Sunday, June 2, 2019


Hey folks!

Sorry for being AWOL recently. I've been somewhat busy with a number of personal projects in various arenas, currently at various levels of completion. I'll tell you more, here in this space, when I have more to tell. 

Also, to be perfectly honest, the political situation here in North America, and pretty much everywhere around the globe, seems beyond the ability of the average person to comprehend, much less influence. It almost feels like we're desperately clutching the fur of some wildly bucking Beast, anxiously waiting to see what long-established institutional norm will be next to be toppled and shattered by its rampage.

Anyhoo, enough of all that. In the last month or so, I came across a number of interesting articles that I wanted to share with y'all, but never got around to. So today, I decided to do that, before too much more time passed and these articles became less relevant. And so, without further ado, here is my Suggested Reading List for today...


Here's a deeply depressing New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik about how the South were the real winners in the Civil War. It begins:
Not so long ago, the Civil War was taken to be this country’s central moral drama. Now we think that the aftermath—the confrontation not of blue and gray but of white and black, and the reimposition of apartheid through terror—is what has left the deepest mark on American history. Instead of arguing about whether the war could have turned out any other way, we argue about whether the postwar could have turned out any other way. Was there ever a fighting chance for full black citizenship, equality before the law, agrarian reform? Or did the combination of hostility and indifference among white Americans make the disaster inevitable? 
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his new book, “Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow” (Penguin Press), rightly believes that this argument has special currency in the post-Obama, or mid-Trump, era. He compares the rosy confidence, in 2008, that the essential stain of American racism would fade through the elevation of a black President with the same kind of short-lived hopes found in 1865, when all the suffering of the war seemed sure to end with civil equality. Instead, the appearance of African-American empowerment seemed only to deepen the rage of a white majority. Then it brought forward Klan terrorism and Jim Crow in the South; now it has brought to power the most overtly racist President since Woodrow Wilson, openly catering to a white revanchist base. It’s a depressing prospect, and Gates is properly depressed and depressing about it.
If you follow this link, you can actually listen to a mellifluously intoned audio version of this article instead of just reading it.


Dan O'Sullivan, writing at his ongoing creative project "Welcome to Sullyville", offers up a wide-ranging and substantial meditation on the current state of American culture, particularly as it pertains to how America's creeping Fascism has metastasized into a now exploding Fascism, the hows of it, the whys of it, etc. It's called Pigs, A Million Different Ones, and after a brief introduction, he posits that...
...the Internet is now the world’s largest subduction zone, where an endless column of young, mostly white males are overtaken and crushed by the unstoppable force of far-right extremism. Violent misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, gay-bashing, anti-black racism - you name it, you can find it, in ever more plentiful amounts online. 
The biggest tech platforms you can name - Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit - serve up this kind of poison on an industrial scale, mushrooming and expanding at a rate that makes catching up with the spread almost impossible. The early neo-Nazi webforum Stormfront is on life support, largely because there is no need for the far-right to stay in an online cul-de-sac; they have free run of the world now. Worst of all, those consuming this economy of hate, which has exploded into an epidemic over the past ten years, are still mostly boys. 
Meaning, we as a society are going to be living with the effects of this radicalization for the rest of our lives.
I urge you to read the article in full, and to share it with friends and family... as long as you think they'll get something out of it. O'Sullivan has a pretty good grasp on many elements of the New Fascist International(e) gestalt, and he could be a writer to watch.


