By John Kendall Hawkins
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
Neil Young, “Ohio”
It’s generally true what they say about public history — that it’s easily trivialized and forgotten, so that we can soon start over again, and make the same mistakes next time, with more brio and technology-driven enthusiasm. And don’t even get me started on personal memory. Ever since postmodernism came along and said that just because the Foo shits on you doesn’t mean you have to wear it. We don’t really know what happened, or what hit us. We’re like the dinosaurs that way. Fuck, if I can remember where I left the keys, let alone my dignity. And I tell myself: if memory doesn’t flatter, what good is it?
I’ve been reading a lot of “history” lately. And it’s only made me more confused. Last year I read a book about mosquitoes the writer referred to as General Anopheles and how her bites changed the course of history. Napoleon might have ruled America, the writer claims, except that his men couldn’t handle the still loo water of mosquito incubation. So he sold Louisiana, and abandoned Haiti. One reads, gobsmacked, that the General has been responsible for the deaths of “as many as half of the people who have ever lived.” It’s not the butterfly effect we should be worried about, but the mossie effect.
And that’s history with some sobering science behind it. When looking into history that depends on “master narratives” the whole shebang is open to question. Says Who? is what you want an answer to. It depends on your point of view, and history, married to memory, is one big parallax view. Good luck, Mr.Truth! I keep these things in mind now as I plod through accounts in time — especially ones I thought for sure I understood, accounts pounded into me by thoughtless teachers playing out careers, accounts no more valuable in the end than the J-E-L-L-O ads I started out my language life with in the Fifties. Always somebody, selling something, against my will.
These were the deconstructive tools I took with me as I read into The Boston Massacre: A Family History by Serena Zabin. Rather than yet another standard angle on the bim-bang-boom of Red Coat muskets flashing and Sons of Liberty — plus Crispus Attucks — falling that cold snowbally night in March, Zabin asks the reader to consider other factors leading up to the “massacre” that paint the evening with more familial complexities at work. As she puts it,
In an eighteenth-century Anglo-American world in which family and
government were closely connected notions, the shooting in Boston
marked not the beginning of the American Revolution but the breakdown
of a family.
The Massacre didn’t lead to treasonous insurrection immediately — and Zabin tells us why.
Sagas of surly Empire, and their overseas colonies, are often told from the point of view of sea captains, army generals, rummy sailors, and the powdered wigs who provide policies and directives from back home. But as her title suggests, Zabin is keen to provide a human vision of events, somewhat removed from mere political interpretations. It’s complicated, and humans aren’t always avatars for His Majesty’s wishes: Real people eat, shit and fuck — the Ol’In/Out — and produce other humans who do the same; they need a system that produces food, provides proper places for inevitable poopery, and protocols of attraction and opportunities to taste the punch and fall in love. But integrating military and civilian lives in a colony can get edgy, Zabin implies.
Zabin spends a few chapters describing the complicated logistics of 18th century colonial maintenance. Not many Brits wanted to be Red Coats; recruitment was not easy. Zabin cites an Irish estate manager who “bemoaned the difficulty of finding men to enlist, noting that ‘people are so full of bread, at present, that they care neither to work, nor be under any command of any kind.’” It was difficult to find incentive to join. There were sordid tales of soldierly demise in far flung colonies. Zabin writes, “Troops stationed anywhere, even on sundrenched islands in the Mediterranean, lost their will to live after too much time in isolation.” Newfoundland soldiers after only a few years there, were “reduced to mere Ideots [sic] by Drink and Debauchery.”
Marriage was discouraged in the military officer’s handbooks; women were depicted as “distractions,” shady distributors of VD, and likely to get soldiers drunk. But many of the same officers conceded that women offered valuable services. They nursed the ill, and they washed clothes — “an essential task, since privates were issued only one uniform each year (which they had to buy out of their own wages).” So marriages happened regularly, women and children became part of the military, and vice versa, in a symbiotic union that redeployed or regularly “rotated” from colony to colony. Though there wasn’t much to recommend to a would-be soldier, writes Zabin, “Putting on a red coat was one way for a young man to improve his chances at marriage.”
Zabin concentrates on the 29th Regiment as they prepare to rotate from their base in Cork, Ireland to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1765. She discusses the harsh administrative decision-making involved in such a move, especially the rule governing accompanying families — given ship space, a provisions budget, and abiding officer reservations about women — “only one in ten soldiers” was allowed to take along his family. Under this rule, hundreds of sorry soldiers would sail, leaving their families behind in destitution for years or even life. As he planned the rotation to Halifax, Lieutenant General Robert Rich, to avoid having Cork foot the costs of providing for families left behind, worked out a scheme that allowed all families to travel with their soldiers. Happy beams all around.
Zabin focuses on one family in the 29th Regiment — the Chambers. This device allows Zabin to humanize the soldiers (from the 29th) who fired on Bostonians that fateful March night. They were as ordinary as the townies they lived amongst; they were, you could argue, the equivalent of the National Guard who took out four students at Kent State 200 years later — not hated, until they fired, and immediately changed how the middle class saw their government. The miserable languishing in Halifax, with its privations, boredom, and limited opportunity for social engagement, seems set up by Zabin as a prelude to the bustling and raucous — and healthy — environment the regiments would be called in to police in Boston.
Zabin introduces us to the grievances behind Boston’s “troubles.” In a nutshell, England had been using a hands-off or laissez faire approach to its colonies, allowing for relatively stress-free local governance with limited local taxation. Zabin paints it like a family portrait — we’re all Brits in this frame. But then, the Sugar Act of 1764 placed an excise tax on sweet stuff, and that was followed a year later by the Stamp Act, which taxed “stamped, or embossed, paper, produced in London and used in the Colonies.” Invoices, receipts and bills of lading…. Zabin writes, “The Sugar Act had provoked grumbling; the Stamp Act would produce riots.”
“Bostonians were feeling distinctly underappreciated,” writes Zabin. “Having paid for the [Seven Years] war in ‘blood and treasure,’ they did not see why the new costs of empire should fall on them.” Locals published threatening rhymes such as:
What greater Joy Can New England see
Than Stamp men hanging on a tree.
Massachusetts governor Francis Bernard panicked at the popular response and expressed in ‘hurried’ letters to other governing confidantes, such as Thomas Gage of New York, that he was “feeling completely powerless and ‘extreamly weak’ in the face of a popular uprising.” He fled from the city to an island in Boston Harbor and called in, against Gage’s advice, policing regiments from Halifax. Some of his pollie pals called him “spineless” behind his back.
But though popular pressure led to the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, it was soon replaced with the so-called Townshend Acts, a series of laws that included: import duties on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea; and the precedent-setting establishment of the British Parliament’s right to tax the colonies. Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, decided to establish a collection commission headquarters in Boston. “That meant,” writes Zabin,” that the men responsible for overseeing the new taxes, known as the Board of Customs Commissioners, would be living in a town of only sixteen thousand people,” and knocking door-to-door to collect taxes. This was a new experience for Bostonians and it didn’t go down well.
It’s into this milieu that three regiments of Red Coats and their families– including the 29th with the Chambers family — arrived in Boston from Halifax in early November 1768. Matthew Chambers “[gazing] at the buildings ahead of him and the barracks behind him on Castle William…must have wondered where his own family, once they finally disembarked, would sleep that night.” His 29th Regiment ended up pitching tents “among the cattle that grazed” on the Boston Common.
Boston’s King Street was like a grand bazaar of worldly goods, imported and local — “French Indigo, Albany Peas, Connecticut Pork, Esopus Flour, new-York Butter-Bread, refin’d Iron, Pig Iron, Ship Bread, Cordage, Anchors, Spermaceti Candles, Cotton Wool, Silk Handkerchiefs, Feathers, Logwood, &c, &c.” — and slaves. There was strain in the new comminglings. As Zabin writes, “Given this influx of more than a thousand new residents, Bostonians could not help but encounter military families at every turn: in the streets, in the churches, and eventually even in their own homes.”
Bostonians had to accommodate the surliness of starchy officers drinking to excess and mouthing off in their beloved taverns, while soldiers marvelled at the general unruliness and disorder of the populace. Still, there were record desertions, 10% annually in Boston, according Zabin. Single soldiers were beatlemania-ed by uniform-loving local lasses; other soldiers created labor friction by working jobs for lower wages.
But behind the scenes was a controlling force, a virtual secret society called the Sons of Liberty, whose espoused purpose was to seditiously resist the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and any other forms of taxation initiated in London that amounted to “taxation without representation.” No, they said. And boldly blew governmental shit up to underline their point. (Oh, those italics.) Members included Paul Revere and Sam Adams, who would become important framers of the narrative describing the Incident on King Street and its eventual catalytic conversion to revolution. Oh, and those SOLs (soon to be sons of guns) didn’t much care for Red Coats dating their daughters.
Just days before the Shooting, there was an incident involving a local ropemaker and a Red Coat. The soldier was looking for work. Zabin writes,
[O]ne rope maker offered a soldier work requiring no particular skill: cleaning his latrine. The soldier was offended at what he took to be fighting words, and a quarrel escalated over the next several days, as each side brought more friends into the fray.
A dunny-brook of words ensued, as the People (“working class people”) and Soldiers got increasingly shitty with each other.
Then one ill-lit night (quarter moon, snowy sky, no torches) on March 5, 1770, 250 years ago, after days of exchanged catcalls and newspaper doggerels, Edward Garrick, an apprentice wigmaker, with a hair across his ass, yelled out to a freezing Red Coat, Hugh White, guarding the Customs house (wherein the evil taxes were stored), and busted his balls for non-payment of a peruke. Whatever Garrick said, he crossed the White line and received a musket-whipping for his troubles. The townie cried out in pain, the soldier called for help. The commotion emptied the bars, snowballs and sticks flew, more Red Coats arrived, and then — bimmety-bangety-boomany — down dropped liberty lovers in the night. Crispus Attucks, a recently freed slave, was the first to be shot by the po-lice in Red Coats (maybe the only totally believable part of the narrative). Here’s a re-enactment.
