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Monthly Archives: March 2010

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“Never whine. Whining lets a brute know there’s a victim in the neighborhood.”
– Maya Angelou, Letter to my Daughter

So, last Friday, a “bomb scare” (insert snort of sarcastic disbelief) shut down a swath of downtown Seattle during rush hour. Buses were re-routed, streets blocked off, the Pioneer Square station closed, and, in the end, one hapless street lunatic was carted off to jail. He had a brass pipe duct-taped to his wrist. He has since been charged with ‘threats to bomb or injure property,’ a class B felony punishable with up to ten years in prison.

The man in question has become known as the Vampire Bomber, because on the morning of his arrest, he apparently went to the soup kitchen at Union Gospel Mission and demanded human flesh for breakfast. (No explanation as to the second part of his moniker, as he was decidedly bomb-free upon apprehension.) This act inspired some of the funniest police-blotter prose I’ve read recently: “….the suspect walked in wanting to be served breakfast. He informed the staff that he was a vampire and wanted to eat people. The staff declined to serve him….” Charging documents reveal that the suspect’s name is Vladimir Lestat Augustine. Really.

This is all very amusing, of course. Except that a man is now facing ten years in prison. The day before the ‘bomb threat’ incident, Augustine appeared in mental health court, and told a judge that his anti-psychotic medication was not working, and that he needed help. He was told to return to court in a week. He’s in King County Jail instead. I won’t rehearse, here, the many convincing arguments (ethical, practical, medical, economic…) against using prisons as mental health treatment. It is clearly indefensible. But incidents like this one are troubling not only because they exemplify the inhumane aspects of our society, but because they exemplify our weakness.

We’re a country that has warning labels on plastic bags, advising us not to put them over our heads until we run out of air. I bought a bungee cord recently, and it had a warning that helpfully pointed out the risks associated with hanging oneself. We can’t really be expected to understand slippery floors, escalators, or ladders, and are issued stern advisories with big red letters when we might encounter one of the above. We’re afraid of germs, strangers, bad weather, stains, wrinkles, and riding the bus. So I suppose it’s only natural that we would be TERRIFIED of unkempt derelicts who call themselves vampire space cowboys. Or of lonely home-care attendants who get impassioned under the influence of internet chatrooms and spy movies.

Colleen LaRose, aka ‘Jihad Jane,’ was interweb-stalked for several years before getting turned in to the FBI by self-styled vigilantes. Her crimes seem to have been speaking, intending, and proclaiming. Oh, and emailing. Her indictment lists two conspiracy charges, one false-statement charge, and one ATTEMPTED identity theft charge – apparently, she either stole her boyfriend’s passport, or said she would. Or thought about doing it but didn’t. As for ‘conspiracy,’ well, that crime could be re-named ‘running one’s mouth.’  If you say to someone, “I think it’d be cool to be a martyr,” and your friend says, “Yeah, dude, that’d be wicked cool,” you can both be charged with conspiracy.

Let me just say this in plain language and a loud, slow voice for those in the back who can’t hear too good: THIS WOMAN IS NOT A THREAT. THERE IS NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF. There’s been no evidence presented anywhere that even suggests she was in contact with ACTUAL mujahideen, or that she ever touched or saw a weapon, or that anyone she talked to ever touched or saw a weapon. Her inept mumblings on YouTube will not shake the pillars of our civilization. Her lonely email correspondence with men who want green cards will not bring our empire to its knees. If you’ve ever been in any way associated with criminals, graffitos, or drug users in any way, you probably know her type already: She’s a shit-talker. Always full of big talk about what big score is coming up, never actually doing anything, a uniquely irritating blend of braggadoccio and utter ineptness, characterized by gullibility and bad style. Come to think of it, I can’t believe how many words I’ve already devoted to this inconsequential person.

