Monday, March 30, 2015


It’s been one year since I last did one of these “Jerky Reads It For You” posts. In fact, the last one I did was for the March 2014 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Today, I revive this project with the March 2015 issue of… you guessed it… Harper’s Magazine! 

Harper’s isn’t perfect by a long shot. However, I personally believe that it’s currently the only American general interest monthly worth reading on a regular basis. And so, this past December, I decided to subscribe. The first issue I got in the mail was the March edition. Reading it inspired me to once again start providing all you peeps out there in Dirt Nation with a monthly précis.

It is my sincere hope that reading the following précis will give you ALL the vital information contained in this particular issue of Harper’s Magazine, thus saving you the trouble of having to read it, much less purchase it. So go ahead! Clip… Save… Enjoy!


Haroon Moghul, Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, writes in to critique what he saw as Andrew Cockburn’s overly simplistic America-bashing (and Russia cheerleading) in the latter’s “Game On” article, from the January issue. Cockburn is given space to reply, and embarrasses himself with a rather sad “I know you are but what am I?” rebuttal referencing American treatment of its native population “in the 19th century” (as if the 21st century is so awesome). A second letter dishes about photographical “artiste du jour” Vivian Maier’s sartorial and eating habits (“her preferred breakfast was canned peas, eaten directly from the can with a serving spoon while standing at the kitchen window”). A third letter discusses the benefits of making the world universally accessible to all – tall, short, fat, lanky, etc. There are more Corrections than usual in this issue. Tsk-tsk.


John Crowley writes eloquently “On Not Being Well Read”, by which he means something specific that “implies a program: the right books at the right time, a good coverage of literary accomplishment through the ages, which may shape the growing spirit and then refresh the mature one.” I enjoyed this essay quite a bit – especially the parts on intellectual bluffing – as I could see a lot of my own reading career reflected therein.


It’s a good one this month!
Most interesting fact:
- Total number of passenger planes that have gone missing without a trace since 2000: 10
Most interesting juxtaposition:
- Average rating for promptness in returning student work, out of 5, received by an online course instructor believed to be male: 4.4 (88%)
- By an online course instructor believed to be female: 3.5 (70%)


1. David Graeber’s book, The Utopia of Rules, is excerpted here in an essay titled “In Regulation Nation”. It’s an excellent survey of bureaucracy as a byproduct of the very forces that seek to curb its societal spread.
As the right has adopted the language of anti-bureaucratic individualism, insisting on “market solutions” to every social problem, the mainstream left has limited itself to salvaging remnants of the old welfare state. It has acquiesced to—and often spearheaded—traditionally right-wing attempts to make government efforts more “efficient”, whether through the privatization of services or the incorporation of “market principles”, “market incentives”, and market-based “accountability processes”. The result has been political catastrophe.
The idea that “the market” is somehow “against bureaucracy” is ridiculous on its face, but that doesn’t keep idiots from believing it. One great line about late 19th century England’s experience: “It turned out that maintaining a free market economy required considerably more paperwork than a Louis XIV style absolutist monarchy.”

Another apparent contradiction is the fact that most of “our bureaucratic habits and sensibilities—the clothing, the language, the design of forms and offices—emerged from the private sector.”

Even more so since the 70’s, “when the financial sector began to dominate the US economy”, making it even harder to distinguish between public and private. It should always be kept in mind, then, that when people start talking about deregulation, what they really mean is “changing the regulatory structure in a way that I like”.

All in all, this is a great essay by Graeber, and it serves as a great companion piece to this month’s cover article about workplace surveillance.

2. “Swat Team” reprints an incident report wherein a Florida police officer was called in by a parent to watch as said parent administered a spanking (4 swats to the buttocks), in order to ensure the punishment’s legality.

3. “The Times, Behind” provides an allegedly humorous overview of the New York Times’ struggle to understand what it is, exactly, that BuzzFeed “does”. For what it’s worth, yer old pal Jerky shares the Gray Lady’s befuddlement.

4. “Reality Bites” is a recollection about how “cool” New York used to be, back in the day when “Raul” was selling drugs to various luminaries in the city’s thriving arts scene before gentrification started rotting the city’s soul from the inside out.

5. In “Church Going”, Gary Willis discusses the Catholic Church and Pope Francis’ role in it, paying special attention to the falsehood of the idea that it has been in any way “permanent” or resistant to change. The opposite is true, historically speaking. It has been quite flexible.

