Monthly Archives: July 2014
Julian Assange: down ranking Google’s dead souls future
Julian Assange’s new book, When Google Met Wikileaks is not really a new book at all; it is a minimally edited transcription of a secret meeting he had with Google’s Erich Schmidt and Jared Cohen back on June 23, 2011.
When Google Met Wikileaks
by Julian Assange
OR Books, 2014
200 pagesBUY NOW
It took place in rural England, while Assange was under house arrest and dealing with the aftermath of the funding-freeze on Wikileaks, arranged by the US State Department, in retaliation for his publication of war-related secrets leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, including the now-infamous Collateral Murder video.
When Google Met Wikileaks includes excellent links and notes which, in e-book form, can be clicked, instantly bringing the reader a wealth of background and further information that serve to deepen and more fully contextualize the themes of the secret discussion. It contains an important introduction, which delves into the Google political philosophy, with disturbing examples of it in action. WhenGoogle Met Wikileaks is an extension to the scathing New York Times review he gave The New Digital Age, which is a critical event worth celebrating in itself, and it more closely unpacks the clearly premeditated trashing of Assange that took place in their book.
The most important accomplishment of the book may be the connection Assange establishes between the Google Politic and the ambitions set loose in Digital Age. The Schmidt-Cohen tome was originally titled The Empire of the Mind, which is in much closer alignment to their politics than the wonky-sounding Digital Age, because at work in their book is an idealized vision of the world after neo-con American Exceptionalism has forcibly broken through every global barrier and established its neo-liberal dominion over all people and resources of the earth, with future presidents being the new emperors at the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama hath ordained.
In his introduction to When Google, Assange cites a 2010 Foreign Affairs piece Schmidt-Cohen wrote, “The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power,” in which the dynamic duo discuss in detail future “coalitions of the connected” made possible with technologies “overwhelmingly provided by the private sector.” Assange pulls up this telling quote:
“Democratic states that have built coalitions of their militaries have the capacity to do the same with their connection technologies. . . . They offer a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world.” (Assange’s emphasis added.)
Like the justification George W. Bush used to ignore sovereignty and make war in countries “too weak or unable to fight terrorism,” the ‘duty to protect’ principle, is a militaristic co-optation and corruption of humanitarian intervention theory, as well as the clearest indication yet that the Internet has already been militarized and that we are now in the normalization phase.
As a literal battlefield it is to be controlled by the strongest military, making Obama, as Commander-in-Chief the principle ‘decider’ for future Internet policies. Schmidt-Cohen are the Good Cop face to a long-time extant US foreign policy succinctly summed up, absolutely unapologetically, by Bad Cops, like former Latin American CIA chief Duane Clarridge, who helped arrange for the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende. Says Bad Cop Clarridge, “We’ll intervene whenever we feel it’s in our interest to so, and if you don’t like it, lump it. Get used to it world. We’re not going to put up with any nonsense.” There is no functional difference between the political principles espoused by Schmidt-Cohen and that of Clarridge. None.
“Why is it Julian Assange, specifically, who gets to decide what information is relevant to the public interest?” Schmidt-Cohen whine in Digital Age, and “what happens if the person who makes such decisions is willing to accept indisputable harm to innocents as a consequence of his disclosures?”
As Assange points out, this is not only a proven falsity, but merely rhetorical, because soon Schmidt-Cohen answer by saying all leaks should go to “a central body facilitating the release of information” and that whistleblower publishers need “supervision.”
And this begins to get at the heart of the matter: dissidents need to be accounted for, contained as a subset, and controlled. After all, most of them are just kids (more than half the world’s population is under 30, and growing) and Schmidt-Cohen, and the State Department, are worried sick about what these youngsters might get up to.
As Schmidt-Cohen observe, “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” This isn’t the first time they raised this sentiment either. During the secret meeting with Assange, Scott Malcomson, an associate who accompanied Schmidt-Cohen observed, “Young people aren’t inherently good. And I say that as a father and with regret.”
Schmidt-Cohen and the self-described “old people” who secretly met with Assange seem to have had a notion already in motion as to how they would shepherd and influence young people, but they are still looking for shaping mechanisms, triggers they can apply. That was the value of the recent secret Facebook-DoD experiment: to manipulate community emotions toward action, the way it was done in the Joseph Kony saga, where children were rounded up by a Christian evangelical ‘activist’ overnight on Facebook and put to the task of proxy vigilantism. (Kony is still free today, and no one seems to be looking too hard for him).
As with leaks, the plan is to shepherd youngsters into central crowdsource pens for them to vent their disaffection and participate in “constructive” dissident campaigns. The preferred choice, of course, is movements.org, affiliated with the “centrist” doctrines of the day, and neo-liberal causes, and their main goal is to knock down “dictators” everywhere, even if freely elected; it’s the American Way. Movements.org is just one more arm of co-optation and control, and Google’s Schmidt chairs its board of directors.
Meanwhile, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen and Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar, and all the other “activist” billionaire philanthropists are free to do the adult freedom-fightin’; working with the NSA to drill down to unruly dissidents; or creating algorithms that the CIA can use to track, well, anybody; or pouring money into coups in places resistant to neo-liberalization,or even meeting up with rebels to organize resistance as Cohen says he’s done.
When Google Met Wikileaks raises constructive ways around the growing totalitarian state, including the use of mobile peer-to-peer communications that don’t require going through a telco; comprehensive encryption (files and communication); and the use of non-persistent operating systems on a USB stick or DVD, such as TAILs.
This will be the face of freedom in the new digital age: Running and hiding and subverting goofy billionaire philanthropists who only want what’s best for you, who only want to help you make the right choices, all watched over, as Adam Curtis would have it, by machines of loving grace. And if you won’t be watched over, you will be targeted, put on the president’s future Tuesday morning hit list. You will never see it coming.
‘If we accept that privacy is at the core of freedom, then it’s clear we are rapidly moving away from, not toward freedom’
If the Bill of Rights had never been tacked onto the US Constitution back in September 1789, Americans would have been ruled by a landed gentry, presided over by a titular monarchist, and governance would have principally consisted of protecting business interests, copyrights and trademarks.
