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Category Archives: Nihilism
Posted: May 6, 2020 at 7:00 am
Theres not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations, McConnell was quoted telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
The effort to so clearly and ostentatiously turn a national tragedy into yet another partisan issue was met with an immediate and sharp backlash. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York pointed out that states like Kentucky, which McConnell represents, take in far more federal spending than they return in taxes the opposite of states like New York, which pays more in taxes to the federal government than it receives. But in a plea for decency, Cuomo said, "If there was ever a time for humanity . . . and a time to stop your obsessive political bias and anger, now is the time.
But were talking about Mitch McConnell. This is the man who mobilized his Republican caucus to prevent witnesses from being called in President Trumps impeachment trial; who rammed through, on a partisan vote, Brett Kavanaughs ascendancy to the Supreme Court; and who has shut down the Senate from crucial business except for the confirmation of conservative federal judges. He also strongly resisted efforts to expose Russias interference in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump. I have little doubt he did so because such exposure would have undermined Trumps White House bid and, in turn, possibly eroded McConnells Senate majority.
And if we want to go further back, this is the same senator who in 2009 and 2010 did exactly what hes doing now. In the midst of the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, he used his 41-seat Senate minority to shoot down virtually every effort to pass stimulus measures that would have lessened the toll, because prolonging the countrys economic pain was in the political interests of the Republican Party.
Were seeing a variation of such political nihilism now.
There are lots of theories on why McConnell is resisting money for state and local governments now. Hes trying to cripple Democratic state governments by forcing them to cut basic services, goes one argument. Declaring bankruptcy might force states to default on their pension obligations, which would cripple public-sector unions (which strongly support Democratic candidates).
As President Trump hinted at Tuesday, when he said that payments to states would be contingent on the removal of laws creating sanctuary cities, perhaps McConnell is using the desperate fiscal situation as leverage. Indeed, his new-found focus on granting liability protection to businesses that force employees back to work and his concession earlier this week that state and local funds will probably be included in the next stimulus package suggests that might be what hes thinking.
But with McConnell, the best explanation for his behavior usually comes back to politics. As I wrote last year, For McConnell, politics is fundamentally about accruing political power for the sole purpose of accruing more political power.
Sure, squeezing Democratic states will boomerang against red states too. Not only will it make the economic downturn worse, which would further undercut Trumps reelection chances, but it will hurt red-state governors in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Ohio too.
But from McConnells perspective, it will have the useful political effect of making the coronavirus pandemic a partisan issue. Already, Republicans have portrayed COVID-19 as a problem that is afflicting blue states more than red ones. Why should the country suffer because of New York City? one insidious line of argument goes. Blue state governors in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin are enduring the brunt of partisan attacks for their tough line on strict social distancing rules. Why not up the ante?
The specifics of the bailouts matter less than the opportunity to find political advantage and activate Republican animosity toward liberals. Sure, if you can undercut public sector unions or maybe squeeze out some legal protections for Republican donors, all the better.
Its a troubling conclusion, but its also one that those who look closely at McConnells career generally arrive at. As Jane Mayer wrote in a recent profile of McConnell for The New Yorker, For months, I searched for the larger principles or sense of purpose that animates McConnell. . . . Finally, someone who knows him very well told me, 'Give up. You can look and look for something more in him, but it isnt there. I wish I could tell you that there is some secret thing that he really believes in, but he doesnt.
Politics has long been the only motivating factor for McConnell: the explanation for everything that he has done over the past several decades to undercut democracy and enable an authoritarian president, dangerously unqualified for the awesome power he wields.
Why should a deadly pandemic and an economic catastrophe be any different?
Michael A. Cohens column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 6:59 am
When I decided to major in English, my parents thought I might use this highly versatile degree to pursue law or medicine. Little did they know that Id end up applying that (much too) expensive education to analyzing a television show about a drunken, sociopathic mad scientist with a flying space car. Rick and Morty, created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, is pretty much an instant cult classic. Kayla Cobb calls it a never-ending fart joke wrapped around a studied look into nihilism, and personally I think she hits the nail on the head with that description. There are probably a thousand different philosophical lenses through which you could study this show and never get bored. And probably someone who is better versed in philosophy should do just that (because yes please!)
The best I can do is follow my own laymans curiosity down the rabbit hole. What exactly is it about this shows gleeful nihilism that appeals to so many fans, the vast majority of which would not consider themselves nihilists in any sense of the word? The draw of the show is strong for Millennials in particular, which is odd, since were the ones who obsess over Queer Eyes unbridled optimism, Marie Kondos blissful joy, and Steven Universes wide-eyed hopefulness in equal measure. In a society enamored by the concept of self (self-care, self-responsibility, self-love), what is so fascinating about a fantasy world that revolves around the destruction of any sense of individual importance? As Morty so succinctly tells his sister, Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybodys gonna dieCome watch TV.
Rick Sanchez, the aforementioned mad scientist, is the lynchpin of the show in that all of the zany plots and fart jokes are his doing, directly or indirectly. Rick is an anarchist of the highest degree, vocally disgusted by any sort of rules or law, including those of decency and familial obligation. So I think its fair that a dive into the shows nihilistic philosophy should center on him. Im sure he wouldnt have it any other way.
In Rick theres no doubt an element of the (toxic) masculine archetype: Tortured Genius Who Is Lonely and Doesnt Care Because Feelings Are Overrated. Hes a character of frustrating paradoxes. Every act of debauchery or callousness is tempered by a glimpse of grudging generosity or heroism. He relentlessly mocks his grandchildren, using every possible opportunity to convince them how little they matter to him, but anytime someone else tries to take advantage of Morty or Summer, hes quick to avenge. In season one, after a chaotic nightmare of an adventure, Morty leads Rick on an ill-fated quest, determined to prove that adventures should be simple and fun. Mortys fantastical adventure takes a nightmarish turn when hes assaulted in a bathroom by an alien named Mr. Jellybean. Traumatized, Morty is ready to bail, but Rick, clearly intuiting whats happened, helps Morty to bring their adventure to a satisfying conclusionand then hops back through the portal to execute the alien pervert, for good measure.
