December 31, 2018

Manic songs of early 2010s find new interest as audiences tire of vulnerable phase

Over the past couple weeks, I've noticed a burst of songs from the early 2010s on the adult top 40 station I listen to, as well as in the retail places I frequent.

It's rare to hear these at all nowadays -- typically I've heard a few per month, and now it's more like several per day. In fact, it's been rare to even hear songs from 2016 or '15, let alone from 2010-'14.

They're from the manic phase, and stand out in stark contrast to the sentimental emo music of the current vulnerable phase. The radio programmers are clearly trying to offer something quite different tonally to the listeners, though without having to go back so far that it sounds retro / oldies.

You're all moped out from the five-millionth play of "Girls Like You" or "In My Blood"? OK, we're taking the hint -- how about we liven things up every hour with a surprise like "I Knew You Were Trouble" or "Roar"?

I'm even hearing a few songs from the late 2000s, the restless warm-up phase that hinted at the manic phase to come ("Wake Up Call" and "Bad Romance").

But nothing from the previous vulnerable phase of the early 2000s -- that would just be another variety of soft mellow music like today's.

At first I thought maybe it was a seasonal change to coincide with New Year's Eve -- a nostalgic look back at the hit songs of years past. But they didn't do that in previous years for the holiday. And again, they're avoiding going back into the early 2000s.

I think people are simply feeling exhausted of feeling exhausted, and that the vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle is coming to a close. We're in the part of the refractory period where it's just about to return to baseline, and that 2019 will be the last of the 5-year phase, right on schedule. Radio marketers are desperate to keep their finger on the pulse of fickle listeners, and they're responding to this subtle change in attitude by dialing down the emo-tude of their playlists.

This does not mean we're about to enter another manic phase, or a full-blown revival of earlier manic phases. They're only playing a handful of these songs per listening session, but it's still a major change from the past year or so. It's more like we're winding down the vulnerable phase, and will enter the next restless warm-up phase around 2020. The next manic phase won't hit until around 2025.

Reflecting on the previous revival of manic-phase music, there was an explosion of '80s music -- meaning, primarily early '80s new wave / synth-pop music -- in the late 2000s. Hardly at all during the early 2000s. By the restless warm-up phase, people were trying to get back into the swing of things, and returned to something familiar that they knew would get them excited and pumped up. They didn't know what the next manic phase would sound like, but returning to the '80s would at least prepare them for it. And the soaring popularity of '80s night made sure that their bodies would be in the habit of dancing for whenever the next manic phase erupted.

They did not return to the most recent manic phase -- the late '90s -- probably because it was not so intense of a manic phase, compared to the others. During the upcoming warm-up phase, I expect they'll get warmed up with the familiar manic phases of the early 2010s, or all the way back to the early '80s again -- linking that music with its revival period more recently, not the original context (when they weren't even born).

Although Millennials will be poised to get nostalgic for the late '90s, it was just way too weak to serve as a stimulant, when the early '80s and early 2010s are readily available. And Gen Z-ers will form a big chunk of the audience, not just Millennials as they've been used to so far. And I don't see Gen Z giving much of a shit about the late '90s, which they barely remember if at all. They'll go back to the early 2010s when they're mining the past for manic stimulants to get them back on their feet during the warm-up phase.

December 21, 2018

Putting purportedly anti-neocon news in perspective (Reminder: psycho Gaffney will replace Mattis)

On its face, the news about Trump planning to withdraw US forces from Syria, and thousands from Afghanistan, appears to be a welcome change. But given the track record of disappointment on foreign policy from the Trump admin, let's put these announcements in perspective.

First, they have not happened yet -- the last time Trump said he wanted to pull the US out of Syria, the Pentagon's jihadist allies staged a fake chemical attack, and the military bombed Syria again. And the last time Trump threatened to withdraw Americans from Afghanistan, the Pentagon made him read a neocon speech in primetime, followed by sending thousands of Americans more back into Afghanistan.

Second, assuming these changes do happen, they do not represent fulfilling a campaign promise -- i.e., fixing a problem that existed before he came into office, and that he was elected in order to fix. Although the CIA was happy to use the jihadist militias as their proxy against the secular Syrian government, we did not have thousands of American boots on the ground, occupying a third of the Syrian land mass, until the Trump admin.

If all that happens is that these forces are withdrawn, it would represent a return to the status quo ante Trump. That's better than continuing to keep them there, but not a bold reversal of an existing policy -- that would require no interference in Syria at all, boots-on-the-ground or otherwise, or switching sides to help out Assad against the jihadists.

