June 28th, 2008

May 14th, 1993

This is one of the passages I excised from the final draft of the paper I submitted for my Comparative Literature course on Postmodernism, which was a longer, more academic version of the piece "Making Sense of Seattle" that I wrote for Bad Subjects: Political Education For Everyday Life earlier that spring:
A recent Time magazine (February 8th) marked the mainstream breakthrough of 'cyberpunk' culture. Typically associated with sci-fi and high-tech, what Andrew Ross calls 'technoculture', cyberpunk seems at first to have little in common with decidedly low-tech indie values. As the term itself suggests, however, cyberpunk actually marks the union of high (cyber) and low-tech (punk) sensibilities. For all cyberpunk's fascination with the sublime object of technology, it also displays the proto-anarchist, do-it-yourself (within a scene, of course!) values of indie culture. That my indie-minded friend Tim Pratt is both an ardent enemy of the mainstream music associated with synthesizers and fancy electronic effects and an avid Nintendo player is not out of the ordinary. Indeed, it is pretty typical. Similarly, the people who put together alternative zines full of messy graphic design, hand-lettering, and other indications of low-tech authenticity are frequently avid internet users and know how to use high-tech photocopying equipment and even desktop publishing to produce desired low-tech effects. I met this guy Chris Shaw (from S.F.!) at a summer art pre-college in 1985 who was the stereotypical skateboard-riding, wood-glue- moussing, rat-hunting (in the sewers of Providence!), anarchist punk. I remember Chris showing me how he had carefully fucked with the color balance and enlargement features on a color copier to blur some photograph into a series of non-representational globules of color. Zine culture is full of examples that illustrate this paradoxical relationship to technology.
I probably should have added that tpratt, while an ardent enemy of the mainstream music "associated with synthesizers and fancy electronic effects," had passed through a phase in high school during which he was more favorable disposed to the synthesizer-driven "Euro" sound.

It's also interesting that, several years after I wrote this, we ended up getting a poster for a Sonic Youth show in L.A. featuring an Elvis-Frankenstein-Christ palimpsest. The artist? Chris Shaw, whom I still remember with great fondness, though I last saw him in the summer of 1985. Because he was from the Bay Area and extreme in ways I'd never imagined possible, yet sweet enough to tutor me in alternative ways of living, he played a bigger role in my aesthetic education than all but a few people in my life.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to find his own homepage, with links to a wide range of his work, as well as a photo of him at the opening of a show at San Francisco's Artrock a few years back. He's the wiry guy on the left, the one who looks like the character in a William Gibson novel.

There Will Be Blood For Oil

It shouldn't surprise me when someone like Bill Moyers clambers up onto the bandwagon, but I'm still taken aback by the bluntness with which he restates an argument that was once dismissed as left-wing conspiracy theory at its most irrational:
Let's go back a few years to the 1990's, when private citizen Dick Cheney was running Halliburton, the big energy supplier. That's when he told the oil industry that, "By 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

Fast forward to Cheney's first heady days in the White House. The oil industry and other energy conglomerates were handed backdoor keys to the White House, and their CEO's and lobbyists were trooping in and out for meetings with their old pal, now Vice President Cheney. The meetings were secret, conducted under tight security, but as we reported five years ago, among the documents that turned up from some of those meetings were maps of oil fields in Iraq - and a list of companies who wanted access to them. The conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed suit to try to find out who attended the meetings and what was discussed, but the White House fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the press and public from learning the whole truth.

Think about it. These secret meetings took place six months before 9/11, two years before Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq. We still don't know what they were about. What we know is that this is the oil industry that's enjoying swollen profits these days. It would be laughable if it weren't so painful to remember that their erstwhile cheerleader for invading Iraq - the press mogul Rupert Murdoch - once said that a successful war there would bring us $20-a-barrel oil. The last time we looked, it was more than $140 a barrel. Where are you, Rupert, when the facts need checking and the predictions are revisited?
I wish John Dos Passos's anarchist sympathies hadn't hardened into anti-Communism. More importantly, I wish he weren't dead, since the time is ripe for an update of The Big Money. I know, I know: Rush already performed that service. As fondly as I recall my teenage devotion to Neil Peart, though, I think a more extensive and timely postmodernization is in order.