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Alcibiades Mystery - Archives
Posted by alcibiades_mystery in General Discussion
Thu Oct 13th 2011, 05:47 PM
Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida singled out the field of anthropology as one that should receive less state funding because he thinks it doesn't help "create jobs" or spur the economy.

"You know, we don't need a lot more anthropologists in the state," Scott said in a radio interview. "It's a great degree if people want to get it, but we don't need them here."

Two chairs of anthropology departments in Florida told The Lookout they were baffled to hear that Scott was singling their discipline out as unproductive. Brent Weisman, the chair of anthropology at the University of South Florida, said he thought the governor might be clinging to an outdated stereotype of anthropologists "sitting around teaching underwater basket weaving."

But now we might know where he got that stereotype. According to the Associated Press, Scott's daughter Jordan Kandah received her anthropology degree at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. As of this year, out-of-state students pay $18,000 in tuition to attend that school. And Kandah indeed didn't pursue an anthropology career, opting instead to become a special education teacher. She is currently enrolled in a business graduate program now.


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McDonald's Moscow, Russia

McDonald's Tbilisi, Georgia

Another capitalist pretension falls by the wayside...
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Just a thought. It doesn't matter, ultimately, whether the inductees "liked it" or not. Democracy's hard. Sometimes we don't like its exercise.

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From p. 8:

"I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. It's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor. And surviving."

From p. 23:

"We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig, cow after cow, village after village, army after army. And they call me an assassin. What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? They lie. They lie and we have to be merciful for those who lie. Those napalms. I hate them. How I hate them..."

From p. 73:

"The Democratic Congress is behaving like errand boys, sent by grocery clerks. To collect the bill."

From p. 194:

"I've seen horrors. Horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that. But you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with the 3rd Army. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God. The genius of that. The genius. The will. To do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men, trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love, but they had the strength - the STRENGTH - to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment. Without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us."

Journalists receiving the leaked report also express puzzlement that about a third of the document seems to be taken up by random citations of T.S. Eliot's poetry, particularly "The Hollow Men."
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"It's not when we leave, but what we leave behind." - Lindsey Graham, Today Show, July 18, 2007

This is the most rhetorically savvy articulation of the recent propaganda, and it's working. It has the pithiness of the smoking gun-mushroom cloud formulation, and it is just as meaningless. Nevertheless, you know it is a completely effective little mind bomb when even many DUers echo this chord, change their position on the now ubiquitously named "premature withdrawal," and voice concern about "our" responsibility to the Iraqi people. It's not when we leave, but what we leave behind. A perfect little parallel construction employing the rhetorical figure of syllepsis: memorable, quotable, ingenious.

And it performs its function. It is now an absolute certainty in the minds of many that a non-occupied Iraq will descend into chaos and genocide. US troops have been transformed into the protectors of the population against such a descent, and their permanent presence is therefore now justified on human rights grounds. As an added bonus, the administration also gets to pretend that our departure will produce, overnight, a "terrorist safe haven," therefore smuggling the occupation's imaginary "link" to terrorism through the back door. All bases are then covered: the liberals will clutch the human rights concern like a precious Teddy Bear, while nodding gravely about national security, while the conservatives get their terrorist bogeyman, while heaving supposed human rights hypocrisy back at liberals. The administration has struggled for years to find a perfect little advertising phrase for the occupation: stay the course lost the wind in its sails only through careful and relentless counter-articulation. "Fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here" never caught the liberal imagination, not least because of its utterly despicable ethical assumptions. But "It's not what we leave, but what we leave behind." That's gold, Jerry. Gold.

And for all the liberals on this board who have been intoning the variations of this nonsense, I will say, like Brother Malcolm, "I say and I say it again, ya been had. Ya been took. Ya been hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Led astray. Run amok."
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I want to respond here to the recent controversies over the film 300. Many have denounced the film as right wing propaganda. Others have defended it as “just a movie.” I find both responses somewhat limited in their understanding of politics and film, so I want to set out some categories that might expand how we think of film, politics, and productive engagement of them.

A few provisos, first:

1) Film Politics Does not Contradict Film Enjoyment – One trend I’ve seen is the defense of a political critique of film based on the notion of enjoyment. There is no conflict between the two. One can perfectly well enjoy a film at one level and criticize its politics at another.

2) Film Politics is NOT a Denunciation of YOU, Personally – I suspect the trend listed in 1) is related to a false belief: if somebody finds a film politically dangerous, that person is insulting or denouncing those who “liked the film.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Film politics shouldn’t even be about “denouncing” the film. Rather, even the most reactionary films are productive if they spur conversation. Point 2) obviously follows logically from Point 1), since the same person can even enjoy a film and find its politics suspect.

3) Film Politics Does NOT Require One to “Read Into” Anything – I suppose some will accuse me of over-intellectualizing film. It’s a fair critique, I guess, but only at one level of analysis. Of the five categories I set out below, only one really requires any interpretive work (reading into) at all, and it is the least interesting category (the “message” of the film). Even in that category, I will admit to traces of cerebral “over-intellectualizing” a film if those who cry “It’s just a movie!” will recognize something naïve and anti-intellectual in their own approach.

4) Film Politics Has Nothing to Do With Censorship – As soon as somebody has the audacity to conduct a political critique of a film, the charge of censorship, Stalinism, or some other totalitarian approach almost inevitably follows. Let me be very clear: I would never call for film censorship, even of the most reactionary or degrading films. Analyzing the politics of film is about understanding, discussion, and action, not censorship.

5) “Big P” Politics (Democrat v. Republican) is an Impoverished Approach to Politics, and to Film – When I speak about the politics of film, I’m talking about what I’ll call “small p” politics: the fundamental organization of life, labor, and self in a society. I’m not talking about “Big P” politics (the various machinations and strategies of political parties. When we stick to “Big P” politics, we get a sort of impoverished version of analysis that limits us to the first category (film as “message”), and limits our perspective. “Big P” politics, as film analysis, can only yield “messages,” “heroes,” (those who agree with “us”) and “villains” (those who disagree with “us”). It is a silly way to watch a film, but the most common form of film politics on this board.

