Monday, December 31, 2007


To: Former members of X-tal
From: Long time listener

I don't know how often you hear this from people or whether you find it embarassing, lame, irrelevant to the concerns of your status quos, whatever.

But this afternoon, as I often do, I put on Everything Crash and began going through my normal routine of paperwork, writing, etc. And then "Easily Impressed" came on, and my brain just stopped everything and listened to it all the way through...and again. Then did the same with "Pacemaker." I probably listened to those two songs over and over for a good 20-25 minutes. Let them really get deep into my mind.

And I just wanted to let you know, you got it. You really got it. I'm happy to see the continuing, growing interest in your stuff, because you really went somewhere musically and politically few dared to go. Well done, and thanks. --mjs

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007 : "cast out our fears and open eyes, o give us voice today!"

Most years I can write up a brief Christmas message for my friends, full of a little personal insight and a fair amount of polemic. This year it's been harder. It's been a challenging one on almost every level, happy mostly (as the past six years have been) but with challenges to nearly every level of my life and consciousness...and tough times for many friends and family. I'll be thinking of a few of those people, sending them happy and constructive vibes during my two-week "break," talking to people who need conversation, and spending a lot of time reflecting on my own limits. And, of course, playing with the children.

Long story short, I can't find anything profound to say for Christmas this year. But Stephen Leah, a progressive Christian activist, wrote this updated hymn that I found very moving--even as someone who's tried to be equally critical of the violence on both sides of the Israeli occupation, to the point of pissing off my friends--and not just accurate, but poetically accurate. I don't agree with the theology of the guy giving the sermon where the Leah hymn appears, but the hymn itself is simple, unapologetic, and makes me shiver a bit.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Imprisoned you now lie.
Above thy deep and silent grief,
Surveillance drones now fly.
And through thy old streets standeth,
A huge illegal Wall.
The hopes and dreams that peace will come
Are dashed in this year’s Fall.
O morning stars together,
Look down upon this crime.
The people sing to God the King
But justice, who can find?
Yes, Christ was born of Mary,
God’s love remains supreme.
But mortals sleep as children weep,
Their pain is never seen.
How silently, how silently,
The world and Church protests.
As checkpoints grow and towns confined,
As settlers steal and rest.
No ear may hear the outcry,
As Israel’s Wall is built.
While meek souls muse, Apartheid rules -
We speak or share in guilt.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Give strength to us,
we pray.
Cast out our fears and open eyes.
O give us voice today!
We stand against injustice,
The Occupation must end.
May justice rule our Lord’s birthplace,
May now Christ’s peace descend.

Maybe this Christmas, Christians in the U.S. could think about what agents of the Israeli government are doing to Christians as well as Muslims in Palestine. It's time for a mass demand that violence, brutality and misleadership stop there, and everywhere. And the next time you hear a Christian in the United States assume that the default position on Israeli occupation is uncritical support, do some homework and challenge them on that. (And I'll include my obligatory but important acknowledgement that Palestinian leadership is cynical and exploitative, and unconditional support for either side in this conflict is not the answer). Peace on earth, good will to all. Yeah, that's what I was looking to say...something like that. Happy holidays everybody.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Orgasms, Peace, and Population Control: Err…that’s a yes on the first two and a no on the third, y’all…

I’m very happy to see the second annual Global Orgasm for Peace is tomorrow/actually today for those of us here in the U.S. I’m a fan of orgasms and peace, and despite how some stuffy old lefties might feel about it, I think there’s a clear, if not always enunciable, relationship between the two. It’s not merely that sexuality is energy; it’s that even the possibility, the memory, and the anticipation of sexual joy generates happiness in those who experience it. It’s a universal happiness—at least for the sexually emancipated—and is both literally and metaphorically life-affirming. For a small time commitment, a whole lot of people will be bringing on (or is that bringing off?) sexual joy for peace. Even linking the two rhetorically is a healthy, progressive act with no real disadvantages.

But this part of
the announcement upset me greatly:

“Remember, over-population (6.8 billion people and counting) is a major cause of ‘peak everything’, so please don’t make more babies in the Global-O.”