There’d be no link between taxation and federal policy; popular representation in Congress would be meaningless, since simple secretive Executive orders could over-ride the most exhaustive processes of lawmakers. Trade agreements would be reached head-to-head, with no input from anybody’s noisy peoples.
By declaring a universal existential threat the president could keep the country in a state of war, soft martial law in play, the commander-in-chief in charge; there’d be no protected liberties — no privacy, no press probes, no dissent — beyond lip-service jingo-ism (and lip-service would be banned throughout the Winn Dixie South).
But, oh, what a difference 225 years makes, right? Let them eat iPhones.
Of all the “inalienable” rights to be conferred (of course), the right to privacy has existential primacy. Without it we cannot be at all, in the ordinary sense of processing the ever-shifting phenomena of consciousness and its gyro-orienting relations to all that molecular stuff out there.
In other words, you should be free to ponder why that honeybee dances with wings in the sun that way, or ask yourself how it is Mrs. McGillicutty has learned to hyper-hiccup in hip-hop syncopation, or wonder why every decent economic system gets ruined by a few Alien-like predators who’ve peed in the pudding they shorted an hour before.
In short, you should be able to pursue, even if only in your own mind, scientific scrutiny, artistic design, and political pudding proofs. Descartes might never have had his cogito moment, if the audacity of being consciously were regarded as an act of terrorism.
Nearly 100 years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, lawyers Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis penned “The Right to Privacy” (1890) for the Harvard Law Review, one of the most eloquent legal explications yet written of this essential need.
Noting the advancement of civilization, as evidenced in its structures and technologies, Warren and Brandeis describe what happens when we objectify an Other, stripping them of authenticity and mining their subjective being in order to have fun with the narrative structure of their life, we corrode and set into motion the destruction of our own hard-earned civility. As the pair cogently put it,
“The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.”
Though these sentiments initially reflect growing resistance to the slander, libeling and gossip-pushing of the early American press, they are certainly words that still ring true today in our speed-of-light globalized world, where a person’s character and their privacy can be destroyed by some keystroking sadist who fancies himself some drone pilot armed with loaded words as weapons.
Recall that Edward Snowden’s primary motivation for collecting and disseminating the NSA’s how-to manuals on State omniscience and omnipresence was, as he said, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these kinds of things,” which echoes and reiterates what Julian Assange, and many other hacktivists, activists and any number of switched-on citizens, have been raising the alarm about.
But so far there has been no critical mass movement toward a tipping point for change, even though it is clear that such global surveillance and democracy are not compatible. It is as if Paul Revere hollered from the North Church, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” and fat patriots with apnea just rolled over and went on snoring.
However, we are beginning to see attempts to change the status quo. A couple of months ago, New Zealand’s Nationalist party leader John Key was up for re-election as Prime Minister. Just days before the election, a group of superstar activists — Kim Dotcom, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange — converged on Auckland, physically and digitally, and tried to raise Kiwi consciousness about the prime minister’s deception and dishonesty.
Key had sworn to the Almighty that he wasn’t spying on his own people, that Kiwis had nothing to fear, that New Zealand was just a listening post for Uncle Sam.
But, in a Moment of Truth, Snowden and Greenwald proved, live, that Key was lying, by revealing NSA documentation that said otherwise. Snowden, as he does so well, succinctly summed up what should come as the result of such a revelation:
“Maybe people want to say, ‘I’m okay with surveillance. I’m concerned about terrorism. I’m concerned about foreign threats.’ We can have people in every country make that decision because that’s self-government — that’s what democracy’s about, but that decision doesn’t belong to … officials, making decisions behind closed doors, without public debate, without public consent. That decision belongs exclusively to the people.”
But in a move reminiscent of the New York Times’ quashing, just before the 2004 presidential election, of a crucial story about the NSA’s illegal wiretapping on Americans, New Zealand newspapers refused to follow up on Key’s likely treasonous lies, and supposedly he won re-election in a landslide (although, any national elections anywhere that involve key US interests will be suspect after the fraudulent US election of 2000 that handed Bush the throne).
A few weeks ago, in his TED Talk, Glenn Greenwald argued that one result of such pervasive global surveillance is that people will become hyper self-conscious about their behavior and suppress their real feelings and thoughts to avoid any risk of criminalization. Which, of course, is another way of saying that the act of such personalized surveillance in itself makes privacy a criminal act.
However, I would add that just as critically (or, at least, another way of seeing it) is that artists, dissidents, and fearless individualists will, by this system, be more easily identified as the natural threats to such systems of suppression, because they will always be refuseniks and, consequently, easier for the state to destroy.
Indeed, in their fear of the digital deus in machina, most people will become foot soldiers and spies for the Man, just as they always do in totalitarian situations. (Word is, the US Department of Homeland Security actually recruited ex-Stasi agents to help set up the system architecture.)
Creativity and imagination can seem treasonous to societies of the repressed and conservative, who always lean on the black-and-white of moral authority to make up for their lack of imagination, fear of alterity, and general attraction to the fetish and the fascistic.
If we accept that privacy is at the core of freedom, then it’s clear we are rapidly moving away from, not toward freedom. As Erich Fromm wrote with such amazing prescience back in 1942 in Fear of Freedom, when our grounding is traumatically shaken, our certainty set adrift, humans have a tendency to enter into a sado-masochistic relationship with power, leading us to enjoy, or, at best, ignore the suffering of others. He writes,
“We find three kinds of sadistic tendencies, more or less closely knit together. One is to make others dependent on oneself and to have absolute and unrestricted power over them, so as to make of them nothing but instruments, ‘clay in the potter’s hand’. Another consists of the impulse not only to rule over others in this absolute fashion, but to exploit them, to use them, to steal from them, to disembowel them, and, so to speak, to incorporate anything eatable in them. This desire can refer to material things as well as to immaterial ones, such as the emotional or intellectual qualities a person has to offer. A third kind of sadistic tendency is the wish to make others suffer or to see them suffer. This suffering can be physical, but more often it is mental suffering. Its aim is to hurt actively, to humiliate, embarrass others, or to see them in embarrassing and humiliating situations.”
