Category: Politics

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A stylized portrait of Elon Musk, tinted purple, against an orange backdrop, with the text "Elon Musk & Asbestos Capitalism", after the John Lee Hancock film.

Asbestos Capitalism: “The Founder” and the Future

Poor Elon Musk. However you might opt to label him – from freedom-defending visionary to steadily-radicalizing clown – he is, in the end, one of us. His upbringing was vastly more privileged than most, but in the final reckoning, he’s just another modern human, milked dry of dopamine by cathecting onto the chaotic, ever-escalating hum of a mass media that broadcasts far beyond (and far short of) any individual horizon. He can whinge about unfair coverage, grumble about a Colbert or a Kimmel taking a cheap shot. But there is no reason to take to the stage with Dave Chappelle at your moment of greatest ignominy if you aren’t seeking validation in the broader media ecosystem, aren’t seeking inclusion in the constellation of cultural referents they are tasked with curating.

Just a few measly centuries ago, artists and entertainers were almost wholly reliant on the patronage networks of the wealthy and the powerful. They come to you, cater to your tastes, model for the masses the staggering depth and breadth of your subjectivity. Now, gallingly for such a one as Mr. Musk, Western media industries have risen to the status of equity partners in the power structure, secured a durable fragment of influence over How Things Are To BeTM. And because their most visible public manifestation consists of beautiful humans being cool in public, they have much more influence on the aesthetics of our emerging dystopia than Elon and his hasty-first-draft approach to designing the future. He cannot torture or exile a one of them, but they can absolutely contribute to dictating what it would be cool for him to wear, or who will have the cultural cache he so badly wants to leech off of. Moreover, they can forbid these things to him, mock him, deny him a sniff of even the evaporating spume of the glitz and glamor they’ve monopolized. His Saturday Night Live episode becomes a 12:30 that never was, yet never stops. […]

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A stylized photo of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, with English and Arabic text on its arch, before the explosion.

Why Israel Hinges Its Identity on the Gaza Hospital Attack

Yesterday, the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza was hit by an IDF airstrike or a “failed rocket” launched by Palestinian militants. In some ways, this felt like an existential moment for Israel—much more so than even the Hamas massacres on Israeli territory two weeks prior. That’s because despite America’s claims of an “existential threat” from terrorism in 2001, or Israel’s perceived security needs in keeping a stateless population at bay, terrorism rarely poses serious (i.e., existential) danger to nations, and most terror campaigns fail. Of course, there are exceptions. Jewish terrorism in Mandatory Palestine forced Britain to disengage in the midst of hotel bombings, political assassinations, and kidnappings, for which Israel was awarded the legal right to statehood. Palestinians soon adopted these tactics, yet lacked the strength, and, until recently, sufficient public opinion to achieve their aims. In the meantime, Israel has become a nuclear-tipped hegemon with an identity crisis. Many young Jews want nothing to do with what the UN and human rights groups call an apartheid state, while Israel itself has become increasingly corrupt, right-wing, and religious. So when news broke of (yet another) potential war crime in Gaza, Israel needed to respond—and quickly. […]

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Stylized photos of Robin DiAngelo next to pop-art generated portraits of women and female humanoids.

White Guilt, White Fragility: Why Robin DiAngelo Doesn’t Understand Race

In 2011, an academic named Robin DiAngelo coined the phrase “white fragility” in reference to white people’s perceived defensiveness over questions of race. It didn’t explain this defensiveness—it only gave it a name. And it named only a small part of a more general condition. We’ll get to the condition of the white race in a bit, but for now, suffice to say that there are many types of white person. Some are just as fragile, yet break in a less predictable direction. Under the right circumstances, they could pressure themselves into joining a revolution. In more stagnant periods, they reach out to anyone willing to touch them. This is still fragility because it is unstable, because it is easy to recruit, because it is so common. Yet Robin DiAngelo—who is technically a scholar of ‘whiteness studies’—has little space for it. This means that ‘whiteness’ itself is not really being examined, and in failing to explain whiteness, or to give a credible story of what it means to be white, she cannot properly deal with race. Her work alludes to her own racial anxiety, but will not make sense of it. Her theory of racism is a theory of rugged individualism—and this is why it’s popular. The individual is tasked with the burdens of racism. So the individual, as under all right-wing systems, is forced to kneel. […]

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A stylized image of Ladbaby, a UK video blogger.

Quiet Bloodletting: Tax Avoidance and the LadBaby Distraction

It’s 2022, and the UK has 4.3 million children in poverty and 49% of children in lone parent households are amongst that number. Many of them during the height of the pandemic had their free school dinners revoked. After campaigning by football player Marcus Rashford, the government U-turned on this decision, only to send out a “week” of those dinners that in reality were “Two potatoes, one tin of baked beans, eight single cheese slices, two carrots, three apples, two bananas, one small bag of penne, one tomato, three Frubes, two Soreens and a loaf of sliced bread”.