6. “Below the Pelt” is a report providing “A Peek Inside a Furry Convention” by Debrah Soh, a PhD candidate in sexual neuroscience. She makes this group of people who like to dress up as animals and screw around sound about as boring and mundane as it could possibly be, you know… considering.

7. “Thumbnickel” is a weird little Bavarian fairy tale, as originally collected by Franz Xavier von Schonwerth in the 1850’s, but probably much older. It’s about a thieving little jerk that hangs out in a cow’s ear most of the time

8. The novel excerpts are usually the worst part of Readings, and this month is no exception. “Make Me Live” is an excerpt from Nell Zink’s novel, Mislaid. It’s about growing up a thespian and/or a lesbian and going to Stillwater Academy and becoming a poet and good God this is fucking boring.

9. In “Homeroom Security”, the UK takes on its youth terror threat with something called “Prevent Duty Guidance: A Consultation”, which is a paper issued by the UK Home Office that aims at identifying kids on the verge of being indoctrinated by extremist mullahs and the like. Kind of alarmist, but seemingly necessary at this point, no?

10. Nice set of photographs by Tim Parchikov, showing people reading burning newspapers.


“Nice Work”, by Samuel C. Florman, was originally published 39 years ago, and it’s about what Studs Turkel called “the daily humiliations” that people endure when they go to work. Indeed, most people are not “satisfied” with or by the work that they spend their lives doing in order to earn a paycheck. No matter what the job-enrichment enthusiasts say about the matter, “sick people—alienated people—are not made whole by an interesting job.” An interesting, if depressing, take on the subject, and complimentary to this edition’s depressing cover story (about which more… NOW!).


Esther Kaplan’s “The Spy Who Fired Me; The Human Costs of Workplace Monitoring” is one of those relentlessly depressing reports that just goes on and on, adding fact upon fact and argument upon argument, growing a merciless, reinforced mountain of abject misery that leaves the reader reeling and fact-drunk, thundered into a toxic daze of over-informed, fatalistic apathy, wondering what in the name of high holy FUCK can one person be expected to DO about all this evil?

First and foremost, this is another one of those stories that reminds us that there is no such thing as privacy, or the idea that one can have an “inner life” anymore. Especially not if you’re using the Internet “on company time”. And that includes breaks and lunches. “Anything you do with a piece of hardware that’s provided to you by the employer, every keystroke, is the property of the employer. Personal calls, private photos—if you put it on the company laptop, your company owns it. They may analyze any electronic record at any time for any purpose. It’s not your data.”
In industry after industry , this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces, an effort that pushes employees to their mental, emotional and physical limits; claims control over their working and nonworking hours; and compensates them as little as possible, even at the risk of violating labor laws. In some cases, these new systems produce impressive returns for the bottom line.
The section on what’s been going on with UPS and their delivery fleet – the use of something called “telematics” – is particularly illustrative. Telematics is “a neologism coined from two other neologisms—telecommunications and informatics—to describe technologies that wirelessly transmit data from remote sensors and GPS devices to computers for analysis. The telematics system that now governs the working life of a driver for UPS includes handheld DIADs or delivery information acquisition devices, as well as more than 200 sensors on each delivery truck that track everything from backup speeds to stop times to seat-belt use.”
Telematics was introduced as a “safety measure” when it was rolled out a few years back, but “safety is not the reason given for telemmatics on UPS investor calls. On those, executives speak instead about the potential for telematics to save the firm $100 million in operating efficiencies, including reduction in fuel, maintenance and labor.” Indeed, daily UPS domestic package delivery “grew by 1.4 million between 2009 and 2013, the years in which telematics was being rolled out—and these additional packages were delivered by a thousand fewer drivers”. The health consequences for drivers rushing to beat the clock (and their fellow drivers) are readily apparent when one visits a UPS facility at shift-change time. Many of the men are walking wounded.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is one mantra supporting the collection of KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators).

And if your employees hate and resent the use of invasive telematics to watch over them… so what? “The important thing is where the power lies,” said Zingha Lucien, a fleet consultant. “Drivers might not be happy being measured, but in the end THEY WILL YIELD.” Because don’t we all? Yield, I mean? “People get intimidated and they work faster” enthuses another. “It’s like when you whip an animal.” Right.