I think all the arguments over film and politics on these boards relate to a misunderstanding on one of these five points. That said, I want to lay out how discussions of film and politics can be productive of something other than vitriol, anti-intellectualism, and denunciation.


Film Can Be Political at the Level of “Message” – This is the most uninteresting political aspect of film. The idea here is that a film’s content is roughly equivalent to some present-day political dispute. The best example of popular film criticism at this level would be V for Vendetta, widely praised on these boards as a film with a “positive” (because subversive of power) political message. In order to get there, one must walk through a number of interpretive steps: character A = real political actor B, character C = real political actor D, event F = real political event G, etc. We apportion our heroes and villains and voila!, we have a “political” film we can live with. The controversy over 300 operates in this way as well: Sparta = the US, the Persians = Islamic extremists, etc. Such criticism depends on interpretation, or representation (X represents Y), but also largely on some attribution of authorial intention (which is why such readings are often disputed by reference to what the writers or directors had to say about the film, a remarkably uninteresting rejoinder). Never mind that V for Vendetta - despite the hoopla over its supposedly subversive “message” – is almost mind-numbingly pedestrian in its replay of the common assumptions of neo-liberalism (I learned that I should dislike fascism…wow!). See my analysis of Love Actually below in Film Can Be Political at the Level of Reproduction/Subversion of Generic Categories for more on why message is uninteresting.

Another subset of this level has to do with subject matter: a film like North Country which makes an explicit argument relating to feminism and labor is thought to be a “progressive film,” and we’re meant to celebrate it. Similarly, Crash or Babel are thought to have “progressive” themes (on racism, globalization, humanism, etc.). One rarely sees a denial of the political aspect of these types of films, primarily because such an aspect is overt, even crushingly so. But again, politics as message is – in my view – the least interesting, the weakest, political aspect of film. And yet this is where discussions of film on DU tend to live or die.

Film Can Be Political at the Level of Reproduction/Subversion of Political Categories – One reason I think the level of message is uninteresting is that it usually merely reproduces political categories (like V for Vendetta). Many films that are non-political from the vantage point of Big P politics are quite political in the way they reproduce social categories.

Romantic comedies are an obvious case in point. Regardless of whether they are designed as political affirmations of social gender relations, romantic comedies almost inevitably reproduce such relations. Now, those who consider gender relationships natural or unchangeable will obviously not accept this point (they’d be wrong, and even a modest historical or cross-cultural review of gender relationships would prove them wrong). If we consider gender relations to be reproduced, in part, through cultural artifacts, however, then the gender relationships taken up in film are largely political, in that they play a part (among other factors) in the reproduction of social relations (How do I LEARN how to be a “man”? How do I learn the relationship between “men” and “women”?).

This was one of the major discoveries of feminism and other mid-Twentieth century social movements, although it has been derided as “political correctness” by the forces of reaction (if it wasn’t political, why the outrageous backlash?). Again, few would argue that the portrayal of African Americans in film wasn’t “small p” political. Gone with the Wind isn’t “just a movie.” It carries a set of social relationships with it, whether the director wants it to or not. The same would go for Red Dawn, Die Hard, or Boys N The Hood.

Film Can Be Political at the Level of Reproduction/Transformation of Generic Categories or Structure – Let’s return to romantic comedies. Obviously, they constitute a well-formed genre that most people can identify. Anyone who doesn’t know how a romantic comedy will end probably has serious problems with pattern recognition. But as Bakhtin and others have taught us, genre isn’t merely “formal.” Rather, the repetitive structures of genre are linked to social relations. There’s always the “marriage” at the end of the romantic comedy – not because life works this way, but because these generic features meet some social need, and social needs are small p political. But some works in a particular genre violate generic conventions. These violations are political in that they ask us to view both the genre and the social relations that produced that genre differently.

To take a very mundane example (and I haven’t worked out the details), Love Actually strikes me as a politically interesting film at this level. While some would point to the “representation” of George W Bush in Billy Bob Thornton’s character, I think that is the most politically uninteresting aspect of the film. What’s interesting is its transformation of the romantic comedy genre: its multiplication of plots violates the central love plot characteristic of the genre. Needless to say, this multiplication works with the film’s theme (“Love is all around us,” i.e., it is not scarce, or individual, or linked to the major protagonists, but takes many forms and has many stages, and this itself shows up the paucity of the genre convention, which see only ONE form of love, and only ONE way for love to develop). That is the interesting political point of Love Actually, not the message nonsense of Billy Bob as Bush.

At the level of structure, a film can shake up our ordinary ways of understanding space/time and possibility. What if we don’t think in narrative, but think rather in terms of connectivity and repetition? This is a fundamental political question that touches on our ability, for example, to think through ecological questions like global warming. Films like Run, Lola, Run or Memento force us to examine the narrative tendencies of our thought, and are thus political at this level.

Film Can Be Political at the Level of its Aesthetic Organization/ Perceptive Transformation – Now we’re into “real” film criticism. People often forget that the aesthetics of film – film’s aesthetic technique – is itself political. Much of the advances in cinematic technique, of course, came out of Soviet Russia (Vertov, Eisenstein), and aesthetic organization itself was thought to be political in the first instance. Eisenstein’s writings on the politics of montage, for example, are all about its politics, taken broadly. Or consider Deleuze’s readings of film: the center of perception removed from the locus of the human (Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera is a key example here), a virtual Copernican revolution in the way we think of perception. One might read Steven Shaviro’s arguments about affect in film (Blue Thunder, if one can believe it): here, we’re not looking at “content” as message, but rather at “form” as a political operator. The three second cut is political, as is the panning shot from on high. They both imply a means of perception that has political implications and subjective effects.
Rather than focusing on the message of 300, then, we might ask questions about the political heft of its aesthetic techniques. We need not rely on the author’s intention for such a discussion. The questions would be directed, rather, at the politics of green screen and SGI: what is the configuration of human and machine implied by such techniques? How do such techniques enjoin us to perceive things (technology, subjectivity, vision, power, the relation between different forms of labor in society)? Are we enjoined to perceive in a standard or non-standard way? These questions are – to me – political questions (Eisenstein is quite right about this, I think), not in the “agree/disagree” or “Democrat/Republican” way, but in the way they address the organization of life in a society: small “p” politics.

