1. Let’s politicize these acts, if for no other reason because, in America, we politicize everything else.
  2. Of course it’s a mental health issue.
  3. For starters, the mental handicap of anyone who thinks this weapon, in the public (or private) sector is useful, safe or justifiable on any level. ar154. Oh those annoying, anti-American liberals, right? Wrong. Let’s allow General Stanley McChrystal the floor: “I spent a career carrying typically either a M16 and later, a M4 carbine…and a M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. That’s what our soldiers ought to carry…I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look — I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want — we have to protect our children and our police and we have to protect our population. And I think we have to take a very mature look at that.”

5. Certainly I’m not the only person who, immediately upon hearing the news, suspected that Omar Mateen was a closeted, likely tormented gay man—a reminder that religion is always the problem.

6. President Obama has, as of this date, had to give fourteen press conferences to address gun-related massacres on American soil.

7. If you continue to rationalize the NRA’s role in these atrocities, you are not merely part of the problem, you are the problem. We can—and do—count on the NRA and the cretins bought and paid for by their blood money to assume the hardest and most irrational line; they count on moral equivalence, sanctimony and above all, hope for frustration to lead to social media sloganeering with no action.

8. If you continue to defend the NRA’s role in these atrocities, you are a traitor, however ignorant or unwitting.

9. Fuck the 2nd Amendment. Follow the money.

10. No, seriously. If certain entities weren’t making obscene amounts of money (and spreading it around to keep craven opportunists on the payroll) this issue would have been remedied decades ago.

11. Special committees have been formed to explore, just to cherry pick some low-hanging tempests in a tea (party) pot, the proliferation of witchcraft, opposition to the dangers of dancing, the creeping spread of communism, the hidden, evil messages in certain rock lyrics…and the mere suggestion that maybe an amendment written when muskets were cutting edge weaponry is grounds for scorched earth opposition. This is a profound sickness.

12. This is still the single best commercial on the topic.

13. You know the commercials with first-hand testimony to what cigarette addiction can do to the human body? Start making commercials with statistics of kids shooting each other. And find some brave people willing to go on the record about what unintentional gun violence has done to their family. Or people whose loved ones have been victimized. Tasteless? Too personal? Well, the possibility that any of us could be killed by an accidental (or, in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, intentional) gunshot couldn’t possibly be more personal. And the fact that, thus far, the will of a clear and overwhelming majority is thwarted by a relatively tiny faction with unconscionably deep pockets is about as tasteless as anything imaginable.

14. Be clear: it’s not that nothing can be done, it’s because so much can be done. Sensible and overdue gun control is a slippery slope, as it should be. The people with nothing to lose, except money (and, presumably, those with minuscule and/or impotent penises), are very aware of this.

15. Whether it’s a drive-by, a road rage incident or a calculated assault, guns are the refuge of sissies who wouldn’t last three seconds in a fist fight.

16. Good guys beat bad guys with the benefit of bigger guns. This is the America we have manufactured, via movies and the marketing of war.

17. Speaking of marketing: lobbyists and the political machines they’re paid to pimp have made a sick science of selling unreality to a nation of terrified suckers.

18. Speaking of terror, how many different variations of the same formulation will it require? gun photo

19. If the only time you pay attention to gun violence is to grandstand on your Facebook feed (or worse, send “thoughts and prayers”), you are not merely a coward, you’re acting entirely within the pre-approved script.

20. Imagine if we felt “hopes and prayers” were sufficient, or all we could do every time a drunk driver killed someone.

21. If you’re still alive, you’re not Orlando. Do something.

22. We have made airport travel into the most inconvenient, obnoxious ordeal conceivable, yet it’s many times easier for anyone to bring a gun into any public place than it is to board a plane, even without luggage*. (*White males, that is.)

23. Guess what demographic (hint: not Muslims) is responsible for the majority of gun massacres on American soil?

24. Start showing the dead bodies on the news.

25. Ditto for returning soldiers. As T.S. Eliot once observed, “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Americans, of course, can bear very much reality TV.

26. “Hate will never win.” Hate isn’t trying to win. It’s trying to kill.

27. “Well, if he didn’t have a gun, he would have had a bomb!” No, he wouldn’t. Because, for starters, you can’t buy a bomb at Walmart.

28. Although we have a specific cultural malady, mental illness is, of course, experienced by all ages of all people in all countries. Without guns, you can’t easily enact slaughter. Full stop.

29. Any time anyone walks into an establishment with a gun and body bags are required in the aftermath, it’s an act of terror.

30. All it would take is one shooting spree in the United States Capitol to ensure extreme action was immediately taken.

31. Anyone in congress expressing condolences without mentioning the word “guns” should be shamed from office. Anyone in congress expressing condolences who has accepted money from the NRA should be shamed from American citizenship.

32. In America, the only thing more powerful and effective than money is shaming. Call on any and all elected officials to return their soiled money, or send it to the families of victims.

33. Guess what? Here’s a list of GOP senators who voted against ensuring people on terror watch lists can’t buy firearms. (Props to journalist Ivor Volsky for doing heavy lifting in the service of exposing this illimitable hypocristy.)

