02.25.22

the ironies of war

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:50 pm by Administrator

i cannot articulate how angry and crushed i am at the war that is unfolding in ukraine. we all saw it coming for years. was it truly inevitable? was there nothing we could do to prevent the outbreak of hostilities? what does it say about us, as a species and as a global community, that here and now with all we have learned over the millennia, we are still a people that resorts to colossal, anonymous, and uncompromising violence on a massive scale? “now they will listen,” says putin, speaking not only for himself but to the tribal and vindictive person in us all. we continue to be defined by our willingness to murder in the name of belief. it is inherent to our cultures; it is at the root of our religions; it is the one constant, in every era of our history.

still, there is the exercise of perspective that i must endure, because even though there is no justification for war, there is context. and as much as the western media would love to depict this war as random, vicious, and without precedent, there is certainly precedent for it. the west has established that precedent.

after all, who has been the most war-mongering and aggressive nation in the world over the last two decades? not russia. they are not the ones who sent troops halfway across the world to depose an afghani government that was ostensibly protecting an enemy of the american people. they are not the ones who fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify a war for geopolitical influence in iraq. the united states has been in a constant state of war for the past twenty-one years, killing countless innocent civilians, destabilizing entire regions, and directly leading to the formation and arming of its latest and great enemy ISIS. meanwhile, the united states has the gall to accuse russia of fomenting unrest for the sake of territorial acquisition? the irony is as patent as it is cruel. this country has no business wagging its finger at russia, when its own hands are dripping with blood.

neither can we ignore the fact that there has been an unceasing state of war between ukraine and separatist forces at russia’s borders for eight years. the west may laugh at russia’s “concern” over the humanitarian crisis at its doorstep, but would the great western powers themselves not forcibly intervene on behalf of friendly, ethnically congruent populations against a bordering rival and aggressor? the situation was begging for russian intervention, if not openly defining a case for russia’s self-interest through invasion.

neither of course can the russians be excused from the terror and suffering that they are unleashing upon their neighbors. their fault is the same fault that must be ascribed to all imperial powers, most chiefly the united states, namely that their exercise of force is justified by their power. and who really can dispute that? is there anything in our recent world history to even postulate that there is any other justification for war? do nations really send their young men to fight and die because of moral ends? i have been a student of history for more than twenty years, and nowhere can i find a moral compass at work in any of the conquests we have spent so much time recording and memorializing for posterity. powerful nations have murdered the people of smaller and less powerful nations in the name of religion, nation, and cause, and we continue to do so for the same absolutely insane reasons. when we should be moving away from religion, nation, and cause, we instead grip these idiotic mythologies with greater vigor, as if our own immortality hinges upon it. no forces have been more destructive for humanity than the combination of christianity (and its various divisions), western nationalism, and scientific advancement, which have conspired to create the unmitigated pestilence of western empire. russia, in its designs for ukraine, is simply an extension of this blight.

i haven’t seen a time of relative peace in more than twenty-one years, and my children have not seen any evidence that our society can achieve real peace among peoples. let us be clear that the real enemy here is not russia, china, or some terrorist organization yet to emerge; the enemy is within ourselves, embedded in the intricate network of lies that we have received and accepted as our civilization. it is in our bible, our classics, our reading of roman history, our love of shakespeare, our quest for self-revelation, our lust for wealth, our commitment to law and to humanism. it is wrapped up in the irony of what we are—this primitive species of conscious beings who civilize themselves by debasing themselves. the world of living things—animals, insects and plant life—deserve better companions than what we are, and if we cannot transform ourselves through genetic engineering, then surely the greatest gift we can give this planet is our extinction.

i am ashamed of what we have become

02.22.22

the seminal year

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:20 pm by Administrator

a common mental exercise that i engage in at least a few times a year involves going back in time and imagining how the world might have changed if one or two seminal events had been altered or prevented. what if the automobile had never been invented? what if adolf hitler had been assassinated long before he took power? what if the atom bomb had never been developed? the farther back in time i go, the more unpredictable the consequences for the present. and the more acute my sense of the present becomes, the more specific my interest in altering the past. so it is, that we face a unique juncture in the history of the world, and now my wish to change the past is so sharply defined.

how is it, after all, that we’ve come to this terribly deflating moment in history, where we find ourselves again at the brink of a global war? forget the rationalizations, the probabilities, the reassurances of talking heads everywhere. the world heard such things in 1939. we heard such things in 1914. americans heard these things in 1861, and beforehand in 1776. always, war was inconceivable. at most, a limited conflict was to be expected. but here we are yet again; the forces of russia align themselves against the forces of the West. it is deja vu, a regression of humanity, an unwinding of thirty years of something we had the hubris and stupidity to call progress. what progress? what humanity? in fact, we have designed weapons of war so that we can use them. and history has proven, time and time again, that when we build armies, they never fail to exercise their function.