Film Can Be Political at the Level of the Mode of Production – Certainly, the Frankfurt School (particularly Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer) was all over this question with respect to the studio system, and much film criticism went precisely to this point. How is a film made? What are the productive forces and the relations of production that make up something like a film industry? What are the relationships between the film industry and, say, banking or finance capital? We apparently believe that these are crucial questions with respect to television, but beside the point when it comes to film. And yet they’ve become even more important as the culture industry meets its own limits, and as nearly every film I see today begins with some industry propaganda against so-called “piracy.” Big budget studio films are just as political as small independent films in terms of the mode of production. It may be “just a movie,” but its also a commodity, taking the commodity form in ever more outrageous and flagrant ways, and this is of the essence of small p politics.

I know I’ve been long-winded here. I apologize for that. I think this is an important question for a political message board, and so I felt the need to categorize fairly precisely. That said, my categories are suggestive rather than exclusive; I expect that there are many other ways that a film can be political: almost every film ever made is political in one of these ways. Does this mean you shouldn’t enjoy a film? No, of course not. Hell, I like Die Hard, which at a number of levels is a remarkably reactionary film. It’s not about YOU. I mean only to suggest that saying “It’s only a movie” is not a particularly productive response. Yes, I know, Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (That would be a useful response to the first category I mentioned, for it is the only one that requires something like a Freudian interpretation). I’m not saying a cigar is something else. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that one need not default to an interpretive mode to see the politics in film. Nor should one default to the mode of pure “enjoyment” to rebut those who seek to discuss such questions.

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Boredom is Oppressive

I tried a post yesterday with the following thesis: the Iraq war is losing popularity in the United States not because people are shocked by it – shocked by the casualties, shocked by the carnage, shocked by the lies that led us into it – but rather, because people are bored with it. I’ll admit that I went about it the wrong way, and that it turned into a bit of a flame-fest. I apologize for that, and beg your patience for a more careful and respectful version of the same argument.

First, however, I’d like to forestall a few misconceptions:

1) I'm not bored (kinda): I – personally – am not “bored” by the Iraq War, at least if being bored means “not caring” (which it doesn’t – see point 2). In any case, this argument has nothing to do with my personal feelings or affects. It’s not about me.

2) Boredom is not cynical: I am not promoting cynicism. I am using boredom in a very specific sense, which I will detail below. But I should say here that even in its ordinary sense, boredom does not – and cannot – connote disengagement, forgetting, or ignorance. Consider standing on a long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, for hours. You are bored. You cannot forget the fact that you are bored. You cannot ignore it. You cannot be disengaged from it. Boredom is oppressive. It invades your consciousness and assaults it. The problem of boredom is not that you are disengaged, but that you cannot avoid it. If anything, it makes you MORE engaged, since once you are bored, you will usually try to do something to make that boredom stop. Return to the DMV line. If a new teller opens a window, doesn’t everybody rush for it? Isn’t there a strong desire to make the boredom end?

3) Ain't no celebration: I’m not making any evaluative claims about the current “generation” or previous generations. I’m merely describing a state of affairs. Yes, I did launch some salvoes yesterday, but I was only being provocative. It is this element of the flame that I wish to extinguish here.

Shock, Repetition, and History

So, boredom. It is my claim that the Iraq War has lost popularity – and that we will eventually withdraw from Iraq – because it is boring. The Iraq War is boring. That’s the argument.

Let me clarify what I mean. American culture – global “culture,” too – is qualitatively different today from what it was even forty years ago. Culture today is characterized by speed, differentiation, and innovation, if the thousand brands of candy bars we are hawked daily can be called “innovation.” Let’s call it newness. Our media-scape is characterized by fast cuts, fast images, and ephemeral storylines. Things emerge into it and disappear, quickly. The lifespan of those things which enter our consciousness is akin to that of a fruit fly rather than a tortoise. We are bombarded by three second cuts in television and film, we surf the Internet quickly and efficiently, we watch General Discussion change rapidly. Hell, this post is already too long for many readers.

This is a novel ontological state for the human, and for human consciousness. That doesn’t mean that it is bad, or good. It is different, and we have to account for that difference. Historically, previous cultural states were characterized by repetitive structures that promoted stability. In such cultures, the shocking event has political currency, precisely because it breaks the structure of repetition that promotes stability. Consider the Vietnam era. The Tet Offensive had the political power that it had because it was shocking. It was unexpected, at least as a general matter. The various taboos that were broken by the social movements of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s were all designed around this principle: violate the norms of repetition and you “wake people up,” or at least provoke them into some form of recognition: sit-ins, protests, the Yippies, protest theater, open sexuality (feminist and LGBT social movement rhetorics, for instance) were all premised on the value of shock, on the disruption of particular repetitive structures (compulsory hetereosexuality, the nuclear family, etc.).

That was then. That was in a culture characterized by slower cycles and repetitive structures. That worked then. It was remarkably effective, in fact. It worked so well that it was domesticated and appropriated as a form of power. Now we have non-stop shock. That is the state of our collective cultural experience – and it does affect our consciousness. Who flinches, these days, at the gay rights parade? Sure, some do, but it’s not particularly shocking. The point here is that shock has lost its drawing power – its rhetorical power and political power – precisely because 1) it has inundated the culture as a whole, and 2) it is the mode of being of people living in our culture. The logic of our existence – our very consciousness – is no longer characterized by slow, repetitive structures, but by speed and difference. If it repetitive, it is the repetition of differences: new brands, new films, new buildings, new signs, new commercials (!), new methods in education, new cars (who got a new car every three years 50 years ago??), new discoveries in the sciences, so fast that professionals struggle to remain current, new microchips, new operating systems. That has an effect on our collective operating system (if I may be allowed), and on our perceptions of the world. This is what I mean by ontological novelty. We are literally different in our ontological structure than the humans of even 60 years ago. Anyone who’s dreamed about a television show proves my point on that.

