Category Archives: Motherland

Thrift Shops for Spiritual Hipsters

you can fit so many icons in this bad boy

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

Even at my most youthful, arrogant and anti-religious, I never really stopped believing this. Though the three Abrahamic faiths are too convoluted and implicated in mortal foibles for me to settle on any one of them, I’ve always been averse, not to paganism or magic per se, but to hubris, dark arts and left-hand ideologies. Particularly, in this connection, I’ve long felt that the reactionary argument (best summarized by Yeats, if I’m not mistaken) connecting Christianity directly to liberalism is quite shallow. And it is, except when it isn’t.

I often encounter liberal friends and colleagues, and I’ve come to realize that what they have in common is that they hate themselves. The milieu has its alphas and its omegas, to be sure, and everyone consoles him or herself with rectitude to a greater or lesser degree—but at bottom, for whites at least (there are no non-white liberals) liberalism is a form of self-abnegation. 

Meanwhile, there seems to be a resurgence of interest nowadays in Eastern Orthodoxy among right-wingers. I used to follow a lot of alt-Orthodox accounts on Twitter and Facebook. About a year ago I saw a post that ran roughly as follows:

“Pray for me! My wife has apostatized and left with my step-daughter. I received a notification from a lawyer that she is filing for divorce. I miss my step-daughter terribly! I tried so hard to keep my wife in the fold, but she was not strong enough” etc., etc.

I felt bad for the guy, of course. But something about this marriage sounded strange. I mean, first off: why do you only have a step-daughter? The Bible says be fruitful and multiply, bro. I’m pretty sure you’re allowed to stop fellating God long enough to accomplish this. Perhaps God  doesn’t even want this? Hymns, candles, liturgies, etc…. It’s all very nice, but perhaps there’s just an understanding God wants us to attain and try to imbue our actions with. That seems to me to be the whole message of Christ.

So I could see how the holy-rolling husband made himself a huge pain in the ass. But by itself, that’s probably not enough to repulse a wife. Rather, taking on a groveling aspect is not conducive to manhood. Like liberalism, it’s passive aggressive, a way of indulging self-loathing, of valorizing a weak chin. Obviously, hedonism wrecks people, and I’m not advocating it. I’m all for Christian continence, to a degree. But how TF are you allowing yourself social media (which is real poison) and not raw-dogging the wife? The only way that makes sense is if your religion is for show.

I know the Orthodox response to this is probably that homeboy was doing it wrong, that the Bible indeed commands us to be fruitful, that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says not to make a parade out of piety, etc. But Christianity is nothing if not utterly sexless. And what’s a sacral procession? It’s literally a parade.

Does the trinity make any sense at all? How about communion? You know, the blood wine and the flesh bread? Either that all makes zero fucking sense whatsoever, or you have to be way smarter than everyone to comprehend it, in which case you’re damn sure not receiving the kingdom like a little child. If God is logos, i.e., universal reason, then why am I being told that I must believe things that make no fucking sense?

I’ve been reading the Old Testament my entire life, and the New for the last five years or so. My wife is nominally Orthodox. We have young children, and I’ve been looking to inculcate them in a tradition that emphatically teaches (among other, related things) that faggotry is a sickness. So I tried getting into Orthodoxy over the past few months, and what I’ve found is just as much idolatry as there is in Judaism. In particular, converts to Orthodoxy in modern America (usually about half the congregation) are invariably obsessed with authenticity. It’s hipsterism grown old, with the insufferable knit-picking about 80s movies and musical subgenera re-canned and transferred over to theology and apologetics.

Jay Dyer is a perfect example of this. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate and recommend his conspiracy lectures, and even some of his philosophy stuff. But he’s totally glib. Paul Krugman couldn’t be more smug. Dyer has found the thing, and can hold forth literally for hours about why he’s smarter than you. That’s what apologetics amounts to. And it has to be a facade, because (as with liberalism) the suggestion is always that downloading and then going through life insisting on some horribly circuitous reasoning is akin to having a woke third eye. In both cases, it’s purely performative.

Nationalism as Nihilism

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Is this tradition?

Over the past year or so, the most apt and philosophically grounded alt-right content by far has been from Keith Woods. Yet his worldview also demonstrates the paucity of political imagination from this milieu. This is perfectly encapsulated in a horrible little listicle he just published over at Radix Journal.

In “The Coming Decline of Globalism,” Woods lists his reasons why nationalists should be hopeful that liberalism is dying. It’s a Gordian knot of dead-ends and clichés: the rise of populism is touted. The internet is held up as a harbinger of decentralization. The decline of the United States is forecast hopefully. The Putin kleptocracy is hailed as a religious revival, dystopian China’s vast human ant farm as a bastion of “tradition.”

The first item on Woods’s list is China’s reintegration of Hong Kong: “In many ways, Hong Kong is symbolic of the western international order. It has little identity or culture to speak of beyond being a city state ruled by financial interests for financial interests.” Identity. What an absolute vacuum of a word. This is typical alt-right question-begging. Exactly how is “identity” or “nationalism” an antidote to neoliberalism? When it’s convenient, neoliberalism conjures nationalism all over the world (the Balkans, the Caucasus, the subcontinent, the South China Sea, among American blacks) and offers a plethora of a la carte identities, of which alt-right dilettantism is a perfect example.

Woods goes on: “In fact, [Hong Kong’s] lack of a real identity is precisely its identity, the kind of anti-identity that characterizes the spaces where neoliberalism finds its truest expression.” Again: what the fuck is “identity”? Are global financial interests really inimical to it? China is the murky boiler room of global financial elites—nothing that destabilizes it is good for them. It’s also a testing ground for the infrastructure of automated social control, which is a favorite predilection of global oligarchs. The riots in Hong Kong saw people attacking that infrastructure. That’s a good thing.

But for Woods to address the fact that China is imposing with hard power the same AI dystopia that Euro-Atlantic elites are ushering in using soft power (and that the two sides collude extensively) would disrupt this neat paradigm where neoliberalism represents pure disorder (rather than managed chaos) and statism is a good in itself, so long as it is cheaply predicated on some Potemkin “identity.” For if neoliberalism is the opposite of statism, then neoliberalism is wholly systemic, a permutation, and its increasing authoritarianism need not be taken seriously as the product of deliberate policymaking informed by a guiding vision.

