Saturday, June 02, 2007

Violence and Gandhi's Blunders

I do not, as I once did, maintain an ideological commitment to non-violence. I do believe that (non-violent) civil disobedience can be a useful tactic in opposing illegitimate authority, rejecting empire, preserving one's rights and dignity, and so forth. But it is only one tactic. There are others, and success depends on how a multitude of tactics are employed by a multitude of actors.

In his book Endgame and in his talks Derrick Jensen goes to great lengths to point out the fundamental flaws of maintaining an unwavering "commitment" to non-violence in the current climate of State and Corporate Aggression. He describes how "non-violent" protesters at the WTO thing in Seattle in 1999 actually fought, physically, with other protesters who were willing to up the stakes and destroy corporate "property". Jensen even mentions how these "peaceful" types---who presumably had agreed in advance with the authorities on where and how many could march, how many would get arrested and so forth---how they actually assisted the police in hauling in those who sensed that engaging state/corporate violence with love and kindness wasn't going to get anyone anywhere.

At a certain point, refusing violence as a tactic ceases to be about one's own spiritual health; it becomes, instead, an unwillingness to protect others under fire. Someone once said that no ideology is so good that it is worth committing cruel acts for. Fair point. I think a refusal to prevent cruel acts is in itself cruel. And if you need to get physical, to step away from the armchair and the computer, in order to prevent acts of cruelty, then by all means do it.

Sure: one man's cruelty is another man's profit, moral authority is a tricky issue, and perhaps at least some of what I am suggesting here might sound like it validates the worst crimes of, say, the Bush Administration. But don't misunderestimate me.

For years my own rejection of violence was centered on the idea that I did not want to become that which I despise, that which is destructive, that which my values stand in opposition to. So much did I believe in universal justice and "the rule of law" that I even said that, given the chance, I would not assasinate someone like Hitler. Not even a universally accepted archetype of pure evil like Hitler could get me to take on his tactics, I thought.

Well, I don't anymore. The people controlling and destroying the world want nothing more than for their opponents to always and ideologically stop short of preventing the destruction by any means necessary. I want to be clear that I am not advocating violence. But---and I credit Jensen for arguing this point powerfully enough to get me to reconsider extremely deeply held views---I think an honest look at useful versus useless tactics might get us thinking differently about violence.

It's 1936 or so, and there we are, with the IEDs, standing just outside Adolf Hitler's house. But we don't ignite them, because to do so might just encourage more state repression. You know what Jensen says he would say to a guy like Hitler if he had the chance to meet him? "Bang. You're dead." I love it.

I'm not pro-gun. I don't think we all ought to arm ourselves to fight the State by dressing up in black and using walkie-talkies and throwing molotov cocktails at business fatcats when they step out of their limousines. I'm against violence. I don't allow it to manifest in my daily personal interactions. Still, I think we're not being honest if we don't even discuss provoking the same degree of state repression and violence for ourselves that (for example) the US government and military---along with their proxies, hired guns, and political and corporate allies---dispense to others in our name every second of every day throughout the world.

I wonder if a sustained campaign of property destruction and violence (or the threat of it) against planet-raping elites would be more or less effective than the sustained campaign of "consciousness raising" and occassional rally attendance many of us have presumably taken part in.

It's not just some rights and freedoms we risk losing by not fighting back by any means necessary, but the planet itself as a giver of whatever it takes for this generation and the next to survive on a practical level.

From Endgame: "Those in power are responsible for their choices, and I am responsible for mine. But I need to emphasize that I’m not responsible for the way my choices have been framed."

And this: "Defensive rights always trump offensive rights. My right to freedom always trumps your right to exploit me, and if you do try to exploit me, I have the right to stop you, even at some expense to you." which I would add: not only the right, but the responsibility, even at some expense to me.

Jensen says over and over again, and he's right, that the violence will not stop because we ask nicely. It won't stop if we organize 15 million people to march peacefully against war on the same day throughout the world (remember that one? I was there). It won't happen because we write a lot of intelligent stuff and "get it out there".

I'm not giving planet-raping elites any more credit than their willingness to do harm merits. No one needs moral or philosophical (much less political) authority to push back. When you're literally gasping for air you don't seek out authority for access to something breathable. You don't ask permission for water (or human breastmilk) to not be poisonous, or for children to not be slaughtered for profit, or to prevent everything in the non-human world to rapidly---rapidly---disappear (read: get ground up).

We serve no good purpose by openly informing violent state/corporate criminals that their offences will never be met with counterforce. It just doesn't make any sense. The gas-guzzling, hyper-consumerist jerk-offs of America and the rest of the world would do well to take note when open season is declared not just on their political representatives, but on their ecocidal civil works, shit-house media propoganda dispensers, and corporate flagships as well. That might get them to poke their heads up from American Idol for a sec.

