Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Hate

2014 sure was a banner year for hate. With so much racism and police state apologism exploding in just the fall, you likely forgot some of the highlights earlier in the year.

Like Cliven Bundy, the "tax protestor" who turned out to be a vile racist since those things are usually so separate. No less a national blowhard than Sean Hannity hitched his wagon to this cracker and his half-assed anti-government rhetoric until it all culminated in the murder of two police officers. The NYPD has yet to blame Bill de Blasio.

"Blah Blah racist bullshit."

In other shooting news, poisonous skitstovel Elliot Rodger tried to go on a shooting spree in retaliation for never getting his dick wet. That he didn't rack up much of a body count, including some dudes, convinced professional internet misogynists that he wasn't influenced by them at all. Nope, he just managed to regurgitate all of their talking points in his ridiculous manifesto by coincidence.

"Feminism is why I can't get any, not my repulsive personality!"

Besides, gun crimes only count when police think a black guy might have a gun. That's why they didn't even bother with the theatrics of asking a grand jury following the killing of John Crawford. They heard he might be carrying a rifle and you just can't do that in public.

Running around a toy store with assault rifles is a job for the police.

Or stolen cigars. That there's a capital offense. Especially if they were stolen by a colossal Terminator-Demon-Gorilla and you're a nebishy police officer with nothing but your sidearm, baton, pepper spray, a militarized police force, and the support of a frightening number of the population to protect you.

"That black kid is scaring us!"

And God help you if you're selling untaxed cigarettes, because freedom-loving Americans and their justice system sure won't. Sure, Jaime Dimon can obliterate the savings of millions and still walk around unmolested but he's rich and white. If you're engaging in shady economic activity just to put food on the table, you're worse than Hitler.

This is what a police state murder looks like.

Much like trying to shoot all the filthy whores, you'll find a surprisingly vocal segment of America who are all in favor of police brutality when it's against poor brown folks. This is what John Dolan calls the Sullen Majority, that bedrock rottenness of every civilization where there is no joy, just petty malice and resentment. This is how you can get the same people who have cried for years about Obama the Islamo-Commie stealing their freedoms turning a blind eye to actual abuses of the citizenry. This is how you get so many red-blooded American patriots defending anal rape by their government. The American concept of "freedom" is a narrowly narcissistic thing, championing one's every action as sanctioned by Providence while demanding the whole weight of the law smack down any of those uppity Others.

But no catalog of 2014 hate would be complete without a look at the internet! Continuing to demonstrate how SOPA might have been a good thing, lots of the same assholes who celebrated Elliot Rodger spent the past few months flipping their shit over video games. What began as a hate movement against any women who dare to get near their toys - including a threatened school shooting in October - soon devolved into pedophilia apologism and straight up white nationalism. Also, Eron Gjoni rapes goats.

Here, this is a nice distraction from all the awful.

In far more important internet news, beloved hacktivist doodad TOR was revealed to be funded by the US State Department. People who'd invested their time and trust in the TOR network engaged in serious debate about the ramifications for privacy and Nah, they flipped their shit too. Not because they're all secretly on the NSA payroll but because programmers are the modern manifestation of Jonathan Swift's Laputa. This is still ongoing and you can see all the histrionic scumbags on Twitter proving why hacktivism is a waste of time.

Each layer is more denial. And Neo-Nazis.

So there you have it: 2014 was the year of hating anyone and everyone who dared to not be a wealthy white dude. Honorable mention to Hobby Lobby, for setting a legal precedent that your employer can now control your sex life. Because freedom.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Brief History of Race War

With folks expressing their displeasure at the police having a license to kill, it seems all the closet racists are in a race to out themselves:
If I were a white guy living near Ferguson, you had better bet I am buying ammo to protect my property and family. These "protesters" seem to be the most racist aspect of this story.
These people are burning the city down.
The same old, same old its not our fault. Poor us. Fuck the white man because he is the only reason I don't have an education.
YOU types down in Ferguson are what gives all blacks a bad name.
That's really the most common complaint: "Well, you darkies are violent thugs!" And while it's easy to dismiss such a statement for the pigheaded racism it obviously is, I thought it would be instructive to rub everyone's face in the heinous shit white people have done to non-whites all through the 20th Century, especially the post-war period when all the "civilized" powers agreed genocide was a no-no.

Rather than start with the obvious like the Torture Report, I thought we'd kick things off with that oft-cited modern genocide Rwanda. Because it's popularly accepted as a pretty terrible thing and not many people know about the role played by one white Belgian, Georges Ruggiu. A nebbishy loser who befriended a Hutu at university, he traveled to Rwanda in 1990 to take a job at Radio Mille Collines where he spewed racist, pro-genocide rhetoric on behalf of the soon to be genocidaires: "Clean out your houses! Get rid of the cockroaches!"  

Before you go and defend Ruggiu's tirades against "cockroaches" as free speech or coincidental to the ensuing killings, he not only confessed to conspiracy to commit genocide but rolled on the entire station as the propoganda wing of "Hutu extremists." Quite some time ago in fact: Boy Georges was thrown in a Tanzanian prison back in 1997, where he was rightly beaten silly, before sleazing his way into an Italian prison and finally back home to Belgium. Across the same period, he grew a beard and changed his name to "Omar" to get shelter from gullible African Islamists who go gaga over palefaces joining the Ummah for some reason.

But the grossest thing about Ruggiu is how he had to go looking for the sort violence that used to be SOP for white folks in the tropics as recently as his childhood years in the 1960s and 1970s. Like Algeria, a place so screwed up, one of the jihadi militias actually went "Fuck it, let's be satanists." Though you can't blame this screwed up state on general Africanness, as Tories and other subomegaloid swine are wont to do, as there's a pretty recent history of both French military and settlers getting up to their elbows in Algerian blood. This stretched from just after World War II - including Camus's passive-aggressive celebration of killing an Arab - all the way up through the final French withdrawal in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, the Brits were doing their best to send the Kikuyu of Kenya down the same path as German Jews. The lackluster Mau Mau uprising, which managed to kill 32 British occupiers in about as many years, provided the excuse to murder of 90,000 Kenyans while being low impact enough that Her Majesty's ministers could divert other resources to the insurrection in Malaysia. Called the Malayan Emergency, because Lloyd's wouldn't cover the losses of the rubber and tin companies if war were declared, it continued the great British tradition of brutalizing the Burmese. In a prelude to American military operations like Mai Lai and Haditha, British troops massacred unarmed villagers not three years after lecturing and wagging their fingers at Germans who dared to massacre other Europeans.

Not a decade after the Brits got down and dirty in Southeast Asia, the US took its turn. But we're not going to dwell on that despite a million dead Vietnamese in what US Army veteran Stan Goff explicitly and frequently calls a race war. Everyone but the odd old crank accepts Vietnam was a bad thing, even if only because lots of brave American boys died for poorly defined reasons and it wasn't even a win.

Instead, let's look at the Doolittle Raid in World War II. That's always trotted out as the Good War, the battle for freedom against tyranny and all that. The glorious patriotic conflict in which hundreds of thousands of women and children were burned alive in Tokyo. Doolittle's inital run only scorched some 400 civvies, a low as massacre figures go, so the US Army Air Corps kept at it all the way up to 1945, including a carpet bombing of downtown Tokyo by three hundred B-29s. The Doolittle raid is often excused as revenge for Pearl Harbor but not even the amateur fascists doing military history in the US bother to explain the strategic point behind the March raid and its 125,000 dead Japanese civilians. Like the Brits with the Kikuyu, they just don't say anything.