Woods’s views are even less well-considered when it comes to economics. He says that “China has demonstrated that economic development and innovation can be achieved without democracy and liberalism.” Putting aside the issues of pirated technology and (more importantly) who China’s customers are: has China demonstrated that development and innovation can be achieved without sprawling, neo-Dickensian charnel houses? Without a pervasive, dystopian AI minder state? Without ecological destruction unprecedented in scale? Without centralization of power in ways that destroy everything local, seasonal, and traditional? Without cultural homogenization across vast areas? Without the targeted destruction of traditional cultures and nations (like the Uyghurs and Tibetans) through mass migration, forced intermarriage and horrific anti-natal policies?

On the contrary: China, like America, has proved that economic development inevitably produces all of those things. Yet democracy and liberalism are the only explanations Woods has for them, because he has nothing to say about them unless they occur in the West. “Economic development and innovation” here is just a euphemism for state capitalism, and if you look at who put up the seed money for Apple and Google and Oracle you’ll find the exact same thing. But whether it takes hold on the eastern or western model, the Lorax end-result is the same. Woods goes on to claim that “Without the force of American unipolar hegemony and the expansive dominance of rootless international finance capital, tradition and identity can again assert itself.” Again: what the fuck is “tradition”? The decline of the United States is a stage, not in the decline of capitalism, but in the “expansive dominance of rootless international finance capital” itself.

I’m not trying to be a lefty deconstructicon here. I’m not saying identity and tradition don’t exist. But terms are meaningless without clear definitions—and they’re even more meaningless when they’re given fake, insipid definitions by gangsters with air forces, regardless of how much those guys counter-signal the Pentagon.

Accordingly, though he offers no positive vision or definition of “identity” and “tradition,” what Woods will accept as compatible with these concepts is all kitsch. “[The Hagia’s Sofia’s] place as a museum was a symbol of Ataturk’s vision of a secular, westernizing Turkey. Its reversion to a Mosque is a rejection of this vision, another bold assertion of a primordial national and religious identity against the infestation of the identity-less, consumer friendly spaces of neoliberalism.” I’m also inclined to favor Erdogan’s taking Turkey in a more independent direction, but the restoration of the Hagia Sofia to a mosque is not a gesture to the West but part of a power struggle within the dar-el Islam—which is an aggressive, international force that has always sought to homogenize cultures and territories, and in the end it is no less vulnerable to modernity and increasingly cheap self-reinvention than anything else we might cherish as “tradition.” If it represented a threat to neoliberalism (or neoliberalism to it) there would be no mass-migration of Muslims into Europe.

Then there’s the astounding ignorance Woods brings to the subject of Russia:

Russia’s transformation from a failed state of demoralized people subjected to the worst effects of liberal governance and privatization in the early 1990’s to the independent, religious and nationalist state it is today looks like a potential best case scenario for other western countries looking to what comes after globalization.

This is pure fantasy. Russia’s fortunes today rise and fall at the behest of Congress and the Saudi oil ministry only slightly less than in 1995. “[T]he worst effects of liberal governance and privatization [of] the early 1990’s” are still haunting Russia in the form of a debauched hereditary oligarchy that made its fortunes as a direct result of those policies. Among its most shameless members is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, a noted cigarette smuggler and unrepentant communist stoolie. And while this monk lives in opulence, profaning the name of God by ratifying every filthy act of the government, his country’s life expectancy (and church attendance) is among the lowest of any developed country, its rate of abortion, drug abuse and single-mother households among the highest. While his associates keep their money offshore, Putin robs public pensions and imposes exorbitant new taxes on even the smallest personal savings accounts, year after year. This self-styled protector of Syrian Christianity enables a sharia-mafia state to flourish within Russia’s borders—not just in Chechnya, but in every major Russian city where Chechen criminals enjoy commodities monopolies with the connivance of the FSB. He uses Muslim mercenaries to attack his Christian neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine. And his attack on the latter country—not just his support for separatists in the east but his totally gratuitous and counter-productive takeover of Crimea, a display of vulgar impunity for its own sake—directly caused the first schism within the Orthodox Church since 1096 and has dredged up bad blood between Slavs that may never fully heal.

This is identity?

Woods cannot even say what this word means for any practical purpose. So while his critique of liberalism is engaging and well-read, harkening back to the finest alt-right content circa 2010-2015, his overall worldview has no principles other than might makes right, so long as the might in question is not shrewd but pretentiously aesthetic or shamelessly domineering. This is mere vindictive, nihilistic opposition to liberalism. It can make no objection (on principal or otherwise) to the IMF-style Chinese takeover of poor East European and Central Asian countries, or the venal thievery of oriental strongmen, which they cover over with fake appeals to national mythology while they send their kids to Switzerland for school and Germany for doctor’s appointments. It cannot defend free inquiry, due process, a single religion to the exclusion of others, nor even religion itself; nor any of the principles that made the West unique. Indeed, it sees individualism and liberty not as principles to be harmonized with communalism and duty, but as slogans to be rejected peremptorily in absolute favor of the opposite slogans. Yet it cannot even decide between populism and autocracy. It’s not a “third position.” It’s not any kind of position.

It’s nothing.

A Death in Reno

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If a man dies in Reno, did he ever really live?

Lou was a Serb from Cincinnati. I knew him because his mail-order bride was a friend of my Russian mother-in-law. Her name was Yulia. She’d been a schoolteacher in Ukraine.

Neither of them had any kids. Except for her mother back home, neither of them had any relatives, period. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment a few blocks down from us. I’d see him maybe twice a year at my in-laws’ place, and when we had them over for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving—that was my big act of charity for this guy, and a week later, every year, we’d get a package with treats and toys for the kids, and a thank-you card with a hand-written note that couldn’t have been more heartfelt. Just thinking about those packages, I feel awful. This guy languished and died three blocks down from me, for six years, almost totally alone—no kids, no friends, no extended family—and I knew, and I saw him less often than I see the garbageman.

