What does Vladimir Putin want? The question is the obsession of just about every reporter, pundit and politician in the west right now. Virtually none of their answers should be considered reliable. They are spun from the same stuff as the worst Cold War paranoia. And make no mistake, the invasion of Ukraine is the definitive shot across the bow, notifying the world that we have entered the New Cold War.
Seventy-eight thousand. That’s roughly the number of names that cover the inside walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in the Josefov section of Prague. Each name is perhaps an inch tall, its calligraphy unadorned and neat, grouped first by town or region, then alphabetically. These are, it is stated upon entering, the names of all Bohemian and Moravian Jews killed during the Shoah.
Of all the memorable scenes in Boots Riley’s enchantingly bizarre Sorry to Bother You, the most politically salient is when union organizer Squeeze (Steven Yeun) tells the fuming, disillusioned Cash (Lakeith Stanfield) why simple awareness isn’t enough. To truly puncture the veneer of spectacular (mis-)information, you need to cut off its ability to reproduce itself. “If you get shown a problem, but have no idea how to control it,” he says, “then you just decide to get used to the problem.”
With a disoriented far-right having made its exodus off the most popular social media, we have now entered the historical moment of the Twitter Liberal. They existed before of course, and for some time. Always some of the most insipid and annoying people you would find on that abominable site, the Biden administration has ushered in their heyday. Because if anyone is in need of a platform through which one can transmit the feeblest ideological excuse-making, a site for kind of “I can’t believe anyone actually thinks this” bullshitcraft that through its sheer volume can act like a shield for the powerful, it’s liberals.
How much more is there to say about Texas? Words aren't really up to the task. It’s not just that people have died, either freezing to death or resorting to deadly means to keep themselves warm. It’s not just the flagrant greed and negligence leading to events which otherwise would have been entirely avoidable.
It would appear that Joe Biden will have his honeymoon period after all. I’ll confess, I was ready for it to be vanishingly small, largely because Trump and his millions of minions were on the offensive, however increasingly embattled they felt. Now in the aftermath of January 6th they’ve scattered, in some cases turning on each other and Trump. They’ll be back, and sooner than we might think, but for now they are frustrated and chastened, unable to build on their success. Trump is, compared to even a month ago, isolated. His staunchest supporters in Congress are starting to get a sense of what they’re up against, relying on increasingly performative batshit to keep themselves in the headlines.
I always wanted Ariel Pink’s music to do more for me. The initial allure was mostly there but ultimately I never found he was able to do much with it. His best albums never left me more than lukewarm. I’m not just saying that because he’s now being (reasonably) treated as persona non-grata since he and John Maus were spotted at last week’s putsch, or because of his pathetic interview on Tucker Carlson. Pink has had credible allegations of abuse swirling around him for years, and he’s never really bothered refuting his scummy statements on race and gender. It hasn’t been easy to take him seriously for a while now.
We have become numb. Safe little phrases like “pandemic fatigue” don’t begin to cover it. Headlines about spiking death tolls and overwhelmed hospitals, new strains and nations cut off from the world interchange in our minds with news of friends and family sick or dead. The pain of intimate loss and the horror of the grand tragic-historical fill in for one another.
If the headlines are to be believed then a new relief bill is going to be passed any day now. Millions of people who have been tossed into poverty since the expiration of the CARES Act five goddamned months ago are going to finally be tossed a paltry lifeline. Whether it’s enough to lift them back out of poverty is an open question, given that the direct relief for working people – $600 stimulus checks, and an added $300 in weekly unemployment benefit supplement payments – is about half what it was back in the spring and summer.
Entering Donald Trump’s world felt like entering into a bad fiction. For me the feeling was amplified given that news of the elections reached me, in real time, high above the planet’s surface. Months before the 2016 elections I had booked a flight from Chicago (where I lived at the time) to London (where I was speaking at a conference) on election day. Like most people I was under the foolish impression that this puffed up billionaire reality star didn’t stand a chance.