Another chapter in this never-ending saga is how employees are slowing being turned into day laborers. “The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the number of retail employees involuntarily working part-time more than doubled between 2006 and 2010, from 664,000 to 1.6 million.” Putting the scheduling bullshit so many people have to put up with these days succinctly but accurately: “In exchange for twenty hours of low-wage work each week, staffers give up control over their entire lives.”
62 percent of retail jobs are now part-time and two thirds of retail managers prefer to maintain a large workforce, to maximize scheduling flexibility, rather than increase hours for individual workers. ...Most low-wage workers juggle two to three jobs just to get by… but it’s almost impossible to get a second job if you’ve already promised away a claim on each of your waking hours.” And that’s not even taking into consideration the growing scandal of wage theft in America (see recent lawsuits against McDonald’s in Michigan and elsewhere). “If you can get everyone to work fifteen minutes off the clock, you’re gaining almost a whole shift! Over the course of the week that will really keep costs down.”
Other factors involved in electronic workplace monitoring include the “evaporation of collegiality” (the atomization of the workforce into lonely monads of self-interest as opposed to a symbiotic sort of interrelatedness) and an impairment of performance in high-concentration tasks due to part of one’s awareness being taken up by the knowledge that one is being monitored.

I can’t believe it took Kaplan until the final page of this report to bring up the Panopticon metaphor from Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. “He is seen, but does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject of communication.”

Final line is a good one, and food for thought: “Perhaps we can’t manage what we can’t measure. But the measuring has taken on a life of its own.”


An intriguing firsthand look behind the scenes of the Grand Juror process in New York state by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, who writes that “it seems worth risking a felony charge to describe the arguments and expectations of the chamber.” And so he does exactly that (it's a felony to divulge what goes on during grand jury deliberations).
In the wake of the refusals of grand juries to indict the police officers who killed Brown and Garner, the one thing most people have learned about grand jury proceedings is that they follow the lead of the prosecutor. No case is mounted by the defense; the state’s version of events is the only story on offer.. As I saw firsthand, this makes the prosecutors singularly powerful narrators.
Over the course of sixty hours of service, we voted on more than a hundred cases. The umber of times we refused to indict could be counted on one finger. We were simply not expected to dismiss charges. 
“Louis,” I asked, “did you go to law school or something?” By that point in our service Louis and I were sharing bad cart-coffee during breaks. “How the hell do you know this stuff with this degree of granularity?” 
Louis looked at me. “In my community, everybody’s got a cousin or a brother or a nephew who’s been there. We all know this stuff. The quickest way to know your way around the details of the criminal justice system is just to be a person of color. You learn real quick.”
The question we’re left with at the end of this essay is, if it’s so damned difficult NOT to indict, why were there no indictments in the cases of Garner’s crazed murder-cop?


Subtitled "Living at the edge of Fukushima’s nuclear disaster", this "letter from Japan" sees acclaimed novelist William T. Vollmann tour the tsunami-ravaged, irradiated areas surrounding Fukushima prefecture. Adopting an almost diabolically sarcastic tone throughout, Vollmann’s enraged incredulity in the face of the biocidal insanity of both the disaster itself and TEPCO’s farcically pitiful attempts at mitigation are, of course, perfectly understandable. Information about the actual state of affairs in Japan is presented in language so abstract and jargon-filled as to approach the surreal. For instance: 
TEPCO estimated that tritium emitting 20 to 40 trillion becquerels of radiation per liter may have flowed into the Pacific Ocean since May 2011. To prevent No. 1 from exploding again, and maybe melting down, TEPCO cooled the reactor with water and more water, which then went into holding tanks, which, like all human aspirations, eventually leaked. 
Aside from the incalculable environmental damage, there’s also the human cost, in dollars lost as well as lives interrupted. “There were still 150,000 nuclear refugees. Many remained on the hook for mortgages on their abandoned homes.”
Another hilarious little anecdote: Many poor souls had toiled for TEPCO in the hideous environs of No. 1, and some had been exposed to a dose of more than a hundred millisieverts of radiation. A maximum of one millisievert per year for ordinary citizens is the general standard prescribed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. According to The First Responder’s Guide to Radiation Incidents, first responders should content themselves with fifty millisieverts per incident, for although radiation sickness manifests itself at twenty times that dose, cancer might well show up after lower exposures.
As reference: "One sievert is the equivalent of a thousand chest x-rays. … American first responders are recommended not to exceed 250 millisieverts when saving human lives, but we know surprisingly little about the perils of extended subacute radiation exposure."
Eventually I arrived at the Northern Iwaki Rubbish Disposal Center, whose monument is its own big smokestack. That is how I first came to see the disgusting black bags of Fukushima: down a forty five degree slope, behind a large wall with a radiation-caution sign, a close-packed crowd of those bags stood five deep and I don’t know how many wide. I strode slowly toward the edge of the grass, where the slope began. That was close enough, I thought. …”This is debris they burned in Kwaki, not fallout,” my taxi driver told me. “They don’t know where to put it.” Several times during our excursion he said that the bags we saw contained ash from the decontamination if Iwaki. In this he was mistaken; the city did not burn radioactive matter. But in saying that they did not know where to put the debris he uttered a truth. By the time I departed Fukushima I hardly noticed the bags unless many happened to be together. The closer to No. 1 one drew, the more there were.
All the Japanese Vollmann talks to seem to have a fatalistic attitude about it all, referring to the radiation’s “invisibility” as a cause for paradoxical anxiety/passivity. One man describes his mother's take on the topic: "Because she is elderly, it’s no use worrying about radiation. Of course she fels lonely, that’s why I am visiting her. The children will never come anymore. The grandchildren won’t come. That is the result of some fear information."