But y’know what’s worse than people who talk endless shit? The silly tricks who believe them, that’s who. America, I’m talking to YOU. You need to stop fulfilling your weekly quota of manufactured crisis by ‘uncovering’ the ‘machinations’ of clueless tools who produce disgruntled tweets. First of all, free speech, m’kay? Second, it makes you look weak and cowardly. Maybe you actually ARE weak and cowardly – that’s another story for another day. But even a coward should learn the crucial life-skill of APPEARING confident. Check this piece about “jihobbyists” in the Christian Science Monitor: “It can be a slippery slope from talking to doing.” Really, Serious Thoughtful Media Outlet? So we should respond with the full force of our expensive and unwieldy law enforcement? To random shit-talkers on the internet? Please. These folks would stay busy with eHarmony and World of Warcraft if you didn’t feed their self-important delusions by taking their pathos seriously. Your flustered and overblown attention gives meaning to their feeble gestures. Stop it.

Because the street already knows. As a coda, I would like to offer this encouraging anecdote from the scene of the ‘crime’ – a friend was walking up Third Avenue last Friday, while the Vampire Bombing was in progress, and saw the snarl of police tape and vehicles up ahead. My friend asked a guy on the streetcorner if he knew what was going on. “Nothing,” the passerby pronounced. “Just more media bullshit.”

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http://www.theonion.com/content/news/u_s_economy_grinds_to_halt_as

Figgin’ hi-larious (and poignant) bit in the Onion. Go read it. Then let’s talk about the concluding sentiment. After Capitalism crumbles because everyone simultaneously realizes that money is worthless, a man-on-the-street is quoted:

“‘It’s back to basics for me,’ Bernard Polk of Waverly, OH said. ‘I’m going to till the soil for my own sustenance and get anything else I need by bartering. If I want milk, I’ll pay for it in tomatoes. If need a new hoe, I’ll pay for it in lettuce.’ When asked, hypothetically, how he would pay for complicated life-saving surgery for a loved one, Polk seemed uncertain.
‘That’s a lot of vegetables, isn’t it?’ he said.”

I have two immediate responses to that. One is rather utopian: Why exactly would a complicated surgery have to be expensive in a non-currency-based economy? The surgeon wouldn’t get an enormous fee; there would be no insurance company to leech resources out of the procedure; the hospital and the equipment manufacturers would be collectively operated for the benefit of the populace…so what would make surgery so out-of-reach for vegetable farmer?

The other response, perhaps a more reasonable one, goes something like this: Guess what? Many, many people ALREADY go without ‘complicated, lifesaving’ surgery, because we don’t value human lives equally, nor is it our priority to maintain them. Poor and working folk forgo such things regularly, or they purchase them with the sum total of their resources, leaving them and the future generations of their families in treacherous financial waters and subject to disastrous currents. It’s called CAPITALISM, right? So if the radical transformation of our exchange system were to magically occur during a moment of blinding-light revelation, those in need of surgery wouldn’t necessarily be any worse off.

And these are the issues everyone born after 1965 is going to have to wrestle with in a very concrete way, very soon. 30% of Medicare dollars are spent on people who die within two months. ‘End of life care,’ especially those “complicated, life-saving” surgeries, will be an enormous burden on the small generations who will be required to pay for millions of retired Baby Boomers. Life-saving surgery never really saves anyone’s life – it should properly be referred to as ‘life-extending’ surgery. Often, the extension of life is bought at enormous expense to an individual’s family. More importantly, the ‘saved’ time may be filled with pain and suffering. And it’s very often brief.

If we are ethical creatures, we should be carefully probing our attachment to this form of healthcare. I have told my closest friends and family that I don’t wish my life to be extended past my ability to enjoy it, or to contribute meaningfully to my relations with others. I hope to die suddenly. If my death becomes a prolonged affair that is causing suffering for those I love, I want the process to be hastened. I hope that, by the time I’m dying, there are legal and humane methods to do that.

