Saturday, August 15, 2009

Alien Nation

in on August 14, 2009

SOUTH AFRICAN–BORN DIRECTOR Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) wants badly to be a film of the kind and caliber of Children of Men (2006): a thoughtful, left-leaning treatment of contemporary political issues that doubles as an accessible sci-fi thriller. The movie begins as a mock documentary, complete with talking heads and staged “archival” footage outlining a scenario in which aliens land in Johannesburg, their spaceship having run out of fuel during an escape from a disaster on another planet. The South African government, acting more out of concern for its image than the aliens’ wellbeing, takes them in as refugees and relocates them to District 9, a shantytown-cum–concentration camp, where they live under the custodianship of a corporation called Multi-National United. This expository sequence is essentially an expanded version of Blomkamp’s 2005 short Alive in Joburg, which uncannily reframed actual documentary footage of police brutality and anti-apartheid marches as science fiction.

District 9
departs from the Alive in Joburg storyline when it introduces Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a casually bigoted MNU official and the movie’s dim-witted protagonist. He is accidentally infected by an alien virus twenty-eight years after the events described in the prologue: The disease slowly transforms him into “one of them” and, conveniently, enables him to use the aliens’ coveted DNA-activated weaponry. Wikus is pursued by MNU’s private military, and in order to save his skin he forges an uncertain alliance with an alien father and son (though lacking any concept of private property, the aliens still form Spielbergian nuclear families), who agree to cure Wikus if he helps them to escape District 9.

The film’s political implications are clear, though its specifically post-apartheid resonances have understandably been lost on many American critics. Up to 8 percent of South Africa’s population are illegal immigrants, the largest contingent of which comprises refugees from the political violence and economic free-fall in neighboring Zimbabwe. The South African government has taken a harder line against illegal immigrants since the end of apartheid, with xenophobic rhetoric gaining traction in mainstream political discourse and deportations increasing almost 20 percent in the past five years alone.

An ersatz television news broadcast about anti-alien riots in District 9 alludes to the dramatic rise of violence against immigrants since democratization. Blomkamp was filming in Soweto in May 2008, when a series of devastating anti-immigration riots broke out across South Africa that killed over sixty people, a third of whom were naturalized citizens murdered because of racist sentiments fueled by xenophobia. (Immigrants from elsewhere in Africa are considered darker skinned than South African blacks.) District 9 itself recalls Lindela Repatriation Centre, the largest deportation processing camp in South Africa. A privately run, highly militarized facility that holds illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, Lindela has become South Africa’s Guantanamo Bay, its name synonymous with gruesome reports of detainee abuse, rapes, “accidental” deaths, indefinite detentions, and material deprivation.

More than mere stand-ins for illegal immigrants, Blomkamp’s repulsive, trash-eating, delinquent aliens function as abject manifestations of respectable society’s unspoken, paranoid fantasies about the lives of the poor. In one of the more direct real-life parallels, an interactive map on the marketing website for District 9 shows that the fictional alien camps are geographically coextensive with the impoverished township areas of Timbesa, Kartorus, and Soweto. Approximately a third of the population of South Africa inhabits such so-called slums, where half the residents live in improvised shacks made of spare wood and corrugated metal.

In District 9, Wikus’s grotesque physical transformation allegorizes anxieties that are as much about class as xenophobic racism, especially in a few scenes that focus on the surreal disruption of Wikus’s middle-class existence. In one, his teeth and fingernails begin to fall out as he works at his office desk; in another, the sight of him sends people screaming from a fast food restaurant. (Wikus, ever the bureaucrat, insists that it’s illegal for the restaurant to deny him service.) Wikus’s dilemma dramatizes the paranoia pervasive in a society that arbitrarily dehumanize whole sectors of its own population: the fear that anyone, at anytime, can become the reviled Other.

