1,000 Points of Bin Laden
When George Bush Sr. was crowned president in the 1980s, he moved his office pens, pencils and stuff into the Oval Office to the sound of a pretty swell soundbyte. Remember: "One-thousand points of light."
It was a beautiful idea. One everybody in networked society could completely understand. The Reagan era capped off the tank with all of its trainees, a whole beehive of cronies, and so the only problem was with a nation of 250 million people was, hey, if you really looked at it, "One-thousand points of light" was still pretty elite company.
After a decade of gestures in the form of little wars in the 1980s, the Company launched us all on another 10 years of real big war in Iraq. True to form: It was a group effort. A small group, yes. But now, look and see, the 1,000 points are still in action. The Company, still intact.
But what we failed to avoid, or understand, in the rush to another large-scale compaign, was this: History was repeating itself. Not the first Bush era, but a whole `nother millennium.
Somewhere in one of Dubya's first speeches after Sept. 11, another unfortunate mantra sprung from the Company spin machine: A "crusade" against terrorism.
This was the problem.
Our language, our first media soundbyte to declare a war on terrorism, "crusade," only served to stir up a festering beehive. And just like the Popes of yore, the Christian world poured itself into the melee only to increase the feedback loops of incredible vengeance.
President Bush, our former national executioner, egged on by the 1,000 pointed hats, inspired a network of new lights on the other side of the world. Call them "One-thousand points of Bin Laden."
With news that if elected, the Bush administration will likely bring on the draft, one is haunted to remember the first Crusades. They were real disasters. Except, that is, for those who stood to make a profit from all the action. Like the pointed hats.
For example, if you are wondering if perhaps a land war in an arid nation on the other side of the world is wise, we could learn a few lessons in history. So, as a public service, I offer this excerpt from Piers Paul Read, who boiled down one such adventure in The Templars: The Dramatic History of the Knights Templar, the Most Powerful Military Order in the History of the Crusades.
In 1185, according to the book (please forgive the sudden introduction of most of these names for the leaders of the Christian army, which had gathered in Jerusalem):
" ... King Guy (the Christian appointee for Jerusalem) ordered the army to march at dawn. Taking the northern route over the arid hills toward Tiberias, constantly harassed by Muslim archers, and soon debilitated by thirst, they reached the village of Lubiya. Here the King received a request from the Templars who brought up the rear, to stop for the night. Count Raymond, leading the vanguard, was aghast: 'Ah, Lord God, the war is over. We are dead men. The kingdom is finished.'
"The well at Lubiya was dry. The army camped on the waterless plateau known as the Horns of Hattin, overlooking the village of Hattin where Saladin's army awaited them. As the night progressed, the Muslims edged closer: any soldiers who went in search of water were caught and killed. The Muslims set fire to the scrub that covered the hill: the breeze carried the smoke into the Christian camp.
"At dawn, Saladin ordered the attack. Maddened by thirst, the heat and smoke, the Christian army tried to break through the Muslim phalanx to the lake. They were either killed or taken prisoner. Above them, the armoured knights repelled the repeated assaults of the Muslim Cavalry time and time again, but they too were weakened by thirst and each onslaught reduced their numbers. With his knights, Count Raymond charged against the Muslim phalanx which suddenly opened to let them through. Unable to return to the main body of the army, they fled to Tripoli.
"Behind them, the remaining knights formed a circle around the king, making numerous sorties against Saladin's men. With them was th e Bishop of Acre holding the precious relic of the True Cross. When he fell, the True Cross was taken. The battle was over. King Guy and those knights who remained alive now fell from exhaustion, not from the sword. The most eminent among them were led off captive to the tent of their conquerer, Saladin -- among them King Guy, his brother, Amalric, Reginald of Chatillon and young Humphrey of Toron. With the exquisite courtesy for which he was famed, Saladin offered the thirsty King a glass of rose-water, cooled with ice from the peak of Mount Hebron. After drinking from it, the King passed it to Reginald of Chatillon but before Reginald could slake his thirst, the glass was taken from him, the life of a captive who is given food or water is assured.
"Saladin now berated Reginald for all his iniquities and, again in obedience to Muhammad's teaching, offered him the choice of accepting Islam or death. Reginald laughed in his face, saying it was rather Saladin who should turn to Christ: 'If you believe in Him, you could avoid the punishment of eternal damnation which you should not doubt is prepared for you.' On hearing this, Saladin took up his scimitar and cut off Reginald's head."
Now, we could wax on and on about this eternal futility of trying to convert each other. We could wax on the irony of our current Pope lashing Bush for his own pointy-hatted war (oh well, he was always the reformer). We could argue on and on ... hell, we could fight it out for a century. But mostly, next, we should pursue the following point: The rest of the book on the Templars by Piers Paul Read is a bit of a disappointment. Worse than that, it's disheartening.
And it's more than his scepticism about the Grail Legends, and, whether or not the small cottage industry of "Da Vanci Code"-style historians have any true secrets to reveal.
For example, as he approaches his climax, he writes this beaut:
"A final verdict on the Templars must depend upon our judgement of Catholic Christianity, and in particular of it's long war against Islam, the crusades. By and large, the crusades -- like the Inquisition -- are perceived today to have been a bad thing."
His point being that at least by launching centuries of warfare on a foreign foe, the powers of medieval Europe were able to stimulate their economy, and, keep the riff raff from duking it out on their own shores. The processes of Western civilization were served pretty well by it, despite all of the bloodshed.
But what do we expect from a man who wrote "Alive!," the best-selling book about plane-crash victims in the Andes turning to canibalism to survive? The end justifies the means: One of the first civic lessons you learn in grade school about Republicanism.
So yes, even if the trickle-down effect begins with the Pointy Hats of Light, there's an inherent fallacy because Republicanism is planetary feudalism. In its national self-interest, it lacks a global perspective. Sure, pour the bucks into the war effort, from Halliburton to every defense gadget now drawn up to the Department of Homeland Security. As Robert Penn Warren often repeated in his imitation of the southern political boss Huey Long, "All the King's Men": "It takes a lot of manure to make the grass green."