After the event, a word fight broke out in the Press between the Sons of Liberty and more conciliatory, circumspect media voices, and the fight to frame the narrative was on. Paul Revere got on his high horse and commandeered (i.e., plagiarized) a drawing by Henry Pelham that depicted the shooting. “Pelham called his work ‘The Fruits of Arbitrary Power,’” writes Zabin. “Revere, of course, called his ‘The Bloody Massacre.’” The Boston Gazette pushed Revere’s interpretation, and most Bostonians were in no mood to consider other angles. When the Boston Chronicle settled for calling the event an “unfortunate affair,” townspeople boycotted the paper and “most of its advertisers pulled their support…; it folded less than four months later.”
The war of words continued in the “official” accounts of what happened. Sons of Liberty members James Bowdoin, Joseph Warren, and Samuel Pemberton were assigned the task of coming up with a Boston-friendly account, which was long-titled, A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, Perpetrated in the Evening of the Fifth Day of March, 1770, by Soldiers of the XXIX Regiment. This went up against the army version of events, A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance in Boston. Both versions played for the hearts and minds of politicians, wits and wags in London. It was the shot heard — across the bow.
The trial itself was a decrescendo from the high-strung, orchestrated noise that colored accounts of the event. The officer in charge of the Red Coat shooters, John Preston, was tried separately, and though it looked grim at first, as soon as he saw two buds on the jury, he knew he’d be walking. The others got off relatively easy, too, thanks to the wise counsel of Sam’s cousin, John Adams, the future 2nd president of the U.S. Zabin writes,
In the end, the defense was almost entirely successful. Wemms,
McAuly, White, and Hartigan were exonerated. Kilroy and Montgomery
were found guilty of manslaughter, not murder, and their punishment was commuted from hanging to branding on the thumb.
The soldiers left town before they could be lynched.
By the time the trial was over all the regiments had been removed from Boston and it was no longer a garrison town. And with the tension released, temperatures simmered for a few years until, lesson unlearned, the British parliament once again imposed new taxes and it was Tea Party Time. Late in the book Zabin owns that
In the end, however, even if we had the ability to ascribe responsibility for those deaths 250 years ago, the answer would bring us no closer to understanding how the massacre brought us to the American Revolution.
After all the music of her humane re-telling, the admission is rather disconcerting.
Tea parties come and go, in some we dress as Indians and in some we dress as Mad Hatters; and there have been only a few decades, since Crispus Attucks took one for the team, that Americans haven’t been firing shots heard around the world. As Zabin points out, even today, after countless hours spent by academic interrogators trying to break the privileged code of 18th century colonial Boston, nobody really understands the argot or what caused the events of that night to happen the way they did.
TIn some depictions, the Sons of Liberty were scalawags, as much as heroes– helpful to later democracy the way scalpers (scalperwags?) outside Fenway are helpful in liberating a couple of Benjamins from your wallet for Yankees tickets. Sometimes I wonder what Paul Revere got up to when he wasn’t riding his high horse. When I think of Sons of Liberty today, I think: Revere Sugar, Hancock insurance, and Sam Adams beer.
I don’t know if I like them apples or not.
Sung to the tune of Bobby Dylan’s “Corrina, Corrina”
I been thinking bout you
You thinkin bout me, too?
Donkeys, poultry, camel, foxes
Just left in nine assorted boxes
Flown round the world
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
But I ain’t yet got Corona
Death don’t mean a thing
(bluesy mouth harp riff)
Got me double bind
Got me testing blind
O, I just can’t believe the data
Hmm, I might just lose my mind
I been thinking bout you
You thinkin bout me, too?
Hazmat badgers, hedgehogs and rats
Mice so squirr’ly, they were chasing cats
Flown round the world
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
But I ain’t yet got Corona
Death don’t mean a thing
(bluesy mouth harp riff)
Got me double bind
Got me testing blind
O, I just can’t believe the data
Hmm, I might just lose my mind
I been thinking bout you
You thinkin bout me, too?
You’ve cancelled ball games, travel’n too
Now just please cancel the Election
That’d be something (ooh)
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
But I ain’t yet got Corona
Death don’t mean a thing
(bluesy mouth harp riff)
Got me double bind
Got me testing blind
O, I just can’t believe the data
Hmm, I might just lose my mind
Just can’t believe the data
Corona, might just lose my mind
(repeat, extended bluesy mouth harp riff)
by John Kendall Hawkins
“The struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of a child at play.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
I remember fondly now the early days of my anthropology studies as an undergrad, talking bones in class, smoking bones after. Studying cultures, living it. Talking with my professor about Julian Jaynes’s crazy theory that human consciousness originated in “the breakdown of the bicameral mind.” And philosophy classes. Foucault, Sanity and Madness, the Narrenschiffen seaside asylums. Dancing in a tie-dyed tee after Mandela’s release from the apart-hate system. Reading The Left Hand of Darkness (talk about mind fucks). Global Marley, white blues Dylan, we were changing the world one tune at a time, in our minds.
Two of the most-enduring cultural scenarios offered up in my studies prior to changing my major to philosophy, anthropology’s old stomping ground, were the matriarchal community at Catal Huyuk and the Mbuti pygmies of the Ituri Forest. The former offered up a vision of a benign matriarchal world that was said to have existed long before, as Lennon put it, women became “the nigger of the world,” and the latter seemed to depict a human world among the elephants that was truly communistic, without Marx, and the need for imported white intellectuals to translate ‘dialectical materialism’ to the jungle hoi polloi. It just worked.
But that was long ago, before the Internet came along, and made writers of us all, with sometimes out-of-control avatar egos requiring management by unknown moderators who, for all we know, are trolls in their full time day jobs. (Or work for intelligence hunters-and-gatherers who find such behavior valuable and ‘play’able.) Everybody’s clickety-clacketing; each of us knows how to solve the World puzzle. Everybody’s talking at me — and you — and we can’t understand what anyone is saying over our typing.
Out of all the din of such being, it brings to mind the ‘father’ of American anthropology (a German named Franz Boas) who wrote an essay, “On Alternating Sounds,” which describes our inability to understand the tones of others; we have sound-blindnesses we need to overcome. Mark Twain expressed the problem best: “In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.” Tone-deafness abounds today, blind-sounds leading blind-sounds. Why, it’s almost a postmodern Tower of Babel.
Not hearing, seeing, or understanding each other properly is the major concern of Charles King’s new book, Gods of the Upper Air: How A Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century. The main title comes from a line out of Zora Neale Hurston’s memoir, Dust Tracks On A Road. And the book describes the career of Franz Boas, who, as a migrant from Germany, became the founder of the American anthropological movement, based at Columbia University. There he attracted the minds and likes of such intrepid spirits as Margaret Mead, Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ella Cara Deloria, who spread out, social scientists intent on letting living data drive them to the reality of Man.
The conclusions these American anthropologists came to believe and disseminate, alone and together as a Circle, are now well-known, though then radical, and can be summed up in an expression: Cultural Relativism. Instead of mocking the perceived differences between cultures from a ‘privileged’ position, we should be celebrating the variety of Man and revelling in our e pluribus unum. The more steps you took in another culture’s moccasins the more the sweat of their soles seeped into your blood until, with enough mileage, you came to an understanding of two cultures — the foot’s and the moccasin’s — by osmosis.
At the time, this conclusion flew in the face of the prevailing conceit summed up in the popular book, The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant (1916). Grant expounds on the need for a eugenics (weeding the DNA) that would return us to the glory days of Nordic superiority. Hitler called this stuff his “Bible,” and married it to his Kampf, Wagner’s Siegfried, and the weak-minded gullibility of the Good German. This “scientific racism” (which showed how racist science could be, if given half a chance) eventually got adopted and incorporated as the modus o. of American Exceptionalism.
Charles King’s strategy throughout the book is to show how the adventures and expeditions of these anthropologists are entangled with the personal puzzles each explorer is trying to resolve. It’s a quest not only for the answers to the nature of humankind, but a method of psychodramatically playing-out the kinks and knots of their own private foibles and flaws — including questions of race, sexuality and gender. It all makes for rich characterization as you, the reader, play it out on the stage of your mind.
King begins by bringing us through the museum of Boas’s memories, past stuffed archetypes, reified racial postures, and cobwebs of neural connections past their prime. We come to understand how his early experiences, education and family background led him, almost inevitably, toward a life devoted to finding out what made People tick — How are we different from each other, and the same? Is the observer superior to the observed? Do we live lives of one-way mirrors on each other? King describes Boas’s upbringing in a fully assimilated Jewish family comfortable in German culture – “being Bürgerlich—urban, educated, freethinking, bourgeois—was as much a defining feature of life as being members of a minority faith.” Boas could afford to explore — and he did.
Franz Boas, writes King, was a product of Aufklärung, the German Enlightenment, a reader of noisy newspapers, knockin’ on Heaven’s door by way of Luther, a believer in the categorical imperative of Kant (the rich man’s golden rule). He was influenced by the vision of Johann Gottfried von Herder, who observed, “Human civilization was a jigsaw puzzle of these distinct ways of being, each adding its own piece, some more rough edged than others, to the grand picture of human achievement.” Boas got his first serious taste of jigsaw pie, when he went as a young man to frozen Boffin Island, fifth largest island in the world, where he lived among the Inuits, observing, laying down data-driven Krackelfüsse (chicken scratches) in his journal.
Just as personal contradictions would torment members of his Circle later, Boas, too, had ritualistic hang-ups he couldn’t deny. For instance, he had the need to posture, early on, demonstrating his mensch-hood by engaging in glove-slap fisticuffs. Boas was at home playing piano once when a neighbor shouted to keep it down, and Boas got out there, “escalated the confrontation into … a duel,” during which each received a sword tick or two, they proudly called, Schmiss, or duelling scars.
Looking at Boas later in life, you would have drawn the conclusion that he had a lot of need, as the scars left him “scrimshawed like an old walrus tusk, with Schmisse on his forehead, nose, and cheek, a jagged line running from mouth to ear.” Anthropologists have gone to dark and exotic places to note and analyze the schmisses of others. Maybe that occurred to him as chair of the anthropology department at Columbia.