34. It takes considerably more time and effort to adopt a dog that’s facing being euthanized than it is to purchase a firearm in America.

35. Seriously, America is the only place this happens.

36. This is the single best (and hilarious, to boot) take on America’s unique gun psychosis.

37. I’d rather have a limb hacked off than be censored in any way. That said, Hollywood has a lot more blood on its hands than anyone acknowledges.

38. Video game manufacturers too.

39. Enough with the accommodations and equivocations, let’s treat—for a start—gun manufacturers the way we treat cigarette companies.

40. Start taxing the shit out of organized religions. Why? Because the same type of illogic and—be clear—highly organized, orchestrated and effective propaganda keeps these institutions unregulated and unaccountable.

41. In our society, police forces have become more martial and intimidating in direct proportion with our dread of potential danger posed by anything “Other”—inexorably people who aren’t white. This is not coincidental.

42. An average of seven children under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.

43. Read this.

44. Just like actually speaking to issues of economic inequality and the dissipation of a healthy American working class (and commensurate wages) is politically viable, action on gun violence will attract, not repel voters.

45. Seriously, Democrats have been paralyzed for the last half-century by the ludicrous trepidation to offend a constituency that wouldn’t, under any circumstances, vote for them anyway.

46. Whatever you want to say about Obama, this is what he had to say on June 1.

47. This is what the presumptive nominee for the Republican party had to say in the wake of the single biggest gun-related massacre in American history: dt48. At one point in our nation’s history, women’s suffrage, civil rights—first for women, then racial minorities, then gays and lesbians—were all considered insurmountable obstacles, politically suicidal, and, a special bonus, “endorsed” by biblical scripture. Progress is inevitable, so long as people clamor (and are willing to work) for it.

49. If we can’t set the bar at the embarrassingly low level of getting the AR-15 banned from civilian ownership, we are officially the Roman Empire, super-sized and on Soma.

50. William Carlos wrote “It is difficult to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day for lack of what’s found there.” That’s always worth remembering.

*This piece originally appeared in The Weeklings on 6/14/16.


The Top 10 Albums of 2011, According To Me (Part Four)

1. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake

“You cannot get the news from poems”, William Carlos wrote. “But men die every day for lack of what is found there.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley famously declared poets the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Of course this was during a time when people actually read poems. Believe it or not, people used to write them as well. Poets, of course, are also the legislators for the unacknowledged: their observations and protestations are, aside from any and all aesthetic considerations, a shout from the silence; a candle for the dark places.

Throughout our time on this often-dark and occasionally silent earth, poets have cried out on account of the dispossessed, the least of our brethren who can’t or won’t speak for themselves: the elderly, the impoverished and those unfortunate souls sent out to fight our wars. These mostly undecorated and forgotten folks who are obliged to finish the fights started by people in high and heavily fortified places. As such, poems (and books, movies and songs) about war will always be relevant and timely because war is always with us. These days, it seems, we can’t find enough enemies quickly enough.

Enter Polly Jean Harvey.

The simple description of 2011’s Let England Shake is that it’s an album about war. The slightly less simple description is that it’s an album about war and the toll it has extracted on the people and land of England. The more complicated –and accurate—description is that it is an extended meditation on the conflicts England, its allies and its enemies have found themselves ensnared in, time and again. It is not an anti-war album as such; it dispenses altogether with sloganeering and simplistic appraisals. More, it’s not political so much as its personal: it concerns itself with the usually nameless soldiers and citizens who pay the ultimate cost, time and again. Another way to put it is that this is the album Roger Waters has always wanted to make.

What PJ Harvey is after here is slightly beyond ambitious. Let England Shake is a statement of purpose that strains—and succeeds—at articulating observations that are not unique to any country, party affiliation or language; in other words she is grappling with universal themes yet rendering them in ways that are deeply personal. Somehow, she manages to speak for—and through—dead soldiers, she weaves in her own (mostly dispassionate) reflections and, throughout, she embodies the voice of History, which does not render judgment so much as evidence of the events it has recorded.

This work would be a significant achievement just as words on paper, or recited lines. Adding the music and the full arsenal of voices Harvey can peerlessly conjure up, the results exemplify the distinctive and profound impact musical expression conveys. In addition to the crucial support of long-time collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey, Harvey adds zither and saxophone to her usual guitar and piano. The resulting music is quietly forceful, and insistent yet restrained: like the lyrics, they are ostensibly simple, but reveal multiple layers after repeated listens.

The strategic touches, clever and cheeky, provide added depth, humor and pathos to the proceedings. For instance, incorporating a reveille into “The Glorious Land” is intentionally jarring; it’s totally out of place and should distract from the menacing undercurrent—but it doesn’t because it’s a sly and subtle commentary on the rush (literal and figurative) to fight that precedes and follows a declaration of war. “What is the glorious fruit of our land?” she asks. “Its fruit is orphaned children,” is the solemn response, making those trumpet calls both ironic and heartrending. On the title track she ingeniously incorporates the old chestnut “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” as a comment-within-comment about lost empires (real or imagined) and textbook epochs that ceaselessly recycle themselves. A similar effect is achieved on “Written on the Forehead” by sampling Niney Nine’s classic “Blood and Fire”: Let it burn, she chants, an avenging angel and/or the battle-weary lament of a scorched landscape.

