The Clean and the Disposable

Do you actually eat at the events? I never eat at the events.

Why? I don’t do buffets.

Why? I don’t like people touching the food and then, like, putting it back. Breathing over it, like if they’re sick. I skeeve that. That’s something I just never do. We always have a cocktail and then we go out to dinner after, but never, ever, eat at an event. And breath, I can’t stand the breath. If somebody eats a crab cake and then starts talking to me, I want to throw up. I’m like, Oh God, breath is disgusting.

It’s bad enough normal breath for people, but when you start eating and you have things in your teeth, it’s so annoying. It’s so rude.

In the mornings, my husband feeds 28 dogs upstairs. I used to do it but he took it away from me because he doesn’t really spend a lot of time with them like I do. So he likes to interact with them. He feels that’s the time in the morning before he goes into work when he can relax.


In addition to so-called nudist or sauna clubs, where the male customers wear a towel while the women are naked, large brothels have also become established. They advertise their services at all-inclusive rates. When the Pussy Club opened near Stuttgart in 2009, the management advertised the club as follows: “Sex with all women as long as you want, as often as you want and the way you want. Sex. Anal sex. Oral sex without a condom. Three-ways. Group sex. Gang bangs.” The price: €70 during the day and €100 in the evening.

According to the police, about 1,700 customers took advantage of the offer on the opening weekend. Buses arrived from far away and local newspapers reported that up to 700 men stood in line outside the brothel. Afterwards, customers wrote in Internet chat rooms about the supposedly unsatisfactory service, complaining that the women were no longer as fit for use after a few hours.

-Der Spiegel, How Legalizing Prostitution Has Failed

At about $.065 per plate, they aren’t cheap but you get what you pay for. You could easily, depending on what you place on it, reuse these by wiping them off or shaking off crumbs.

These have become our new “go-to” disposables and it’ll be hard to revert to the traditional cheap and flimsy white paper ones.

-Amazon User Review, Dixie Ultra Disposable Plates 8 1/2 Inch 384 Count

…they must come armed with paper trails to defend the wrongfully accused and incriminate members of competing groups. Or they adopt a strategy of choosing sacrificial lambs to protect more essential players. “You learn how to diplomatically throw people under the bus,” said a marketer who spent six years in the retail division. “It’s a horrible feeling.”

…things go wrong, you need to rectify, and then explain, and heaven help if you got an email from Jeff,” he said. “It’s as if you’ve got the C.E.O. of the company in bed with you at 3 a.m. breathing down your neck.”

-NY Times,  “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”


Notions of disposability, cleanliness, and freshness are inextricably linked in this culture. Disposability is the ultimate display of power over something. It implies a comfortable position of plenty; we praise “throwaway” gags in the sitcom as the sign of seemingly endless inventiveness, the ultimate display of power over money is its frivolous waste, a wealth ghetto’s lawns are defined by a lack of leaves or weeds and the ability to buy the day labor on the cheap and dispose of it at a moments’ notice. Among the socialites private trainers are hired as personal gurus and consulted in private that the women might shrivel like shrink wrap and never sag nor loosen like the spines of old books. The market prefers the used commodity mint-in-box so that the buyer can not open it and admire it.

The extent to which an object or person might communicate any of the conditions of its existence is tantamount to talking back; and talking back suggests the presence of an other. We don’t mind the blacks, we just wish they didn’t have to be so…black about it, you know? When someone comes to this country so we can hire them for less than minimum wage, the least they could do is learn the language. We lose a couple dollars a year having to explain things to them over and over…

We’d prefer our vinyl virginal and our toilets obsessively sanitized so that we can imagine that when it comes our turn its us and only us that have defiled them. We’d prefer our cultural canons sanctified; we just finished cleaning them. Several people have asked me, entirely in earnest, “Like…is there one book I can read where I can just pick up all that stuff you just told me?”

Labor implies the body; it is in some manner a bodily function; we retain our purity in our disingenuous displays of the seemingly effortless and the presence of sweat is sanctified only when it represents the earnest sacrifice of the powerful to their audience; when Elvis throws the handkerchief in the crowd or Bruce Springsteen vindicates the struggle of the working man in catering to them in the brief ellipses of power they hold as the consumer; as the audience; they wink at the voyeurs to signify they’re not dirty for looking. We exhibit privilege in the ability to which we can hide the physical labor that goes into recreating the particulars of our existence; when Donald Trump or George Bush show up in a mesh baseball cap this is as far as they’re willing to go; political photo-ops in soup kitchens never show scraps of food on the candidate’s clothing.

Agricultural workers in the high budget cinema can only wear the nicest clean and pressed versions of whatever the proles might wear (maybe? We never really checked.) Brokeback Mountain attempted to shock audiences with scenes of homosexual lovemaking but shrunk at the possibility two men who work on farms might ever wear anything short of perfectly fitting clothes without a spot on them to match what must be at least $75 haircuts.

Maybe some people were waiting for the end of the Levi’s commercial where the handsome young models just fuck already; I’m happy they found their movie. But similarly the faces of fictional prostitutes, like all depictions on the sympathetic side of the physiognomy in the US cinema, have been wiped down like so many tables at a restaurant. And worse, their experience and behavior has as well. The radical vision that an ugly guy could possibly get a date with a woman was enough to net Marty the best picture in 1955. Pretty Woman and Milk Money suggest that perhaps a woman can be bought and not rented with a bit of financial coaxing and the promise of a more “respectable” life as a trophy; that the only psychological marker of years of economic and sexual exploitation is the delightfully “quirky” deployment of vulgarisms and whatever Hollywood screenwriters thought street slang in the 1990s. And this can be scrubbed clean to make them palatable. The rich man learns that his Cinderella is not in fact Michelle Riggi’s caterer but one of her dogs. It’s alright to take her home; she’s dependent and won’t bite. She’s not actually one of the masses-she’s not unwashed. Her neck is not red.

Anarchist friends in Seattle once told me of the rich “taking on eccentric people like pets”. They never mentioned if any of them looked like Julia Roberts.

The psychological cleanliness is similarly prized; signs of damage are avoided or steep recompense is sought in the form of obedience or external praise for its handling. The act of charity must be done in public; the old cliche where the attractive person brings their two uglier friends to the dance to seem that much more desirable seems rather quaint when a person of wealth can surround themselves in pictures with starving children from the rarely specified “third world” in quantities that could fill several high school gymnasiums. They must simply be failed westerners after all; Facebook not bombs.

Where its convenient anyway.

In the dedicated Amazon employee, the glorified temp worker, the Amabot we see the concept of the high end tech product being rolled out at cheaper and cheaper prices within a couple years of its initial offering price. But this time it’s the tech workers themselves. And like a Playstation, they’re built to be replace every 2-5 years. They must prove themselves pure and worthy proletarian Pygmalions for that 3am neckbreathing from Mr. Bezos.

