Bring on "The Purge"

I love me a good sci-fi/thriller/horror movie. They are the sage fools of film. By being outlandish in concept they get to reveal the underlying pathologies of the era in a way a “serious” work could not. “The Fly” was one of the best films of the 80s. It explored everything — crack/heroin/meth, AIDS, and, yes Virginia, abortion (gasp!) — without directly mentioning a one of them (except for maybe abortion; she was trying to abort a pupa though. I mean c’mon!). And The Fly dissolves a guy’s foot with his vomit and then sucks up the foot’n’vomit glop. It’s nice to have an Other.

Better still is the dystopia. Unless there are zombies. Zombies are boring. But a good sci-fi dystopia should reveal the underlying humanity of the characters against the backdrop of whatever Big Change has organized the future into something unrecognizable. This underlying unreality should provide the opening to tell us something about society today. And if it’s a great movie, it will tell us or, like “The Fly”, at least explore things we know but perhaps don’t care to think about.

So, it is with great eagerness that I await “The Purge”. Here’s the set up: In the 2020s America is prosperous, safe and happy because for one night a year all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended. We The People regulate ourselves in a bloody free-for-all. One typical but wealthy family is holed up for Purge Night, but the young boy lets in a man who is being chased by Purgers, and his assailants come looking for him.

“The Purge” is being marketed as a political film. The start of the trailer heralds the joyous statistics of the future like a campaign commercial (unemployment at 1%, crime at an all time low) and most of the last third of the trailer is scored by a direful rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung by creepy kidlets. The fake website for the film includes the platform of the “New Founders of America” that have created the Purge. Methinks the film has a point to make.

What separates America from other first-world democracies is that we hate each other. Indeed, we have always hated each other. Our history is bloody and since Watergate if not WWII the only time our political system accomplishes much is in a crisis or through a legislative strongman like LBJ. We combine third world tribalism with more-or-less first world infrastructure and institutions (at least on paper). And, lets face it, we have purged. Ask the Native Americans, the slaves in the Old South, or the child laborers of the Robber Baron era. Most of us were Purged during the Great Economic Collapse. I consider myself one of the lucky ones and my pay has been frozen for three years while my condo is worth about 2/3rds of what I bought it for. Meanwhile, the wealthiest have gotten wealthier and the remaining big banks have gotten bigger, having purged their competition. I’m alive and healthy, but my wallet was assuredly Purged.

Is there a better picture for what lies beneath the United States than controlled violence and mayhem? Perhaps “The Purge” will be a modern “Young Goodman Brown,” but instead of finding out that our townspeople are secretly sexy, maypole frolicking witches as Hawthorne’s hero did, we find that are fellow citizens really are ready to act on their mutual hatred.

Or…. Maybe “The Purge” will be twenty minutes of interesting set up, followed by 70 minutes of home-invasion (The safe space. Violated!) thrills with, maybe, a decent denouement. It wouldn’t be the first time a shitty movie had an intriguing trailer.

The Rubio Moment

What I’m about to describe hasn’t come about because of Marco Rubio; rather, Marco Rubio is possible because the moment is upon us. The seeming rush to pass immigration reform came not from a strong impulse of the conservative movement, but from a demographic reality: if Latinos vote as heavily democratic as they did in 2012, Republicans will not see the inside of the White House for a very long time. Add New England minus Maine, DC,  and Washington and Oregon to states with large Latino populations, and you have 271 electoral votes.

Republicans have been making the argument for a while that Latinos are part of their natural constituency due to their family values (a backhanded swipe, I think at blacks) for a long time. But they’ve said the same think about Jews, Asians, etc. What they fail to realize is that if your number one social characteristic is your minority status, that is going to be the most important political issue to you and the party of the Neoconfederates demanding conformity is going to be a hard sell.

But what the Rubio moment represents in the broader politics of the hemisphere is the final nail in the always tenuous argument that Latin America and its history ended at the Rio Grande. For a long time the US has looked to Europe disproportionately due to old ties, the ongoing game of power diplomacy, and so on. The strange and mysterious world of Asia caught our eye in large part due to WWII and Cold War entanglements and miscellaneous yellow perils still haunt the front page sections of our news.

But when our largest minority, a huge portion of our oil, a huge portion of our trade, and a large portion of our historical military adventures come from the same hemisphere it has strangely never been paid as much attention. If the argument of America being separated north and south by mass consciousness, it could be made.

