Monthly Archives: March 2019

Springsteen is Langston Hughes Turned Inside Out

I found this interview rather interesting, especially this line.

“In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part, is in the choruses. The blues and your daily realities are in the details of the verses.”

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/26/706566556/bruce-springsteen-born-in-the-usa-american-anthem

In Langston Hughes’s poem Let America be America, the (ultimately hollow) patriotic cheerleading is in the verses. The recognition of the USA’s white supremacist history is in the chorus.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/let-america-be-america-again

In Born in the USA, as Springsteen points out, the dark, negative energy that came out of the imperialist war in Vietnam is in the verses and the affirmation of “America” is in the chorus.

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up

Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.

https://genius.com/Bruce-springsteen-born-in-the-usa-lyrics

Interestingly enough, the far right has never tried to appropriate Langston Hughes.

I Bought a Jaguar

Actually better. But still British. Over the next two years I’m going to be commuting frequently in and out of Newark, NJ and Manhattan, which means New Jersey Transit. You can bring full-sized bikes on NJ Transit trains but not at peak times. So the solution is a folding bike. This also lets me have my own bike pretty much anywhere I go. I can put it in the overheard luggage compartments on a plain or a Greyhound.

I don’t have a lot of experience cycling in Manhattan but after picking the Brompton up from Brompton Junction in the Village I road up to my old apartment at 106th and Manhattan, then back down to Penn Station. Then I got off the train in Elizabeth instead of my usual stop in Westfield. I knew this was a well-crafted bike but I was surprised at just how fast I can go. It’s almost as quick as a full sized bike but there’s something more. With the smaller wheels, you’re closer to the road, more connected with the experience of cycling. It’s a bit like switching from an SUV with an automatic to a sub compact with a stick.

I’m over 50 and I never plan to buy a car. Hopefully I’ll be cycling well into my 80s.

Like this guy.

Speaking of very old men, Holy Shit, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still alive, old enough to be Bernie Sanders’s father.

brompton

Why do so many political activists wind up dead?

Unlike Ferguson there’s no obvious connection to the police but it’s still disturbing.

The body of Columbus activist Amber Evans was found in the Scioto River this weekend, Columbus Police said in a press release Sunday.

Evans, a 28-year-old African-American woman, had been missing since Monday, Jan. 28, when police found her car near the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus.

At the time, police reported Evans was last seen wearing a white parka and black leggings, and that she recently had a “dispute with her boyfriend.” Authorities considered her a “distraught high risk missing person.”

https://radio.wosu.org/post/body-amber-evans-recovered-scioto-river#stream/0

John Keats Died at 25

I didn’t understand Keats when I was 25. I was too strong, too healthy, too oblivious of my own mortality to understand the poetry of a man dying of tuberculosis. But now in middle age I finally understand what he felt when he saw the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum and fell into despair at the thought of the arc of history, something he could understand but never experience.

On Seeing the Elgin Marbles

My spirit is too weak—mortality
   Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
   And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
   Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
   That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
   Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
   That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time—with a billowy main—
   A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.

Remember when we used to pretend mass murder wasn’t “political?”

A white supremacist in New Zealand walks into a mosque and live streams himself slaughtering 40 people. Yeah. It’s fucking political. This is not a “problem to be solved.” It’s terrorism.

He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.

He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/14/mosque-shooting-new-zealand-1222408

A Long Forgotten 1969 Student Protest Against the Internet

The Internet has always been a weapon, going back to its emergence out of the Pentagon in the 1960s as the ARPANET. One story I like to bring up is from 1969, when kids from Student for a Democratic Society at Harvard and MIT protested the Internet (then known as the ARPANET) as a dangerous political weapon even before the Internet went live.

https://surveillancevalley.com/blog/talk-the-internet-was-a-weapon-from-day-one

Artificial Scarcity in American Higher Education

One of the formative experiences as an undergraduate at Rutgers University back in the late 1980s was traveling to El Salvador with a CISPES delegation during the tale end of the civil war.  We toured two universities, the public University of El Salvador (which the army had shot up over the previous decade and which suffered from periodic closures) and the sedate, Jesuit University of Central America, where a US trained death squad would invade the next year and massacre 6 faculty members. When I got back to New Brunswick, New Jersey I realized just how easy it was to get a higher education in United States was, how much “privilege” I had. Dumbass white kids in New Jersey spent four years partying and getting laid before going onto law school or medical school and into the upper middle class. Much smarter and more politically aware kids in Palestine or San Salvador were dodging Israeli and Salvadoran army death squads just to get to their history exams. People in the global south were willing to die to get an education. People in the United States took it for granted.