Early in his tenure at Columbia he was called on by the federal government to gather data among residents of Kleindeutschland (known today as the Lower East Side), which was “brimming with Jews, Poles, Italians, and Slovaks,” to gather statistics on assimilation. But as King notes, “The deeper concern was how to distinguish advanced, healthy, and vigorous northern Europeans from the lesser subraces now stumbling over one another on the streets and alleyways of the Lower East Side.” Nibelungen everywhere.
Inspired by the “scientific racism” found in such popular reads as The Passing of the Great Races, which asserted that superior Nordic races had been enervated by overexposure to democracy, the government was looking to avoid a cultural dilution to America’s Way of Life. But Boas and his anthropologists had some bad news for the blue bloods. These groups easily assimilated. And may, in fact, have displayed all the virtues of the American Way — especially multiculturalism. Boas’s data disputed government assumptions; it revealed fascistic prejudices simmering just beneath the surface of public policy. The reader can imagine how a different set of data might have led to purges. Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America comes to mind. No wonder Hitler winked.
For Boas, notes King, “No one should be creating broad theories of human difference until more data had been collected.” Franz Boas’s most famous anthropologist was Margaret Mead. Intellectually informed by von Herder’s Sturm und Drang literary movement (itself a Goethe-Werther nod), Boas had put Mead to work on the Cause by suggesting that she complete her doctoral dissertation by considering the question: “Was the transition from childhood to adulthood, with young women and men rebelling against their stultifying parents, the product of a purely biological change, the onset of puberty?”
He arranged for her to go to America Samoa to find an answer. When she got there — Pago Pago — she found “the largest naval deployment since Theodore Roosevelt had sent the Great White Fleet around the world as a display of American sea power.” Her thoughts were constantly plagued by some ship in the fleet playing “ragtime.” She wrote to Boas, “The only sizable villages were ‘over-run with missionaries, stores, and various intrusive influences,’ … and were much corrupted by the influence of the Americans.” Writes King, “This was no way to study primitive tribes [and] she vowed to get as far away from Pago Pago as possible.”
She sailed from Pago Pago to T’ua, hundreds of miles away, where she lived with an American couple. Even there, she was unsure of how she would proceed, when a fortuitous hurricane suddenly changed the course of her study. King paraphrases her thinking,
What if the real way to understand people wasn’t to gawk at their ceremonies or even to share in their most important work, as Malinowski had done, but to be beside them in their most unguarded moments—sweeping up debris, rebuilding a house, reweaving a damaged mat, comforting a wailing child?
She went to work, fitting in and taking copious notes.
In her Samoan field work, and later working with children on Manus Island, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, she came to some startling data-driven conclusions about the transition from childhood to adult. Unlike in America or Germany, or any other number of Western countries, the children didn’t carry their ‘magical thinking’ over into adulthood, and there was no real ‘sturm und drang.’
The Western presumption was that the transition, for boys and girls, was a natural by-product of growing up – “rebellion against authority, philosophical perplexities, the flowering of idealism, conflict and struggle – [were] ascribed to a period of physical development,” Mead found. At the end, as at the beginning, she asked herself the Question: “Were these difficulties due to being adolescent or due to being adolescents in America?” She went with the latter. It’s all culturally relative.
Out of all this came Coming of Age in Samoa, which became very popular in academia and helped give wings to the growth in the Humanities, which saw its heyday in the late 60s and 70s. Mead’s book quickly found itself listed by conservatives “10 Books That Screwed Up the World,” joining favorite hates like, Darwin’s The Descent of Man, Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto, and Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. It was a badge of honor for Mead.
King also explores and describes in some detail all the sexual tension implicit (and sometimes explicit) in Mead’s many love entanglements. She was a kind of proto-feminist. She wouldn’t marry the linguist, Edward Sapir, who, feeling somehow ‘betrayed’, turned on her later and was a harsh critic of her work. She married three other men — Luther Cressman, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson, who she referred to as “a William Blake in safari cottons.” And she left Ruth Benedict unrequited and standing at the altar of love. Naturally, this all informed her anthropology somehow.
Another free spirit attracted to Boas’s world was the novelist — and anthropologist — Zora Neale Hurston, the so-called Queen of the Harlem Renaissance, and tightly connected to Langston Hughes. The author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the first novel written that made Black vernacular the star of the show and inspired writers like Toni Morrison later. Urged on by Boas, she sought to develop an ethnographic history of residents of Eatonville, the first self-governing all-black municipality in the United States, and of South Florida in general. King explains, “Between 1890 and 1930, Florida had, per capita, more public lynchings than any other state in the country, almost exclusively of African Americans—twice the number in Mississippi and Georgia, three times that in Alabama.”
Out of her field experience she produced Mules and Men. Rich in folktales, it delved into the Black experience like never before, and revealed previously unknown secret pagan doings. Hurston wrote, “Hoodoo, or Voodoo, as pronounced by the whites, is burning with a flame in America, with all the intensity of a suppressed religion. It has thousands of secret adherents…The way we tell it, hoodoo started way back before everything.” (Suddenly, I had a new understanding of the CCR song “Born on the Bayou,” wherein hoodoos are chased by hound dogs.)
With a Guggenheim scholarship, Hurston continued here explorations of Black living by trekking to the Caribbean for “a study of magic practices among Negroes of the West Indies,” focussing on the ex-slave colonies Jamaica and Haiti. As King describes her experience there, King writes that Hurston saw that “Culture wasn’t just a set of rules or rituals…It could also be a set of chains that individuals dragged around with them after the prison wardens more or less fled the scene.”
To get a better feel for the living Black spirit in Jamaica, Hurston drove to St. Mary’s parish in the Blue Mountains and came across “a country wedding” with music, dancing and cake (think: “Sweet and Dandy”). From there she joined the Maroons in “a boar hunt that stretched over several days, traipsing up and down the mountain slopes, slogging along in her riding boots, the hunters’ dogs yelping when they got too close to the boar’s razor-sharp tusks.” From there she went to another parish where she attended a nine-day “wake” at which the corpse was “nailed tight to the interior of the coffin” so that its “duppy” spirit, “the dark matter inside any person” couldn’t “take flight” and fuck with the community.
From Jamaica, Hurston sailed to Haiti, where she uncovered the Home of Hoodoo-Voodoo and was introduced to a zombie by the name of Felicia Felix-Mentor, a product of local voodoo practices. Dumped by her husband, and suffering ‘a total eclipse of the heart’, King describes Hurston’s situation: “[M]edical records showed that [Felicia] had died in 1907…[Hurston’s account] remains the first known depiction of a person whom her Haitian neighbors knew as a zombie.
As Hurston poignantly adds though,
That was the real story of Felicia Felix-Mentor. Put away, disregarded, institutionalized, forgotten, willed by others to be effectively dead—her condition was very much like that of many people Hurston knew, the black women and men she had met from Florida labor camps to whites-only universities. It was just that Haitians had invented a word for it.
(Eventually, we got around to creating a Netflix series, The Walking Dead.) Hurston wrote a whole book on the subject, Tell My Horse. She describes ceremonies involving bocors (dark magicians) and instances where loa inhabit the body of local believers and “ride” them. An enactment of such a ritual involving such horse-riding is depicted in the Papa Legba scene of David Byrnes’s film True Stories.
Like Mead, Hurston, too, showed signs of free-lovin’. While she was still at graduate school, and married, she fell in love with a fellow student there by the name of Percival Punter. With him she “sputtered and sizzled” and had to be with him. She said of this affair, writes King, “I did not just fall in love,” she recalled. “I made a parachute jump.”
One final member of the Boas Circle who King provides details for is Ella Cara Deloria, who grew up on a Sioux reservation on South Dakota. Enrolled at Columbia’s Teacher’s College, she was “summoned” one day to meet with Franz Boas, who wanted to use her a translator for Native American projects he had going. She was a highly regarded liaison and ethnologist.
In the Preface to her novel, Waterlily, which tried to bring to life in fiction the Dakota people, as Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God had done for Blacks, the publisher writes, “Deloria was an ideal intermediary between the predominant American traditional Dakota cultures, and she took that role seriously.” In the Boas tradition, Deloria believed that “To write properly about Indians, you had to stop using the past tense.” She lived with her people, while she wrote about them, and made sure her accounts came from authentic voices.
Early in Gods of the Upper Air, King identified its purpose: “This book is about the women and men who found themselves on the front lines of the greatest moral battle of our time: the struggle to prove that—despite differences of skin color, gender, ability, or custom—humanity is one undivided thing.” They were up against social Darwinists and scientific racism. The Boas Circle, with their studies in Cultural Relativism, celebrated the diversity of multiculturalism and its consequent public policies, which over the years have resulted in a righteous vilification of racism, sexism, and gender-bound roles.
As for the greater realization of a common humanity, it’s a tough sell these days in an era of catastrophic Climate Change, rising global authoritarianism, and looming pandemics of body and mind.
But at least they tried.
By John Kendall Hawkins
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? [sinister laugh] The Shadow knows.”
– from The Shadow, a radio drama from the ‘30s
What a difference a week makes, the kind where you feel more certain than ever that signs are mounting that we are historically placed somewhere between the profligate days of Caligula and a postmodern Apocalypse where God is taking no prisoners. An Iceberg-looking submarine smacking at the Titanic — like a taunt. The Burger King ad featuring Thanatopsis, making a time-elapsed burger look like a picture of what smoking does — you wondering, if the burgers are better at Burger King, then what next? Joe Biden speaking in tongues. King Trump grinning, threatening Romney like a crime boss, while contradictorily claiming to be the nation’s top law enforcement agent. Buttery margarine, human-y AIs: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.
Things finally got back to what passes as normal when the Ukraine government recently announced through their local press that they had begun work on turning their government itself into a “service-sector” function of their young democracy. They call it Diia, “the state in the smartphone.” All government services would be available through an app on a smartphone, including, the most important function for a modern democracy, voting for politicians.