In a later episode, Summer starts her first job in a shop run by Mr. Needful, aka the actual Devil (voiced by Alfred Molina) selling cursed artifactsyou know, typical high school job. Jealous of his granddaughters admiration for Mr. Needful, though he refuses to admit it, Rick starts a successful campaign to run the shop out of business, much to Summers dismay. But when the Devil pulls a Zuckerberg and screws Summer out of her share of the business empire she helped him build from the ground up, Rick joins her in a plot to get ripped and beat the shit out of her former boss during a TED Talk. Sweet revenge.
In Auto Erotic Assimilation, which is arguably one of the most emotionally fraught episodes of the series, Ricks oscillating character arc reveals a poignant, unexpected moment of the ordinary humanity he despises so much. After a run-in with an ex, a hive mind named Unity (voiced mainly by Christina Hendrix) who has plans to assimilate the entire universe, Rick goes on a debauched, sex- and drug-fueled bender that eventually causes Unitys control over the planet to falter. When Morty and Summer express concern, Rick dismisses them out of hand, explaining to Unity, Theyre no different from any of the aimless chumps that you occupy. They just put you at the center of their lives because youre powerful, and then because they put you there, they expect you to be less powerful.
Rick remains oblivious to the full impact of his words (His next order of business is: Im not looking for judgement, just a yes or no: Can you assimilate a giraffe?), but shortly thereafter Unity dumps him, leaving behind a series of breakup notes telling Rick that its too easy for Unity to lose itself in him, because in a strange way, youre better at what I do without even trying.
Rick pretends to be nonchalant and indifferent, but that night he attempts suicide with a death ray that only narrowly misses the mark. It is without doubt one of the darkest momentsif not the darkest momentof the series thus far, and in my opinion lays bare the crux of Ricks character. With infinite intelligence comes an infinite loneliness that makes you wonder if his borderline sociopathy is cause or effect. Maybe a little of both. The show certainly gives no clear answer.
In fact, if anything, the writers spend a great deal of time building up the trope of the lonely genius, only to poke fun at it every chance they get. In the season three premiere, we get a look into Ricks tragic and somewhat clich backstory, in which a young Rick is visited by an alternate version of himself and doesnt like the lonely, narcissistic future he sees. He announces to his wife that hes giving up science, only for the alternate Rick to toss a bomb through the portal, destroying both his wife and young daughter. After losing his family, Rick throws himself back into science and discovers interdimensional travel. Its another moment of humanity for the otherwise emotionally inscrutable Rick. Or it would be, except that its a totally fabricated origin story that Rick uses to trick Galactic Federation agent Cornvelious Daniel (voiced by Nathan Fillion) and escape the Series 9000 Brainalyzer in which he is imprisoned.
Theres never any solid footing when it comes to Rick Sanchez. Hes impossible to pin down. As Morty tells his sister, Hes not a villain, Summer, but he shouldnt be your hero. Hes more like a demon. Or a super fucked-up god. The show repeatedly suggests that we shouldnt admire Rick, but also constantly undermines itself with evidence to the contraryhe always comes out on top, hes always one step ahead, he always manages to protect his family (except for that one time he and Morty transformed the earth into a Cronenberg-style hellscape and then bailed into a new reality, but alls well that ends well, I suppose).
Screenshot: Cartoon Network
Ricks character is distinctly problematic, which is really a nicely academic way of saying that hes a piece of shit and if he somehow existed in real life I would hate him on principle. But in the fictional world he inhabits, hes a reflection of the darkest part of the human psyche. A safe, harmless way to embrace the shadowy corners of our minds that we otherwise avoid. We can find escapism in the romanticizing of life, the universe, and everything (through shows like Queer Eye or Steven Universe, for example) or in the oppositein the offhand dismissal of all we hold to be true and right. Im no psychologist, but I do think theres an element of cognitive dissonance that is key to our survival, if not as a species then as individuals. We need to be able to lose ourselves in nihilistic shows about demons and super fucked-up gods on occasion without losing who we are or what we believe in.
No disrespect to Nietzsche and his bros, but IRL we truly care about friends and family and cat videos and injustice and global warming. We have to. Its what makes us human, and I wouldnt have it any other way. There are many who would argue that all the fiction we consume must reflect the values we aspire to in our everyday lives, lest we lose sight of our own morality, and I get that. I really do. I try my best to support media that supports a better world, but Im not going to pretend to be a hero, here. As Rick proves time and time again, the universe is a chaotic and crazy place, and sometimes I need a break from the fraught emotional tangle of reality. And for that, I find my escape in shows like Rick and Morty, which are complex enough to analyze for layers of meaning, to study the problematic tropes that get dismantled and the ones that get reinforced. But its also fun and simple enough to kick back with an adult beverage, too much pizza, and just not think about it. Its less of a guilty pleasure and more of a release valve. Watching a show that cares about nothing is a way to siphon off the pressure of caring so damn much about everything.
And at the root of it all, I think its that pure escapism that attracts us most to Rick and Morty and their misadventures (aside from clever writing, complex emotional payoffs, and a character literally named Mr. Poopy Butthole, but I digress). The characters inhabit infinite realities where actions have virtually no consequences. Accidentally ruin this world? No problem. All you have to do is find a new reality, bury your own corpse, and youre back in business. Easy peasy.