The scandal of one year can be old hat by the next, and completely forgotten by the one after. This is the case with the school dinners fiasco, which embroiled the UK government in early 2021 and is now almost completely forgotten about. The necessary thrust for writing politics can be in how it connotes a larger systemic inadequacy, or act of deliberate machination. And despite UK politics being a narrow niche, you feel compelled to untangle the web.

This article is a portrait of the apparatus UK democracy has assembled – an apparatus in which by covertly cutting services and tightening purse strings the government creates an urgent problem in living standards, and then seems to solve this crisis. However, the solution is worse than the original service, funded by charity/private sector companies, and often owned by Conservative affiliates. This is with the intention of tax-dodging on an enormous scale. The government then obfuscate this underhanded switch by publishing high-profile scandal and policy, ad infinitum. Then follows the inevitable sacrifice of a hapless Minister for Health and Social Care, or Education, and the damage is never undone, justice served. […]

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An illustration of Carol Doda on a wall

Vaccine Mandates vs. Carol Doda

I clearly remember the first, and only, time I saw Carol Doda perform. It was the 60s and I was just strolling the boulevard in the North Beach section of San Francisco when I saw it: a neon outline of a blonde woman in a black bikini, complete with pink flashing lights for nipples. I had never heard of Carol Doda until then, but I saw the sign and the huge crowd waiting in an unruly, eager mob to get in—the bouncers at the club would let three people out and four people in, guaranteeing the place would stay packed. There were topless dancers in the country before Doda, but her act was breathtaking—from the size of her bounteous chest to her humor, singing, dancing, and wisecracking. It would be safe to say that she formally ushered in the topless craze (movement). As I left the Condor club, I was pretty sure this type of entertainment was maxed out, that no more could be done along these lines. To echo the sentiments of the cowboys in “Oklahoma!”: they’d gone about as far as they can go. How wrong I was.

Not too long after (I’m not talking geologic time here), I was invited to a new club in the San Fernando Valley by a co-worker. The ladies performing there were not only topless, but bottomless. The sign on the front of the place proclaimed that “If you are offended by nude entertainment, please do not enter.” I entered (purely for research purposes, of course) and found that adult live entertainment, public entertainment, had indeed advanced to another stage—far removed from the Condor and Carol Doda. Again, I foolishly decided that there was nothing further which could be shown.  Once a lady is wearing only stilettos and a smile on stage, that seemed pretty much the end of the Possible. But this was before the internet, adult channels in family motels, TV ads just short of soft-core porn, and the general sexualizing of society. Are we now, finally in the end stage of skin and sin? No. There is holographic sex in the pipeline and it will be so real, one will not miss a flesh-and-blood partner very much, if at all. There are androids which can be built to a customer’s specific requirements and perform sexually, also to his or her requirements. Yes, those will cost plenty, but as this advances—and it seems to be doing just that—imagine a whole section in Walmart for the buyer of more limited means. And sexuality is oozing out into corners not inspected by the vast majority, as evidenced graphically by Playboy’s October 2021 digital cover, which features a man (Bretman Rock) in full Bunny regalia. In fact, it seems that we are way, way, past Carol Doda and the Condor club, headed…somewhere.

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Example of Joe Biden's cultural forever war, with emotions caught on newspaper

Forever War: How Politics Work In Joe Biden’s America

In the last few decades, the term forever war has come to denote an unpleasant fact for imperial ambition- namely, that superpowers have ceased to exist, dislodged by regional actors limited to their own spheres of influence, while influence itself grows narrower and more abstract. Thirty years after America failed to take Vietnam, it would fail for much the same reason in Afghanistan and Iraq: lately, empire cannot explain its purpose even to itself, much less to its victims, whose soft power must be recruited to win modern wars. But while there is no way to hide material losses in combat, the world’s gradual abandonment of violence will, ironically, do more to expand the concept of ‘forever war’ than the usufructs of empire ever could. That’s because the forever war abroad- wasteful, belligerent, transparent in intent yet maddeningly plausible to the median dolt- is being transformed into a cultural war of attrition at home, through the same loss of purpose. I mean, what is America’s legitimating function anyway? It can’t be to lead the world on climate change. It’s certainly NOT to teach others how to mitigate a global pandemic at a time when infectious diseases are slated to redouble. It has terrible health outcomes, bad infrastructure, political gridlock, and- with crisis after unresolved crisis- doesn’t even pretend to care about the working class. Put another way, America has scrambled its own legitimation story, even though the rest of the world has not believed this story for some time now. And so, America has lost its wars and is in the process of losing the most important one, as faith in democracy collapses at home and authoritarian doldrums envelop abroad. No one, it’s been said, saw this coming, but isn’t that the point? If civic engagement is cratered- that is, if the legitimation story gets rejected- this is less a failure of voters than of the choices they are bullied into. Now that Donald Trump is gone, voter turnout is poised to collapse once more, albeit for Democrats, at first, now that the media must settle for huffing Joe Biden’s farts as the radical right preps from the paddocks it’s been exiled into. Yet the question of why this is and what makes it so predictable is rarely covered, despite it being ‘the’ political question of our time, and thus needs to be understood before any other question gets adjudicated. […]