No mementos

Although the rooms are designed thematically by Banksy, only a few contain original artworks, most significantly in the Presidential Suite.

Hotels may be used to customers taking shampoos and soaps, even the odd towel, as mementos of their stay. But at the Walled Off, the stakes are a little higher. Guests are issued with an inventory they must sign on departing, declaring that they have not pilfered any art from their room. But it is the wall itself that is the dominant presence, towering over guests as they come and go, trapping them in a narrow space between the hotel entrance and an expanse of solid grey.

A proportion visit the neighbouring graffiti shop, Wall Mart, where they can get help on how to leave their mark on the concrete. Most of the casual graffiti is short-lived, with space regularly cleared so that new visitors can scrawl their messages and use art as a tool of resistance.

Protest pieces

Banksy’s better-known artworks, however, are saved from the spray-paint pandemonium elsewhere.

The crowbar-armed cherubs he brought to London were painted in time for Christmas last year, when he recruited film director Danny Boyle – of Slumdog Millionaire fame – to stage an alternative nativity play for local families in the hotel car park. The “Alternativity”, featuring a real donkey and real snow produced by a machine on the Walled Off’s roof, became a BBC documentary. Banksy had once again found a way to persuade prime-time TV to shine a light on Israel’s oppressive wall.

Another artwork is his “Er sorry”, a leftover from the Walled Off’s “apologetic street party” of November last year, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration’s signing. Children from two neighbouring refugee camps were invited to wear Union-Jack crash helmets and wave charred British flags. A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth II unveiled “Er Sorry” stencilled into the wall. It served both as a hesitant apology on behalf of Britain and as a play on the initials of the Queen’s official Latin title, Elizabeth Regina.

The event, however, illustrated that Banksy’s subversive message, directed chiefly at western audiences, does not always translate well to sections of the local Palestinian population. The party was hijacked by local activists who stuck a Palestinian flag into the Union Jack-adorned cake and chanted “Free Palestine”.

Is this ‘war tourism’?

Salsa outright rejects claims from some locals and foreign critics that the hotel is exploiting Palestinian misery and is an example of “war tourism”.

He points out: “The Balfour party got the media interested in a story they probably would not have covered otherwise, because it lacked violence and bloodshed.”

He adds that the area of Bethlehem in which the Walled Off is located would have been killed off by the wall were it not for Banksy investing his own money and time in the project. As well as the staff, it has brought work to tour guides, taxi drivers, neighbouring and cheaper hotels, shops and petrol stations. “That is a very important form of resistance,” he says.

It is also a rare example of Palestinians reclaiming land from the Israeli army. On the other side of the wall there had been a large army camp until the hotel started drawing significant numbers of visitors.

“The army didn’t like lots of tourists taking pictures nearby, so they moved further away, out of sight.”

Eternal memories

Canadian tourist Mike Seleski, 30, visited the hotel to see Banksy’s art before standing in front of the wall. He said he had heard about the Walled Off from an Israeli he befriended in Vietnam during a year of travelling.

This was a detour from his stay in Israel – his only stop in the occupied territories. “I don’t like the usual tourist experiences,” he said. “It is important to hear the other side of the story when you travel.”

In every one of the 32 countries he has visited, he has stood to be photographed before a famous local spot holding a cardboard sign with words to reassure his worried mother: “Mum – I’m OK.”

In Bethlehem, he said it was obvious he’d take the photo in front of Banksy’s art on the wall, rather than the Church of the Nativity. “You see the wall on TV and forget about it. You get on with your life. But when you stand here, you realise Palestinians don’t have a choice. They simply can’t ignore it.”

• First published at The National

Capitalist Society Under the One Party of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.

— Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism

While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid.

— South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008

That puking up barbarism phenomena in this enclave of genocide and perpetual war, resource theft and global toxification come in a coat of many colors. In the simplest terms I see it daily in my job as underpaid and spat upon social worker jiggering with the penury, punishment and putrefying systems of bureaucratic hell and legal rape exemplified in the schizophrenic American version of capitalism.

In no way am I ever NOT entertained by the magical thinking and retrograde beliefs of those I serve – homeless veterans who in some cases decry welfare for the masses while picking up their welfare checks and benefits from the Veterans Administration. On top of that, they feel entitled because they ended up in the economic draft of the US Military Industrial Complex. These are not the ones who saw “battle” overseas, but the ones who were snookered into thinking a tour here or there, in a non-combatant role would get them somewhere in life.

Broken people come to the military, and the military breaks them again, and, the gift that keeps on giving are the systems of oppression and criminalization of living life in Trump’s “MAGA, MAGA über alles, über alles in der Welt.”

Reality is that this thing called America, united snakes one in all, was running on that manifest destruction at the moment those Puritanical misanthropes ended up on the east coast with their fears, dark perversions, warped criminal religiosity and white DNA primed for a taking, eminent domain and killings far and wide.

On the one hand, my clients with mental strains beyond repair and hobbled with a truck-load of PTSD, and another container ship full of physical ailments believe their “service” was honorable, somehow divorced from the huge welfare trough that is the military-private contractor complex, and more so, suspended from the reality that their own kind — fellow soldiers ranging from the likes of a Private Gomer Pyle to Gen Schwarzkopf — screwed them in every which way possible inside the human frame of exploitation and downright pathological assault on every front.

Screwed them with shitty equipment, shittier intel, rampant rotten orders, and a million environmental assaults that have rendered millions of men and women who individually barely served a few years into the walking-wheelchaired-vegetative state wounded.

There have been a million battles and skirmishes that were set up as suicide assaults.

Then on the other hand, some of the clients who are self-declared  deplorables — who believe in Trump as something more than a rotten, lying, wimp of a man with his self-anointed Six Star General’s Bully Epaulets and Bone Spurs Yellow Streak Academy Jumpsuit — are not limited to a bunch of uneducated cretins, but also those who thought time served would be a touchstone in their lives.

Constantly, I have to wrestle with my clients’ reprobate ideas that anything about the government sucks and everything about private capital shines. It’s a reverse ideology of anti-Americanism: against teachers, against librarians, against the postman, against scientists and doctors and others from the so-called Great American Democracy as products of state schools, state governments, municipalities, and the like. They’ll root for these pathetic sports teams, both college and the pros, rendering stupid their concept of where those facilities are and where the billionaire owners get their sports gladiators.