Higher education is much more expensive now than it was when I was an 18 year old, but make no mistake, the United States has a vast, well-developed university infrastructure and  tens of thousands of qualified faculty members. You can get a good education at any one of the top 100 “national universities” on the US News and World Report list.  So why in the world would so many wealthy, privileged Americans need to cheat? If their kids want to study physics or history, there’s some place in the United States where they can find someone to teach them. Indeed, there are even fancy private colleges like Sweet Briar in Virginia or Drew University in New Jersey in danger of closing down for a lack of students. The American university system has more spots than it can fill.

The problem is that most Americans, and not only rich Americans, aren’t interested in education. They are interested in a place in the American elite, at the top of the American  class system. So while you can get as good an education at Ohio State or Rutgers or the University of California at San Diego, all perfectly accessible for the typical middle-class American with an IQ over 100, it’s not good enough. Your kids need to go to Harvard or Yale or Stanford. They need to make the right social connections. They need access to the children of the 1% (the better to kiss their asses). Above all, upper middle class Americans want bragging rights, something to rub in the faces of their friends at Trader Joes or on the sidelines of their kids’ soccer matches.

The American upper-middle-class are true believers in the American meritocracy. Their kids suffer. All over the country there are innocent upper-middle-class American teenagers spending time they should be using to form a band or get laid or sit under the bleachers smoking pot suffering in SAT boot camps or meeting with “life coaches” trying to teach them how to ace their interview at Bowdoin or Columbia. It’s all such a waste of time and youthful energy. But it does guarantee that the capitalist hierarchy will continue to reproduce itself. If you give up your own youth cramming for your SATs in high school, you want to make sure that when you finally make it into the elite that what you scarified so hard for remains artificially scarce. Felicity Huffman’s big mistake was to expose the scam for what it was, to cheat the upper-middle-class out of a place at an elite private university so her own kid could have time to take it easy and enjoy life as a rich kid.

It’s the reason Bernie Sanders’s perfectly reasonable proposal of tuition free public higher education will never ever happen. We have the capacity to give every American the opportunity to get a college degree. But that’s not what we want. For most people in the United States, if everybody can get it, then it (whether it’s health care or a BA in English) isn’t worth having.

The Death of the Internet

I think this underestimates just how much the Internet came out of the military industrial complex but it’s dead on about Faceook and social media being AOL 2.0. Let’s at least get back to the open source model of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Aisle C

Intended to be open, free, and decentralized, it’s now dominated by a handful of companies that control what we see and what we can say.

Jonathan TEPPER

The internet was meant to be open, free, and decentralized, but today it is controlled by a few companies with grave consequences for society and the economy. The internet has become the opposite of what it was intended to be.

In the early 1960s, Paul Baran was an engineer at the RAND Corporation when he began thinking about the need for a communications network that could withstand a nuclear strike. RAND was contracted by the Pentagon to create a system that could continue operating even if parts of it were destroyed by an atomic blast. It was supposed to be the ultimate decentralized system.

Baran went on to publish a paper in 1964 titled “On Distributed Communications,” which was influential in…

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The Psychologically Destructive Presidency of Barack Obama

Christopher Hitchens once observed that while there is almost universal agreement that Barack Obama is a memorable public speaker, almost nobody can actually remember or quote any lines from an Obama speech. Indeed, Litt comes away from an Obama event and says “yet here’s the remarkable thing: I don’t remember a word.”

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/03/the-obama-boys