On Being a Failed Writer

At the age of 50, I am a failed writer. Except for a few articles on CounterPunch, everything I’ve published has been self-published. I’ve worked tens of thousands of hours, written hundreds of thousands of words, and have never made a dime. Had I spent the same amount of time at a minimum wage retail job, I’d be rich, or at least a shift-supervisor at Starbucks. I haven’t been able to find an audience. You probably won’t even read this.

So why don’t I quit?

I tried. From the age of 25 to the age of 50, I had one goal In life, to cure myself of the urge to write. But I failed. Let me explain.

The urge to write should never be confused with the ability to make a living by writing, or even the ability to express yourself by putting words down on paper. T. S. Eliot is rumored to have answered the suggestion that “most editors are failed writers” with the quip that “yes, but so are most writers.” For many working journalists, writing is both a day job, and an impossible dream. Most people at Buzzfeed don’t want to be writing listicles. I doubt even the most cynical daily newspaper reporter grew up dreaming that someday he would be writing hit pieces on a mentally ill homeless man for the New York Post, or smearing a teenager the local police for the Indianapolis Star to protect the local police. It’s simply a way to pay the bills until the big story that will make you another Woodward or Bernstein comes along, or until a Hollywood studio buys your film script. I am not being a moral scold. If I had the social connections to get hired by Vice, Buzzfeed, or the NY Post, I’d probably jump at the opportunity. What’s more, some of the best writers in American history have written for money, and only for money. Ulysses Grant, for example, started writing his memoirs in 1884 after he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Sick, destitute after losing most of his assets in a Ponzi scheme, the 18th President of the United States wrote mainly to to pay old debts, and to leave enough money left over to provide for his wife and family. Yet the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant remains the greatest autobiography ever written by an American President. It’s so good that, to this day, there are conspiracy theories that it had actually been ghostwritten by his good friend Mark Twain.

In my mid-20s, I decided to become a novelist, mainly because I realized I was unfit to do anything else. For a middle-aged man, 25 seems young, but let’s face it. If you’re not already on a solid career track, or have some kind of specialized, highly sought after skill, you’re going to end up struggling for the rest of your life. I’m 50 years old, but 25 doesn’t even seem that long ago. It feels like yesterday. Not only had I run out of career options, I had never had very many in the first place. I had been slotted. I had found my place, and I didn’t like it. I was already picking up the pieces of my broken life, wondering what happened.

For most of my childhood, I had planned to join the United States Marine Corps, just like my father. I gave up on the idea when I became socialist in college. How could I make a career out of defending the American empire?

Note: I was also soft, and weak. A summer at McGuire Air Force base at a Civil Air Patrol encampment had already convinced me that I wasn’t cut out for the military life. But “I declined to serve the interests of American imperialism” sounds much better than “I was scared that when I got to basic training the other guys would call me a fag and beat me up.” So that’s the version of the story I usually tell.

Later on, I toyed with the idea of becoming a high school English teacher or a college professor, but I had been miserable in high-school. Why would I have wanted to spend the rest of my life in a place I already knew I hated? Tenure at Harvard would have been great. But I couldn’t even understand Foucault or Derrida, let alone teach them. I did not have the academic ability to become a lawyer, or the temperament to become a political activist. So at the age of 23, I dropped out of graduate school, and got an entry-level job as a “Production Editor” for a small, scientific publishing in New York City. I made a little under $15,000/yr preparing scientific manuscripts to be published in books that almost nobody would ever read.

It didn’t take me very long to decide that since I was unlikely to get a better job, I could at least have a better identity. “Writer” sounded good, but there was only one problem: I couldn’t write. Not a novel, not an essay, not a review, not a short story. I could barely even write a note on a birthday card. Indeed, I spent most of my 20s thinking of myself as a writer, but unable to come up with anything much more than a diary, which I’m glad I lost. The only thing I remember about it is that it wasn’t worth keeping. I had a massive case of writer’s block, which correlated to my inability to relate to other people, or get my life together. Nevertheless, not being able to write was a good also excuse to stay put. My entry-level publishing job didn’t pay much, and it didn’t have much room for advancement, but it also didn’t involve much work. The hours were steady, and I never had to worry about getting cheated out of my wages. These days it almost seems like a good job. In any event, I decided that since I didn’t know how to write, I would use the time after work to teach myself how to write. Progress was slow, but I did make it. I read just about everything I could, and did manage to fill in the gaps in my education that I had noticed during my abortive two years of graduate school. Eventually I found my subject, failure. I identified with the narrator in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, and with the hero of George Orwell’s early novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Unlike Orwell’s Gordon Comstock, however, I couldn’t find a way back into the lower-middle-class, and unlike Dostoevsky’s underground man, I couldn’t make failure sound interesting.

So I concluded that if I was going to write about failure, I had to fail a lot more.

After I got fired from my job as a Production Editor – It was a combination of incompetence and just a very obvious lack of interest in my work. – I failed at just about everything I tried. I couldn’t make friends, establish a relationship with a woman, break away from, or maintain friendly relations with my parents, complete psychoanalysis, or hold a job. Over the next few years, I worked as a telemarketer, fish gutter, a sheet metal worker, a data entry specialist at the last unionized textile company in Seattle, an administrative assistant, a sales associate at an office supply store, a sheet metal worker, a day laborer at a recycling plant, a low-level systems administrator for a small ISP, and a customer-service support technician for three failed e-commerce companies, and a barista at Starbucks.

The last job turned out be a lucky accident, since it provided me with the material for the first thing I ever wrote worth reading, a mildly successful knockoff of Notes from the Underground, a long short story called “How To Under Ring.” I am a bitter Starbucks barista, the “underground man” serving coffee and pulling espresso while I wait for the chance to be put on a cash register. Then I can follow his true calling of small-time embezzler and petty thief. How much is fiction, and how much is autobiography I leave to any readers, and potential employers, to decide. These days it seems dated, and almost cliché, and I can just see the typical social justice warrior’s reaction. “Angry young white male from a middle-class family hates his job and can’t get laid, so he acts like an asshole. Cry me a river.” But, at the time, actually finishing a short story felt like vindication.

I also concluded that since I had actually proven I could finish a piece of writing, but knew deep down inside that I didn’t really have much talent, I’d try in earnest to quit trying to write. But I failed. The biggest thing I failed at in my 30s and 40s was my renewed effort to quit writing. I studied programming and information technology, got certifications from Microsoft, Comptia, and Cisco. It worked for awhile. Jumping from one e-commerce job to another left me little time to think about writing, but then the bottom fell out of the tech industry in March of 2000. By the time the tech economy got going again, I was too old, and too poorly trained to get back in. I tried to replace writing fiction with a more harmless creative pursuit, photography, but I was even worse at photography than I was at writing fiction. Smart phones made professional photojournalists obsolete anyway. When George W. Bush was President, I threw myself into the anti-war movement and the pro-impeachment movements. But the Democrats took back control of Congress. Nancy Pelosi declared impeachment to be “off the table,” and when Barack Obama was elected President, the anti-war movement exited the political scene, stage right.