The War in Iraq is Boring

What does any of this have to do with boredom? I’m defining boredom as the reinsertion of a repetitive structure of sameness into our (new) consciousness such that it forms an irritant. We are bored on the DMV line because of the repetitive structure of the experience. We are bored by the Iraq War (even if we deny it) because it has started to violate our primary way of being in the world: the structure of difference.

What’s remarkable about the Iraq War is that it has remained, for the last four years, almost uniformly the same. Yes, there have been distinguishable periods (the CPA, the first government, pre-Hussein capture, post-Hussein capture, the election, the Shia uprising, etc.), but even those broad periods, and the various “shocking events” have been subsumed by the dull, droning repetition: car bombing in Baghdad, two US troops killed by roadside bomb, car bombing in Baghdad, two US troops killed by roadside bomb, car bombing in Baghdad, two US troops killed by roadside bomb, car bombing in Baghdad, two US troops killed by roadside bomb, car bombing in Baghdad, two US troops killed by roadside bomb. It’s intolerable not because it is shocking (yes, yes, I am shocked by the carnage), but because it presents a repetitive structure that violates the structure of newness. This has nothing to do with your individual tastes, values, or desires. This has nothing to do with your personal investment (your son, daughter, mother, brother is IN Iraq). This has nothing to do with your morals, or mine. You don’t get to choose out of the form of being specific to your historical occasion (though you can transform it). The Iraq War is boring in that it reinserts a repetitive structure of sameness into our consciousness such that it forms an irritant.

Against Outrage

I’ve tried to reflect on why the responses yesterday were so rapid, and so passionate. Apart from my juvenile insults, I think the answer lies here: if it is boredom – some form of pre-reflective and pre-personal boredom – that is turning people against the war, then it is not some moral choice on the part of our fellow citizens, not some outrage (that we’ve tried to produce in our ahistorical shows of shock and outrage, which we call protests), but almost a physical irritant, utterly amoral in content, utterly divorced from values. I understand that this thesis violates the basic values, even the life missions, of many on these boards. Those who have spent their time protesting and “waking people up” have a personal stake in believing that they’ve shocked people into opposition. I understand that, and I am sympathetic. Nevertheless, I think that my analysis is correct. They haven’t shocked anyone. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

The American people didn’t turn against the war in the face of massive protests in 2003, 2004, or 2005. The American people didn’t turn against the war when it became obvious to everyone that we’d been lied into it. It is not the vision of protests or the recognition of lies that has changed the affective tone. No. The Iraq War has merely surpassed the life-span of a syndicated sit-com in repeats. That’s harsh. I know. Real people are dying everyday. I know. None of what I am saying detracts from the horror or the tragedy. I am describing a phenomenon, not making moral statements about the war itself.

We Must Find New Weapons

I don’t suggest despair. No. I don’t advocate disengagement. No. I don’t argue that we should turn away, and let the boredom do its work. No. Not me. I do say this, however: we must find new weapons. If my analysis is correct, then the strategies that worked when shock was rare and politically dangerous are outdated. Perhaps we should be a bit more boring in our approaches, and bit more sensitive to the affective contours of our audiences. Perhaps we should work not on shocking people into recognition, but on intensifying the general structure of boredom where it comes to Iraq. For perhaps it’s boredom, this time, that will save us.
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Posted by alcibiades_mystery in The DU Lounge
Sun Jun 18th 2006, 12:41 AM
Summer, 1989. V. and I are hanging out in his room, trying to get past some level of Zelda, when we decide to pause the game and run around the corner for a cigarette. V.'s mom is home, so we take up our usual "hide cigarette smoking from parents" position behind a large wooden fence on the other side of the block. Here we are, well hidden, yapping away, smoking our smokes, and generally passing another care-free teenage day, when who comes trotting out of his house, videotape and remnants of McDonald's meal in hand, than Gino the Douchebag from across the street. Oh, Gino the Douchebag. Early-thirties, balding con mullet, aspiring to the typical Queens guido status, but too unattractive to even pull that off, thick herringbone chains - purchased from some discount Indian jeweler in Main Street, Flushing - adanglin', white sneakers all aglistenin', wife-beater tank-top and Sergio Tecchini's all tight in the wrong places, his thin little mustache reminiscent of his fascist relatives, circa 1935. Gino's been a douchebag for a long time. When we were younger, and played baseball on that corner, Gino would gun his sad little Camaro at us, and always seemed quite serious about it. Once, when Brian G. hit a ball into his yard and jumped the fence to retrieve it, Gino - a grown man, mind you - grabbed little Brian by his red Irish hair and pulled him out of the yard, then kept our ball. Like I said, douchebag.

Perhaps it was fate. V. and I halt our conversation and watch from our hidden vantage Gino's progress to the curb, where his now even sadder Ford Probe sits next to his garbage pails. Strutting and preening, he tosses his McDonald's bag into the trash, then circles round the Probe to the driver's side. Pay attention now. He's about to make a decision that will change three lives forever. Gino opens the door, hesitates, places the videotape on the car roof, reaches in and grabs the McDonald's soda which he'd left in the car, brings it to the trash, dumps it in, circles back, gets in his vehicle, revs it up, and drives off. Did you see what we saw, careful reader? Did you notice Gino's slip up? Because yes, indeed, the douchebag had forgotten his video perched so delicately on the Probe's roof, and there it is now, sliding off the back of the car to the cracked street. Transfixed, we knew we'd seen the same thing. No communication to that effect was necessary. V. and I turn to each other and say, in unison, what we're all now thinking: "That's gotta be porn."

