My feeling about the Rings of Power series, five episodes in

…I find it to be, er, enjoyable, with its good actors, charming proto-hobbits, vivid landscapes (though some are perhaps a bit too much like images from Bible movies, a little cheesy…) but it stalls for me in exactly the marshes I anticipated when I heard about the show: the dire, fearsome marsh of American television writing. When the writers attempt what they suppose to be Tolkienesque dialogue, they often manage something serviceable, but they also fill in with dialogue that clunks, and that doesn’t even make sense when you look at what’s said closely. This, you would never find in Tolkien or the Jackson films. Indeed–you won’t find those clunky bits in a more effective television fantasy world, Game of Thrones: House of Dragons. I’m not that big a fan of Game of Thrones but I think this new iteration is pretty strong and at least the dialogue usually holds up. That’s probably because George RR Martin goes over it before filming. . . I was quite annoyed when, in Rings of Power, Galadriel translated a scrap of parchment in the Black Tongue and it (ham-handedly) mentioned the agenda of Sauron, and said something about bringing “evil back” to a dominance in the world. As if villains think they’re evil. Or that they serve evil per se. That bit was very clumsy simple minded television writing… I don’t think orcs in Tolkien burn in the sunlight, like vampires, but perhaps that’ll be justified later–perhaps later orcs are a different version, as with Saruman’s special breeding program. It seems like a weak “let’s throw in some vampire-story logic to make this work” sort of writing ploy. The Lord Halbrand business feels like Strider/Aragorn redux…Other story points are weak rubbings on the movies…

There are some exciting moments in this series. When it works it’s like a high quality B movie in the fantasy vein, like an old Sinbad movie, or one of George Pal’s lesser efforts…Enjoyable. Apart from the occasional wince…

Don’t Call it Enslavement To Your Phone! Call it Surrender!

Yes, there are constantly new services offered for your smartphone. Everything from using it to buy things in person to using it to buy things in Australia and China, to using it to sell things in person or to people in Australia and China…to dating services, to marriage counseling apps, to “meditation apps”, to instant discussion with a vague rando guy who claims to be a therapist…

to displaying all your banking information and retail and investment history…

to listening for your baby crying while you’re asleep, to checking your pulse, to interfacing with a device that will check your heartbeat and your hormone levels and the right time for coitus…to checking to see if you’re pregnant…

to apps advising you about your diet and parsing every last thing you eat after you send images of the food…to advising you about your carbon footprint, as you sit in your car, running the engine to keep the air conditioner going because it’s such a very hot day…

to a program that will recommend soothing medications for you and also prescribe them and handily bill them to your phone based credit card…to publicizing your phone-based life-coaching…to texting your life coach about your own life-coaching business…to sending reminder messages to your children in specially formulated texts signed love mom or love dad…

to reminding you to remember, all the things it made you forget…

to hours and hours and hours and days and nights spent on every social media site you have encountered, social media you lunge desperately to, on your phone, in a desperate hunger for connection, the connection you aren’t getting because of your phone, your phone, your phone, your phone….

Internet Hygiene

Vast is the disinformation on the internet. The Russians and Chinese, sure, actively foist a lot of falsehoods online… But so do many Americans. People have forgotten what real journalism is like. They throw aside Pulitzer-prize winning sources of news for “some random guy who is selling alternative medicine he makes in his garage”…The internet is immensely valuable but I’m convinced there needs to be a class required for public school children, something like “Internet Hygiene: How to use the internet without being misled and scammed.” The class would emphasize critical thinking, reputable sources, empirical evidence, and so on.

The Coming Political VIOLENCE

[note: it is totally uncool for me to reprint this section of an interview conducted by Greg Sargent in The Washington Post, as I’m doing it without permission. But I’m doing it because this is an emergency situation. People need to know. The article is behind a paywall.]

“…But hovering over these hearings will be a broader, unanswered question: whether the United States is developing an endemic problem with political violence and, in coming years, how bad it might get.

“For an unflinching look at this larger context, I reached out to Rachel Kleinfeld, a specialist in political conflict who has studied the breakdown of democracy and the rule of law in many countries.

Greg Sargent: You’ve written that the Republican Party has a “militia problem.” Can you describe it?

Rachel Kleinfeld: For the last few years, we’ve seen an uptick in Republican parties at the local level — though occasionally at the state level — using militias for security at party events, having militias vote on party business, in one case in Michigan having militias introduce legislation. You’re seeing a lot of photo-ops with militia members — things that normalize their interaction with the democratic process.

“These militias are being used to threaten other Republicans who aren’t part of this antidemocratic faction.

Sargent: It seems as though some GOP and right-wing politicians are hovering in a gray area. They’re endorsing violent attacks on the opposition without facing serious party discipline, fantasizing about settling political differences via paramilitary combat, vastly minimizing the Jan. 6 insurrectionist violence or erasing it with propaganda, and describing Jan. 6 rioters facing prosecution as ‘political prisoners.‘ “Has this gray area been replicated by other countries that went on to spiral into worse political violence?