There is still time to change things (and I say that as a committed cynic), although more catastrophe may be necessary first, as it always seems to be in human affairs. Way too many people still cling to the tragic delusion that we can save the democratic republican experiment around the globe with mere reform (and, hmph, this time we really mean it!). That was an iceberg that plunked the Titanic, not an ice cube.
Back in 1789, the very first amendment to the US constitution that the anti-Federalist James Madison proposed was: “That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.”
With an Executive that deems itself above common law, a corrupt and intransigent Congress, and a Judiciary willing to help throw a national election, as well as the clear and apparent descent into the maelstrom and maws of psychopathic capitalism at work to keep its head above the quicksand, even if it means pulling down with it the very framework of civilization, it’s time to chase the PNACkers and assorted Deep State wolves back into the howling wilderness of clashing symbols. Expecting the sinking ship of state to right itself is a tragic flaw. And we know how tragedies end.
‘50 years later, we are celebrating (in that we are not protesting) a summer of surveillance and opacity instead of freedom and inclusion’
As large pockets of the African-American population spend parts of the summer of 2014 reminiscing about the spirited songs and protest marches of half a century ago in Mississippi that are widely regarded as keystones in the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, most American whites, even progressives, will look on quaintly and with detachment, as though passively watching the doings of Carnivale or the Mardi Gras. It does not move them as an event of democratic solidarity and a celebration of inclusion.
History and memory being what it is, few will venture beyond the vagaries of the Summer of Love, let alone drift back to the violent, revolutionary beginnings to the slow, on-going evolution of black freedom in America that took hold that summer.
And fewer people around the world will see it as a watershed moment that can help them understand their own nation’s development in coping with the tolerant inclusion of the Other—the glue that makes civilization possible. Could the French not gain perspective on their historical treatment of Arab cultures by studying the riotous growth spurts in America? Could Czechs not gain insight into their treatment of the Roma? Do not the terrible insufficiencies of Mississippi in 1964 not have a blazing resonance in Australian Aboriginal relations?
There was a time — and it was then — when JFK was a Berliner and MLK was the living gospel of hope, when all eyes were on America and her determination to break through the remaining chains holding back the final growth spurt of civilization. America the exceptional. Or so it seemed.
In a recent Guardian article, Errin Haines points out the obvious: “Unfortunately, the anniversaries of the watershed moments of the civil rights movement are not embraced as thoroughly by white people in America as they are by black people, despite the reality that these events have benefited us all.”
Yes, this is sad indeed, the begrudging tokenism, the sense that the hard-fought “victories” of these years is seen by many whites with the same resentment as Affirmative Action. These early civil rights actions, especially the voting rights act, were the catalyst for the eventual near-revolutionary protests against violence in general and the war in particular that followed.
You could even argue that it was the principal progressive outlet for middle class whites, until the draft changed their focus and the 1970 Kent State atrocity forced progressives to put aside their sweet Age of Reasoning and inch closer to a more militant, black-driven ‘by any means necessary’ resolve.
But it should never be forgotten that though the events of Mississippi in 1964 were brutal and terrifying some mention is necessary, even in passing, of some of the blood sweat and tears years that came before and made Freedom Summer possible – Rosa Parks in 1954, Emmett Till in 1955, Little Rock in 1957, Medgar Evers in 1963, MLK’s Dream speech of 1963. All of these events built toward that tipping point momentum which made changes possible.
The Freedom Summer led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and, of course, it is right to emphasize that this was an accomplishment shared by like-minded whites and blacks. Clearly, the equal right to vote should be the crown jewel of any modern, pluralistic democracy, and the struggle to get there should be recalled with more universal pride than it is. Again as Haines sums up: “It is not … the responsibility of black Americans to make white Americans feel comfortable with this history. Rather, it is time for white Americans to simultaneously own their role in the ugly parts of segregation and be proud of those who were on the right side of history.”
And that’s where the rub comes in.
Had such pride in universal inclusivity been in play in 2000, it is unthinkable that the Florida presidential election debacle would have taken place—or, if it did, that it would have been allowed to stand.
While many white Democrats and self-styled progressives point to that colossal systemic failure in democracy and blame Ralph Nader for siphoning votes away from Al Gore, or the failure of the latter to win his own home state’s electoral votes, it is the rather quiet, almost-forgotten-already decision by the US Supreme Court to not allow a recount of votes in key Florida districts — with strictly partisan reasoning and the application of obtuse partisan technicalities (it would have gone beyond a mandated deadline).
As lightning rod attorney Alan Dershowitz remarked after the Justices handed down their decision: “[T]he decision in the Florida election case may be ranked as the single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history, because it is the only one that I know of where the majority justices decided as they did because of the personal identity and political affiliation of the litigants. This was cheating, and a violation of the judicial oath.”
The decision outraged many people for a little while, and has now been all but forgotten. But it seems so much ‘progressive’ energy was poured into lamenting and blogging about the Supreme Court decision that all the outrage over the electoral processes that caused the crisis dissipated and went unaddressed. Indeed, Florida had similar problems again in 2004. And Florida is not alone: Pennsylvania and Ohio, two crucial ‘swing states’ continue to have significant systemic flaws to this day which disproportionately affect black voters.
But the Florida political circus wasn’t disturbing merely because of infrastructural flaws and weaknesses, but more importantly it was the underlying meanness and nastiness of the treatment, of denying a citizen the chance to vote because, they were being told to their astonishment, that they were felons who no longer deserved –and, in any case, no longer had – the right to vote.
No doubt some people would argue that the system was unintentionally disenfranchising and malignant, part of the general malaise of bureaucratic dysfunction, but I would not be so luxuriantly generous.
When it comes right down to, controlling and Republican authorities in Florida were simply not going to allow the most important election of the 20th century to be decided by blacks. One need only see the speed with which the issue fizzled after the Supreme Court handed down their edict; in how little effort was put into making sure such voting transgressions didn’t take place again; how small was the squall of outrage that a whole class of people was dis-empowered at a crucial moment in American Democracy; in returning to that comfortable numbness so well described in a song by Pink Floyd.