The Idea means well. Many countries have super-apps like this that feature aspects of Ukraine’s proposed system, including Australia, but voting on-line makes the proposition iffy. Ukraine is drawing on the experiences of Lithuania and Estonia, two former Soviet-bloc nations that have gone digital, and include e-residencies and tax havens, and voting, for citizens, tossed in. According to a New York Times piece, most Estonians seem to agree that a paperless bureaucracy is vast improvement over the officious inefficiencies of the Soviet past. According to Wired, “Estonia is the world’s most digitally advanced society” and there is shared euphoria, maybe gone too far (“a digital Estonia would never cease to exist”), as it flaunts its Brand of freedom.
But Ukraine is no puckish Estonia. Her corruption is world-renowned. And if you had half a brain, you probably would have to worry when your government flat out wants to crow about your service-sector future. One pictures mattresses and a nation on its back. Mikhail Fedorov, the ‘mastermind’ of the system, both Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, envisions a ‘fast-track rollout’, from the late 2019 unveiling of the project to February’s introduction of a working device. (The original unveiling was scheduled for January, but had to be moved back to accommodate Federov’s “illness.”)
Ukraine has many problems, other than corruption, to overcome to make such an enterprise even conceivable — let alone do-able. Oliver Boyd-Barrett, a political researcher and media specialist for the region, cites the national decline after Ukraine refused an IMF offer in 2014 leading to a CIA-influenced coup, an “oligarch democracy,” and a “historical brain drain” that leaves the impression that a nation of Borats was left behind. But also, not many people in Ukraine have smartphones. So there’ll have to be a massive gifting of such mobiles by the government or industry (no doubt, with backdoors installed) before the benefits of e-government can kick in and Ukraine can be a successful brand™ like Estonia. Five months from concept to rollout. Unh-huh. That’s funny.
There’s also the problem that the Ukraine government has not budgeted any funds for the DIIA project. Money has been obtained through a “private-public partnerships,” says Federov, who further explains, “”I rely on an effective team and international technical assistance, public-private partnerships, volunteering.” Volunteering? One of the “private” funders is old friend USAID, coming along with its easy-to-obtain high interest rate loans. Curious citizens were directed to a YouTube explanation and were (are) met with hunh?
If anyone can do it, maybe Federov is the man. President Zelinsky came to power in 2019 through the prowess of Federov’s machinations and Facebook manipulations. The ex-actor and comedian won in a landslide, with Federov behind him, fighting heroically against “disinformation,” pressuring Facebook to take down ‘fake ads’ and ‘news’ from Russia meant to futz with the election. If true. But Federov seems far more interested in making a long term buck. When asked during the campaign Why Zelensky? What can he offer? It wasn’t a democratically satisfying response: he can monetize stuff. Oh, Fredonia, don’t you cry for me.
One claim that NYT seemed to let stand, without critical appraisal ,was that Russians were approaching everyday Ukrainians and offering to pay cash-money to “rent” their Facebook accounts for disinformation purposes. Again, suggesting a Borat-like nation nimcompoopery. The NYT piece inexplicably referred to this as “an evolution in tactics.” What, are we evolving to a clown species?
As if such absurdity weren’t sufficient, the Times went on to blatherscheiss — “Facebook Tackles Rising Threat: Americans Aping Russian Schemes to Deceive” — that Americans were emulating the Russkies by way of pressuring tactics. Still, signing up for Facebook with multiple (perhaps paid) troll accounts is different than having to picture some swarthy stranger coming up to you and pssssting that you could make a buck airbnbing your Facebook account. Wouldn’t you run?
Strange news comes out of Ukraine that nobody really pays much attention to. For instance, last week a Ukrainian publication reported that Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor Joe Biden had successfully got fired for, ostensibly, failing to aggressively pursue corruption allegations at Burisma Holdings, had himself, on February 7, appealed to the National Police to prosecute Biden for the “commission of a criminal offence by Biden both in the territory of Ukraine and abroad…In particular, Biden was accused of interference in the work of a law enforcement body under Section 2 of Article 343 of the Penal Code of Ukraine.”
Shokin Gun? Did Trump push him to appeal? (More impeachableness.) Funny stuff, out of Ukraine.
Of course, DIIA, the smartphone government for stupid people, got me thinking about high tech in America. Gadgets and gizmos, smartphones and apps, seems to be the way we’re going, and not necessarily in a benign way. For instance, the Diebold machines that helped fuck up the 2000 Florida election, along with Gore not winning his home state and Nader offering an alternative with integrity, just sold to another company, which reportedly has the same problems with hackability. Jeesh.
But also, and finally, when one thinks of Ukraine’s new infatuation with service-sector politics, Iowa comes to mind. One problem with Shadow, the app meant to calculate the caucus vote, was that it was fanfared with much promise and too few people to roll it out properly. Brand recognition was the game. Now, Acronym, the non-profit agency that used the device at the caucus is ducking from the fallout after the app’s catastrophic failure. It makes the Dems look techo dumb.
Perhaps the real worry, though, should be what the names evoke. When I think of Acronym, I think of FBI, CIA, NSA, and all the funny ones that Edward Snowden describes in Permanent Record that don’t mean anything in themselves and cover something else up. Shadow we know, or don’t, thinking along a Jungian strain. When the acronyms and the shadows merge you just know some SHIT is going to hit the FAN.
By John Kendall Hawkins
…[M]en should be treated in such a way that there’s no fear of their seeking revenge…
-Nicolai Machiavelli, “Mixed Principalities,” The Prince
“You come at the king, you bess not miss.”
– Omar, The Wire
Donald Trump sat with Recep “Cepi” Erdoğan
At a nez à nez cafe in the Golden Horn,
Fog over the Straits, fishmongers singing the blues,
Their little secret summit all over the news.
They gazed, they preened, with their fincan pinkies high,
Just two kings talking — evil eye to evil eye.
DJ flashed his grand, bizarre smile and sneered, “The Press
Is all over me and the country is a mess.
I fear some Lefty might impeach me with a gun
And I’ll find myself leaping in front of my son.”
Cepi laughed at that, and said, “Well, listen to this:
When they did Khashoggi — Oh, I watched with such bliss.
I jail journos, make them watch Midnight Express for fun.”
“Enemas of the State,” they harmonized, “Undone.”
They laughed about Idlib, and al-Baghdadi’s face
When he realized there was no escape cave in place.
Trump said, “He died like a dog and blew up the kids —
I lied,” he smirked, “Abbottabads Abbottobids.”
Cepi howled, “Badda bing bang boom — politics!
Nothing wrong with you a good hamamin’ can’t fix.”
The garson brought the tab and DJ made a lunge —
He didn’t want Cepi to think he was a sponge.
But Cepi was quick and snatched the bill and snickered,
“Your money’s no good here,” said Cepi; they bickered.
“CNN’s the most phoney fakes of news,” Trump said.
“What about the Kurds?” he mimicked the talking head.
At that, Cepi gave the garson a second glance,
Took back his tip, and made the poor waiter’s eyes dance.
The two good buds arose, Cepi winked and they strolled.
DJ said, “Mohammad got back to me to scold.
He said sweetly, ‘Donald, that wasn’t very nice’
To treat my discombobulations as a vice.
What if I’d made fun of your curtsy and laughed
To your face?’” Cepi cracked up, thinking DJ gaffed.
“There goes that Trump tower in Riyadh,” howled Cepi,
And slapped DJ on the back, dancing, two-steppy.
DJ morosely followed his Turkish delight.
They strode through the twists and turns of the Taksim night,
Down cobblestone streets, Cepi, like Virgil, leading —
Well, maybe if Virgil had had no real breeding —
And on the buds strode, ignoring the blood-kurdling screams,
Cepi saying, “Journos” (wink) “at work in their dreams.”
DJ pictured Maddow, with new bounce in his bones —
In fact, all the press! — and their screams became his koans.
After their purgatorial conversation,
They came to the Red Light D and knew their station.
They passed pervs, punks, pimps and glassed-in storefront cages
With dancing mannequin-like Beatrices of all ages.
Cepi said to DJ, “Go have a pussy grab.”
Trump groaned, “No can do, Cepi, my hand’s in rehab.
Until after November.” They left Paradise,
With the promise of pleasure still twinkling their eyes,
They giggled and goosed all the way to Taksim Square —
Pigeons out of control, broken heads strewn everywhere,
Tumbleweed tabloids, Atatürk’s pic on the ground,
Tarzan-like prayer calls, cab honks, and no other sound.
“DJ, you gotta break a few eggheads” (puffing)
“If you wanna make an Om.” But Trump’s mind was muffing
Back in the Red Light D. Cepi said, “Listen to this,
If you want to kill the king, you’d better not miss.”
By John Kendall Hawkins
Who is this guy, Jim Mitchell? Evidently, I overslept and woke up smack dab in the middle of the post-Truth era. Where does a man get the moxie to have his work comprehensively condemned and declared illegal by a Senate Intelligence sub-committee, and then turn around, look us square in the eye, and declare he would “do it all again’? But that’s what Mitchell, the so-called “architect” of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) did the other day at a pretrial hearing before the military commission at Guantanamo.
How can this guy be a self-described “strong supporter” of Amnesty International? Has he read what they’ve published about his tactics? Look: “The perverse ‘work’ of these psychologists has dramatically set back the global fight against torture. The interrogation methods they championed have had a rippling effect around the world.” Amnesty International should immediately cancel his subscription, telling him they refuse to take money bloodied by torture. But maybe it was a generous donation.
The American Psychological Association (APA) is appalled enough by his behaviorism, although he is not an APA member, that they’ve tried to take away his license to practice counseling (presumably) in Texas. Emotion denied. Why Texas? It’s like he’s performing some kind of stations-of-the-Cross — first Alaska, then Florida, then Texas, sweet Jesus, can a presidential run be far behind? Or maybe he’s angling for a job in the recently relocated to Texas Black Museum — where it — and he — spiritually belong.
Where did this guy get his hubris? Who inflated his ego? Why was he hired in the first place? Sydney Gottlieb must be rolling over in his grave. We have a country that for little more reason than amped-up paranoia brought into the USA after WW2 some of the most evil war criminals known to Man under Operation Paperclip, whose rhetorical motto was: Why hang them at the Hague when we can hire them to help kill baddies before the Russians do. Vivisection. Mind control. Eye-ball poppings. They really knew how to take the glove off back in the day.