Delusional, really, as my clients shudder with spiritual epiphany at those millionaire preachers like the Billy-Frank Graham Klan and hyper-millionaires running the retail show and all those attendant systems of destruction in the Big Pharma-Big Prison-Big Energy-Big Mining-Big Ag-Big Construction Complex they so often defend as the Defenders of Democracy in Private enterprise.

Here’s a common link to the duality of systems of oppression, that structural violence that leads communities and entire classes and races of people into more and more dungeons of despair and destruction:

One fellow, 62, homeless because the apartment management tossed him out as the maintenance man, with the free apartment in the mix. Out of a job and no longer making the dough to pay rent, he was forced to squat for a while before the iron jaws of the sheriff department came in and served him eviction papers.

Lapsed car insurance, lapsed driver’s license, and, alas, a speeding ticket in a school zone. And, now, 8 years later after eight years on the road and homeless, this little shithole town of King City has him in their vise for $1700. The original ticket was $700 with the add on’s of court fees, administrative costs and other highway robbery checks and balances. So, this fellow is in need of a driver’s license, but these cities have been colonized by those PRIVATIZERS – in this case some multi-millionaire outfit out of Gig Harbor, Washington, which takes on the collections. Imagine, we want to set up a payment plan, even though this fine has passed the statute of limitations. But the City of King City, OR, puts a hold on releasing licenses until every red-blooded Yankee cent is paid off.

We can only imagine what the cut is for this Little Eichmann outfit collecting fines from hundreds of cities, maybe thousands. The interest of a thousand bucks might be waived, but still, the $700 is probably only pennies on the dollar for the city as the Collection Agency (AKA mob in MBA clothing) racks up the largess of the original out of wack fine as profit running their boiler rooms of collection workers.

Punishment, boomerang retribution. Name one place and one job where a personal vehicle can easily be pushed aside as part of the work routine, discounted as a necessity of getting to and from work, or the fact that blue collar work never requires a driver’s license for using company vehicles. Right! A driver’s license is a right, not a privilege, in this bunkered society!

The great American rah-rah, fighting for one’s country, fighting for these evil punks like a Trump, just doesn’t cut it when the ex-soldiers start adding up the contradictions and outright lies of the elite class, which a Trump and his cronies signify and exemplify.

The core of these systems of pain and recurring punishment generates hate, fear, resentment, anger and violence – of the mind, violence of the soul and possible violence exacted on the innocents and not so innocents around them.

These characters I work with mostly never look at the concurrency of pathological serial shooters and these racist, homophobic anti-tolerance military experience, or how these synagogue attackers were subliminally and overtly recruited into the Armed Services with the true blue Yankee Doodle Dandy and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again glee perpetrated again by the neo-fascist army of Republicans and Trump Lagoon Monsters, all of which the Democrats simultaneously hide from and deal with.

Colonized With Hive and Mob Mentalities Simultaneously

I’ve signed permission passes (we force adults to sign and ask for permission to leave a homeless facility!) for overnight stays away from the shelter where I work for people who have brokered this idea of “anomie” into their very existence, a lack of meaningful and structuralized social life in return for Black Friday, the height of meaningless self-gratification at the expense of not only the planet but the faceless and nameless people charged with running this engine of Retailapithecus restlessness. As Émile Durkheim the sociologist stated, we are a modern culture where the individual follows an increasingly “restless movement, a planless self-development, an aim of living which has no criterion of value and in which happiness lies always in the future, and never in the present achievement.”

More and more of the clients I work with have as their end goal individualized happiness, their 40 acres and a mule dream, for me myself and I. They come from a hive of military brainwashing and propaganda, one where leaders are followed and hated at the same time, one where the broken system of war, empire, manifest destiny, nation invasions and nation building (sic) is their ultimate plan of self-gratification – I joined to protect the flag, our way of life and to protect our borders from savages and invaders. Except the borders, as anyone knowing the history of these here United Snakes of America, is all about Norte Americanos encroaching and breaking the borders of others.

As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz states in the Boston Review:

Even during the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies continued to war against the nations of the Diné and Apache, the Cheyenne and the Dakota, inflicting hideous massacres upon civilians and forcing their relocations. Yet when considering the history of U.S. imperialism and militarism, few historians trace their genesis to this period of internal empire-building. They should. The origin of the United States in settler colonialism—as an empire born from the violent acquisition of indigenous lands and the ruthless devaluation of indigenous lives—lends the country unique characteristics that matter when considering questions of how to unhitch its future from its violent DNA.

So, when I speak to the veterans and their families I work with on this matter of America’s soul wrapped in the banner of decimating other peoples who were here first, there is bloviating, knee-jerk proclamations that the victors enjoy the spoils, and that there is a god-given right to the American (white) ideal of moving the world toward His image.

This calculus I deploy for the homeless, those who have been screwed-blued-and-tattooed by the systems of oppression, by those debt collectors, those police and sheriff departments, by the judges and lawyers, top and bottom feeders all: I remind them that the so-called victors in their America are the One percent, including cretins from Hollywood, all the way to former generals/lobbyists/ contractors, and to include their sacred religious snake oil men like Graham. I remind them the wars they maybe have participated in were wars of oppression and wars of profits, completely tied to the ideals of screwing and stealing from your neighbor. That karmic doozy comes boomeranging back in the form of the victors on Wall Street, in the Boardrooms, and at the corporate tables of the Military-Pharma-Med-Prison-Education-Real Estate-Chemical-IT-Retail Complex. These too are the American ideals they supposedly signed up to protect with their lives in someone else’s country.

Again, what are we fighting for, sir?

This country’s leaders have always been Bill-Barak-Donald; Bezos-Adelson-Walton; CNN-FOX-Breitbart. “Money talks and money rules” is not some new Mar-a-Lago printed saying on Trump Condoms! As I continually told my 32-year military veteran father, his “work” in Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, et al was work for-by-and-because of the elites, the ones making two-bit Tin Soldiers jump through burning buildings and forced marches up another Pork Chop-Hamburger-Gizzard Hill. Marching orders by these bastions of money power and debt dread have been the history of these Un-united States.

