Category Archives: riptides

Nothing On Earth

All the flap about the abysmal behavior of a pouting POTUS obscured deeper meanings surrounding the centennial of an armistice for a war that was supposed to end all wars. Of all the writing marking the occasion, an essay by William Vollmann in the Smithsonian best conveys the horrors of those years.

Brief excerpts below, with details from — and a source photograph for — John Singer Sargent’s painting, Gassed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Holiday

Now comes a guest essay by our roaming poet-correspondent Jon Swan, with images added by DP:

An ancient film – it came out in 1950 – called Last Holiday and featuring Alec Guinness, tells the story of a modest farm-equipment salesman who, diagnosed as having a fatal form of cancer, withdraws his life’s savings, buys a set of handsome second-hand clothes and a car, and drives off to spend his last holiday at a posh resort, where he meets and charms influential people, falls in love, and encounters a cancer specialist who assures him that he has been misdiagnosed and has years to live. Overjoyed, our hero hurries back home to prepare for his new life and, swerving to avoid a dog lying in the middle of the road, crashes, and is killed.

Now, here we are – nearly three quarters of a century later and it seems that all those who can afford to travel are hurrying off to spend one last, or next to last, or just one more holiday – in Amsterdam, for example, which was visited by 18 million people in 2016 (a million more than the total population of the Netherlands); or Barcelona (population: 1.7 million), which last year attracted more than 32 million tourists; or the sinking city of Venice (permanent population: 55,000), which annually attracts 20 million milling tourists; and so on. These massive visitations substantiate the observation of German novelist and poet Hans-Magnus Enzensberger: “Tourists destroy what they are looking for by finding it.”

 

WE FOUND THE CANAL!

 

It’s not only the presence of so many people in such little space that creates havoc with local customs and prices, as well as the costly problem of collecting and disposing of waste; it’s the way the hordes are arriving, especially those disgorged by cruise ships.In a recent report, NABU, Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, pointed out that, while cruise ship companies try to make cruising appear an environmentally friendly tourism sector, “one cruise ship emits as many air pollutants as millions of cars.” The press release explained: “This is because sea-going vessels use heavy fuel oil for their engines, a fuel that on land would have to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Heavy fuel oil can contain up to 3,500 times more sulphur than diesel that is used for land traffic vehicles.”

Furthermore, NABU reported,cruise ships lack the kind of exhaust- abatement technologies that are standard in trucks or passenger cars, and the stuff they spew from their snow-white chimneys – black carbon, in particular — contributes “massively” to global warming. “Almost 50 percent of the warming of the Arctic is attributed to black carbon,” the report points out. Coincidentally, an August 29 Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell noted: “The Arctic has been heating up faster than any other place on the planet. Last winter, temperatures in the Arctic were 45 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.” The article bore the headline: “The Melting Arctic Is a Real-Time Horror Story — Why Doesn’t Anyone Care?”

 

CRYSTAL SERENITY ON ICE

 

While the cruise ships befoul the air at one level, the airplanes that ferry the well-to-do to their vacationland dreams are laying down layers of global-warming C02 in the skies above. In July 2017 The New York Times published an article by Tatiana Schlossberg that bore the headline Flying is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better and that starts off by stating:  “Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.” According to some estimates, Schlossberg notes, “about 20,000 planes are in use around the world, serving three billion passengers annually. By 2040, more than 50,000 planes could be in service.” Meanwhile, perversely if not irrationally, to encourage “brand loyalty,” airlines reward frequent fliers with so-called free miles.

On July 5 of this year Medium, an on-line platform, published an article by Douglas Rushkoff, a highly regarded media theorist, which bore the headline Survival of the Richest, with the subhead stating The Wealthy Are Planning to Leave Us Behind. It was promptly picked up by The Guardian, which ran the piece under the headline How Tech’s richest plan to save themselves after the apocalypse. The article describes the author’s surprise at being invited, for a hefty fee, not to give a talk but to take part in a series of one-on-one meetings with hedge-fund millionaires anxious to know, for instance, which region will be safest during the coming climate crisis, or how do I maintain authority over my security force after The Event – this being their euphemism for environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, and so on.  Aware that they would need armed guards to protect their compounds, they wanted to know how would they pay the guards once money was worthless.

They were, Rushkoff writes, “preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with … insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion.”