What I'm noticing is that my allies are really fewer and further between than I would like to admit. Upping the stakes and making sacrifices definitely means taking an honest look at tactics, physical tactics. There's no reason to be nice and I think people who for whatever reason won't get physical need to be supporting like crazy those who will. In this sense I support the insurgency against US and allied forces in Iraq. I wish no harm to those American troops. I think they should just leave. Now. But if they won't, well, I support efforts to force them out. Unfortunately.

Unwillingness to make sacrifices to do the killing is one thing, but the state violence will continue unless more people make sacrifices to prevent it. Cindy Sheehan's recent conclusion seems to be that such sacrifices are basically unthinkable for a population that doesn't really give a damn.

The following list may be well-known to some. I have just discovered it myself. Shortly before his assasination Gandhi gave this list of "Seven Blunders" that lead to passive violence to his grandson Arun, who added the eighth.
1. Wealth Without Work
2. Pleasure Without Conscience
3. Knowledge Without Character
4. Commerce Without Morality
5. Science Without Humanity
6. Worship Without Sacrifice
7. Politics Without Principles
8. Rights Without Responsibilities
And I have one of my own:
9. Turning the other cheek twice.
Please add your own in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Decay, Destruction and Waste

Note: written for the program book of the fourth edition of new music festival Dag in de Branding. Also appears at the <>TAG website.

Decay, destruction, and waste. I could be writing a history of the decline and fall of an ancient empire. Or a modern empire. Or the much more devastating and long-lived empire of Civilization. But I’m not: I’m describing the twelve hours of new music that make up the fourth edition of the Dag in de Branding Festival.

If you’re inclined to see this red thread of explicit decadence as just so much doom and gloom, I invite you to look more carefully. Albert Camus, a hero of mine who worked in times not unlike our own---times that were and are unfortunately “interesting”---wrote that the greatest art speaks to the time in which it is created. That is exactly what the events in this program do.

This is not doom and gloom. It is an absolutely essential state of the Arts at this interesting moment. Indeed at any moment. I have written elsewhere that artists are the sensory organs of the culture. We are its eyes, its ears, its mouths and its hands. If our works of art fail to recognize the decay, destruction, and waste, then our eyes, ears, and mouths are shut, and our hands are bound. How encouraging then, in these seemingly senseless times, that (some) artists haven’t lost their senses. To rephrase yet another observation of Monsieur Camus, art may dispute reality, but it does not hide from it.

How so? At the start of the program we are brought face to face with the reality of decay in the abstract in Bill Morrison’s film to Michael Gordon’s extraordinary symphony Decasia wherein ancient filmstock is seen suffering the ravages of time. But the work masterfully disputes this reality by preserving the decay itself, turning the visible death of a beloved artifact of industrial civilization into a thing of aesthetic beauty. An underlying question of this work, at least for me, is whether to mourn or celebrate the decay of a culture that has paid for its wonderful creativity with unspeakable environmental devastation.

Or this: the destruction referenced in Bob Ostertag’s music to the Living Cinema project Special Forces is the real destruction that the world silently (and to its great shame) witnessed in Lebanon last summer. Ostertag is never one to hide from the reality of destruction, having earlier brought his Yugoslavia Suite to the Balkans, post-Nato, and Special Forces to Beirut. Yet, I think, he disputes this reality, constantly, by using these works as opportunities for beginning dialogues on the themes he treats. Ostertag disputes the reality of the destruction his work reflects with uncompromising dedication to social justice through and beyond his music.

Or this: Egon Kracht and the Troupe bring us the Faust story as a rock opera (with a nod to Frank Zappa) in The Seduction of Harry Faust. In this updated version, guess how God, Mephisto, and Faust are portrayed? As a media tycoon, his marketing expert son, and a loser they destroy by bringing him into their world, of course. This is right on target for our uber-consumerist, narcissistic, and celebrity-infatuated culture (though I must say, sadly, that satire and reality are more often than not one and the same thing these days).

Or this: Boxing Pushkin, ostensibly about the life of the famous Russian author, consciously throws the audience into the role of spectator. Meanwhile the very definition of freedom, as embodied by Pushkin, seems to be at stake. While this work is perhaps the least overtly connected to our red thread, even a cursory glance at the synopsis (and the battles over Pushkin’s legacy) calls to mind the violence one witnesses done to language to legitimize this or that regime.

Or this: “Waste equals food” write the authors of Cradle to Cradle, a remarkable book that examines natural life cycles and nutrient flows as paradigms for how to reinvent industrial design in environmentally sane and ethically responsible ways. I mention it here in connection with Wasted, the mini-festival of decayed, destroyed, and degraded sounds-turned-breakbeats (and more) hosted by Jason Forrest and Pure. This gathering feeds its audience-participants with energy, exuberance, and catharsis mined from some of the darkest reaches of our culture. What is wasted here and what is eaten, I will not say, nor will I venture to put into words what reality is under dispute.