With so many trenchant ideas, it is a pity that the film abandons most of them in their larval stage. A needless subplot involving Nigerian gangsters undermines the film’s anti-xenophobic message. The delight that District 9 takes in depicting the slaughter of aliens and laughing at their grotesquerie plays too closely at the border between critique and mere symptom. Whereas Alive in Joburg featured performances by numerous South African township residents, District 9 lacks the visible involvement of those South Africans for whom it seems to want to speak. Yet such lapses are too predictable to spoil the film’s insights entirely, and its laudable lack of resolution at least ensures that audiences will leave theaters as disquieted as they are entertained.

District 9 opens August 14.

— Patrick Harrison

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Abridged 'Branded to Kill' Video

My co-director has posted a rehearsal video of our play The Abridge 'Branded to Kill' on BlipTV. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trust Theory: The Birbeck Communism Conference

As the rest of the speakers greeted each other on stage with warm effusions and European pecks on the cheek, literary critic Michael Hardt, the sole American-born speaker at the London conference, stood apart from the crowd. With folded arms, he gazed out not just into but somehow beyond the audience of the packed lecture hall.

Hardt's behavior seemed to be a defensive performance of self-sufficiency, as if to pre-empt his inevitable failure to fit in with the rest of the "glittering array of Continental academic rockstars," as Terry Eagleton put it, that had assembled that weekend for the conference titled "On the Idea of Communism." Nearly the entire emerging canon of (mostly male) contemporary Continental philosophers—including Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Rancière, Eagleton, and Antonio Negri, Hardt's mentor and collaborator—as well as their translators and champions in the English-language academy and a few other European notables less well known outside the Continent joined Hardt at the conference. Hardt's reputation has always been doubled by a secret tendency to diminutivize him in relation to Negri—his more famous (or notorious), frequently jailed co-author on Empire and Multitude—and it was hard not to regard Hardt in this light when one saw him onstage next to the old masters. Yet he seemed even more out of place among the rest the other scholars who, Eagleton quipped, had "married in" to the elite circles of Continental philosophy, a group that included the two Badiou scholars—Bruno Bosteels and Peter Hallward—who joined Hardt in the first panel of the conference.

Ironically, what separated Hardt from the rest of the speakers at the conference was his distinctly American desire for everybody to get along. "My usual response is always to agree with people," he began to respond to a member of the audience who criticized the lack of attention to cultural hierarchies in his concept of "the multitude." Hardt continued with a humorous litany of apologies and self-effacing concessions—"So my way of agreeing with you on this … and I could easily criticize myself for this … "—but was unable to convince the questioner that he was actually in agreement with her. His intellectual performance came straight out of the ramshackle, pleasantly inconclusive manner of American literary studies seminars, where discourse proceeds by dialogue, constructive criticism, and synthesis of a diversity of possible "readings" rather than by the militant "line struggle" favored by the Badiouvians with whom he shared the stage.

I had always dismissed Hardt, with the kind of macho contempt that comes from reading too much Žižek, as a crypto-liberal who was too politically weak, too theoretically softheaded, and just too American to be a genuine radical. And in person he proved to be every bit the doe-eyed naïf he seemed on the page. It is an index of the just how strong a disillusioning effect the conference had on me and my enthrallment with the Badiou-Žižek complex that, by the end of the three-day event, I had completely reversed my attitude towards Hardt. What I used to see as weakness in Hardt, by the end I saw as an unpretentious generosity which was sorely lacking in general vibe, More so than any shortcoming in the philosophical ideas presented at the conference, this lack in the performative mode of the event was its most serious failure.

+ + +

The premise of "On the Idea of Communism," which was hosted March 13-15 by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, was to explore the possible positive meanings of the word "communism" for philosophical thinking. The conference would proceed neither by historical analysis of the past failure of "actually existing communism," nor by speculation on the practicalities of establishing communism in our time, but by a series of philosophical meditations on what Badiou has called "the communist hypothesis," that is, the hypothesis of an "eternal Idea" of radical egalitarianism that haunts every social order.