Skipping over the rest of World War II, with all of its gas chambers and fire bombings directed at other white folks, we see a German crime that doesn't get nearly as much attention: the systematic extermination of the Herero people. Having had it up to here with the revolts against their rule by the native inhabitants of the land, German troops forced "rebel" Herero and their families out into the desert and kept them there until the vast majority died of dehydration. Those that tried to slip away from the main force and sneak back to their homes were stymied by Lothar von Trotha's extermination order: "Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot."

The Germans eventually got bored shooting women and children and switched to concentration camps. Which they learned from the British. In a rare instance of lax German accounting, the only casualty figure for Herero forced into camps is "Most of 'em."

This systematic extermination looks positively serene, however, in comparison to the British invasion of Tibet occurring at roughly the same time. Literally on a whim at the start of the 20th century, the British Raj decided to add Tibet to its empire of misery and dispatched a young Jesus-freak lieutenant to make it happen. Because no religion has spilled more blood on more continents than Anglicanism.
The War Nerd sums up what happened next better than I ever could:
Younghusband marched into Tibet in December 1903 with a force of Sikhs and Gurkhas—pretty scary mix, like rottweiler plus pit bull. And the Gurkhas were definitely the pit bulls in that pair. Sikhs are very tough but not blood-crazy. The Gurkhas were not only devoted lovers of knife-work, especially on POWs, but ancient enemies of the Tibetans. It didn’t take much to push them to a massacre. The Tibetans knew the British were dangerous and tried not to resist at all. But as the British force pushed farther and farther into Tibet, the local commanders decided to resist. That was a mistake. This wasn’t Tony Blair’s cool Britannia they were dealing with. On March 31, 1904, Younghusband encountered a Tibetan militia force of about 2000 guarding a pass near Gyantse. He must have had a hard time keeping a straight face or wiping the drool from his lips, thinking about the medals he’d get for this one, because the Tibetans were armed either with spears and swords or at best with matchlock muskets. That’s right: the kind of 17th-century firearm that won’t fire unless you apply the smouldering wick to the firing pan. Younghusband decided to play with the poor fuckers he was facing. He said, “My friends, my friends, what’s all this hostility? Why dees paranoia? Here, I’ll tell MY soldiers to take the bullets out of their rifles, and you tell YOUR soldiers to put out the flame of their matchlocks.” The Tibetans, who had no idea that Younghusband’s troops had modern repeating rifles, put out their matchlocks. Younghusband then ordered his troops to open fire. 1300 Tibetans were killed, with almost no British casualties.
And before that? Imagine a hundred Tibets in a hundred countries for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Always the white "civilized" tribe going to great and gruesome lengths in its attempts to exterminate all the darker "savage" tribes, when not enslaving and raping everyone who had the misfortune to be born outside Europe.

So tell us again, aggrieved white folks - who are the violent thugs in this world?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Look At These Thugs

Walking around with them gats, thinking they all hard and shit...

"Straight up dude this bitch is all sad and crying like awwww they killed my baby but she obviously didn't care enough to raise him right..." ~ a concerned citizen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Woman Without a Country

Olivia Manning, in recounting her childhood split between England and Ireland, described it as having left her with "the usual Anglo-Irish sense of belonging nowhere." This sentiment animates the short fiction of another Anglo-Irish author, Elizabeth Bowen, who frequently presents characters unmoored from any sense of social identity at a tumultuous period of European history. In contrast to Modernism's liberating rejection of national identity, this state inspires angst and loathing in Bowen's characters.

Several of Bowen's characters exemplify this dislocation, in particular Justin of her short story "Summer Night." Though a man in his early forties, he has no close connections save for his deaf sister and the equally unmoored Robinson, whom he inflates in his own imagination. Justin moves listlessly between different cities in England and Ireland, and even different nations on the Continent, without ever setting down roots or moving outside his own closed, celibate, solitary way of life.

However Justin yearns for human connection, as demonstrated in his relationship with Robinson. He inflates the other man, declaring him a genius, thus concentrating the whole of social life from which he finds himself bereft in this single figure. Robinson, eager to be done with Justin so as to entertain his soon to arrive mistress, rebuffs such exultation and drives Justin deeper into himself. Both characters, in attempting to connect, merely find themselves turning further inward.

Even Emma, Robinson’s mistress, cannot shake escape this atomization. Indeed, she experiences it more as Robinson at least has genuine, if fickle, friends to occupy his time while she has a hollow family life and no joy except the limited freedom of her automobile. A rarity and sign of upper class wealth at the time, Bowen further uses Emma’s automobile to show her utter disconnect from surrounding society, stopping at a public house to use the telephone and have a drink but interacting with others no more than is necessary for this rudimentary market exchange. Other people are as phantoms in Emma’s life, as are the places they inhabit which she speeds through seeking some form of human connection in the shallow Robinson.

In “A Love Story,” Bowen presents similar characters but rather than yearning for connection, they actively drive each other away. Frank and Linda’s interactions ring hollow and sterile, Teresa and her mother all but despise each other, and their interactions together display a reluctance to engage with other human beings. Even Clifford and Frank all but say to each other that they do not care for one another and are both quite happy when they are done talking. This resistance to socialization reveals the deep psychic scaring of being a national orphan, of having never developed the skills for interacting with others and establishing a sense of belonging.

Bowen further generates a sense of dislocation through the structure of her narratives. Both "A Love Story" and "Summer Night" follow several separate characters whose individual plots do not come together until the very end, emphasizing their separation between each other. The reader is instead presented with these unmoored individuals, worrying over their own private dramas such as Justin with his awkward infatuation with Robinson. By switching between a third-person singular style for each of her characters, Bowen permits the reader only brief and limited glimpses on her broader narrative.

This dislocation of both characters and narrative reflects the Anglo-Irish experience following the Irish Revolution and into the outbreak of World War II. With British rule thrown off and a new society defined by both Irish tradition and the Catholic Church, the Protestant Anglo-Irish found themselves suddenly citizens of no nation, being too Irish for England and too associated with the old regime for Ireland. Though Modernism with its critiques of the nation-state pursued such a disconnect, Bowen and other Anglo-Irish had such an existence forced upon them and, despite the intellectual orthodoxies of the time, World War II demonstrated national identity remained very much relevant. Without such an identity, the Anglo-Irish found themselves not just disconnected from their nominal homelands but undefended against the territorial and martial ambitions of other nations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In the Land of Ice and Snow

Since Marvel will be crowding the multiplex with spandex-clad fascists for the foreseeable future, there's no better time to go exploring the fringes of NetFlix. Which I did, and I discovered a great little Norwegian gem.

Escape, or Flukt in its native tongue, is a brilliantly harsh film. Its premise is as simple as its title - girl sees her family murdered, tries to get away from bandits - but like a good found footage horror film, execution is everything. This is a naturalistic tale of survival, without sentiment or neat moral lessons. While the heroine, young Signe, is our entrance into this world she is more part of it than the soft and comfortable place we the audience inhabit. Signe is sympathetic but she never conforms to modern norms of right or wrong because to do so would be suicide.

We're introduced to Signe, her parents, and her little brother as they're traveling between villages. This is a textbook case of efficient exposition as just a few words and glances establishes the emotional bond of this little family before all hell breaks loose. Seems these tiny migrations were common at the time - early 14th century, which in Norway looks to have still been the Dark Ages - and massacres by bandits were just as normal. And so it goes with first Signe's mother, unceremoniously dispatched by an arrow. Her father soon follows, after a courageous if sloppy last stand against superior numbers and weapons. Bandit leader Dagmar - the brilliantly cold Ingrid Bolsø Berdal - dispatches Signe's little brother with an efficient crossbow bolt. That's the theme of the entire openeing, the cold efficiency of the bandits after the warm and homey establishing shots of Signe's family. And it quickly pulls the audience into the Norwegian McTeague that is the rest of the film.