I will gladly lose myself (and my clutter) in Maries joyful world, and I love to eat candy and dream big with Steven and the Gems. But some days require an escapism of a different caliber. We are burdened with the not-so-glorious purpose of surviving in a world where even an errant tweet can bear the most devastating of fruit, where assholes who think theyre smarter than everyone else are just assholes (no genius involved), where once we destroy the planet with global warming, there is no portal gun we can use to hop neatly into a new reality.
Rick and Morty doesnt give a shit about Twitter, or feelings, or this universe, or anything at all. And while youre watching it, you dont have to either. Sometimes thats exactly what you need, at least until the next season of Queer Eye drops.
Originally published in August 2019.
Destiny Soria lives and works in the shadow of the mighty Vulcan statue in Birmingham, Alabama. Destinys first book, Iron Cast, was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. Her second, Beneath the Citadel, is available now.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 6:59 am
By Jim Miller
The lunacy just keeps coming with the Presidents corporate-funded brown shirts staging armed astroturf protests in Michigan and unarmed displays of batshit crazy elsewhere across the country, angrily agitating for an end to state governments oppressive attempts to keep more people from dying. Doug Porter ably outlined some of the key aspects of these festivals of hysteria and hate last week in his blog , [Ed.: here on the OB Rag as well] but I think what we are seeing is a phenomenon that is both a transparent bit of obscene political theatre and a manifestation of a much deeper pathology.
Back in the beginning of 2018, I observed in this space that the previous year had been a time of generalized rage, as Noam Chomsky aptly puts it. For Chomsky, the collapse of belief in American institutions of all sorts has produced a nihilistic disillusionment that has led to a generalized rage that effectively erodes all the bonds of solidarity that hold society together because this kind of unfocused, flailing anger is deeply corrosive, not just towards social and political institutions, but on human empathy itself. The end result of this is a politics in the service of an ugly society driven only by the principle of selfishness.
I argued then that what we were seeing was generalized rage not only as a campaign tactic but as a governing strategy. Its not just about dividing and conquering in the service of oligarchy anymore as I wrote at the time:
[O]nce unleashed, the generalized rage now at play in the country transcends the economic. In our fundamentally alienated, radically atomized social sphere where unseen trolls lurk and molest online and in other realms in the dark forest of our social Id, anything is possible. In the universe of mean Tweets where real people recede and become targets like those in a violent video game, its easy to go for the kill.
I observed that a culture driven by this emotion had the ethics of the Vegas shooter, Because when your operating principle is generalized rage, there are no limits, nobody to tell you what to do or who to care about. There is nothing at your core. And thats the way it feels now, but not just when you see wingnuts with guns demanding haircuts on TV.
I see the same kind of pathologically radicalized individualism when I walk by the newly opened golf course near my house in my mask in the midst of a pandemic and see middle aged white guys, unmasked, shaking hands and high-fiving while the security guy sits on his cart and stares at his phone. And Im sure that the twenty-some pairs of golfers (yes I counted as I walked by) that I saw blatantly ignoring social distancing rules were all married or roommates too, just like the crew of 30-somethings in the giant house party next door to my home as I write this column on Friday afternoon.
Then theres the mayor of San Diego who can look at pictures of big crowds at the beaches clearly ignoring the health guidelines and cheer, Stay classy, San Diego. Of course, that ridiculous statement was in the service of pushing to hastily re-open the city to start up the economy so we can return to normala world where hyper-consumerist values rule and our immediate gratification is what matters most, no matter the social, economic, or environmental costs.
Its true that, if you believe the polls, most of us still want to do the right thing and follow the health guidelines to prevent a huge second surge of disease and death with the subsequent, even worse economic carnage it will cause. But there is a large swath of Americans across the country and right here in classy San Diego who will do whatever the fuck they want to even if that means killing more people and further gutting the economic engine they kneel and pray tojust because they feel like it.
Because, you know, freedom.
And that kind of selfishness may not always be driven by rage, but it still reveals a blank nihilism that only people who are beyond alienation can manifest so clearly.
This easy American life knows no pity.
Posted: at 6:59 am
The MCU showed the world thedestructive might of the Infinity Stones, but what could that power be used to create in those same hands? In 1991, Marvel's TheInfinity Gauntletfollows The Mad Titan, Thanos, as he wields the most powerful weapon in the universe. Drunk with power and jaded in love, Thanos creates his vision of the perfect companion: Terraxia the Terrible!
Since hiscreation by Jim Starlin in 1973, Thanos has often been portrayed as a cold, unfeeling megalomaniac. But not without some sympathy, sinceThanos has been outcast his entire life, due to his appearance and his obsession with morbidity and nihilism. Only one being in the whole universe shows him any affection: the avatar of death incarnate,Mistress Death. She sees his potential to deliver her an unprecedented number of souls, and begins manipulating him from his earliest years as a child on Titan. Thanos relentlessly pursues herapproval by decimating Titan's population in a nuclear holocaust, going on a killing spree across the universe, and even going as far as slaughtering his own child. Death is unimpressed by his efforts, as her hunger can never truly be sated.
Related:Thanos Originally Looked Like DC's [SPOILER], Not Darkseid
Afterhis death at the hands of Adam Warlock, Thanos is resurrected by Lady Death for the sole purpose of ending half of all life in the universe. Thanos tricks her into helping him gather the Infinity Stones to aid him in his task, and thereby surpassed even the cosmic entity of Death in his power. Scorned, Death continues to spurn his amorous pursuits, refusing to utter a single word or even acknowledge his presence. Despite Death's cold shoulder, Thanos snaps away half of all life in the universe. Still, Death is unmoved. Thanos, furious and desperate, realizes that no matter his efforts, he will never earn that which he seeks. But he is a god, and will not be denied his quarry. If he can't earn love, then he will create it. To this end, he blinks into existence a "perfect" woman in the form of Terraxia.