* * *

“Create dangerously” urged Albert Camus toward the end of his life. The American civil rights and social justice leader Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that “the world is in dire need of creative extremists.” Both were destroyed early by two of the more nefarious designs of Civilization: the automobile and the gun. What a waste.

We may not have asked for this red thread---I mean the red thread of decay, destruction, and waste running through the lives of humans and non-humans, through our values and wound tightly around our planet---but it is what we have and what we are. To present a program of new music revolving around aspects of the decay, destruction, and waste of our culture, our Industrial Civilization, from material to social decay, from self-destruction to the destruction of our neighbors, from the wasting of our planetary environment to the wasting of our youth---to present works that reflect this historical moment is not necessarily to celebrate it, but to recognize it.

It is to come to our senses as listeners, as artists, as social beings.

It is to know who we are, what we are, and what we must do. It is to be awake, alive, and up to the task.

Doom and gloom? If art should be uplifting, and if the world is in fact in dire need of creative extremists, what could be more uplifting than that?

Friday, May 11, 2007


"It's not disillusionment, it's callibration."

---Mihnea Mircan, a curator at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest, speaking at a curators conference organized this week by Stroom in The Hague. He was answering a question about a shift in the way he deals with the political ramifications of his work. See a brief essay by Mircan here.

I am the recipient of a grant from Stroom and was asked to write a short description of my work for an online portfolio the organization maintains. This is what I wrote:

My work, all of it, from music to video to installations to texts and so on, is an attempt to answer a question posed by environmentalist author Derrick Jensen: "What are sane and appropriate responses to insanely destructive behavior?" Or this question, from architect/designer William McDonough: "How do we love all of the children of all of the species for all time?" It is a reply to the call to arms of Albert Camus: "Create dangerously" or that of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The world is in dire need of creative extremists". It is a recognition of the extraordinary danger industrial civilization poses to the natural world, and a reaction to this danger, spoken in a language the people destroying the planet cannot speak.

Which, as it happens, doesn't change a damn thing. Have a nice day.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


These are the lyrics to the new song "Breaker" by Low:

Our bodies break
and the blood just spills and spills
but here we sit debating math.

It's just a shame
my hand just kills and kills
there's got to be an end to that.

There's got to be an end to that.

Strong stuff. The video is here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Real quick:

The incident in which a mentally disturbed man shot and killed thirty-something people at Virginia Technical University earlier this week is certainly not the "worst" shooting massacre in US history.

Any "news" source which reports the incident as such is contributing to a conspiracy of disinformation. You are being lied to. The facts as reported are false.

The dubious pride of place for most innocent victims of a shooting rampage (in North America) should undoubtedly go to any number of planned mass murders of indigenous people or Americans of African descent.

What you consumed as news was not news. It was entertainment. It was not entertainment. It was whatever it takes to shift product between commercial breaks. It was not that. It was propoganda.


We are not the consumers of the media, we are the product.
---Kevin Danaher, 10 Reasons to Abolish the IMF & World Bank

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
---Derrick Jensen, Endgame

It is not the television that is lying to you. Who is lying to you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Frog with Implanted Webserver

I just returned from the opening night of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival in Rotterdam. I am not happy.

The first work visitors are confronted with is something called Experiments with Galvanism: Frog with Implanted Webserver. Here is the official description of the work:
Garnet Hertz has implanted a miniature webserver in the body of a frog specimen, which is suspended in a clear glass container of mineral oil, an inert liquid that does not conduct electricity. The frog is viewable on the Internet, and on the computer monitor across the room, through a webcam placed on the wall of the gallery. Through an Ethernet cable connected to the embedded webserver, remote viewers can trigger movement in either the right or left leg of the frog, thereby updating Luigi Galvani's original 1786 experiment causing the legs of a dead frog to twitch simply by touching muscles and nerves with metal. Experiments in Galvanism is both a reference to the origins of electricity, one of the earliest new media, and, through Galvani's discovery that bioelectric forces exist within living tissue, a nod to what many theorists and practitioners consider to be the new new media: bio(tech) art.
Let me translate for those readers not accustomed to the morally vacuous language of the wine-soaked art world:

Asshole takes the corpse of a frog---amphibian corposes are easy to come by in these days of human-instigated global warming, toxified water, and poisoned air---sticks some motors in its legs and wires in the gallery, and invites visitors to participate in his shit-brained glorification of an artistically bad, technologically backward, and morally repugnant idea.

(Hey, you don't think it's morally repugnant to use a frog's corpse? How about we use your grandmother's corpse instead? Put her in a clear glass container of mineral oil and click the mouse to make her legs kick. Sorry: if you don't get what's wrong I don't know if I can explain it to you.)

The single redeeming factor in the inclusion of this otherwise utterly useless, horrendously uncreative and straight up tasteless attempt at "art" in the DEAF exhibition is that at the very least it alone demonstrated (brazenly, arrogantly, proudly, shamelessly) something inherent in everything else on display: the absolute affrontery to the natural world necessary to be a good and cooperative "media artist" in this trash heap of a culture.