There were very few, if any, apologies for the clearly racist intentions leading to obviously successful political ends. But that’s the way that it is in Florida, as the Trayvon Martin episode amply demonstrated.
Even many African-Americans have “moved on,” largely bolstered by the energy of renewed hope for better things that came with the ascension of Barack Obama, the first black president. But by any measurement, including his progressive club pass for being born black, Obama is a bust as president, who has broken almost every significant campaign promise he ever made and left African-Americans in worse shape, all things considered, than they were 50 years ago during the Freedom Summer.
It’s true that African-Americans are no longer routinely brutalized in the Dixiecrat South the way they were half a century ago, but they continue to be brutalized nationally on a scale that is depressing to behold, and it is tragic to see a black man preside over such decay.
Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report, has referred to Obama as a scourge to African-Americans, as not “the lesser of two evils but the more effective evil,” the implication being that after all Obama’s broken promises and betrayal there can be no hope again.
In 1995, when the Nation of Islam staged its Million Man March on Washington, by some estimates drawing as many as 850,000 black men to the Mall outside the White House. Speaker after speaker decried the state of being black in America. They cited record imprisonment rates, unrelenting unemployment, sub-standard educations, no real hope for large scale upward mobility, poor health care. And this low reached its high in 2000 when the Republicans stole the presidential election by taking away the votes of thousands of black Floridians.
It was an election that has turned into a key turning point in American (and, consequently, global) history, leading as it did to the lapses that helped produce pre-text tragedy of 9/11 and its security lockdown aftermath. It is no longer safe for the Nation of Islam to denounce American domestic policy. And Obama has turned into a smiling beast of posture, dissemblance, propaganda, and outright lies, turning his back on the black community and virtually handing the keys of the Republic over to elite private interests who don’t give a damn about plights or pleas or suffering.
In short, the irony is: 50 years later, we are celebrating (in that we are not protesting) a summer of surveillance and opacity instead of freedom and inclusion, and a black president is in charge as the ship of state sinks into the shark-infested waters of the post-democratic marketplace.
The world is busy fighting an abstract noun — terrorism that it cannot win. And just as other nations once turned to the US to find guidance for the Good, they are doing so today to implement the Evil.
In Europe austerity measures abound throughout the Union; in Turkey, the government works with the CIA to overthrow and possess Syria (and the former Ottoman imperial region); in Australia, the conservative Abbott government slashes away at the social safety net, while, at the same time, promising to find money to build up its military in support of Obama’s coming pivot toward confrontation with China.
In this milieu, voting rights seem quaint; democracy a dream that is almost too cruel to have ever had.
“What our age lacks, however, is not reflection but passion. Hence in a sense our age is too tenacious of life to die, for dying is one of the most remarkable leaps, and a little verse of a poet has always attracted me much, because, after having expressed prettily and simply in five or six preceding lines his wish for good things in life, he concludes thus: Ein selige Sprung in die Ewigkeit.”
-Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
“If the flow is slow enough and you have a good bicycle, or a horse, it is possible to bathe twice (or even three times, should your personal hygiene require) in the same river”
The chauffeur creeps through his petty paces on a guardrail of the bridge high above the Mystic River. Poised like a tightrope walker, he resists the temptations of vertigo and the bully push of animate winds. Oh, he wants to jump, don’t you worry, but all in his own good time. Decked out in his driver’s uniform, including patent leather shoes that reflect the crescent moon, black leather gloves, his cap and dark glasses, he could be mistaken for Hamlet before the treachery and treason, or the Maltese Falcon after all is said and done and dreams are dashed. He pauses now, chin out, like Byron’s Manfred looking o’er an endless chain of snow-capped mountains toward the fjords of Beauty, then struts across his blustery stage, the unrequited lover of Being, one step beyond: the monster void. He thinks, I am the Knight of Infinite Resignation. He performs a kind of bourée and stops, index finger pointing skyward. He thinks, Ein Selige Sprung in die Ewigkeit. He steps, he stops, he gazes down from his cantilever perch, like Septus the river god, or some Cathedral anime, as if to see if there is anyone down there, out there who understands, who seeks. He lets rip a monologue:
Artists, like dreamers, share a humbling illiteracy before
their creations. They blaze across the star-splashed night
in chaotic flights of inspiration only to drop like a stone
into the blinking day, where poetry expires with the dawn.
Perhaps he has stared too long into the abyss and now the abyss is staring back into him?
But he has no time to solve this riddle: A siren is heard, urgent and nearing. He turns briefly toward the traffic moving in the fog like the forlorn eyes of ghosts, as it seems to him, slowing now at the toll booths to toss their tithes into the hungry wishing well before disappearing again into the forgetfulness of the urban Purgatoire.
Suddenly there is a chopper overhead and a spotlight. Cops arrive, but hang back, their bubblegum blue lights blazing. Gregory Milano, a local paramedic and sometimes opera buff, appears out of the headlighted mist. The ghosts come to a stop and apprehend.
“What’s up, bro? Wutchoo doin’ up here all alone on Christmas Eve?” begins the paramedic with studied cool, trying to sound all whiteboy hiphop, a regular Dylan Screed.
For a moment, the chauffeur recalls a Philip Roth story he’d read as a kid, “The Conversion of the Jews.” In it, the teenaged Ozzie Freeman, rebelling against the unanswered questions of orthodox Jewry, locks himself on the roof of a synagogue and torments his rescuers below by sprinting left, then right across the edge of the roof, the rescue blanket moving in slapstick panic to keep up. But the chauffeur was no Jew and this was no conversion. And there was nothing funny, in his mind, about the plight of artists, all the shooting stars of unrequited love.
“You got a name, guy?”
It was easy for Kierkegaard to take the leap of faith, he thinks, after all, his first name was Sören. He chuckles at his own pun.
“You wanna share the joke? I like a laugh,” says Gregory, trying to connect, as they trained him, inching toward his desperado.
Sören wasn’t standing on a bridge overlooking the Oily, he says to himself, referring to the local nickname for the Mystic River, which was heavily polluted with untreated sewerage, shopping carts, sludge from the nearby oil refineries, and, some said, assorted mobster body parts. Whatever you found on the bottom of the Oily it sure as fuck wasn’t going to be faith. The chauffeur turns and looks down at the water below. Feteo, ergo sum.