But Mitchell? Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Alaska. Specialty: counseling. Not Maslow’s arty-farty Self-Becoming kind, but the woof-woof-inspired salivation army of those who’ve learned to be helpless and who only Jimmy can rebuild with his science degree. (I try to picture Mitchell’s Alaskan clients and their unique delusions.) And then, lo, there’s more: a PhD in nutrition. Thesis: For hypertension, what works better exercise or diet? After he’d relieved Zubaydah of his hyper-tension, did he offer dietary advice? We already know there was plenty of exercise. What am I missing? Just how long did I over-sleep? Is it some kind of CIA gag?
And Mitchell didn’t like it when he was called “a pussy” by some CIA hombre calling himself “The Preacher,” who detained the psychologist himself at a “black site” against his will, and forced Mitchell to continue waterboarding Zubaydah — even after Mitchell had reached a breakpoint rapportment, and said, “no more.” But, Mitchell tearily explained at the Gitmo hearing, he went ahead and pseudo-drowned his newfound poetical buddy again anyway, because he was ordered to (remind you of another famous psychology experiment?). Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, when all was done and done. And he’d do it again.
But he did ‘rat out’ Charlie Wise, the Preacher, to the ICIG for bringing to the EIT table Sydney Gottlieb’s KUBARK manual that Wise used to train Contras in Nicaragua, including rectal feeding. Wow. That IG report makes Jim Mitchell a bonafide whistleblower. I don’t know if that’s irony or what. But Mitchell ended up winning his “turf war” with Wise, because soon thereafter the asshole Preacher, and his laying-of-hands-on approach, retired from the CIA, lived a cloistered life (as far as we’re allowed to know), and died of an apparent heart attack in 2003.
However, nothing Mitchell did surpassed his “I’d do it again” overzealousness of waterboarding the presumed, and to this day merely alleged, Mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khaled Sheik Mohammed. KSM was blubbooled 183 times. In the film, The Report, Jim Mitchell is depicted as panicky, because the effectiveness of his EIT is being seriously called into question. (In the film, his CIA colleagues don’t look convinced from the beginning, as he shows powerpoint slides of his intended techniques). Because the legality of what they’re doing depends on the effectiveness of EIT (“It’s only torture if it doesn’t work.”), Mitchell and the CIA are keen to show amazing results. KSM is broken, becomes genteel, and writes “tribute” poetry to an interrogator’s wife, they claim.
Of course, it was CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, in an interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, that provided most of the details of what happened to Abu Zubaydah and KSM. Kiriakou claims that, because “they hate us more than they love life,” drastic measures are required to get through to them. A conflicted Kiriakou told us that waterboarding worked (p.5), that it provided valuable information (p.6) that helped thwart future attacks, and that though he now regarded it as torture he left open the door for using it again. Like Abu Zubaydah, waterboarding produced another poet. (p.12) The CIA, he said, now had sufficient leads developed. “And — as a result, water-boarding, at least right now [my italics], is unnecessary,” (p.8) Kiriakou said.
But one wonders how Kiriakou and Mitchell would answer Dianne Feinstein’s question posed in the film: “If it works, why do we need to do it 183 times?”
I try to avoid thinking of the Torture Report any more, because then I have to remember Feinstein’s committee report was only necessary because the CIA destroyed the video tapes of their interrogations of detainees before they could be evaluated. I’d also have to recall that CIA Director John Brennan ordered a breach of the sub-committee’s computers — almost certainly a criminal violation of the separation of powers. (And he’d certainly do it again.) When I do find myself thinking of all this depressing shit that must betoken the end of empire (if not more), I try to use an alternative entryway — like Sid Jacobson’s visual learner-friendly version of the Feinstein committee’s findings: The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation.
But probably we should honor the artist and poet-in-residence at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaydah, which probably has more emotional depth and verisimilitude embedded in the arresting drawings than Jacobson’s. I don’t know if KSM draws, but I have a gut feeling he’s going to turn out to be some kind of beat poet. Recently, I filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain copies of KSM’s poetry. If it was written on Uncle Sam’s dime, then it belongs to our exceptional democracy and we should be able to see it.
I would love to read KSM’s paeans and tributes to CIA rapport-specialist Deuce Martinez’s wife. (Did he show her pictures?) I almost feel inspired enough, in thinking about it, to write a paean to her myself. I would volunteer to collate and honestly edit Gitmo detainee poems, illustrated by AZ and other graffiti artists, and publish them on Amazon for Kindle download.
I pace, wondering what sounds I will hear, and think of the office water cooler blubbooling — in iambic pentameter. The Misfit at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” free-associates. John Donne comes back, like Quasimodo, to fuck with this old tolled-out “soul.” I hear:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Fucked, and under water.
by John Kendall Hawkins
…[B]oundless mental energy, imaginative outbursts of inventiveness and creativity …without this illness Dr Johnson’s remarkable literary achievements, the great dictionary, his philosophical deliberations … may never have happened….
JMS Pierce, describing the effects of Tourette’s syndrome on the great Samuel Johnson
I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world. I’m black. They never let me forget it. I’m black all right. I’ll never let them forget it.
From the classic A Tribute to Jack Johnson by Miles Davis
According to my mother (RIP), my first verbal expression was not Mama or liebfraumilch, like a lot of kids, but Jell-o — J-E-L-L-O — but, then, she also confided, later in life, that I came from Cherokee stock, and that my Dad broke broncos in rodeos. (It even inspired an early poem.) So, you had to gently consider the source on these matters, keep your visits short, nodding a lot as she played out Mother Mitty, and seek out reality-based thinking back home on the business end of a bong.
Somewhere along the line, probably while the smoke was still bubbling, I gave some thought to the origins of language (as you do, sitting there like a stoned Rodin) — not my language, with its pudding proof of a neglected childhood spent placed before a TV set, introjecting jingles and their subliminal messages, remembered six decades later against your will — but human language, the big soup, how we climbed out, and went from twitching primordial gefilterfish to quantum orgasmatrons of higher thinking we can’t help telling each other about on Facebook, and Liking, almost against our wills.
Well, something happened, a brownout maybe, and when I came to, in late middle age, I recalled I had degrees in philosophy and language. So, I must have spent years thinking about all kinds of cogitos and summa cums. But, speaking as an old fart frankly, breaking wind, as it were, at both ends of the candid, I came to recall that in the great navel-gazing debate over consciousness nobody knows to this day whether it’s an innie or an outie. The same’s true of language. Is it the chicken or the egg of consciousness? I used to know, but I forgot, so I picked up Don’t Believe A Word, by David Shariatmadari, to remember.
Shariatmadari’s not bad at reactivating all the learning channels of yore with his survey of the gringo’s lingo; I could feel bright neurons lighting up (and the dim wit of my many meurons, too). He’s got all the bases and graces of language covered — origins; class, race and cultural differences; finding language in other species: insects, animals, computers; thought and communication; wordplay and translations. And he devotes a whole chapter to challenging Noam Chomsky’s ‘language instinct’ and its evolution.
But, as I read, I started thinking about my pudding proof again and what came before my cry of Jell-o. Before all of our cries of Jell-o. At what point did thoughts and language come spontaneously combusting out of our brains, as if our ganglia-jungle were suddenly woken up by Johnny Weismuller? That’s what I was wondering. However, Shariatmadari doesn’t really address ancient languages — or more specifically, the oral tradition we all come from, so we’ll never know, from this book, how language produced by oral-centric people is (or was) different than that produced by the meaning of, say, reading this page.
That’s fine. I put on my beanie for a minute and recalled a book I’d read as an undergrad, titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. The interesting thing the book posits is the notion that language preceded consciousness, that the left wing and right wing of the brain were in constant dialogue, creating gods, making us functional schizoids, until the imaginot line was breached and a unitary consciousness emerged. “Iliadic man did not have subjectivity as do we,” wrote Jaynes. “He had no awareness of his awareness of the world, no internal mind-space to introspect upon.” There was no consciousness of consciousness, like that which informs a review such as Shariatmadari’s Don’t Believe A Word.
The nearest Shariatmadari wants to get to the origins of language is through the lens of certain academic presumptions: Chomsky’s language instinct, which the author wants to challenge; and, what he calls the etymological fallacy, putting a lie to the notion that tracing a word back to its root meaning clarifies a modern understanding. Shariatmadari not only devotes an entire chapter to reducing the value of Noam Chomsky’s long-held, and widely accepted, language acquisition gene, but comes at him right from the introduction on.
Universal Grammar, the common rule or set of rules underlying all grammars, can be understood as akin to the Collective Unconsciousness archetypes of Jungian psychology — the grammatical structures, like the archetypes, are there already and will develop over time naturally. As Chomsky puts it, “We do not really learn language; rather, a grammar grows in the mind.” It doesn’t matter what culture you belong to, what tribe, what language you speak, from English to Mandarin. Underlying his UG is the precedence of syntax, with surface structures (idiosyncratic) and deep structures (universal).
Shariatmadari describes Chomsky’s crucial later concept, Merge, “which apes, birds, dolphins and every other species lack. It is what enables children to acquire language so quickly and dramatically, because they perceive, beyond the jumble of words at the surface, an inner order… Merge is the holy grail.” Because of this function humans are able to generate an infinite number of sentences out of one set of rules.
But for Shariatmadari there’s more to it than mere functionality. Whereas Chomsky posits that “the overwhelming use of language is internal — for thought,” Shariatmadari emphasises a more primary social purpose. He writes, “[L]anguage is fundamentally a social phenomenon. Its structure does not derive from an internal blueprint, but from the general cognitive abilities of a social species, and external factors….” And, really, his whole book is not about how we think about language, but, rather, how we engage each other in social situations and experience in a variety of spheres — “psychology, sociology, neuroscience, anthropology, literature, philosophy and computing.” Although, the author does push for greater self-consciousness. In fact, he suggests that we may be entering a new paradigm regarding language similar to Galileo’s heliocentric splash.