Žižek framed the conference by way of an analogy to Lenin. After the Second International failed to prevent the outbreak of World War, what did Lenin do? Retreat to neutral Switzerland to read Hegel's Logic. And this conference, Žižek declared, was to be the beginning of our retreat to read Hegel's Logic. "It's crucial to resist the urge to ‘Do something!'" he railed against those who'd rather join an NGO than stay cooped up in the library. "Now is the time to think! … Do not be afraid. Trust theory!" The response of the nearly 900-person audience was electric.

But, of course, how could it have failed to be? If this conference is remembered in the annals of intellectual history, it will be as the event that marked the official canonization of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek as the latest in the order of great (in Žižek's case, honorary) French theorists. When Badiou spoke, stretching out his sentences with pedagogical grandeur, a hushed awe came over the crowd. And when Žižek hijacked the question and answer sessions to do his intellectual stand-up routine, even those who groaned at first could not help but be won over by his manic charm. The romance continued over offstage rather more awkwardly. As he was heading out the door after the final session of the conference, Žižek was mobbed for autographs by a gaggle of bespectacled fanboys. When one young man asked for a photo with him, Žižek responded "I hate photographs" and then posed, impassive and haggard, for a photo with the smiling fan. One student handed Žižek a petition that had something to do the arrest of a friend for civil disobedience. Before the young man could explain the details, Žižek exclaimed—"My god! Yes, of course!"—and signed the petition.

Underlying the general good feelings at the conference, however, were uglier traces of elitism and smug passivity. The audience was made up almost entirely of middle class, white academics (or academics-to-be), and if it was well balanced in terms of gender, a certain boy's club mentality of macho one-upmanship still prevailed. Snickers filled the air during questions that went on for too long or seemed insufficiently scholarly, and nearly everyone complained of the poor quality of the questions between sessions. Particularly distasteful was the way the audience shouted down a clearly terrified man who, his voice shaking as prefaced his remarks with endless apologies, tried to speak up in defense of capitalism. Between the star power and awesome intellect of the speakers on stage and the discrimination of the audience, it was impossible for questioners not to fail in their performance of their intellectuality.

One had the distinct sense that the disapproving murmurs of the audience expressed not so much disagreement with any of the questioners as a deeper disquiet: that their enjoyment of the great minds on stage had been tainted. Despite the numerous rousing calls for militancy from the speakers, there was a sense that we were there to be spectators of, rather than agents of, our own intellectual emancipation. We were beaten down by Žižek's macho bravura, Bosteel's lethal wit, and Badiou's belabored teachings. Badiou's pedagogical style in particular typified what Rancière criticized, in his presentation, as intellectually stultifying "explication": by playing the role of the Promethean master who imparts knowledge to the student rather than facilitating the student to teach herself, Badiou performatively constituted his audience as intellectual inferiors who could only emancipate their minds by "maturing" into his place as master. Žižek perfectly captured the nature of this relationship in a remark meant as praise: "Alain is our Parmenides; he is the Father."

+ + +

There were two much more concrete forms of exclusion structuring the conference that deserve further comment. First was the cost of admission: £45 for students and £100 for the general public. The School of Africana Studies (SAOS) Student Union responded to the glaring incongruity between the subject matter of the conference and its high price of admission by passing a resolution entitled "No to the Commodification of Communism" and inviting the speakers at the communism conference to speak at SAOS for free. There was talk of a storming the Birkbeck stage, which, given the recent rash of student occupations at several universities and BBC headquarters in response to the war in Gaza, was no idle threat. But the students' outrage was quelled nearly as quickly as it flared up: Birkbeck apologized, set up a free simulcast room, and offered the SAOS students a brief spot on the program just before Saturday lunch break to launch an open-source books campaign. The students' actions were inspiring, but their victory pyrrhic. A Birkbeck staff person patronizingly announced the students' addition to the program, telling the members of the audience that "it would be very good of you for as many of you as possible to stay for the presentation." Naturally, over half the audience left immediately, and the rest awkwardly stood through the presentation, coats in hand, waiting to be released.