“Don’t do it, buddy. We’ve all been there,” the paramedic continues, almost able to reach out and nab his hovering darkclad nutjob and send him on his way to the Cha-Cha Hall, as he likes to call the public psychiatric facility, overcrowded, underfunded and corporatized by Big Pharma.
Below, the roiling waters of shit, lit up by the chopper’s beam, seem to smile up at him—the ripples forming kisses: inviting, voracious, and forever becoming and disappearing, like hope. Heraclitus may not have been able to step into the same river twice, he muses, but he wouldn’t have stepped into the Oily even once.
A young state trooper in gallant riding boots is just about to ratchet up the tentative hold he has on the chauffeur’s legs when old Aeolus, seemingly tired of the teetering and the tottering, comes along and gives the chauffeur a swift kick in the tookus, lifting him up out of the heavily-armed Samaritan’s hold and into a grand jete – up, up into the wilderness of the night, toward the spraypainted spiral of the Milky Way, up past the endless glowy cluster clouds of dialectical material (O, atoms in the eve!), to the very grasp of the Singularity, and then, suddenly, the forceful yank back down by the ankles, the headlong hurtle into the abyss, toward the stretched out arms of Mickey Sullivan, the snitch, rooted to the river bed, swaying like a colon polyp that’s been strangled.
“Name of God,” spouts the paramedic, and double crosses himself.
Siamo contenti? Son dio, ho fatto questa caricatura, laughs the fallen one.
But Gregory Milano hears instead the closing line of the opera Pagliacci, “La commedia é finita!” and sees a Fellini moment in the leaper’s shades, wherein he seems to watch himself recede and fall with the stranger, an eyeball tarantella, a mise en abyme.
The paramedic pulls back, nods knowingly at the dopplered exclamation from the poet, falling like a star toward the dark suck-swirl of filth and water, toward the interpenetration of being and nothingness, and the final submersion he so seemingly desires. Gregory feels a non so più rising up from his solar plexus, but by the time he turns to face the ghosts and his partner, Tracy, the vibe is gone; he shrugs and simply says, “Shit, we lost another one.” And the toll baskets start their gurgle again.
In my end is my beginning. Right?
When news broke that a maxim-making chauffeur had thrown himself off the Tobin Bridge, the Triad knew and came together, as soon as Mrs. Steele had gone to work, to commiserate and remember him, Felix A. Culp. The Triad consisted of two 16 year old boys, Jim B. Crowe (JB) and Richy Steele, and the latter’s 16 year old half-sister, Cindy. They all had known Felix in their several ways and drew on memories now assisted by the romance of sorrow. The heat pipes in the living room of the housing project apartment clanged and hissed and radiated so fiercely that the Triad often hung around in just their underwear and kept the windows open, even, as now, in winter. This proved extremely stressful most times for JB, who had a major crush on Cindy, and spent their sessions with a couch cushion crushed into his lap. He avoided gazing, as she lounged loosely in a stuffed chair opposite him, her black frilly underwear and bra and red lipstick making his metabolism gallop, a proverbial horse hot to trot, but even looking away he had pornographic flashes that made him want to do some serious populating. If Richy knew of the sexual tension between the two, he didn’t write it to his face to read.
Richy: I first met Felix up by the Bunker Hill Monument, where he used to live before they chased him out. I used to help the milkman deliver milk in those glass jars door to door. It was my first job. I would love the way, in the right light, the milk would seem to glimmer and glow, and it was always so quiet that early in the morning, all those parallel dreams at work. One morning I came upon the bare-chested Felix gleaming in the morning sun, washing his Lincoln limo, pressing his pecs against the glass like the boobilacious Lucille in Cool Hand Luke (nobody can eat 50 eggs), all suds and sinfulness. He had wild blond hair (a classic Teuton bob) and blue eyes and his car, his ve-hi-cool, was so black. I yearned. He waved. We exchanged numbers.
JB: The first time I ever saw Felix was when he pulled up in front of the high school and you, Richy, powered down the window and said, Get in, and Felix got out of the car, looking at that time, as I recall, like Bruce Lee from The Green Hornet; and he opened the back door of the limo, and stood there smiling, you know, in an Oriental ‘welcome’ way that said, ‘Here, have some dim sum, but don’t you fuck with me.‘ I said, Hi, and he said, Hiyeeee. School had just been let out for the day and students were teeming from the factory. And when they saw you and they saw Felix and they saw the limo, and me heading for it, they started in with the catcalls and japes, like a prison yard full of sharks and snakes. Richy Steele, someone yelled to jeers, we always knew you were a faggot. And look at BJ Crowe. And homo eructum in black. You guys a ménage a trois? And then some mothers took note, alarmed, writing down his plate number, exchanging actionable glances, thumb texting madly like kalimbas de chora. And our classmates taunted us with salty chanson:
Chauffeur, the gofer with limousine
Buggering wiggly boys with Vaseline.
And I got into the car—now I had to get away—and we drove off, and Cato looked at me in the rear view mirror and asked through designer shades, JB, have you ever been to Avalon?
Cindy: Actually, Richy, your memory fails you. I was in the back of the limo that day, watching Felix wash the car, saw you with the milk and the look of desire, but there was no exchange of eyebeams or numbers betwixt you. That was wishful thinking. But I determined that you should meet him; I could see a mutual attraction you might share. Right after you left, he got into the back of the limo with me, all wet and dripping black, like the Inkman Cometh. I pointed out the window and said, Look, the Monument looks like a giant white cock. Yes, he laughed, the British probably dropped their muskets and ran for the harbor when they saw this new Master Narrative extended 200 feet into the clouds. I believe it’s made of marble. Oh, he says, I guess I just took it for granite. And we sat in the 9 O’Cock shadow of the Master Narrative, me giving the master’s narrative a handjob, while he read Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères in passionate French cadenzas, which I did not understand, although I was inspired by its strident musicality, the same way Brecht can get up your spine. As I ducked away from his bliss blast, I mentioned you, Richy, and how you should hook up, and he said I should bring you by the bus station, where he usually picked up boys, and so we set a date. Then he told me to get dressed and sent me on my way, handing me a Simone de Beauvoir tome to read, and saying, You mustn’t fuck and suck your way to the top. You must take a rock to that glass ceiling. And just then, I shit you not, the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered” came on the radio. Trippy synchronicity. But I forgot my bra and my breasts did the mambo all day.
