Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Beltway Drift

Everyday, usually late morning, the older Black woman downstairs testifies.

"Thank you Jesus! Thank you Lord! Save me God! I feel your power! Yes! Thank you!"

I hear this through much of my apartment, but most directly in my office. Sometimes a taped preacher accompanies her. Most times she's acapella. Like early Christian country music, her prayers soothe me.

There's a storefront Church of God down the street. Praise and singing spill out the open door. Hands clap. Feet stomp. It's a tiny space with ceiling fans, metal folding chairs and hand-painted signs of faith. Passion rocks the sidewalk. I'm not a Christian, but I find this beautiful.

Young white yuppies walk by on their way to the farmer's market. They buy fresh fruit, cheese, bread and meat from hippies in overalls. Organic produce via Maryland. Though only a block from the church, this is a different world. More affluent. Self-conscious. On the rise, wherever that goes these days.

I suppose I'm one of them, but it doesn't feel that way. I'm older, remember pre-internet life, wrestle with savage emotions and moods. The distance between young and old seems greater today. Technology, atomization, the surrender of social life to social media. And yet a lot of these kids glamorize my generation's past. Fetishize the pop culture. Wear its emblems. Maybe everything stopped. All that's left is recycling.

Black neighbors sit on their porches, nod and say hi as I pass. They seem sincere, but you never really know. Given the white invasion, I wouldn't blame them for casting hostile eyes. More likely I'm projecting, an embarrassing, ongoing trait.

It wasn't like this in Michigan. My neighbors kept to themselves, peeking through their curtains. The few I spoke to when my son was in elementary school were rigid and reserved. There was a local pecking order I didn't understand or recognize. Certain parents you couldn't approach without a sponsor. It made me laugh, which extended their distance. In the end, for the best.

The District is a refreshing change. Not my favorite city, but a nice one. At least in the civilian areas.

Giant federal buildings remind you of who holds power. The older ones are less subtle, adorned with Roman colonnades, imperial confidence slowly crumbling. The newer ones, like the DEA/ATF, are streamlined, a fitting symbol for our evolving police state.

When I walk past, I sometimes see people staring back at me through office windows. Do they like their jobs? Do they believe in the mission? To me they look trapped. But then I feel the same way when I walk through midtown Manhattan.

My neighborhood has none of this. Just old brownstones being refurbished as longtime residents watch from their stoops. The middle-aged Black man next door told me that five years ago, this neighborhood was one of DC's roughest.

"You would've been running for your life!" he said, chuckling. Crime is down, though in early morning hours you hear gunshots and loud arguments. Rough areas remain. Judging from the shifting demographic and expanding construction, those areas will be pushed further away.

The local liquor store, run by an Arab family, caters to daytime drinkers who lean against abandoned buildings. They too are sociable, occasionally asking for cheap pint money. I've yet to see another white face in there. The owner, a small thin man with a pencil mustache, brightens when I enter. He's brusque with the regulars, who don't seem to notice or care.

You can't avoid racial issues in moments like that. No matter how shabbily I'm dressed, the owner gives me royal service. I smile, am polite, and quickly finish the transaction. Maybe he remembers more dangerous days. I'm sure I represent an upgrade in clientele.

Recently, two Black teens followed me into that store. When I turned they got right in my face. "Yo man -- you got any money?" asked a kid no older than my son. "Sure," I replied. Dug through my pocket. Felt three loose bills. Pulled one out. It was a dollar. "This good?" The kid took it and said thanks.

The other two were a five and a twenty. But he didn't press for more. The owner went ballistic. "Fuck you! Get out of my store! I'm calling the police!" The teens mocked him in return. "Hey, I thought we was family. You shouldn't talk like that." As the owner screamed obscenities from behind bullet-proof glass, I slipped out and took a long walk.