Sure, that's the real world. War is generally good for a stalled capitalist monarchy. It certainly keeps eyes away from problems at home. But, to borrow from another planetary Liberal, Canadian singer/songwriter, from his song, "Nicaragua": "Sandino of the shining dream ... who stood up to the U.S. Marines."
The final point being, the U.S. Government has unleashed a whole new generation of people who delight in the idea that they, too, can dream the dream of Saladin. Who cares if we ever get that relic chunk of the True Cross back? That antique is way too costly, in the long run. When the Company got another four years of power, we became instituted for at least a century of global sectarian conflict. In fact, it may already be too late. "One-Thousand Points of Bin Laden" is a hell of a price to pay for a piece of wood.
Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?
Editor's Note: I found this old post on one of my original blogs going back about 10 years, but I always liked this writer. And so, I share this with you ... DLM
By Thomas Pynchon
The New York Times Book Review
As if being 1984 weren't enough, it's also the 25th anniversary this year of C. P. Snow's famous Rede lecture, "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," notable for its warning that intellectual life in the West was becoming polarized into "literary" and "scientific" factions, each doomed not to understand or appreciate the other. The lecture was originally meant to address such matters as curriculum reform in the age of Sputnik and the role of technology in the development of what would soon be known as the third world. But it was the two-culture formulation that got people's attention. In fact it kicked up an amazing row in its day. To some already simplified points, further reductions were made, provoking certain remarks, name-calling, even intemperate rejoinders, giving the whole affair, though attenuated by the mists of time, a distinctly cranky look.
Today nobody could get away with making such a distinction. Since 1959, we have come to live among flows of data more vast than anything the world has seen. Demystification is the order of our day, all the cats are jumping out of all the bags and even beginning to mingle. We immediately suspect ego insecurity in people who may still try to hide behind the jargon of a specialty or pretend to some data base forever "beyond" the reach of a layman. Anybody with the time, literacy, and access fee can get together with just about any piece of specialized knowledge s/he may need. So, to that extent, the two-cultures quarrel can no longer be sustained. As a visit to any local library or magazine rack will easily confirm, there are now so many more than two cultures that the problem has really become how to find the time to read anything outside one's own specialty.
What has persisted, after a long quarter century, is the element of human character. C. P. Snow, with the reflexes of a novelist after all, sought to identify not only two kinds of education but also two kinds of personality. Fragmentary echoes of old disputes, of unforgotten offense taken in the course of a long-ago high-table chitchat, may have helped form the subtext for Snow's immoderate, and thus celebrated, assertion, "If we forget the scientific culture, then the rest of intellectuals have never tried, wanted, or been able to understand the Industrial Revolution." Such "intellectuals," for the most part "literary," were supposed by Lord Snow, to be "natural Luddites."
Except maybe for Brainy Smurf, it's hard to imagine anybody these days wanting to be called a literary intellectual, though it doesn't sound so bad if you broaden the labeling to, say, "people who read and think." Being called a Luddite is another matter. It brings up questions such as, Is there something about reading and thinking that would cause or predispose a person to turn Luddite? Is It O.K. to be a Luddite? And come to think of it, what is a Luddite, anyway?
Historically, Luddites flourished In Britain from about 1811 to 1816. They were bands of men, organized, masked, anonymous, whose object was to destroy machinery used mostly in the textile industry. They swore allegiance not to any British king but to their own King Ludd. It Isn't clear whether they called themselves Luddites, although they were so termed by both friends and enemies. C.P. Snow's use of the word was clearly polemical, wishing to imply an irrational fear and hatred of science and technology. Luddites had, in this view, come to be imagined as the counter-revolutionaries of that "Industrial Revolution" which their modern versions have "never tried, wanted, or been able to understand."
But the Industrial Revolution was not, like the American and French Revolutions of about the same period, a violent struggle with a beginning, middle and end. It was smoother, less conclusive, more like an accelerated passage in a long evolution. The phrase was first popularized a hundred years ago by the historian Arnold Toynbee, and has had its share of revisionist attention, lately in the July 1984 Scientific American. Here, in "Medieval Roots of the Industrial Revolution," Terry S. Reynolds suggests that the early role of the steam engine (1765) may have been overdramatized. Far from being revolutionary, much of the machinery that steam was coming to drive had already long been in place, having in fact been driven by water power since the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the idea of a technosocial "revolution," in which the same people came out on top as in France and America, has proven of use to many over the years, not least to those who, like C. P. Snow, have thought that in "Luddite" they have discovered a way to call those with whom they disagree both politically reactionary and anti-capitalist at the same time.
But the Oxford English Dictionary has an interesting tale to tell. In 1779, in a village somewhere in Leicestershire, one Ned Lud broke into a house and "in a fit of insane rage" destroyed two machines used for knitting hosiery. Word got around. Soon, whenever a stocking-frame was found sabotaged -- this had been going on, sez the Encyclopedia Britannica, since about 1710 -- folks would respond with the catch phrase "Lud must have been here." By the time his name was taken up by the frame-breakers of 1812, historical Ned Lud was well absorbed into the more or less sarcastic nickname "King (or Captain) Ludd," and was now all mystery, resonance and dark fun: a more-than-human presence, out in the night, roaming the hosiery districts of England, possessed by a single comic shtick -- every time he spots a stocking-frame he goes crazy and proceeds to trash it.
But it's important to remember that the target even of the original assault of l779, like many machines of the Industrial Revolution, was not a new piece of technology. The stocking-frame had been around since 1589, when, according to the folklore, it was invented by the Rev. William Lee, out of pure meanness. Seems that Lee was in love with a young woman who was more interested in her knitting than in him. He'd show up at her place. "Sorry, Rev, got some knitting." "What, again?" After a while, unable to deal with this kind of rejection, Lee, not, like Ned Lud, in any fit of insane rage, but let's imagine logically and coolly, vowed to invent a machine that would make the hand-knitting of hosiery obsolete, and so he did. According to the encyclopedia, the jilted cleric's frame "was so perfect in its conception that it continued to be the only mechanical means of knitting for hundreds of years."