Shariatmadari also cites the etymological fallacy — tracing a word back to its root as an authoritative explanation for a current usage, which the author declares can be “a form of deceit.” He cites, as one example, how following such a trace for the word ‘treacle’ could leave one “in a pickle” because ultimately it means “a wild or venomous beast.”
He goes on with another example, “I have legs. Words have meanings. But is the ‘have’ in the first sentence the same as the ‘have’ in the second? Obviously not.” Obviously not. He goes hilariously further with the word ‘slab’. He says it’s “an example of word-as-tool. Its meaning, in the context of a building site, was to get someone to do something that would help build a wall.” (Yell ‘slab’ to a mate driving away in a ute in Australia and he’ll bring you back a sexie sixie of XXXX beers. If he’s a real mate.)
Well, anyway, Shariatmadari’s stated concern with these trace-backs is that “the institutions that define standard language: universities, newspapers, broadcasters, the literary establishment” might employ such fallacies to maintain control of meaning, as they did with the Canon, before postmodernism came along to bust their balls. Nuff said.
But Shariatmadari’s position may be a little overstated. We learn much by tracing, say, the word ‘tragedy’, as Nietzsche did, back to its goat beginning. And, as another example, it’s important that, say, the root of the N-word, which literally means black, and goes a long way toward demonizing a quality a human cannot change, even if he wanted to.
This discussion seems to lead naturally into Shariatmadari’s somewhat jocular section of the alleged demise of language proposed by certain elements of the upper establishment. Shariatmadari spends a chapter discussing the popular highbrow notion that “language is going to the dogs.” What does he mean? Prudes, pedants and English teachers, other than Robin Williams (RIP), worry that postmodernism, the replacement of critical thinking skills with standardized testing, the clickety-cluckety noise of the Internet, have led to an Anything Goes approach to language as a conveyor of ‘deeper meaning’. I profess a fondness for sonnets, so I can understand the thinking here.
As an example of such prudery, Shariatmadari trots in a British organization to have their imperial say:
“[The decline of the English language] is something the Queen’s English Society…has been trying to prevent. ‘Some changes would be wholly unacceptable,’ the Society says, ‘as they would cause confusion and the language would lose shades of meaning.’ With a reduced expressive capacity, English would no longer be up to the task of describing the world around us, or the world inside our heads.”
Again, to a certain degree I concur. One frightening thing for a literate person is the prospect the author raises of a future world that no longer even comprehends Shakespeare’s “old” English.
First, it was going to the groundlings, to the feisty little Falstaffs in the crowd, but now, according to the haughty culture, English is going to the mad dogs. But Shariatmadari says implicitly ‘phooey’ and that degeneration is a sentiment that has been common throughout the evolution of language. Like a latter-day Will Rogers, he agrees that ‘nothing is the way it used to be — and never was.’ As far as he’s concerned, language is alive and well: “Most democratic freedoms have been preserved and intellectual achievement intensified. Information has become far more accessible, news media have proliferated and the technological advances have come thick and fast.” If it comes down to it, Fuck Shakespeare is a development he seems okay with.
But I’m not sure I agree with Shariatmadari’s oblique (o bleak!) optimism. Look at the state of the mainstream media he describes as conduits of productive information. No, for me, it recalls a Nietzsche nugget regarding Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press — that’s great, he said, but then the Germans went ahead and threw it all away by inventing the dirty noisy newspaper. Things kind of got out of hand from there, just as they did with poor ol’ Tim Berners-Lee and the WWW in our time. Pearls before swine. The road to good intentions turns out to be the road of excess, with neither leading to any real wisdom. As newspapers have been in the past, the Internet today is largely only good for wrapping up fish, or kindling a small fire to cook it on.
The prudery Shariatmadari refers to is further expanded in a section that discusses Race, Class, and Cultural differences. He who controls the narrative arc controls what happens to the characters. Thus we get spin cycles in the news; attempts to control how information is processed by hearts and minds. Shariatmadari provides examples of how these motifs are played out in the social milieu.
For race, he cites ebonics (or what he calls African American Vernacular English, or AAVE) as an example of how a ‘second language’ can work to empower Black people, such as in its expression in hip-hop, while also providing cover for White criticism of a historically marginalized group’s lack of assimilation. It’s also self-reinforcing on each side to the point that the dominant side (The Mighty Whitey) can’t even understand Mr. Ebony. Remember Archie Bunker and his tussles with Lionel Jefferson next door and the communication gap? Shariatmadari paraphrases the Bunker mindset, when he cites an Oakland Department of Education decision: “The desire to bend over backwards to accommodate an ethnic group’s sensitivities was trumping the need to deliver a high-quality education to the students….” (But it’s okay to bend over forward for the upper class?)
Similarly, in discussing Class, Shariatmadari cites the language differences of the Upstairs/Downstairs experience of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue versus Klein. Citing a linguistic study by Bill Labov, among many differences over time he notes how in Saks how clear and well-enunciated “fourth floor” rings from employees, while at Klein he hears, instead, “fawth flaa.” You could tell where someone might shop just from how they handled Rs. One is reminded of the Harvard student Matt Damon gets initially punked by, onnacounta his Boston accent, which he later pays back in spades and the famous punchline: “So how do you like them apples?” Nuff Said.
On Shariatmadari goes, “When you say something you send out social signals.” (Indeed, what would be the point of cracking the wind with a tongue whip, if not to communicate your desire to an other? Grrrr. Minnie.) He cites an amusing example for cultural differences — the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious. Unlike the Rolling Stones, who Shariatmadari claims were putting on “a bluesy drawl” to please Americans when they sang, You make a dead man cum, in “Start Me Up,” he claims that if “Sid Vicious tried to sound American he would’ve been seen as inauthentic – something that was anathema to the punk ethos.” (In the punk bar I used to hang out in, if the regulars didn’t like the look of you — maybe you were dressed like Jim Carroll — when it came your turn to swan into the mosh pit, everybody moved away while you were in mid-air.) We’ve all laughed at attempts to sound like another culture, even fascist ones.
There’s a section where Shariatmadari seems to go off the rails some, going all Tourette’s for a minute, with a flush of coprolalia (familiarly knowns as, talking shit) maybe channeling Samuel Johnson. It’s hard to tell sometimes:
“I can say ‘Fuck me!’ as an exclamation, but I can’t say ‘Fuck me precisely’ or ‘Fuck me by midday’ without reverting to the literal meaning. ‘Fuck me!’ is an emotional signal rather than an example of propositional speech.” No fuckin comment.
And, the Turks say: Avrupalιlaştιrιlamayanlardansιnιz, which means ‘You’ re one of those we can’t make a European out.’ And we say: antidisestablishmentarianism, which means ‘You’re one of those we can’t make a good Catholic out of.” Will they ever see eye to eye?
The author continues on with a few other areas of interest, most notably human attempts to communicate with other ‘species’ — including insects, animals, and computers. He describes the expressive dance of bees, but there is no language. We have a long history of trying to find consciousness in animals, so that we can communicate, but to sometimes crazy ends. And he sporadically makes references to computer-speak, which he reckons could, in the future, be most efficiently programmed with Sanskrit (!). By the time I was finished I felt I needed a good sit-down session with a compassionate shrink — and found Dr Eliza, who helped get me to another day.
Nietzsche always said that when you look into the abyss, look out mofo, because the abyss also looks into you. I’ve taken that wisdom on board and made it part of my practical philosophy, and find myself these days looking into the abyss reflecting on the philosopher Harold Lloyd’s simple visual motto. If you must take the mickey out, begin with yourself. Einstein said the universe is warped. Like Lloyd, I can totally relate. Pass the bong.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Astmatol : a spasmolytic agent used as a powder or in cigarettes. Astmatol is made of one part henbane leaves, two parts belladonna leaves, six parts Datura leaves, one part sodium nitrate, and three parts water. It is used in cases of bronchial asthma. Smoke is inhaled from the astmatol as it burns.
- The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979)
Terje Toomistu’s Soviet Hippies is a strange trippy film. It’s full of characters coming out of a thaw, as if you were watching George Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead go backwards to where they started from and find themselves in the Amazing Mirror Maze at Mall of America® — liking what they’re seeing for the first time. But one dimension removed.
Coming out of the Cold War thaw was like that. Though the annus mirabilis is most often associated with the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution, both of which happened in November 1989, in fact, revolution was in the air throughout Central and Eastern Europe the entire length of that tumultuous year.
During the first six months in Warsaw and in Budapest, the years-long push for democratic reform had reached a tipping point. In August, Hungary and Austria held snipping ceremonies to cut through the barbed wire fencing dividing their countries and held “Pan-European Picnics” at the breach, through which thousands of East bloc citizens, escaped to the West.
In August, 2 million democracy-hungry people held hands and created a 650 kilometer long “Baltic Chain” through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In October, many thousands of Leipzigers chanted, “Wir sind das Volk.” And in December, Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were brutally executed by “the people.” By the end of January 1990, just a few months after the wall “fell,” the chimes of freedom were ringing in central Moscow: the first McDonald’s opened — leading to surreally long lines for Western fast food.
In a beerhall somewhere off U-Bahn station Heinrich-Heine-Straße (formerly Neanderthal Straße) someone muttered into his Liebfraumilch, “Schabowski, you dummkopf, you really fucked up this time.” It might even have been Günter himself. Or his drinking pal, Karl Brewski (formerly Brüske).
But long before this exciting thaw took place in the Cold War between East and West, some of the surest signs of returned life came first into the pallid cheeks of the Soviet Hippies that Terje Toomistu documents in her film. In a recent email exchange, Toomistu writes, “The first Soviet hippies that appeared in around 1967-1968 were usually from the families of intellectuals or those who had a powerful position, which ensured their access to foreign information and goods such as records, books, magazines.” But there were also radio stations that brought in Western music, and, in Estonia, where most of this film takes place, residents were often able to access the non-Soviet TV airwaves of Finland.