Felix: Well, I’m not ‘there’ to challenge or clarify, but because their separate accounts are not entirely accurate or reliable, I sit there in their minds, as all falsity must, in the form of self-doubt, a logical rather than moral itch. It is a fact that I did not meet Cindy until many years later. She had given up her university teaching position (literary studies) after radical feminists rose to power in the School and turned post-modernism studies into a misanthropy crusade. PMS has taken hold, she said. So, she started a literary magazine, or rather she re-vamped Fuck You magazine (calling it Fuck You II), a Sixties lit sheet full of collages and cubes and psilocybin-influenced polemics—in short, all the fun stuff she claimed was there in post-modernism before the feminists hijacquelined the engine. Yes, we did meet briefly in the back of my limo one time, where she interviewed me: Expound on new epistemologies and the tyranny of all texts, she said, and so I did. But no handjobs or advice or monuments (does she not realize the monuments came many years after the British stopped polishing each others’ helmets and were rebuffed, not before?). And while it’s true that I met Richy for the first time, not with Donne-like visual dialectics in the shadow of the stiffy obelisk, but at the Greyhound bus station, where he came on his own initiative, like all the boys, all the little hustlers looking to roll a fag for his money or get a free blowjob. What JB says is largely true: I met him for the first time in front of his school, and my arrival was met with the jeers and derisions of guttersnipes forming gauntlets. Hiyeeee.
Where I live, in a one square mile tract of land, in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge, along the Mystic River, we are ruled by the parochial and small. Where I live, Catholic self-righteousness marries hypocrisy and engenders vigilantism. Where I live, young men jump into the Oily to prove their manhood. Where I live, ‘faggots’ and ‘niggers’ and ‘uppity bitches’ are not tolerated. Where I live, we dream of doing violence to our heteroglossic neighbours. Where I live, we make shit up and then the Other disappears. Where I live, we teach our children to jeer and hate at an early age and turn them into lifelong moral retards. Where I live, we hurl red bricks at yellow buses full of black kids, then wave green shamrocks. Where I live, love is tied to control and submission. Where I live, people mistake democracy for liberty and slander for free speech. Where they live, chauffeurs who pick up kids with long black limousines are paedophiles needing to be whacked like on the Sopranos. [All together, in the style of Brecht]: Where we live, we die early and live long late lives of longevity.
Scene: [A toilet stall in the Greyhound bus station. Richy has arranged to meet the chauffeur here, after his sister’s urging, and sits with pants down to his ankles waiting for a signal that the chauffeur has arrived.] I’m sitting there thinking that someone should do a graphological study of public toilet postings. All those telephone numbers and promises; all the political invective and personal libel; the various sketches of circumcised penises and clammy vaginas circumscribing the walls of the tiny cubicle; the fonts and colors and symbols; all the degrees and kinds of urgency expressed; and when I saw “Nietzsche is peachy” crossed out and replaced with “Nietzsche is Lychee” and “the little poet opens the shutters of his hairy heart”—well, I knew some crafty post-modernist had been here positing (was the lack of toilet paper indicative?). When you closed the door to a public toilet cubicle you were locking yourself into an interactive fart gallery. I pondered contributing my own aphorism, my bum puffing up like Satchmo’s cheeks before the trumpet blast (I remember my Grandpa would fart, then say: ‘but don’t quote me’), when I heard tapping and tapping and looked down and could see a black patent leather shoe next door going up and down in time. The shoe might have been tapping out the Ninth’s “Ode to Joy” or it could have been “Rock the Casbah,” but before I could figure it out a voice said, Are you ready, my little hustler? And I said back, My sister said you’d take me there. Meet me out front in 5, the black limo, and then he flushes and leaves, and I pull up, praying I’ve caught no germs, note a caricature cock shooting pinyin hyperbole, flush and follow, self-conscious, pre-ashamed, the loudspeaker calling out departures, Chicago Gate 5, everyone looking at me leave, thinking, I’m sure, the little perv. But don’t quote me.
Scene: [Inside the chauffeur’s Lincoln limo. The driver sits with Richy in the back of the limo, seated beside him, legs spread wide, hands across his crotch, rap gangster style. But it’s clear he’s just being ironic.] Do you always wear shades in the privacy of your own car? The better to see you with. Nevertheless, I’d like to see your eyes, gaze into them, and maybe get a sense. [Felix removes his cap and sun glasses to reveal a long mane of honey hair and lapis lazuli eyes] My god, I’m startled cream. You are so beautiful to look at: Adonis, McConaughey, Brad Pitt as Achilles, but more than all that, you’re David Bowie singing “Blue Jeans” or all-so-soulful in The Man Who Fell to Earth, oh-h-h. How much will you pay me to have your way? That depends. [Richy swoons] Where is the there you’ll take me to? Why Avalon, of course. Can we bring my friend JB? He likes adventures. Sure, but the woods are dark and deep. I promise to keep it to myself, don’t worry. [Felix puts his shades and cap back on, exits back of limo, moments later his face shows up in the rear view mirror, eyes two Rayban abymes ] Now which high school was that? I’ll plug the coordinates into my trusty GPS.
Scene: [Out front of Charlestown High as school is getting out for the day. Out of the streams of anarchy and noise Richy spots his friend, JB, powers down his tinted window and calls out. ] Yo, JB! Come for a ride. Don’t look so surprised. Hop in. Don’t mind those jeers. Pass through that gauntlet and come. See, the chauffeur opens the door for you. Come for a ride. [JB climbs into the limo, as the window powers up and shuts out someone shouting, “Get on, you fags. Bring your ménage trois somewhere else.” The chauffeur addresses the boys through the rear view mirror.] So you are JB. Richy’s told me so little about you. Right, and you must be The Chauffeur: the whole community’s told me about you. You’re a—JB, have you ever been in the woods, lost? The snowy evening ones or the Red Riding ones? Oh, I do like the way you think. Well, JB, that’s for you to decide. Are you ready? Where are we going? He’s to take us to Avalon? Avalon? Why then we’re off!