Now, given that kind of time span, it's just not easy to think of Ned Lud as a technophobic crazy. No doubt what people admired and mythologized him for was the vigor and single-mindedness of his assault. But the words "fit of insane rage" are third-hand and at least 68 years after the event. And Ned Lud's anger was not directed at the machines, not exactly. I like to think of it more as the controlled, martial-arts type anger of the dedicated Badass.
There is a long folk history of this figure, the Badass. He is usually male, and while sometimes earning the quizzical tolerance of women, is almost universally admired by men for two basic virtues: he Is Bad, and he is Big. Bad meaning not morally evil, necessarily, more like able to work mischief on a large scale. What is important here is the amplifying of scale, the multiplication of effect.
The knitting machines which provoked the first Luddite disturbances had been putting people out of work for well over two centuries. Everybody saw this happening -- it became part of daily life. They also saw the machines coming more and more to be the property of men who did not work, only owned and hired. It took no German philosopher, then or later, to point out what this did, had been doing, to wages and jobs. Public feeling about the machines could never have been simple unreasoning horror, but likely something more complex: the love/hate that grows up between humans and machinery -- especially when it's been around for a while -- not to mention serious resentment toward at least two multiplications of effect that were seen as unfair and threatening. One was the concentration of capital that each machine represented, and the other was the ability of each machine to put a certain number of humans out of work -- to be "worth" that many human souls. What gave King Ludd his special Bad charisma, took him from local hero to nationwide public enemy, was that he went up against these amplified, multiplied, more than human opponents and prevailed. When times are hard, and we feel at the mercy of forces many times more powerful, don't we, in seeking some equalizer, turn, if only in imagination, in wish, to the Badass -- the djinn, the golem, the hulk, the superhero -- who will resist what otherwise would overwhelm us? Of course, the real or secular frame-bashing was still being done by everyday folks, trade unionists ahead of their time, using the night, and their own solidarity and discipline, to achieve their multiplications of effect.
It was open-eyed class war. The movement had its Parliamentary allies, among them Lord Byron, whose maiden speech in the House of Lords in 1812 compassionately argued against a bill proposing, among other repressive measures, to make frame-breaking punishable by death. "Are you not near the Luddites?" he wrote from Venice to Thomas Moore. "By the Lord! if there's a row, but I'll be among ye! How go on the weavers -- the breakers of frames -- the Lutherans of politics -- the reformers?" He includes an "amiable chanson," which proves to be a Luddite hymn so inflammatory that it wasn't published until after the poet's death. The letter is dated December 1816: Byron had spent the summer previous in Switzerland, cooped up for a while in the Villa Diodati with the Shelleys, watching the rain come down, while they all told each other ghost stories. By that December, as it happened, Mary Shelley was working on Chapter Four of her novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.
If there were such a genre as the Luddite novel, this one, warning of what can happen when technology, and those who practice it, get out of hand, would be the first and among the best. Victor Frankenstein's creature also, surely, qualifies as a major literary Badass. "I resolved. . . ," Victor tells us, "to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionately large," which takes care of Big. The story of how he got to be so Bad is the heart of the novel, sheltered innermost: told to Victor in the first person by the creature himself, then nested inside of Victor's own narrative, which is nested in its turn in the letters of the arctic explorer Robert Walton. However much of Frankenstein's longevity is owing to the undersung genius James Whale, who translated it to film, it remains today more than well worth reading, for all the reasons we read novels, as well as for the much more limited question of its Luddite value: that is, for its attempt, through literary means which are nocturnal and deal in disguise, to deny the machine.
Look, for example, at Victor's account of how he assembles and animates his creature. He must, of course, be a little vague about the details, but we're left with a procedure that seems to include surgery, electricity (though nothing like Whale's galvanic extravaganzas), chemistry, even, from dark hints about Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus, the still recently discredited form of magic known as alchemy. What is clear, though, despite the commonly depicted Bolt Through the Neck, is that neither the method nor the creature that results is mechanical.
This is one of several interesting similarities between Frankenstein and an earlier tale of the Bad and Big, The Castle of Otranto (1765), by Horace Walpole, usually regarded as the first Gothic novel. For one thing, both authors, in presenting their books to the public, used voices not their own. Mary Shelley's preface was written by her husband, Percy, who was pretending to be her. Not till 15 years later did she write an introduction to Frankenstein in her own voice. Walpole, on the other hand, gave his book an entire made-up publishing history, claiming it was a translation from medieval Italian. Only in his preface to the second edition did he admit authorship.
The novels are also of strikingly similar nocturnal origin: both resulted from episodes of lucid dreaming. Mary Shelley, that ghost-story summer in Geneva, trying to get to sleep one midnight, suddenly beheld the creature being brought to life, the images arising in her mind "with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie." Walpole had been awakened from a dream, "of which, all I could remember was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle ... and that on the uppermost bannister of a great stair-case I saw a gigantic hand in armour."
In Walpole's novel, this hand shows up as the hand of Alfonso the Good, former Prince of Otranto and, despite his epithet, the castle's resident Badass. Alfonso, like Frankenstein's creature, is assembled from pieces -- sable-plumed helmet, foot, leg, sword, all of them, like the hand, quite oversized -- which fall from the sky or just materialize here and there about the castle grounds, relentless as Freud's slow return of the repressed. The activating agencies, again like those in Frankenstein, are non-mechanical. The final assembly of "the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude," is achieved through supernatural means: a family curse, and the intercession of Otranto's patron saint.