By the time I hit 45, I realized I would never quit writing, since to quit writing meant that I would have to succeed at something other than writing, and that would never happen. For 20 years, the more I had tried to quit writing, the more I had kept coming back to it. It was the only thing in my life that I ever stuck with, impossible to fail at, since it was identical with failure. When failure is writing and writing failure, how can you fail at writing? What’s more, while I didn’t actually like to write, I needed it, needed to write the way a heroin addict needs his fix. The reasons are the same. The heroin addict and the failed writer both want one thing, to be alone, to forget reality, and live inside his imagination. I would give up literature for heroin, if I could, but heroin is too expensive.

In 2011, my father died and I lost my last full-time job, both within a few weeks of each other. I also lost the writer’s block I had for most of my life. Suddenly, I could speak. I wrote a full length novel. I wrote over 500,000 words of film reviews, autobiographical essays, and opinion pieces about politics and history. At the age of 25, I could barely write my own name. At the age of 50, I can write just about anything I want. If there’s a thought somewhere in my head, I will eventually find a way to put it into words. If there’s a film or a book I want to review, a political event I want to analyze, childhood demons I want to banish from my memory by speaking their names, or a story I want to tell, nothing will stop me from doing it. The only problem is that good, steady low-paying jobs, with predictable schedules, and paychecks that show up on time every two weeks are a thing of the past. I always laugh at Charles Bukowski whenever I read Post Office. These days, working at the post office is the kind of “good job” left-wing Democrats like Bernie Sanders are always promising to bring back. The post office? Henry Chinaski, check your privilege.

In 2015, you can no longer become a failed writer because you’ve failed at everything else. Writing takes time. It takes leisure. It takes the ability to hack together a life where you’ve got a few hours every day to sit down at your desk, or at some table at some coffee shop somewhere, and not be disturbed. My employment options at age 50 are far more limited than they were at age 23, not only because the job market is so much worse now, but because I’ve already demonstrated to the world that I’m not a good employee. My credit is bad. My resume is spotty. The Internet is full of my self-published rantings. They will never go away. My next job, if I’m even lucky enough to get one, will have to be one of those “we’ll hire anybody who can pass the drug test” kind of jobs. I’ll be a temp worker at an Amazon warehouse, or a low-level retail worker “on call” who works for 15 hours a week, and worries his head off waiting to work for another 50. Maybe I’ll go back up to Alaska and gut fish. I’ll be that strange dude in his 50s with no hair and a grizzled beard, the guy all the college kids laugh at one moment, then speculate how many years he did before his parole the next. I don’t know what my next job will be, but I’m fairly sure it will leave me little time to read, and to write. In my 20s, I became a failed writer because I couldn’t do anything else. In my 50s, if I want to stay a failed writer, I’ll have to fight for it.

But it really doesn’t matter because I finally understand. I’m not a writer at all. I’ve never been. I never will be. I am exactly what I wrote my first real short story about, a small-time embezzler and a petty thief, only this time I don’t want to steal a few hundred dollars from a cash-register at Starbucks. I want to steal something far more valuable, time, the time to write, the time to read, the time to watch interesting art house movies with subtitles, and ride my bike through the mountains of Northwest New Jersey, to debate politics on the Internet. I am small time embezzler and a petty thief, stealing ticks of the clock back from capitalism. I will lie, freeload, cheat, steal, mooch off the government. I will do anything to fight back against being pressed into a routine that snuffs out my voice for good. I will continue to speak, even if I’m the only one listening. Henry David Thoreau once said that you cannot kill time without injuring eternity. I will do my best to spend the next 25 years of my life without injuring eternity.

But I will probably fail.

Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives Pt. 2: The Supermarket

Perspectives on the same shot converge and run parallel but never merge. The strict geometry of the video shot is used to convey the flow of understandings.
Perspectives on the same shot converge and run parallel but never merge cleanly. The strict geometry of the video effects is used to convey the flow of understandings.
A “problem” can be many things, frequently at once. The escapism of “pop” narratives is often the escape into more desirable problems.

When I’m driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.

In part, this reaction may be due to my own areas of interest, but I think it’s quite accurate, basically. And I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that’s far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that’s in fact what they do. I’m sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.

Noam Chomsky


(Check out our review of Pt.1 here.)

Episode 2 further explores the place of words but this time as means by which the Russian doll structure of manipulation works in capitalism. If they’re just a swirling around a nothing/everything, how do we use them to control others or to internalize the control others hold over us? Through the lens of an old couple at the supermarket explores the Droste effect of this reasoning. Lines like “our work with/our bodies is to move rocks our work with/our minds is to dignify eating (museums’re a good example)” and “he gets attached to ideas a certain arrangement/of words like a certain arrangement of the furniture/can be good enough to suggest happiness in a way” work simultaneously as open ended portraits of a system of control. Triangle imagery, to suggest a pyramid and the coming to the invisible implied expanse at the end of a horizon line is repeated in the episode to the point where it’s easier to count the shots that don’t contain it. Words, when they’re written on the screen, are put into this pyramidal shape to draws shifting parallels, refracted unities, within the landscape, the experience of the consumer, and the dreadful limiting spirit of their shared architecture and geometry.

Language in part one was a bulwark against the uncertainties of the self, in part two it exists as a self-reinforcing mechanism of control. The pyramid is one of power and is only inverted in an image of a mirror in the grocery store intended for surveillance.

The wide field of the farm, open and expansive, is made an implied triangle by the positioning of the old couple.
The wide field of the farm, open and expansive, is made an implied triangle by the positioning of the old couple.
The shot of the field, where some of the food in the supermarket comes from, has its rigid geometry mirrored in cattle pens. The older couple similarly comes closer toward the camera/the base of the triangle.
The shot of the field, where some of the food in the supermarket comes from, has its rigid geometry mirrored in cattle pens. The older couple similarly comes closer toward the camera/the base of the triangle.
Finally they walk through an even tighter shot of the grocery store itself, still framed as a pyramid. They're still in the mid-ground though.
Finally they walk through an even tighter shot of the grocery store itself, still framed as a pyramid. They’re still in the mid-ground though.
Finally the pyramid completes itself visually with the grocery store owner at the top. The shoppers can only see themselves in the reflection of the surveillance device.
Finally the pyramid completes itself visually with the grocery store owner at the top. Note the icon portrait behind his head, and the fact Ashley himself plays him, a joke on the fact that for these fictional character Robert Ashley is their watcher and God, the same way the visual of the fictional “world” keeps shifting back to the image of the work producing itself in the hands playing the piano and the “actual” Ashley performing. The shoppers can only see themselves in the reflection of the surveillance device.
“He counts on cruelty among the oldsters to keep things in order,
there’s something about the honor system and the mirrors and the spies and the,
finality of the checkout that keeps the oldsters subjugated definitely” (note double sense of “definitely” as an an assertion but also to evoke the linguistic “definition”)

Words mark off a boundary of protective illiteracy against the unknown thing we feel comfortable not knowing, the unwanted experience a marked off illiteracy of which we’re proud. So proud, we call it a literacy. We think literacy is an accumulation and not a Newtonian correspondence with equal and opposite illiteracies. The English program at any university and moreso the more prestigious the university, is a training as much in illiteracy in the language used outside the college as it is in literacy in the preferred rigid stylistics of the academic. This applies x10 for grad programs.The ways the army “dehumanizes” the enemy in basic training come down to forceful assignment of rigid meaning to terms and behaviors; to bowdlerize Chris Hedges, reading is a force that gives us meaning.