Your little art goes beep and lights flash and another sixty or so Iraqi children succumb to some strange form of cancer to make it happen. Safely tucked in here at the end of history you make a witty installation with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology---my, what big subsidies you have!---while brown people somewhere else are forced to show their ID cards at (American, British, Israeli, whatever) gunpoint to get to the other side of town.

Besides leaving, there was nothing I wanted to do---as an experiment, of course---so much as shut down the electricity on some of these artists. For good.

Now is as fine a time as any to let you know that I'm just about through reading volume one of Derrick Jensen's heartbreaking call to action Endgame. Jensen---whose earlier work A Language Older Than Words was, until now, perhaps the single most important book I have ever read---is turning my bad attitude even worse.

And yet: You. Must. Read this book. Start here.

Back to cutting off the electricity. I wonder what these "media artists" or "electronic artists" or whatever would do if there were no electricity to juice their little gadgets and installations (and fucking "bio(tech) art"). So much of it---and this is a conclusion Jensen would quickly make if he bothered to dally in the minutiae of this ultimately inconsequential and wine-soaked world---so much of it simply legitimizes and glorifies harmful technologies, often without any meaningful content to at least somewhat call out the culture's persistent violence.

Guess what the theme of DEAF 07 is? Ready for this? Interact Or Die!

Now I suppose this could be understood a number of ways. For example, it could be a call to all of us to start interacting with each other in meaningful ways. After all, it is the absence of our own nurturing of community that allows governments and corporations to set the agenda and limits of human interaction. Or "interact or die" might be a warning that we fail to recognize the fact of interdependence in the natural world we (should) inhabit at the risk of spiritual and ultimately literal death.

But since the natural world was so completely absent in this exhibition (with one or two minor exceptions: a video with leaf cutter ants carrying little national flags instead of leaves, for example) I have to assume that what we were invited to interact with was the unnatural world of these works. The field for interaction is the field defined by these uncreative creations, mobilizing under the banner of the unusually explicit "interact or die" theme to do further violence to lingering memories of the Planet Earth (where once upon a time frogs ate mosquitos, not ethernet impulses, and lived on the banks of rivers, not clear glass containers of mineral oil).

I do realize that I might be alienating myself from the few friends in the art scene here who even bothered to read this far. I know some of this may be unpopular with my computer-programming, electronic musician colleagues. And sure: part of my work exists within the realm of electronic art, insofar as it uses electricity and electronics. (I'm even using electricity and electronics now to fire off this mediated communique.) This is not a fact in which I rejoice, but an issue with which I wrestle constantly.

But this isn't about me. I don't stick ethernet cables in corpses.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Not-So-Innocent Bystanders

From Society Under Seige by Zygmunt Bauman:
Five per cent of the planet's population may emit 40 per cent of the planet's pollutants, and use/waste half or more of the planet's resources, and they may resort to military and financial blackmail to defend tooth and nail their right to go on doing so. They may, for the foreseeable future, use their superior force to make the victims pay the costs of their victimization (were not the Jews under the Nazis obliged to pay the train fares on the way to Auschwitz?). And yet responsibility is theirs -- not just in any abstractly philosophical, metaphysical or ethical sense, but in the down-to-earth, mundane, straightforward, casual (ontological, if you wish) meaning of the word.


We are all bystanders now: knowing what needs to be done, but also knowing that we have done less than what was needed and not necessarily what needed doing most; and that we are not especially eager to do more or better, and even less keen to abstain from doing what should not be done at all . . . There are more and more goings-on in the world which we sense are crying for vengeance or remedy, but our capacity to act, and particularly the aptitude to act effectively, seems to go in reverse, dwarfed ever more by the enormity of the task. The number of events and situations that we hear of and that cast us in the awkward and reprehensible position of a bystander grows by the day.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Teraz Polska

Prelude: please begin by reading this article by Doug Ireland.

* * *

Here's a question: what's the deal with Poland's creeping fascism, and what is integrated Europe---risen from the ashes of its militaristic, intolerant, genocidal, and all-around street-thuggish past---going to do about it?

I ask this because I care deeply about the place. Before moving to The Hague I lived for a while in Poland, and may again someday. I fell in love there. I gained a family and incredible, fascinating friends there. I've climbed its mountains, performed in its theaters and clubs, studied in its cultural capital. I've learned its language. I've taken it for my own and many Poles have welcomed me as their own.

So what? So now when I visit Poland I have to contend with what may very well be the EU's leading fascist state.

It is already quite well known that the Polish government has happily allowed the CIA to transport its captives through Poland, to be later subjected to torture. (More on that here.)