Terraxia looks less like an ideal lover for Thanos than his sister. She shares his purple skin, black eyes, and is dressed in a female tailored replica of Thanos's uniform, right down to the gauntlets and horned head piece. It makes sense for an egomaniac such as Thanos to envision the perfect woman as simply an extension of himself who lives only to please him. Even while Terraxia is clinging to Thanos's leg like a harem girl, Thanos is attempting to impress Death with his exploits. As the massive army of Marvel superheroes approach, Thanos knows he must seize this final opportunity to win over his true love. Realizing that there is no bravery in absolute power, Thanos temporarily severs his connection to the Mind, Soul, Time, Space, and Reality Gems, leaving only the Power Stone at his disposal.
Thanos and Terraxia face down the gathered forces side by side, and for a brief moment, it seems as though Thanos is proud of the viciousness with which Terraxia tears through their foes, having decapitated Iron Man and crushed Spider-Man's skull with a rock. But at the climax of The Infinity Gauntlet, when they are banished to the void of space, Thanos quickly realizes he may have forgotten to provide Terraxia the ability to survive in the vacuum. And just as quickly, Thanos moves on, with nary a tear for his lost love.For all his effort, Death still shows no feeling toward Thanos, and eventually goes as far as to make him immortal, so that he may never know Death's embrace. Thanos's true weakness is not his love, but his own hunger for power.
The Infinity Gauntlet shows Thanoswants Death because she is the only thing can never possess, despite his raw might. His lack of vision while he possessed true omnipotence proves that he has no true purpose, save for the accumulation of more power. Thanos had everything he could ever dream of, but lacked the imagination to dream.
More:The Silver Surfer Used The Infinity Gauntlet... For Good (Mostly)
D&D Accidentally Stole A Race From The Creator Of Game Of Thrones
Doug Romshe is a writer, comic book historian, and most importantly a fan. He lives in Durham, North Carolina where he enjoys comics, novels, video games, craft beer, and cheap whiskey. Doug holds a degree in Philosophy with a minor in writing from Kent State University.
Posted: at 6:59 am
Guinea-Bissaus Prime Minister, Nuno Gomes Nabiam, and three members of his cabinet have tested positive for the novel COVID-19, according to the health ministry. Health Minister, Antonio Deuna, told journalists that Nabiam, Interior Minister Botche Cande and two other ministers were diagnosed on Tuesday and have been quarantined at a hotel in the capital Bissau.
Although the health minister did not reveal details of the officials condition or treatment, he warned that the countrys rate of infection could rise.
So far, the country has confirmed over 70 cases and one death.
Infection rates on the continent are low and so is the case count even in comparison to individual countries such as France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. Many more Africans are recovering from the virus by the day too and yet, many Africans and those who are not, remain unconvinced by less-than-horrific statistics.
The people believe the scourge will be worse for them than theEuropeanshad it because Africas leaders are woefully incompetent. Africas professional class insists that there are a lot of causes for concern and Euro-American spectatorship wonders how the people on the poorest continent arent dying as much.
There has been a 43% jump in confirmed cases over the last week but real numbers tell a highly manageable coronavirus problem in Africa. So why are observers worried?
There are arguments to be made about Africans distrusting their own institutions apsychopathologyof colonization.
They do not teach in a class on philosophy of statistics, the emotional compendium necessary for interpreting any sort of mathematical data set. Put simply, what it means for one to be in theright frame of mindin order to read from given scientific data is poorly conceptualized and sorely under-urged.
Are Africans and outsiders expecting the continents problem to grow exponentially because they are not in theright frame of mind?
But perhaps, we may say that the doom prophesied is as a result of empiric inefficiencies in the modern African way of life.
Probity and accountability have not been selling points of many of the national governments over the decades. It is thus considerably hard to find the best way of accepting such information as Mauritania claiming it is coronavirus-free; Ghana arguing that its infection rate is 1.5% or Madagascar insisting that a new tonic advertised by the countrys prime minister is a coronavirus suppressant.
A coronavirus-ensured doom may also be prophesied of the continent where so much of the economy depends on vis--vis, cash-dependent interactions that happen in crowded and environmentally-questionable surroundings.
This is the same continent with the poorest health networks and healthcare facilities, poor modern communications capacities and where it is more difficult to maintain law and order, according to Ugandas presidentYoweri Museveni. Add the problem of food security to this list.
Statistics, on the other hand, is pliable and results could be predetermined by carefully choosing what to count and how to count it. A question of how governments are arriving at their coronavirus-related numbers is important to ask of authorities in Africa and anywhere else.
The problem with Africa therefore, is not the clichd dilemma of how much water there is in the glass. We are debating whether there is a glass at all and whether there is any water in it.
We are dared to embrace some sort of nihilism forced by endemic pessimism. No belief in the leaders, no belief in the numbers, no belief in the physical structures and no belief in the rules and regulations.
How do a people emerge on the other side of a pandemic when they are being dared to embrace nihilism? This question may seem far-fetched until you realize answering it opens the door to the discussion on what normal times will be in these days of the novel coronavirus.
There are over 40 vaccines at various levels in trial but we have been warned that we may have to wait until 2021 for the proper treatment of COVID-19. This therefore means that lockdowns, the restrictions employed by many countries to calm the spread of the virus, would have to be lifted at some point this year.
South AfricasCyril Ramaphosaput it bluntly: Our people must eat.
Life must go on but what kind of life are we talking about? How do they live when the people have been beaten into their shelves and asked to entertain solely, pessimism and nothing more?
One could make the argument that life must go on but we should not live as though we are in normal times. Although that is understandable, the gaping problem is that these are unchartered waters and we may not find our way back to the dock, now or ever.