whether it happens tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, there will be a war in eastern europe. we have no right not to expect it. the roots of this conflict are too deep to be forgotten; the key stakeholders are too deeply entrenched to simply walk away. it didn’t have to come to this, but our history as a species brought us to this. and this will not simply be a war that settles itself after a cathartic bloodletting. this is the kind of war that will spill over into a clash of civilizations that will outlast our lifetimes. it will immerse our children in blood; it will define the lives and perspectives of their children. my great-grandchildren will be drafted to pilot combat drones and androids against the great-grandchildren of a person of another nationality that i have no intrinsic quarrel with. this is the tragedy of the thing we call civilization. it did not have to be this way.

and so i go back in time, and i try to devise a way out of this trap. sometimes i imagine broad and sweeping changes that leave humanity bereft of society. but sometimes, it comes down to just a few events, in a seminal year.

i go back to 2000-2001, a year that laid the foundation for the epic disaster that is now unfolding. interestingly, the events of that year—the failed israeli-palestinian peace talks at camp david, al gore’s election loss to george w. bush, and the 9/11 attack—seemingly had little directly to do with ukraine and the russian republic. but when i put them together, those events contributed not only to the wars in afghanistan and iraq that destabilized the middle east and central asia; they ushered in a new era of american militarism, which itself inspired a russian counterreaction against the imperialism of the west.

what might have happened had yasser arafat relinquished his insistence on “right of return” as a precondition for acceding to ehud barak’s proposal for a palestinian state? never mind that this might have undermined the palestinian authority and ultimately empowered palestinian opponents of the peace talks. the path to peace might not have ended there with a signed agreement, but through subsequent stutters and starts, a process of dialogue might have continued, over the twenty subsequent years leading up to the present. this process of dialogue might have actually culminated in a stable two-state solution, an enduring detente, the end of israeli settler expansionism, and a reduction in the hostilities that have inspired countless cycles of retribution.

and what might have happened if a progressive visionary like al gore had won the white house in 2000, steering the U.S. and perhaps the world away from militant nationalism and deeper into the interdependency of globalization? would we have so aggressively refunded the military-industrial complex, which precipitated and fed off of illegal wars? i have to believe that gore would have been vastly less likely to solve america’s diplomatic challenges through shows of force; and that in turn would have inspired more collaboration and less suspicion from emerging nations like china and russia, who have clearly been influenced by the rising tide of right-wing nationalism throughout the “developed” world.

more than any other single event that shaped putin’s approach to leadership, i think it’s the moscow theater hostage crisis that defined him. and the chechnyan separatists that precipitated that attack were in turn inspired by al qaeda’s successful attack against american targets on 9/11. and 9/11 derived its compelling context from a whole host of intricately related developments: the failure of middle east peace talks, the eruption of intifadeh in the occupied territories, and the galvanization of muslim fundamentalists around the world following the initiation of america’s war against the taliban. it wasn’t a straightforward domino effect, but this succession of developments all created the necessary context for a terrorist attack on a moscow theater that killed 130 russian civilians. that trauma, while incomparable to 9/11 by the numbers, was nevertheless the seminal moment of putin’s first term and the thing that most convinced him that what russia needed more than anything else was a strongman. say what you will about vladimir putin; once upon a time, he swam with sharks, but now the oligarchs are just bottom-feeders in his fish tank.

here we are in 2022. there is still no peace in the middle east. nationalism is surging around the world, undermining globalization and any trend toward post-national society. there is still mutual suspicion and the potential of outright war between nations of the east and west. and my point here is that these are not just vague inevitabilities that are inherent to our dna as a species. these are the ramifications of specific historical events that have traumatized us, over and over again, in manners that have validated specific narratives of competition, rivalry, and mutual aggression. if we can head off these events, then we can stem the trauma that results from them; if we can spare even one generation from this trauma, then they in turn can change the course of our society.

here we are in 2022. it is a seminal year, ripe for crisis or for redemption. we can submit ourselves to the cold war narrative that we learned as children and steel ourselves again for war—a pointless, futile, and mutually destructive exercise that could plunge the world into a generation of hostilities. or we can recognize the terrible mistakes that brought us to this point of decision, and we can change the terms that we use to describe what we are facing; we can do what has to be done to subvert the logics of nationalism that always bring us back to this place of annihilation, time and time again

02.16.22

the half-time show was the show

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:18 pm by Administrator

the half-time show for super bowl 56 was meticulously staged, brilliantly executed, and powerfully resonant in a way that few public spectacles can ever claim to be. to me, it was the most memorable concert i’ve ever witnessed, and it absolutely overshadowed the game at SoFi Stadium. “still dre” brought the performance home, and the song is still as defiant, poignant, and relevant as it was back in 1999 when it was first released. and dre didn’t pull punches either; he’s “still not loving police” and pretty much down with telling the entire world about it.

what made this show particularly emotional for me is that for years i’ve expected our artists and musicians to take a stand and to make a statement on the national stage about ongoing systematic injustice in this country. but the powers that be have been successful year after year at suppressing that level of expression on the super bowl stage. it’s a testament to the coercive tactics of the NFL and the forces behind them that the half-time shows have been best known for innocuous crowd pleasures and very trivial deviations from decorum (i.e. a middle finger from M.I.A., a wardrobe malfunction by Janet Jackson).