We wait for Gino to drive out of sight, then run over to where the videotape lay in the street. It's in one of those video rental boxes - no cover art, plain black, with a sticky label on the spine. V. picks it up and - O Fortune has smiled on us this day! - the spine reads simply: P*SSY DREAMS. We open it up, and there is a videotape, obviously porn, plain black with a cheap label: P*SSY DREAMS. We exclaim at once, "Pussy Dreams!" and run back to our smoking spot. No doubt Gino was on his way to return it to the video store on Union street, whose porn library - a forbidden fortress for us - was legendary.I've often thought since about when he realized that he'd slipped up, what fury must have coursed through him as he tried to make sense of the sudden disappearance of his rented video, so recently firmly in hand, and whether he ever figured out the mystery of its abrupt absence. But it was gone now: gone for Gino forever, and soon to be forever with us.

Tucking the videotape between skin and waist band, V. re-enters his house, with me fast on his heels. But this windfall must be shared, surely? Are we so selfish as to watch it ourselves? And besides, maybe two teenage guys watching porn together is a bit - ahem - you know? These considerations are made, and we decide that both the interests of selflessness and heterosexual orthodoxy require a third, and damn quick, so we call Patty, the toughest kid on the block, with the following message, telegraphic in urgency: "Dude, Gino the Douchebag just dropped porn V.'s mom leaving for work 20 minutes come over immediately pick up snacks dude we are not fucking around with you yes porn yes Gino what a douchebag porn porn porn." Pat asks, weirdly: "What's the title?" "Pussy Dreams," V. laughs into the phone. It's on.

Ten minutes later, in comes Pat, greeting V.'s mother with a smile, and carrying three quarter drinks and the biggest box of Mike 'n Ikes I've ever seen. "We've got food here," V.'s mother says as she departs for work, "You didn't have to --." Pat's charming now: "Oh thanks, Mrs. L. I was in the mood for some Mike 'n Ikes." As soon as she's gone, he demands to see the tape, which we immediately produce, laughing and tingling with anticipation. Porn in the afternoon for this secret brotherhood. We take our places, arranging ourselves to best conceal any sudden bodily emergences from each other, it being perfectly OK to watch some porn with the fellas, but necessary that one maintain some distance in such situations, yes? And with a flourish, V. slides the tape into the VCR.

The first sign that something has gone terribly wrong is the distinctly Teutonic voiceover that greets us through the black screen. "That ain't English," Pat sagely observes. No. And it turns out language is the least of our miscalculations. You see, we've assumed the wrong vowel. For P*SSY DREAMS is not so much concerned with the female genitalia and nocturnal symbolic imaginings thereof, but rather with a particular liquid that from time to time is released therefrom (as well as from the male genitals), and the various ways of placing said liquid on, in, around, or about other individuals. In addition to its focus on urination, P*SSY DREAMS also seems to devote quite a bit of time to the practice of inserting the balled human hand into various orifices, with or without accompanying micturation. Gino, my friends, is much more freaky than we originally imagined. Needless to say, most people would turn off the revolting mess that was P*SSY DREAMS almost immediately, and we surely would have too, but what else were we to do on this summer afternoon. Point being: we watched the entire hour and fifteen minute video in all its disgusting splashiness, we never looked at Gino the same way again, and I can assure you that none of us has since eaten even one Mike 'n Ike, nor can see them being eaten without falling into full-out gags. But we learned something that day, to wit: never mistake an "I" for a "U" - a common lesson for humanity.

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I get the need to insult. I really do. I'm not really sure how this discussion suddenly spread out to cover all my posts, but I guess that's how you manage your response. That's cool. There is, behind my attempt to push the argument a particular way, a logic to the way the graffiti subculture works. I've been trying to perform that logic here, but I better spell it out now. A logic doesn't mean a justification, by the way. There is no justification, but it is precisely the point that graffiti writers don't want or need to justify themselves to bourgeois culture. In fact, they need graffiti to be beyond justification. It's worthy of explanation, because the paradox is that graffiti needs people like you to oppose it. You are a constituent element of the subculture. That's the thesis here, but you need to understand the subculture to get it. If you could withhold your fairly obvious will to judgment for a second (I encourage you to judge afterwards, sure), I'll try to lay it out for you.

Within graffiti subcultures, there are two criteria of merit: 1) aesthetics (called style) and 2) risk. The first is certainly important, but is somewhat beside the point here. In any case, as in any creative endeavor, from poetry to programming, an aesthetic develops, and it is a tough nut to crack for those not steeped in the practice (the elegance of a program, the fine points of poetics), and there are disputes among practitioners as to aesthetic innovation, quality, etc. It's only important for our purposes to know that there are aesthetic criteria.

More important is the criterion of risk. Put plainly, the higher risk (of being caught, of getting hurt, etc.), the more credit you get within the subculture. In this way, the subculture mirrors the operations of capital precisely. A few definitions first. Generally speaking, the different types of graffiti are arranged in a hierarchy, as follows, moving from most admired to least:

Pieces (these are the fully worked out murals and trains that involve many colors, designs, characters, etc.)
Straight letter fill-ins (these are generally two color operations with stylized letters)
Throw-ups (or throwies), but filled in (two colors, but easier and quicker than straight letters)
Throwies, without fill-in (also called outlines, you use just one color, and can get it done in 5-20 seconds)
Tags (like a signature, quick and easy)
Marker tags (tags done with markers, easy and small)
Etchings and stickers - These remain at the bottom of the hierarchy

There are other consequences here as well, like you can do a straight letter over a tag without causing beef, but putting a tag over a straight letter is automatic war. What's more important is what is implied in this hierarchy. You get credit in the subculture for the perceived risk of the act. Pieces are at the top of the list not only because they are aesthetically more difficult, but because they take longer: they expose you to more risk during their execution. This risk element also jumbles the hierarchy. A writer who has thousands of tags in risky locations (major streets, billboards, etc.) may get more credit within the subculture than a writer who has done four or five more aesthtically sophisticated pieces in relatively isolated locations (aesthtically better, but less prone to risk). The best writers are, of course, those who combine all facets: they are aesthetically sophisticated in their tagging, throwies, straight letters and pieces, AND they are "up," that is, they have a lot of work in risky locations.