The album comes out swinging and never stalls for a second, but there are three songs (the fourth, fifth and sixth tracks) that especially stand out, in the context of this work and everything else PJ Harvey has done. “The Words That Maketh Murder” uses a propulsive beat that would seem to belie the lyrics, until one realizes the tempo is appropriate for a battlefield scene, a racing heart or a shell-shocked brain. Harvey’s child-like voice is used to disarming affect (pun somewhat intended): in a sing-song cadence with a pleasantly chugging rhythm she recalls a unnamed soldier seeing “arms and legs…in the trees” and her repeated chant of the word murder is a declaration (this is what war is) and an indictment (this is what war does). As the song ends it invokes the throwaway line from Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” (What if I take my problem to the United Nations?): it is and, for the most part always has been, a sadly absurd, rhetorical query.

The centerpiece of the album is “All & Everyone” which, like many of the songs, concerns itself with World War I and the brutal Gallipoli Campaign. Of course this event literally invokes the aforementioned Constantinople, and still resonates as a particularly bloody and, arguably pointless conflagration. The pace is appropriately somber, almost funereal, with a languidly creeping tension that builds up to the moments that resulted in massacre: “Death hung in the smoke and clung/To four hundred acres of useless beachfront,” Harvey intones, employing a venom that is used judiciously, if strategically, throughout the work. As plaintive organ, sax and percussion march, like the helpless soldiers, into a resigned silence, her ethereal voice croons the preordained verdict: “Death to all and everyone.”

“On Battleship Hill” again invokes Gallipoli, albeit from the perspective of the present day. Naturally this calls to mind comparisons with current, controversial escapades that have left grieving widows and mind-boggling body counts. A whiff of thyme (a spice traditionally utilized in funerals for its pleasing scent and alleged spiritual properties) in the wind reminds the singer that “cruel nature has won again.” Commenting on the “caved-in trenches (and) jagged mountains…cracked like teeth in a rotten mouth”, Harvey once again uses the scarred land as an explicit reflection on the physical toll (on our countries; on our people) war inexorably extracts. The plodding pace of the song is like Nature itself: relentless, non-negotiable. After a propulsive introduction all sound ceases and it’s just Harvey’s voice: that siren wail, lustrous, fragile, immortal. Her voice, as those in the know can attest, is one of the miracles of modern music. Acquiescent and almost operatic, she sings out for the fallen soldiers, buried in the hard earth and rendered history by the unlucky circumstances of their ages and the age they lived in; the age we live in still. As the song spins itself out from the past into our possible future the doleful refrain “Cruel Nature has won again” is a requiem for our recklessness, which is unending as it is unnatural.

In the final analysis one is tempted to say that PJ Harvey has created a musical equivalent to Tim O’Brien’s celebrated collection The Things They Carried. Of course, being music, it’s different, and where O’Brien offers a first-hand account from the fields of fire, Harvey immersed herself in source material to give voice to people who never had a chance to account for themselves. Music and voices lend a solemn, ultimately beautiful import to words meant to shake and redeem.

In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock T.S. Eliot’s despondent narrator laments “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each/I do not think they will sing to me.” On Let England Shake PJ Harvey has willed herself to become one of those mermaids, and this elegiac cycle of songs is her lone voice crying out to all those anonymous spirits. It is an act of witness and it is a call of defiance: against folly, against forgetting.


It is difficult to get the news from poems…


Unemployment could top 10 percent
The United States lost 2.6 million jobs last year, the most in any single year since World War II. Manufacturing is at a 28-year low and even Obama’s economists say unemployment could top 10 percent before the recession ends. One in 10 homeowners is at risk of foreclosure and the dollar continues its slide in value. On Friday, 1st Centennial Bank of Redlands, California, became the third U.S. bank to fail this year.  Story here.

Well, there is a lot that could be said about this. This work in progress. This developing story. This disaster. There is more that should be said (despite the fact that a great deal has already been said). But for now, it seems best to step aside and pass the mic to Hank. Bukowski, the great poet laureate of the dispossessed, understood his subject matter, because he was his subject matter. But, like most artists whose work outlasts them, he also bore witness to a world outside of his living room. That he was able to articulate some of what he saw says a great deal about the man, and his art. That what he said (and, of course, what many others have said, about this subject) says a great deal about how far we have not come, and how low we may still be about to go. There are other artists who will attempt to grapple with the sordid side effects of this mess we’ve made. It is unfortunate that there won’t be any other Bukowskis. It is deplorable that the progress we’ve supposedly made since the middle of last century has not downsized the conditions that inspire this art in the first place.

Or, put another way, by another great poet:

It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there
– William Carlos Williams