But the key facts of the history of this hemisphere over the last 500 years are the same enough to at least talk about them in more unity than, say, we would talk about the history of Peru and India or Peru and Egypt.

Columbus touched off an age of imperialism that saw the near destruction of native populations, replaced either by slaves or underclasses from Europe and Africa and put into a quasi-feudal plantation system that massively and permanently enriched a small upper class.

But now a whole new tie binds the two together: the fact that Latinos themselves are becoming the most important political minority in the United States, which makes it the case that the United States is the country with the second most Spanish speakers in the world, second only to Mexico.

If you’re a Californian, this isn’t news to you today. It might have been news to your Republican neighbors in the 90s, but with the exception of the RINO Schwarzenegger, they haven’t controlled anything in this state since their support of Proposition 187 turned the Latino community decisively against them.

Maybe Republicans elsewhere dismissed this as whacky California. But they won’t be laughing when it happens in Texas.

Fair to Francisco

Not gonna lie. When I read that the new pope had allegedly helped agents of the junta escape justice, I got angry. The source of the allegation was a Guardian article, linked to below, which cites a book written by Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky, who penned this article about Francisco in the newspaper that he co-founded, Pagina12 a center-left publication that allegedly is part owned by former-president and husband of the current president, Nestor Kirchner.

Verbitsky is a prolific journalist, the author of 20 books, and a former left-wing radical. His editorial says cryptically, that Francisco in “not forgetting Argentina” could play a role similar to John Paul II, who “opened the first hole in the European wall [iron curtain],” perhaps a Argentine pope could “fulfill the same role in the Latin American context.” One way he could do this is by “adopting historical causes, such as that of the Falklands.” (original quoted below)

The Kirchner administration has been heating up the rhetoric on the Falklands again, and the islanders voted nearly unanimously to stay part of the UK. Argentina rejected this plebiscite because it was a vote of “invaders.” This is a dangerous logic for anyone to employ, especially a country that was built on the elimination of natives. Furthermore, these are not recent “invaders.” When’s the cutoff?

If Kirchner and her supporters are hoping that an Argentine pope will intervene on this issue in their favor, they’re crazy. This is a politically stupid position to take because no one will want him to mediate for the very reason that he’s the Argentine pope.

If there is a Latin American left, one thing that they tend to share is a tribal, almost racial hatred not just of the American government, but of gringos in general. For Che Guevara’s comments on Cuzco, where he claimed only someone with the mixed lineage of a South American could understand as he scoffed at the North American tourists (Guevara was Spanish and Irish) to Hugo Chavez’s bombast, to the “death to the yanquis” cries at some of Evo Morales’s political rallies, it seems like Pan-Americanism from these folks fits more with Hannah Arendt’s description of Pan-movements as precursors to totalitarian regimes than they do with a general anti-neoliberal left that shares much in common with 99% of North Americans.

This isn’t a lame post-9/11 “why do they hate us” moment. I know why they hate us, why they think they should hate us, and why they feel justified in doing so. But if the “us” includes me, I can either try and reason with them that certainly their beef shouldn’t extend to every American or I’m on the other side.

In reality, Latin America has made a lot of progress and is headed in a good direction, thanks in no small part to its leftists (just like the US!) while Europe is stuck in the muck due to its reactionary economic posture.

If the following grafs seemed a bit non-sequitur its because you see a distinction between the British and the Americans. The Pan-Americanists don’t. Argentina seems slightly less inclined to use Americans as a foreign bogeyman and source of all their ills when they have the British right next door to do so.

Oh, and let’s not forget, this new flare up is, yes, partly due to economic problems at home, to Kirchner’s low approval rating, and, perhaps due to the fact that the navy had one of its warships foreclosed on. But it’s really about oil. Remember, fellow lefties, how terrible imperial wars for oil are?

I’m glad the new pope wasn’t (apparently) part of the dirty war. I’m glad there was a rush to point that out. I’m glad that the attention will contribute to more awareness about that, and perhaps even towards more awareness of the US’s own role in it. But the lame attempt by pro-government Argentines to jiujitsu their criticism of Francisco’s role (or lack thereof) in it into some kind of diplomatic advantage in their desire to conquer for oil seems stupid and pathetic. ¡Que boludo!