The second exclusion, which unlike the former did elicit some expressions of outrage from the audience, had to do with the homogeneity of the speaker's list. All of the speakers were white European men, with the exceptions of Hardt (white and male but American) and poetry scholar Judith Balso (white and European but female). No history other than that of the French Revolution and Marxist communism was looked to for inspiration in testing "the communist hypothesis." Other variants were represented only by proxy: Hardt made the sole homage to queer theory and feminism; Žižek gave a Eurocentric, Hegelian reading of the Haitian Revolution; Hallward perfunctorily cited Fanon and South African shackdwellers; Italian sociologist Alessandro Russo made general remarks about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Of all the speakers, only Rancière, in a breathtaking monologue that received tremendous applause, criticized the homogeneity of the conference. The only real engagement with non-European experiences with communism was Bosteels' excellent discussion of the writings of Bolivian vice-president Álvaro Garcia Línera.

The genius of the conference, however, was the way its very premise inoculated it from at least the most superficial, identity-politics-oriented criticisms of the homogeneity of the speakers. The decision not to bother with the history of "actually existing communism" freed the conference of the need to have a diversity of speakers that could broadly represent the various experiments in communist theory and practice outside of Europe. A radical defense of the self-sufficiency and principled universality of philosophy served as a bulwark against multiculturalist-historicist blackmail. However, that this should still produce straight, white, bourgeois males is lamentable, for in addition to being hypocritical, it gives multiculturalists ammunition against an idea of universal human equality that really does deserve to be reconsidered.

+ + +

Despite its austerely philosophical agenda, the conference was haunted by the notion, best articulated by sociologist Alberto Toscano, that "the Idea of communism cannot be separated from the problem, if not the program, of its realization." Inevitably, the panelists could not resist debating the Idea of communism in relation to more practical questions of the state and political economy, but ultimately little was said about these topics that had not already been rehearsed in the philosophers' writings about one another. Such questions were not the real focus. The real, implicit political question around which the entire conference revolved, yet which was never posed as such, was the obvious one: Why "communism?"

This conference was essentially the first step of a small but powerful—or at least respected—intellectual vanguard to reclaim "communism," to purify it, so that in time the word could only "legitimately" bring to mind the Jacobean-Marxist lineage of radicalism. This is not a new tactic: Rancière and Badiou have previously tried, in their own ways, to seize the signifier "politics" and narrow its semantic scope such that "politics" as such becomes synonymous with radical politics. But what is the political efficacy of trying to resurrect "communism," perhaps (after fascism) the most irretrievably corrupted in the political lexicon, as the name by which radical thought and egalitarian struggle takes place today?

Perhaps the corruption is itself part of its inexorable power, the most convincing illustration of which was a single declaration by Žižek that weeks later still strikes me as the most lucid utterance of the entire conference: "The future will be socialist or communist." The counter-intuitive juxtaposition of socialism and communism as antagonistic tendencies in this statement makes devastatingly clear the direction the world is headed and the choices we have to make. We must choose between either a world in which governance is reduced the depoliticized, technocratic management of productive forces at the service of a heavily regulated but naturalized global market, or a world of radical equality which opposes any form of economic or political exclusion. We must give up on the compromise of socialism, for, as the current global financial crisis and the response of governments to it demonstrates, socialism is not the prelude to communism but the future of hypercapitalism.