Of course, the soldiers who are of color rarely jump on this Sherman Tank towed “bandwagon,” but to be sure, we talk about their own dire circumstances enveloped in the same sort of so-called “The Victors Enjoying the Spoils” mentality. The spoils include a complete but suppressed history of theft, lynchings, treaty breaking, incarcerations, land despoilments, eminent domain.

Black men and women fighting against black men and women from their mothership — Africa. AFRICOM. Imagine, a Black Alliance for Peace, and a movement to stop US military involvement in Africa, and again these disruptions of the narrative of white supremacy get flummoxed, and the irony of brown and black and red soldiers fighting for what, who knows, but definitely part of the system of oppression of their own people.

So, again, I go for the jugular, the fact that my old man and I argued much about the military’s legitimacy while on the same hand he agreed in my pursuit of journalism, writing, teaching, and education:

Not only does there need to be a mass movement in the U.S. to shut down AFRICOM, this mass movement needs to become inseparably bound with the movement that has swept this country to end murderous police brutality against Black and Brown people. The whole world must begin to see AFRICOM and the militarization of police departments as counterparts.

 Netfa Freeman, of Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Freeman represents PACA, a BAP member organization, on BAP’s Coordinating Committee.

It cost $267 million to fund AFRICOM in 2018. Probably a lot more in dark money and secret budgets; let alone the billions coming from the Economic Hit Men:

That money is stolen from Africans/Black people in the U.S. to terrorize and steal resources from our sisters and brothers on the African continent. Instead, that money should be put toward meeting our human needs in the U.S. and toward reparations for people in every African nation affected by U.S. imperialism.

—  Vanessa Beck, BAP research team lead and Coordinating Committee member.

So, them’s fighting words, as the white damaged veterans reach for words, epithets, rejoinders, and false dichotomies in the form of, Might Makes Right. There is a greater good in what us mere mortals see. Money Talks, of course, as many of them believe this irreligious, woman thumper, chubby bully, inconceivably smut-riddled man is THEIR commander in chief.

This ground truthing isn’t a hot commodity on the lefty or progressive or socialist web sites, for sure, where their own respective tidy thinking is vaunted over messy shit coming from the mouths of people scratching for a living doing this dirty work of counseling assuredly lost, wounded, broken and in many cases, mean as cuss souls.

That 35,000-foot Noam Chomsky view is heralded over the gutter view, and it’s no deep search for meaning to understand the hive and the mob mentality colonizing those Democratic Socialists of America folk, those pro-Israel-at-any-cost Bernie folk, those Pried from My Cold Dead Hand NRA folk. You got the Godfather Cuomo in Albany getting some robed lion of repression judge to legally change his name to Mario Amazon Direct Cuomo, with all the dildos and vibrators free for life!

Trump or Biden, Adelson or Soros, Chris Wallace or Rachel Maddow, Daryl Hannah or Caitlyn Jenner. Charmin or Cottenelle. Coke or Pepsi. Prozac or Zoloft. Raytheon or Northrup Grumman. Mad dog Mattis or Old Blood and Guts Patton. Steelers or Florida State. A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody.

The trenches are rarely delineated or written about, just these huge “investigative research white papers” on the power of the elite to powerfully corrupt all systems that were supposed to be set up to help-aid-assist-protect-empower-develop we the people’s communities. However, there are no more communities, just chaos (controlled chaos), disruptive technologies-economies-structural systems of repressions. Just Madison Avenue, Just Manufactured Narratives, Just Fallen Anti-Heroes, Just Entertainment.

Feeding the dopamine hits as the marketers of disaster-demented-demolition capitalism control all markets, all psychologies, all media, all armies.

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

— Eric Fromm, The Sane Society

In Defense of ‘Conspiracy Theories’: From ‘Fake News’ to the Art World

To remain innocent may also be to remain ignorant.
― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

This November 22nd marked fifty-five years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps no other major incident in U.S. history has generated more uncertainty and skepticism towards its official account than his Dallas killing in 1963. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that a clear majority of Americans still doubt the Warren Commission’s determination that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as the accused sniper, with many suspecting that others in government and organized crime were involved in a secret plot to kill the president. Although its etymological origins can be traced back further, as a cultural phenomenon the notion of belief in so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ is widely attributed to a surge in distrust of government and media institutions that followed JFK’s murder. Perhaps its only rival would be September 11th, which surveys have similarly indicated a trend of doubt towards the 9/11 Commission Report’s version of events leading up to the attacks in 2001. In other words, most people believe in a major conspiracy theory — yet they generally remain a mark of disgrace and public ridicule.

At no point in time have conspiracy theories been as stigmatized as in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election. Incidentally, what is classified as such is no longer consigned to the societal fringe or ever been more popular. It is alleged that the spreading of “fake news” on social media, featuring debunked viral conspiracies like Pizzagate, was what tipped the voting scales in Donald Trump’s favor. Or was it the very real conspiracy revealed in leaked emails published by WikiLeaks that the Democratic National Committee rigged the party primary for Hillary Clinton? We’re supposed to consider that fake news too, apparently. Regardless, what is consistently never addressed is the reasons why people turn to unofficial narratives because it would require the media to address its own negligence to hold those in power to account.

An examination of the media‘s systemic failure would draw attention to its actual role in society as a tool of mass persuasion on behalf of the ruling elite. Perhaps if the official doctrines of the over-staged Warren and 9/11 Commission Reports were not treated as articles of faith, people wouldn’t be suspicious of a rogue shadow government hidden behind such obvious dog-and-pony shows. If there is no incriminating evidence in the JFK files, why on earth is the public forbidden to see them half a century later? Instead, it is the working class who are demonized for expressing the human need to grasp the social totality denied by a corporate-controlled media that performs the opposite of its expected function. They are left with no choice but to fill in the enormous blanks left gaping by a press in service of the status quo and a government with no transparency. It is always the people who are blamed for the media’s failure to do its job.