And I don't have to remind anyone that four years ago, in opposition to a slight (and rational) majority, the Polish government sent troops to criminally assist the United States in its illegal mission to invade Iraq, murder its people, and destroy its environment and infrastructure. Last year the current government broke its predecessor's promise to withdraw Polish forces from Iraq by 2006.

At the moment, openly fascist twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, president and prime minister, are taking serious and aggressive steps against homosexuals. This government has some ties to groups that advocate violence against gays, and incidents of violence are on the rise.

The Kaczynski government enjoys friendly ties with the criminal government of Israel (built partially on Poland's ashes but still no friend to universal human rights). But its open encouragement of extreme intolerance harks back to the early days of another pseudo-socialist regime, one that ended up bleeding Poland not only of its Jews, but many Catholics, Roma, and yes, homosexuals as well.

One of the most disastrous things in all this is the way wealthy "Christian" groups in the US lend enormous support to the Polish government's hateful policies. Some civil rights disaster is bound to occur because of all this, and with Poland's horrendous unemployment and the flight of skilled workers to Western Europe, it's more a question of when than if.

I think at a certain point internal opposition becomes powerless against unrepentant fascism. It would have been immensely helpful if elements in the United States (for example) had not done business with Nazi Germany preceding (and during) the Second World War. Similarly, I honestly believe that world governments have a moral obligation to diplomatically and economically isolate the United States until it ends its utter belligerance and rejoins the international community.

International law, basic human decency, and some help from our morally-equipped friends in business are necessary to prevent the proto-fascist regime in Poland from goosestepping over the edge. Yes, I am appealing to the business community: stop doing business with a Polish government that includes the odious Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish Families).

The European Union is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of its direct predecessor, the European Economic Community.

Now. I know that the EU was and always will be first and foremost an economic arrangement, that it favors capitalists, and that capitalism always conflicts with human rights (if not at home, then at factories, farms, prisons and war zones abroad).

Still. Let's pretend that there is some validity to the press release version of the 50th anniversary festivities, that peace and stability, freedom and democracy are also part of the EU's mandate. Let's allow, for a moment, for argument's sake, that European integration had everything to do with a strong and justified reaction to the horrors of the Second World War. Imagine that. It follows that the EU must do everything it can to prevent the atrocities the Polish government is preparing.

* * *

Postscript: lest anyone think this issue---of depriving gay people of their civil rights---is an isolated issue within a weak Polish government, think again. It looks like Europe's newest member, Romania, is preparing the same or worse.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Interesting reads

* Anthony Arnove: Four Years Later...and Counting

* Geert Lovink: Blog Theory interview

"The Third World is not a reality but an ideology."
---Hannah Arendt

"I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings."
---Margaret Mead

Friday, March 16, 2007


When will my country die for me?

---attributed to Grace Slick

If violence is contagious, then, I think, so must be its antithesis -- compassion, decency, tolerance. It's difficult to broadcast those examples, especially when it's easier to sell advertising on CNN when all your news stories are about terror and destruction.

---Megan Neuringer

In fact, there is some evidence that the ubiquitous moral injunction to think positively may place an additional burden on the already sick or otherwise aggrieved. Not only are you failing to get better but you're failing to not feel good about not getting better. Similarly for the long-term unemployed, who . . . are informed by career coaches and self-help books that their principle battle is against their own negative, resentful, loser-like feelings. This is victim-blaiming at its cruelest, and may help account for the passivity of Americans in the face of repeated economic insult.

---Barbara Ehrenreich
(from "Pathologies of Hope", Harper's February 2007)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This one is for the children

Funny thing happened last week. My thirteen-year-old drum student and her family found my weblog and discovered my not-so-secret life as a foul-mouthed commentator on the wilful destruction of the planet by the high, the mighty and the rest of us.

So this one is for the children, for those innocent people unjustly exposed to radical political views and strong language not suitable for the young. Exposed to ugly ideas. Exposed to sick concepts and vulgar vocabulary. Exposed to dirty words like "Condoleeza", "powersuits", and "AIPAC".

Honestly? I must say I am thrilled that my student and her younger brother were confronted with the unrestrained and justified outrage the writings here generally represent. The drum teacher who shows up once a week is not only the drum teacher, but a concerned human being as well. Young people must be aware of the danger in the world. If I was young it would terrify me to think others were unconcerned, that they failed to be outraged, that they were unmoved to respond to the dangerous world. So I'm perfectly happy they found these words. And of course I am fine with the fact that they know I think both Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton are assholes.

Of course, I hope they will discover a power of language that reaches beyond the cheap and vulgar . . . but kids I can't help it if the US Vice President is a total Dick.

It was funny when suddenly, in the middle of last week's lesson, my student asked if I was a communist. We were working on the drumbeat to a Coldplay song, and she seemed to guess I didn't like the band very much. I mentioned UK environmental writer George Monbiot's strong criticism of the false environmentalism of Coldplay leader Chris Martin. And I said that I thought it was important for musicians to be concerned about the state of the world in real ways, not just as a hook for their songs. She said: "so are you a communist?"