Kleinfeld: One of the things we know about other countries that descend into greater political violence is that violence is preceded by a dehumanization phase. America is well along in that phase: things like misogyny, racial epithets, calling Democrats “groomers” and comparing them to pedophiles.

“The next stage is making violence against those dehumanized opponents seem more normal. You’re starting to see GOP candidates posing with rifles — everything from Rep. Thomas Massie’s family Christmas photo to Eric Greitens’s new ads about hunting RINOs.

“Sometimes it’s against Republicans who are not part of the antidemocratic faction. Sometimes it’s against Democrats. But either way, dehumanization normalizes the idea that harming those dehumanized opponents is legitimate.

“We know from other countries that have descended into really serious political violence that this is a trajectory, and we’re on it. We’re actually pretty far advanced on it.

Sargent: What would a further spiraling downward from here look like? One can imagine something like this: Threats of violence toward election administrators get worse. Election outcomes, particularly when Republicans lose, are violently contested with more regularity. Now-routine chatter about Democratic rule being illegitimate gets increasingly endorsed by GOP party actors, leading to violent attacks on politicians.

Some experts in democratic breakdown fear something akin to “the Troubles” in Ireland. What’s your worry? Is it similar to what I just laid out?

Kleinfeld: It’s actually a little worse. The percentages of Americans endorsing violence are approaching Northern Ireland’s Troubles at their height in 1973.

“Right now, the antidemocratic faction of Republicans is targeting three groups: the pro-democratic faction of Republicans; election officials in both parties who are maintaining free and fair elections; and a lot of regular people they’re targeting with dehumanization and violence, to build their own base.

“If the antidemocratic faction wins, then I think the heightened violence we’re seeing now will continue. But if they start losing, then they’ve built up a lot of hatred — a lot of distrust in the system — and then the violence is going to get out of their control. It’ll look more like an insurgency. A disaffected left, not connected to the Democratic Party, is also justifying violence. It could get ugly.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/07/11/gop-political-violence-militias-jan-6-democratic-breakdown/

The Tradition of Fireworks–as opposed to the Industry of Fireworks

2.3 billion dollars will be spent on on fireworks this Fourth of July and mostly by individuals, not by town councils…People point to the tradition of fourth of July fireworks…If you want to talk about the TRADITION OF FIREWORKS–in the majority of places, it was like this, when I was a kid in the NW: There was a fairground or a big park area selected by the local community. You went there, for free, and the community would set off a really wonderful fireworks display–often with patriotic music playing. AND we had our picnics there, before hand, and barbecues. It was a true community event. You shared something with the *whole community*. When I was a kid I loved it. That was before I had PTSD. I could enjoy it now, I think, if it was at such an event–if it disturbed me I could just drive home. But if they had the traditional kind of skyrockets there, and if it was out in some safe area, I would probably enjoy it–it’s the fact that it’s happening now around my home that triggers me. And some of what is sold now is just to create a noise that sounds like a mortar shell striking. Around here, it sounds like a warzone. It isn’t pleasant.

You see, what we have now is the consequence of advertising, pushing home fireworks. It’s all to MAKE AN INDUSTRY RICHER. They don’t live in our communities. They just come here to sell us something that some people seem to confuse with their masculinity. We could still go back to the TRADITIONAL way to share fireworks…away from the neighborhoods and with everyone all together. And I really do seriously say to you: God Bless America.

An Alternative to the Usual July 4 events, from poet John Daniel

Dependence Day By John Daniel
It would be a quieter holiday, no fireworks
or loud parades, no speeches, no salutes to any flag,
a day of staying home instead of crowding away,
a day we celebrate nothing gained in war
but what we’re given—how the sun’s warmth
is democratic, touching everyone,
and the rain is democratic too,
how the strongest branches in the wind
give themselves as they resist, resist
and give themselves, how birds could have no freedom
without the planet’s weight to wing against,
how Earth itself could come to be
only when a whirling cloud of dust
pledged allegiance as a world
circling dependently around a star, and the star
blossomed into fire from the ash of other stars,
and once, at the dark zero of our time,
a blaze of revolutionary light
exploded out of nowhere, out of nothing,
because nothing needed the light,
as the brilliance of the light itself needs nothing.

[thanks to the Poetry Foundation]

“The US supreme court has declared war on the Earth’s future”

Selections from an article by Kate Aronoff for The Guardian

“In a major environmental case, the court has made clear that it would rather represent the interests of corporations and the super-rich than the needs and desires of the vast majority of Americans – or people on Earth.

“In its Thursday ruling on West Virginia v EPA in line with a string of decisions that will make life here more dangerous – the US supreme court all but declared that war, curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plants under a provision of the Clean Air Act and – more worryingly – striking an opening blow to the government’s ability to do its job.