Still, it seems like a safer bet to have confidence, as Russo put it, "that political intellectuality will invent new names for radical egalitarian desire" than to try philosophize "communism" back into existence. Philosophy can't complete politics, but it can reinvigorate and expand politics, and with this in mind Žižek's "call to thought" is salutary. For this lesson and for the essential gesture of proposing a single banner under which all those committed to struggling for universal human equality can unite, the Birkbeck conference, for all its sins, represents a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Abridged "Branded to Kill"

Premiered at the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator, 28 Feb, 2009
Adapted by Patrick Harrison from Seijun Suzuki's 1967 film "Branded to Kill"
Directed by Patrick Harrison and Nancy Kwon

Live music by Dave Harrington
Patrick Harrison as HANADA
Jessie Hopkins as MISAKO
Ryan Ruby as NO1
Olivia Olsen as MAMI
Ian Picco as GOON 2
Jamie Pittman as GOON 4
Dan Rogers as GOON 5
Live music by Dave Harrington


Tokyo, 1966.
Two chairs are pre-set center stage, back to back, facing stage right and left.
All performers will wear 'epicanthic fold' eye makeup and speak with a thick Japanese accent.

OPENING CREDITS on TV. Live music continues once the TV segment ends.

VOICE OVER: You’ll find a car at Shinagawa. You’ll find the key behind the bumper.

HANADA enters. He wears sunglasses and a suit.

VO: You’re to escort this man from Nagano to Sagami Beach for five million yen. He’s a Big Shot of a certain bijiness. It’s not a bad job.

HANADA: If nothing happens.

VO: You’re Number Three Killer. We rely on your skill. Do you want to try?

NO1 enters and sits stage right (after brushing off the chair). He is dressed more or less identically to HANADA, but his entire bearing is more dignified.

HANADA: Boil rice.

MAMI enters with a ricemaker full of steaming rice.

MAMI: He wants rice.

MAMI gives the ricemaker to HANADA, who cradles it in his lap and luxuriates in the smell. MAMI She crosses up to the audience and flirts obscenely with the audience.

NO1: Who is the woman?

HANADA: My wife.

MAMI: He has a peculiar quirk. I hate it. He likes the smell of boiling rice better than anything else.

HANADA: I can’t help smelling this scent.

MAMI: Please don’t. My husband is a dreadful man.

NO1: “Drink and women kill a killer.”

MAMI holds her nose with one hand, and takes the rice cooker with the other but HANADA refuses to relinquish it.

MAMI: Stop it! You’re abnormal!

He releases the rice, and takes hold of MAMI, smelling her hungrily. She likes it for a moment, but then storms off.

MAMI: You’re only nice to me in bed!

HANADA: Strong men are coming.

GOONS labeled “2”, “4”, and “5” appear.

HANADA: Hold on.

The sounds of a car screeching to a halt. HANADA and NO1 spill out of the chairs downstage. FIGHT SCENE: fencing, grappling, rolling done in “theatrical split screen”. GOON 2 crawls towards HANADA, yelling “HANADA!!!!” and HANADA shoots him. HANADA smiles and turns to face NO.1, the goons suddenly rise to shoot HANADA, but NO 1 pulls out his gun. The GOONS collectively gasp upon recognizing NO. 1.

GOONS: Numba…

Sound of three gunshots as No.1 shoots them in the head. The goons point to the bullet holes on their heads and collapse, dead. HANADA points at his head, indicating the head shots.

HANADA: What’s your rank?

NO1 inhales as though to answer, then doesn’t. NO1 and GOONS exit. HANADA looks after him baffled, then turns towards the audience.

HANADA: What’s your rank?

8mm projector of MISAKO. MISAKO enters. All of her dialogue is voice over.

HANADA: Are you married?

MISAKO: I hate men.

HANADA: Then you have no hope.

MISAKO: My hope is to die.

HANADA: Boil rice.

MISAKO: Kill a foreigner.

HANADA: What do you mean?

MISAKO: I rented a room you can sight in on him from. He usually takes a woman’s left arm. You’ll see us walking together down the boulevard.

HANADA: Rice! I’m talking about hot boiled rice!

MISAKO: You’ll have three seconds.

HANADA: It’s a devil’s job.

MISAKO: I heard you were a devil.

HANADA: I refuse.