If you drive up on the expressway to the Tobin Bridge you climb past the U.S.S. Constitution in dry dock, climb over the lower end of Charlestown, over the public housing project, over the Oily, over the Navy shipyard, over the Exxon refinery and distribution center, over the Chelsea Yacht Club, and climb up the four-lane Route 1, past the garden supply outlets, past the batting cages, past the soft serve joints, past the assorted steakhouses and saloons and strip malls and ATMs, past all the motels with names like Shangri-La, Erewon, Utopia Village, New Horizon, until you come to the turn-off for Avalon. Situated in 10 acres of wooded area, Avalon is a motel complex that features simulacra cabins spread out ‘in the woods’ to effect ‘privacy’. If you wanted to, you could tune out the screams of children in Cabin 5 and the women wailing in Cabins 7 and 31, ignore the general squalor, the out of town plates, the drug dealing out behind cabin 26, the general pervasive threat of malignant dark forces at work. Ignore them all, and they would return the favour.
And so the sheeny shimmy limn-o-scene pulls up blithely in front of Avalon cabin number 38 late of an August day, the tired air conditioner emitting a little clack as the motor thrums off. (Was that a whippoorwill?) The trio emerges from the limo, the chauffeur expressionless, goes right to the door, unlocks it, ushers in the boys—the one with a look of airy anticipation, the other with a look of foreboding, feeling for his pocket knife, thumbing its rose-leaf escutcheon. Inside, the door snugly shut, the room is lit, a yellow wan, and reveals a one-room tableau, with bathroom. It is old, with a faded red carpet, old TV chained to the wall, generic dresser, kitchenette, pine chairs, small square table and assorted brickabrackery. And an ancient queen-sized bed with a synthetic cover spread, design from the Seventies. The chauffeur plops on it, lays his cap aside, shades off, long blond strands roll down his shoulders, like the first dawn on the river Jordan, Richy thinks. You want to see something? He drops a quarter in a bedside box and the bed begins to shake, rattle and roll. He thwacks the spot next to him. Ho-kay. Who’s on first? He looks left, right, stops and stares at Richy. Oh, you didn’t tell him what we came here for, did you? JB stares, too, at Richy, who turns red as the last dawn on the river Jordan, as JB sees it. Never mind. You go in there, JB, and wait. Here, you’ll probably want something to read. The Chauffeur thrusts a book into JB’s hands and nudges him into the bathroom and closes the door with a click. JB turns on the light. Looking in the mirror he sees he is afraid and then he sees himself seeing himself afraid, and on and on it goes. He looks at the book. It is Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation. He puts it in the sink and turns on the faucet (cold) as if to drown the World. There is a long stretch of silence outside the bathroom. JB turns off the tap and picks up the wet book with his thumb and index, then opens it at a random page, and reads:
Truth is no prostitute, that throws herself away upon those who
do not desire her; she is rather so coy a beauty that he who sacri-
fices everything to her cannot even then be sure of her favour.
He puts the book back in the sink. Richy, you alright? He goes to open the door. You stay in there. A snarl. JB hears whispering, doesn’t like it, turns off the bathroom light, opens the door a crack, and sniffs. The room is lit only by a tiny red night light near the bed. JB makes out two amorphous figures, and, as his eyes adjust, he sees the chauffeur sitting at the end of the bed, legs spread wide, Richy on his knees before him. But then JB sees the chauffeur’s black net stockings and red lipstick that transfix him. His mind swirls; he retreats, pulls the sink plug. And then it’s over. The chauffeur calls him out, hands JB a $5 note and a $10 note to Richy. They’re back in the limo, driving out of the dark, screaming woods, heading home. The chauffeur seems ebullient, luck struck. Moons at the boys through the mirror, the three of them squeezed together in the frame as in some Erich Heckel portrait.
My little Dionysius and junior Apollo. [He pauses, smiles like Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick.] So then, what was your take on Schopenhauer, JB?
Well, I’m still trying to process what happened back there. But you know…What did you say your name was?
Culp. Felix A. Culp. Call me Felix.
It struck me, Felix, that Truth seems to be pictured as a femme fatale an awful lot of the time.
Indeed, but what is a femme fatale, JB, if not a siren to our deepest desires?
Yes, but I suspect the lady doth protest too little.
Nonsense. Ravish the little lady and she’ll sing all the truth you’ll ever want to hear. Right, Felicity?
They exchange looks.
Anybody got a piece of gum?
The chauffeur smiles back. Doublemint or Juicy Fruit, Richy Rich?
And so it began that summer. After picking up his “rich and powerful” clients and shuffling them back and forth between the airport and their brokering places and hotels, the chauffeur picked up his two ‘unwashed’ boys, two or three times a week all that summer. We waited for him on a park bench near the Boston Common, the tourists snapping digital pics of the famous duck boats, all daffy with forced delight. I would be reading some tome Felix had loaned me (forced on me, really), and Richy would keep an eye out for vice cops, and wave to the ones he knew. Then Felix would pull up curb-side on Arlington St. and beckon us to the limo, and in we’d hop, and off we’d go to Avalon. And a few hours later, after all was done and said, we’d come south again, over the bridge, through the tolls, and Felix would drop us off at the edge of the Town and we’d walk home, stopping off at the convenience store with our new funds to buy Twinkies or Fritos and a couple of cans of Coke, the booty of our lust and learning.