What is to be inferred from this organization? That opposition and criminalization are constituent elements of the subculture. Without risk, the culture would have little means of allocating merit, and therefore little incentive. No graffiti writer, no real graffiti writer, wants graffiti legalized. The prohibition produces the risk that drives the subculture. It also has other advantages, like cleaning the walls to allow new work, where going over other writers produces internal conflict. People like you, in other words, are necessary for the subculture to thrive. You're part of it, and that's the interesting paradox to me. If you understand the internal functionings of the graffiti subculture, you would understand this: if graffiti was legalized there would be an initial period where you'd see more, but the whole subculture would wither on the vine and die in a few years, because the risk criterion would evaporate.

In any case, cheers. I'll have to go back to the university that gave me the PhD and inform them that I haven't matured past the 7th grade.
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What a complete joke he's made of himself. He's so humiliated by his asinine "contrarian" support for this catastrophic war that he will actually play thye naif in order to propagandize for it. And, of course, dim-witted ignorants in all camps follow along with his rank stupidities, also pretending. Since he likes the phrase so much, here's what you'd "have to believe":

1) That an emissary of Iraq can walk into Niger - on an "official visit," mind you, which would mean that he travelled openly(!) - hang out with some "corrupt" Nigerese bigwig (the racist implication is obvious, and not uncommon for Hitchens), and thereby "procure" some quantity of yellowcake uranium. The absolute laughability of this scenario is obvious to anyone with a hint of sense. Or to anyone not mesmerized by Bushista bullshit.

2) The French intelligence service would have to be "informed" of said "official trip" (!) by the - excuse me while I spit up laughing - Italian intelligence agencies, as if every fucking gram of uranium and any contemplation of sale thereof isn't controlled by French mining companies stacked to the gills with operatives for the Secretariat General de la Defense Nationale.

I mean, please. You'd have to be a fucking idiot to believe any of this. And, in fact, Hitchens is no idiot. A sly propagandist and outright opportunist, to be sure. A drunken self-aggrandizer and DC party circuit regular, yeah. But an idiot? Hardly. His excruciatingly pathetic defense of this long-debunked stupidity is crafted specifically to avoid these implications, which assures us that he is aware of them. His article is, therefore, a pack of outright lies, though as Twain has told us, and previous adherents of this article prove, a lie travels round the world before the truth gets its pants on.
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The best troll accusation I ever suffered was some extended exegesis on my user name, something along the lines of "You might think it's a 'mystery,' alcibiades_mystery, but me and many others here know what you're up to; we know all about Alcibiades and your mystery has been solved!"

It contained all the classic signs of troll-accusation:

1) The "Half" Accusation - Rarely do the Accusers ever come out and say "Troll!" Rather, they imply that you're up to some nefarious purposes, primarily because they know an outright accusation of trollery is against the rules. Needless to say, this is so cowardly and half-assed that anyone with a shred of dignity can hardly stand it. It has all the subtlety of the street-corner commissar tipping off the secret police to a possible enemy of the state by sly pointing. It's clownish, and people on this site who do it should be ridiculed for it.

2) The "Me-And-All-My-Friends" Gambit - It's amazing to me that grown adults still continue with this junior high school bullshit. In almost every half-accusation of trollery there is some gesture towards the many others who also think so. This is pure, junior high school mean girl rhetoric, and unworthy of decent discourse. Not only don't I like you, it says, but nobody else likes you either. How anyone over the age of twelve could take such nonsense seriously is a mystery indeed. But these folks not only take it seriously; they actually deploy this juvenile rhetoric in public! It's quite shocking that adults conduct themselves in this way.

3) The "We're Watching You" Strategy - In almost any accusation of trollery, there is the implication that you have been surveilled for quite some time. "We've been looking at your posts, see. They are in the - ahem - dossier. You're on file. You've been noted in the building." The extent to which people love and cherish deeply their little fascist tendencies is mostly amusing, but often scary as well.

These are the characteristics of the "troll accusation genre" that I've noticed. Any others?
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I was born about nine months to the day after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords relating to Vietnam. Conceived in withdrawal, in more ways than one…


In the heady days of January 1991, we used to cut out of our senior year of high school early and go smoke joints at R.L.’s apartment. We’d often have beer as well. From about 2 pm to 6 pm, a large group of us would chill there, maybe with CNN or MTV or cartoons on the television in the background. It was the line in the sand day, or thereabouts, and CNN was on. The war had not yet started, but we were waiting for it, full of bravado. We were sure that if the war started, it would lead to a general Mideast conflagration, and we would all be called to service. We were all 17 years old, and in good health, if often high.

I left R.L.’s at about 6, heading home to dinner. I walked back to my apartment with Sulli and Steve. We were pretty lit by this time, and the electricity in the air said it all: the war is imminent. Steve started belting out the lines as we walked down the Queens street: All we are say-ing/ Is give war a chance! I remember laughing. When I got home I found my mother standing in front of the television, her hand over her mouth. “What’s going…” but she shushed me, and I looked at the television. The eerie green light, the tracers going up over the minarets, the stentorian intonations of some spokesman or other. War. I went into the bedroom I shared with my brother, my heart filled with joy…


Why doncha come on back to the War. – Leonard Cohen

September 10, 2001. I have dinner with an old friend at an Italian restaurant in the East Village. Then we go to DBA, a bar. She tells me that her current boyfriend is sometimes impotent, but a genius at oral sex. I don’t think my wife likes my relationship with my old friend. Jay-Z’s “Hova” comes on in the bar: H to the Izzo, V to the Izzay, what else can I say, dude, I gets bizzay. We talk about how great it is. I’m drunk at this point, and I have to get back to Brooklyn. I have to be up early tomorrow to do campaign work in Lower Manhattan before I head to work at my building near the Ferry terminal. I take a cab back over the Manhattan Bridge, with a final glance at the lights flickering in the Manhattan skyline just as we hit the center of the Bridge. Goddamn is it beautiful.


