January 2017
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Rags and Bones meta-entry

I don't think I have ever explained that the name of this column was borrowed from Yeats' gorgeous poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion", which ends, "Now that my ladder's gone/ I must lie down where all the ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart". I have carried those lines in memory forty years or so. Only as I wrote them down just now did I realize I have always been troubled by "foul" and wish he had said "old" or "bare" instead (since he needed the syllable for the meter).

My ladder is gone: it was the Enlightenment, by which I mean tolerance, diversity, equality and the freedom of speech.


The Palestinians call their annual day of mourning "Nakba", the "day of the catastrophe". I think last election day will be remembered as our own day of disaster. I am looking at my list of possible items for this column and wondering what is the point, now and for a long time to come, of writing about anything that is trivial, that does not somehow relate to the Catastrophe.

The immigration order

The impact of the immigration order can be summed up in a few words: Doctor at Cleveland Clinic deported to Sudan. She had a green card and a job healing Americans, but happened to be out of the country when the order issued. Everyone's natural reaction was that the whole thing was handled with gross negligence--they couldn't really have intended to fuck with green card holders, could they? But it appears that the answer is that Steve Bannon did want to fuck with them. Welcome to Year Zero of the Catastrophe.


In the midst of all of the concern about fake news, which I share, let's not forget the degree to which the Google and Facebook click-based economies made libel lucrative. From that viewpoint, as a significant element of the Catastrophe, capitalism has seen fit to end freedom of speech, and Justice Brandeis' view that the cure for bad speech is "more speech" has been proven resoundingly wrong.


At a pre-Catastrophe press conference last March, so long ago it could truly be said to have happened in the last world, Trump was asked about KKK impresario David Duke's support, and responded "I disavow". A subject and verb with no object, leading one reporter to tweet: "Notice that he kept saying 'I disavow' over and over again, but never said 'I disavow David Duke' or 'Disavow white supremacist groups'". Although this whole line of thought is becoming increasingly quaint given developments like the immigration order and (the same day) the Holocaust memorial statement not mentioning Jews, I am still reflecting how when Trump really wants to reject something, he doesn't use lifeless sentences like "I disavow" but instead vivid formulations like this morning's Tweet, "Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!" And that is a relatively mild example of what he could say about Duke, or anti-semitism, or the alt right, if he had any desire. Trump never disavowed shit.

Mike Pompeo and the Rapture

Pompeo, who will run the CIA, has said politics is a never-ending struggle . . . until the rapture. The rapture, if you need a reminder, is the fundamentalist Christian belief that at the End of Days "we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them [the Christian dead] to meet our Lord in the air" while the infidels (we Jews, Muslims, atheists et al) will on that day be "cast into the lake of fire". (I plan to name my Ramones cover band "Lake of Fire".) Some American evangelicals belive, according to an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, that the interpretation of a typically obscure prophecy in Revelations means that a final battle in Zion is a prerequisite to the Rapture. "At the end of days, after the final battle between good and evil on the plains of Megiddo in northern Israel... the Jews will either see the light and accept Jesus Christ, or die".

So we finally have involved in national security and nuclear considerations people who believe that war and destruction in the middle east are a good thing (not to mention that lake of fire).

Putin and the Left

I wrote a letter to Glenn Greenwald, which he never answered, telling him that the covering fire he is laying down for Vladimir Putin, who kills journalists and dissidents, has cost him my trust (not that he cares). There has been a lot of attention recently to the weird partnership between the extremist right, which used to hate Russians, and New Populist Strong Man Putin. Less coverage has been given to the signs that Putin has his tentacles into the left as well, like the progressive, pacifist client who told me recently that the people of the Crimea are Russian-speaking and welcomed the invasion. I feel like I am starting to meet Putin around every corner.

Migration and causation

I think I have said this here before, but the worldwide refugee problem is not simply a random act of God any more than global climate change. Its a direct product of world-wide flows of capital and troops, and in some cases, like the Syrian crisis, is traceable across very short periods of time and sequence of events directly to American military decisions. So the decision to accept migrants was a compassionate one which could in no way substitute for ending the causes that drive refugees from home. Barring them from our country just states that they are things, mere objects of sadistic impulses, whose role on earth is to be chopped up and killed.

Ethical Spectacle of the Month

The most compelling ethical spectacle of January is the proposed North Dakota law which immunizes people running over protesters in roadways. Seriously.

The retro Internet

In the 1980's, tempted to buy a pair of designer jeans, I thought about it for five years or so, until the question answered itself. With each new wave of Internet technology, I find myself similarly troubled by whether I need an RSS feed, a comments section, a Twitter account, etc., and then I think about it for five years. Now, at last, since the Catastrophe, I have the answer: my technological backwardsness is not a bug, but a feature! I am thriving on the retro Internet, the 1995 net which was still diverse, democratic and resistant to trolls! I owe myself a pat on the back.