What Africans have always entertained will be their refuge in these unfamiliar times. If the people are in search of new normal times, the pessimism and near-nihilism which have been entertained for so long will provide no comfort.
Read the original post:
Posted: at 6:59 am
Lets be honest, most rock autobiographies are duller than dishwater. Either that or they venture into the realms of self-aggrandising nonsense or, even worse, obfuscation. The opposite is true of on all counts of Mark Lanegans Sing Backwards And Weep one of the most unflinching memoirs in the history of musicwriting.
The prologue opens at an indeterminate date in 1997 with Mark getting pulled over by the cops having just scored a bag of dope and a bag of coke with his cross-dressing pal, St Louis Simon. He has no ID on him, his passport is in his nearby apartment, on the coffee table covered in crack pipes to be precise. Feigning indignation at being stopped, he simply tells the policeman his name. Didnt you used to be a singer? comes the reply. And, right there, in the space of a mere two pages, the reader is plunged into Lanegans dark world of excess and confronted with the lack of self-worth that punctuates so many of hisactions.
Self-worth, however, should not be confused with self-pity. Lanegan has no truck with the latter. Instead, he writes about his life with remarkable lucidity and with a poetic impulse based on his considerable powers of observation. His approach is confessional, but eschews the mea culpa of post-rehab therapy-speak, as he accepts that his love of drugs, sex and music are essentially the three key elements that definehim.
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Born with an umbilical chord wrapped round his neck and narrowly escaping being christened Lance (a fact for which he remains eternally grateful), Mark Lanegan grew up in the culturally isolated cow town of Ellensburg, Washington. With his parents splitting at a young age, he lived with his father and, lacking parental supervision, by the age of 12 he describes himself as being a compulsive gambler, a fledgling alcoholic, a thief, a pornofiend.
Punk rock enters the baseball-loving Marks life in his early teens when he sees a picture of shirtless Iggy Pop in an issue of Creem magazine in his local record store. There, he also hears an assortment of punk 45s. I was instantly grabbed and fucked hard, he writes, describing the Sex Pistols Anarchy In The UK as a genuine epiphany. Nevertheless, it takes a chance meeting with the Conner Brothers guitarist Gary Lee (referred to as Lee throughout and, indeed, Meatloaf on one particular occasion) and bassist Van for Lanegan to escape a life of menial jobs and petty crime, as he begins a career in music by forming ScreamingTrees.
While the antipathy that existed between band members is common knowledge to anyone aware of the Seattle scene of the late 80s and 90s, the level of contempt between Mark and Lee is quite remarkable. In fact, Lanegan pulls no punches in outlining his dislike of both the guitar player (a stone prick) and his desire to control the band. His details of the Trees early endless, thankless touring days are equally grim, and he shows scant regard for their musical accomplishments, criticising their lack of ambition and Lees cod psychedelictendencies.
Most staggering of all is the period during which the band appear to be at their most successful. Signed to Epic, scoring alternative hits thanks to the grunge goldrush, and managed by Q Prime (whose clients include Metallica, the Chili Peppers et al), the unhappiness within the band is palpable. Not even the arrival of an enthusiastic, young Josh Homme fresh out of Kyuss as an additional guitar player it seems can save the Trees fromthemselves.
Lanegan, meanwhile, loses himself fully to his own addiction, detailing his drug use and the lengths he goes to in order to score in unsparing and sordid detail. Heroin was my number one, and anything else everything else was such a far-distant second place as to be virtually unseen on the radar screen of my lifes importance, he admits, as he burns through money, leading him to a life as a dealer and almost rendering him destitute at onepoint.
To encounter Mark during those days was to look at a man who seemed to be disappearing before your very eyes. In November 1996, we were meant to conduct an interview in a blues bar five minutes walk from Kerrang!s Carnaby Street office. He failed to show up. Instead, he went to Kings Cross to score dope. When, after the Trees show at The Astoria that night, I walked into the dressing room to meet him, it was like looking at a ghost. Speaking to him the following morning over breakfast (which for him consisted of four cigarettes and a cup of black coffee) was hardly much better. Reading about those days now is an utterly joylessexperience.
And yet, there are moments of genuine humour in Sing Backwards, not least of all when the Trees support Oasis on the East Coast in September, 1996. Howling Branches! proclaims Liam Gallagher as Lanegan attempts to eat a bowl of soup in catering. Fuck off, you stupid fucking idiot! comes the reply, leading to Liams own geezer-ly reaction. Lanegans desire to punch Liams lights out plays out over several highly entertaining pages and climaxes with Van Conner wrapping the head of his Fender Precision bass round the latters head as he attempts to intimidate the Trees from the side of the stage. I had never encountered someone with a larger head and tinier balls, concludes Lanegan, who is disappointed to find that Liam has quit the tour before he has the time to actually deal with the cancerousslug.
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Elsewhere, Mark does settle a number of scores, picking out those that have crossed him Sub Pops Bruce Pavitt among them who ill-advisedly uses a photo that Lanegan hates on the cover of his first solo album, The Winding Sheet. He also details the lack of care he received from his mother, Floy, from a young age. A family reunion with her in later life has disastrous consequences and sees him confronting her about his traumaticchildhood.
In contrast, Lanegans father, Dale, is depicted as a stoic, and more stabilising influence, who shows moments of real, understated love towards his son. His presence in Lanegans life and therefore throughout the book is intermittent but, despite the emotional repression involved on both sides, the pair bond over music and appear to share a similar melancholic outlook onlife.