One…we are the people
Two…a little bit louder
Three…we’re gonna stop this fucking war, now

March, 2003. The first Saturday of the War. I am at a conference in New York, but I stay at my brother’s place in Brooklyn rather than in the conference hotel. I don’t live here anymore. On Friday I got food poisoning. My brother, his wife, and my wife went to a French restaurant in Fort Green, but I stayed at his place, sick as a dog, watching the lead-up to the War on television. On Saturday I go to Midtown to see a friend’s panel, but the war is on television there, too, real now, green-lit tracers over the minarets, Shock and Awe booming through the hotel lobby. I leave after the panel, and wander into the anti-war march that is just beginning. The crowds are tremendous. I walk downtown with the march, but on the sidewalk. Hard for me to be a joiner that way, I guess. Earnestness irritates me, but I’m with them. When I get down to 10th street I encounter the drummers – a group of Latinos and Latinas leading the chant: One…we are the people, Two…a little bit louder, Three…we’re gonna stop this fucking war, now. Everyone on the march and on the sidewalks is cheering. On a third floor balcony above the march, a woman comes out with a little boy and a conch shell. She starts blowing it in beat with the drum. Everyone’s eyes seem to move from the drummers to the balcony and back. The drummers acknowledge her, and the little boy dances. There he is dancing on the first Saturday of the War.


And we looked at each other and gazed on the green meadow over which the cool evening was running just then, and we wept together. But then life was dearer to me than all my wisdom ever was. –Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Other Dancing Song”

One Thousand Days. I should have waited another one, and led with One Thousand One Arabian Nights. Too clever by far. And no history or stories will save me, like Scheherazade. It is the one thousandth day of the War. I often wondered when I was a child how people could live normally on the home front when a war was going on. How do they face it everyday, I wondered, knowing what must be happening, knowing that everything is at stake? How do they go out to dinner, play sports, make love, gesture to each other on the street? It bothered me. I’d think of the swing clubs during World War II – everyone dressed up and dancing. A sip from a bottle of beer, or a Tom Collins. How? It is the one thousandth day of the war. No stories will save me. In March, if all goes well, my first child will be born. Perhaps on the first Saturday of the fourth year of the War. I want her to dance to something else. I want some other occasion for her joy and even for her heartbreaks, something other than what Langston Hughes once called “the same old stupid game, of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.” I want for her some other dancing song. But it is the one thousandth day of the war and no stories will save me.

On Three Years in Iraq Part 2

On Three Years in Iraq Part 1
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There is an unmistakable uneasiness about those videos, shot by insurgents, that show a truck, or humvee, or other military vehicle traveling along an Iraqi highway when suddenly BOOM. The roadside bomb explodes in a flash, sand, dust, flame, and hot metal covering both highway lanes and plenty else besides. There's something eerie about it, but not only for the obvious reasons. Yes, the suggestion of grievous wounds, even death. Yes, the visual force of such chaos. But something else makes me cringe too: the streetlights that line the highways. They are, too put it plainly, thoroughly familiar.

There's always been something vaguely unfamiliar about our war imagery. The photographs of the Somme or the Ypres Salient show us some alien landscape, shell-cratered, muddy, otherworldy, what Pynchon once called the "gassy, Armegeddonite filth." Even in the more familiar Norman farmhouse image of World War II, there was something strange and other about it, feudal maybe, filled with hand-hewn tables, quaint and candle-lit, and that's not talking the snowy wilderness of the Ardennes, much less the oppressive otherness of Peilelu, or Guadalcanal. For Korea we generally see a hilly no-man's-land with fire raked across it, or long lines of troops descending into wind-swept valleys with a million Chinese in hot pursuit. Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, say again: jungle, paddy, hills built to twice their height with sandbags and outposts at Con Thien, Khe Sanh, tunnels for the underground, the geometry of the view from a Huey. Even when the fighting was taken to the cities, street fights in Cholon, or - yes, ma'am - Hue City, the cityscape is distinctly foreign, no matter how many French balconies could support a sniper team. And all the little wars around the world, dirt roads through jungle space, the fluorescent green landscape framing the child soldiers, corrugated metal shanties masquerading as field hospitals, painted that wild blue, red, and orange.

But Iraq? Those highway images look anything but foreign. Modern street signs compare strangely to those weird, mythical wooden contraptions made famous in M*A*S*H: New York 5,000 miles. The highways look well-paved, well-lined. The exit ramps look functional, and well-built. And those streetlights look, well, they look like home. And you pause for a moment and wonder "Is this Baghdad, or the westbound Belt Parkway?" You pause for a moment and think "That looks like I-80 roundabout Davenport, Iowa." Yes. Not strange at all, or rather, stranger than anything. It is the very familiarity of the image that makes it so strange, makes it fit so uncomfortably within our image-scape, which formerly had a tidy box for "war images," marked EXOTIC. Not so now. globalization touched Baghdad, Ramadi, Tikrit, and its aesthetic is too close to home, too near the bone. That tidy box, like this war itself, has spilled over. So tell me, is this Baghdad, or Columbia, South Carolina. And tell me, why should it matter?

Link to "On Three Years in Iraq Part 1"
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1. I may have already made a mistake. I should have titled this thread The Humanity of Fallujah. I may have made the wrong reversal.

2. Barbarous (from the OED): Of people: Speaking a foreign language, foreign, outlandish; orig. non-Hellenic; then, not Roman, living outside the Roman Empire; sometimes, not Christian, heathen. Uncultured, uncivilized, unpolished; rude, rough, wild, savage. (Said of men, their manners, customs, products.) The usual opposite of civilized. Savage in infliction of cruelty, cruelly harsh. Like the speech of barbarians; harsh-sounding, rudely or coarsely noisy.