Ashley is not coming at any of this from a place of judgment though the ugliness of the thing in itself(s) will slip through often enough to suffice as such. This is the most angry segment of the opera but at the same time its most pitying. And regarding that last sentence, to use a “but”, replace with “and”.

The supermarket owner doesn't show up here. The person left only with the paranoia of their own reflection.
The supermarket owner doesn’t show up here. The person left only with the paranoia of their own reflection.

Measurement doubles as self-defense and confinement. “The difference a decimal point of rat hairs and other things/we protect ourselves against all possibilities”. As the interjections of the chorus in the first part work on the truth value of things that turns out to be much more dynamic than fixed, so the choral interjections in this installment work as defenses against the infinite but through different tactics. They are the language of political identity that has been handed down and of distraction by the multitude of the products that, if they were read by their strict intents would say little more than “buy me.” It starts as nearly nonsensical listings of supermarket products or their self-promotions (“proper fold/extra teeth/in a bowl”), the vernacular arguments for their greatness and the greatness of the American epoch of mass production (“the choice of baked beans or in the choice of/cleansers or in the choice of pet accessories”), then shifts to make the political implications explicit (“all that freedom all that freedom/all that freedom all that/freedom all that nice thought Jack”.) It continues to the social relations imbued by this relation to the product which is shown as constantly reifying itself in mirrored levels (“how are you/say hello/take the role”). The final pronouncement of the chorus that closes the episode is finally the rat’s maze of identity statements again, corked with an ironic pleasantry (“home is home/love is love/how I’ve grown”.)


The older couple are boring and relatively unpleasant; they seem unhappy and infantilized. It’s implied both in the text and more explicitly in the visual that they clash with each other as consumers and continue to reproduce their misery due to a blindness in part enforced from above but with a maintenance they must nurture as though it were a child in rationalizations that amount to meaningless identity statements. “Well, it is what it is,” they might say if we were to meet them in our reality.

Literally dueling each other with empty shopping carts. Note that the triangular composition with the apex pointing to the top of the screen is interrupted in this shot.
Literally dueling each other with empty shopping carts. Note that the triangular composition with the apex pointing to the top of the screen is interrupted in this shot.

Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives, Pt. 1: The Park


Years ago, I became interested in the notion of involuntary speech. My way of approaching Perfect Lives came out of that interest. I had been observing people-particularly in New York-and I noticed that many many people were talking to themselves, publicly. Since I talk to myself privately, there seemed to be only a thin line between their madness and my madness. (Except I thought of mine as music.) At the same time, an idea that I was trying to confirm for myself was that there may be no problem, no discontinuity, between the thinking mode in music, and the way you correct that mode to make it something that everybody else recognizes. It’s the question of the origin of consciousness.

-Robert Ashley, printed interview

So like, um, for Bazin, what the ontology of film has to do is it has to deal with, you know, with what photography also has an ontology of, except that it adds this dimension of time to it, and this greater realism. And so, like, it’s about that guy, at that moment, in that space. And, you know, Bazin is like a Christian, so he, like, believes that, you know, God obviously ended up like, everything—he believes, for him, reality and God are the same. You know, like—and so what film is actually capturing is, like, God incarnate, creating. And this very moment, God is manifesting as this. And what the film would capture if it was filming us right now would be like God as this table; and God as you; and God as me; and God looking the way we look right now; and saying and thinking what we’re thinking, right now, because we are all God manifest in that sense. So film is actually like a record of God, or of the face of God, or of the ever-changing face of God.

-Caveh Zahedi, Waking Life

Silence is the soul’s invisibility. We can, of course, conceal ourselves behind lies and sophistries, but when we speak, we are present, however careful our disguise. The monster we choose to be on Halloween says something about the monster we are. I have often gone to masquerades as myself, and in that guise no one knew I was there.

-William H. Gass, “On Learning to Talk”


I have tried on and off for several years to write an essay on Perfect Lives and in all of these attempts I’ve failed.  It’s the center of my personal canon; the libretto atop the pile of books that form my bible-like any good post-structural Gideon I keep them next to my bed-and I find I revisit and ponder passages from it with a frequency that far outstrips any other book. It defies categorization, understanding, it refuses to be anything but itself and evades the bounty hunters of language that might desire to tame it so it might serve them on their own terms.

As such, there are few things I can accuse Robert Ashley of “understanding” with a clean conscience. But if even the most diffuse work has some sort of pivot point, if anything has a container even if the container can’t be specified to anything smaller than “the universe”, I would phrase the pivot point to Perfect Lives as follows:

Words don’t want understanding. They want children.

Perfect Lives is a work obsessively concerned with flatness; the flatness of Ashley’s voice, the flatness of the Great Plains, the flatness of common language, cliches, the flatness of the television. And so a flatness of language-and everything’s language, everything can be read-gives a suggestive depth and a sense of the things we can’t see (or perhaps that we don’t realize we’re seeing) that nevertheless never stop moving. The video shows static shots, the characters rarely ever move, but the shot keeps changing ever so slightly or with allusive turbulence. As presence implies lack; as the a widely spread line on the battlefield implies few reinforcements; as the things that seem to coat the world grow thin the way the uniformity of the paint on a house only maintains itself by our constant touch-ups, so Perfect Lives glimpses at something larger through the cracks. It’s an architecture that seems to touch the sky by its falling apart.

That meaning is a process, a calculus of the senses made in the face of a nothing that threatens to divide anything into the infinite is dramatized most cogently in the first episode; note how the intellectual determination is characterized as a preference. Interjections by the chorus in parentheses:

He studies the ashtray and tries to rule out preference, pre-

ferring (of course) over not preferring,

but he prefers, gravity (over what other state?) pre-

ferring in this case, (of course) earth

(the earth as they say), preferring

some state over non-state. (of course)

Now he grips himself with determination,

even knowing it causes sadness. (of course)

He is determined to be what?

(of course) He is determined to be serious,

not for the first time, not for the first time, there is the feeling

(of course) of a mistake.