At one time, years ago, Lou had a good-paying, white-collar job with some big company, but he’d been in a car wreck and lost a good deal of his mind. He was soft-spoken. He liked to talk politics, or high-brow movies, but he’d get confused real easy and lose his train of thought in mid-sentence. Once in awhile he’d make a wicked, salty joke, and you’d catch a glimpse of the man that used to inhabit him—witty, irreverent, self-assured. But mostly he just seemed vulnerable, because he knew he was crippled in the head, and when he realized that you knew, he’d get real embarrassed and clam up. I made it a policy to make conversation and treat him like he was perfectly normal. This was easy to do, because my in-laws and a lot of the friends they’d have around for parties were all educated and very self-righteously liberal, but Lou was conservative, which meant that even with his 6.5% rate of brain usage (or whatever it was) he was still smarter than most of them.

He and Yulia lived on his social security, and a pension from his old employer, but it wasn’t much, so they had to work. They were well into their seventies when we met. He worked “security” (I’d make the scare quotes bigger if I could) at a golf course. The place paid nine bucks an hour. She used to fold clothes seasonally, at department stores, which scarcely paid more. A couple of better-off Russian families in the neighborhood would hire her to give their kids language lessons, but they never stuck with it.

Yulia was already in her sixties when Lou brought her to the United States. She got her green card after they married, but she never became a citizen, because she spent six months out of the year with her elderly mother in Ukraine. She had a meager pension over there that she lived off of and used for airfare. This couldn’t have been entirely for her mother’s benefit, because she never went back during the winter. While she was gone, Lou would subsist on the McDonald’s Dollar Menu, and cheap TV dinners. He had a tremor in his hands. I doubt he could’ve opened a can of tuna.

Eventually, the golf course let him go, so he started driving for Uber. It made him feel pretty slick, like he was on the cutting edge. He even bought a pair of sunglasses and a faux-leather jacket, but he drove so far below the speed limit and racked up so many complaints about it that Uber fired him, too. Then he started driving for Lyft. This was right around the time the iPhone 7 came out, and some floozy passenger left one in his car. A couple hours later, as he was driving around, the thing started ringing like crazy from beneath the seat, so he pulled over and retrieved it, but he was embarrassed to answer because he was too confused to know where it came from or how to give it back, and too embarrassed to admit that he was too confused to figure it all out. So he went to McDonald’s to get a coffee and think things through, but all he came up with was to toss the phone in the bathroom trashcan and delete his Lyft app for good, forfeiting three or four hundred dollars of his own in the process.

The cancer took him quick—it couldn’t have been more than six weeks ago that I heard he’d gotten the diagnosis. It had probably been a decade or more since he’d even had a routine physical. I never went to see him in the hospital. My wife works sixty hours a week, I’m in medical school, our kids are growing—who has time? Yulia reached out to his nearest relative, a grand-niece somewhere in Illinois. Apparently, she isn’t interested. Yulia’s not going to host a funeral for him either. She’s trying to save money. She didn’t even bother to have his body dressed up, so he wore a hospital gown to his cremation. She plans to send his ashes to this niece by regular mail, probably in a store-brand freezer bag, and go back to Ukraine with his life insurance payout.

Thanksgiving—that was my big act of charity that I did for Lou. Everything we do for others in America is fetishized, performative, peremptory, and remote. Toys for Tots, breast cancer, all this kind of de-personalized annual bullshit. If we listened to our hearts, we might have to take Jesus’s advice. And then what would become of Uber, and McDonald’s, and the iPhone 7?

A man—a Serb—died this month, in Reno, on All Souls Day, alone, in an indifferent hospital ward named for the mother of God, off an interstate freeway that never stops. I hope there’s something better for him beyond.

Shards of a Once-Thunderous Testimony

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Dr. Elsa Schneider

Just fuck me

Make me believe that you’re desperate for my touch and I’ll do anything

Drive my broken soul to a cubicle farm, cart dead bodies out of trailer parks

Wait tables, develop commercial estimates

Provide consistently excellent customer service

We’re given this fleeting breath of life in order to give testimony to the angels

to the gears of eternity

and stymied and chastised and beaten that we might preserve a last glimmer of defiance

I wanted to be a soldier, a stevedore, a shepherd, a coulda-been-a-contender

to cast my gaze on Istanbul

and the source of the mighty river

But I gave myself—

a promise of silks, a gargoyle, a shattered Jerusalem—

to you

To lay my dreams upon your sacrificial alter

and bind your flaxen sheaf

and love you just a little longer



Love’s Iron Curtain


Don’t stop believing

What becomes of a Russian girl?

We shall have to learn how to smile

Through strip malls and leasing offices

and uncomprehending inquests of a new colossus

Through syphalitic massage parlors and purgatory’s own vinyl siding

Through weekly coupons’ deadly barrios and indifferent correspondence courses

She longs for an abandoned pensioner and dies by a thousand cuts of anonymity and disdain

arranging clearance racks and perfume samples with the red shameless handmark upon her throat of a fat, impotent generation’s inchoate hatred of mother

Who flitted, frolicked, recited simplicity and diligence

Whose defiant gaze passed recorded history’s last glimmer of innocence

and the future’s city swarmed blind and tumult

Never knowing what grave depravities await

to make the overeager dashing of brains against the gears of heaven’s ever-turning barricade appear quaint



How dare you claim to know my suffering?

I have a child

there, in the cold dirt

who will never have a name

at the foot of a blossoming pear tree

my wife dreamed of a girl, a receding light

the wind will blow the dead leaves away, for all we know.

The ledger inscribed, the pen lain aside

a part of us is dead.

A passing train, a shooting star

I want to believe

Do you know where your children are?

a love story

....same old, same old....

….decisions, decisions….

Let us dispense with all things superfluous and suffice it to say that in the bitter wake of mutual recrimination and hopelessly consternated tears they make the magnetized love of absolute acceptance and limitless forgiveness, headily giving off their most concentrated warmth, climaxing in rapid succession and then, repose.