The craze for Gothic fiction after The Castle of Otranto was grounded, I suspect, in deep and religious yearnings for that earlier mythic time which had come to be known as the Age of Miracles. In ways more and less literal, folks in the 18th century believed that once upon a time all kinds of things had been possible which were no longer so. Giants, dragons, spells. The laws of nature had not been so strictly formulated back then. What had once been true working magic had, by the Age of Reason, degenerated into mere machinery. Blake's dark Satanic mills represented an old magic that, like Satan, had fallen from grace. As religion was being more and more secularized into Deism and nonbelief, the abiding human hunger for evidence of God and afterlife, for salvation -- bodily resurrection, if possible -- remained. The Methodist movement and the American Great Awakening were only two sectors on a broad front of resistance to the Age of Reason, a front which included Radicalism and Freemasonry as well as Luddites and the Gothic novel. Each in its way expressed the same profound unwillingness to give up elements of faith, however "irrational," to an emerging technopolitical order that might or might not know what it was doing. "Gothic" became code for "medieval," and that has remained code for "miraculous," on through Pre-Raphaelites, turn-of-the-century tarot cards, space opera in the pulps and comics, down to Star Wars and contemporary tales of sword and sorcery.
To insist on the miraculous is to deny to the machine at least some of its claims on us, to assert the limited wish that living things, earthly and otherwise, may on occasion become Bad and Big enough to take part in transcendent doings. By this theory, for example, King Kong (?-1933) becomes your classic Luddite saint. The final dialogue in the movie, you recall, goes, "Well, the airplanes got him." "No. . . it was Beauty killed the Beast." In which we again encounter the same Snovian Disjunction, only different, between the human and the technological.
But if we do insist upon fictional violations of the laws of nature -- of space, time, thermodynamics, and the big one, mortality itself -- then we risk being judged by the literary mainstream as Insufficiently Serious. Being serious about these matters is one way that adults have traditionally defined themselves against the confidently immortal children they must deal with. Looking back on Frankenstein, which she wrote when she was 19, Mary Shelley said, "I have affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart." The Gothic attitude in general, because it used images of death and ghostly survival toward no more responsible end than special effects and cheap thrills, was judged not Serious enough and confined to its own part of town. It is not the only neighborhood in the great City of Literature so, let us say, closely defined. In westerns, the good people always win. In romance novels, love conquers all. In whodunits, murder, being a pretext for a logical puzzle, is hardly ever an irrational act. In science fiction, where entire worlds may be generated from simple sets of axioms, the constraints of our own everyday world are routinely transcended. In each of these cases we know better. We say, "But the world isn't like that." These genres, by insisting on what is contrary to fact, fail to be Serious enough, and so they get redlined under the label "escapist fare."
This is especially unfortunate in the case of science fiction, in which the decade after Hiroshima saw one of the most remarkable flowerings of literary talent and, quite often, genius, in our history. It was just as important as the Beat movement going on at the same time, certainly more important than mainstream fiction, which with only a few exceptions had been paralyzed by the political climate of the cold war and McCarthy years. Besides being a nearly ideal synthesis of the Two Cultures, science fiction also happens to have been one of the principal refuges, in our time, for those of Luddite persuasion.
By 1945, the factory system -- which, more than any piece of machinery, was the real and major result of the Industrial Revolution -- had been extended to include the Manhattan Project, the German long-range rocket program and the death camps, such as Auschwitz. It has taken no major gift of prophecy to see how these three curves of development might plausibly converge, and before too long. Since Hiroshima, we have watched nuclear weapons multiply out of control, and delivery systems acquire, for global purposes, unlimited range and accuracy. An unblinking acceptance of a holocaust running to seven- and eight-figure body counts has become -- among those who, particularly since 1980, have been guiding our military policies -- conventional wisdom.
To people who were writing science fiction in the 50's, none of this was much of a surprise, though modern Luddite imaginations have yet to come up with any countercritter Bad and Big enough, even in the most irresponsible of fictions, to begin to compare with what would happen in a nuclear war. So, in the science fiction of the Atomic Age and the cold war, we see the Luddite impulse to deny the machine taking a different direction. The hardware angle got de-emphasized in favor of more humanistic concerns -- exotic cultural evolutions and social scenarios, paradoxes and games with space/time, wild philosophical questions -- most of it sharing, as the critical literature has amply discussed, a definition of "human" as particularly distinguished from "machine." Like their earlier counterparts, 20th-century Luddites looked back yearningly to another age -- curiously, the same Age of Reason which had forced the first Luddites into nostalgia for the Age of Miracles.
But we now live, we are told, in the Computer Age. What is the outlook for Luddite sensibility? Will mainframes attract the same hostile attention as knitting frames once did? I really doubt it. Writers of all descriptions are stampeding to buy word processors. Machines have already become so user-friendly that even the most unreconstructed of Luddites can be charmed into laying down the old sledgehammer and stroking a few keys instead. Beyond this seems to be a growing consensus that knowledge really is power, that there is a pretty straightforward conversion between money and information, and that somehow, if the logistics can be worked out, miracles may yet be possible. If this is so, Luddites may at last have come to stand on common ground with their Snovian adversaries, the cheerful army of technocrats who were supposed to have the "future in their bones." It may be only a new form of the perennial Luddite ambivalence about machines, or it may be that the deepest Luddite hope of miracle has now come to reside in the computer's ability to get the right data to those whom the data will do the most good. With the proper deployment of budget and computer time, we will cure cancer, save ourselves from nuclear extinction, grow food for everybody, detoxify the results of industrial greed gone berserk -- realize all the wistful pipe dreams of our days.
The word "Luddite" continues to be applied with contempt to anyone with doubts about technology, especially the nuclear kind. Luddites today are no longer faced with human factory owners and vulnerable machines. As well-known President and unintentional Luddite D.D. Eisenhower prophesied when he left office, there is now a permanent power establishment of admirals, generals and corporate CEO's, up against whom us average poor bastards are completely outclassed, although Ike didn't put it quite that way. We are all supposed to keep tranquil and allow it to go on, even though, because of the data revolution, it becomes every day less possible to fool any of the people any of the time.