But too late, he has arrived…

Ashley leaves in the corrections one makes mentally when speaking and in these suggests the tenuous, flowing nature of the conclusion of the language is betrayed; the clean confidence with which the writer or speaker is implored to present themselves to the world is but a construction; behind and around it sits, as Ashley puts it, “a ball of hot stuff we haven’t put our minds to yet.” Ashley is the first ‘pataphysician in earnest, a gentle explorer into a world of subjective pluralities after meaning that was always there, but may never have been. The chorus repeats, in each installment, the corks with which the shifting narrators attempt to bottle language unsuccessfully as it fizzes out all around them. (Of course.) It’s a coming to terms (and more terms) with the traumatic experience of facing language to see it has more powers greater than we ever imagined and that we can’t actually own it-the chickens of the word and the image come home to roost and the aftermath in which we all diffusely exist.

The overarching plot of the opera, which is barely touched on in favor of seeming digressions that may or may not be such, dramatizes this shifting exultation or transgression around a thing that seems, sometimes, to be there, and other times, more frighteningly might not. Perhaps it both is and isn’t, and this might be the most disturbing thing of all.

I quote the summary from the back of the Dalkey paperback edition of the libretto:

Raoul de Noget, an over-the-hill singer, and his younger pal Buddy (“The World’s Greatest Piano Player”), find themselves in a small town in the Midwest. They become friends with the son and daughter of the local sheriff, and the four hatch a plan to do something that, if they are caught, will be seen as crime, but if they are not, will be art: they will rob the town bank, take the money over the border into Indiana, and then return it the next day.

Episode 1 is the overture and lays out the primary question: There’s quite possibly nothing and quite possibly everything behind language. The gut seems to suggest whatever this sensed (no)thing is contains both the elements of overwhelming joy and of the worst sort of existential misery. What to do? What to say?

Knowledge as conquest of the surrounding world doesn’t seem to be the answer. Throughout the piece, in the manner of Gertrude Stein or James Joyce, Ashley is using words that have multiple definitions to stand in for several of the multiple senses in which they can be used. The word bursts forth as a wellspring of plurality in opposition to the tight academic “grasp”. In this passage, this method is spoken of and demonstrated simultaneously:

I am not sitting on a bench next to myself, (true enough) whatever that means.

I am a city of habits.

I am completely knowable in every way. (true enough)

I recognize superstition in every form.

The anger of the words wakes me in the dream of myself. (true enough)

Note the shift from the earlier interjection by the chorus of “of course”, a confident punctuation, toward the less certain and oddly quantitative “true enough”.

This and the other episodes are portraits of the words use to dance around the means in which we “master” the word. In the overarching structure of the piece is suggested a more anarchistic relationship to the word, but in this anarchistic relationship comes a very different landscape that looks superficially but precisely like the one that preceded it.

This is why Ashley names each installment after a common space. Tomorrow we’ll look at Pt. 2: The Supermarket.

The Desiring Machine’s Panopticon


You go cheep cheep cheep between bulleyes and bluster

Stiff as your poker face

Keener than mustard

From your own back yard to the land of exotica

From the truth society to neurotic erotica

-Elvis Costello, Pidgin English

The separation of the screen reproduces itself in numerous fashions; at its root it’s a reflection of the one-sided relations we’d like to have with strangers. In the United States, it’s the checkout counter, or at least starts as the checkout counter.

So, obvious question, what is the social relation recreated by the medium of the checkout counter?

Well, it’s a miniature Stanford Prison Experiment. Step on either side and become the all powerful consumer whose complaints can be heard and are taken seriously (or there will be consequences, the customer is always right after all) and the lowly employee, who must frequently apologize for the infraction of existing wrong. The customer, of course, is only given this power so as to deflect from view the actually powerful lords of capital, who give the illusion of power in order to deflect from the actuality and misuse of their own power.

The internet is the illusion of power, or rather the purposeful scaling back of power so as to make the person sufficiently frustrated with the failure of the people around them to eat each other. The roles must be reversed regularly so that you don’t get a clean binary through which to revolt. The lesson of driving a car, the windshield being the most powerful screen before the advent of the internet, is simultaneously to socialize the limitless desire for power in the form of speed and to abstract the person from their entire environs while simultaneously confining them within the limited bounds of what’s accessible by roads. Road rage is the neurotic condition of the reactionary consumer, driven mad by what amounts to very little actual power.

The world in a box, you in an actual box.

And so the screen, like the car and to a larger extent the checkout counter, desires to reduce one’s relation to the world to a binary relation of desires met or not met. The self is positioned at a remove and can only read another person’s actions by the slightest reductive quality of the simplified wanted experience and its inevitable disappointment.

This creates the panopticon of the desiring machine, the means by which internet discourse, especially that of a political nature, works.

The Desiring Machine’s Panopticon

As the principle driving mechanism of capitalism is the perpetual desire that can’t be sated, the thing that needs to continually grow fatter or collapse. This is embedded mythologically in the striver archetype, in the “upward mobility” story, etc. The striver story is inverted in the purity narratives of victimhood of the left that are now being broken down and/or (andor?) expanded. They’re stretching out so to speak.

The social media network is the truly postmodern device of control; it works on a seeming contradiction; a panopticon that runs on the inability of the other people in the box to see each other. Anything that can be convincingly stated as being “coded language”, coming from any direction of power, can train the people in a given tunnel of communications to completely block out careful reading or discussion. We all become guard and prisoner simultaneously; otherwise how else do you filter the onslaught of information coming at you, all of it taking defensive stances of being of the utmost importance and confidently knowing. The troll’s mark is the proclamation of utmost certainty that betrays itself as being otherwise.

The traditional panopticon of course works on similar mechanisms-the all seeing eye of the jailer and its repressive potential is outsourced to the prisoner and distributed. The major difference in the panopticon of the Twitter or Facebook feed versus that of the more traditional surveillance state is its exclusive existence in the internet. The internet is an imperialistic attempt to gain hegemony over the visible world by the mediums of the written word and the still or moving picture.

This sudden aggressive shift in hegemony creates two primary assaults, barely perceived on the conscious level by the user, that can be framed in dialectics but not totally contained by them. As such I’m going to present them as two sided things of presence/lack divided by a slash that shouldn’t be taken as a strict separation: —The overwhelming influx of information of all sorts/the need to rapidly be able to sort this information into streams of legitimacy/coherence—and—The disinhibition in the face of a lack of standard social mechanisms of compromise (body language etc.) on the poster’s end/the assaultive fallout from this on the reader’s end.

But of course on the internet we’re all both poster and reader, producer and consumer, in varying proportions. We end up with a market glut of things to consume, and to flip Marx’s concept, what could be called a “crisis of overconsumption”. The problem becomes not the production of content-there’s more content on the internet now than could ever be consumed by a single person even if reincarnation was an option that included free refills. The valued commodity becomes more severely the production of feelings of desire for product. The early romantic thrill is gone from the act of consumption; the current craze for vinyl records, the first nostalgia craze driven by a demographic that can’t reasonably be presumed to have any dominant childhood desire for the product, .

Put otherwise:

Q: What do you get the man who has everything?

A: The ability to want any of it.