With that single, out-of-place sentence, turned their advocacy of unbridled joy into bridled partisanship. The problems of “overpopulation” are really the problems of imperialism and class inequality, and the invocation of overpopulation without any prior acknowledgement of classism or imperialism is a tired and dangerous discourse indeed.

Others explain it better than I could: Steve Rosenthal has a
fine piece elucidating the fascist nature of overpopulation science (tied to sociobiology and a fixed view of human nature) in the context of Africa. More sweeping commentaries address the way in which population discourse is used to obscure the role of capital and class inequality in either enforcing an artificial scarcity or ignoring real scarcity (see, for example, Louis Proyect). Population control isn’t progressive. Repeating unreflective causal assertions about population is not pro-peace. In fact, it’s a pointless and potentially dangerous distraction.

Not to mention, it’s a serious downer. What if a baby is made during this all-important moment of collective bliss? That could be a very special baby. Who is to tell me, or anybody, not to make a baby while participating in a worldwide collective sex act for peace, for crying out loud?

Finally: If anything, progressives need to make more babies. Nuff said.

I’m open to discuss any of these arguments, but all I am saying is the little self-righteous warning was neither necessary nor desirable, it’s in poor taste and if it does indeed reflect a dominant ideological outlook in the people responsible for the Global-O, then it’s time for them to re-think this or turn the project over to somebody else. I’ll close with some
vintage Fred Engels:
it is absurd to talk of overpopulation so long as "there is 'enough waste land in the valley of the Mississippi for the whole population of Europe to be transplanted there"; so long as no more than one third of the earth can be considered cultivated, and so long as the production of this third itself can be raised six fold and more by the application of improvements already known.
Seriously, though: We should all participate in the Global Orgasm for Peace tonight/tomorrow. There’s simply no downside to it. It will lift our spirits and has the potential to make us aware of a fundamental, deep and ineffable connection between the individual erotic and the universal imperative of love. Happy orgasming. Remember: Solstice Day - December 22, at 06:08 Universal Time (GMT)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

We visited the cemetery during our last full day in Paris, last Wednesday.

Paris is a site of multiple perspectives, multiple struggling forces, a plurality of currents sometimes cooperating and sometimes competing. This is fully reflected in the Père Lachaise. The cemetery seemed to me to be a site of free expression, within the boundaries of acceptable communication about the dead (and such boundaries are relatively loose and negotiable) and political struggle. Royalty being royal, military heroes glorifying their sacrifices, communists and socialists (graves piled with flowers) displaying the symbols of revolution for a better life, Holocaust victims and survivors... As in other parts of Paris, the self-reflection and contradictory nature of the French state, and French civil society, was apparent in the very design of things, in the the way the materials were themselves arranged, from the stone work and symbols to the layout of the whole place to the management of the many trees and bushes growing in it. This feeling is difficult to describe in writing, but maybe the photos will help make sense of it.
A vast, town-sized cemetery with neighborhoods of graves along twisting cobblestone paths, separated (regimented, like much of Paris's attempt to regulate the chaotic) by "divisions."

I'm standing next to the Communards' Wall, where the leaders of the Paris Commune were executed. I was overwhelmed by the understated nature of that memorial, as well as the fact that it wasn't mentioned in any of the "official" tourist literature on or in Paris. I knew what I was looking for only because I had read extensively about the Commune a couple of years earlier. A very important site, in a cemetery likely shared by some of the Communards' executioners.

The communal grave of many activists, most famously Paul Lefargue and Laura Marx Lefargue, married best friends who took their own lives together when they felt they were growing too old to do any more good...Paul wrote a wonderful pamphlet entitled "The Right to Be Lazy," and Laura, of course, was the most Marxist of Marx's daughters.

Various symbols, from the socialist Prometheus to a Rodan-like sculpture by a lesser-known sculptor.
Jim Morrison's grave after the removal of the famous bust that was always getting vandalized and stolen. I'm not a Morrison fan, btw...and even suggested to Andrea that a great punk cover would be a picture of one or both of us flipping off the grave. But we had come all that way, why not see it...
This cat was the only live animal I saw personally at the cemetery, and it seemed to me to be very determined and purposive in sitting in that particular location.
Memorials of the Shoah in general, and specific Holocaust survivors and victims, were especially disturbing, underscoring a kind of rebellion against the holiness of cemeteries...