There's the immediate tension surrounding Signe of course. Will they kill her? Sell her into slavery? Rape her? One particularly nasty bandit keeps trying that third option, only to be shouted down by Dagmar and even the men. At a time when feminist critique of the arts is seeing a resurgence this is a particularly poignant film - Dagmar, a woman in the Middle Ages, leads this motley band of cutthroats and is clearly feared by them. Signe, though at first a helpless damsel, frees herself and strikes back at her captors with only the help of another little girl, whom Dagmar has adopted.

That little girl, Frigg, provides some much needed humanization for the bandits. Coming across a bearded hermit who delivers backstories, as bearded hermits are wont to do, Signe learns Dagmar was once a perfectly respectable wife and mother until the day witch-hunters drowned her daughter and smashed the fetus out of her. While it could be maudlin, this flashback serves to explain Dagmar's motives, at least concerning her manic desire to reclaim Frigg, but also shows how even in this brutal world people are not brutal out of some innate evil but simple, mindless circumstance. More importantly, he teaches Signe how to wield a spear.

And that's the extent of the hermit's contribution to Signe's survival. I want to take this character and rub her Suzanne Collins's stupid face and go "Looook! This is how you do a sympathetic female protagonist ion a survivalist story!" But as I'll likely never get the chance, I'm doing it to you right now. Signe's character arch is both well-handled and immensely cathartic, as she evolves from a terrified girl into a hardened survivor just as capable and ruthless as Dagmar.

The setting deserves special mention. While the film tells us this is all going on in the early 14th century, the landscape is still modern Norway and yet still just as feral and alien as the unfolding story. Tall mountains, deep rivers, and cold forests all emphasize the finite mortality of the characters, even the brutal Dagmar. It's a world of cold beauty where death is an immediate reality and survival hinges solely on determination.

And it bears repeating - the principle protagonist and antagonist are women. Neither is a caricature or treads in stereotypes. You could easily make them both men and it wouldn't change the plot one bit - even the almost rapist, as it's not like that doesn't happen to boys. And this is from 2012! The Scandinavians are busy making progressive historical thrillers while Hollywood is pulling its hair out over making a fucking Wonder Woman movie!

Rot the multiplex. Stick to streaming.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Land of the Dead and Dying

Throughout Dubliners, and particularly in the concluding story "The Dead," James Joyce explores an ideology of paralysis unique to Irish life at the time of writing. Joyce saw an inertia in the culture and politics of Ireland, owing to both failed attempts in the past to throw off English rule and to rigid social and religious norms, leading to stagnation. Through this story, Joyce presents the debilitating effect of such an ideology on the whole of the Irish people.

Centered on a holiday party on a cold January night, Joyce presents to the reader a number of characters who reflect this stagnation. The hostesses, the Morkan sisters, have held the same party every year, singing the same songs for the same people. Those people being Freddy Malins, chained to his ancient and decaying mother, the irreverent Mr. Browne whose jokes, though witty within their closed world, never rise beyond the boundaries of middle class niceties, the rare new addition Mr. D'Arcy the famous tenor who refuses to sing until the very end of the evening, the nationalistic but largely harmless Molly Ivors, and the muddling academic Gabriel Conroy with his wife Gretta.

Of all the characters, Gabriel best demonstrates the debilitating effects of this ideology of paralysis. A college lecturer, his biography similar to that f Joyce in that he also took a degree in modern languages, at the time thought a woman's discipline, he perpetually finds himself stymied by others despite the desire to assert himself and his control. It starts with a fumbled joke directed at the Morkan housekeeper Lily at the beginning of the evening, which Gabriel attempts to brush off with the conspicuous magnanimity of a hefty tip. However, it fails to endear Lily to him or convince her of his mastery, as she later displays an impertinence towards him in front of his wife, who laughs it all off.

Worse still is Gabriel's encounter with Molly Ivors. She chastises him for his ignorance of the Irish language, his penning of articles for an English periodical, and for never seeing the rest of the country. She sneeringly dubs him a "West Briton," a moniker she relishes rubbing his nose in even during a dance. Shaken, Gabriel cannot even respond but rather broods over the injustice of Molly breaking the social niceties of the party. He only feels his manhood redeemed later when he takes up his traditional role of carving the meat for dinner. In performing an old and familiar role, he finds both his confidence and sense of place in the world.

However, no one else has a more debilitating effect on Gabriel than his own wife Gretta. Feeling invigorated by performing his masculine duty with dinner, Gabriel wishes to make love to her though he lacks the strength of will to forcefully take her as he truly wishes. Instead, he affects a nonchalance and superiority, all while yearning for Gretta to open herself to him. In the process, he elicits a confession from Gretta of a youthful fling with another. This boy, Michael Furey, once sand the same song as Mr. D'Arcy, "The Lass of Aughrim," to Gretta and hearing it again reminded her of the affair.

The confession is a trifle to Gretta but absolutely debilitating to Gabriel. The thought of his wife having a life and emotions independent of him only heightens his own sense of littleness, already foremost in his mind following his bumbling with both Lily and Molly Ivors. Gabriel wanted to seize his wife in the street, to boldly show his love and possession of her, but could not move beyond the strict proprieties of Irish social life even when in private.

In this, Gabriel proves to be the apotheosis of Joyce's critique of Irish life and culture at the time of Dubliners. An educated, intelligent man but held in place by his own inability to act and his fixation on things past. Instead, he finds his only sense of self in old and worn out roles – carving the meat for dinner or patronizing the help with a generous gratuity. Though educated and styling himself a clever man of letters, Gabriel can conceive of no place for himself but the traditional roles for which he proves ill-suited, causing himself only grief. And though dead and gone, like Parnell, Michael Furey exerts an influence over Gabriel Conroy, sapping his will with his own wife and leaving him to agonize over his own mortality, rushing ever onwards to the grave while standing still

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fiend Excerpt: Rock The Casbah!

The following picks up where previous Fiend excerpt, Barbary Nights, left off...

You're looking green, Doctor. Are my tales so terrible? At least I had the decency to face them - the tribe, that is. Anglo ships routinely blasted anyone close to shore with their cannons - just for the perverted thrill of it! At least I drink blood like a proper monster...

I couldn't very well continue with the old con after that. No Kinch, for one. No one to guide me or play bloodhound or help clean the vermin from me when I woke up every evening... I considered - briefly - trying my luck out in the dessert. The last gasp of blood madness - my first time seeking refuge in those ever shifting sands and a gust of wind would have uncovered me at high noon! Seen me scorched to a cinder! Reason won out, thanks to such a prospect...

I spent the first few nights hoping from one scrub brush of a farm to the other. Really just hill cottages, one sickly family and half a head of goats. The family served to fill me up the first night and subsequent nights I picked at the goats before moving on... A dark time, I confess. Dark and ever so dull...

Though it served to keep my strength up and my skin out of daylight until I could find something approaching civilization...

Algiers! That great port of the Ottomans and their corsairs! Or rather sea fort - the Casbah looming high on the rocks, the Low City sprawling beneath it and into the shore. No fit place for a white man at that time, of course. They'd just taken a heavy beating by English cannon and - while their lords promised no more Christian slaves - the hoi poloi held to no such promises. Any white face they saw, they cut! Hispaniola all over again!

I hid in cisterns during the day, soaking my now tattered clothes. At night, I crawled forth as some common ghul, snatching the unsuspecting and the lame into the alleys between the squat buildings. And resisting the urge to drink my fill - such a powerful urge! every time, Doctor! - it made for quite a meager subsistence...

I grew bitter... I grew tired... But I did not grow sloppy...

I'd learned from Hispaniola and that wandering of the coast, I assure you! No daring the locals, no flagrant monstrousness, just a common thief in the night. A blood thief. It served me well, all things considered...

So well in fact that I went completely unnoticed for some good deal of time. Years, even! Until I awoke one evening to hear on the streets above the voices of French soldiers! They'd come and captured the city while I slept!