If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for will come -- you heard it here first -- when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge. Oboy. It will be amazing and unpredictable, and even the biggest of brass, let us devoutly hope, are going to be caught flat-footed. It is certainly something for all good Luddites to look forward to if, God willing, we should live so long. Meantime, as Americans, we can take comfort, however minimal and cold, from Lord Byron's mischievously improvised song, in which he, like other observers of the time, saw clear identification between the first Luddites and our own revolutionary origins. It begins:
As the Liberty lads o'er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!
New York Times Book Review, 1984
What Would Water Do?
The water would run to work,
but turn, gone amok at the work corner,
toward the One-O-One
to drink a red eye and puff a smoke
in the early morning Ra
The water would pick up
trash along the way
but wait for more force
to finish the job
The water would arrive
on time and unplanned,
feeling out each empty
since every handmade
space is disorganized
The water would percolate
in the apocalyptic heat,
catch the wind
and go fly a kite
The water would commit
murderous rage and recede,
moving on the moon
~ Lincoln City, Oregon
Disparate de Miedo (Folly of Fear)
Mr. Death hangs over
as they tumble.
Time will get them.
But not today.
in an angel's robe,
man with a sword,
in a tree.
Wind blowing to the West.
Away from destiny,
which is too easy
~ Telluride, Colorado
Disparate Feminino (Feminine Folly)
Spreading the blanket
like a firemen's net,
six women in jest
with two male jugglers.
Dancing in delight,
each long-dressed lass
has a different opinion
on the topic.
they've got it so lucky,
all those women working
to make them happy.
But note: in the net,
the husk of a dead donkey,
Goya's coy brush with death
hanging in the air.
If Autumn came any earlier
there would be a counselor,
& tax collector
at the door.
~ Telluride, Colorado
Bedford Toll Plaza
And the more I drive up
The interstate, the more the evidence
of love gets pissed away into the snow.
Pee free or die,
So the state flag Of New Hampshire
May one day say.
The pattern runs hot
And steam runs loose
From a new day's snow
On a hothouse day
In which a solar storm
Would electrify A lake of fire
In the sky
The pattern: A tree,
maybe an off-ramp signage shadow,
with pecked And puckered knotty holes,
Where owls perch and eagles play.
I took that last quarter
To the phone booth ...
Oh, if not for so many lonely
And cynical Winnebegos
That drive, ceaselessly,
To bridge the great divide.
The real question isn't
How to turn lead into gold,
But how to turn gold into soul.
~ Bedford, New Hampshire
~ From "The Kachina's Son," by Douglas McDaniel
Media Arts in War, Part Uno: A reflection for the Fourth of July
What has happened to artistic expression since Sept. 11 as it’s transmitted through any kind of media (or anyone claiming to be a medium), from the political satire of "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show" to the mega-bombastic sequel to the classic post-apocalyptic thriller in any theater near you. To the episodes of “Survivor.” To every creative impulse that every tried to be a light in the darkness; to all those media images that are flowing through us now: How do we respond? How do we deal creatively with our own struggle to find the appropriate voice? How do we know the right thing to say, when we see death, so much death? He do we contend with what David Byrne of the Talking Heads once anticipated in “Life During Wartime”:
“Ain’t got no speakers
Ain’t got no headphones,
Ain’t got no music to play.”
After many knee-jerk reactions to Sept. 11, including a slew of benefit performances
by rock stars and actors, there was a shaky sense of assurance. After an alleged victory over the Taliban, followed by their resurgence, Americans crawled out of the foxholes and flooded back into the malls, then the floods and economic crisis of late 2008 flooded right back out. Nevertheless, Sunday’s gladiatorial epic, otherwise known as the NFL, stormed right on through from Super Bowl to Super Bowl. Like a country immune to war, then, not so immune. A country dotted like a push pin map of the Stars and Stripes remains as a menacing reminder of who we have become ... and then the election of 2008 ... as if every now and then the electorate feels guilty for its leadership and responds.
For several years, anything that strays from a patriotic vision was likely to be, with the force of a fully diligent flight crew, wrestled to the ground and whisked away: A terrible beauty was born. But where does it stand now?
Seth Butler, out of a concern for air pollution on North Shore of Massachusetts and a need to burn film for a photo essay for a class at Montserrat College, loaded a roll of film and fired.
He pointed his weapon, a truth-telling device, at the churned and weathered brown spires of the Salem Power Plant. Since photos never lie, or, at least, a picture beats a thousand words, he figured in some small way the images might flesh out of the mystery and wonder of the place. He thought the suspected poisons made possible on a daily basis by the plant might be explicated by his pictorial essay, and through this kind of truth we might all be saved from this inconvenience, or, at least, that we might all enjoy some breathtaking pictures of the alleged poisoning taking place.
In fact, such satanic mills have been fodder for artists since William Blake. In fact, power plants and factories will always be great targets for interesting photos. Especially now. Technological wonders perched on American shores will always make great targets. For artists. And for terrorists.
Which, for Seth Butler, age 22, of Vermont, became part of the problem.
After Sept. 11, as a he snapped on the lens and took in the fall New England air, he looked at the monumental smokestacks, trying to see what the relationship was between himself, the lens and the world at war----not so much the brother-against-brother battle, but man-against-nature war.
“I was just struggling with how to deal with it,” he says.
If the medium is the message, then the date, Sept. 11, is the portal where we pour all of our pain, and then, put it on display. The message is our mantra, our artistic Alamo. Lest we forget, every shark-eyed cub reporter tooling around the town halls of Salem, Beverly, Gloucester and Marblehead has felt a nearly subconscious duty to post that date, Sept. 11, at least once or twice, like staples into the newsprint, glossy or cheap, of whatever passes for local media.
One reporter, well after the attacks, typed “Sept. 11” in four times within the text of an article that had absolutely nothing to do with the war or terror, real or imaginary.
(Well, actually, even in some tangential way, it was hard to fail to find some way the war against terror might apply to each and every thing we did in a daily lives, from trips to the mall to articles written under intense deadline.)