The same can be said across the pond or for the West in general. Look no further than a recent article in British newspaper The Guardian alleging that “60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories.” Its definition of ‘conspiracy’ is so broad that it doesn’t simply refer to beliefs about UFOs or the moon landing, but a general distrust of institutions, official narratives and authority figures in any form. The article then conflates Brexit voters who hold anti-immigrant views with anyone polled who believes that the world is run by a secret global cabal of people who control events together”, and then almost comically states “the most widespread conspiracy belief in the UK, shared by 44% of people, was that ‘even though we live in what’s called a democracy, a few people will always run things in this country anyway.’” That is to say, The Guardian regards a view generally held by most rational people with an accurate understanding of life under capitalism as a ‘conspiracy’ belief equivalent to racism. The article even concludes thatdistrust of company bosses”, a feeling unsurprisingly held by three-fourths of those surveyed, falls under the label of a conspiracy view. Yes, clearly anyone who doesn’t love their oppressors is in equal standing with bigots who want to leave the EU. The world’s self declared ‘leading liberal voice’ is a guardian of power, indeed.

The term ‘conspiracy theory’ itself is a weapon. Its use is so ubiquitous that it automatically implies unconvincing improbability and worthiness of dismissal. How and when did it come to be so widely dispersed in the cultural lexicon? In the 1970s, the CIA had been the subject of numerous scandals with disclosures about its activities ranging from meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries to administering mind-control experiments on citizens in MK-ULTRA. The revelations about its clandestine influence on the press was yet another divulgence. It turns out that a likely possibility for the genesis of the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ and its far-reaching dissemination was revealed in an important 1976 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The New York Times in CIA Document 1035–960. The dispatch showed that by the late 1960s, the spy agency was so worried about pervasive skepticism toward the Warren Commission ruling that it issued a bulletin to its elite liaisons in the press to quell subversion. Entitled “Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report”, the communique encouraged the fourth estate to discredit doubters by spreading propaganda. It specifically employed the term while stressing the need to rein in dissenting opinion among journalists and the public:

Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination. Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.

Whether or not the specific document’s usage of the label is directly attributable to its subsequent omnipresence in the cultural vocabulary is beside the point. It was yet another example of the CIA’s efforts to engineer public opinion with media bias and disinformation, ordering its recruits to “employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” Only on occasion does an event like the Kennedy assassination occur where the deep state’s savage nature is glimpsed by the public at large, if only for a brief moment. Such instances require a counterintelligence response if the majority is to stay plugged into the matrix.

The unpleasant truth is that the 35th U.S. President became so despised by the most right-wing and militarist elements in the intelligence apparatus — provoked by his perceived treachery in diplomacy toward Cuba and placation of the Soviet Union following the foreign policy disasters of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs and apparent desire to deescalate the war in Vietnam — that they most likely removed him in a coup. The extent to which Kennedy was sincere in those efforts is another matter, although it was confirmed in declassified documents last year that he had rejected the proposed Operation Northwoods which would have carried out ‘false flag’ bombings in Miami to be blamed on Fidel Castro which shockingly made it all the way up the chain of command past the Joint Chiefs of Staff for approval. Why is it outlandish for people to suspect they could have done something similar on 9/11?

For Americans to learn the ugly facts behind JFK’s murder, plausibly located in the more than 15,000 documents still concealed from public view, would destroy the foundations of the national security state and the establishment it safeguards. It is on this basis that for more than half a century, corporate-owned media has stifled the multitude of admissions about the assassination brought to light, even when they’ve come from Hollywood movies. What we are witnessing today in the Russiagate fiasco with the “fake news” PSY-OP is an updated version of the CIA’s enlistment of the media following the JFK assassination to orchestrate public opinion which made the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ a universal pejorative.

Coincidentally, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Breuer satellite location in New York is the exhibition Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy. The show covers more than fifty-years of artists working in painting, sculpture, photography, collage, video and installations addressing a variety of themes ranging from secret torture at CIA black-sites to COINTELPRO to Henry Kissinger’s role in ‘the first 9/11’, the September 1973 coup in Chile which ousted Salvador Allende and installed Augusto Pinochet and Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. There are many provocative pieces in the show, such as a Calder-like sculpture of Iraqi oil fields exploring imperialism to an abstract painting suggesting that the WTC towers could have been destroyed by controlled demolition using planted super-thermite explosives.

The timing of such an exposition immediately prompts curiosity. One would assume that the Met was capitalizing on the unprecedented popularity of conspiracies with the “fake news” phenomenon surrounding the Trump presidency, but apparently the lead curator conceived of the show concept a decade prior. Nevertheless, for one of the biggest and wealthiest museums in the world founded by robber barons to permit such a showcase still required a selling point which came in the form of its marketability to satisfy the public’s palate for kitsch. Leaving that aside, however, the content of the exhibit is admittedly of bona fide quality, featuring everything from Black Panther graphic designer Emory Douglas to the late conceptual artist Mike Kelley.

The Kennedy assassination is featured heavily as a spectral motif and the first pieces visitors encounter are two striking neon-colored paintings of Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassin, Jack Ruby, by New York-based artist Wayne Gonzales which sets an ominous tone. Although the individual works of the inspired show are of high caliber, its main shortcoming is the sensationalized presentation. Despite seemingly authentic intentions, it inevitably institutionalizes the idea that when two-thirds of Americans reject the official story of a Kennedy assassination or 9/11, it is ultimately still just a ‘conspiracy.’ Although the exhibit itself is not as culpable as the surrounding cultural context in which it has appeared, it ultimately reifies that what is construed as hypothetical and imaginary conjecture (in the case of the JFK assassination a legitimate consensus) only merits attention as something tacky or niche to be appreciated ironically.

This is particularly advantageous to the establishment at the present moment which is relentlessly selling the naïve idea that we are now living in a “post-truth” era, as if prior to the Trump administration we were in a glory age of ‘truth.’ In order for art to portray such subject matter and be given a platform, it cannot avoid being allocated as novelty of unrefined taste by such a powerful institution. A podcast interview with the gallery curators revealed that one of the artists featured in the show, Hans Haacke, had to earn their trust as he was hesitant to participate in the show because he didn’t wish his work “to be associated with fiction.” Perhaps for related reasons, the curators refreshingly chose to omit the term ‘theory’ from the title while providing a thorough investigation of such themes by artists which reveal what they describe as “conspiracies that turned out not be theories at all, but truths.”