 

SURVIVAL SUPPOSITORY

 

Both those wealthy enough to cruise or fly in pursuit of happiness and the super-rich are, in all likelihood, not unaware of the diagnosis for our survival as a species on planet Earth – doomed unless we radically alter our priorities, including reducing our dependence on fossil fuels — but appear unable to break the habits that have become symbolic of affluence and proof of our standing in society, or are just part of doing business as usual. We have been everywhere, and now look where we are – our foot on the pedal, going faster and faster, unable – unwilling — to swerve in time to avoid the smash-up of our civilization, not to mention the demise of our reckless species.

 

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Absence and Emptiness

This week, we note the death of fellow desperado philosopher Paul Virilio. Below, a montage of excerpts from a 2012 interview, bristling with ideas that have become ever more urgently relevant, as the world careens into dark spirals of toxic algos and avatars.

The images are details pinged from the extraordinary gunpowder paintings of Cai Guo-Qiang, featured at a recent exhibition at the Prado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virilio writes in Open Sky that one day the day will come when the day will not come; that day has come for him, in this fleeting iteration. May his ideass reverberate through the cosmos, jamming the fear.

 

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A Broken System

As the political circus continues to release one tragic clown after another into the remnants of the public sphere, we urge DP readers to turn attention away from the delusional ringmaster and focus on the national prison strike now underway.

Demands are listed here.

From all the many important voices that have come to the surface, we relay an excerpt from an anonymous “jailhouse lawyer” representing the organization Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, addressing issues of racial terror and prison slavery:

 

 

Next follows an excerpt from a Democracy Now interview, transcribing the voice of  made by Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood In the Water: the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.

 

 

 

 

To repeat the last part of Ms. Thompson’s final sentence:

People standing together to let us know this system is broken and we’ve got to change. 

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What It All Means

On this day, seventy-three years following the second use of atomic weapons against a largely civilian population, we turn to Günther Anders with an excerpt from a presentation delivered to the Sixth World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in 1986; the untitled painting (added by DP) is from the imagination of Kazuo Shiraga, and dates from 1962.

 

 

 

The entire address is worth close consideration, and might well have been written following Fukushima, or even yesterday, and let us meditate on these lines in particular:  

For what has to be done is to harass these people who are both not very bright yet also all-powerful and capable of deciding at their whim whether or not humanity will exist; we certainly have to curtail their power.

 

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Killed By Police

A week after hundreds of thousands of youth protested the lack of meaningful political action to reduce gun violence, and almost two weeks since the brutal murder of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police for the “crime” of holding up a cell phone in his grandmother’s garden, it is important to remember that  “1 in 13 people killed by guns are killed by police.”

Writing for Counterpunch, John W. Whitehead provides a sobering list of homicidal gun violence perpetrated by those who purport to enforce the rule of law, excerpted below.

Images are from the excellent Artresponders cultural activism collective, whose intermedia project titled Cops, Color and Casualties we will explore in a future DP.

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There are countless incidents that happen every day in which Americans are shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, or challenge an order.

Growing numbers of unarmed people are being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

With alarming regularity, unarmed men, women, children and even pets are being gunned down by twitchy, hyper-sensitive, easily-spooked police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, and all the government does is shrug and promise to do better.

 

 

Killed for standing in a “shooting stance.” In California, police opened fire on and killed a mentally challenged—unarmed—black man within minutes of arriving on the scene, allegedly because he removed a vape smoking device from his pocket and took a “shooting stance.”

Killed for holding a cell phone. Police in Arizona shot a man who was running away from U.S. Marshals after he refused to drop an object that turned out to be a cellphone. Similarly, police in Sacramento fired 20 shots at an unarmed, 22-year-old black man who was standing in his grandparents’ backyard after mistaking his cellphone for a gun.

Killed for carrying a baseball bat. Responding to a domestic disturbance call, Chicago police shot and killed 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier who had reportedly been experiencing mental health problems and was carrying a baseball bat around the apartment where he and his father lived.

Killed for opening the front door. Bettie Jones, who lived on the floor below LeGrier, was also fatally shot—this time, accidentally—when she attempted to open the front door for police.

 

 

Killed for running towards police with a metal spoon. In Alabama, police shot and killed a 50-year-old man who reportedly charged a police officer while holding “a large metal spoon in a threatening manner.”

Killed for running while holding a tree branch. Georgia police shot and killed a 47-year-old man wearing only shorts and tennis shoes who, when first encountered, was sitting in the woods against a tree, only to start running towards police holding a stick in an “aggressive manner.