Plagued by nightmares before a pilgrimage to Ground Zero in New York City, the writer provided repeated semi-accidental advertising for our national numeral of
mourning, anger and fear, for all of the shell-shocked sensibilities, destructive or creative, which launched our nation into a heightened state of awareness (whatever that means) on Sept. 11. To write Sept. 11 in copy, in short, became our patriotic duty as muckrackers and documentarians for our times.
For example, so far this chapter has used the date five times. The date, Sept. 11 (OK, that’s six) flows like water, like shorthand, or better yet, a link to the streaming media of shock, horror, and yes, nationalistic fervor, our personal bond to (what it believes to be) justice and (unbelievable) vengeance. By expressing oneself in this way, in times of mass hypnotic states of hysteria, war, famine and scary bad TV, we discover the most constructive choice in terms of reacting to the world around us.
I mean, why send a missile when maybe a simple e-mail note or a Hallmark card would do? “Hey,” we write, “Remember Sept. 11, and get well soon.”
As they say, the medium (Or, the media) is the message. So is writing the date, Sept. 11 (seven). On posters, stamps, newspaper supplements, whatever we can get our hands on.
But what is the most appropriate way to express oneself on the big blank page of life during a time of national trauma, and yes, tight security? The Urizen archons of control, the warlords and the convergent media paradigms, are all in sync with the Union at War.
What if you are a dissenter? A pacifist? With dark skin? Maybe even a Canadian. Or worse, an Islamic art dealer who needs to take a plane to Paris?
A Hub taxi driver?
A Quaker who just woke up one day, and, feeling his or her oats, decided they had
something to say?
A photographer on the North Shore of Massachusetts who pointing and firing near
some power plant smokestacks?
Better think twice. First figure out if it’s naughty, or, nice. Think twice before you click.
But then the reversal came true, especially after the release of "Fahrenheit 911" before the election of 2004. Slowly and surely, as the war became less popular, a whole new sense of media emerged.
Seth Butler, age 22, photography student at Montserrat, isn’t an idiot. As a cub photojournalist he knew that when firing off snapshots of satanic mills in Salem during wartime, it’s best to let the most immediately available authority in on what you are up to.
“I went up to the police officer out front of the plant, gave them three IDs, and warned them that I was shooting photos for a project,” he says.
Butler thought he’d received permission, at that point, since he was on public property, to start firing away with his telephoto lens. The guard at the gate said sure, whatever.
“But then this guy pulls up,” a security guard, he says. “I just wanted to do my work. They told me I had to leave.”
The bombardment of the global media, crashing all day, all night upon the New England shores, lighting up the giant video screens of Times-Square (still standing) and the pubs of London (last time checked), and yes, your living room, became overwhelming. Our sense of freedom and free expression, in every aspect of our daily lives, from Paris to Portsmouth, became critically impacted. Especially so for those of us in the curious position of being at the seacoast front of a new kind of war when the media buzzword, as in “terror,” is the message, and the enemy could be just about anyone.
“Since Sept. 11, as a photographer,” says Ron DiRito, a teacher at Montserrat whose specialty is art and media and its context and meaning in society, “I don’t think they understand what it’s like for us. I think the rest of the country doesn’t have the same kind of …,” he pauses, looking for ways to explain how it feels to be at the front of this new war, then, completing the thought: “ Everybody in New York understands it better than other people in the country. The physical distance changes our perception of something. There is this overwhelming sensibility.
“We have learned to tolerate each other better, but on the other hand, there is that thing going on, you don’t know who to suspect. This is still relatively trying to be
understood. I don’t think we have processed it culturally and socially.”
But, once it did, America's appetite for violence in the media soared ...
“They watched me leave and get back into my car,” says Seth Butler, spurned photojournalist after being unable to capture very much of any possible dangers,
through photographic realism, of the alleged poisoning of the sky at the Salem power plant.
As he moved on into an intersection, at a speed of 15 miles per hour, the legal limit, a white pickup truck sped in front of Butler’s vehicle and slammed on the brakes. “He must of have going thirty five when he went by me and stopped,” he says.
“This cop says, ‘Some people want to talk to you.’ ”
Another police car pulled up, and then another. The local arm of the security state was coming down on Seth Butler, age 22, of Vermont, like something out of a
Raymond Chandler novel.
“A large black SUV with tinted windows pulled up next. I kept my hands in clear view,” he said. “I had the film …,” he laughed nervously, visibly shaken, as he spread photos of American flag imagery upon a table in the media lab basement at Montserrat.
“I was in possession,” he admits, “of concealed film.”
For all practical intents, seemingly, the latest CD by Madonna was for several years rendered not so much obscene but most certainly oblique. On the surface level (which really the only level you can really make money in the entertainment business) it’s a commercial question. What were audiences looking for?
Perhaps everyone had seen enough. Time, though, has proven just the opposite, as the apocalyptic thriller jumps out of the horror box into its own category virtually demanding Oscar consideration. The sentiment immediatel after the attacks exploded so cinematically onto the real world’s stage. But things have changed. While it was hard to know what to feel, at first, the natural inclination toward unity, even for writers, artists and performers, who are often malcontents and social renegades, even they seemed to join up and salute to the brave new paradigm: grieve now, kick ass later. Trhen kick ass, on screen, bigger and bigger.
Oh sure, there was that initial sense that pyrotechnic violence on theater and television screens was a thing of the past. But that was naive, it has been proven.
“A lot of people had the same impression, that it seemed like Hollywood, not the real thing,” said David Goss, director of fine arts at Gordon College, of the terrorizing video of the Sept. 11 attacks. Prior to the terrible events of that day, and the subsequent season of terror that followed and continues to this day, the main concern for the planners of fall concerts, for example, might be quality, recognition, publicity, recognition, ticket sales, recognition, who might get top billing, and oh yeah, recognition. But now, everything has changed.
“People are feeling uneasy about what they once considered to be so exciting,”
But that's all different now. You can rate films in terms of tonnage of TNT now.