The same goes for Afghanistan. After Trump's threat to withdraw troops in August 2017, the Pentagon punished him by sending "about 4,000" Americans back into the country, in addition to the "roughly 8,500" who were already there. Now the reports refer to "more than 14,000" Americans in Afghanistan, meaning the Pentagon last year sent at least 5,500, not 4,000, and likely more.

So, if Trump forces a withdrawal of 7,000 now, for all we know that's just the same number that were sent last year -- again, more of a return to the status quo ante Trump. A true reversal would be to announce that we're withdrawing all Americans from Afghanistan, with only the pace left to be sorted out.

Contrast these two changes with the one real foreign policy change that Trump has achieved so far -- holding the summit with "Chairman Kim," reversing not just every Reagan-era president, but those of the previous New Deal era as well. Nothing further has developed from that summit, but the meeting itself was a big ice-breaking deal, and not to be minimized. When the non-militarist Bernie realignment takes over in 2025, the path toward full withdrawal from Korea will have already been paved by the Trump-Kim summit.

In related news, General Mattis has resigned, confirming a major part of the blind item discussed in this post a couple months ago. Blind Gossip's inside WH source says that throughout October, John Bolton had been scheming to replace Mattis with neocon fellow traveler and Iran hardliner psycho Frank Gaffney, with the president's blessing.

I noted how dark that news was, portending some major action against Iran after the new Congress is sworn in. I reminded people that it's way too premature to declare "At least Trump isn't as bad as George W. Bush because there's no Iraq War". That war did not begin until that president's third year, after the mid-terms, just as his father's Gulf War did not begin until the admin's third year, after the mid-terms. At this point in the admin, we are simply not in a position to judge how war-mongering it will wind up -- even the Bushes waited until year 3.

The spin that Mattis has given, and most are accepting, is that his resignation has to do with Trump's sudden decision to pull troops out of Syria. But this resignation has been in the making for months, and has nothing to do with that. It is just a convenient excuse instead of resigning for apparently no reason. Therefore, Mattis' resignation cannot be interpreted as a loss for the neocons, i.e. "The guy who wanted to stay in Syria just got booted from the WH". It's really, "the guy who couldn't get along with Trump any longer" has left, with an apparently much more neocon war-monger ready to take his place.

For all we know, the ascendant neocons like Bolton and Gaffney will cut their losses in Syria in order to focus all the more single-mindedly on Iran.

And notice: Trump did not say Assad was not an enemy, that Syria is neutral or friendly toward the American people, etc. He framed Syria, Iran, and Russia as our enemies, and claimed that by fighting ISIS, who in turn are fighting Syria-Iran-Russia, we were only helping our enemies. On the campaign trail, Trump said all the secular strongmen were perhaps "bad guys" but were far preferable to the only alternative, the radical Islamic terrorists. Hussein, Assad, Qaddafi -- it was either them, or Medieval psychos who drown people in steel cages. So he has not even returned to his campaign-trail rhetoric and framing of those leaders and their governments, and remains committed to the neocon view of them.

Nor has he criticized Saudi Arabia for its support and participation in radical Islamic terrorism, like he did on the campaign trail and for years in the conservative media before that. Now he's as buddy-buddy as you can get with the jihadists of that nation, with Jared serving as MBS' butt boy.

He has not criticized our support for Israel, but then that is consistent with his longstanding agreement on that policy. The point is, his stance on Israel is also fully status quo.

Unwavering, ever-expanding support for the jihadists and the Zionists, and unquestioning antagonism toward Iran, is not a reversal of longstanding US policy in the Middle East. If Trump is truly throwing off the shackles of the neocons, is he about to re-commit to the Iran nuclear deal? That would be one of the easiest things to do, since it would not require a whole new plan, but simply signing back onto an existing agreement of the previous admin. Is he going to fire Bolton and replace him with Rand Paul?

I know people want a reason to celebrate, but we've been down this road too many times during the Trump admin. Even if he withdraws the numbers stated from Syria and Afghanistan, that is only correcting his own admin's mistakes, not delivering on a campaign promise to fix the state of affairs of the Obama-or-earlier period. And nothing suggests a re-orientation of policy away from the jihadists and Zionists, or away from their main target, Iran.

When Gaffney replaces Mattis, our foreign policy in the Middle East will get far more disastrous, and we should be prepared for that now, so we don't get blind-sided by it after assuming that removing troops from Syria, and removing the new troops from Afghanistan, means the neocons are on the way out. It may just mean they're consolidating their efforts for one last Hail-Mary plan against Iran, before the Bernie realignment forecloses on that possibility for the next half-century.