We drift toward the feeding frenzy of the Twitter trend as it ascends not because of wanting to discuss what it is but because we want to experience the excitement of the feeding frenzy itself. The viral as viagra. If we consume in order to assemble identity, the ultimate product in terms of built in obsolescence is the fleeting closed sufficiency of the identity statement, the A=A. A ghost to be chased, a thing that can only be held as tightly as can water.

Part of why Ayn Rand resonates so much with a portion of the population, beyond and directly within her reactionary politics, might be her steadfast assertion of the A=A in the face of its non-existence even within and surrounding her own work; it gives the comfort of basking in the inertia of a present that doesn’t exist.

America is in a trade war with China. It’s losing.

This past week news media outlets around America have been silently editing out the ‘unimportant parts’ of the presidential primaries, particularly those surrounding Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s comments on Mexico and China. They instead are highlighting the ‘more important’ parts of ‘controversial statements’ (i.e.: the parts where he’s obviously vying for both press coverage and to appeal to the very far right).

We don’t beat China in trade. We don’t beat Japan, with their millions and millions of cars coming into this country, in trade. We can’t beat Mexico, at the border or in trade.

– Donald Trump

A spat of articles were quickly written to challenge the idea that America could be losing to Mexico in trade; these articles all pretty much admitting “yes but not by nearly as much as we have historically”, though you wouldn’t get it from their headlines (e.g. Is Donald Trump right that Mexico is ‘killing us’ on trade?).

But curiously missing were headlines asking “Is Donald Trump right that China is ‘killing us’ on trade?”

Why? Because everyone knows the answer: yes. China is killing us on trade. China has overtaken the United States GDP, though the US media has so far declined to cover this. (1)

Not only is China’s economy larger than the United States, it’s growing remarkably faster. The US media hurrahs every time the growth projections for China are around 7% and even champion 7.5% growth as a significant and important slow down from its historic “10%”. The United States struggles to achieve 2% growth.

It’s not fair to compare numbers out of context like this: China is an emerging economy and about to hit the knee of the curve into a modern import-consumer economy. The growth numbers above are both easier for China to achieve as it continues to industrialize and modernize. These are specific policy targets the Chinese national banks are targeting for reasons we will get to in a minute.

China is the central economic spoke of an Asia-Pacific region of the world. This region is about to crest into financial and economic plenty. In one or two short decades the Asia-Pacific region (comprising nearly half of the entire world population) will transition from second to first world nations. Every prediction from every multinational bank positions the Asia-Pacific region and China especially as the center of the global economy for at least the next half century. These same banks predict that the region will grow to host nearly 3/4 of all global shipping – this causing the United States to double down in investments to the Panama Canal.

China is set to lead the helm of a huge financial windfall. However, they haven’t been merely waiting for natural causes to provide this. Frustrated by inaccessibility to leadership positions denied to them in highly guarded multilateral banks and lending institutions (the World Bank and the IMF), China has developed a series of its own international organizations, forming an alphabet soup including the new BRICS Bank (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa international bank), the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the ADB (Asian Development Bank), and several others.

The AIIB in particular has garnered a lot of US press because the United States tried at the time of its formation to project the image that China would not be a responsible leader of the initiative and encouraged its allies and defense partners not to join in membership. Alas, the majority of allied parties including the majority of Europe did join the AIIB. This was somehow unanticipated by US statesmen and it took the States by surprise.

The AIIB is one of the tools that will be used by China in its upcoming plan to create a ‘new silk road’ or ‘one road, one belt’. The AIIB will be used to grant internationally sourced investments to building infrastructure in countries that will benefit its lenders geostrategically – similar to how the IMF funds the majority of war costs on the Kiev side of the civil war in Ukraine because it benefits the NATO member countries that contribute to it.

China will be using the AIIB to build oil pipelines, highways and other infrastructure through Eurasia, and ports in countries with access to the Pacific Ocean. With this ‘one belt, one road’ initiative China seeks to develop a large economic zone in its neighborhood and in tandem with the rise of the associated economies. China will profit from the trade, the capital flows, the economic power, the regional leverage and the debt that must be repaid by the borrower countries.

Additionally, much like how the Colonies stole intellectual property from Britain to sponsor their industrial revolution, industrial cyber espionage by China is asymmetrically beneficial (versus the US’s industrial cyber espionage of China) to that China. China has simply more to gain in the cyber espionage war than the United States does on the side of intellectual property. This is even more complicated for the US because there is no international intellectual property law nor any international cyber law it can enforce.

Recently China depegged the Renminbi (Chinese currency) from the dollar, a move that was immediately criticized in US media and caused US officials to go haywire. The dominant narrative in the media was that lowing the currency was manipulation and was done to offset Chinese export losses (around 8%) in the previous quarter. This is partially true but so far from complete as to be dishonest. Missing from the broad media coverage was the fact that a depeg of the Chinese currency was a long standing demand of the US government and was advised by the IMF.

The US wanted China to depeg its currency when it would led to the Chinese economy becoming in the more immediate term a consumer economy on level of the size of the US economy. The strategic depeg this week was criticized because the float of the currency drove its value down, rather than up (as the US wanted). This puts an upward pressure on the US dollar and will encourage US debt to continue to drive the global economy through consumer debt. It will also probably exacerbate the US export problem so much that the Federal Reserve may back out of plans to raise the US bond rates in the upcoming financial quarter.

China did what the US asked them to, but what they did is going to allow China to continue to grow its economy relative to the United States in the short term. It also encourages other countries to take debt from US trade deficits and means that China can be continue to grow larger than the United States before it decides to “balance” and level out. A very good explanation of these details can be found in Patrick Chovanec’s Let the Global Race to the Bottom Begin. Phil Levy does a good Q&A in Let Slip the Dogs of Currency War, similarly noting that nothing specifically implicates China for bad behavior because it did exactly what the US has been asking it to, but in a way that harms the future of the US economy in predictable terms.

Folks in high finance have been warning that the trade war may turn into a currency war. At the Financial Times, headlines read: China devaluation raises spectre of currency wars, rhyming with prior coverage wherein Brazil accused the United States of doing the same to them.

This paves the way for the accusations of alleged US backed coordinated naked short selling that set off the most recent market turmoil in the Chinese stock markets. Intelligence interference of the sort has been seen before in the Libor rate scandals, Iranian financial hacking operations, and others – given the national security stakes, do we think the United States is above this sort of covert action?

The Xi Jinpeng administration wants China to grow into a superpower that can compete with the United States. Already a permanent member of the UN security counsel and holder of atomic weapons, China has officially stated its intention to become a great global nation. So far it’s tried to do this by consolidating financial might, soft power, and increasing regional responsibility. China now spends the second most of any nation of military budget. This is where the United States has a fundamental issue. The United State Grand Defense Strategy, codified in the leaked Wolfowitz Doctrine, is to prevent any other nation from rising in order to preserve its uniqueness as a hegemonic superpower.