Vollmann’s running tally of the radiation levels emitted by various innocuous household and natural objects (a drain pipe, a patch of bamboo) becomes almost numbing, and all the more horrific for it. “For me, Tomioka, whose pre-accident population had been between 10,000 and 16,000, resembled the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, in that each time I returned to it I felt less safe, because each time I knew more and saw more. … I cannot tell you all that I wish to about the quiet horror of the place, much less of its sadness, but I ask you to imagine yourself looking at a certain weed-grown wooden residence with unswept snow on the front porch as the interpreter points and says: “This must have been a very nice housel. The owner must have been very proud.”

All in all, a brutally poetic piece of journalism, worth the price of admission, alone.

FICTION - THE MAN STOPPED, by Vladimir Nabokov

I suppose the publication of one of the last unprinted stories left in the oeuvre of one of the most celebrated wordsmiths of 20th century World Literature is reason enough to read this one. However, the overlong introduction with its portentous verbosity packed full of neologisms feels somewhat out of balance with the rather slight and insubstantial story, itself. It’s fine, of course. And short, so not a matter of wasted time. It’s just not all that special of a story, above and beyond its author’s identity. An old man walks into an Eastern European town lately fallen behind the Iron Curtain and has inconsequential encounters with a handful of peasants. The end.


It’s a rare event indeed when Harper’s tackles a topic of a supernatural or paranormal bent, so it should come as no surprise that, when they do, as is the case with this essay by Leslie Jamison, they try and disguise it as a “think piece” about more universal matters. Regardless, Jamison delivers a compelling and fair examination of both the phenomenon known as Past Life Memory in general, and the Leininger family case in particular. 

After a brief overview of the Leininger case (about which more in a moment), Jamison posits that we've “become increasingly interested in… the fantasy of indisputable evidence, the possibility of finding—to cite another bestseller’s title—proof of heaven.” This is a provocative thesis, one that I believe is valuable and worth further exploration for both its personal and political ramifications. Unfortunately, Jamison doesn't elaborate on her thesis very much. Instead, she chooses to focus on the work of Jim Tucker, a child psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, who “performs his research at the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS), a UVA research unit that studies near-death experiences, past-life memories, and extrasensory perception. DOPS was founded in 1067 and supported by a million-dollar bequest from Chester Carlson, the man who developed Xerox technology. To this day, DOPS receives almost no public funding—it‘s financed by private donations—but many m embers of the UVA community still feel indignant about its connection to the university.”
In Return to Life, Tucker offers a speculative account of how quantum physics might explain a single consciousness persisting across a sequence of physical bodies. He cites famous findings—like the double-slit experiment, which suggests that light behaves differently when it’s observed—to argue that pure, disembodied consciousness can exert a force on matter itself. … Several physicists I contacted declined to comment on Tucker’s theories; one expressed his skepticism in general terms. James Weatherall, a professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine, conceded that Tucker has a capable grasp on the history of physics. Yet the book cherry-picks data, Weatherall told me, and misleads readers into thinking that “quantum physics leads inexorably to dualism, where consciousness is independent of matter and can cause matter to behave in certain ways. Even if we did accept this metaphysics, and even if we did believe quantum mechanics somehow forced us to it, I don’t see how we get to the idea that consciousness can be transferred from person to person. The physics doesn’t even hint at that.”
Another skeptic, forensic child psychiatrist and sex abuse specialist Alan Ravitz says that he’s “seen the extent to which a child’s testimony can be influenced by context: how an interview is conducted, what kinds of questions are asked, how the nature and order and progression of these questions might shape the responses they elicit. If you ask leading questions, he said, children will typically tell you what you want to hear."