My first night in Ipswich was Sept. 18, 2001, and it revealed something … at least in terms of the ripple effects (tidal wave, actually, in hardy Ipswich sea-shanty talk) of the post-Sept. 11 realization. I was feeling world weary. So much moving from town to town. I just wanted to be an old tree, not a burned out leaf in the crosswind of global or civil war. All the same, on that day, Sept. 18, I was feeling thankful for having found some shelter in the storm.
More out of accident than a sense of patriotism, I wore my blue Ralph Lauren, “Polo Jeans Company, RL,” baseball cap, which features stripes, but no stars, because Mr. Lauren is the only star to be allowed on this particular head-based insignia. I was a human billboard for Ralph Lauren, patriot … even if most people only recognized my tribal signifier: red, white and blue.
I had a beat up used copy of Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” in my back pocket, as well as a childlike curiosity about this strange town called Ipswich. Down the street I went, toward the town center, a babe in the woods beneath a dusky sky of implied imaginary terror.
Was the media really ready to fess up, since Osama-style violence is only the copycat caricature of three, hmmm, maybe four late ’80s get-the-terrorist films, two of those starring Bruce Willis, who can walk on the White House lawn, most likely, any day of the week without an invitation. Are post-Sept. 11 tastes no longer able to stomach the video violence?
You only need to consider the many years conditioning, that is, what’s required to stomach a totalitarian storm of Christmas-season escapes into Star Wars, hobbits and pre-teenage detective wizards, Monsters, Inc., The Sopranos and on into the phantasm we go ... The Christmas of 2008 it became another of a long line of films with furies frames of evermore destruction. In the global mythic village, the plastic monsters and war toys are as real, within the own scale, as anything you can find in the jumbled up world. Just another mask for our national fascination with violence, which is still, quite surely, anything but satiated.
While the purpose of art has not changed, the art of re-purposing myth towards the designs of the machine are more than ever apparent. But money machines, still, easy to come by, for some, are less easy for others. Starving artists included. So then, the big money still wins. The purpose of mass entertainment (as opposed to art), taking its Dec. 7 queue from the way the film industry rallied to the cause in the 1940s, now becomes a mouthpiece for that very same machine.
And it’s only beginning: Coming to a theater near you – a lock-step, achy breaky heart sort of thing, with a plastic Bill Murray doll for the marketing tie-in. It’s a pull-upyour-bootstraps at the boot-camp sorta flick. With real napalm, and, real renegades to storm the unsafe gates of the Republic.
Just then, it happened: a spontaneous moment of humanity. A grizzled old man walked toward me. Small towns such as Ipswich, especially those that have made peace with nature, require us to say hello. It’s the decent thing to do. But a week after Sept. 11 everyone was being decent to one another. A crying of our lot in each and every eye.
But this time my fellow pedestrian and I appeared to be on a collision course. The man just came right up to me, took my hand and shook it, saying, “God bless you,
I was taken aback. Maybe giggled out of a sense of surprise. I figured he saw my cap and was thanking me for my heroism. Yes, Ipswich is a friendly little place, but connections like these, random acts of humanity, were taking place all over the country.
For the first time in a long time we noticed each other, realizing we all had something – loss – to share.
As Boston political satirist Jimmy Tingle put it, in a post-Sept. 11 performance at the Wingate Street Micro Theatre in Haverhill, Massachusetss, “everything has
As part of the performance, serious even for a satirist in less apocalyptic climes, he read from a poem he had written in reaction to Sept. 11, “911: Prayer for America.”
There’s a hole in the tip of Manhattan
A hole in the soul of America
A hole in the center of our psyche
A hole in the foundation of our confidence
There’s a hole in the faith of our country
That fills churches in search of our God
There’s a crack in the national mirror
empty chairs around the family table
dark houses of our missing neighbors
Vacant desks of our absent workers
On our streets,
There's a wail from the widows with candles
sobs from the orphaned with pictures
the face breaks on the lawyer of the dead women’s husband
flags and flowers for the public servants
There’s a hole in the soul of America
Afraid with the televised pictures
Numb with the morning papers
Grieving for the land they loved
Grieving for the land they lost
Grieving for the innocent victims
Grieving for the broken families
Grieving for the friends still weeping
Grieving for the ones who fight fire
Grieving for the ones who fight crime
Grieving for the volunteers by the thousands
Grieving for the City that never Sleeps
Grieving for the City on a Hill
There’s a hole in the soul of Humanity
And I pray for all of our leaders
Good people and well intentioned
Condemned to retaliation,
Doomed to retribution
Sentenced to seek revenge
It happened again in the local café. Strangers meeting eye to eye, recognizing the shock and the grief and pain. We all had good radar for it, at least until Thanksgiving.
We were awakened out of our complacency, if for just a few weeks, months or years, 10 depending on your sensitivity to such things as alcohol, Duncan Donuts coffee or intensive psychotherapy.
Times such as these bring out the best, and also the worst. It has always been that way. In 1916, a small contingent of Irish patriots (today we might call them terrorists), took over a post office and ended up dying in a martyrdom of British bullets and fire.
The poet, W.B. Yeats, reflecting on the shock waves the event created in Irish society, wrote the following: “All is changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”
America became terrible beauty, then the bloom came off the thorny rose bush ...
After his 45-minute roust, Seth Butler, spurned photojournalist, put his Greenpeace passions aside over the Salem power plant, and started taking photographs of American flags. But rather than puffing up his frames with a patriotic fervor, his eye seemed to be finding something else. An irony. A horror. A beauty. A terror. And more than anything else, a sense of alienation.
“For the first time in my life, I was feeling like a stranger in my own country,” he said. “They basically insulted me. They asked me why I wasn’t in Vermont (which is where his family lives). I was being very open about the whole thing. I was being very civil about the whole thing.
“I’m trying to deal with an event, a problem, over air quality, carcinogens, a serious matter. I ended up being shut down. I tried to work from farther away, and ended up trying to look at it in different contexts.
“But never did I think that I was going to run into the FBI as a college student.
“This was history. I didn’t want to give up. Somebody needs to be working, recording. It doesn’t stop, and I’m not going to either.”