MISAKO: No, you can’t. You heard the plan.

HANADA: Who sent you? Damn you! Don’t despise me! I can kill you with one shot.

MISAKO: You won’t, until you sleep with me.

HANADA: Where is the rice?! Do you have some rice?! If you don’t, buy some. You can buy I at a rice dealer’s. Go and buy some rice for me.

MISAKO: Three seconds. I’ll step aside a little. For a split second you’ll be able to see his chest.

HANADA: I’ll kill you. That’s what you’ve hoped for.

HANADA tackles her, as though to make love to her, but is shocked that she falls to the ground without putting up a struggle.

HANADA: Whose behind you?

MISAKO raises her legs spread wide into the air.

MISAKO: I am Misako, your customer, for one million yen.

HANADA dives in between her legs and emerges, his hands fully of butterflies, which he lets fall to the ground.

HANADA: You may be hit.

She arches opens her mouth. It is full of rice. HANADA smells the rice.

The FOREIGNER (GOON 5) picks MISAKO off the ground. (The GOONS are referred to by number hereafter, but they no longer wear their numbers on their costume). “Flying” by The Beatles (Magical Mystery Tour) plays. GOON 5 and MISAKO slowly cross downstage, left to right. HANADA poses to shoot. GOON 2 manipulates the butterfly puppet, which lands on the gun and then on HANADA’s face just as he shoots (SOUND OF GUNSHOT), the BULLET PUPPET comes out, dances for a while, and, as the song is ending, kills the GOON 5. MISAKO gasps and throws her head band to HANADA. The FOREIGNER kidnaps MISAKO. GOONS and MISAKO exit.

HANADA: Misako!

8mm of MISAKO being tortured, with freaky other footage.
SOUND OF phone ringing. GOON 5 enters with a telephone. HANADA picks it up.

NO1: She’s still alive.

Live music resumes.

HANADA: Who are you?

NO1: I have questions to ask you. Who is No. 5 Killer? You don’t know? You shot him. Then who is No. 4? Him too. No. 3 is you. Who is No. 2?

HANADA: I am No. 2!

NO1: That’s right. Now you are. Who is phantom No. 1? Who is No 1?


NO1: We are to kill or be killed. You can’t be permitted to live. But first, are you going to take revenge for the woman you love?


GOON 5 begins to blow up a balloon.

NO1: I owe you for what you did for me. I repay my debt by warning you that I’ll kill you. You will take revenge for the girl you love. I’ll let you see her if you like. Then you’ll die.


NO 1: This is the way No. 1 works. Can you beat me? I’ll be waiting for you at Etsuraku-en Gymnasium. If you don’t come you’re a coward.

GOON 5 hands the balloon to HANADA, who ties it.

HANADA: Why should I not become Number One? I will become Number One.

Peppy jazz plays as HANADA plays with the balloon. The balloon pops.
SOUND: The boxing ring-bell rings. HANADA has a shoot out with No. 1 on TV; During the shoot out, HANADA tries to escape, but GOONS 2 and 3 block him in with boxing ring ropes that move to simulate three sides of a boxing ring (THREE GUNSHOT/RICOCHET SOUNDS as HANADA attempts to escape through each side). HANADA gets fed up and turns the TV off.

HANADA: He is a coward. He is a coward!

HANADA puts on MISAKO’s headband.

HANADA: Who is Number One? Who is Numba—

NO1’s arm sticks out of backstage door, and shoots HANADA (SOUND OF GUNSHOT). who collapses. LIVE MUSIC SUDDENLY CUTS OFF MUSIC. Believing he has killed HANADA with his signature forehead-shot, NO1 comes out from hiding to briefly gloat over the body and leave. Just as he turns to leave HANADA shoots him (GUNSHOT). HANADA gloats, showing the broken headband which prevented him from getting shot to the audience and NO1’s corpse.

HANADA: I am Number One! I am Number One! (etc).