Oh what a relief to walk the streets as a man again! Not some skulking cutthroat! Though I had to skulk a little at first, until I could catch some corporal who wandered off from where his unit was celebrating their victory with a bottle of wine. Carried in a soldier's pack from across the sea! It infused the corporal's blood, made it all the sweeter!

His uniform though... Explain to me, Doctor, why fashion trends so to the constricting? Last time I'd had proper clothes, they'd flowed and ruffled over me! Was that merely because my Anna had more aesthetics in mind than the practicalities of battle? Never mind, it just felt good to be in trousers again...

And those French weren't just in for a bit of pillage. They'd taken the whole coast! Brought in their own ministers. I suppose they'd quit Hispaniola too... I walked the streets openly in my stolen uniform and those moors didn't dare to cut me!

Well, one did... An old pirate with more salt than sense. He stormed up to me, spitting Moorish insults and reaching for his dagger. With a swift kick to the stomach, I sent him sailing across the Casbah!

Oh it felt like the old days again... I could rent rooms again, with the gold rings and lapis lazuli plucked from my prey... When I began drawing attention with my stolen uniform, I tracked down some appropriately sized minister and made a trade - after drinking him into unconsciousness. I think he got time in the stockade before anyone could piece together his true identity...

But soon as these French soldiers and ministers had the run of the place, they were thrown in disarray! Not by the moors, but by their own homeland! While they'd been covering themselves in glory in Algiers, they're king had been deposed. For the second time, I might add! One night I'd walked beneath the Casbah, seeing French uniforms keeping the locals under heel, and next they were all sailing away to be replaced by migrants who freely mixed with all the moors, went native in coffee shops and around water pipes.

A shock, certainly, but I followed suit to keep up the appearance of being just another occupier. It was then I acquired my smoking habit, the Moorish hookah providing all the chummy warmth of the tavern or public house without my having to feign interest in wine.

Ah, how the brutality of war is forgotten! Or not forgotten, not on every side... But those French, so different from the mad bastards who'd stormed across Germany and battered Besancon and... You know, they didn't just mingle with the moors? No, invited them into the business of the white man. The government! Let them join their Armee d'Afrique! The French had a real change of heart after Hispaniola, got that democracy fever...

I'm not so sure the moors appreciated it as much... You could see it in their eyes, if you knew what to look for... I'd seen it in Jeannot's eyes, that slow-burning hate... All the stronger when their conquerors deigned to treat them as human...

I would broach this to a few around the water pipe in the evenings. Tried to explain "sharmutah" was not some Moorsih honorific. They didn't want to listen... They'd stormed across the sea to conquer this blighted land for the glory of France!

Particularly this one little captain of cuirassiers, a provincial named Julien. The Chevalier de la Croix, as he insisted with the urgency of the recently titled. He believed every word of those ministers about "civilizing" the poor heathen Moors...

"We've brought them true government! True religion!" he'd insist as we sat around a pipe.

"And they'll never forgive you for it!" I laughed.

I could get away with such impertinence as Julien and the other young officers who followed him around all took me for some pirate -

"Don't listen to that old villain!" they would laugh right back, consoling their little captain. "He's just pulling your leg! Just having a laugh at us!"

And Julien would listen to them, because he so wanted to believe in France. Those citizen-soldiers... they took their duty and their lofty nonsense seriously. To the death! Nothing like them anymore...

Oh I admired the little idiot, Doctor. I admired his conviction, his courage, all the way to his ignoble end... I was there, though I was not the cause. Not directly...

I was walking through the High City with him one evening - he returning to the barracks, I planning to run down some tramp or other in the alleys - when out of the dark struck something I should have expected. I heard nothing but the young Julien's heartbeat, smelled nothing but his blood... then I smelled his blood all too much, his throat having been opened in the blink of an eye!

The little captain crumpled to the ground beside me! I fell into a fighting stance - though against who I couldn't begin to guess. No sound betrayed this murderer, no scent... Like when I met that dread baron...

And next - a slash at me! Only by quickly raising my arms did I keep that shimmering, curved dagger from slicing my nose clean off! It stung as it sunk into my flesh - unnatural strength driving it nearly to bone! See this here? The scar? That didn't happen in the war...

I whipped about to face my enemy. A blur of Moorish robes, again the flashing knife - but I was ready! I feinted one way, drawing out the knife, and as this undead assassin regrouped I struck back!

This Maur Nocta fought like some venomous serpent, striking with swift precision and retreating to do so again. From Bohemia to the Antilles, I'd acquired the habits of a bull - all forward power! No quarter asked or expected! I battered this demonio de la noche, the burning knife only spurring me on this time!

What a ruckus we caused! What a sight of whirling, slashing, smashing brutality! What a joy to fully indulge in my otherworldly strength! I tell you Doctor - the God's honest truth - pretty soon I was laughing like a tickled child!

The knife thrust into my chest - only very nearly missing the heart! - and stuck in the ribs. My assailant pulled back a bare hand... Exultant, I gripped the miserable villain by the neck and hurled them across the square! Into a cart of reeking fish!

I sauntered over to my enemy, plucking the knife from my chest as one may brush off soot or sawdust. I cast what Moorish insults I knew - or thought I knew - at the robed figure struggling to stand back up on a now broken leg. Things I'd heard Kinch throw about from time to time - or were thrown at him by that last clan. Imagine my surprise when my response should be -

"Pedicabo ergo vos et irrumabo!"

And in a startlingly feminine voice...

Read the whole thing in paperback or the e-reader of your choice!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going and Going and Going...

Gone Girl is a hit and likely due to suck up a whole slew of Academy Awards. This is warranted by the first third of the movie, a haunting and at times skin-crawling examination of the All American Marriage.

Nick Dunne - Ben Afleck at his commendably least Afleckiest - is just any other suburban self-centered oaf. He doesn't know as much about his wife as he should, spends more time on ESPN and beer than any deep and contemplative thoughts, and just can't stop looking like a jackass when the national media needs to depict a grieving husband. In Nick, David Fincher presents an Everyman with the very unflattering warts of every man thrust into a crisis with the whole world watching and judging.


It's a mystery not just of what happened to wife Amy Dunne but also what happened to the happy couple that had once been Nick and Amy. As the police, represented by the smartest detective in the South and her doltish sidekick, uncover more clues so does Amy's diary reveal more and more of just what went wrong between her and Nick.

That's the first third of the movie. Then everything blasts off to Bizarro World.

Amy not only faked her death - spoiler alert - she did it in such a way as to frame Nick for murder. And not just frame him, she intentionally cultivated a friendship with the bubbly baby factory neighbor so as to both provide a counter-narrative to Nick's after she disappears but also to harvest pregnant lady pee, so that the whole world will think Nick Dunne murdered his pregnant wife. She even contemplates suicide just so as to further implicate Nick. It's a brilliant and alien cunning that feels utterly detached from the slow boil that has been Gone Girl up until this point.

It could almost work if it served as the finishing twist of the film. A great big "Gotcha!" on both Nick and the audience as the last anniversary scavenger hunt clue she leaves him essentially explains her whole grand plan. If we'd faded to black just as realization dawn's on Nick's big stupid face, this would be an okay movie.

But it keeps going. And going. And going...

Amy runs into a snag in her grand scheme when she gets mugged by reality. Reality in this case being a young couple at the motel where she's hiding, the better half of which delivers the fantastic line "You look too rich to've ever really been hit," and then proceeds to really hit her. If the movie had stuck with this brutal logic it would have been great but no, Amy gets Doogie Howser to come rescue her not just from poverty and privation but from the implosion of her schemes.