Of the flag photo project, a follow up to his season of hope, terror, frustration, whatever, Butler has decided to call the series “Tattered.”
A terrible beauty was born.
During those fall nights and days in Ipswich, I worked the late-night copy desk at The Salem Evening News. More than anything else, I remember the horrible anxiety I felt each time the 10 p.m. news came on in the newsroom. It got to the point where I was afraid to look over my shoulder and at the television. But still, I got all of the sound. Each night, the local anchorpersons would gleefully report the day’s horrors, the new death count for the September 11 attacks, and, of course, handy health tips for the best way to deal with the anthrax threat.
One night I decided to ask another copy editor, who also lived in Ipswich, about the “God bless you” guy. He told me a story that I did not expect.
He said the man was a kind of local loony. Somewhere along the line the man, who had been a boxer but decent civil servant, lost his marbles. Something to do with a divorce. Figures.
In fact, he had been coming up to people in Ipswich and blessing them for years.
This stunned me. My impression, as first impressions often are, was incorrect. The “God bless you” guy’s greeting to me was just another day in the life of Ipswich. It had nothing to do at all with the sudden wash of compassion and kindness in American life.
He was always like that.
It was then that I realized this: While everything has indeed since Sept. 11 has changed, the biggest change of all, the one that I couldn’t detect, was within me. So, let me just say this: God bless you all, brothers. A terrible beauty, reborn, faded and then became, what?
An excerpt from 'Forty Days of Fire, Forty Days of Rain,' a living novel by Douglas McDaniel
Surface and Wallpaper
That’s the situation
with the magazine
business in Phoenix,
all expressed oh so confidently
by the editor of a local fashion magazine,
who was trying to
of fill goes
between the ads at his
Print journalism in America
is so far removed from
the First Amendment
it can scarcely raise
a mute defense
The skin-deep marketplace
Economic forces shape the printed word
in order to appear
before the overpopulated media frenzy
to promote “surface, wallpaper.”
And my career?
at the end of the age of newsprint,
a more sophisticated form of wallpaper.
Thin pages of paper,
papyrus, as rendered
originally by Guttenberg,
then Hearst ... over.
Like wall paper burning off the screen for
the opening of “Bonanza.”
My first thought, immediately looking
at the “wallpaper” round the offices
of the magazine, tucked into
the rococo renaissance of
gilded logos at the Esplanade,
where even Donald
Trump gets shown the door,
was to ponder what kind of
lives go on there for those
covered in wallpaper.
cared to take the time
to do a study, I would examine
what kind of flora adorns
the Esplanade: As above, so
below, the sages say.
The desert has been eradicated
for many miles, and so this shiny
coated surface is a curtain
of death, the death of the printed
sheet of paper for the
purposes of print media,
for all I can ascertain.
The “surface” and “wallpaper” ...
the planet dry, and the planet,
sucking back, has decided
to claim print journalism,
through the untimely
appearance of turmoil
in the real estate industry, one of
its first victims.
If you had read this far, certainly, you
need little convincing of this: originally, an
electronically charged posting.
But it’s worth railing on,
all the same. That’s because behind it all, there’s
something to live for. There’s something valuable to
know behind the notice that you can’t drink from
fountains, but hey, bottled water is still freely available.
There’s something valuable in casting a review of the
song cast by the Vampire, who’s sucking sounds ring
loud and clear, only to be filled with endless port thirsts
worth of water, all being poured like the waters of
Google myths, by vases into cracks in the earth, a
mystical sentence then, for endless words disappearing
beneath the land ... a sacrifice to the god of information.
The Biltmore shopping mall, across the street, is one
big mirror to the surface and the wallpaper. Notice the
mall-dressed manikin chicks as they glance at
themselves, half secretly, in the window shop
reflections. To see my own reflection is to live in a kind
of torment myself. I can't even laugh at the shallowness
of “surface, wallpaper,” if that’s all I’m looking for. So
trying to figure out how to fill in the spaces between the
ads is a pretty pointless event, I see. Anyone with a
global conscience is going to feel that way, if asked to
observe the surface of high-end consumer paradise, and
by swimming in these dry environs they will no doubt be
likewise lost in the despair, hopelessness and banality
cast by the controlling mechanisms of the ruling caste.
You the one, the order of the Red, which made a brief
goodbye at the nearby Biltmore Hotel with John
McCain's capitulation beneath the starless of skies of
Phoenix by November, 2008. But still ... the Vampire
sings: “Think surface, think wallpaper.”
All platform surfaces are even, yes, safe for high-heeled beings, but
there is nothing eternal about the surface of concrete.
And this is really, really valuable to know. Because the
days of such pleasantries are over. Nothing left to do
now but see what the most Dangerous Creatures on
Earth will leave on the silver plate after they are finished
with their feast. Forget about trying to keep up by
putting on new Euro-trash clothes (to feel better ... free)
Forget about getting a free drink of water. Realize that if
you are thirsty, you can always slip into some men’s
room and cup your own hands in the sink, like Pilot, I
guess, and drink from the basin bowl of “surface,”
enjoying the “wallpaper” as you blow your hands dry on
the electrified blower (this is the desert, there’s not a free
water fountain within 10 square miles; and you would
think we could save the juice and let ourselves dry
Somewhere in the Middle East there's a bunch of
crazies dreaming up a way to crash this surface and burn
the wallpaper. But they are no better than the guys
dialing up dollar digits to make sure the enemy surface,
doesn’t gain supremacy so that they, themselves, can
cover it with their own name brand style of “wallpaper.”
So sip from your tippy cup, sweet babies, and hope you
are born with the right pattern and style on your faces.
The days of such pleasantries are over. Tip the cup of
vampire blood for just one last great sip of the concrete
basin. Drink. Drink! Your mangled engines may wine
and dine, and the pretty glossy sweet dallied lies may
glint for a month on your tabletop surface, but seek no
truth there, just empty descriptions of “surface,
An excerpt from