While everyone is aware of the intimate relationship between the art world and the ultra-wealthy benefactors of its museums, less familiar is its history with the CIA. As part of its psychological warfare during the Cold War, the agency spent millions promoting Modern Art, particularly the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, a fact only briefly mentioned by the gallery text of the exhibit. The CIA saw the aesthetic individualism and free form style of Abstract Expressionism as emblematic of Western values of ‘freedom of expression’ in antithesis to the socialist realism of the Soviet Union. The CIA provided covert financial support through the establishment of phony foundations with innocuous names that secretly subsidized exhibitions. The primary front organization was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) whose leading operative was CIA officer Thomas Braden. Braden was even selected as the executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York by Nelson Rockefeller as he oversaw the CIA’s hush-hush cultural activities in the CCF. He would later go on to become a columnist and co-host of CNN’s Crossfire.

The CIA did not just work stringently to relegate leeriness of its activities under a catch-all misnomer at the low brow level. The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s ideological weaponry even extended to the level of high intellectual theory for its gatekeeping. The CCF and other front groups like the Farfield Foundation secretly sponsored literary magazines such as Commentary and The Paris Review as an effort to redirect the sympathies of the non-communist left in the West away from the Soviet Union toward liberal democracy. Another literary publication that received undercover sponsoring from the CCF was the British-based Encounter magazine, founded by the essayist and intellectual Irving Kristol who later became the “godfather of neo-conservatism” and real life father of ultra-hawk pundit Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. During the 1930s, as a college student Irving Kristol was a member of the New York Intellectuals, a group of Jewish literary critics and writers who mostly were Trotskyists that embraced left-wing politics but were staunchly opposed to the Soviet Union under Stalin. These included prominent figures such as Isaiah Berlin, Irving Howe and Hannah Arendt who over time moved to the center and became liberals, or in the case of Kristol eventually further to arch-conservatism.

The intellectual voyage from Trotskyism to neoconservatism was a common thread throughout the 20th century, from David Horowitz to the late Christopher Hitchens. Irving Kristol and his intellectual circle were funded by the CIA in order to influence the political leanings of their cohorts in the European left to move toward liberal democracy and away from communism which fractured the left as a whole. To great effect, this split coalitions between social democratic and communist parties across Europe. If European leftists weren’t swayed by the CIA-sponsored intelligentsia, they were likely discouraged from holding any remaining Soviet sympathies by the ‘false flag’ terrorist attacks carried out during Operation Gladio in NATO-member countries by recruited fascist paramilitaries which were falsely blamed on communist organizations to tarnish their reputations.

Along with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, the consequences of the CIA’s clandestine activities from the arts to the intelligentsia can be seen in the dominant pseudo-left of today which has further degenerated into excessive preoccupation with toothless reformism and fetishization of gender and race-based identity politics. If the current generation of resolute Marxists are looking to place blame for the dominance of incrementalist politics emphasizing gradual change through existing institutions that has infected the entire left, they shouldn’t be shocked to learn much of it lands on the world’s most powerful spy agency during the Cold War. The CIA wasn’t just in the business of overthrowing democratic leaders of third world nations for Western business interests but equally engaged in cloak-and-dagger cultural operations which successfully altered the focus of leftist politics away from transformative anti-capitalist positions toward centrist liberal stances. To this day, the reverberations of these PSY-OPs can be felt in the contemporary left’s neglect and obfuscation of issues like imperialism and the class struggle. Without knowing this history, one can only have a vague understanding of how the left came to be what it is at present. The military-intelligence complex’s manipulation of the art world is incontrovertible fact, not a fanciful story, and it was just one element of a larger cultural campaign to splinter the Western left.

As the exhibit aptly points out, often what are designated as conspiracy theories in bygone times become indisputable facts years later. If there is now an abundant market for misinformation online exploiting the appetite of a public disillusioned by establishment media in desperate search of an alternative, the presstitutes only have themselves to blame. Claims on the right-wing margins about school shootings being hoaxes will never even begin to approach the irreparable damage done by every major news outlet in the country selling the lies of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction to go to war in Iraq, not just to the millions of human lives lost but the trust of the masses in the mass media orthodoxy. The same can be said about their unwillingness to truly investigate the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Following the 2016 election, the censorship campaign by social network giants against alternative media under the banner of stopping the spread of “fake news” can be seen as confirmation of the effectiveness of real independent journalism and its growing audience. Otherwise, it would not provoke such suppression. This development can either disenchant those hungry for the truth or be interpreted as a positive sign for the future, that people are starting to resist drinking the kool-aid— for now let’s choose the latter.

• Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy is on view at the Met Breuer until January 6th, 2019.

In Defense of ‘Conspiracy Theories’: From ‘Fake News’ to the Art World

To remain innocent may also be to remain ignorant.
― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

This November 22nd marked fifty-five years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps no other major incident in U.S. history has generated more uncertainty and skepticism towards its official account than his Dallas killing in 1963. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that a clear majority of Americans still doubt the Warren Commission’s determination that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as the accused sniper, with many suspecting that others in government and organized crime were involved in a secret plot to kill the president. Although its etymological origins can be traced back further, as a cultural phenomenon the notion of belief in so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ is widely attributed to a surge in distrust of government and media institutions that followed JFK’s murder. Perhaps its only rival would be September 11th, which surveys have similarly indicated a trend of doubt towards the 9/11 Commission Report’s version of events leading up to the attacks in 2001. In other words, most people believe in a major conspiracy theory — yet they generally remain a mark of disgrace and public ridicule.

At no point in time have conspiracy theories been as stigmatized as in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election. Incidentally, what is classified as such is no longer consigned to the societal fringe or ever been more popular. It is alleged that the spreading of “fake news” on social media, featuring debunked viral conspiracies like Pizzagate, was what tipped the voting scales in Donald Trump’s favor. Or was it the very real conspiracy revealed in leaked emails published by WikiLeaks that the Democratic National Committee rigged the party primary for Hillary Clinton? We’re supposed to consider that fake news too, apparently. Regardless, what is consistently never addressed is the reasons why people turn to unofficial narratives because it would require the media to address its own negligence to hold those in power to account.

An examination of the media‘s systemic failure would draw attention to its actual role in society as a tool of mass persuasion on behalf of the ruling elite. Perhaps if the official doctrines of the over-staged Warren and 9/11 Commission Reports were not treated as articles of faith, people wouldn’t be suspicious of a rogue shadow government hidden behind such obvious dog-and-pony shows. If there is no incriminating evidence in the JFK files, why on earth is the public forbidden to see them half a century later? Instead, it is the working class who are demonized for expressing the human need to grasp the social totality denied by a corporate-controlled media that performs the opposite of its expected function. They are left with no choice but to fill in the enormous blanks left gaping by a press in service of the status quo and a government with no transparency. It is always the people who are blamed for the media’s failure to do its job.