Ahora podrá hacerlo en otra escala, lo cual no quiere decir que se olvide de la Argentina. Si Pacelli recibió el financiamiento de la Inteligencia estadounidense para apuntalar a la democracia cristiana e impedir la victoria comunista en las primeras elecciones de la posguerra y si Wojtyla fue el ariete que abrió el primer hueco en el muro europeo, el papa argentino podrá cumplir el mismo rol en escala latinoamericana. Su pasada militancia en Guardia de Hierro, el discurso populista que no ha olvidado, y con el que podría incluso adoptar causas históricas como la de las Malvinas, lo habilitan para disputar la orientación de ese proceso, para apostrofar a los explotadores y predicar mansedumbre a los explotados.



Pope Francis And The Need For American Truth & Reconciliation

The Joshua Tree ends with a song entitled “The Mothers of the Disappeared” named after the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children had been “disappeared” by the Argentinean and Chilean dictatorships. It is a haunting, soulful elegy to the “sons and daughters, cut down taken from us” and we are told to, “Hear their heartbeat.”

I wonder if the new Pope hears their heartbeat.

…the Argentine navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio [Pope Francis I], [then] the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship’s political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate.

[UPDATE: This allegation has been retracted by The Guardian. So, I’m taking the Pope out of this mix, but my point remains: America needs hearings on the Fear & Fraud Decade]

Among the disappeared was a French nun. Less than 10 years ago, Argentina finally passed a law allowing for all of those responsible for crimes against humanity to be tried. Chile, too, has had a long but slow path towards reconciliation and has recently allowed a trial for the murder of singer Victor Jara to proceed, almost 30 years after the fact.

Will we have to wait that long? Maybe. Maybe we will never grapple with the last decade directly, but if we don’t it will continue to poison our souls, just as this will further poison the soul of the Catholic Church.

Is there a Chavismo?

The Spanish language news broadcasts talk about the passing of Hugo Chavez as the passing of the leader of a “Bolivarian movement” or of “Chavismo.” It remains to be seen whether there is such a thing, and, if so, whether such a thing has any relevance in 2013.

As this writer at Esquire points out, the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Latin America has rung a little hollow in the last little while. It’s not that Bush wasn’t a demon, but it’s that the imperialist system is run by the world now, and it extracts the natural resources of the whole world, and exploits the labor of the whole world. If you’re not among the wealthy, your computer is a plantation and so is your 401k in an abstract sense.

Plus, for all of Chavez’s bluster, he still sold the US oil and, other than enabling and supporting regimes far abroad, never fired a shot at the US. The Latin American left sees itself in a Groundhog Day of Allende and Arbenz, and is always looking over its back for el CIA. Maybe this is far from paranoia. After all, there does not exist a Latin American country that, at some point, has been interfered with by the United States. They probably should be suspicious of us in the same way that many Europeans remain suspicious to this day of the Germans or the Russians.

But that suspicion also must be tempered by reality. Latin America is still part of the developing world, but it is not the hell that much of the rest of the global south is. Every once in a while, liberation movements take hold and get real power in Latin America; Chavez’s own reign is a counter-argument against him, as is that of the incumbent in Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, and to some extent, Brazil and Argentina.

If only the Arab Spring had ushered in a Middle East half covered by Bolivarians instead of Islamists!

It’s easy to use the yanqui as a bogeyman. In our country, we love Bogeymen. Right now, our own President is the bogeyman for about a third of our population. Former Bogeymen Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Qaddafi have all been removed from office. The generic “terrorist” is probably the closest thing we have at the moment, and he definitely looks Arab.

But who a yanqui is is changing. It is getting difficult to alienate the US from the rest of the hemisphere in so facile a manner. The US has the second highest population of Spanish-speakers. The Latino is the decisive element of any coalition of power in this country at the moment, and has been in many states for a long time. The Latino vote might even turn Texas blue. Imagine that.

I like that Chavez used his country’s natural resources to help his people. It’s too bad that hasn’t been what’s gone on in Latin America since the start. I hope his successors and his followers do the same. I hope they develop. But I hope they realize that Norte America is or has become more like them that they realize.

Belated Inauguration Day Diary

On January 19, Mr. MacGergor and ST navigated to the parking spot in Northern Virginia that we had found on Craigslist. The owner of the home attached to the parking spot let us sleep on her couch, gratuis. Anything for an Obama volunteer, she said.

There were only a few hours for sleep before the cellphone alarm woke us at 3:00 AM. We dressed, swallowed some coffee, and walked to the Vienna Metro station that was across the street. There was already an impressive line of cars waiting to park there. We made our way to the Metro and at 4:00 AM it lumbered towards DC as the inhabitants stuffed inside cheered.