This raises a few important caveats about Tucker’s work. Almost none of the information about these past-life memories comes from controlled interviews conducted primarily by Tucker himself.

Also, most past life memories seem to happen inside families (“Grandpa came back!”), which leads to an environment where a family is looking for similarities, and maybe helps create them, accidentally, by seeding the child’s mind. “If we restrict ourselves to American stranger cases that have been solved the database shrinks from a robust 2,078 to a more modest number: three.”

To her credit, Jamison flies to Louisiana to check out the infamous Leininger case for herself. The Leiningers welcome her into their home and seem completely open and fearless of scrutiny. To her credit, Jamison doesn’t let the fact that the family has written a best-selling book about their experience color her opinion of their experience. She writes that “telling the story of something extraordinary and painful and confusing—even selling that story, and wanting it to be heard—doesn’t invalidate the experience itself, nor the mysterious nature of its origins: the ferocity and persistence and specificity of James’s nightmares, a toddler somehow haunted by the details of a war he never saw.”
The family on the flatscreen enacts a strange simultaneity: sincerity and performance at once. Ofthen when we sense the latter, we immediately discount the former. But the story of the Leiningers is the story of both—genuine experience morphing into public spectacle—and that duality is only amplified when I sit beside them on their couch, watching them on television.
From a very young age, James Leininger, whose experience is at the heart of this discussion, appeared to be remembering traumatic details from a past life as a WWII pilot named James Huston who died in Japan during a kamikaze attack. In seventh grade, young James wrote the following:
The burning torture of fire and smoke hit me every single night for five years… The nightmares were not dreams, but something that actually happened: the death of James M. Huston. His soul was brought back in the human form. He was brought back in my body and he chose to come back to Earth for a reason; to tell people that life is truly everlasting. You can think I am a fool for knowing this, for believing these things. But when my parents wrote the book about me and my story, people who were deathly ill or had incurable diseases sent me e-mails that said, “Your story helped me and made me not afraid to die.”
Jamison: “Did I leave Louisiana thinking James Leininger was a reincarnated fighter pilot? No. … Did I leave feeling that the Leiningers were sincere in their beliefs about reincarnation? Absolutely.”


An excellent short story about a retiree on a cruise ship holiday. He and his wife, along with a bunch of other seniors, take a “nature walk” day trip away from the ship that turns sour in more ways than one. Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more fiction by T.C. Boyle in the future.


Christine Smallwood reviews Caryl Phillips’s tenth novel, The Lost Child (“a self-conscious re-writing of the colonial past, as much as a work of literary criticism as novel” that plays fast and loose with Wuthering Heights and tales of slavery-era woe) and Notes from a Dead House, the recently re-translated pseudo-fictional prison memoirs of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Sounds depressing as hell. Finally, the third book being reviewed in this edition is Gardens of Eden: Long Island’s Early Twentieth Century Planned Communities is “a history of real estate development in places such as Bayberry Point, Copiague, Shoreham and Jamaica Estates, edited by Robert B. McKay”. The book examines how Long Island “continues to have some of the most segregated suburban communities in America. …A 2014 Columbia University report linked housing discrimination to separate and unequal education in Nassau County. Fences keep undesirable elements out; elsewhere, barbed wire keeps them in. Across the United States a network of more than four thousand Siberias holds more than 2 million people—25 percent of the world’s prisoners. These big houses incarcerate African Americans at six times the rate of whites.”


Rivka Galchen reviews Paddington: The Movie! I have heard nothing but great things about Paddington—a kid’s lit favorite about a small bear “from darkest Peru” with a fanatical love of marmalade—and Galchen’s review keeps that hot streak going. That she uses her review to elaborate a moderately liberal take on immigration issues in England isn't quite as annoying as it might seem at first blush. Of course, any project helmed by Paul King—the behind the scenes portion of the "Mighty Boosh" crew—was bound to be a worthy enterprise, tinged with madcap genius. I look forward to watching this one in the near future.