I don't know if those kids were potentially violent. They could've easily emptied my pockets. But I didn't feel threatened. Maybe my calm disarmed them. Who knows. If I possessed George Zimmerman's paranoia, and his handgun, the situation might have lethally escalated.

Yet I don't think I own my new neighborhood. I still feel like a guest. Hell, I feel like that in much of my life. Guess I always have.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Crimson Haze

Robert Bales' murder spree in Afghanistan was perfectly normal. Standard procedure. Afghans barely register as humans in the US, if they register at all. Wiping them out has become ambient noise. Something you might notice before clicking to TMZ.

It's too soon to know if Bales will join William Calley in retail terror's Hall of Fame. Calley's body count was higher, but he had substantial backing. Bales went Hendrix at Woodstock, soloing his Star Spangled Banner into the sleeping bodies of families with children. What was good for the Apache is fine for the Afghan. They are not like us. We must show them why.

Imperial leaders hate this kind of bloodletting. Certainly since the advent of mass media, most especially in this social media age. Instant communication makes massacres PR nightmares. When you feed the populace self-righteous bullshit, the skull beneath the skin must be well wrapped lest people succumb to natural urges.

Bales saw the skull and reacted accordingly. His honest hatred for those he was sent to kill fucks with smiley face narratives.

Since his arrest, Bales' saga has been spun by corporate outlets seeking to "understand" his puzzling actions. James Dao of The New York Times put in the heaviest work, providing deep background and military anecdotes. Typical mainstream fare, stern in areas, forgiving in others. A troubled kid who wanted to serve his country. Surprised reactions from family and friends. The basic plot line.

Yet in something so bland about behavior so awful, one usually finds some giveaway, a revelation of larger pathologies. Dao provided this when trying to explain Bales' attitude toward Iraqis.

After learning that the US sought to buy off resisting Shiites, Bales wrote to himself, "Giving money to Hagji instead of bullets just don’t seem right." Dao added that Bales "apparently [misspelled] Hajji, a term used by soldiers, often pejoratively, in referring to Arab people."

Right. And in what case is Hajji used non-pejoratively by soldiers? I can only imagine Dao writing the same thing about someone who "apparently misspelled Gook, a term used by soldiers, often pejoratively, in referring to the Vietnamese people." Or substitute your color of choice for hours of racist fun.

Polls and headlines tell us that Americans are war weary. Maybe so. Consumers tend to get bored with old products, and Afghanistan lost its springtime freshness long ago. But most Americans won't protest it, much less resist in radical ways. They simply flick to another channel, click to a different site. If they don't watch, does war really exist?

Meantime, new killing fields are being market-tested while militarized police crack down at home. Endless war, here and abroad, remains our chief Reality programming. Beauty is, you don't have to be aware of war for it to stay in production. Ratings are meaningless. Obedience to or ignorance of war is the true measure of success. Meta-marketing for the next murder cycle.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yet Another SNL Piece

My latest for Splitsider. More wistful musings and unrealistic expectations. Will I ever learn?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chump Change

The biggest surprise in HBO's Game Change is how well John McCain comes across. Unlike liberal caricatures of him during the 2008 campaign, McCain appears as a reasonable centrist -- a warmongering flag-humping centrist, but hardly the crypto-fascist of Obama loving imaginations.

I always wondered why liberals so brutally turned on McCain. Before that campaign, he was the liberals' favorite Republican. Yes, it was election-year politics, where reality takes a long vacation. But McCain was scarcely the worst of the GOP field. Hell, on some issues he was probably to the left of Bob Dole, and Dole wasn't all that right wing. Not compared to Bush and Cheney. Not even close.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, appealed to the reactionary base. Which is why she was chosen. That, and being a woman. Running against the first Black presidential nominee necessitated something radical on McCain's end. And cousin, was it ever.

I don't know if Game Change wants us to hate Palin all over again, but it had the opposite effect on me. I actually sympathized with her. Not that I agree with her politics or think she'd make a great communicator. I simply shared her revulsion for her campaign managers.