I don’t want $100,000 worth of surgery or tube-feeding or ‘life-support machines’ to tack on an extra month or year at the end of a long life. I would rather that money fund someone’s education, or the staging of a play, or the publication of a book, or a series of grand and intricate feasts. And that is what my living will expresses. I know it’s not anyone’s right to make that decision for another person (well, unless ‘anyone’ works for an insurance company!) but I do urge you to consider your own dying days, and carefully decide how much you want to take from your family and your society on your way out.

 

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Just a few vitriolic screeds about my least-favorite generation:

http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2010/01/remarkable-personal-free

https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/88/the_coming_barbarism.html

http://dieboomerdie.blogspot.com/

http://theworstgenerationever.blogspot.com/

And a re-run of my own little contribution to the bitternessfest:

http://severina.posterous.com/pj-orourke-once-again-proves-that-it-is-possi

Tapes_-_erica_marshall_of_mudd

Anti-copyright policy wonks at Stay Free! magazine have made an exhibition of copyright-infringing artworks. You can download an audio compilation at the link below. It’s a nice little history of sampling – or, rather, a history of PUNISHING sampling.

http://www.illegal-art.org/audio/liner.html#

At the same website, you can also get Brad Neely’s Wizard People, Dear Reader, an alternate soundtrack/script for Harry Potter – you play the recording while watching the movie with the sound turned down. Friggin’ hi-larious.

http://www.illegal-art.org/video/wizard.html

Now will someone please steal a Koons sculpture and cut it up to make a different sculpture out of it?

(Thanks to Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org for Creative Commons licensing her cassette pic, above, and to sequins and stardust for the Koons pic.)

Jonathan_raban_framed

Jonathan Raban went to the Tea Party Nation convention, and wrote bemusedly about it for the New York Review of Books, bless his heart. Interestingly, he got the impression that there was quite a bit of (silent) dissention in the ranks, especially some reserve concerning overt religiosity. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe the grumblers will get caught up in rapturous pseudo-fascism if the right Leader arises, but I like to think that even the Tea Partiers with all their populist folksy just-plain-ole-small-town-VALUES rhetoric are finding it hard to agree on, well, values. Sigh. It’s not easy organizing a revolution in a placidly fragmented society ‘compsed’ of micromarkets and ‘connected’ by consumer preferences.

Read it here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23723#

(image by Mike Urban at the Seattle PI. RIP. http://www.seattlepi.com/books/333450_writer_28.html)

Man_who_never_was_bookcover

Operation Mincemeat involved Allied spies dressing up a corpse and dropping it off the coast of Spain with faked Super Secret Invasion Plans in its pockets. Dead men do tell tales: The subterfuge was successful, Hitler was convinced, and he moved troops to Greece instead of Sicily. Reportedly, the mastermind behind the plot sold it to the British intelligence supervisors by pointing out that corpses rarely crack under torture.

The heroic corpse has gone unnamed for all of the intervening decades, though there have been contenders in the running, a film and previous books on the subject. The plotters went to their graves without ever revealing whose body made Operation Mincemeat possible. Now, however, historian Denis Smyth has written a book, claiming he has convincing evidence identifying “Major Martin” as Glyndwr Michael: a homeless Welshman who died eating rat poison.

It is time for Mr. Michael to get his propers. The Brits’ level of respect for their ersatz hero is evident in the operational codename Mincemeat. And even today, there are those who would deny Mr. Michael’s contribution. John Steele authored an earlier book, in which he claims that “Major Martin” was a sailor aboard the HMS Dasher. One can detect a frisson of disgust at the mere idea that the war-hero corpse-spy could have been a lunatic of the underclass: “There is no comparison whatsoever between the body of an alcoholic tramp and that of a Royal Marine,” he told the Telegraph.

Let us lift a pint tonight in commemoration of Mr. Michael’s unsung contributions to the Last Great War, and praise the ghosts of uncounted numbers other filthy, raving, suicidal, homeless madmen whose magnificence and humanity have been disregarded.

 

 

(image courtesy of kitschy kitschy koo)

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