Each met the other in the same place they met each other. It doesn’t matter anymore; it never did. His forlorn family’s low estimation of his admittedly deficient judgement led them, in their bottomless prudence, to conclude he had succumbed to the wiles of a conniving single mother who would clip his wings and harness him to her petty neediness. Meanwhile, her harried mother bitterly conveyed to her ex-husband the sub-optimal news that once more their hapless baby girl had entangled herself with a loser. Familiar stories, each.

They weren’t much more certain of each other. Like a typical student he cut that woefully disheveled figure that mistakes puerility for charm. Because of this, she suspected his standards bordered on canine and that his broad-mindedness would precipitate mischief. Indeed, her unmistakable allure offered him precious little occasion to impute charm to blemishes, a habit he had cultivated over a series of relationships with brooding types as self-esteem deficient as himself. In contrast, her every gesture evinced that carefree femininity he had always taken as a signal to suppress his expectations and keep his distance.

Of course they couldn’t be constrained to use contraception. (What other criteria is there?) He often joked, nervously, that if she were to conceive, he would marry her and join the service. And when it happened he sat at her flabbergasted mother’s table with her hand in his and declared without even the minutest betrayal of equivocation that to his way of thinking abortion was not an option. Her mother, like his own parents, had not been prevented by the advent of the pill from snuffing her fair share back when peace and love were in vogue, but each family’s dismay at his obdurance only solidified his brittle sanctimoniousness.

A mere week thence, as he sat late at night in sweatpants and a tanktop in the driver’s seat of his chewed-up car in the skeevie parking lot of a 24-hour coin-op, that threadbare confidence came undone as an exponentially magnified inventory of every selfish luxury of the solitary life he stood to lose struck him suddenly with the overwhelming force of a bullet train splattering the viscera of a lowdown dog. In his late twenties, he was still plodding through college on his father’s support. Insufficient for his own upkeep, he wondered how he would ever support a family. He estimated his chances of ever saving enough to have a life, alone or otherwise, as exceedingly low. Suddenly, these constraints took on the appearance of mitigating factors, and a weight seemed to float from his shoulders. No, this pregnancy just wasn’t possible, he thought. In a sense, it wasn’t even happening, because it couldn’t. There was only one option.

The following afternoon she dropped by his ratty one-room after work, as usual, and as they lay spooning she mentioned that the night before she had the most unsettling dream. “We were together, and it was you I saw in front of me, and we talked like normal, but somehow, it wasn’t really you, and I woke up really scared.” He grunted and shrugged but was too preoccupied to consider what she had said even just long enough to dismiss it.

“I’ve been thinking,” he rejoined, deciding to rip the proverbial band-aid right off, “We should probably just abort this one and decide how and whether we want to proceed together without the unnecessary pressure of a pregnancy.”

In an infinite nanosecond she had gone through all the stages of grief but acceptance. It had all seemed so simple to him the night before, and in his solipsism her reaction came as a genuine shock. She streaked out the door and across the parking lot, howling, blubbering, shrieking, beet-red, radiating tear-steam and nearly choking on drool, while he sat up in the bed, enveloped in a surreal, otherbodily numbness. Icy resolve to disregard the unanticipated obstacle her feelings presented gave way eerily to a sense of having penetrated the membrane of a metaphysical continuum devoid of all human warmth and future hope. In a tingly storm of nervous electricity he told himself that she had no right to demand of him everything her pregnancy necessitated, that anyway there could be no backing down because things couldn’t possibly be worse nor get better than he had just made them. On the phone his parents concurred, as they had the night before.

Her mother, meanwhile, now had all the proof she needed that no one gets very far through life contented and entirely sane, that this right of passage would therefore be necessary, and that it was all his fault. He hadn’t disappointed her there. His only distinction was his amplified despicability, that he’d sprinkled his false assurances so liberally with the righteously empty platitudes her daughter had been taken in by.

His name is Michael. Perhaps it always was and always will be.

He would have been born petite and handsome, and not cried at all but given his parents a contemplative look when he was placed on his mother’s chest, as if to say, “Ah yes, you two again.” As if the spark with which he’d been entrusted was as old as time and space. He’d have been thoughtful, discerning and vigorous, with saucerbrown eyes and dimples, a guileful smile and a tender disposition. He would have been adored by his parents and lonely older brother.

He is crying out to them.

The Magikal World of Womyn

Who are you going to be sleeping with?

Who are you going to be sleeping with?

After my wife’s home-pregnancy test came up positive, we made an appointment at our university’s student clinic to get professional confirmation. Eager for the news, when the receptionist showed us to the exam room I accompanied my wife inside. I thought this was a supportive gesture, so you can imagine my surprise when, after a wait of several minutes, the door reopened and a graying female PA in scrubs entered, only to stop dead in her tracks and icily flash me a look of profound perturbation, as if she identified my features as those of a hitchhiker who once brutally violated her in a Mulholland Drive shaggin’ wagon.

Thus, I found myself a barbarian interloper in the Magikal World of Womyn.

She greeted and introduced herself to my wife, ignoring me completely and avoiding so much as casting a second glance in my direction throughout the appointment. When I asked a question undeterred, she was less than curt.

Though I was never affronted with quite that level of naked hostility at subsequent checkups, over the next nine months I   encountered a remarkably similar approach toward expectant fathers at nearly all of our appointments—apparently a scripted protocol.

We were assigned to an obstetrician who saw us periodically, but because we were being seen at affiliated clinics of a public university hospital (and, later on, at the hospital itself), we mostly saw a cross-section of residents, interns, medical students, nurses, PAs and ultrasound techs, the kinds of personnel bound most tightly by protocol.

The script went like this: the practitioner enters the exam room, greets only the patient, addresses only the patient and entirely ignores the expectant father, answering him only very tersely should he venture a question and avoiding looking in his direction at all. This was the treatment I received from about two-thirds of the practitioners we were seen by. The other 1/3 were low-ranking nurse-assistants and phlebotomists who apparently had not gotten the memo, and green intern MDs who lacked the self-confidence to enforce the protocol when they found themselves nudged by a gregarious enough father.