The same can be said across the pond or for the West in general. Look no further than a recent article in British newspaper The Guardian alleging that “60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories.” Its definition of ‘conspiracy’ is so broad that it doesn’t simply refer to beliefs about UFOs or the moon landing, but a general distrust of institutions, official narratives and authority figures in any form. The article then conflates Brexit voters who hold anti-immigrant views with anyone polled who believes that the world is run by a secret global cabal of people who control events together”, and then almost comically states “the most widespread conspiracy belief in the UK, shared by 44% of people, was that ‘even though we live in what’s called a democracy, a few people will always run things in this country anyway.’” That is to say, The Guardian regards a view generally held by most rational people with an accurate understanding of life under capitalism as a ‘conspiracy’ belief equivalent to racism. The article even concludes thatdistrust of company bosses”, a feeling unsurprisingly held by three-fourths of those surveyed, falls under the label of a conspiracy view. Yes, clearly anyone who doesn’t love their oppressors is in equal standing with bigots who want to leave the EU. The world’s self declared ‘leading liberal voice’ is a guardian of power, indeed.

The term ‘conspiracy theory’ itself is a weapon. Its use is so ubiquitous that it automatically implies unconvincing improbability and worthiness of dismissal. How and when did it come to be so widely dispersed in the cultural lexicon? In the 1970s, the CIA had been the subject of numerous scandals with disclosures about its activities ranging from meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries to administering mind-control experiments on citizens in MK-ULTRA. The revelations about its clandestine influence on the press was yet another divulgence. It turns out that a likely possibility for the genesis of the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ and its far-reaching dissemination was revealed in an important 1976 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The New York Times in CIA Document 1035–960. The dispatch showed that by the late 1960s, the spy agency was so worried about pervasive skepticism toward the Warren Commission ruling that it issued a bulletin to its elite liaisons in the press to quell subversion. Entitled “Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report”, the communique encouraged the fourth estate to discredit doubters by spreading propaganda. It specifically employed the term while stressing the need to rein in dissenting opinion among journalists and the public:

Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination. Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.

Whether or not the specific document’s usage of the label is directly attributable to its subsequent omnipresence in the cultural vocabulary is beside the point. It was yet another example of the CIA’s efforts to engineer public opinion with media bias and disinformation, ordering its recruits to “employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” Only on occasion does an event like the Kennedy assassination occur where the deep state’s savage nature is glimpsed by the public at large, if only for a brief moment. Such instances require a counterintelligence response if the majority is to stay plugged into the matrix.

The unpleasant truth is that the 35th U.S. President became so despised by the most right-wing and militarist elements in the intelligence apparatus — provoked by his perceived treachery in diplomacy toward Cuba and placation of the Soviet Union following the foreign policy disasters of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs and apparent desire to deescalate the war in Vietnam — that they most likely removed him in a coup. The extent to which Kennedy was sincere in those efforts is another matter, although it was confirmed in declassified documents last year that he had rejected the proposed Operation Northwoods which would have carried out ‘false flag’ bombings in Miami to be blamed on Fidel Castro which shockingly made it all the way up the chain of command past the Joint Chiefs of Staff for approval. Why is it outlandish for people to suspect they could have done something similar on 9/11?

For Americans to learn the ugly facts behind JFK’s murder, plausibly located in the more than 15,000 documents still concealed from public view, would destroy the foundations of the national security state and the establishment it safeguards. It is on this basis that for more than half a century, corporate-owned media has stifled the multitude of admissions about the assassination brought to light, even when they’ve come from Hollywood movies. What we are witnessing today in the Russiagate fiasco with the “fake news” PSY-OP is an updated version of the CIA’s enlistment of the media following the JFK assassination to orchestrate public opinion which made the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ a universal pejorative.

Coincidentally, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Breuer satellite location in New York is the exhibition Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy. The show covers more than fifty-years of artists working in painting, sculpture, photography, collage, video and installations addressing a variety of themes ranging from secret torture at CIA black-sites to COINTELPRO to Henry Kissinger’s role in ‘the first 9/11’, the September 1973 coup in Chile which ousted Salvador Allende and installed Augusto Pinochet and Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. There are many provocative pieces in the show, such as a Calder-like sculpture of Iraqi oil fields exploring imperialism to an abstract painting suggesting that the WTC towers could have been destroyed by controlled demolition using planted super-thermite explosives.

The timing of such an exposition immediately prompts curiosity. One would assume that the Met was capitalizing on the unprecedented popularity of conspiracies with the “fake news” phenomenon surrounding the Trump presidency, but apparently the lead curator conceived of the show concept a decade prior. Nevertheless, for one of the biggest and wealthiest museums in the world founded by robber barons to permit such a showcase still required a selling point which came in the form of its marketability to satisfy the public’s palate for kitsch. Leaving that aside, however, the content of the exhibit is admittedly of bona fide quality, featuring everything from Black Panther graphic designer Emory Douglas to the late conceptual artist Mike Kelley.

The Kennedy assassination is featured heavily as a spectral motif and the first pieces visitors encounter are two striking neon-colored paintings of Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassin, Jack Ruby, by New York-based artist Wayne Gonzales which sets an ominous tone. Although the individual works of the inspired show are of high caliber, its main shortcoming is the sensationalized presentation. Despite seemingly authentic intentions, it inevitably institutionalizes the idea that when two-thirds of Americans reject the official story of a Kennedy assassination or 9/11, it is ultimately still just a ‘conspiracy.’ Although the exhibit itself is not as culpable as the surrounding cultural context in which it has appeared, it ultimately reifies that what is construed as hypothetical and imaginary conjecture (in the case of the JFK assassination a legitimate consensus) only merits attention as something tacky or niche to be appreciated ironically.

This is particularly advantageous to the establishment at the present moment which is relentlessly selling the naïve idea that we are now living in a “post-truth” era, as if prior to the Trump administration we were in a glory age of ‘truth.’ In order for art to portray such subject matter and be given a platform, it cannot avoid being allocated as novelty of unrefined taste by such a powerful institution. A podcast interview with the gallery curators revealed that one of the artists featured in the show, Hans Haacke, had to earn their trust as he was hesitant to participate in the show because he didn’t wish his work “to be associated with fiction.” Perhaps for related reasons, the curators refreshingly chose to omit the term ‘theory’ from the title while providing a thorough investigation of such themes by artists which reveal what they describe as “conspiracies that turned out not be theories at all, but truths.”