While Nick's affair with a hilariously dense girl becomes national news, Amy forges a new narrative in which she escapes from Doogie's sex dungeon. This involves sticking a wine bottle up her hooha to simulate rape trauma, which Amy is adept at faking. She did it once to a boyfriend because, despite being invented by a woman, Amy Dunne is a caricature of every MRA fear.

"I shall rule them all with my hypno-vagina!"

This latest narrative takes hold because Amy's disappearance - and stinking rich parents - have made her the nation's sweetheart. Nick goes along with it because, like any mediocrity who lets slip his latent misogyny from time to time, he is absolutely worthless. And Amy had kept some of his frozen sperm, just in case she needed to manipulate him with pregnancy. Seriously, a woman wrote this?

It's utterly laughable by the end, not because of Amy's psycho-bitch evil but because it all started out so good. David Fincher is turning into the second coming of Kubrick with his camera work, infusing the early scenes with both the flat emptiness of the American heartland as well as the creeping dread not only of what could have happened to Amy but how the media gleefully scrambles to graft a narrative onto a tragedy with little regard for the truth. Plus the best cinematic use of an orange tabby other than Inside Llewyn Davis.

Then it all goes so far off the rails. And what most worries me is that this sort of ham-fisted madness isn't just hailed as brilliant, it's viewed as acceptable.

Fincher maintains a studiously realistic tone all through these shenanigans that would have been better handle by a blackly comic satire like Schizopolis. To reiterate - Amy fakes rape claims as a matter of course, outright murders Doogie Howser, and it's hardly a secret between her and Nick by the end, with even Tyler Perry and the hyper-competent Southern detective having a good laugh over it all. As someone on Twitter put it: "Help me famous lawyer and detective!" "Nope, that would undermine the plot."

Yet audiences and even the highbrow critics accept this lunacy at face value. "Well, it just illustrates how messed up Amy is," some say. A collection of human ears would show just how messed up Bree Van de Camp was, but the makers of Desperate Housewives had the good goddamn sense not to take such a cartoonish leap. So too does Amy's Hannibal Lector level of hypercompetence obliterate the excellent noir tone Fincher spends the first third of the film establishing. What could have been the best movie of the year turns into a kaleidoscope of plot holes and paranoid fantasies.

That it takes for fucking ever to resolve this nonsense is almost the lesser crime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Swine Fever

No sooner does America work up a good head of crazy over ISIS than a real threat pops up. While both they and ebola are less likely to kill you than an enraged mime, the latter has managed to penetrate US borders. That alone has gotten the Fear from boiling over in ludicrous ways, from open racial hatred of West Africa to a lady in Newark refusing to leave her house without latex gloves and a surgical mask.


But how did it get to this point anyway? Isn't ebola one of those Third World diseases that thrives in the absence of modernism and sanitation? Indeed it is, and you can thank good ol' capitalism for bringing it to the US of A!

Specifically, you can thank both a for-profit healthcare system and career pols opposed to any sort of public spending. Like Rick Perry, Texas governor and responsible for a state healthcare budget ranked 33rd in the nation despite being number 1 in ebola cases. Not that you can blame Perry for all of it - tempting as it is - as he's just following the party line. The Bad Guys - and yes, the GOP are pretty much The Bad Guys from now on - have worked rigorously to break the grip of Big Health on the nation's budget. Mostly by cutting the CDC's emrgancy preparedness budget by half since 2006. In their defense, it's not like they expected any of those brown people diseases to cross the Atlantic because they've never heard of airplanes.

Meanwhile at the local level, administrators with no patient care experience decide on not just who gets the HAZMAT suits, but whether it's worth the time to actually sterilize medical equipment. This is also how Duncan, the only poor bastard to die of ebola in the US so far, got sent home by the ER despite showing symptoms. They've since insisted it just looked like a viral infection.

Much like how your local high school hired a confirmed pederast, this is just more of that highly decentralized decision making Confederates conservatives claim to love so much. It's why they want more small government like Perry's and why they slash all federal spending except the hyper-efficient and meritocratic defense budget. The free market will take care of things, like it took care of that uninsured Ron Paul staffer.

"But there's no alternative to capitalism!" says any given stupid person. Indeed, every American schoolkid knows socialism leads to such horrors as longer life-expectancy, shorter workdays, and the most reliable spacecraft ever made. Better to stick with this neofeudal disease pit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The New Normal

While Republicans were busy terrorizing Wall Street last year, a little story slipped through the cracks that says even more about that dementedly inverted hologram normal Americans treat as reality.

Kaitlyn Hunt, a girl with the poor luck to be a lesbian in Florida, plea bargained her way into a deal to serve time for having sex with her 15-year-old girlfriend without having to register as a sex offender. It's a familiar story involving statutory rape law but this time applied to a homosexual couple.

Quick legal aside - statutory rape is essentially any sexual intercourse between a legal adult and a minor, even if said minor gives consent. This is generally a good law because no matter how mature some snot-nosed teenager says they are, they're still a damned teenager. So no touchy.

Where it can  - and has - run into problems is when it's applied to a teenage couple where one is eighteen and the other is not. In Hunt's case, she was 18 and her girlfriend was at the time 14. Hunt has since moved on to dating a 27-year-old, whom the Daily News tries real hard to portray as a hardened ex-con, despite the fact that being black in Florida is even worse for your future than being gay.

What makes Hunt's case interesting isn't all these sordid details. Well it is, but not for the reasons the comfortable media class would have you believe: Hunt's relationships are reflective of a simple reality of life in America that is only rarely acknowledged.

I'm talking of course about white trash. I grew up in Woodbridge Virginia and got to see this up close. For every kid with two stable parents and a future there were about a dozen from broken homes with no greater ambition than an associate's degree from NOVA and a car built after the 1980s. A couple of them were parents themselves, while still in high school. This one girl in my 11th grade English class was a 19-year-old raver with an angel obsession. And she was Jewish because in modern America even Jews can be white trash.

Relationships with three to fours years age difference was not that uncommon. The Woodbridge kids - like all teenagers - were looking for affection and working off their hormones with whoever was willing. If one was 18 and the other was 14, so be it.

"But the 18-year-old is the responsible party! The law says so!"

That's the common defense of Hunt's sentence and it raises what I thought was an obvious question - Are you lying or just plain stupid? What 18-year-old has ever demonstrated responsibility? Isn't that why we make 'em wait three more years to buy beer?

But this world, this Real America, is stridently denied at all times. Either it's wrong for Hunt to touch her girlfriend because she was technically an adult at the time, or it's wrong to throw her in because fill in your preferred cause. "Love" was the most popular cause on display at the time, as if any teenager is capable of such a thing, and it likely doesn't hold much water now that Hunt moved on to an actual adult (who, at nearly a decade Hunt's senior, is doing even more cradle robbing but hey, legal age and all). The gay cause is sneered at more than it's actually cited, another standard of the flat normal in America. If anything, the popular response at the time was how only a lesbian would be so lucky as to not have to register as a sex offender for, you know, sexing up a minor:

"If this person was male, 20 years, no parole." ~ henrythe8iam

If you go digging through the various other articles from a year ago, you'll find that exact comment by someone. By a disturbingly many someones. This isn't just common misogyny or the bizarre double-standard of the homophobe - guy on guy is evil, girl on girl is hot - but representative of probably the most grotesque brainwave in modern America that nobody ever wants to talk about. It comes up frequently enough, whether in the latest outrage at Reddit for upvoting child pornography or pointing out that sexualizing an adult actress known for playing a minor is skeevey no matter what way you cut it, but the popularity of the sentiment is . When internet commentators like henrythe8iam say these things, it's because they can't say the simple truth of how they feel - "I'm a 30 something loser and I want to fuck middle schoolers!"