Even our main obstetrician, a med school emeritus and chief of the OB department, got in on the act. I’m no Ward Cleaver and I never harbored a preference for a doc with a firm handshake who would examine my wife lackadaisically while tapping ash off a Winston and chatting me up about the local college football team. But this guy palpably resented the prospect of conferring in any manner with a white male of lower formal educational attainment than himself, even about so pertinent a matter as the progress of that man’s wife’s pregnancy. It became difficult to escape the impression that he regarded my presence in the exam room as a kind of impudent pressure to confer with me, and that he therefore intended to make me feel like a fly on the wall, because he never once asked me whether I had any questions or concerns and never once shook my hand nor looked me in the eye, sticking as much as possible to the protocol I’ve described.

Of course, among doctors of every speciality, the human touch is rarer than ever, but this peculiar routine felt eerily political. If I am correct in assuming that it is, then at the largest and most lavishly funded public hospital in a state with one of the highest rates of endemic poverty and single motherhood in the country, the official approach to a father’s involvement in a woman’s pregnancy is to discourage it. It’s unclear to me what this approach restores to a woman’s care that would otherwise be lacking, but by denying a supportive father the most elementary courtesy as a matter of policy, this ostensibly woman-first regime deliberately obscures the greatest resource an expectant mother has other than the majesty of her own physiology and the advanced techniques of modern medicine.

Perhaps because we were being seen at a public university hospital attached to a medical school where government-subsidized research that precipitates public policy is conducted, there was a nagging emphasis throughout the system on access to free services and other condescending ministration to the hapless peasantry—Spanish-language pamphlets on nutrition and parenting, informational handouts on how to apply for benefits available only to select minorities, and other such expressions of a top-down, managerial impulse in si se puede guise. Of course, when a sober, hygienic and articulate white couple arrived fully capable of discerning and advocating for our own interests without such coaching, something gave us the feeling that, despite our pitiably low income, we were disrupting the regularly scheduled power dynamic and its humanitarian pretenses. A lot of little health decisions about our baby seemed to get taken without prior consultation by doctors who would then be genuinely taken aback when we declined or asked for further information.

In the eyes of a lawyer, an academic or a successful entrepreneur, a doctor cuts only negligibly more powerful a figure than a traffic cop. But for most people, a hospital, like public school, jail, the civil service or the military, is just another labyrinthine holding tank of retrograde humanity staffed by apathetic functionaries and run by self-important middle-managers who had better be avoided, or treated with obsequiousness. Indeed, the discretion society awards a single doctor over an innocent prenate, it grants no fewer than twelve citizens to snuff a guilty adult. (I realize that analogy is inexact, because in the case of abortion the choice is ostensibly the mother’s, not the doctor’s, but an expectant mother can no more have her offspring prenatally exterminated without a doctor’s approval than twelve citizens can elect to have a convict snuffed without the oversight of a judge.)

Now, if the public health system is moving toward the deputization of doctors in a decreasingly circuitous population control regime, I won’t argue that there aren’t good reasons. But of the reasons we can deduce that an individual physician would accept that role, I suspect a lot of them are obscured by some shitty little combination of altruistic rationalizing and punting of moral responsibility, which is what you always see from people who want power in a democracy. And I can accept that, almost exactly to the point where such power tries to extend itself over my cock and balls. But from the third trimester on, including every post-natal checkup of our son, my wife and I were affronted with the same question in identical wording from each new clinician we encountered: “What birth control are you two going to be using?” Uh…. get your public policy rosaries off my ovaries?

Considering the alternatives (throughout the animal kingdom as well as human history), the passivity of this aggression is not unappreciated. It’s the motives that creeped us out. The query succinctly delineated the choices the system condones from those it disapproves of, implied authoritative judgment in matters of the utmost private conscience and bodily exigency, and was phrased to compel information that ought to be volunteered only, because replying without providing it would’ve been tricky to do without coming across as acrimonious. The clear implication was that our private lives merit unsolicited concern from those who know better than us how to manage them. This invasiveness struck me as rather like a divorce lawyer asking a new client, “Who are you going to be sleeping with?”

When finally I summoned the gall to very gingerly confront one of the residents who performed a post-natal checkup on our son about the impropriety of the question, she replied, “Yeah, we’re required to ask that. But you guys look reliable.” Although I can’t be entirely certain, I understood “reliable” to mean: white; past our early-twenties; irreligious (or at least not Catholic); hygienic; literate; untattooed. Not like the wretched refuse we typically see here, whose reproductive prerogatives our high station requires us to usurp.

Meanwhile—in case you haven’t noticed—more and more affluent couples who’ve spent decades willfully forgoing parenthood for material and status reasons are availing themselves—relatively late in life—of frankenfertility processes that often entail selective destruction of embryos(=human beings), as well as outsized risk of birth defects and lethal complications of pregnancy—lethal, that is, to the prenate alone (in most cases). Destitute third-worlders and broke college students are paid cut-rates to risk horrendous reproductive health maladies so that wealthy, infertile couples can harvest their eggs or rent out their wombs while perfectly lovable children languish and are abused in cold, indifferent foster homes and orphanages at home and abroad. Every time I see a silverback New Yorker subscriber with a Thule rack picking up a kindergartner from my son’s elementary school, I’m reminded of Elmyra from Tiny Toons.

Although there’s no place for the hand of the downtrodden on this coin-op lever of life, murder is cut-rate, publicly subsidized and easier to arrange than an EBT card. As is well known, the vast majority of abortions in this country are performed on poor and minority women, while the uncomprehending Thule rack owners at Slate and the Atlantic scratch their heads and do more mental gymnastics. The 21st-century variant of noblesse oblige is the initiation of the teeming unsophisticated into infanticide by their educated betters, most of whom support these coercive practices in trance-like self-deception about the socioeconomic self-interest that guides them, at least as paternalistically self-assured as any priest or patriarch that they know what’s best for the ignorant, downtrodden and unexpectedly pregnant young woman, “staring terrified and alone into the abyss of mother nature’s unknowable prerogatives for her body.” Their remorseless approach to her dilemma proceeds as much from the impulse to control female sexuality, from our species’ irrational revulsion for the slimy imperfection of our origins, as any religion ever has. The ethos of the age proclaims, “To thine own self be true!”, but its best exponent is not Hester Prynne. It’s Reverend Dimmesdale.