Music was key, and the first stirrings came as a result of tuning into Radio Luxembourg, where nascent hippies would listen to the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club was a revelation for waking minds), hard rock, blues and psychedelic music, such as Jimi Hendrix. When these tunes moved down from their brains into their fingertips the result, at least in the film, could sound like a unique mash-up of early Beatles experimentation, Cream, and Jimi, as if the Soviets, in their hunger, were gobbling up a Big Mac, fries, chicken nuggets and a vanilla shake at the same time.
Like teens in America and Europe, young Soviet hippies wanted to stand out, dress differently, wear their hair longer and unkempt, and generally vibe that they dropping out and turning on. They were to be, at first, a passive counterculture. Peaceniks in the style of John and Yoko. In America, the length of your hair could establish your political leanings in an instant — crew cut (conservative) to long hair (liberal). The movie and stage play Hair established the symbolism. Easy Rider demonstrated how dangerous hair could be. In the early hippie days of Tallinn, as in New York, the older generation wasn’t always receptive to coiffal challenges to tradition. “We have to cut their hair by force,” one hairdresser from Riga tells us, “or they have to get it cut themselves.”
The individuals depicted in Soviet Hippies were hippies, not yippies. They were drop-outs in a political milieu where excessive material desire was wasted, as there were few ways, for most people to satisfy their wants. Toomistu, who says she was primarily interested in an “anthropological” documentation of these alternative lifestylists, discovered, as she travelled from Estonia to Russia and back, that they had established a social network of like-minded individuals who shared homes in various cities across the USSR. The filming took place in the Ukraine.
Soviet Hippies is full of characters who tell little snippets of their ‘enlightenment’ tales as the film’s narrative progresses. There’s Aksel, who talks of how hearing rock for the first time “made him vibrate.” Old Long from Moscow who recalls how “The overdrive sound started to shake our collective consciousness.” Kolja Vasin of St. Petersburg and proprietor of Lennon’s Temple of Love, saw “something sacred” in the Beatles. Gena Zeitsev from St. Petersburg said the hippies felt “things you were prohibited to feel” by the Soviets. And Sergei Moskalev probably summed up the vibe best: “We lived in a highly regulated society. And any kind of deviance gave you a sense of ecstasy.”
Toomistu says the Soviet hippies were all about “…remaining true to your ideals, values and practicing kindness and love towards each other – which was already a very different emotional stance from the mainstream society. Plus having a sense of participation in the western pop culture and/or spiritual quests. (The Soviet Union was an atheist state.) Not participating in [a] society that seems to be based on lies and pretentious social roles.”
The hippies called the network “sistema” or the system. The film shows them getting together to lay back, listen to some tunes, and get high. LSD was uncommon, but Astmatol, a cigarette with the wacky tobacky combination described in the Soviet Encyclopedia, made into tea, brought welcome hallucinations to numb lives, just as it did to teens in America. “The unifying feature of the movement which hasn’t lost its importance,” says ascetic Aare Loit-Babai is, lighting up, early in the film, “is the non-violent attitude.” These hippies sought “kaif,” essentially the same expansion of the senses that their young counterparts in the West sought. On a visit to Viking, “a legendary hippie in Tallinn,” Loit-Babai voices over an animation of his Astmatol high, in one of the highlights of the film.
But everything changed on June 1, 1971 in Moscow, when a “Union-wide” gathering of hippies convened outside the US Embassy under the pretext of protesting the American war in Viet Nam. Though the Soviet government had given permission to gather and protest, for reasons not fully explained in the film, authorities got spooked by the outburst of loud but non-violent behavior of the placard-bearing protesters and shove came to Pushkin Street; hippies were roughed up and arrested; many were kicked out of school, lost jobs, and at least one student leapt out a window.
Terje Toomistu told me that this was a crucial pivot point for Soviet hippies:
There was a short period of time when the hippie movement became [politicized], and this changed the fate of the movement, pushing it deep underground, making it more radical, drug infused, and distant from any desire for political involvement. I think this is very important to understand and it largely explains the ‘escapist’ drive amongst the hippies during the 1970s.
The hippies had been given permission to demonstrate, so maybe it was the truly American audacity of free expression and the implicit middle finger to authority of happy hippiedom that Soviet officials caught wind of that irked them into action. Or maybe the put-down was CIA-agitated; another chance for Americans to show the world how the Soviets handle freedom.
Nevertheless, throughout the USSR, “socialism with a human face” inched forward toward a centrism, which was meant to be a kind of compromise with the authoritarianism. In short, a chance to purchase more Western goods, more Big Macs, and stuff made in Chinese sweatshops, like Nike shoes and iMacs. In 1989, even Berlin Wall chunks were sold as keychains in department stores. Americans now have their own centrism to worry about — two parties, one vision, and the “lesser-of-two-evils” voting is largely a case of trying to figure out which one of the two will fuck us less for the next four years. And we, too, have long lines for socialist handouts. Sigh.
The multi-award-winning film continues to make the rounds of small (mostly fringe) festivals. It’s quirky, but, as Toomistu has pointed out, it’s also an especially interesting document for those with a cultural anthropology bent. You can view Soviet Hippies at Vimeo on-demand for a few bucks. Those interested in more information on the background of the film-making, as well as aspects of Toomistu’s academic inquiry with the project, can view her TED Talk. Here is a generous sampling of the music soundtrack featured in the film.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Last week was a shocker for news.
First, there was the Guardian resurrection of Cambridge Analytica “whistleblower” Brittany Kaiser putting out the clickbait headline, ‘global data manipulation is out of control’. She was promising to release more damaging data about the 2016 US presidential election — in the coming months. Her book marketing tactic (Targeted, see the Times review) was endorsed by another self-described “whistleblower,” Christopher Steele, the British contractor who sold the dossier of turds to the FBI.
Steele commented, “…these problems are likely to get worse, not better, and with crucial 2020 elections in America and elsewhere approaching, this is a very scary prospect.” Both Kaiser and Steele interfered in the 2016 election themselves (on opposite sides! maybe even cancelling each other out.) So, what’s scary is that they’re promising to ‘do something about it’ again, and seem to be in league this time. Why the Guardian chose to link them this way is a mystery for the oracle.
Before I could fully recover from that prospect, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist James Risen went apoplectic over at the Intercept: “Donald Trump is a murderer.”
While I was digesting that, over at Rolling Stone, Andy Kroll was proffering the sadistic notion that holding up Nancy Pelosi’s deliverance of impeachment articles to the Senate was her possible tactic of holding back one article in order to try Trump on the other one later, closer to the election. A kind of political double-tap, and a precedent. But there’s been talk of multiple impeachments too. (Think Joe Pesci: Die, die, die.)
That’s all bad enough, but then you go ahead and make the mistake of thinking: Fuck, if Biden gets elected in November, the Democrats had better maintain a majority in the House at the mid-terms, because the Senate’s solidly Republican, and when he get’s impeached (fuckin count on it) probably for his Burisma/Ukraine doings, he could be the first US president to be canned. Mitch McConnell threatened as much on TV just yesterday. These professional quid-pro-quoers in Congress have been going tit-for-tat since Nixon. It was amusing until the circus distraction led to the 1% taking over.
But perhaps the biggest bullshit item of the week was the recent New York Times piece claiming Russians hacked into the servers of Burisma Gas. Forget the convenient timing of it and lack of logic — the suggestion that the same Russian GRU group that “hacked” the DNC in 2016 was now doing Trump another solid by seeking diabolical data on Burisma servers, while the MSM, at the same time ,claims the existence of such data is nothing but “conspiracy theory.” Well, wouldn’t the Russians know the score already? Can it be both ways?
Area 1 is the name of the security firm announcing the breach. No link to the website was offered, but that’s alright, I know how to do a little research, and soon found my way there. “It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for,” write our intrepid Times reporters, but this assertion is contradicted just a few graphs later, when the Times tells us that the “firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.”
Well, by gum, if their specialty is watching the hackers hack live, as they claim, wouldn’t that suggest that they were watching the Russkies do their B-and-E in real time? And wouldn’t they have followed the mean red hackers all the way back to the mother lode of kompromat? There would have been forensic trails. See, logic tells me that’s what would have happened. But maybe the strangest thing about the Times piece was the presumably unintentional gaffe in one paragraph:
The timing of the Russian campaign mirrors the G.R.U. hacks we saw in 2016 against the D.N.C. and John Podesta,” the Clinton campaign manager, Mr. Falkowitz said. “Once again, they are stealing email credentials, in what we can only assume is a repeat of Russian interference in the last election.
Has the Times become so careless that they don’t bother with a quick copy edit? If Falkowitz was the Clinton campaign chair, we may have a Constitutional crisis on our hands.
Okay, who are these newbie-sounding Area 1 technologists? Well, all three co-founders of Area 1 — Oren Falkowitz, Blake Darché, and Phil Syme — are former hackers or programmers for the NSA. One notes that Darché was formerly a “principal consultant” at Crowdstrike, the DNC-contracted security firm. Then with a little data digging and dot matrix control, one discovers that one of the founders of Crowdstrike — no, not the Russian guy — is Shawn Henry, a 24-year veteran of the FBI, who “oversaw half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide.”
But back at Burisma, why is there no mention in the Times article of Cofer Black, the ex-CIA director of the Center for Counterterrorism (CTC), who once vowed something like he’d fight terrorists until flies were skating across their eyeballs like they were at the Rockefeller Center. He joined the Board of Directors of the under-investigated Burisma shortly after Trump’s Inauguration in 2017? Did Black, who Burisma’s web profile describes as “an internationally recognized authority on counterterrorism, cyber security, national security,” get consulted, questioned, or de-briefed by Area 1, given Black’s expertise? Might Black have had conversations with the NSC officer (the unnamed Deep State Throat) assigned to Ukraine when he arrived — to go over the political terrain, as it were? Burisma employees were said, in the Times piece, to have been deluged by a Russian phishing expedition in an effort to get someone to take the bait: Did Black bite?