While everyone is aware of the intimate relationship between the art world and the ultra-wealthy benefactors of its museums, less familiar is its history with the CIA. As part of its psychological warfare during the Cold War, the agency spent millions promoting Modern Art, particularly the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, a fact only briefly mentioned by the gallery text of the exhibit. The CIA saw the aesthetic individualism and free form style of Abstract Expressionism as emblematic of Western values of ‘freedom of expression’ in antithesis to the socialist realism of the Soviet Union. The CIA provided covert financial support through the establishment of phony foundations with innocuous names that secretly subsidized exhibitions. The primary front organization was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) whose leading operative was CIA officer Thomas Braden. Braden was even selected as the executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York by Nelson Rockefeller as he oversaw the CIA’s hush-hush cultural activities in the CCF. He would later go on to become a columnist and co-host of CNN’s Crossfire.

The CIA did not just work stringently to relegate leeriness of its activities under a catch-all misnomer at the low brow level. The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s ideological weaponry even extended to the level of high intellectual theory for its gatekeeping. The CCF and other front groups like the Farfield Foundation secretly sponsored literary magazines such as Commentary and The Paris Review as an effort to redirect the sympathies of the non-communist left in the West away from the Soviet Union toward liberal democracy. Another literary publication that received undercover sponsoring from the CCF was the British-based Encounter magazine, founded by the essayist and intellectual Irving Kristol who later became the “godfather of neo-conservatism” and real life father of ultra-hawk pundit Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. During the 1930s, as a college student Irving Kristol was a member of the New York Intellectuals, a group of Jewish literary critics and writers who mostly were Trotskyists that embraced left-wing politics but were staunchly opposed to the Soviet Union under Stalin. These included prominent figures such as Isaiah Berlin, Irving Howe and Hannah Arendt who over time moved to the center and became liberals, or in the case of Kristol eventually further to arch-conservatism.

The intellectual voyage from Trotskyism to neoconservatism was a common thread throughout the 20th century, from David Horowitz to the late Christopher Hitchens. Irving Kristol and his intellectual circle were funded by the CIA in order to influence the political leanings of their cohorts in the European left to move toward liberal democracy and away from communism which fractured the left as a whole. To great effect, this split coalitions between social democratic and communist parties across Europe. If European leftists weren’t swayed by the CIA-sponsored intelligentsia, they were likely discouraged from holding any remaining Soviet sympathies by the ‘false flag’ terrorist attacks carried out during Operation Gladio in NATO-member countries by recruited fascist paramilitaries which were falsely blamed on communist organizations to tarnish their reputations.

Along with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, the consequences of the CIA’s clandestine activities from the arts to the intelligentsia can be seen in the dominant pseudo-left of today which has further degenerated into excessive preoccupation with toothless reformism and fetishization of gender and race-based identity politics. If the current generation of resolute Marxists are looking to place blame for the dominance of incrementalist politics emphasizing gradual change through existing institutions that has infected the entire left, they shouldn’t be shocked to learn much of it lands on the world’s most powerful spy agency during the Cold War. The CIA wasn’t just in the business of overthrowing democratic leaders of third world nations for Western business interests but equally engaged in cloak-and-dagger cultural operations which successfully altered the focus of leftist politics away from transformative anti-capitalist positions toward centrist liberal stances. To this day, the reverberations of these PSY-OPs can be felt in the contemporary left’s neglect and obfuscation of issues like imperialism and the class struggle. Without knowing this history, one can only have a vague understanding of how the left came to be what it is at present. The military-intelligence complex’s manipulation of the art world is incontrovertible fact, not a fanciful story, and it was just one element of a larger cultural campaign to splinter the Western left.

As the exhibit aptly points out, often what are designated as conspiracy theories in bygone times become indisputable facts years later. If there is now an abundant market for misinformation online exploiting the appetite of a public disillusioned by establishment media in desperate search of an alternative, the presstitutes only have themselves to blame. Claims on the right-wing margins about school shootings being hoaxes will never even begin to approach the irreparable damage done by every major news outlet in the country selling the lies of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction to go to war in Iraq, not just to the millions of human lives lost but the trust of the masses in the mass media orthodoxy. The same can be said about their unwillingness to truly investigate the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Following the 2016 election, the censorship campaign by social network giants against alternative media under the banner of stopping the spread of “fake news” can be seen as confirmation of the effectiveness of real independent journalism and its growing audience. Otherwise, it would not provoke such suppression. This development can either disenchant those hungry for the truth or be interpreted as a positive sign for the future, that people are starting to resist drinking the kool-aid— for now let’s choose the latter.

• Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy is on view at the Met Breuer until January 6th, 2019.

Orson Welles in End Times

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is Morgan Neville’s not–very-helpful addition to the canon of “Who Was Orson Welles and How Did He Do It?” documentaries, of which I have already seen several, since I’m a fan. It didn’t make me particularly enthusiastic about The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’ simultaneously released final monsterpiece (42 years in coming!) which is the nominal focus of the documentary. The footage of Welles pastiching European New Cinema (which did a fine job all on its own) and somehow critiquing toxic masculinity by having John Huston chew scenery while slathering the bronze body of his talentless late-life muse Oja Kodar across the screen (talk about having your cake and eating it) and wasting the talented Susan Strasburg in a vengeful bitch-critic role left me cold and rather sad (in solidarity with critics, I suppose, and Antonioni, and the billions of women who may be any number of worthy things without ever being the muses of iconic film directors).

I may still go to see the film, out of completism, which for Welles fans is an exercise in frustration and almost Borgesian impossibility. Or maybe I’ll watch it on Netflix, since I assume my subscriber fees helped pay for it (both films are Netflix productions). As fans know, there’s usually at least one scene or shot in any Orson Welles film that actually makes you see in a new way, and that’s worth the price of many misfires.

The documentary is also full of baffling and irritating choices: why have Alan Cumming narrate, PBS style, but in various extraneous and tricksy settings, such as through a monitor in a faux editing room? Why shoot interview subjects side-on or over the shoulder—one of them, Henry Jaglom I think, even questions this on camera—or wearing headphones, in bled-out black and white? Why not identify any of them with title cards, at least once? Why are some only voiceovers, never seen at all?