That's the dark desire at the heart of so many American men. Far more than we will ever be comfortable admitting. Whether because they never developed emotionally after the age of 15 or because the flat hell that is existence outside the coastalite enclaves has worn down their confidence when addressing fellow grown-ups, it doesn't matter. The result is this atomized culture has ever more lonely, desperate dweebs who will end up on To catch a Predator. Helps you understand why this rotten country needs a Mid-East war every couple years, keep itself distracted from its own miserable reality.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

March of the Pigs

#GamerGate is a thing now. For those of you thankfully not in the know,  it all started with some jilted ex posting some screed about how some indie dev was totally sleeping around the industry to get good reviews. This is what originally galvanized people, on the grounds that it's indicative of corruption in games journalism, though it's just as likely a bunch of losers were pissed off - again - about someone, somewhere having a sex life.

If you're unfamiliar with the business side of the arts, this may look like a proper target of outrage. If you've ever worked in publishing or film, you're having good laugh at all the #GamersUnited dopes because you know every creative industry is like this. Meritocracy is one of those comforting lies no one really believes, like Santa Claus or Jesus, and these sorts of chummy relationships are how everyone advances. Everyone. Particularly in publishing, where authors write glowing reviews of other authors who wrote them glowing reviews.

While such entrenched nepotism and its ties to an exploitative capitalist system is worth discussing, gamers naturally didn't go for that. They just called the accused dev a cunt and sent her rape threats. Kinda like they do to Anita Sarkeesian whenever she puts out a new video - and that particular hatedom got a second wind with this latest outrage over a successful woman having a sex life. The harried feminist critic had to flee her home and now the FBI is involved.

"I am not a misogynist! I'll prove it with rape jokes!"

The irony is that Sarkeesian is giving gamers exactly what they want: the treatment of video games as an artistic medium. Her analyses place everything from indie games to Triple A cash cows in a cultural context, examining how things like Dragon Age and Braid reflect and interact with existing gender stereotypes. This is Critical Theory 101, applied to a body of work often dismissed as too immature to warrant such consideration. Tropes vs Women in Video Games legitimizes video games as an art form better than anything else.

And gamers hate her for it. Because even the most cursory analysis of popular games reveals reactionary gender politics from the bland to the brutal. So too with some of the greatest works of Western literature, but the gamer dweebs are too binary to understand the distinction between "This reflects retrograde aspects of the dominant culture," and "The thing you like is bad therefore you are bad."

Really, the biggest barrier to video games being accepted as art is the gamer culture itself. The past few weeks has seen a level of misogyny usually confined to Mad Men, with the the enraged horde demanding first that their hobby be purified of incestuous business practices - like that's even possible in America - then freaking out over one of the few attempts to grant video games the seriousness they insist on.

While the two may seem rather disconnected, they both reflect the immature entitlement of gamers. They expect the production of video games to be some pure, artistic process and then turn around and disparage any critical analysis that isn't fawning, two-dimensional praise of all the badass guns and titties. Which should come as no surprise because, for all their "serious art" pretensions, gamers understand nothing but dumb consumption. That's their raison d'etra:

Gamer identity is tainted, root and branch, by its embrace of consumption as a way of life. If gamers suddenly became completely inclusive, if all of the threats and stamping of feet went away and the doors were flung open, conspicuous consumption would still be the essential core of their identity. The mythical gamer who does not exist to consume is not a gamer. ~ Ian Williams, Jacobin

If the video game industry, from the indies to the Call of Duties, really did turn into some magical meritocracy for developers, it wouldn't matter because the same fools dreaming of such a thing would shout down any critical analysis. If the industry does nothing, it doesn't suffer one bit because gamer identity revolves around the consumption of games. #GamerGate is the apotheosis of a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Update 9/12/2014

Oh my fucking god, they hacked Tim Schafer! Tim "Psychonauts" "Monkey Island" "Grim Fandango" Schafer!!!

If you support #GamerGate to any degree, you are a despicable asshole and you are killing what you love.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

YA Goes Meta (God Help Us All...)

Two weeks ago, I attended the launch of Lev Grossman's latest book in Green Point. The third and final in a trilogy about magical kids, with pretensions of metafiction and being a proper bildungsroman, so I was expecting a congenial literary affair. Instead, it was a defiantly Fans Only event, with Grossman and a few "stars" of YA up on the stage and all us filthy nobodies relegated to folding chairs. That shoulda tipped me off...

I left in the middle of Q&A, while the fans - a smattering of twenty-something white girls, a few with scraggly boyfriends - were trading in-jokes with Grossman and his crew. It had the gross air of desperate flirting or a job interview. However, I did shell out for Grossman's first novel and spent the time since reading it so you don't have to. And you don't want to because The Magicians, celebrated as a new Harry Potter, is nothing more than an overlong angst-wank for the dweebs in Park Slope.

The Chosen One of this latest campbellian knock-off is one Quentin Coldwater, an overachieving coastalite like the majority of Americans never encounter in person. These people do exist, they're just a much slimmer majority than even they know, owing to a Manhattan literati that wants to read the same story over and over again, as exemplified in the works of Jonathan Franzen. Grossman is on record as a fan and he's learned his master's lesson because The Magicians has a central schtick to differentiate it from every other magical academy of whimsy: Quentin is a fan of a Narnia-knockoff series about these Anglo children adventuring in the magical land of Fillory. This allows Quentin to constantly compare his own muddling non-adventures to the heroic excitement of these kids' books.

This serves two stated purposes - and Grossman really did state this at his egopalooza. First, it presents Quentin as someone who already "knows" how these sorts of stories playout when he's invited to the Brakesbills post-secondary magickal learnatorium (accreditation not recognized in Trinidad).Which than leads into number two - "This is real life!" in which even this magical land he escapes to is just as dull and cruel as his regular life. It's not as exciting as it sounds...

Grossman is trying to deconstruct the Harry Potter formula into a much darker coming of age tale, complete with drinking and curse words. Problem is, this was already done years ago in Peter Straub's magnificent Shadowloand. Further, Grossman can't divorce himself from his characters long enough to do a proper psychological novel. A Brooklyn native himself, it's hard not to read Quentin as thinly veiled autobiography, mixed with wish fulfillment. Grossman is either too honest or just lacking in imagination to make Quentin into the all-conquering champion he wants... but he won't stop pointing out just how special Quentin is either. He's unique because he still believes in magic, even though all his classmates are turning fashionably cynical and the headmaster doesn't really give a damn. This sort of solipsism kills the broader metafictional point Grossman is trying to make, but it's exactly the sort of nonsense that drives the YA market so he's getting a SyFy series.

Let's hope they re-work the characters because the ones on display here are damned atrocious. Quentin and his childhood friends, Julia and that other one, are the sort of overachieving knobs you never met if you went to a real high school. New York City has this deal where kids test into certain advanced placement schools and New Yorkers are annoyingly oblivious to the fact that this is not the norm in American eduction. Rowling's approach of making Harry some suburban nobody was one of the few things she did right because that makes him relatable to the reader; Quentin already has fantastical and alien life, illustrated in dozens of little details you only pick up if you live in Brooklyn. His friends, first in the muggle world and then at Brakesbills, are equally from the same overachieving coastal enclave background, making them about as relatable as Donald Trump Fuckface von Clownstick.

Then there's Elliot, the sort of interesting non-New Yorker that New Yorkers of limited imagination always imagine. A romantic archetype of the gifted but cast out farm boy, resentful of his hayseed family who assume he's at some hoity toity art school for homosexuals. There's so much wrong with this characterization - for instance, a real rural America dirthead would say "fags" or "queers" - and it turns out Elliot really is homosexual. But it can't be the boring, "I just like cock," sort of homosexuality that, y'know actually exists. Grossman has to give this poor kid an elaborate domination and submission fetish.