The rides up over the bridge were always the most exciting. Always Felix was provocative, titillating, original. One time he’d dress up like a handsome Cossack, but made up like Edgar Allan Poe in black, then say, My name is Ivan Nevermoresky, and we’d spend the next couple of hours comparing Dostoyevsky’s tortured Underground Man to the tortures of the Pit and the Pendulum, and, of course, Das Kapital would raise its ugly head, so off it had to go. Or another time he’d leer at us, decked out as Batman, and have us play out how the role might develop in a Michael Haneke version of the caped crusader. With tight shorts. Another time he came costumed like Darth Vader, breathing heavy behind the mask, lay on the back seat between us, the back of his head in my lap, and assign us the roles of Freud and Jung–Analyze me, he’d say, and Richy would put a cigar out in my face, figuratively speaking, and I would crown him back with a barbed archetype that wiped away his superior smile. Or the chauffeur’d come all Vincent Price-like, Dr. Phibes, and tell us he was the Mainstream Media and ask us to consider how truth could be dangerous and propaganda useful, then had us write a faux piece for the New York Times and defend its value to the public. Pretend I’m a potential subscriber, he’d say. One time we spent an hour considering Heraclitus’ famous fragment about not entering the same river twice, and then, when we seemed sufficiently perplexed, he’d read a passage from Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, wherein the young river boat pilot, having spent an exhausting nerve-wracked day learning the language of the river, discovers he must begin his learning of the ever-changing river anew the next day and every day, forever, like some Sisyphus of the tides. O, Route 1 was our river! (With tight shorts.)
Then we’d arrive in Avalon at the cabin, and I’d sit in the back of the limo, while Richy and the chauffeur went inside and enacted their love—albeit for cash. The ride home was always quiet, serene, each of us pensive, self-absorbed, original. Though none of us smoked, the limo always seemed to be filled with unctuous French clouds gesturing upward in complex undulations, cigareuse. Richy clearly got more of what he needed out of Felix through their mutual physicality, while I preferred the stimulus of his stellar intellect; he was brilliant, and I Ioved him. I don’t know what Felix got from us, save, perhaps, the freedom of molding new ideas each day—we, his turning clay–, or like some visionary artist throwing himself at the blank canvas, knowing the energy is fleeting, the result always ultimately false, that it’s not really about representation but about being. But don’t quote me.
Then JB decided to bang my sister.
I did not bang your sister. Or rather, I did, but it wasn’t as crude as that.
Man, you were up to your sinuses in quim jam. You positively reeked of her. Not crude? OPEC wants to talk terms with you.
When you went off to the store to buy some Twinkies, she came out of her room in that black silk dress looking like a Chivas Regal ad. She had nothing on underneath but fish net stockings and she wore that violent red lipstick. I’m thinking: Liza Minnelli, Cabaret. And then she jumped me. It was all I could do, and so on. We stayed friends and smile.
And then one day Charles Stuart was being chased by the police and jumped from the Tobin Bridge to escape them, and then Felix came one last time as The Knight of Infinite Resignation, dressed in tight shorts, as I recall, and then disappeared until Christmas Eve, when we heard on the news that a man fitting his description had jumped from the Tobin Bridge spouting the final lines from Pagliacci. And then we grieved and went our separate ways, toward Fuck You magazines, Genet-ic theatre and post-modern Academe. But the river, the Oily, remains the same.
A voice calls him back from the edge of the universe, where he’d gone to look for a window into other realms or possibilities; slowly he zooms out, returns to a consciousness of the present, as in that first episode of Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos, which rapidly compresses time, from the Big Bang to the Now of 1974, in a matter of minutes. He’s got the news on in his dim-lit room and the female impersonator of public virtues is telling her viewers:
StillnosignofabodyafteramanleapedfromtheTobinBridgeonChristmasEveanddisappearedintothefrigidwatersoftheMysticRiver.JimO’BrienisstandingliveonthesouthbounddeckoftheTobinBridge.Jim,what’sthelatest?Well,Pam,policestillhavenotidentifiedtheman.Theysaythemanwasdroppedoffbyalimousinedrivenby whatsomewitnessesdescribeasawomanwithlipstick.Policearereviewingvideofootage,but,Pam,theysayitwasextremelyfoggyChristmasEveandtheydoubtthetapeswillrevealanythingnew.Theysaytheonlycluetheyhavetotheman’sidentityarethecrypticwordsheshoutedataparamedicashewasfalling.Telluswhathesaid,Jim.Well,Pam,itwassomethinginItalian:“Lacommediaéfinita!”IhopeourItalian-Americanviewerswillforgivemybadpronunciation [he and Pam pretend to laugh]. Anyway,apparentlyitisalinefrom theoperaPagliacci,andmeans:Thecomedyisover.Isthattheonewiththeclowns,Jim?Well,Idon’tknow,Pam,haha,I’mnotanoperafan.Oh,Jim,you’reblushing–butpolicesaytheyarehopingthewords mightprovideavaluableclue.SoessentiallypolicearelookingforanyonemissinganItalianoperalovinglovedonewhomighthavehad theholidaybluesandhasn’tbeenheardfromsinceChristmasEve?Is thataboutright,Jim?That’saboutit,Pam.Andsofar,ifyou’llexcuse thepun,noonehasforwardtosing.Here’sanumbertocallifanymemberofthepublichasifanyonecanhelpussolvethemysteryoftheleapingchauffeur. [a telephone number glows seriously] Sosad, isn’t,Jim?almostanironictakeonIt’sAWonderfulLife.Yes,Pam,weliveinironicaltimesforsure.MakesyouwonderwhatJimmyStewartwouldmakeofallthis,ifhewerealive.Verysad.Alright,we’llhavetoleaveitthere.Thankyou,Jim.Youbet,Pam.100101110110110001100100111000111101101110101000110101010100001….
Felix sits up in his bed. No, no, no, it wasn’t Pagliacci, you clown. I said: ‘Siamo contenti? Son dio, ho fatto questa caricature.’ Nietzsche, not Pagliacci. But he waved it off. It was inconsequential. His muse was summoning him and he must not keep her waiting. And besides, there were new boys waiting, waiting to come back to the woods–not to Avalon now, but Camelot.
Outside the Camelot Office he drops his postcard in the box. It is addressed to the Triad. It has a picture of a tightrope walker and a stamp with “Love” and pink hearts. On the card he has penned: Versteh’? Or have I come too soon again? And, below, his signature: a graffiti-like falling star.
In my beginning is my end. Left?