THE FOURTH BRANCH, How the CIA infiltrated student politics

Adam Hochschild discusses Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism, a nearly 600-page behemoth of a book by Karen Paget. It’s a book about the author’s involvement, in the early post-war era, with the National Student Association. The author and her husband, both university students from Minnesota, became involved with the association, only to discover later—once they were in over their heads—that it was a CIA front, and that revealing this fact to the world at large would land the both of them in jail.
Suddenly, they were in far over their heads; he was twenty-two, she was twenty, and they had a baby. What they had believed to be a democratically controlled student organization turned out to be something much darker. “We kept asking ourselves: How could this have happened?” Paget has spent many years working to answer that question, and the result is an important and carefully researched book about events that eerily foreshadow the Snowden era.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the National Student Association and student unions from other Western democracies belonged to the International Student Conference, a federation headquartered in the Netherlands, while student groups from the USSR and its allies were members of a rival federation, the International Union of Students. The two organizations competed fiercely for the allegiance of students in nonaligned countries. But the ISC, like the National Student Association, was funded largely by the CIA, and huge amounts of agency money were covertly spent on its annual meetings and in support of its sixty-person secretariat.
Reading this review, I was reminded of Frances Stonor Saunders’ essential The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (2000), an epic and impeccably researched overview of the CIA’s involvement in the creation and steering of “Western culture” at a level and to a degree previously thought possible only in the fever dreams of the most paranoid of conspiracy theorists. Anyone familiar with the findings in Saunders’ work will hardly be surprised that “the CIA’s control of the National Student Association gave it not just a means of influence but a fount of intelligence.” I mean, of course it did.

American students were essentially conscripted into writing what were, in effect, intelligence briefs about members of student unions from countries all over the world, including in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, where some truly evil dictatorships held sway. An example of why this is a bad thing:
The reports provided the CIA with information about the men and women who would someday be cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and UN officials. More ominously, they also gave the agency data to trade with other intellgence services. That is what all such agencies do. Many of the governments the United States was friendly with, however, were brutal dictatorships. The National Student Association was deeply involved, for example, in Iraq. In the early 1960’s, the agency backed the Baath Party, which was seen as tough on communism. The association dutifully passed resolutions in favor of the Baathists, and its international staff supported a new Iraqi student union to counter the existing pro-Soviet organization. Once the Baathists took power in a coup, Paget notes, they arrested some 10,000 Iraqis, of whom they executed about half. … How many of the student victims in both groups were targeted via National Student Association reports that had been passed on to Iraq?
The story of how Ramparts Magazine first broke this story back in the 1967 is intriguing all on its own.
When Michael Ansara, a Ramparts researcher in Boston, began to investigate the foundations that had funded the National Student Association, he discovered that most were housed in law firms, where attorneys refused to talk about their clients. Ansara then consulted a legal directory and realized that the law firms all had something in common: each had at least one senior partner who, during the Second World War, had served in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA.
Were you aware that the CIA had helped the South African government find Nelson Mandela in 1962? Yuppers… they did do that thing.
To combat a Soviet front organization, we create a front organization of our own; to build allegiances against secret-police regimes, we finger people for the shah’s secret police; to fight the brutality of al Qaeda, we brutally torture prisoners.
‘Twas ever thus, it seems. One wonders how long this can go on… and what the endgame ht be.

A SAGE IN HARLEM Langston Hughes in letters

This extended essay by Lawrence Jackson is a review of The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, a massive, 480-page collection that reproduces only a fragment of the Black American poet’s correspondence. I, personally, have much higher regard for Hughes as a personality and public intellectual than as a poet or a writer. Titles such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred” speak to a certain on the nose quality to his rhetoric that made him a superior polemicist and a mediocre poet. Still, it’s kind of tragic to read that “by 1948, Hughes’s profile had fallen so low that when the writer Arthur Koestler lectured at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Koestler could erroneously report that Hughes had been “broke and hungry” and in the Communist Party in Soviet Asia in 19332, and was by then also dead. Alive and smiling, Hughes was sitting in the audience.”
By 1960, Hughes feared that he had grown “NAACP-ish”, by which he meant “over sensitive racially”, but he remained in constant battle against the commercial panderers of black culture. As he watched the stereotypes change from comic to thug and back again, he put his hopes in “the boomerang that will set back the setter-backers!”
Before he died, of prostate cancer, in 1967, Hughes opened the doors for more than one writer whose later reputation, at least in America’s ivory towers, outstripped his own. … He once said about Amiri Baraka (then called LeRoi Jones), a writer who, like Ellison and Baldwin, stood on Langston’s shoulders to grasp the acclaim that Hughes never received, “He doesn’t like my work—which I don’t mind. I like his.”