Killed for crawling around naked. Atlanta police shot and killed an unarmed man who was reported to have been “acting deranged, knocking on doors, crawling around on the ground naked.” Police fired two shots at the man after he reportedly started running towards them.

Killed for wearing dark pants and a basketball jersey. Donnell Thompson, a mentally disabled 27-year-old described as gentle and shy, was shot and killed after police—searching for a carjacking suspect reportedly wearing similar clothing—encountered him lying motionless in a neighborhood yard. Police “only” opened fire with an M4 rifle after Thompson first failed to respond to their flash bang grenades and then started running after being hit by foam bullets.

Killed for driving while deaf. In North Carolina, a state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel K. Harris—who was deaf—after Harris initially failed to pull over during a traffic stop.

 

 

Killed for being homeless. Los Angeles police shot an unarmed homeless man after he    failed to stop riding his bicycle and then proceeded to run from police.

Killed for brandishing a shoehorn. John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, lived in an assisted living center, used a walker to get around, and was shot and killed by police who mistook the shoehorn in his hand for a 2-foot-long machete and fired multiple beanbag rounds from a shotgun at close range.

Killed for having your car break down on the road. Terence Crutcher, unarmed and black, was shot and killed by Oklahoma police after his car broke down on the side of the road. Crutcher was shot in the back while walking towards his car with his hands up.

Killed for holding a garden hose. California police were ordered to pay $6.5 million after they opened fire on a man holding a garden hose, believing it to be a gun. Douglas Zerby was shot 12 times and pronounced dead on the scene.

 

 

Killed for calling 911. Justine Damond, a 40-year-old yoga instructor, was shot and killed by Minneapolis police, allegedly because they were startled by a loud noise in the vicinity just as she approached their patrol car. Damond, clad in pajamas, had called 911 to report a possible assault in her neighborhood.

Killed for looking for a parking spot. Richard Ferretti, a 52-year-old chef, was shot and killed by Philadelphia policewho had been alerted to investigate a purple Dodge Caravan that was driving “suspiciously” through the neighborhood.

Shot seven times for peeing outdoors. Eighteen-year- old Keivon Young was shot seven times by police from behind while urinating outdoors. Young was just zipping up his pants when he heard a commotion behind him and then found himself struck by a hail of bullets from two undercover cops. Allegedly officers mistook Young—5’4,” 135 lbs., and guilty of nothing more than taking a leak outdoors—for a 6’ tall, 200 lb. murder suspect whom they later apprehended. Young was charged with felony resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

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Finally, from the Sociology Toolbox, four charts that communicate the heart of the story:

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Descent Into Darkness

On this, the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre at My Lai, we turn to historian Howard Jones, with an excerpt from My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness. Jones places the massacre in the context of American exceptionalism: our exceptional disposition towards atrocity. The second image is a 1968 assemblage with skulls titled My Lai, by Hans Burkhardt.

 

A VERITABLE SYSTEM OF SUFFERING

 

 

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We also urge consideration of an exceptional film, The Sound of the Violin in My Lai, available in its entirety at the website of the equally as exceptional Madison Quakers.

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Erasure of the Unseen

Now comes the estimable Rebecca Solnit elucidating how degrees of power shape, distort and often obliterate what experiences, and whose experiences, become publicly visible and acknowledged. The entire essay is worth close consideration; a couple of brief excerpts below, with images from the studio of Lesley Dill.

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ONLY

I ENVY LIGHT

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Though Solnit focuses mostly on sexual abuse of women by more powerful men, we would suggest that the identical dynamic applies to a more distant form of violence. Jill Stauffer, author of Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Being Heard, directed us to a remarkable analysis of drone warfare in an essay titled Phenomenology of a Drone Strike, in which Nasser Hussain traces how the military power to obliterate “unseen” civilian bodies becomes inscribed within the perceptual parameters of the weapon itself:

“We have become too accustomed to seeing from the air, which violates all the familiar geometry and perspective of our mundane, grounded vision. The exhilaration of the bird’s-eye view, or the god’s-eye view, so palpable in early accounts of flying, stems from the possibility of outstripping human limitations. But in another respect, aviation is very much tied to the modern mode of seeing, because from the very beginning it has been linked to photographic and cinematographic representation. Shooting a film, or focusing on a target, are not cheap puns, but reminders of a shared genealogical origin. Indeed, this way of looking is so naturalized that we forget that seeing through an aperture produces a particular and partial visual construction.