Update, April 2016:

The baby is now two-years old, happy and healthy, thank God. About six weeks ago my wife and I discovered that we are pregnant again. Our financial outlook not much better than it was before, we went to see an obstetrician at the poor clinic. She’s a late-middle aged hippy with a student from the med school shadowing her.

A week later, my wife began bleeding. She was miscarrying. We went to the ER, from the ER to OB Triage. An OB resident wheels in the GE ultrasound machine and finds the embryo is not developed to the size it should be at this juncture. The blood tests results show a dramatic drop in the pregnancy hormone. Later, at home, she passes what there is of the baby.

From the time she began experiencing symptoms until we arrived home from the ER, she had put in eight calls to the obstetrician at the clinic and left messages with updates about what’s going on. Precise information. Finally, around six PM we get a call back. “Hi, it’s Dr. So-and-so. What’s up? Are you gonna be interested in any birth control?”

Punk’s Undead

Forgive them, mother

Forgive them, Mother

The Pussy Riot case proves nothing more clearly than the opposite of what it’s deployed to suggest: that Putin’s gravest failing is not his tough guise but its inverse, i.e., his enfeebled effort to play the democrat, which is nearly as half-assed as his much decried tyranny. To the considerable extent his regime concerns itself with domestic public opinion, this is really just an effort to keep one step ahead of America’s diffuse, variegated but—in toto—formidable techniques on that front.

Though glossier and holier-than-thou, the United States’ own forward march of dependent lividity employs all the same time-tested techniques that Putin does. But if recent media exertions designed to turn public anxiety over these into a race issue are any indication, stateside, mind-control commands the very heights of sublimity. It’s just that, in Pussy Riot’s case, Putin’s bumblefucking big-bad-wolfery was practically begging to be pressed into service.

Like Sheena, Heroin Bob and the distressed damsels of Pussy Riot, I was a young punker. I still am (an old one)—all my pottymouth training took place in that aesthetic and olfactory milieu.

Here’s a fun example: as a fourteen year-old, I watched the bass player of the Dropkick Murphys unstrap his guitar in the middle of a set, grip it by the fretboard like a Louisville Slugger and send a guy who had just jumped onstage and given a Hitler salute to the neurosurgery ward…. and get away with it (the guy was actively seizing as security dragged him off).

I’ll be the last to decry the violence of such an act. But the irony of the incident was that, at least aesthetically speaking, Dropkick is no more punk than the IRA is dissimilar to the Black-n-Tans for methodology. To wit, after conking the hapless ruffian, the bassist stepped over him, grabbed the mic and, to the approving roar of the crowd, declared in stentorian fashion that “This is nobody’s private political forum”—easily the most blasé condemnation of fascism I’ve ever heard.

But if Saturday night’s alright for fighting, try donning a sickle-and-hammer T-shirt to a Leftover Crack show and see if you can elicit one-tenth of one percent of that reaction from a human rights-conscientious schtarker. Just don’t overthink it—in punk-rock as in Komsomol, rules are rules.

The obvious criticism of Pussy Riot-hype is that no artist who enjoys the explicit sympathy of the Euro-Atlantic ruling class’ frontman (however melanotic a hipster he may be) retains a shred of punk credibility. But while (say,) Jello Biafra may not view Hillary Clinton’s Department of State as a moral improvement over Alexander Haig’s, any sanctimonious rabble that leaves an appreciable legacy will have its Bolsheviks and its Mensheviks. Before a bearded lady joins the circus, she’s just a freak—afterwards, she’s a commodity, but that doesn’t make her any less of a bearded lady (see also: Billie Joe’s return to the Gilman).

So Jello’s great claim to political correctness is that he’s a cut-rate bearded lady. In contrast, not only did the basically apolitical GG Allin not have a retirement portfolio, he was perceptive enough to croak rather than sticking around to appear on This American Life with Ira Glass. We can only imagine what Jello wouldn’t say if GG had lived and was out touring for car payments and being blasted as a misogynist on Gawker.

Another fine example: the other day I was driving along, listening to Born Against on my car stereo. If they were still around, they’d be #Ban[ning]Bossy, whereas circa 1993—the last year there was a substantive subset of unshorn college womyn—this band was raging against pro-lifers, John Wayne’s body, evangelicals, &c.; basically, avulsing a flux of creepy-crawlies with their gnawed-down fingernails. And thank God they did: are we, in 2015, living in a world forged by VFW Dole voters? By the Moral Majority? Then again, were we then (in 1993)? Sure, G-Dub did a lot of pandering to pro-lifers, but did he (as in: he himself, not some Iowa state senator) restrict baby-murder even just a little, i.e., did Planned Parenthood get one less federal dollar from January ’01 through January ’09? How likely is it that dead babies are anathema to the Bush clan, anyway? They’ve done a lot of pandering to the NRA, too, but after two terms of Texas, the number of rounds in my magazine is still subject to the Clinton-era limit. If you think Ricky Bobby wants the full body scan any more than Ed Snowden, I’ve got a 1911 with a 12-round magazine I wanna sell you, in Brooklyn. (I also thought I heard Matt Taibbi telling Amy Goodman that the Holder DoJ has not prosecuted a single banker, though I may just be off my Abilify.)

But if your entire sense of gall is predicated on the fear that Tony Perkins, Grover Norquist and Bill O’Reilly will one day lead columns of tanks down the Capitol Mall, Tiennamen-style, put Bernie Sanders, Lena Dunham and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on show-trial, then recommission the Enola Gay to frack Yellowstone with, you may be having a hard time following. I’m not saying they wouldn’t do it—I’m saying that such power exists somewhere, and that your Daily Show cast of villains will never even warm their hands in its toasty glow. “So you mean The System, the one that shredded Glass-Steagal and invaded Iraq for sport, is progressive?” Not exactly. I’m asking you to consider the purposes progressivism serves.