Who knows? But if you have to ask, you’re being unnecessarily distracted from the subject.

Still, I’m glad I saw it; it gave me a lot of Welles to contemplate, and that caused me to reflect on the Greater Meaning of Movies. And this is because Welles was massive, iconic and chimerical enough to be a metaphor for the medium itself, during a time the cinema will not see again, for good or ill. He was like Prometheus, bringing fire to the masses, and condemned to exile and slow torture by the vengeful gods of the System for doing so.

Welles was also big enough to bookend High Anglo Culture historically: the artist most equal to the challenge of interpreting on stage or screen—in the final decades of unobstructed Anglo cultural dominance—the work of that foundational artist, Shakespeare, who literally reinvented our language in the incipient years of the empire, which, its life fatally extended by settler colonialism, and having linguistically and economically conquered the world, is finally on the knife-edge of ultimate decline. And Welles in turn gave us a new cinematic language for the story Shakespeare had mastered in that earlier time: the rise and fall of the Great Man.

It was sheer myth, what Welles created, what he seems to have lived for, myth in both the modern sense of fabrication, and the ancient sense of a story of cosmic significance. Twentieth century movies and movie-going were the first and last gasp of a universal secular mythology: once upon a time we went to temples to commune with gods, larger than life, made of light, who danced before us, or really forever just beyond, touching us without being touched. But they were also fictions, embodied by small (if pretty) actual humans wearing the giant masks of projection. And Welles, consummately among his peers, understood that in human life, duplicity and transcendence were inextricable. That’s probably why his masterpieces are masterpieces of surface, to paraphrase the late Pauline Kael (who apparently earned herself the Strasburg caricature in The Other Side of the Wind for this insight).

But now that the ending he wrote for his own story is at last before our eyes, both as document and as fiction, are we allowed to ask what it was all for? Not the quest for mythic expression, the creation of narratives of cosmic significance, which we will need as long as we remain human, but the particular myths, the stories, his own Promethean story—where do they fit in our contemporary psychic toolbox? Do they have the power to persist in the future as they have dominated the past?

Tragedy, the rise and fall of larger-than-life heroes, comes out of a culture of surplus, because the rise that precipitates the ruin is only possible where there is lots to gain. A culture that raises up Prometheus or Faust has the luxury of not needing to honor humility or resilience, because it has the resources to waste on great striving and great loss.

That seems unlikely to be the culture of the future.

In The Age of Derangement, Amitav Ghosh notes how ironic it is that, so far, only lowly genre fiction, and not much of that, seems able to grapple with what will likely be the defining phenomenon of our lives: the exhaustion of the biosphere and the chaos that will engulf us if we run it to death the way our ancestors ran down the mammoths. So-called literary fiction is obsessed with meticulously chronicling the phenomena and mapping the psychology of individual lives; so-called serious films may have extended their subject matter to include a bourgeois liberal embodiment of certain social issues in an individual’s story, but our culture’s back is turned when it comes to a situation so monstrous it requires nothing less than the mythic, the cosmological approach to storytelling.

And in that onrushing storm, the Great Man is lost and useless. The Great Man degenerates, as the Faustian bargain unravels, into a telegenic fascist, a blank-eyed billionaire eyeing only the next quarter’s returns, a slug-like Hollywood mogul strip-mining the humanity of naïve and vulnerable starlets. They aren’t even interesting villains, not a Hamlet or Macbeth or a Charles Foster Kane among them. All the while, a much bigger story, the story of how to survive and thrive in a living world, goes untold.

Peter Bogdanovich quotes Welles: “no story has a happy ending, unless you stop telling it before it’s over.” That’s a riff on Hemingway’s “every true story ends in death.” (Hemingway, possibly more than Welles himself, is the artist Huston is meant to be channeling in The Other Side of the Wind.) That’s the tragic view, and tragedy is an exclusive creation—one might say a self-fulfilling prophecy—of the boom-and-bust West. But comedy is universal, and survival is always comic, as the literary scholar and biologist Joseph Meeker (author of a seminal work of eco-criticism, The Comedy of Survival) reminds us. Comic heroes and heroines forgo transcendence for adaptation, fluid identity, minimization of risk and conflict. Their talent is a profound and sophisticated understanding of context, not a blind will to subdue the elements.

To make Welles’ late films and many others, lives were broken, bonds of friendship and love betrayed, chaos unleashed, all to chase some flickering remnant of magic that’s hailed as timeless even as it’s already fading back into all the other stories incessantly bubbling up, the rising din of billions who just got a toehold in modernity, and are only beginning to understand that their assigned job in it is to harvest the grapes of wrath. Magic forged in a privileged medium that won’t survive in any meaningful way in inundated cities, migrant camps, or vast resource-poor settlements where electricity has become an impossible luxury, won’t survive or have meaning in the sparkless eyes of the mechanical beings or burrowing animals that will haunt the ruins we’re rushing toward.

We murdered, we suppressed the age-old stories of connection to plants, animals, women, soil, one another. In one place on earth after another, the humble stories were displaced by Promethean pulp fiction, and now the price of that so-called progress may be the whole earth, and every living thing upon it. We may not even have Ozymandias’ “trunkless legs of stone” to gaze upon in a thousand years, much less the cinema of Orson Welles.

To avert this, sometime in the 21st century, during the lives of those now living or just being born, Prometheus must die, not merely be punished by serpents gnawing at his liver. He must die, or we will.

But for a little while longer, the shadows still dance before our hungry eyes, in lavishly restored Beaux Arts movie palaces like the Castro Theater, attended by the cultured and well-fed in the lucky rich cities like San Francisco, or in the booming multiplexes the slightly less felicitous drive to in their dinosaur boxes just off the life-abhorrent superhighways, or on the ever-smaller screens we’re increasingly encouraged to insert between ourselves and all innate perception, full stop. On those screens still flicker daily the stories of the Great (White) Men, their lushly violent dreams, their overweening, complex projects, their hapless, idolatrous muses—rising and falling like the stock market in speed-up, making us believe, in our timorous and misplaced awe, that when they finally fall for the very last time, our whole world goes down with them.