This month's most interesting factoids from the world of science include the fact that for African-American men aged fifteen to forty-four, 88.7 percent of gun deaths are homicides, while among white American men aged thirty-five to sixty-four, 89.2 percent of gun deaths are suicides. Also, blind people who do not echo-locate do not succumb to the illusion that small boxes weighing the same as large boxes feel heavier, but the blind who echolocate and the non-blind do. Half of Britain’s remaining Nazi cattle were killed because of their aggression, and most lost body weight is exhaled through carbon dioxide. A good month for factoids!

Sunday, March 29, 2015


1. One of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known is rarely thought of as such. I refer here and now to the late, great Robert Anton Wilson, a veritable titan of paracultural analysis, who would be celebrated the world over as one of the most original thinkers of aberrant, paradigm-shattering thoughts, if only he'd had the foresight to write in a language other than English. In the Anglosphere, you see, "Philosophy" is an profoundly limited analytic ship that has long been mired in the fever swamp of logical positivism, while the French, Germans and other Continentals get to have all the philosophical fun, at play in the Fields of the Word. Another reason why R.A.W. is poorly served by posterity is that he was an unabashed cheerleader for the "woo", and was not as fearful in the face of the uncanny and otherworldly as such "public intellectuals" as, say, Noam Chomsky, or the increasingly ridiculous Richard Dawkins. As evidence of his unorthodoxy, I give you this most excellent essay on Cabala (as R.A.W. always spelled it) and its potential real-world applications for all and sundry. It begins:
There's a tale they tell at Military Intelligence in London, when the candles gutter low and the fog curls about the windows. It happened in 1914 (they say), when England was losing the first world war and it seemed only a miracle could save her. There was this writer bloke (they say), name of Arthur Machen, never popular or well known, a bloody Welshman in fact and a mystic to boot. Well (they say), this Welshman, this Machen, took it into his head to write a story about the kind of miracle England needed, so he imagined St. George himself leading a group of medieval archers to aid the English troops at Mons. And after the story was published in a magazine, some enterprising newspapers picked it up and reprinted it as fact. And (they say) the whole damned country was gullible enough to believe it. It did as much for national morale as the real miracle would have.

What is even weirder is the sequel -and the chaps at Military Intelligence only discuss this when the candles gutter quite low and the fog is very thick, of course. Soldiers at the front, in Mons, began claiming that they had actually seen the phantom archers created out of Machen's imagination. They insisted on it. Some of them were still insisting on it 40 years later. They said they had won the battle because of this supernatural assistance.

Fair gives you a turn, doesn't it?
Stranger still: Machen, the man with the contagious imagination, was a member of a secret society in London. This was known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and it claimed to know the long-hidden secrets of Cabalistic magic.

There were several other members of the Golden Dawn who made a bit of a name. Florence Farr, one of the great actresses of the period, was a member, and it was she who gave Bernard Shaw the ideas about life-energy and longevity dramatized in Back to Methuselah; those ideas are currently influencing life-extension research. Algernon Blackwood and Bram Stoker (Dracula's creator) were members; so was the coroner of London; so was an electrical engineer named Alan Bennett who later, as Ananda Maitreya, played a key role in introducing Buddhist ideas to the West.

The egregious Aleister Crowley; who claimed to have come to earth to destroy Christianity; was a member for a while, and I know a good World War I story about him, too. It was Crowley's habit to give his pupils a word to meditate on every year. In 1918, Crowley gave them a number instead of a word: 11. All year his pupils meditated on 11 for at least a half hour every day. . . And the war ended on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Did you feel another queer flash then?
Indeed, Mr. Wilson.... I did, I did. And I do hope those of you who've read this far will keep reading. I assure you, there is more under the Sun than there is in your philosophy. So, by all means, start learning.

2. Now that I've given you some nightside food for thought and dreams, I figure it's time I give you something useful, like tips on how to survive the coming economic and societal collapse and TEOTWAWKI. Check the link to find out what that means, and to read about 10 wonderful ways in which you can begin, right now, to prepare for a so-called "disruptive event".