As komsomolka Nadyezhda Tolikonnikova informed one man post-sentience sleep apnea awareness campaign Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian, “Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side…” (Does anyone put their criminal history on a résumé?) “…in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.” That must be what she was doing on House of Cards and The Colbert Report—but then, would Lenin have gotten anywhere without the Kaiser?

Notice how unfiltered her big-girl thesis statement is. Taking a piss demands more mental energy, one at least needs to aim (well, maybe not Pussy Riot). What in the hell does Putin have to do with the enslaved millions? A cheese-fond knee-capper with a badass dojo is all he is. Are they his sweatshops, or Black Friday’s? For chrissake, Flava Flav bears more responsibility for the predations of global capitalism than Vladimir Putin does.

The norm of production is manic, not normative; precarious, not stable. What’s normative and fantastically stable is consumption, from pickled daikon right on down to Dinty Moore (TM) beef stew, yet these two beacons of post-retro moralism are blind to what any Dinty Moore consumer can garble if not exactly articulate, which is that Soilent Green is The People. So thoroughly is Anthony Bourdain to the reigning racket what Lazar Kaganovich was to Stalin’s that you’re even liable to find a can of Dinty Moore wet food in your Chopped basket. Do you reckon a ground-down Shenjien assembly-line tech would rather organize his colleagues, string up the foreman and issue a list of demands from behind a makeshift barricade, or indenture himself to the Triads for passage to the States—or Peru—on the off chance his kids’ll ever be in a position to afford the kinds of products he and his ilk manufacture?

Remember the mid-90s? I seem to recall a lot of fulminating over sweatshop labor. There were stories all over NBC’s Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, 60 MinutesTime and Newsweek. Nike was on a PR defensive. A bunch of brace-faced bar mitzvah kids from my synagogue organized a downtown candlelight vigil with their counterparts from the local Catholic school. Being anti-sweatshop was all the rage. Now? More sweatshops, more Whole Foods, more free range, fair trade, more low impact, more farm-to-table…… more contrived moral distance, but if you want a piece you’re gonna have to be paying a lower tax rate than somebody’s secretary.

In 2015 Nike is on the right side of history, and more evil than ever. The System picks its battles; these are what we call progressivism. Those skinny jeans aren’t going to stitch themselves, so moral qualms are outsourced to identity politics and presto!, everyone’s a Twitter activist, and no one’s a revolutionary. Thus the stability of the “norm of production”. Give it thirty years and see how you like the alternative.

Ever wonder why, since the early-90s—that pitiful last outburst of rock-n-roll ardor and petulance—there hasn’t been any superseding groundswell of teen spirit? The iconoclasts of that period are all now bloated icons. Meanwhile, weed is literally five-hundred times stronger, psych meds have become party drugs, the great satirists of the day are a pair of regime spokesmen, actors and actresses shamelessly model cosmetics and haute couture well into their sixties and seventies, Hollywood is cannibalizing itself with remakes and biopics of dead celebs before they’ve gone cold and the country’s number-one public intellectual is a food tourist. And they’re all red-diaper babies.

Menachem Begin (Yasser Arafat’s and my personal favorite fascist) once hypothesized, based on his experience of NKVD interrogation, that the publicized confessions of disgraced Soviet leading figures were almost never procured by direct physical coercion, but by gradually giving the prisoner to understand that if he were to persist in maintaining his innocence, his obstinacy would go unacknowledged and unremembered by the cognitively manicured society beyond the prison gates. How much more is this the case where the tap yields potable water, Payless is having a perpetual two-for-one sale and anyone can become a YouTube sensation? People protested sweatshops, and they got gay marriage, and if Kennedy sides with Ginsburg a whole lot of bar tabs will become wedding registries, and a whole lot of rent checks will become mortgage payments. “Endless development and diversity”, anyone? I’m afraid slave labor’s here to stay. I don’t much like it either, but if it really bothered me, I wouldn’t be in college, learning progressivism.

If you’re so disturbed by consumerism, no one’s stopping you from donning a bear skin and going foraging on BLM land, or dumpster diving, or cashing in your chips and homesteading. In Russia, they’ve got the whole of Siberia. There’s a well-known Old Believer named Agafia who has been subsisting off the taiga, single-handed, for upwards of five (count ’em) decades. Pussy Riot, on the other hand, was living in the heart of Moscow. I don’t think they hand-stitched those balaclavas.

(Updated 09/2015)

Van Dammed

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 3.39.03 PM

If looks could kill

I’m not going to deny that there are some tough motherfuckers in the Israeli army. But once inside the institution itself, you’d have to look real hard to find them. Maybe this is the result of an elaborate ruse intended to inspire gross underestimation, though it probably has more to do with the fact most teenaged Israeli conscripts are pretty well cowed compared with American kids, who by the age of eighteen have (on average) done way more fucking, fighting, shoplifting, drug ingesting and all-around troublemaking than their middle eastern counterparts despite being (on average) a good fifty pounds heavier. Whereas stateside, stealing a car or beating a classmate to a bloody pulp can (in ever rarer instances, it is true) be a ticket to Fort Benning, in Israel, getting caught with a swiped laptop or a vile of ecstasy is taken as a sign not of potentially useful daring-do but of dangerous non-conformity, and those with juvenile rap-sheets are actually denied the option of military service. Ain’t that bass-friggin’-ackward?

On the day in 2006 when I officially became army property, a family friend drove me in his late-model Peugot and dropped me off outside the grounds of a 1967 Six-Day War battle site, Givat Hatakhmoshet (Ammunition Hill) that is now the location of a military museum. A group of fellow twenty-something male English-speakers and several Russians was milling around the entrance in the orbit of a middle-aged Tennessean and her distractingly pretty teenaged daughter, both of whom were handing out shiny new electric razors, tins of shoe polish, bags of Cheetos, candy bars and little squeeze-it juice boxes. These were hard-core Christian Zionists, permanent residents of Jerusalem and members of a far-right evangelical organization that doesn’t even expend its resources proselytizing, so eager are its members to hand out squeeze-it juice boxes to Israeli soldiers without the potential constraint of theological controversy. I guess they figure we can sort ourselves out when Jesus comes.