Knowing this themselves, China has sought to eject the United States from the Asia Pacific region. It has gone on the record internationally claiming that the US is not a legitimate Pacific power and need not patrol these areas with aircraft carriers when other regional powers can provide the services the US claims to provide. Crucial to this effort, China has been developing exclusive trade deals with ASEAN (regional powers) and has excluded the participation of the United States despite great enthusiasm on its part.

So it makes sense that the Secretary of Defense has said “passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier“. Or that Thomas Friedman has publicly called the Trans Pacific Partnership a national security imperative on multiple occasions. Or that the historic address by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the US Congress on mutual security (re: extending NATO into Asia) saw him answering questions about the TPP almost exclusively in relation to the national security benefits it would foster in the face of a rising China. It explains why Obama, during his last State of the Union Address, urged the US to pass TPP as a means of “writing the rules” in Asia, rather than China.

The TPP is a protectionist trade deal that enshrines benefits and provisions meant to exclude China. It would create a trade bloc through the Asia-Pacific region composing 40% of the world’s GDP. The draft chapters leaked through Wikileaks reveal a slew of international laws that work against China. If China were to want to be allowed into the TPP’s trade bloc, it would need to adopt a slew of castrating laws the United States has long sought to establish over China. It would benefit regional adversaries and neighbors of China in a way that might keep them from being entirely under China’s economic shadow. It codifies partnerships and mutual benefits between nations that might otherwise be divided and conquered by soft or financial power. If the TPP passes, China will be faced with a choice to be excluded from huge capital flows or to agree to international law that will end many of the tactics it currently employs in its bid for global prominence.

The United States media has mostly been worried that a cabal of rich neoliberal capital monopolists and international corporations would be armed by TPP to further control and to accrue wealth, ideas, labor and productive capacities: that the economic benefits will go primarily to the few while the many are left hoping some of this wealth will make it into their 401k – or that somehow they will marry a daughter of one of these moguls and launch themselves into riches. This is a tangential issue to the one covered in this article but I’ll cover it briefly:

The United States does not have state owned enterprises (though much of its enterprise happens to be owned privately by the same elite circle who hold positions as defense and public officials). When a country in a trade war creates a weaponized trade deal for its industry and security, the few private individuals that own these enterprises will have their power and wealth magnified by that trade deal. The question is: which country’s elites will reap the benefits?

  1. It depends on how you measure and diehards will stick to obscure measures but most estimates agree that the US has been overtaken in price-parity adjusted gross domestic product..

The Last Movie Review Column

Look, I…I just got fired so…so I’m delaying sending this to the editor until he’ll have almost no time to see what it is. Yes, your suspicions are true-I will, as of the end of this column, no longer be writing reviews for the Altfield Gazette Tribune. They’ll print this very small and in the back. But for the few of you reading now, I’m going to say all the things I was never allowed to put here.

-Titanic is the greatest film ever made. It fulfills all our primal desires and fantasies for blood lust: it gets us all worked up into a frenzy by making us grow to hate Leonardo DiCaprio’s character so much that we want at the least for him to get off the screen but more deeply to see him suffer for how he inconvenienced us, the audience. The cinema as gladiatorial arena. When Kate Winslet slowly removes each of his blue frozen fingers from the log that kept him afloat we all cheered. The three hour build-up came gushing out. You know that’s why you saw it again and again and paid for the privilege.

-A lot of the stuff in those classic Godard movies just doesn’t work.

-When we hear a great performer or director has narrated a cat food commercial, receiving this information makes us immediately desire to watch the cat food commercial repeatedly, while we figure maybe we’ll actually get around to watching their more important work. Why is that? And why does it feel so right?

-I’m not complaining.

-Now I’m complaining. They never gave us enough time for lunch here. The coffee was always the shitty instant stuff. We called it ‘drip torture’ behind all your backs. The toilet paper was rough. It was no way for a man to spend the majority of his waking hours. I’m thankful to be leaving.

-I procrastinated too long. I fear I won’t have time to fill out the column proper. I want to thank all of you who have followed this for the last seven months; you’ve been lovely if somewhat slow. And so, I finish with a story-when I was in primary school I knew a kid who, to see if the teacher was actually reading his papers, filled the last 200 words of his 450 word essay with copypasta of the phrase “screwflanders”. In the spirit of this, both in its nostalgic haze of youth and —–..?,’;’;;’lk.”:;,.screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflanders screwflandersscr

(This is a short story to be recorded on my second comedy album. Check out the first one here.)

The Foucaultian Terminology for Propaganda used by the United States.

The terminology for propaganda operations inside the US government has differed across departments, audiences, and time. Terms used by the US government for propaganda include ‘information support’, ‘psychological operations’/PSYOP, ‘perception management’, ‘public diplomacy’, ‘information operation’, ‘strategic influence’, ‘strategic communication’ and many more. Lieutenant Commander of the United States Army, in a report on the evolution of US propaganda efforts into the 21st century, provides a quick summary.

Lieutenant Commander Susan L. GoughUnited States Army
Lieutenant Commander Susan L. Gough
United States Army
“The Evolution of Strategic Influence”

Lieutenant Gough captures the US’s current stance on perception management in the phrase “Strategic influence constitutes the orchestrated combinations of them all”: through a mixture of internal debate, administration definitional exercises and typical fluctuations of expert language, different technical expressions of overt and covert influence have found themselves associated with particular but shifting terminology. These individual expressions of influence are combined together into the larger, more comprehensive propaganda effort. “Psychological Operations” (PSYOP), for example, emerged to mean “planned programming for the purposes of affecting the decision making of foreign populations and leaders.” On the other hand, “Perception Management” means something related, though slightly different.

Psychological Operations
Psychological Operations; Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
Perception Management; Joint Publication 1-02 DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Term
Perception Management; Joint Publication 1-02 DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Term

PSYOP usually, though does not always, mean something different than “Military Deception” (MILDEC) which does sometimes include psychological programming but can instead primarily feature a host of traditional deceptive techniques such as “Signals Manipulation”: hacking radar, communications and other trusted measurement and transfer instruments. The specific use of PSYOP inside of a MILDEC setting is often called MISO – “Military Information Support Operations”.

Military Information Support Operations
Military Information Support Operations; for foreign adversaries, in particular during conflict. Joint Publication 1-02; DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

The specific term used for the application of military style psychological operations inside of the United States is called CAIS. Civil Authority Information Support is given sometimes during “Defense Support for Civil Authorities”, a broader term for DoD support of peacekeeping operations inside the United States (think ‘calling the National Guard’). Defense and Information Support can be applied inside the United States during national disasters (Hurricane Katrina) and states of emergency (Occupy/Ferguson).

Civil Authority Information Support; military propaganda support of domestic law enforcement. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

“Public Diplomacy” is an old, proven term used to mean information usually identified as coming from the US Government that is edited and planned to have a specific message and effect. Strategic Communication is a new term that identifies the other half of the influence space: information that may or may not be identified as coming from the US Government that is edited and planned to have a specific message and effect, including PSYOP. The (Bush/Obama administration era) overall comprehensive term used to mean ‘influence messaging’ span the overt and covert domains and is thus called “Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication” (PDSC).