Aerial vision at once expands the range of view and hones in on a perceived target. But this focus inwards, this claim of precise aim, is not just one among other ways of looking. Rather, the accuracy of the drone’s eye structures more than vision; it shapes the way we think about, talk about, and evaluate a bombing. We focus on the target, the moment of impact. We dispute how contained or collateral the damage was, how many civilians died alongside the chosen target. These questions begin to eclipse all other questions about the global military apparatus that makes the strike possible or about civilian injury that goes beyond body counts.”

EXPLODING WORD HORSE

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“Inequality makes liars of us all.”

 

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A Different Beast Entirely

As promised in an earlier post, we open our ears to the voice of civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander in an excerpt from her devastatingly accurate account of our system of mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow. Images are from the website of the Equal Justice Initiative.

 

 

 

 

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Our question: do we have the courage to face the implications of Alexander’s brilliant stripping away of the disguise?

Below, a link to a video from the Equal Justice Initiative, tracing the passage from slavery to mass incarceration.

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On A Catapult to Infamy

When we published our interview with a real estate entrepreneur named Donald J. Trump on April 1, 2014, during which he described his plans to transform the entire island of Ireland into the world’s largest golf course, we received many emails expressing horror and dismay that such a man might soon walk the Emerald Isle forever, swinging titanium clubs with those miniature hands.

We responded by gently underlining the date of the post, a day when we celebrate the levity of fools, even should they eventually become President. That was our last April 1 offering; we recognized – through Irish fog – that satire could no longer compete with naked reality.

Exhibit DJT: consider the below montage of excerpts from a recent interview between Time magazine and that same individual, in a different suit yet richly endowed with the same toxic persona. Captioned images of his “signature” scrawl, for the most part delivered into the world through the blunt force trauma of a Sharpie, have been added by DP.

BIG JOBS NEED A BIG P.

CAN YOU SURVIVE THE CYCLONE ROLLERCOASTER OF MY SELF?

I WILL MAKE YOU CRY WITH MY WEIRDNESS!

D IS FOR DERELICTION OF DUTY AND DELIVERY OF DEATH.

LOOK AT MY SIGNATURE AND NOT MY HANDS!

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Though corruption and monomania may be endemic in certain circles of the ruling elite, there are countless courageous individuals who fully comprehend their responsibilities to defend the constitution against the impulsive tantrums of an incompetent executive. Today, we single out the Honorable Bob Ferguson, Attorney General for the state of Washington.

Responding to a question put by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now regarding the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate whether the Trump campaign received any compromising “benefits” from the Russian kleptocracy, Ferguson said:

My goodness. I mean, having the president of the United States fire the FBI director, who was in the middle of an investigation regarding Russian interference related to the president’s key advisers, to take an action like that is, frankly, shocking, from a constitutional sense. And so, what needs to happen is that independent investigation needs to go on. And frankly, a special prosecutor is the path to do it.

I think one key aspect of this that we see from the president is he does these outlandish actions. It’s in an executive order on a Muslim ban or firing the FBIdirector. I think the key to success in taking the president on and restoring the rule of law is put him in a forum that he is, frankly, going to be on the defensive and not as comfortable, and that’s the courtroom. That’s through a special prosecutor. You can’t tweet your way out of an investigation from a special prosecutor. You can’t tweet your way out of a courtroom. What matters there is the Constitution. That’s why I feel so strongly that special independent prosecutor is so badly needed.

Then, later on, regarding the recent executive order to roll back protections of National Monuments:

Donald Trump is the first president since Teddy Roosevelt to take the view that somehow he alone, the president, can roll back these protections for, frankly, some of our most beautiful places that we have in the United States. It’s our view that he’s wrong on the law and is wrong from a policy standpoint, as well. We, of course, are focused on the law. I’ve asked my legal team to go to work on it, because here in Washington state, we have a couple of those national monuments that could fall under the broad interpretation of this executive order that he’s issued. We want to stop that in its tracks.

Once again, to my earlier point, I think, frankly, the way to confront and take on this president is to take him to the courtroom. Right? That is where it’s a level playing field. That’s where the rule of law prevails. And I’m confident that if they go forward with trying to roll back protections for national monuments, they will lose once again in the courts.

From your lips to the ears of many judges, Mr. Ferguson! If, in his shallow twittering and dangerous narcissistic impulses, that existential scrawl identified by the initials DJT refuses to uphold and defend the Constitution that defines the USA as a Republic of Laws and not as a Locker Room of Swinging Ps, then let us build a giant catapult and send him flying towards the infamy that will be his only lasting legacy.

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