Our old pal Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (my concordance here), has written a lovely article for The Paris Review about a topic that is near and dear to yer old pal Jerky's heart. Titled "To Believe or Not To Believe: That is NOT the Question", it is an exploration of the surprisingly vigorous paradoxical interplay between legitimate, profound skepticism on the one hand, and Western esoteric traditions of occult practice on the other. Along with Eugene Thacker (whose In The Dust of This Planet I also put together a concordance), I think Bebergal is one of the contemporary English-speaking world's finest writers on these topics, and this brief article is a good place to start getting a handle on where it is, exactly, that he's coming from. It begins:
Many years ago at a dinner party, I met a couple who had brought along their two-year-old son. The mother was Jewish, and the father was a practicing Buddhist from Tibet. Making small talk in the kitchen, the mother began to tell me about how she had been unable to get pregnant, so her husband had gone to their lama to ask him to bless them with a child. Some months later the couple successfully conceived, but before they broke the news to friends and family, they received a call from the lama, who told them that their unborn son was a bodhisattva—a being who has achieved enlightenment but chooses to reincarnate for the good of the world. As she told me this story, I felt dizzy and entranced. All I could see was her suddenly illuminated face; all I could hear was her voice. 
Now, I am not a Buddhist, but I experienced what she said about her child as true. He was beautiful and played quietly on the floor at our feet. For me, this was an encounter with the numinous, a realization of holiness and magic that didn’t require what religious people call faith. Moreover, when my trance broke and the other voices and sounds of the party returned to my awareness, I didn’t immediately begin to rationalize what I had been told or how I had felt about it. That spirits of the dead might move through the heavenly spheres and reemerge in new earthly forms seemed as real to me as the food that was being prepared for us. The language the family used to convey the story stirred all our imaginations. 
As a writer whose chosen subject is religion and, more recently, magic and its supernatural cousins, I admit that I am more disposed to exploring, and perhaps even experiencing, these kinds of altered states, but I am not more susceptible to believe in them. Not only because I am often critically challenged by readers and friends but because I am interested in what it means to hold to the irrational with a rational embrace, using skepticism as a compass to travel the map of the weird. One consequence of this, however, is finding myself without a home.
Let me tell you, if the above intro isn't enough to catch your interest and make you want to read the rest of the article, I don't know what to say to you!


In the wake of far-right evangelical Jair Bolsonaro being elected President of Brazil, Buzzfeed's Ryan Broderick filed a report arguing that the era of being surprised at this kind of politics is over. Now it's time for us to figure out how to live with what we've done. And what is it, that we've done? Well, that's what his report, entitled How We Radicalized the World, aims to answer, in part. It begins:
From the balcony of BuzzFeed’s São Paulo office right now, you can hear screams of “Ele Não” echoing through the city’s winding avenues. It’s the same phrase I’ve seen graffitied all over the city this month. The same one I heard chanted from restaurants and bars all afternoon. It means “not him” — him being Bolsonaro. But his victory tonight isn’t a surprise. He’s just one more product of the strange new forces that dictate the very fabric of our lives. 
It’s been a decade since I first felt like something was changing about the way we interact with the internet. In 2010, as a young news intern for a now-defunct website called the Awl, one of the first pieces I ever pitched was an explainer about why 4chan trolls were trying to take the also now-defunct website Gawker off the internet via a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It was a world I knew. I was a 19-year-old who spent most of my time doing what we now recognize as “shitposting.” It was the beginning of an era where our old ideas about information, privacy, politics, and culture were beginning to warp. 
I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege — or deeply strange curse — to chase the growth of global political warfare around the world. In the last four years, I’ve been to 22 countries, six continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. I was in London for UK’s nervous breakdown over Brexit, in Barcelona for Catalonia’s failed attempts at a secession from Spain, in Sweden as neo-Nazis tried to march on the country’s largest book fair. And now, I’m in Brazil. But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending. The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences.
This is an important piece, and well worth reading if you're trying to wrap your head around what the fuck happened to the world while you were distracted by a variety of shiny new apps and gewgaws. I urge you to read, absorb, and share. I also urge you to check out the comments section, to see how bad the rot has gotten, how severe the Dunning-Kruger-compounded right-wing brainwashing problem has become.


Hey guys, just a reminder that I have been putting in a bit of time at my Mediavore blog, having recently begun a media diary of sorts. I call it a reading diary, and I do spend more time on my reading choices than anything else, but I'm also using it to keep track of certain life events (like a recent trip to Landlord/Tenant court) and the movies and TV shows that I watch. So, anyway, if you like that kind of stuff, or if you're at all curious about what the hell the image immediately above this paragraph is all about, then by all means, keep up with my updates over at The Mediavore!

Also, as always, the Useless Eater Blog updates with a new "On This Day" entry, every single day. Enjoy!