She wasn't kidding.

I thought for a moment about what "communism" meant to me in 1989, when I turned thirteen myself. The "communists", I was brought up to believe, were evil incarnate. They hated freedom and democracy and Jews and color television (sound familiar?). People forced to live under "communist" rule knew deprivation, decay, and despair, and the horrors of an enormous prison-industrial complex (sound familiar?).

I remember thinking that the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Moscow in the mid-80's was a major victory, that Ronald Reagan was fighting to liberate millions of near-starving children from leaders who incessantly threatened the peaceful West with nuclear holocaust. I thought the US was responsible for taking down the Berlin Wall, for Solidarity's triumphs in Poland, and for dismantling the Soviet Union.

Was I a stupid kid? No. Was I specially targeted for indoctrination? You bet. We all were. We all are. Which is why I think it's perfectly fine my student has read her music teacher's angry little articles about officially sanctioned and culturally encouraged political, economic, and environmental violence.

I would be a rotten teacher -- of any subject -- if I didn't encourage my students to think critically, to examine what they're taught, to challenge ideas that they find intuitively repellent.

Just as I want my student to find and develop her own way to play the drums, I hope she will find her own path through the information she is exposed to. At her age I had seen enough Time magazine covers to truly believe that deceitful, murderous Ronald Reagan was fighting against bad guys and for such vaunted concepts as equality, justice, freedom, and democracy. The magazine covers, the network news, pop culture and even the new CNN taught me this while Reagan's administration sent more and more arms and money to (non-communist) blood-thirsty psychopaths around the world.

Don't get me wrong. The bastards running the Soviet Union and its satellites were criminals too. There really was deprivation and despair. The utopian social system really did crumble while some of the same mafioso-types who are running those countries now lined their pockets, spied on people, and threw money at a bloated and unnecessary military (sound familiar?).

It's worth mentioning now that the mistake has always been to see leaders of adversarial countries as real adversaries. Remember: people like Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein belong to the same club, and club members have never been adversaries of each other so much as they have set themselves up as constant adversaries of us. In my moments of greatest optimism I believe we could, if we chose to, cease fighting their wars, cease allowing them to enrich themselves off of the blood of people and the planet. And young people have to know this.

So this is what I said when my student asked if I was a communist: I said it doesn't matter what I am -- I believe that you and I and everyone else have the same rights to food and security and housing, regardless of how we look, where we come from, and where we live. And then I said this is a drum lesson, so let's get back to the beats.

If my young student of the drums continues to search, she may find some of the ideas that I touched upon in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if she reads it and keeps it in mind when she catches the news or sees Hollywood's latest, I have no doubt she'll become a truly radical drummer.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Love and Ambiguity

"Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality."
---Theodor Adorno

"The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure."
---Milan Kundera

I'm finding governments to be terribly intolerant of ambiguity these days. Just today I was listening to a news broadcast referring to the insistance, by the extraordinarily insane Condoleeza Rice, that Palestinians (and only Palestinians) renounce violence as a prerequisite to peace (or, ostensibly, even modest attempts at human rights guarantees under international law).

Is the US Secretary of State totally out of her fucking gourd or what? How's that for unambiguous? You have to put down your weapons, but the Israelis don't. And we don't. Just you.

As it happens, Israel and the US insist that Iran unambiguously cease its nuclear power program. US Presidential hopeful and all-around rightwing-asshole-in-a-powersuit Hillary Clinton has unambiguously stressed to her sugardaddies at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that the US will continue to stand with the criminal Israeli government against the people of Palestine. And at her second talk delivered to AIPAC in as many months, Clinton told those assembled: "in dealing with [Iran] option can be taken off the table." That's Washington-bullshit for "Yes, I would assert my humanity by dropping atomic bombs on people who live in Iran."

Now Israel, of course, has maintained a policy of ambiguity about its hundreds of nuclear warheads since the 1980's. Israel's is the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, other than Dick Cheney's in Iraq.

(Incidentally, here are some talking points by Phyllis Bennis on the Iranian non-issue.)

So this past weekend I went to a noise-music event organized by some people I know in The Hague. As one of the organizers said to me, it was a "package deal", meaning some of the acts he wanted to present were touring with some acts he was less interested in. Most of the music was loud and unfriendly. Difficult, but not thought-provoking. Thoroughly "more-underground-than-thou" and I felt like I was in a scene from a David Lynch film most of the night.

One of the acts involved two costumed men standing behind a table with some electronic music gear on it. Draped over the table was an American flag. One of the performers was dressed up like a "terrorist" (as any typical Hollywood movie-goer would be expected to recognize). The other was dressed up as a US soldier, but with a "scary clown" mask. The music -- poorly constructed feedback and noise -- was also supposed to be "scary". You can sense the subtlety of the group's political critique, right? The performers jumped around a little bit, got in the faces of the audience, and at one point kicked a few beer bottles at those of us standing in the front.