After a few stops the train was packed like a tin of spam and many people were left on the platform, unable to negotiate the tangle of bodies inside. We exited with much of the throng at the Federal Triangle and began to step towards the Capitol building. The Washington Monument and the Capitol itself glowed in their electrical light in the pitch darkness of that cold morning like great ivory Totems.


We stopped six rows back from a steel barrier. This was about as close as you could get without a ticket. Before we had time to even think if we were in the optimal spot, countless hominids were standing behind us.


The immediate crowd around us appeared to be over 90% African-American and largely college age. Two older women stood out. One said that she had marched on Washington with MLK in 1963. The other had no story, but was wearing fine clothes and was glowing and beaming from the very core of her being. As the morning darkness gave way to sunrise people coming and going  jostled the crowd. You had no choice but to grab your companion and let the multitude take you where it would. Somehow, this joyous woman aglow always managed to migrate closer to the front with each tectonic shift. She’s the one wearing the fuzzy purple and black hat in front of the leather jacketed arm in the photo below.


Every community has its demon. At Mr. MacGregor and ST’s corner of the Inauguration, our demon presented himself as two paramedics hurried an elderly gentleman that had collapsed out of the crowd. The demon followed the tunnel that the paramedics made through the multitude, and planted himself in the front of the throng. Despite substantial hate from all those around him and the glacial movements of the masses he did not budge from his perch directly in the way of most of my pictures. He was tall and, ironically, hooded. He will be reincarnated as a batch of herpes atop a hemorrhoid.


The early chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” and other songs dimmed as exhaustion set in. The sun did little to warm the day. Space only got tighter. ST and Mr. MacGergor were wise to eat their sandwich at about 9 AM, because shortly thereafter it became almost impossible to lift your arms up from your side. We chose not to drink any water, because we knew that a bathroom break would mean the surrender of our spot.

It was arctic freezing cold. Some gave up and bounced. “We’re from Florida,” one guy said on behalf of his girl, “we don’t do this.”

Early portions of the program at least provided entertainment in the numbing cold. The appearance of Generalissimo Bush on the Jumbotron ignited a bellow of boos and hisses that morphed into arena-like renditions of “Hit the Road Jack” and “Hey Hey Goodbye.”

Finally, the show began. While the crowd never quite quieted down, the waiting finally became worth it as the benediction echoed, Joe was sworn in, Aretha sang, and Yo Yo et al “played.”

The Moment finally came. I will admit that I always feel a slight itching at the bottom of my heart whenever I see Obama. There is a tiny part of me that is waiting and fearing a fatal gun shot. This tension was a touch higher than usual just then, and I was trying really hard to get a photo of history around the obstructive hood of the demon. In that moment, Justice Roberts’ oath snafu was but a weird hiccup that could not dent the speed of those seconds. This is what I got:


Obama’s speech lacked a singular line. It was a series of topic sentences that severed the ties from these awful eight years. The snuffles I heard were a combination of tears and running noses from the cold. A few tears, in my case, at hearing something aspirational and sensical from a real President at long last. The crowd clapped and cheered, and then began to disperse. We wanted to stay for the poem and convocation, but after being compressed like a ball of krill for so long, it was counterintuitive not to get out of there immediately.

Before we got swallowed in the wayward exiting of the crowd, we watched as Marine One, the Pesidential helicopter, flew over the Mall like a giant grasshopper, spiriting Generalissimo Bush away, at last. The balloon animal in my intestines suddenly unwound, my chest  relaxed, and my shoulders felt lighter. It was truly over. Generalissimo Bush was gone!

Getting out of DC was a dress rehearsal for being a refuge. All in all, we did not actually sit down for 12 consecutive hours. Somehow, the Turnpike was closed, which added another hour to the journey back to Central New Jersey. A warm cheesesteak and a good nights sleep later, and it was all definitely worth it.

A few days later Mr. MacGregor and ST were headed towards Ellis Island. We were surprised to see Ken Salazar, the new Secretary of the Interior, as our ferry stopped at Liberty Island. The ferry followed his special Secretary of Interior boat to Ellis Island and we got a good view of him meeting some functionaries there. Turns out he was in NY/NJ harbor at the behest of local Congressmen that wanted the upper reaches of the Statue of Liberty reopened. In means iconic and minute change had finally come to America.


Somehow, seeing Secretary Salazar clarified the whole purpose our trip to President Obama’s Inauguration. The eight terrible years are over. America is America again!