Despite Lanegans stark assessment of his own behaviour, warmth is in plentiful supply during key passages in the book, most specifically when he writes about the music that moves him (none of which is his own). He describes the awe that he feels when he sees a fledgling Nirvana play a show for the first time at the Ellensburg Public Library where their show is cut short after a mere four songs. At that point, Mark is one of the North Wests rising stars and Nirvana are nobodies, yet he is aware of being in the presence of a band that are touched by greatness, as he and Kurt Cobain swap numbers after the show. I walked back to my depressing hovel with electricity in my step and a newfound buoyancy of spirit, hesays.
His love of the melodies sculpted by Alice In Chains is also expressed with the same level of joy, and so too is the discovery of assorted musical heroes, Nick Drake, Van Morrison and most significantly, the garage-blues outfit The Gun Club a band whose impact on Mark is almostoverwhelming.
Along with Earths Dylan Carlson, Kurt Cobain, Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley and Gun Club leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce become Lanegans closest friends. As well as mutual musical admiration, Layne and Mark in particular share a love of drugs (their joint European touring exploits are detailed in grim terms). The deaths of all three are detailed with devastating intensity that lasts until the very last page of the book the final six lines detailing a phone call Lanegan receives from his accountant, Laurie Davis, informing him of Laynes death. The news leaves himdestroyed.
In many ways, the spectre of death hangs over the entire book. Lanegan began writing his memoir because his friend, Anthony Bourdain (the chef and documentary maker), implored him to do so. Shortly after Lanegan began work on the book, Anthony took his own life. As a result, Sing Backwards is dedicated To Tony And all my absent friends and yet it is a survivors tale, and a brilliantly written one atthat.
If there is anything missing from the book, it is a sense of how Mark approaches making music himself. That said, he deliberately ends his story in the late 90s and he pretty much fails to visit any of the music he has made in the last 20 years. In that time, of course, he has become one of the most prolific artists of hisgeneration.
Most significantly, he is also clean now, and yet he spares us the chapter and verse that details his road to recovery. Instead, Sing Backwards is a chronicle of addiction delivered with the same defiant brutality and fierce intelligence that animates William Burroughs semi-autobiographical 1953 novel, Junkie. It is a chronicle of a time and a scene that, in many respects, was defined by an in-built sense of nihilism and self-destructivetendencies.
As a reader, by the time you reach the epilogue, you yearn for a sense of redemption. It does not come because Mark Lanegan does not believe in happy endings. Nor should anyone expect a sequel to Sing Backwards And Weep. Lanegan has said all he has to say, and now he would most probably like to be leftalone
READ THIS: Kurt Cobains 50 favouritealbums
Posted on May 1st 2020, 12:00pm
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Posted: at 6:59 am
In the afterlife of normal life, I started watching After Life, a popular Netflix series whose fans are clamoring for a third season.
The shows promotional blurb says its about a newspaper reporter who, after his wifes death, adopts a gruff new persona. But to the audience, his persona is reassuringly familiar: the bearded guy muttering put-downs through a rictus of clenched teeth that is, in every venue foreign and domestic, Ricky Gervais.
In 2001, Gervais invented a cruel new brand of comedy, the British version of The Office, beneath which beat a heart of gold. It was the modern sitcom we didnt know we needed, but we did, and for nine seasons its spinoff was probably the best show in America. Set among dowdy, middle-class people doing dreary jobs, it hit every emotional note, was endlessly hilarious, and created catchphrases and memes that will live forever; people cried when it ended. Next, Gervais created the series Extras (about the nobodies of movies and TV), among a multitude of other projects filmed a comedy special called Humanity, and insulted everyone in attendance at the 2020 Golden Globes. Back when we had no bigger problems, that was news.
Physically ordinary and dressed to blend in, Gervais functions as a public Everyman hacking through lifes tedium and bullshit. In After Life, he plays Tony Johnson, a newspaper reporter in an English village. For 25 years, Tony and his wife Lisa (played in flashback by Kerry Godliman) had a playful, loving marriage. The series begins after her death from cancer, when Tonyplunged into a surly depressionsees no point in going on. His job and everyone around him irritates him. Only the need to feed the dog thwarts his suicide attempt.
Each episode is 30 minutes of light comedy about the value (or lack thereof) of human existence. Tony is in the same mental space as Bill Murrays character in Groundhog Day: looking ahead to an infinity of pointless days and ready to fling his life away with abandon. So Tony recklessly confronts muggers and experiments with hard drugs. If After Life took place in the Covid-19 era, hed be the guy licking the doorknobs.
Hes also incredibly rude to others, as he no longer cares about the consequences of brutal honesty. Like Murrays weatherman during his bermensch phase, Tony is done playing nice. So he insults just about every person who crosses his path: his mild-mannered boss, his newsroom coworkers, the mailman, a caregiver at his fathers nursing home, a diner waitress. Most are patient with Tony, as they recognize hes in despair. And he still has flashes of decency, like when he befriends a local prostitute, or, as she repeatedly corrects him, sex worker.
Though After Life may sound grim, its funny and even relaxing. While the show plays footsie with dark nihilism, especially when one character dies in a disturbing way, it also engages with themes of compassion, decency, and resilience. As in Groundhog Day, the lead character has no more use for fakery, going along to get along, or the countless social fictions most of us live by. Hes beyond all that, in some bright, sterile operating theater of the soul. Who is he really, when nothing matters anymore?
Despite his gruff persona and the terrible loss hes suffered, its just possible Tonys late wife is right when she tells him in a video message that, deep down, hes a lovely man.
Posted: at 6:59 am
In Its OK to Find Humor in Some of This, Alex Williams writes:
Unreasonably dark joke, read a coronavirus meme circulating on social media in recent weeks. Shouldnt we wait until after the pandemic to fill out the census?
The joke is dark, yes. But is it any darker than countless other coronavirus memes out there?