I said to someone, a reader of this very weblog: "these fascist Americans aren't making any friends". I was kidding. At the same moment someone else said "I hate this socialist bullshit." That was funny. At one point an audience member tried half-heartedly to light the flag on fire.

The performers eventually exited the space in a feigned fury, the "terrorist" strangling himself with the American flag. They left all their gear on and loud noise fuming out of strained speakers. Everyone just watched and waited. I hesitated for about ten seconds and then walked to the table and shut off the power. I got some applause for that, and shouted "USA! Number ONE!" I wonder if anybody got it. I wonder if anybody didn't. I left things ambiguous.

I go and see a lot of music and art and lately I find myself asking "where is the love?" (On constant rotation in my cd-player at the moment are discs by Philip Jeck, some of the warmest, most hauntingly nostalgic and beautiful stuff I've heard in a long time. The love is definitely there.)

Not to be mistaken myself, at my solo concert at STEIM earlier this month I mentioned something I had heard in this video of a speech by architect-designer William McDonough. In the video McDonough looks at his audience and asks "How do we love all of the children of all of species for all time?" He presents it as a design question, as a problem for his discipline. I did the same before I began playing.

Well. It's a monumental question. Maybe the question. For any of us. Check out the video to get the proper context.

You know, I don't think the powersuit assholes are working on this question. I don't think the Presidents of this or that or any country are working on this question. Are you? As the planet heats up impossibly and the powersuits prepare more warfare, "security", and economic dominance, at least one thing we need to be unambiguous about is love.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Break the law or support the war. Is there any other choice?

I have written on more than one occassion about Rosemarie Jackowski of Vermont. Jackowski is an advocacy journalist and former Liberty Union candidate for state attorney general. She is also a principled and fearless activist working on behalf of the victims of US aggression, and a grandmother.

I am happy to report that the guilty verdict against Jackowski for her non-violent act of civil disobedience in 2003 has been overturned. Jackowski blocked traffic with a sign that read "Stop US War Crimes". She was charged with disorderly conduct and sentenced to prison.

An article in the Rutland Herald notes that Jackowski "believes she had an obligation, morally and under international law, to speak out against the death of Iraqi civilians."

For my part, I believe that we all have such an obligation, grandmothers, politicians, artists, factory workers, black, white, short and tall, all of us. It's wonderful to have examples of courage set by a 69-year-old member of Veterans for Peace. Sure. But what do the rest of us have to lose? What can we risk -- what can we offer the people Jackowski believes she has a moral and legal obligation to protect?

(Answers such as "attending State-sanctioned mass rallies on Saturday afternoons" do not count.)

Jackowski has claimed that, with the case essentially thrown out of court (because the State wants to avoid "wasting taxpayer dollars" on it), she will not have an opportunity to explain what she did and why. Here, then, is a link to Jackowski's Courtroom Speech from October 2004. Please read it carefully.

At the end of the speech Jackowski stated "What happens to me here today is not important. Since the day of my arrest, more than 13,000 Iraqi civilians, many of them children, have been killed. That IS important." Take that number -- thirteen thousand -- and think about it. It represents people just like you and me, condemned to horrific, brutal deaths. They committed no crime, but stood in the way of the crusade of the US government and its allies to thieve the resources and sovereignity of Iraq and test out the sadistic machines and gadgets of the military-industrial complex.

Now take that number and multiply it over and over and over, many times, until you reach the current and growing death toll. Who can fathom that kind of carnage? (Certainly not typically pacified Americans.) Or here's another question: with what other regimes in history do the US and its coalition partners share the stage for having been responsible for that kind of carnage?

On the day after she announced her good news at Mickey Z.'s blog, Jackowski (known to readers there as RMJ) shared an email she had received from a supporter named Richard. It hits the nail on the coffin, as it were, and I reproduce it here.
“I support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I support the killing of innocent women, children and soldiers.

I support the desecration of the Constitution.

I support the destruction of our environment and our eco-systems.

I support Global Warming.

I support the death penalty for poor people and people of color.

I support population control through starvation.

I support the power to imprison us without our due process by eliminating habeas corpus.

I support these things by DOING NOTHING.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Man Without a Country

I just finished Kurt Vonnegut's latest book, A Man Without a Country. Superb. In it, Kurt says
No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.
And Kurt Vonnegut says
Evolution can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. What a mistake we are. We have mortally wounded this sweet life-supporting planet--the only one in the Milky Way--with a century of transportation whoopee.
And he also says
"Socialism" is no more an evil word than "Christianity." Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.
What else?
I have some good news for you and some bad news. The bad news is that the Martians have landed in New York City and are staying at the Waldorf Astoria. The good news is that they only eat homeless men, women, and children of all colors, and they pee gasoline.
But this is not a funny book. Vonnegut says as much himself. To him, this is no time to be funny. I was talking about this with my friend Joel Ryan yesterday, who said that a film like M*A*S*H would be impossible today. Too true. Vonnegut again:
The good Earth--we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.
Vonnegut, at 84, shames the rest of us for our lack of outrage. He obsesses over global meltdown so severe--with his country at the helm--that he cannot even do his job.