Julia shows up as a hedge witch during one of the occasional Back in the World interludes, usually devoted to Quentin feeling ever more alienated from his parents because they just don't understand. Julia is rather competent at her hedge witchery, even though she had to go all goth to get it - though this further indicates Grossman's gross ignorance of contemporary trends as she's a fellow Park Slope overachiever and the goth thing was too old for such kids in Charlottesville, Virginia circa 2007. Further, her pursuit of witchery, while just as successful as Quentin's advanced sulking studies, is nontheless looked down on by the folks at Brakesbills, illustrating a class distinction which Grossman naturally doesn't bother to explore.

And then there's Alice. Child of a magical family, the highly-capable natural to Quentin's muddling everyman - at least I think that was Grossman's intention. And because this story is supposed to be for grown-ups as well as tweens, we get to read about 'em fuckin'. A lot. Sometimes they drink before or after, along with the rest of their social circle named Janet and Josh and there may have been others but I stopped paying attention somewhere in Book II. At least when little Frankie McCourt got into the champagne and sherry, it was low and funny enough to be interesting. Grossman, like so many typical New York writers, insists on making a big deal out of twenty-year-olds having a few drinks and shooting the shit.

It's a juvenile approach to sex and really juvenile sex is what this is all about. Some reality bending Beast makes an appearance to give the illusion of something threatening or interesting, but only after a hundred pages of Quentin's quest to fuck Alice. Which he does, and in keeping with this unconscious representation of a spoiled yuppie, he finds no joy in the long-awaited rutting. It all soon becomes just one more thing which Quentin finds to be so empty and wah wah Evanescence lyrics.

There's this forced refrain through the book of how Quentin isn't really such a two dimensional crybaby. How he's the only one who really finds magic to still be magical and it has to do with his fixation on the Fillory books, but Grossman would much rather tell than show. Even at four hundred pages, this reads like a rushed job. I swear a whole year passed between chapters at one point, with nary a comment or an episode of interest. As much as I scorn the marketing gimmick, Rowling still had the right idea of dedicated one book to one school year. Grossman glosses over anything that Quentin can't sulk over or that doesn't involve him and his rowdy friends saying "fuck" enough.

Of course, Grossman has to spell out this conflict: how Quentin's personal fairy land has heroic conflict, unlike the ugly fight with The Beast which is gruesome and disastrous. That sort of revelation happens long before the college years for anyone living in Gaza or Ferguson. Hell, anyone who's ever been in a playground fight.

And of course the Not-Narnia books turn out to be deeply relevant, with Fillory being a real magical land where those fussy Anglo kids have gone mad and mutated like Artorias the Abysswalker. Shit's not allowed to be random and meaningless in YA fiction, despite the past hree-hundred and some pages saying otherwise. Though Grossman does try to keep it real in the climax - Alice dies so Quentin can angst.

There. I saved you two weeks and four hundred pages. Watch the Syfy series if you really want or, better yet, just read Shadowland. It does the coming of age via studying magic with a dash of horror bit ten thousand times better than this overwritten wank.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson: Activism beats Slacktivism

It's appropriate that last week while Wired was publishing glamor shots of Eddie Snowden, the people of Ferguson were reminding America what real resistance looks like. Outraged at the local police and their cavalier attitude towards killing yet another young and unarmed black man, this community went quickly from somber candlelight vigils to raging insurrection in less than a week, scaring the local police into exposing themselves as the heavily armed and terrified crackers they are.

"Meine Ehre heißt Treue?"

And there's still nary a libertarian to be seen. Which if you know what animates them deep down, you expected - Jacobin has an excellent summation of the economic factors driving this rebellion, how the capitalist system extracts wealth from minorities whether through ticketing and bail money or through the very same businesses the protesters burned down. That's what really scares the privileged in this country, not the murder of an unarmed man by government employees but people rejecting the hierarchy of wealth that places minorities in the free fire zone of people too dumb or racist to make it into the infantry.

Since that night, the Ferguson PD has doubled down on the sort of police state malarkey you usually see in tin pot dictatorships: tear gas, mass arrests, and one desperate smear campaign against Michael Brown after another. It's gotten so bad the governor called in the state cops and even President Oreo is finally suggesting a federal investigation into the shooting, rather than just echoing the tone trolling of the rest of the ruling class. Because  these protesters, even when looting a local McDonald's recuperating from indiscriminate police tear gas, remained a disciplined and organized force to be reckoned with. They scare the ruling class.

Coastal liberals and internet libertarians do not scare the ruling class. The latter buy into the capitalist system, sanctioning any affront to liberty as long as it's committed by your boss rather than the state, and the former are too busy with their fucking puppets. The massive and massively ineffective protests of the Bush years should have driven this point home, that the ruling class knows the economically comfortable have no stomach for the long fight. That people bitching about civil liberties online are just letting off steam and, no matter how many likes or upvotes, remain utterly inconsequential.

The slacktivism of the internet age doesn't threaten the ruling class. At all. Because it reveals the disgruntled citizens as too atomized to properly organize. Libertarians, perfect marks that they are, support this sort of solo activism because they've not only internalized the supposed individuality of capitalism but also the power fantasies of a million bad sci-fi and fantasy stories. They imagine themselves the stars of Ender's Game while confronting a Jack Vance world. So they fixate on the conveniences of their own lives as the full extent of human liberty, seeing freedom from government bureaucrats reading their boring emails as the ultimate freedom, and thus spending more time dithering over police state products like Tor and other means to sneakily say "Fight the power!" to equally isolated inconsequential milquetoasts.

You don't fight the ruling class with encryption, you fight it with a megaphone and hundreds of your friends and neighbors at your side. Like the people of Ferguson are doing. And they're winning.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Down and Out in Youngstown

Noah Cicero is the best goddamn thing to happen to American literature since speed. And now you can see it all - or most of it - in two slim volumes from Lazy Fascist Press.

I came to know Cicero, like I came to know most of my favorites, in the book reviews John Dolan wrote for the now defunct eXile newspaper in Moscow. It's appropriate because Cicero's work brings to mind what Dolan said of another great author - "it's so true and so long overdue that you inhale it, reread it a half dozen times... so hungry are you for a little truth." Cicero chronicles life as it is lived for millions of Americans in nowhere towns with nothing lives, a demographic rising faster and faster as income inequality becomes more culturally normal.

For instance, there's the opener to Volume 1 titled "I Clean in Silence." A few pages inside the head of some white trash girl just smart enough to understand her desperate state. She's got no prospects beyond her body - which, like many Americans', is fatter than the emaciated ideal - and she knows she doesn't know enough to hold on to her college-bound boyfriend with her mind. So, despite being a neurotic neat freak, she let's him fuck her in the ass.

The alpha version of this desperate girl shows up later in "The Condemned." Kathy, a pregnant stripper full of piss and vinegar, makes a big show of being the one in control of her own life while being perpetually strapped for cash and making all the same horrible mistakes with her children as her own mother did with her. Though a terrible person in every conceivable way, Cicero nonetheless makes her sympathetic in her very familiar struggle to assert some kind of autonomy within the disinterested, post-industrial capitalism of rust-belt Ohio.

Cicero is very much focused on sex, though not to titillate but illuminate. There's nothing you can do but cringe as Kathy remembers getting french-kissed by her own mother as a child. It's a violation in every conceivable way. An Oprah book club would insist on this driving Kathy towards some sort of redemption but Cicero does not write for the Oprah's of the world - thank Christ - but for the miserable nobodies who populate places like Youngstown. There's nothing redemptive in Kathy's suffering, though it manages that rare balancing act of sympathy without sentiment seen previously in the works of Celine and DH Lawrence.

A lesser author - like, say, Palahniuk - would use these shocking scenes simply for the gross-out factor. Cicero has bigger fish to fry, wallowing in the grotesque not for shock value so much as shocking the reader into seeing the pain of normal American existence.