Even more pointed is a spoof movie poster for Weekend at Bernies, the 1989 film comedy about two buddies toting around a dead man on their partying adventures, called Weekend at Boris. It cast as the corpse Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, who at that point was still in intensive care for Covid-19, as the corpse.
Since the pandemic took hold, the internet has been awash with coronavirus-centric joke memes, Twitter wisecracks and self-produced comedy sketches shot with smartphones in shelter-in-place kitchens and living rooms. And thats not counting whats happening in private conversations during quarantine.
Laughing while others die may seem inappropriate, even tasteless, like concentration camp prisoners finding humor during the Holocaust. But in fact many did, according to a 2017 documentary, The Last Laugh.
Throughout history, humor has played a role in the darkest times, as a psychological salve and shared release. Large swaths of the population are living in isolation, instructed to eye with suspicion any stranger who wanders within six feet. And coronavirus jokes have become a form of contagion themselves, providing a remaining thread to the outside world for the isolated and perhaps to sanity itself.
Mr. Williams discusses a private Facebook group moderated by Lori Day, an educational psychologist and consultant in Newburyport, Mass., devoted to pandemic-themed videos and memes:
Its the kind of edgy humor people dont feel comfortable putting on their own Facebook wall, for the risk of having their parents say, How could you? Ms. Day, 56, said.
Tasteless or not, virus jokes provide her a fleeting distraction, and a needed smile, as the pandemic has put her life and consulting business on hold. Its very similar to the feeling I get looking at baby animals online, which is another thing I dose myself liberally with these days, Ms. Day said.
The same goes for other members of the group. Some members are ill with Covid-19. Theyre thanking me from their beds, she said. Theyre thanking me from their hospital rooms.
Humor can divide as well as unite generations, made plain on the social media each favors. Baby boomers and Gen-Xers seem to be gravitating toward were-all-in-this-together observational humor in the memes they post to Facebook (Anyone else starting to get a tan from the light in your refrigerator?), or gags that focus on specific villains (foot-dragging political leaders, say) and implicit solutions (throw the bums out!). Calm down, everyone, reads one such meme. A six-time bankrupted reality TV star is handling the situation.
As The Cut recently noted, the outpouring of coronavirus content among Generation Z types on TikTok runs the gamut: disgust, resignation, frustration, despair and hope. One could also add: barely concealed nihilism, perhaps a response to the discovery that members of that generation are coming of age in a world that suddenly seems even more messed up than already thought.
In one TikTok video, by a 20-year-old in California named Andreas, his mother finds him still in bed at 4 p.m. as he sings, Oh hi, thanks for checking in, Im still a piece of garbage.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
Is it OK to joke during dark times? When is it inappropriate, and when is it not? Should any topics be off limits in humor and comedy?
Do you ever laugh at coronavirus-related jokes or memes? Did you find any of the examples in the article funny? Were any inappropriate or offensive to you? Are you drawn to dark humor? If yes, why?
What role do laughter and humor play in your life? Mr. Williams writes that coronavirus jokes provide a remaining thread to the outside world for the isolated and perhaps to sanity itself. Do you agree? Is humor a coping mechanism for you?
What can we learn about the role of humor during the Black Plague, the Holocaust and Sept. 11? What does laughter tell us about what it is to be human?
What makes you laugh these days? Tell us your go-to sources for comedy. What are your favorite comedic movies, television shows and websites? Do you have a favorite comedian?
Posted: at 6:59 am
the illusion of certainty
This essay was first published in our semi-weekly newsletter, Climate in the Time of Coronavirus, which you can subscribe to here.
A few weeks ago, I got sick. My whole body ached so persistently that the only place I could really be comfortable was in a bath, which isnt really sustainable over long periods of time unless youre one of those merpeople. My lymph nodes protruded so far out of my neck that the skin around my jaw felt tight and painful. I was so tired I ended up sleeping between 12 and 18 hours a day.
While I was writhing around between my couch and my bed, the only other human Id seen up close in a month told me that hed been diagnosed with COVID-19. So the coronavirus had in all likelihood found me!
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I thought I had protected myself reasonably well mask on, limited trips to the grocery store, a few walks on quiet streets, and seeing exactly one(!) other person. That felt safe enough; we both lived alone, worked from home, didnt see anyone else barring basic errands. I thought I was being smart and cautious, taking what felt like a small, garden-variety risk to sustain just enough human interaction to keep me reasonably sane. But it turns out theres no place you can be truly safe from coronavirus.
As Grists advice columnist, a substantial percentage of the questions I receive are from readers seeking certainty about the threat of climate change. What will happen? When will it happen? Where will it happen? And what can I do to ensure that it will not happen to me? It is a completely reasonable human response to a huge, difficult-to-comprehend threat. You want to know how to protect yourself; what the risk to you is.
I dont attempt to answer any of those queries. There is no way to do so; these readers are seeking an impossible assurance. Climate change and coronavirus are inescapable for the same reason: They will each transform society, wholly and against our will, and humans can do our very best to prepare and adapt. But even with the very best preparation and adaptation, the utmost cautiousness, you have no idea what or when or where you will experience its impacts.
I think every generation believes they are living through unprecedented change, and I dont think mine is particularly special. This change, the pandemic, is certainly really sudden and strange. The warming climate isnt sudden at all, and yet its no less threatening. I will continue to do my best to prepare for and adapt to and mitigate, where I can, the impacts of climate change. I thought I had done what I reasonably could to mitigate at least for myself the risks of contracting coronavirus, and that went out the window so spectacularly I have to laugh.
All things considered, I was fortunate. After three days of feeling wretched, I feel completely fine now. My friends experience was much worse. Our illnesses started on the same day, but his symptoms were more severe and lasted much longer. I waited fretfully for his symptoms to subside, prickly with the guilt that I had had it so much easier.