3. Sarah had decided to drive to Des Moines from Chicago. She wanted to see a bit of the heartland; she wanted to drive across the Mississippi for the first time in her life. Plus, the war had just started, and she was nervous about flying. Sarah had been in Lower Manhattan on 9/11, so the whole Iraq war put her real on edge. But the Chicago meeting had run late, and she was tired from her flight in, so she didn’t make it very far. She stopped for the night in Ottawa, Illinois. The only thing on TV was the war, and she didn’t want to order a movie, and she was feeling a little lonely in this hotel, three days into her business trip, so she decided to go out to a the closest bar, a sports bar across the road. Maybe have a conversation, catch some March Madness. But the war was on there too. And when the bombs lit up the Baghdad sky, the people in the bar cheered. As she sipped on her beer, they cheered that awful sound.

4. Anthropos – Those who speak like you do. Barbaros – Those who speak differently.

5. That awful sound. Most of you have never heard it. You’ve seen the TV 9/11, the TV Gulf War, the TV Vietnam, the Cinema World War 2. On 9/11, our spectators had 10,000 cameras trained on the World Trade Center; there will be 10,000 books written on the thing, books written until the air runs out, and these lines and circles fall away from meaning, back into the furrow, the howl and the accident. Sarah was standing at a breakfast cart in Liberty Plaza picking up a coffee and a danish for breakfast when the first plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. That awful sound. I was a few blocks to her north, and I heard it too. More than heard it: for a split second I jumped out of my skin, I was gone. Zen intensity, Sarah had called it: One with fucking everything. That awful sound. The closest she had come to hearing it again was in Ottawa, Illinois, when the bombs slammed into Baghdad on speakers meant for joy and play, on speakers meant for Bears and basketball. But that was still a TV war, and not quite there. Not quite Zen enough. Not quite intense enough. That awful sound.

6. They cheered in Ottawa, Illinois. They cheered in Alpharetta, Georgia. They cheered in Duluth, they cheered in Worcester, they cheered in all our shining Albany’s and in a thousand Clinton counties in every state and commonwealth. They cheered in Brooklyn, and in Sausalito, and in Flagstaff and Tampa and Detroit and Newark and Glendale. They cheered in houses built on hills – a hundred houses lighting up the sky. They cheered in hovels, in shacks and bars on the side of obsolete highways. They cheered in Roxbury, in Danemora, in Buffalo, in Encino. They cheered that awful sound in Chelsea. Some didn’t cheer, but thought it right and proper. They put on a grim visage, and spoke at length about the necessary. Those used German words, like realpolitik. Some took a long view.

7. I cheered too, in Flushing. I was a senior in high school in early 1991, and we spent the afternoon as we usually did, getting stoned at Rob L.’s place. Steve and Pat were there, and we all watched the TV on mute, blasting Metallica’s Fade to Black. The line in the sand had been crossed, the date had passed. The electricity was in the air but nothing had happened yet. And God, we prayed for war. As it rolled toward dinner time, Steve and Pat and I walked home; I laughed and laughed as Steve sang a perverted Lennon: All we are saying/ Is give war a chance! When I finally got home I was startled by my mother, tense as memory, sitting very close to the television, which looked like a light show, an underwater celebration. The bombing had begun. I walked to my room to hang up my jacket, and under my breath I whispered “Yeah, motherfucker.” That awful sound.

8. I suggest no equivalence. In fact, I argue against it. What happens in Fallujah is not the same as what happened in March 2003 in Ottawa, Illinois. But we might consider that difference more closely. In Postmodern Ethics, Zygmunt Bauman argues that our ethical systems were developed primarily to deal with the problems of proximity, and so are insufficient to our new technological capacities, our capacity to act at a distance in time and space, to act indirectly in a network. Put plainly, we know about direct conduct, and we know how to judge it, but our ethical confusion derives from our inability to think an ethics of distances. Not an ethics of the neighbor, but an ethics of the barbarian. Not an ethics of the unborn, but an ethics of the unconceived. In this situation, some hold fast to old ethics in nostalgia – these are able to judge only when they see a direct action in proximity, the barbarians of Fallujah. Others throw the whole thing out; they see the deficiency of the old ethics as a deficiency of ethics in general, and so lapse into extreme relativism. Both responses are insufficient for our network, our shining Earth. We must be able to think of the barbarians in Ottawa, Illinois. And we must be able to think an ethics of the barbarian, a barbarous ethics.

9. Anthropos – Those who can act in proximity. Barbaros – Those who must act in a network.

10. The old ethics doesn’t go away. One can still recoil from the awful site of Fallujah. Because nothing ever goes away. The old lingers, it re-erupts, it guides and shapes. It explodes. That awful sound. But because it explodes, we must work for a new ethics. This is a children’s story, in the end, I fear – a children’s story that Mr. Bush could not possibly read, could not even face. In the bravest act of her life, Sarah got up from her bar stool in Ottawa, Illinois, walked over to the men who were cheering that awful sound, and sat down with them. They all looked up; they all read the identifying signatures of her clothing, her hair, her purse. She began to tell them a story. It only started in Liberty Plaza on September 11. It only touched on that awful sound. There was more imagination to it, more distance. And with any luck, she’s still telling it.

(Note: These are some writings I did during the war thus far, and that I'll be reposting here as we approach the anniversary; as another motivation, I kinda want them in my DU journal)
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1) The entire Left Blogosphere will mobilize to support the censure resolution

2) Two to three hundred threads will appear on these boards reminding people to call in, call in, fax, write, email, call call call!

3) Some folks on these boards will become convinced that the censure resolution will indeed pass

4) The censure resolution will be brought up, and lose by a super-majority

5) Fifty to a hundred threads will appear on these boards condemning the Democratic senators who voted against censure; the high of possibility will be followed by the crash of disappointment, disillusionment, etc. Certain outspoken members will be more outspoken, threatening to leave and then begging to be banned. Battles will erupt within the camp, posts and subthreads will be deleted.

But we will have had our political adrenaline fix for the week, and then something else will happen, drawing our attention to that. This cycle has been all to frequent over the last few years. Its unfolding is utterly predictable. This will serve as merely another "wave" or "fix," as the same ole same ole grinds on and on. Perhaps rather than trying so hard to manage these events, DU would be more useful as a forum to manage our responses to these events.
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