3. And now, to finish things off... wanna see something REALLY scary? Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, March 27, 2015


1. For years, decades, nay, even centuries, the Powers That Be have tried to figure out why "some people" insist on refusing to believe what they're told (you know who you are). Indeed, there exists an entire, rather vigorous publishing genre devoted exclusively to this conundrum, producing tomes that vary in quality on a scale from the empyrean heights of Richard J. Hofstadter, to the frankly embarrassing barrel-bottom scrapings of Gerald Posner. But until recently, nobody has ever managed to come up with a handy, one-size-fits-all, bite-sized explanation as to why "conspiracy theories" continue to hold such stubborn sway. Enter Quassim Cassam. With a little help from intellectual sparring partner "Oliver" - apparently the living embodiment of the Straw Man rhetorical tactic - this pseudo-anonymous denizen of the blogosphere has boiled the entire Debunking Project down to its intoxicatingly simple essence: Believing in the existence of conspiracies shows a "lack of intellectual character". Here, let Quassim explain it to you:
Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn't have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn't they? 
Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread. There are conspiracy theories about the spread of AIDS, the 1969 Moon landings, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK. Sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be right – Watergate really was a conspiracy – but mostly they are bunkum. ... 
I want to argue for something which is controversial, although I believe that it is also intuitive and commonsensical. My claim is this: Oliver believes what he does because that is the kind of thinker he is or, to put it more bluntly, because there is something wrong with how he thinks. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not, as the US legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues, that they have little relevant information. The key to what they end up believing is how they interpret and respond to the vast quantities of relevant information at their disposal. I want to suggest that this is fundamentally a question of the way they are. Oliver isn't mad (or at least, he needn’t be). Nevertheless, his beliefs about 9/11 are the result of the peculiarities of his intellectual constitution – in a word, of his intellectual character.
So there you have it, all neatly tied up with a big red bow on top! According to Quassim, the most certain indicator of someone's "intellectual character" is a strict adherence to rigid ontological orthodoxy, and the surest way to maintain one's mental hygiene is a steadfast refusal to question the status quo! If turning a blind eye to the gushing torrent of lies, propaganda and disinformation The Powers That Be spew into our collective consciousness on a day to day basis sounds like a legitimate information navigation strategy to you, then by all means, continue reading this essay

2.  If there's a better way to spend one's time than creating fake book jackets and sneaking them onto "real" books being sold in the "Self Help" section of your local bookstore, I certainly can't think of it. You can see my favorite one, above, but there are many more to check out and admire, and you certainly won't want to miss the informative inside cover flaps, complete with author photo and biography! Don't let the website's name fool you; this exercise in literary subversion is neither sad, nor useless.

3. I have a quick appendix to... um... "append" to today's first Suggested Reading selection! If Quassim Cassem's "Ode to Officially Sanctioned Thinking" resonated powerfully with your own intellectual vibrations, then you'll probably be relieved to learn that the nation of France is currently moving to make "conspiracy theories" illegal by government decree! Big Brother... what's not to love?!

Friday, March 13, 2015


1. Holy Conspiracy Fodder, Batman! Even the foax at FOX News now harbor doubts about the legitimacy - at least in certain regards - of some of the more recent ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State snuff-propaganda videos. For instance, whither the origins of their alleged battalion of seven-foot-tall desert warriors who were recently shown beheading dozens of captive Egyptian Copts? I personally have no idea, nor any theories. However, the fact that such questions are now being entertained in even the most rigidly controlled sectors of the mainstream media must surely be indicative of SOMETHING... a certain crisis of "reality", perhaps, with quotation marks hanging ominously and sign/ificantly over the proceedings?

2. This Guardian editorial expresses quite forcefully something I've been experiencing for some time now in regards to what is rapidly evolving to be a "circular firing squad" consisting of competing "camps" among liberals, progressives, social justice advocates and leftists. I hope this editorial spreads far and wide, and I especially hope that it's message reaches some of my more militant, leftier-than-thou friends and acquaintances. It begins:
I am a “lefty”. I have voted Labour all my life. I believe in the abolition of public schools and the inviolability of the NHS, and that the renewal of Trident is a vanity project. I believe the state must work to ensure equality of opportunity for all: women, the LBGT “community”, those with disabilities, those of minority cultures and ethnicities, and the working class. The Guardian has been my newspaper forever. I was glad to see the back of the Sun’s Page 3, and I believe there should be more all-women shortlists for parliamentary seats. I believe immigration is more of a positive force than a negative one. 
However, you might be less certain about my status when I finish laying out my stall. Because I find myself holding a “transgressive” body of beliefs and doubts alongside my blue-chip leftwing ones that are liable to get me branded a misogynist, an Islamophobe and a Little Englander – at least by people on my Twitter feed, and others of my peer group. 
These “beliefs” are more like questions, largely about identity politics, those deep and dangerous rift valleys of the left....
Read on, friend.

3. There hasn't been a new Infomercial over at [adult swim] for a while now, so I thought I'd present another funny video, "The Best of Totally For Teens", on the off-chance that you haven't already watched it. Enjoy... and remember... Don't use drugs!