8mm projection of No1 shoots HANADA (SOUND: gunshot), who is actually hit. HANADA turns around just in time to see the image of No1 disappear. MISAKO enters from backstage right door, limping, her arm and head bandaged.

MISAKO: It’s me!

HANADA, by reflex, immediately shoots MISAKO, (SOUND: gunshot) who falls over dead.

HANADA: I am Number One.

He dies.

Ending credit music plays over 8MM of NO1 silently laughing.


Friday, February 27, 2009


Vast strategic manoeuvre--perfect co-ordination--utter rout--half a million prisoners--complete demoralization--control of the whole of Africa--bring the war within measurable distance of its end--victory--greatest victory in human history--victory, victory, victory!

Under the table my feet make convulsive movements. I do not stir from my seat, but in my mind I am running, swiftly running, I am with the crowds outside, cheering myself deaf. I look up again at the portrait of Barack Obama. The colossus that bestrode the world! Barack, against which the hordes of Asia dashed themselves in vain! Ten minutes ago--yes, only ten minutes--there had still been equivocation in my heart as I wondered whether the news from the front would be of victory or defeat. Ah, it was more than a Eurasian army that had perished! Much had changed in me since that first day in the Ministry of Love, but the final, indispensable, healing change had never happened, until this moment.

The voice from the television was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Sitting in a blissful dream, I pay no attention as my glass is filled up. I am not running or cheering any longer. I am back in the Social Services. Everything is forgiven. Our souls are white as snow. I confess to you confessing everything, implicating everybody. I walk down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at my back. The long-hoped-for bullet is entering my brain.

Gaze up at his enormous face. Four years it has taken us to learn what kind of smile is hidden beneath that dark skin. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of my nose. But it is all right, everything is all right, the struggle is finished. I have won the victory over myself. I love Barack Obama.

Eulogy # 1 (an improvization by Andrew Starner)

Hello. You all know who I am:
I am Andrew Starner.
King Minos is dead.
King Minos is dead.
King Minos is dead,
he is dead--
go on, say it with me.
Oh, you can say it now,
without fear:
King Minos is dead
and King Minos was a tyrant.
He was a tyrant,
and he was a fool
and he was a cuckold.
He was a fool who lost his wife, who lost his daughter
and lost his son, the beast, the Minotaur.
For years he has brought our island to the brink of despair.
King Minos is dead and he has left no heir.
I ask you:
who among you has the will,
the authority
and the sexual fertility
to take his throne?

Eulogy #0 (an improvization by Patrick Harrison)

I’ll be brief since there aren’t many people here.
He wasn’t very well liked.
He was different than everyone else.
He didn’t have a name.
The only words ever spoken to him were
the screams of his victims
and of his mother when he was born.
I’ll say one thing for him, though:
he died doing his job.
It wasn’t a good job.
He hurt a lot of people doing it.
But he did it for his country,
and nobody thanked him.
Thanks, pal,
our friend, the Minotaur.

Bucket Brigade #1

Barak Obama used the word
‘economy’ or ‘economic’
thirty one times in his address to the nation,
proof that the white of his eyes
are, indeed, as luminous
as our own.

Bucket Brigade #0

He likes granola, pita chips, and guacamole,
dressed in his shirt sleeves
‘No suitcoats in my oval office.’
Fifteen people killed today
by drone attacks in Pakistan
love Barak Obama.