Palin got a front row view of how corporate politics is played. Image, perception, and the lies that tie them together knocked Palin to her knees. She was deeply in over her head. She had no business being on a national ticket, not if you believe in the system. That stage is reserved for serious players. People who have no problem with ordering death. Or catering to elites. Or further marginalizing and criminalizing the populace.

I'm sure that Palin was and remains down with all that. Potentially being a heartbeat away demands fealty to imperial rule. But the system is bigger than one person, and Palin would be limited in her reactionary reach.

If the system can reduce Ronald Reagan to being "a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda," as right wing activist Howard Phillips called him (with George Will tsk-tsking Reagan's "appeasement" with Gorbachev), then Sarah Palin had no chance to usher in a pro-hunting theocracy. Still, she served as a handy villain for liberals to boo and hiss.

Julianne Moore's Palin flirted with Tina Fey's impression -- inescapable, as were the SNL clips in the film -- yet Moore lent Palin more humanity than did her detractors. Looking back, it's amazing how much misogyny was tolerated by liberals. We briefly saw it again with Michele Bachmann, but nothing close to what Palin received.

Ed Harris' McCain was breezy and diverting, traits that are rarely applied to the actual man. Harris made McCain look better than he did Jackson Pollock. But then artists are moody and temperamental.

Game Change is clearly meant to influence the upcoming election. It's pro-Obama all the way. Not that it's necessary. Compared to McCain, Mitt Romney is an inflatable party doll, synthetic with the same dull stare. Barring some major catastrophe, Obama will roll right over Romney to a second term.

I doubt that Romney's running mate will be as polarizing as Palin, but you never know. I hold out hope for an entertaining choice. It's the least we deserve.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cue The Clown Horns

If fate is kind and history true, Andrew Breitbart's existence will merit a tiny footnote. If that.

Already his sound is dimming. It was left to ol' reliable, Rush Limbaugh, to stir liberal outrage, letting his misogyny fly. It's a tired act cherished by those who value women's dignity so long as it's not Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. Limbaugh will have to play his role until liberals find a new reactionary to hate. There are plenty of choices. Another perk of our consumer paradise.

Breitbart's sudden death robbed liberals of a media chew toy, but they appear fine with it. In many cases, ecstatic. Their grave dancing was unseemly and unnecessary.

Breitbart dissolved into a sad joke long ago. His disheveled appearance and bizarre rants suggested more nervous breakdown than fascist threat. Yet liberals seem to prefer their fascist threats to be clownish and absurd. Much easier to mock and pretend to resist. The real thing tends to confuse them -- that is, when they're not applauding and justifying it.

Reactionary claims about Obama are ridiculous, but then the American right is in worse shape than in its Bircher/Goldwater days. (Russell Kirk and Clare Boothe Luce may as well be science fiction characters.). For all of their wailing about the decline of decent standards, right wingers have become dumber faster than most other political groupings.

The GOP presidential race reflects this, a pitiful collection of candidates. Alf Landon and Wendell Willkie carried more weight than Romney and Santorum. As I've said, Obama should glide easily into a second term. His conservative management style all but guarantees it.

This ought to make liberals happy, but their mood appears nasty, entitled. Hope and Change are over. Now it's Obama Rules, Motherfuckers! Predictable if unsettling.

A tiny slice of lefties are either abstaining from the election or going Green, but the majority are solidly behind Obama. This further proves that their opposition to Bush/Cheney was bullshit. They simply wanted their turn at the imperial wheel.

Voting for Obama means acceptance of and support for permanent war, expanded surveillance, crackdowns on whistle blowers, and increased corporate control. It's Bush/Cheney without the social embarrassment, though Obama's streamlining is far beyond what his predecessors set in motion.

That's what makes Obama superior to Bush, and thus more dangerous to us. But try telling this to mainstream liberals. That is, if you can get them to stop pissing on dead clowns while crowing to the sky.