Strategic Communication.
Strategic Communication. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication; Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

In a fit of Foucaultian Knowledge/Power, Associate Professor of the Public Diplomacy Institute at George Washington University Bruce Gregory says of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication that ‘naming is part of a struggle over meaning. In naming, we judge as well as we describe.’; This is support of positive perception of the PDSC term in contrast to alternatives such as “manipulation, … propaganda”.

Bruce GregoryDirector, Public Diplomacy InstituteGeorge Washington University
Bruce Gregory
Director, Public Diplomacy Institute
George Washington University
“Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications: Cultures, Firewalls, and Imported Norms”

Currently inside the US Government the terminology is inconsistently applied and subject to debate. For example, the DoD glossary of terms specifies that PSYOPs are often used incorrectly to describe the more specific Military Information Support Operation and also hinting at their overlapped territory. The same Bruce Gregory underscores some of the confusion and ‘considerable dispute’ across US Departments and the academic community over the scope and meaning at the boundaries of terms.

Terminology Commonly Used in Error. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
Bruce GregoryDirector, Public Diplomacy InstituteGeorge Washington University
Bruce Gregory
Director, Public Diplomacy Institute
George Washington University
“Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications: Cultures, Firewalls, and Imported Norms”

And lest it be misunderstood most Public Diplomacy is performed primarily by the Department of Defense. RAND contributor quotes Matt Armstrong’s “Operationalizing Public Diplomacy” when discussing what balance to strike between the Department of State and Department of Defense in future capability allocation. Both the Department of State and the Department of Defense believe that civilian authorities should have more direct control over Public Diplomacy narrative and capabilities. Matt Armstrong argues that this can’t be done by limiting the capabilities on the military side.

Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the DoD of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade by Christopher Paul
Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don't Just Strip the DoD of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade by Christopher Paul
Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the DoD of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade
by Christopher Paul

The DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms provides a helpful way to understand the primary breakdown of the difference in meaning between Strategic Communication (SC) (messaging people), and Information Operations (IO) (intervention with intelligence including people, processes, and also machines). On the SC side of the chart is detailed influence and emotional appeals – traditional propaganda. On the IO side of the chart lies OPSEC (Operational Security), CNO (Computer Network Operations/”hacking”) and others which are also used to influence decisions. [Offensive OPSEC are capabilities such as group infiltration, encouragement of political infighting and factionalization, and denying functional command chain.]

Landscape of Influence Operations. DoD
Landscape of Influence Operations. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

Upcoming articles will detail where and how these capabilities are known to have been applied both overseas and inside of the continental United States and what technology and practices available to the state to perform them.

Battle Royale (2000)

  • If you want to get an idea of just how puritanical Americans are and how interestingly twisted the Japanese are watch Battle Royale back to back with The Hunger Games.

While Kinji Fukasaku’s adaptation of Koushun Takami’s best selling novel is not a very good movie, it stands head and shoulders above its over-marketed, long-winded American knockoff. The premise is basically the same. At some time in a fictional totalitarian state, there is a rebellion, which is crushed. As punishment, the state sets up an annual contest where a group of children, 42 in Battle Royale, and 24 in The Hunger Games, are required to fight to the death until there is only 1 survivor.

The idea of having children fight to the death for the entertainment of the ruling class, needless to say, is fairly perverse. As far as I know, not even the Romans did it. But unlike Hunger Games, which casts the 20-something Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role and spends more time on the build up than the actual Hunger Games, Battle Royale dives right into its pornographic spectacle with the shameless glee of a Larry Clark scoping out skateboard kids at Washington Square Park.

Battle Royale also has more concision and consistency. Instead of constructing an elaborate narrative scaffolding, which includes 12 districts and an imperial capital, Fukasaku gets the premise out of the way with a brief introduction. The Battle Royale Law was passed in response to a violent youth rebellion. The master of ceremonies is a junior high-school teacher who hates kids. Finished. Said. Done.

The fight scenes in Battle Royale are far superior to the fight scenes in The Hunger Games films. The gladiatorial contests in The Hunger Games are an overproduced, bloated mess, overly long and convoluted, mainly so that Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen can be turned into a folk hero. She only kills when its absolutely necessary. The kids in Battle Royale, on the other hand, are thrown into a terrifying, cacophonous, violent maelstrom. They are all guilty because none of them are guilty. They’re simply lab rats in a cruel experiment fighting desperately to survive.

Battle Royale can be as tedious in its own way as The Hunger Games. After a brilliant setup, where the 42-kidnapped children are made to watch an orientation video hosted by a irritating, menacing yet beautiful perky young woman, and where two of them are murdered for their disobedience with a shocking dispatch nowhere to be seen in The Hunger Games, Battle Royale bogs down. You can only pump up a viewer’s adrenaline for so long. After awhile, the shocking, perverse, violent fight scenes blend into one another in a tedious sameness that’s not so much numbing as it is confusing. Who is killing who? Why? While Battle Royale has some excellent young actors, who have an expressive physicality that make Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson look clumsy and one-dimensional, their characters aren’t developed to the point where they can fully use their talents. There are simply too many kids on the island. They die too suddenly and too fast, and while that may be the point — life is short and violent and then you die — Fukasaku contradicts himself by padding their stories out with long flashbacks. Battle Royale is only 2 hours long, but it felt much longer.

All that being said, Battle Royale has the kind of uninhibited romanticism that The Hunger Games intentionally suppresses. The “will they or won’t they” relationship between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, the love triangle between Katniss, Peta, and Gale just try the viewer’s patience. Suzanne Collins apparently forget that if you throw a group of teenagers together into a life or death situation, they’re not going to pussyfoot about sex like a group of hipsters in Brooklyn. Nowhere can you see the rules of American puritanism spelled out more clearly than you do when you watch The Hunger Games and Battle Royale in succession. Somehow, in the Hunger Games, the “friend zone” gets carried over from blasé middle-class reality to the dystopian future.

In Battle Royale, by contrast, we move have a little trouble telling the characters apart, but when one of them actually does something to stand out from the blood spattered tapestry of the film as a whole, it’s vivid and compelling. The boy and girl who decide not to participate in the Battle Royale, and jump to their deaths, the boy who hacks into the state’s central computer system and disables their tracking devices, the menacing “transfer student” with his bullet proof vest, machine gun, and seemingly endless supply of ammunition, all of them resonate long after the film is over. Above all, Battle Royale is true to the idea of the young rebelling against an oppressive patriarchy. There are no good adults in Battle Royale. Shuya and Noriko, the boy and girl who survive and who escape back to the Japanese mainland are now wanted by the authorities, a Bonnie and Clyde waiting to hit the road, a Romeo and Juliet who decide to run away from Verona, together.