I don't think I would be able to do my work if I lived in the United States of America either (although at a very meaningful level, the US is a prison we are all living in). Art springs from context, and I do not think I would be able to produce anything good over there--regardless of whether the Asshole-in-Chief is named George or Hillary. Or Barrack.

That's just a feeling, nothing "anti-American" about it. A few years ago, my good friend Greg Altman visited me here in The Hague. We grew up playing funk music in bars together. Greg is a phenomenal drummer. He produces television shows now. I arranged a gig for us at <>TAG, in fact, it was the first event I curated there. We performed a piece I wrote called Dodging Bullets. A audio waveform of a skipping CD is visible on a large screen, and there are markers with text placed in the waveform to pass by the cursor in the middle of the screen. The music on the CD is aggressive and noisy. The "rule" of the piece is that each time a marker connects with the cursor the musicians must choose from three very simple musical gestures to play. By the end of the piece (twenty minutes later) everybody is wiped out, exhausted. Cathartic stuff.

Anyway a lot of the crowd loved the piece and said as much. Greg was shocked the audience didn't walk out. They would, he felt, in New York. He tells that story whenever we see each other, how we performed this crazy music and people listened. And liked it.

Or this: a week ago I performed in Krakow with Rafal Mazur and Morten Nottelmann. Imagine the worst scenario to try to get people to come listen to a free-jazz trio. Almost no promotion. Snowing. Venue in the middle of nowhere. Hard to get to. Cold. 7PM on a Saturday night. No famous last names on the bill. No bar at the venue. But the people came out. And they enjoyed themselves. In my experience people in Manhattan rarely go to Brooklyn to see live music, regardless of the weather. It's like pulling teeth.

When I first arrived in Krakow to study in 1999 and told people that I was a composer (that's how identified myself then), I would receive the same nod of respect one might get in the States if they were to say they were a doctor . . . with a private practice. It was nice. No one, not a single person in Poland, ever suggested I teach music to make a living (for years that's all I got from people in the US).

It's all just a feeling and I could very well be full of shit. Fact is, I'm not a big fan of countries per se, and I don't mind being a man without one (I would like that residence permit I've been waiting six months for, though, please, already, Dutch bureaucrats). I don't like the idea of the US anymore than I like the idea of The Netherlands, or Poland, or Iraq. I do like the idea of people, different, talking to each other, making things together, trying to dig their way out this hole we're in, that's OK.

As Morten was saying on the way to the gig in Krakow, there are two strata of society, and we operate amongst the people, not amongst the politicians. Yes, and sometimes it can be fun up here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.

---George Bernard Shaw

And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people.

---George W. Bush (2007 State of the Union address)

Nice one. And where have I been?

Been busy. In December I finished and exhibited an audiovisual installation (Another World Bank), screened my video Revolution 5 at Resfest, performed a (disastrous) live electronica/live video solo set at the Sugar Factory in Amsterdam, and visited family and friends during New York City's first winter since the 1890's without snow.

In January I played a bit with my old bandmates from the States, produced five short videos for Ensemble Klang, performed and recorded with Matt Wright in Canterbury, and I'll be doing the same this weekend in Krakow with Rafal Mazur and Morten Nottelmann in our trio Stability Group. On the first of February I'll be performing a solo saxophone set at STEIM and joining Kerbaj, Sehnaoui, and Yassin for the second set of their trio gig at <>TAG in The Hague on February 4.

Yes, I'm busy. But I'm not nearly as busy, apparently, as these twisted scumbags in US Army uniforms, armed to the teeth and protecting the known universe from the scourge of terrorism that manifests itself as a lone, defenseless, and crippled dog. As I wrote in a comment on Mickey Z.'s blog where I first saw the video, I wish these assholes all the mercy and compassion they show in their treatment of this poor animal. Then I hope they are torn to shreds by wild dogs.For the sheer amusement of the dogs.

In these busy two months I have necessarily distanced myself from "the news", although I have been observant enough to know that tonight George Bush, undoubtedly one of the worst human beings ever born, announced to the world that he---soulless chickenshit criminal that he is---would send more armed and indoctrinated children to murder and torment people (and other creatures) in Iraq.

I have not been busy enough. The planet's crumbling and we're still putting people like this, like this fascist psychopath Bush, up on pedastals. Adoring him with air time. Showering him with money and power. Letting such people determine how our world works. Surrendering our dignity to their perversions.

Hooray for my busy career. Hooray for yours. But please. We need to get busy. NOW.