By and by, several female corporals, armed with clipboards, emerged from inside the gate and led us through a series of metal detectors and into a building where we were briefly interviewed one by one and each made to sign a sheaf of papers; then around back to a row of bleachers where we sat for an hour or so. The Russians, most of whom had recently graduated from high schools in Israel, talked amongst themselves in Russian. The Anglos, all recent arrivals in the nineteen-to-twenty seven year-old age range and mostly American but including a few Canadians and South Africans, introduced ourselves. Soon the corporals returned and led us into a movie theatre in the museum building, where we were treated to grainy footage of the 1967 Battle of Ammunition Hill. The gist of the piece’s narration (in Hebrew, Russian and English) seemed to be that it is good to die for one’s country. The whole angle of appeal seemed rather low-literacy, and I wondered, where was the more nuanced propaganda geared toward well-read bourgeois malcontents? I wasn’t sure I would be able to subsist in this army if my emotional needs weren’t going to be taken into more careful consideration.

Eventually we were herded onto a bus and taken to an army base where we spent the day in endless lines as we were processed: shorn, vaccinated, fingerprinted, made to sign more papers and issued dog-tags, military ID cards, boots, berets, class-A uniforms, C-bags and squeeze-it juice boxes.

Now, Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and although it often fails to behave like one when convenience trumps adherence, we were nonetheless issued little pocket-sized tagboard documents, to be kept on our persons at all times, enumerating the rights of POWs under those very agreements—–in French, for the apparently singular edification, amusement and rolling-paper needs of possible Hezbullah captors, who obviously are not a party to any covenant on the laws of war. Maybe the logic was that if we could get them laughing uncontrollably, this would buy us enough time to escape back over the Israeli border before they could slather the insides of our rectums with gasoline using soldering irons.

Every single new conscript on base that day was a recent arrival, either from a French or English speaking country, the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia or South America. The vaccination line alone contained an incredible spectrum of backgrounds and experienecs. Among the former Soviets it ranged from Mikhael, a hale and hearty, ethnic Russian former Uzbek-army sergeant from Tashkent, who wore a massive gold crucifix burrowed neatly among his many chest hairs at the apex of his V-neck tee, to Valerie, a spindly, doe-eyed Ukranian waif who looked as though conscription was the only thing standing between him and continuing to be breast-fed at home. At the behest of Mikhail he was being kicked around by some rough looking and very nearly toothless fellows whose body odor suggested they’d never been fed out of anything but tin-cans. In outhouses. Next to toxic waste dumps.

Among the Americans the spectrum ranged from Josh, a four-foot-seven east-coast bus-station rat runaway from a Nassau County trailer park whose regular intravenous heroin consumption went unnoticed by army authorities until many months later—after he had passed the physically grueling tryout and a significant portion of the training for a top-tier infantry commando—to Daniel, a half-Jewish Nicaraguan jeweler’s kid from Miami, who recited sentimental rap lyrics in Cholo drawl.

In short order a Russian had dubbed me “Van Damme” in self-satisfied obeisance to my apparently strong resemblance to the Belgian movie star. Indeed, a summer’s worth of construction work in the Tel Aviv suburbs had rendered me lean and chiseled. The word soon spread like wildfire and before we even boarded the buses for training camp I had become the object of intense scrutiny, with French, Russian and assorted other Doubting Thomases making the pilgrimage from all over the base to crowd around me and behold with their own eyes the Van Damme lookalike in their very midst, whose legend they’d heard imparted in myriad languages. Given that the preponderance of bootleg DVDs on offer in the open-air markets of Eastern Europe are in fact movies starring Jean Claude Van Damme, I was in no position to challenge my fellow conscripts’ expertise.

By that evening we found ourselves, after a three-hour bus ride, at the training base of the Israeli Army Education Corps for a three-month basic training regimen designed to improve our Hebrew. As boot camps go, this one was pretty light, basically the same minimal program that non-combat soldiers endure, with an added six-hours per-day of classroom instruction in Hebrew-as-a-second-language, taught by female corporals (and several male ones, all of whom either sported orthodontic headgear or evinced an ostentatious level of femininity). Despite the low physical intensity and my impending admission to the training program of a hardcore combat unit, this Hebrew language program would be the toughest three months of my service, because unlike elsewhere in the Israeli army the age range was mid-to-late twenties; because not most, but a good proportion of the former Soviets had seen either homelessness, prison time (relatively few of those, I have to admit), military service or assorted other hard knocks in their countries of origin; and because the base itself was a converted former prison. In short, I found myself in an actual prison with the dregs of the former Soviet Union—toughened petty criminals, urchins and proverbial red-headed step children, some of them sub-literate even in their own languages, all (ostensibly) being supervised by nineteen-year old female corporals (one of whom we nicknamed “sexual chipmunk” for her small stature, ample posterior, overbite, apple cheeks and big, sultry eyes) and orthopedically challenged male ones, selected not for toughness but because at home they spoke one of their charges’ first languages.

Wild shit quickly transpired.

Several of the former Soviets had been involved back home, whether formally or by proximity and mere diffusion, with the post-communist extreme right. Upon arrival, a couple of these guys quickly took to cheekily decorating the bathroom stalls with swastikas. The dozen-strong French/Belgian contingent, all of them dweebs from dunderheaded, religious Zionist households, soon caught one of them red-handed, cornered him in the very stall they’d caught him defacing and kicked the crap out of him.

The poor guy had to be airlifted to the hospital, but before the bird touched down word had gotten around to the Russians, a dozen of whom decided not to stand idly by while the honor of a fellow Ruski was violated with such brazenness by an incautious bunch of effete Frogs, who quickly found themselves on the receiving end of their own poorly-considered tactics in a battle royale straight out of Mortal Combat.

The following morning, two dozen of our fellows were either in the brig or the hospital and the rest of us were subjected to a stern lecture by a pot-bellied major who admonished us to never permit abuse of the memory of the Holocaust, and to never lift a hand against a fellow Israeli soldier—which sounded like a catch-22 considering the chain of events that aroused the officer’s concern.