"31 Flavors"

So many pleasures from which to choose:
I don’t know, can any
One really be the best?
Barack Obama.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


1) Both Hamas and the ruling government in Israel are right wing religious jerks, and like all right wingers they have no interest in ending hostilities, but only in creating new ones, sustaining old ones, and in building mythologies that dehistoricize recent political conflicts and portray them as eternal, metaphysical conflicts between two opposing faiths/races.

a) Israeli right wingers do not want peace, they want permanent occupation within acceptable margins of civilian loss. "Acceptable" civilian losses are a necessary evil because the right wing depends on terrorism to stay in power. The right wingers would be nothing without their image as the protectors of not just Israeli citizens, but the Jewish people and religion worldwide. As long as there are still civilian deaths, people have something to fear and look to the right for protection.

b) Precisely because the Israeli right wing WANTS permanent conflict and civilian losses, Hamas' strategy of violent resistance plays directly into Israel's hands. Hamas wages uban guerilla war, suicide bombings, and rocket strikes to creat a spectacle of resistance that will inspire Palestinians to support them, but that's all it is: spectacle. Hamas KNOWS that Israel will overrreact to violence, but it persists in its utterly futile violent resistance because it will profit when Israel's bloody overreaction stirs up more hate and desire to support Hamas. Hamas wants to be the kings of shit town, and their strategy of violence has nothing to do with actually getting the Palestinian people autonomy and peace, but everything to do with maintaining their shitty thrown. If Hamas was authentically committed to freeing Palestinian people, they would follow a strategy of non-violence.

2) The American media are a bunch of cads for portraying this conflict as a matter of Hamas "breaking" the ceasefire and ignoring the fact that rocket attacks resumed because the ceasefire expired. The American media has underreportec civilian deaths, and blithely reproduces the Israel Defense Force's propaganda-rhetoric of "surgical strikes". There is nothing "surgical" or "precise" about raining tons of fire from the sky into a city slum.

3) Before Israel's airstrikes, Hamas' rocket attacks since the end of the ceasefire had only killed 1 Israeli citizen. As of today over 400 Palestinians and a dozen or less Israelis are dead. If both Hamas and the Israeli right are assholes in principle, it's quite clear that Israel's actions here are monstrous and Israel must immediately quit this horrific violence.

4) It is popular to compare the occupation of Palestine to South African apartheid, and the failure of this analogy is very instructive in the present moment. Hamas' self-serving committment to violence could not stand in more contrast to the ANC, which made a point of bombing infrastructure and avoiding human casualties whenever possible, and in the instances in which their actions WERE aimed to kill, focusing exclusively on South African police. The apartheid regime is famous for the massacres in Sharpeville and Soweto, but never used airstrikes against Bantustans or committed atrocities in which the dead numbered as many as in the current conflict.

5) In a perfect world we would all share material resources equally, all governments would be secular, and racial and religious differences would not be cause for political division. There would be a single, secular, socialist Palestine in which all people were full citizens. Short of that, the only solution is this: non-violence on both sides, respect for Palestinian self-rule, and the establishment of genuine two-state solution.

ADDENDUM: Jan 3 2008

6) A friend of mine asked if I thought things were really so simple, that the masses of Israelis and Palestinians were being cruelly reigned over by a powerful elite whose interests were totally different from that of the people they ruled. In essence, I was accused of over simplifying, turning the result of a multiplicity of social forces acting on a variety of scales with the simple conspiracy of an elite. So the proper rejoinder is this: that yes, many "normal", "everyday" Israeli's and Palestinians--those outside the "political elite"--actively support the paths that Hamas and the Israeli right are carving out, whether actively--extremists like the Israeli settlers or rocket-firing Hamas "activists"--or just indirectly by doing what they need to to just get along within existing power structures.

8) That also said, the depiction of Hamas in the Western media as merely a "militant group"--or worse, and even more manipulatively, as a "terrorist group"--is a gross distortion, and Israel's boasting that they have confined casualties to Hamas militants only is bullshit. Hamas is the police force in Gaza, and a major provider of education, medecine, and other social services in Gaza. Not all members of Hamas share its antisemitic tenencies or even its substantive political ideology; a lot of people are just looking for jobs and roles in their communities.

7) Now that Israel has put boots on the ground in Israel, I have to retract my earlier statement about non-violence. The Palestinians have to ditch violence in the long term if they want to accomplish anything, but with Israel now crossing over into Gaza territory itself, the Palestinians have the right to defend their territory from invasion.