to me, the truth to power opportunity that never materialized was lady gaga’s super bowl half-time performance in 2017. the country was reeling from a series of incendiary, insensitive, and deliberately provocative comments coming out of the White House, and lady gaga herself had expressed consternation at some of the homophobic insinuations made by the newly elected president. i’m not sure that anyone expected lady gaga to risk her career and reputation on a political stand, but the moment was ripe for some expression of resistance. it didn’t happen that night; what it felt like was business as usual, a failure of civil society.

when snoop and dre took the stage on sunday evening and put the legacy of west coast gangster rap on full display, they did more than remind the public about an important american musical tradition. they made it clear that the conversation on race, police brutality, and inequality in the united states isn’t over; it’s center stage, and it’s legitimate discourse now. and when eminem took that knee—fifty excruciating seconds for NFL executives everywhere—he did it for every public figure and politician and fan that’s been too scared to say the thing that needs to be said, not only about football but about the direction of our torn and traumatized society. it was performance at its absolute best; it was music expressing the pain of generations; it was the reassurance we needed that nothing’s changed, when it comes to the conscience of the nation. we’re still here, still angry, still dre

02.11.22

race and tv, and value

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:38 pm by Administrator

i’ve just recently started watching showtime’s “billions”, and i’m midway through season 2. i wouldn’t say that i’m hooked, but i find it entertaining. what i mostly enjoy about the show is the incredible on-screen chemistry between paul giamatti and maggie siff, who play out their intense and sadomasochistically complex relationship to hilarious perfection.

while it’s riveting to watch those two actors put on a show, it’s perhaps less than interesting trying to follow everything else: the power plays, the back-room deals, the baits and switches, et cetera. the esoteric machinations are often reminiscent of breaking bad but perhaps more intricate and abstruse. what makes these plot meanderings even more difficult to tolerate is the perspective i have knowing that five seasons of the show have been completed; it’s obvious that the show writers will not deal a killing blow to either of their two main protagonists. that implies that for all their heroic efforts to undo each other, bobby axelrod and chuck rhoades, jr. will essentially continue to fight each other to a grueling draw, one season after another.

now, beneath all of those considerations, there is the thing about the show that irks me more than anything else: “billions” is about the misbehaviors of rich and powerful white people. it’s one of the most common and worn-out television motifs of the postmodern era. whether it’s “desperate housewives” or the hbo show “succession”, we just can’t seem to get enough of watching rich white people abuse people with their power, prejudice, and privilege. and just when you think that you’ve seen it all, some content creator tries to come up with a new way of shocking you with the sordid lifestyles of the rich and famous. somehow, after years upon years of reinventing this form of exploration into our society’s bedrock venality, the product becomes more fatiguing, if not frankly demoralizing.

i’m certainly not contending that every worthy show needs to have a DEI agenda at its core. but really, haven’t we grown up enough as a society to see how thin and uninteresting our addiction to white privilege has become? for forty-plus years, i’ve read white theologians, white historians, white poets, white playwrights, and white journalism. it’s familiar stuff, and it all seems more and more flimsy and foolish in retrospect. i sometimes hate to admit that my own sense of culture and history is so warped and misguided, but my sensibilities are nevertheless outpacing my pride. there is something more interesting to us as a society and as a world than the misbehaviors of rich and powerful white men, and i think we deserve to branch out a little and find out what other narratives are worth telling.

there are so many questions emerging about how exactly we value a human life—and one of these many questions revolves around the positional value of a center in the NFL. i’m specifically thinking about tyler linderbaum, the iowa center who won the rimington trophy and who projects to be a first-round pick in april. the facts suggest that first-round centers frequently pay off; the first-round “hit rate” is high and rapidly evident when it comes to centers, and ryan kelly and frank ragnow are recent examples of this. mock drafters are confidently mocking tyler linderbaum to the eagles in round one, because of the impending retirement of jason kelce, and because of how critically important kelce has been to the eagles over this past decade.

i don’t have any special perspective or analysis to bring to the conversation. i’ll just say that for every nick mangold taken in the first round, there’s a garrett bradbury in recent memory that has to be mentioned. and as good as jason kelce has been for us, he was a 6th round center, in the company of many late-round centers who have veritably defined the position, including corey linsley, chris myers, dan koppen, and shaun o’hara. the fact is that you don’t have to have rare physical qualities to be a great NFL center; you don’t have to have 6 feet and 6 inches of height, 82 inches of wingspan, and blazing athleticism. you have to be an avid grinder, and you have to be smart about it. i don’t mean to devalue the center position, but the dollars should tell the story easily enough. an average starting NFL center makes about $3-4 million a year, while an average starting offensive tackle is making more than double that.

so all that’s to say that i don’t think the eagles should feel obliged to take linderbaum in the 1st round this year, even if kelce opts to retire. factoring in positional value, and assuming we choose not to take a qb high in this draft, our priority needs for our three 1st round picks have to be a traditional 4-3 defensive end, an outside cornerback, and a wide receiver, in that order. it would not be a stupid thing to just follow the formula and draft by the script this year.