“… Polluters have always been happy to throw small fortunes at the right’s quest for minority rule, keen to protect fossil fuel profits and their ability to dump waste into the air and water from pesky things like democracy. As Nancy MacLean writes in Democracy in Chains, Charles Koch took a special interest in destroying public education, thus maintaining de facto segregation, before leading the charge against climate policy at every level of government. He continues to be a generous funder of the Federalist Society, an instrumental force in building and filling the pipeline of clerks, judges and cases that has created the judicial branch as we know it, and rulings like the one that overturned Roe v Wadelast week. Secretive dark-money outfits like Donors Trust, as well as Chevron and the Scaife Foundation – furnished by old oil and aluminum money – have joined him.

“West Virginia v EPA itself was brought with the help of the Republican Attorneys General Association, a network of state attorneys general whose own funders include the country’s biggest fossil fuel companies and the beleaguered coal barons who had the most to lose from the modest power plant regulations. They also spent $150,000 sponsoring Trump’s rally on 6 January.

“The interests of the country’s wealthiest residents and corporations are at odds with the vast majority of people who live here. Luckily for the right, a political system designed by slaveholders provides an easy on ramp to concretize minority rule, encasing their power within definitionally undemocratic institutions. With a young, ideological rightwing majority on the court, there’s no telling how far they might go. And there’s not much that can stop them.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/01/the-us-supreme-court-just-declared-war-on-the-earths-future

COVID MUTATION ROULETTE: A SONG

We’re playing

Covid

Mutation

Roulette

But all of life is

  a dangerous

   Bet

    Will tonight be the night

       a drunk driver

 Puts  Out My Light?

            It’s Covid

            Mutation

            Roulette

            You don’t know

            If its done

            Yet

            Viruses Mutate

            And the sun sets

            It’s Covid

            Mutation

            Roulette

            And love is a bet

            That lovers

            Can tell the truth

can anyone now

be honest with you?

            Like Covid

            Mutation

            roulette

As Close as I Can Come to Optimism Regarding The United States of America

If there was some kind of betting parlor for it, I’d bet two thousand dollars on the triumph of lies brought about by Trump’s presidency–lies effectuated by the degradation of consensus reality; a degradation produced by the mindless use of social media….

I will vote for Democrats, and fight for Democracy–but I would bet money on the imminent midterm elections giving congress to the GOP, and the 2024 election being stolen by Trump or a Trumpy, with the collusion of a GOP-led congress. Then will come theocracy, an end to democracy, a restoration of racial segregation–and worse. I fervently hope I’m wrong.

The optimism part? I’m certain that something over half of America will be outraged when the country is stolen by the extreme-right corporate oligarchy; when flagrant racism and the oppression of women becomes the order of the day. This outrage will split the nation into a de facto geographic balkanization. Something like discrete mini-nations, official or unofficial, will become the norm within the USA, formed around progressive zones: California, the NE USA, Washington State (Oregon could go either way), in reaction to the takeover of the theocratic right…

Militias formed by progressives will defend these stubbornly progressive regions. But the federal military, with the US Army and Marines, its Navy and Air Force, its tanks and missiles, will be controlled by the rightist regime. Only a sadly improbable revolution organized from within the federal military could lead us back to a unified democratic nation. Still, optimistically, there will be areas of the USA–the geographical USA at least–which may remain free and Democratic…locally. And who knows what technological innovations, what hacks, what new drone technologies, could be deployed by the Unified Progressive States…

Is that the wind? Or is someone here?

The monastery, on the lower slopes of Mt Everest, was a tumbledown affair, there being only five surviving monks to maintain it. Renegade soldiers had attacked it, a year before, and now all five of the surviving Vipassana monks were working to rebuild it stone by stone, with their bare hands.  I arrived weary, and my head throbbed–I wasn’t used to the thinner air here. I bowed to the nearest monk, a man of middle aged in the robe of a Master, and said, “I am here to study. I was sent by Hanh.” The monk ignored me, and adjusted the stone on its crumbling wall. I had used the proper language. Why was he ignoring me? I was nettled. It had been hard enough to get here, without being ignored too… “I am Dedeman,” I said. “I am here as appointed.”

The monk ignored me. I was puzzled. There was no vow of silence at this monastery and I had committed no solecism. 

One of the other acolytes spoke to the Master. “I thought I heard someone say, ‘I am here.’ But–I believe it was the wind.”

“Yes,” the Master told him. “No one but else but we five are here–thus it must have been a trick of the wind.”

I smiled. “Perhaps if I set to work with you? I am here, after all, to work…”

“Again I heard a sound like ‘I am here,” said the acolyte. “Perhaps an echo?”

“If a newcomer was here,” said the Master to the acolyte, “I would sense it. A man is not here if he is asleep. There is someone here who is asleep. He speaks in his sleep. No one is truly here but we five…”

Suddenly I understood. I gathered all my attention to the present moment, and to the sphere of fine energies around me; I stopped identifying with my weariness, my irritation. I was now quite present. “I am here,” I said.

“Ah yes,” said the Master, nodding at me. “Here you are. We have been expecting you.”