All of this ex-Intelligence Community (IC) activity in the private sector made me think of Edward Snowden’s memoir, Permanent Record, and, more specifically, his chapter Homo Contractus, which details how the system works. Snowden says that the main reason for the huge surge in private contracting since 9/11 is to get around congressional limits on hiring more IC operatives. There are kickbacks, he writes: cooperating Congressmen get “high-paying” positions at “the very companies they’ve just enriched.”
So, some ex-government employees and retired military types start up security companies and at job fairs poach government IC workers with high security clearances. “After all,” writes Snowden, clearance can take a year to obtain from the government, and rather than “pay you to wait around for a year for the government approval. It makes more financial sense for a company to just hire an already cleared government employee.” And, after he negotiated his salary upward at his interview, Snowden was hired by a private company to do public work — with no real accountability to the public.
Snowden seemed to be working for Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell Computers, but he was actually working for the CIA and, later, the NSA — at their offices. In other words, the jobs were just cover. If something went wrong with an operation conducted by a contractor, then the contractor could be blamed, which is what happened with Snowden, he says; his leaks were a ‘rogue contractor’ problem.
So, considering Snowden’s insider observations, many questions emerge about these various doings: Are Oren Falkowitz and Blake Darché still working for the government, but under the cover of private contractors? What about Crowdstrike’s Shawn Henry? Hell, for that matter, what about Cofer Black — is he a homo contractus in the Snowden style, doing the US government’s bidding at Burisma? What’s Black’s take on Trump’s telephone pressure on Zelensky to start up the investigation of Burisma again?
I am reminded of something I read from Kevin Mandia, founder of Mandiant (since merged with the CIA-startup FireEye), a few years back. He gave testimony before a congressional subcommittee on intelligence back in 2011 and it was double-take stuff:
The majority of threat intelligence is currently in the hands of the government. Indeed, more than 90 percent of the breaches MANDIANT responds to are first detected by the government, not the victim companies. That means that 9 in every 10 companies we assist had no idea they had been compromised until the government notified them.
Think of what he’s saying here. Back in 2011, in 90% of the cases companies victimized by hackers first found out about it from the government. The other part of the equation is that companies like Mandiant, FireEye, Crowdstrike, etc., are called in to be ghostbusters to the presumed spooks hacking at company secrets.
I don’t blame James Risen for his rage. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who may have been driven from the Times due, in part, to the timidity of their national security reporting: In October 2004 they quashed an extremely important public information story just before the election that would harmed George W. Bush’s re-election chances by revealing that his administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans — information that would have come nine years before Snowden ended up detailing it, in 2013.
But I never read Risen refer to Bush as a murderer in the media, although his illegal devastation of Iraq was nothing short of mass murder. Risen never called Obama a murderer, although his use of drones, especially in targeting American citizens overseas (including a teenager sitting at a cafe), was premeditated as can be. Poor Risen may have snapped with Trump, and who can blame him. We have a cartoon figure in charge of real people.
Similarly, talk of multiple impeachments is pure crazy talk, and sadly, once again, the Democrats, who aren’t much better than the Republicans (remember: Americans vote the lesser of two evils) and play right into the hands of would-be electoral manipulators who seem intent on making the 2020 election a referendum on the Trump presidency rather than a contest of the best ideas for progressing a 200-year old democracy into the 21 century with devastating issues to solve — like Climate Change..
What the fuck are we going to do if He wins again — or worse: we accept the crypto-mandate that states He must lose at any price, even a secret Banana Republic intervention (think: Henry Kissinger) that will finish off any pretense that the country is free?
By John Kendall Hawkins
They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town.
- Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”
They walked in from the Left.
They walked in from the Right.
They walked in to Judge.
They walked in to Fight.
They came to determine the fate of two hushed words: “Joe Biden.”
Officially, the articles (the charges) are: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Remove “Joe Biden” from the telephone transcript of a July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and the top Ukrainian servant of the people, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and there is no impeachment. Just quid pro quo. Same ol’ same ‘ol Congressmen know like a second pledge of allegiance.
Me and some buddies gathered and walked to see the show, sneaking into the peanut gallery, the nosebleed seats, the democratic bleachers — call it what you will — by a means I won’t reveal, except to say it reminded me of my pre-pube years weaseling my way into Boston Garden to watch Espo and Bobby Orr. But our expectations were decidedly lowered at angel heights in the Senate chamber. Lots of hoi-polloi had beat us to it and the heights were full-throated and busy-lipped. Everyone shared an opinion on the buzz below.
I heard one guy say Congress (urged on by the MSM) was thinking of making the theatrics a seasonal event, including some kind of playoff format. The guy in front of me, who looked an awful lot like Christopher Steele, was laying down a bet on impeachment with Irish booky Paddy Power, which had Trump heavily favored to beat the rap (1/50).
All eyes were on Nancy Pelosi, as she struggled with eyelineritis and handed out cheap black plastic pens, and mumbled something about freedom, while pointing to a hashtag. Souvenirs of the iconic House member walk to the Senate could be had at recess some aide announced.
There was lots of talk of multiple impeachments. Soften him up now for the October Surprise impeachment on tax evasion or murder or OCD-ing it on the emollients (manus manum lavat, goes the law). Something criminal, instead of just political. It’s a better viewer experience.
There was even talk from the raucous bluebird section, toodling and tweeting about retroactive impeachments, which brings to mind quantum and new Dr. Who episodes and all kinds of evil scenarios. George Washington smoked pot, he owned slaves — he not only crossed the Delaware; he may have crossed The Line a few times. (And what’s with the wooden teeth? Did he go to a dentist who used a woodpecker to drill away his cavities?) We could finish Nixon’s impeachment; and impeach Gerald Ford for criminally pardoning him. We could impeach Clinton again for setting back philosophy studies 1000 years with his trippy “is/is” comment. We could impeach Reagan for his trickle down voodoo that handed us all over to the 1%. On it goes…
The attractive woman wearing a tight Che T-shirt (I love women in uniform) over my shoulder was cackling about how McConnell, Graham, and Alan Dershowitz were seemingly threatening to tit-for-tat impeach into the foreseeable future. One mud pie tosses the other.
The intent of the current articles of impeachment seem to be a Democrat party punishment for Trump’s presumed (and still anything but proven) theft, with Russia, of the 2016 presidential election, as well as a determination to prevent him from the presumed stealing of the next one — with the help of the comedian in charge of Ukraine, who must miss his IMDB 7.2 rating by now.
Leroi Jones, my bud to the left, who is seething and looking like his head might explode, points out that the Democrat impeachment is just a clown show; they could have impeached Trump on all kinds of awful things, like the Suleimani hit, but they don’t want to, as they don’t want to take that abuse of power away from a future president of their own. Elizabeth Warren might be called upon early to prove her mettle ala Hillary “Hanson” Clinton, because she’s a woman (but it depends on what your definition of is is). LeRoi showed me an ear piece in the Black Agenda Report, to which I have in the past donated, to bolster his rap.
An announcement said that multiple whistleblowers had now come forward to bring down Trump, as their lawyer vowed he would do in 2017. “Maybe some of them could be put in storage for later impeachments,” the wise guy a couple of seats over snarked.
Then it was loudly announced that Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz would be coming to Trump’s rescue. Dershowitz successfully defended a serial pedo in Flo-ho; Starr went after Clinton and his affair with an intern and brutalized him, but devastated her life. When Starr didn’t get far uncovering evil in the Clintons’ Arkansas real estate dealings, he went after sex charges and their cover-up led to impeachment. (FTR, Clinton got re-elected anyway — by a landslide, sorta,)
A reaction shot on the big screen showed Monica Lewisnsky outraged by Starr’s appointment. It must have brought back impeachment tears, said the guy directly behind me. “Are you f—ing kidding me,” she reportedly gaped.
The conservatives are calling it a “coup cabal,” or, at least, that’s how Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch refers to the impeachment. JW’s too right wing for me, although I had to doff my Patriots cap when they FOIA-ed the Obama administration conversations with film director Katherine Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. JW produced documentation that the film was a propaganda flick (with classified information about the Abbottabad raid shared with the filmmakers) originally intended to be released in October 2012, just before the presidential election, but moved back as a result of criticism. Bigelow called the film “journalistic,” but it did seem to contain supernatural elements.
My buddy Dave, a few seats over to the right, was sardonically gassing, “The Joe Biden speech where he crowed about firing the investigator of Burisma in exchange for Ukraine receiving 1 billion dollars. Big Joe Biden tough on corruption. What he didn’t say is that no further investigations of Burisma have taken place since that firing. Nicely played, Joe.” I was hoping not to hear about Burisma, the Day-Glo elephant in a very dark room. Next thing, someone might be inappropriately referencing Coffee Black, the “ex” CIA executive on the Burisma board.
But then I was distracted from distraction by more distraction, as T.S. Eliot would say, and, in front of me, a dazzling blonde with an iPhone was viewing an interview with Kelley Anne Conway, threatening, in that aggressively passive tone that makes you just crazy, that if the Demos called witnesses, the Repugs would do the same, and they had better be careful of what they wished for, because they would call up Hunter Biden, and, her tone seemed to imply, go to town on him.
Mikey, three seats to the left of me, who hates everything, muttered, “After reading the Horowitz Report, what I want to know is whether we aren’t interfering in our own elections.”
“Bakhtin and the mischief of the carnivalesque,” whined an intellectual to my right somewhere; my fist cocked instinctively, and I was ready to roll out the barrel should his chin require it. He went on, like a taunt, “The problem with the deep state isn’t whether it exists or not — Ike and Snowden have said it does, and the nice middle class man from PBS, Bill Moyers, has chipped in too — but whether it’ll just turn out to be one more shallow enterprise run by machines….”
I got edgy, and we had to leave. I wasn’t sure I cared about Democracy anymore. I looked down at the proceedings one last time. And saw a vision not so splendid in the dark and now intimate room. More walking, and Lady Liberty, er, re-oriented on a dining table, all the little festival legislators pigging out in the pork barrel. Hmph.
When I got home, I didn’t bother getting off my high horse. Fuck it. Patriots, too, get tired blowing the warning trumpet and having nobody respond. They just want to hit the hay and settle into the nightmare democracy has become. And sleep the sleep of sleep.
No somnambulism allowed.