And that's just Volume 1. Volume 2 functions almost as a single novel, being dominated by the novella The Insurgent and followed by shorter pieces revolving around the same miserable narrator. Cicero chooses a Russian-American for this extended examination of failure and depression, seeing as Russians are such gloomy fucks in general, and uses his flat life to illustrate the flatness that is life in that vast swath of America outside the hyperachieving coastal enclaves. The same America explored in the books of Charles Portis and even in Cicero's own earlier novella The Human War (handily included in Volume 1).

The Insurgent really covers a lot of the same ground as The Human War but, like a good punk band, this repetition still works. The Human War covers a single night on the eve of the Iraq War and stirs in musings on Life, the Universe, and Everything; The Insurgent covers a good few months of a single loser's life, starting in Youngstown and ending out West. How Vassily and his neurotic friend Chang get there isn't some grand epic tale and that's the whole point. Even when stumbling upon a huge stash of oxy, these two don't so much live up the glamorous life of drug dealers as try to sell it off wholesale as fats as they can to finance their escape from Middle America. In the last pages, now far away from the familiar miseries of Youngstown, Vassily starts to find something like peace though one can't escape the concern that it will be fleeting. He's disconnected from all the people who stirred up his misery and resentment but just wait for him to meet some new people. They're Hell, to paraphrase Sartre and possibly Cicero.

Indeed, it's appropriate to compare Noah to those early to mid-century maniacs because he's absorbed their lessons so much better than fools like DeLilo who just write for the seminars. He's captured perfectly that feeling of the thwarted nobody and delivers it in a clipped, flat style that reflects the inner lives - or lack thereof - of his own characters. However this is always focused, purposeful - making Cicero a little like Beckett, but not up his own ass. He cuts straight to the awful horror of the everyday without ever getting lost in his own style.

So go buy his books. Now.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Best Games for Free!

American politics is a more dismal science than economics. You're talking about an entrenched, technocratic oligarchy that still gets the peasants to argue over which scumsucker deserves to sit in the big house, when they're not just celebrating the forced sodomy of others all in the name of security. Makes you root for the meteors or at the very least feel some burgeoning Texas Tower Syndrome...

So today we're gonna talk about video games! Where if someone is being an irredeemable asshole, you can shoot 'em in the face without consequence! Yeah!

And since despite the recent "job growth" in the economy everyone is still strapped for cash, these games are utterly and completely free! Just go install Steam and have at it!

Cry of Fear
A total conversion mod of the original Half-Life and the best of the new survival horror generation outside the Amnesia IP. Dropping you into an abandoned Scandinavian city, you have to survive twitchy monsters while piecing together the mystery of your own shattered mind.

Läderface? Herrejävlar!

And it really emphasizes the survival aspect. You get a limited inventory and must manage both your health and stamina to keep from getting pecked to death by undead toddlers. The store page boasts a dual-wield mechanic but they're really messing with you - you can hold a pistol in hand and your light in the other, but it makes your aim less accurate. Drop the light and you can shoot straighter, if you can see anything at all. Mixed with the best atmospheric horror this side of PS2 era Silent Hill, and you've got the best horror gaming experience not produced by Frictional.

Only the first Act is out now but it's two or three hours well spent. Part survival horror, part old timey adventure game, it drops you on the dock of some mysterious island where the few people who haven't gone all gold-eyed with the rage virus are still a few marbles short.

"I just want to ask you some questions. With my my hammer."

Though you won't encounter either for a good ten to twenty minutes. Like Cry of Fear, this is mostly an exercise in atmosphere and how the constructed game world - bereft of life but likely with a monster about to pop out at any moment - can have you on edge and carrying around any random object the Source engine will let you pick up as a crude improvised weapon. And once into the game proper, you find a mystery involving corporate conspiracy and malfeasance that may have consumed this island community and just may consume you too...

Why pay sixty bucks for a MechWarrior clone when the same thing is available for free? Hawken gives you all the giant robot combat you want without first making you scamper around in yet another Modern Military Shooter!


Though not stated anywhere in the official documentation, this is pretty clearly a throwback to MechWarrior. You pilot a walking murder machine through an industrial dystopia, ever on the lookout for enemy robots to blow apart or the mission objective if you're lame. There's a variety of chassis to choose from, depending on whether you prefer armor to speed, and just as many weapons to clip on. And in that best MechWarrior tradition, you get jump jets! Who needs to stumble around the battlefield like an angry turtle when you can go hurtling over terrain like Baron Munchhausen on a cannonball?

Back in college, I played way too much Diablo II with my friends. I know I'm not the only one to do so, nor am I the only one with such fond memories as the time someone messaged "I M TEH L33T HAX0RZ!1" just before getting annihilated by a boss monster. Path of Exile was made for people with such memories, being a shameless Diablo clone in every way it's possible without getting sued.


A simple point and click interface, isometric view, respawning monsters, a few simple ingredients that make for a surprisingly addictive experience. There's a story - you're an exile, come to this cursed land to finagle the mystical pants of Hildebrandt or something - but if you've been playing computer games long enough, you know it don't matter. This is just an epic quest for awesome loot, complete with gem sockets in said loot and a skill tree inspired by a baobab to ensure you will never ever run out things to steal and monsters to kill.

You can find me and all my rowdy friends every Monday night. My handle is "Klown_Hammer."

No More Room in Hell
Oh look, another co-op zombie shooter. Haven't we had enough of these yet? Clearly not and No More Room in Hell is one of the proper ones, eschewing any sense of "realism"in favor of ridiculous fun. Sure, it's got the sublime Source physics engine and a collection of real life firearms, but it also features player skins of Disco Stu and John Goodman.

"I will show you the life of the mind!"

You can still die real easy, but so can everyone else. So you won't spend too long waiting to do it all again, like that overrated douche-magnet Counter-Strike. And if you can get a good group going and survive long enough - since, in the grand tradition of co-op Source games, you really do need to work together to get anywhere - you can get a hold of AKMs, ArmaLites, sledgehammers, and the ever necessary chainsaw!

The shortest game you'll ever play but worth every second. More an exercise in visual and sound design than a game, it involves nothing more than directing a fly ever upward, through the soggy and fecund natural world into the choking industrial soot of modern urban civilization, then further and further into the infinite.


There is an end, though. And I'll leave it up to you whether it's the culmination of a surprisingly sublime experience or just a cheap joke. Personally, I accept that it's both.

Team Fortress 2

Do I even need to say anything? If you have the sense to PC game rather than burn money on a console, you already know about this finest of all online multiplayer shooters. Why do I need to go on about how it balances classes across varied and creative maps and game types?

...It still doesn't make sense in context.

Instead, a personal story: I was about to pack it in for the night but figured I'd do one more round. Clicking on a server named "Mario Kart," I found myself on a user generated map born of legos, old school Nintendo games, and crystal meth. People were driving boxy go-carts with even boxier cannons, exploring the castle of mirrors in the sky, and the gravity was turned down so my Scout's double-jump took me clear across the map and smack into a billboard full of dancing Japanese cartoons. A more delightfully surreal experience cannot be had anywhere outside Salvador Dali's home movies.

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Honorable Mention
I would have like to put MINERVA: Metastasis in this list but it just didn't cut it. Despite it's excellent action and pretty good story, it's held back by some puzzles so obtuse as to earn the developer a dick punching party.

This can't end well...

Essentially Half-Life 2 fanfiction, it's well done enough to stand alongside Lost Coast as an apocryphal chapter of the game proper. The story is delivered in text from the titular Minerva, who might be an artificial intelligence from the same production line as GlaDOS or might just be an asshole. These messages are the most uneven part, swinging from juvenile vulgarity to understated sincerity and pathos. And as it doesn't distract you with amateur voice acting, you can just ignore it while blasting through Combine mooks.

So while not the best, definitely recommended.