Im aware we were both lucky to recover at all.
I might never be 100 percent certain that I ever actually had It, as I was denied a test (my doctor said Im young, healthy, and my treatment would have been the same regardless) and antibody tests remain elusive. But why does it matter to me now? The promise of immunity, of course, of some form of protection; that its over, I faced the threat, it was fine, and now I no longer have to worry. The badge of having survived COVID unscathed is perhaps the most coveted security blanket of the moment.
And yet, I am under no illusion that I have any real power over whats coming, with regard to climate change. and I dont really think that was ever the goal. Who has ever been able to control the future, anyway? But please do not misunderstand that to be an expression of nihilism or defeat. I have not given up, to the contrary; I am ready for a future that I know I cannot imagine.
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Posted: April 20, 2020 at 12:46 am
How the PPP came to this impasse involves a whole host of colliding factors: the Republican Party's nihilism; congressmembers' bad instincts when it comes to designing fiscal policy; their ignorance about monetary policy; and the raw health threat the coronavirus poses to any large gathering of people including Congress itself.
The first issue is the PPP's $350 billion allocation, which was meant to cover two-and-a-half months of payroll. But add up all the small businesses in America defined as those with fewer than 500 employees and their combined payroll expenses over that time period come to around $700 billion. The program works on a first-come, first-serve basis, so businesses with established relationships with the banks got to it first. Poorer businesses, those with fewer connections and clout, and those in mostly black neighborhoods and other marginalized communities got left out in the cold. The PPP also included provisions that let bigger companies with more than 500 employees get loans under certain circumstances, like if they ran restaurant chains. The fact that the program's rollout was a logistical nightmare didn't help matters either.
All told, only 1.64 million applications for loans were processed through the program less than six percent of the 29.6 million U.S. businesses with under 500 workers. Meanwhile, something like four out of five small businesses only have enough cash on hand to weather two months, at most. You can rest assured that those businesses with the least amount of buffer are also the most marginalized, and thus probably last in line for the PPP's now-empty pot.
In other words, a few minutes of research on Google should've made it blindingly obvious to Congress that $350 billion was a woefully inadequate sum. Nothing prevented lawmakers from setting it higher. In fact, there's no reason they needed to specify a dollar cap on the program at all.
The way the PPP works is that private banks originate the loans, under terms set by the government. Then, if the small business abides by certain rules particularly keeping its workers on and using at least 75 percent of the loan to meet their payroll the loan is forgiven. Of course, that loses the bank money, so the point of the $350 billion Congress appropriated was to plug the hole in the banks' balance sheets. Policymakers could've just written the law so that banks could give out as many PPP loans as the small business community asked for, and Congress would commit to spending as much as needed to make that happen. They could do that right now! But instead, for no reason other than raw ideological opposition to big spending, Democrats and Republicans are batting around the idea of adding another specific dollar amount probably $250 billion to the program.
But the situation is even more ridiculous than that. Alongside Congress's fiscal efforts, the Federal Reserve also rolled out a huge series of monetary policy programs to combat the coronavirus recession. One of those programs is an offer to accept PPP loans as collateral in exchange for cheap credit. Basically, the Fed told the banks originating the PPP loans that it will take those loans off their books for them, in exchange for that bank taking another loan out from the Fed. Since the entire financial system is desperate for super cheap credit from the central bank right now, that's going to look like a pretty sweet deal.
This does mean that the loss from forgiving the PPP loans will now fall on the Fed's books, rather than the originating bank's. But the Fed is not like private banks; it doesn't have to keep its balance sheet positive lest it go under. The central bank is an arm of the U.S. government, and shares the U.S. government's ability to create infinite U.S. dollars. It can absorb all the losses it wants. (The Fed likes to keep its balance sheet positive for appearances' sake, but it doesn't need to.)
Technically speaking, this backing from the Fed means the sky's already the limit on how much lending the PPP program can do. It would probably behoove Congress to make the situation official: amend the PPP program to specify there is no dollar cap, and the Fed is expected to take all the PPP loans from the private banks. But as Nathan Tankus, the research director at the Modern Money Network who has done yeoman's work explaining all the actions the Fed has taken in the coronavirus crisis points out, this announcement by the Fed effectively renders congressional spending for the Payroll Protection Program moot.
Unfortunately, congressmembers' imaginations are not nearly so expansive. As I said, they're debating another infusion of $250 billion into the program. And it's not even clear they'll be able to do that. Perversely, both sides agree on the need to fund the PPP more. But the Democrats also want to include more help for hospitals, state governments, and local governments all of whom are facing their own fiscal crisis as well as some adjustments to the PPP's rules to make sure minority-owned businesses and other firms with less access get more priority. Republicans, in turn, are balking at those asks and demanding the $250 billion infusion be passed as a standalone measure.
I wrote a while back that all of these ideas are good and necessary, and thus should lay a foundation for an easy deal. But I apparently underestimated the GOP's intransigence. The White House and Senate Democrats are reportedly trying to hammer out an accord, but as of this writing things were still up in the air.
The final X-factor here is the coronavirus itself. Congress is officially on recess until May 4, and lawmakers are reluctant to physically gather again for health reasons. Whether this is forgivable caution or a dereliction of public duty, I will leave to readers to decide. They can still technically pass laws in a "pro forma" process, but that requires all bills be agreed to unanimously. Given the disagreements over how to design the next injection of money for the PPP, that's a pretty big hurdle. Some lawmakers are scrambling to put together a system for holding official votes remotely, but Congress has never done that before, and both Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and the Senate is resistant.
One way or another though, Congress will have to step up, and fast. Small businesses employ roughly half the country, the Payroll Protection Program was the one big bulwark defending them from the coronavirus' economic devastation, and it just went away.
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