December 9, 2018

Intimate soulful ballads during vulnerable phase of 15-year cultural excitement cycle

As a sign of how much the pop music cycle has mellowed out since the manic phase of the early 2010s, the hit songs of 2018 have brought back the ballad as a popular genre. They haven't been this slow and sentimental since the emo early 2000s, or the power ballad era of the late '80s, the soul ballads of the early '70s, or the weepy strings-section sound of the late '50s.

These 5-year periods are all instances of the vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, crashing into a refractory state after the excitement and climax of the manic phase, and before they feel comfortable enough to come out of their shell during the restless warm-up phase.

It's not just the depleted energy levels that lead audiences and performers alike toward the ballad during their refractory state. It's also the shrinking social space -- the manic phase also has soulful songs, but they are more exhibitionistic, which assumes performing before a crowd of (friendly) strangers. Once that social energy has been spent, the socially exhausted population feels more like retreating into a private space and interacting with at most the kind of people you'd meet within the home setting.

For romantic songs, that means a single person who you're devoted to and want to spend the rest of all time with -- preferably within that same isolated home setting, since widespread social stimulation is painful during this refractory state. The atmosphere is more intimate and cozy, rather than thrillingly novel as it is during the manic phase when everyone feels invincible.

Rather than list every one of the ballads over the rise-and-fall of their popularity (you can flip through the Billboard Year-End charts at the second link in this post for that), I'll just pick what stands out as the most representative of the trend during each of the vulnerable periods.

"Perfect" by Ed Sheeran (2017)

His earlier hit ballad "Thinking Out Loud" straddled the line between the manic and vulnerable phases, recorded in 2014 and soaring in popularity during '15. A few years further into the refractory state, he was better able to channel the cozy-intimate zeitgeist.

"Your Body Is a Wonderland" by John Mayer (2002)

The early 2000s is the least soulful of these vulnerable periods, but still slow, mellow, and intimate. Outside of romantic songs, there was another more soulful-sounding ballad hit -- "Drift Away" by Uncle Kracker in 2003, itself a cover whose original recording came from an earlier vulnerable phase, by Dobie Gray in 1973.

"Lady in Red" by Chris De Burgh (1987)

Most ballads from this phase were "power" -- guitar solo affairs -- which does testify to how popular the ballad is during a vulnerable phase, that even the rock gods du jour have to perform them. But it also makes them sound less ballad-y. The dream-like, ethereal, slow funk of this song fits in better with the others across pop music history.

"Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye (1973)

The proper contrast here is not with his hits from the previous manic phase, such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" from 1967, but with his big hit from the following manic phase, "Sexual Healing" from 1982. The soulful ballad from '73 is more familiar with the woman he's addressing, whereas the one from '82 sounds more like he's addressing any ol' woman who he's currently got the hots for, drawn from a broader social space, rather than the one he's devoted to. "Let's Get It On" is about intimacy, whereas "Sexual Healing" makes declarative statements of sex-positive "ideology". (Recall that sex-positive feminism peaks during the manic phase.)

And typical of manic-phase music, "Sexual Healing" has more musical phrase development, teasing with a slow intro and building gradually toward a dramatic climax, while "Let's Get It On" gets right to the mood and stays there for the whole song. Climaxing is not possible during a refractory state.

"Unchained Melody" by Les Baxter (1955)

This song was recorded and charted highly by multiple performers in 1955-'56, the version above is simply the highest-ranking one on the year-end charts. It's a good reminder for people unfamiliar with pre-'60s music of how closely the late '50s tone veered toward mawkish, weepy, pining, and dejected. For a version that has the full lyrics, and sounds closest to the version you're most familiar with, try this one by Roy Hamilton.

The most well remembered recording was from a decade later, in 1965 by the Righteous Brothers. Springing from the manic phase of the late '60s, that version is much higher in energy and comes off as more exhibitionistic than the originals. An emotional delivery that is so over-the-top does not suggest a cozy-intimate setting and an audience of one who you're already familiar with. It suggests a performance before a crowd of (friendly) strangers, where the focus is more on baring one's own soul. It's not for narcissistic aims, but to cheerlead the audience into feeling the same way, and getting a massive crowd pumped up and resonating on the same emotional wavelength. Still, it is decidedly not an intimate atmosphere, but a crowd-pleasing one.

With so many ballads filling out the 2018 chart, it feels like the genre's revival is done. We're nearly in 2019, which is similar in the cycle to 2004, 1989, 1974, and 1959, by which time the unrelenting mellow-ness was beginning to get old. You can't stay vulnerable forever. Just one more year of (decelerating) vulnerability, and then it's back into the restless warm-up phase again.

It would be interesting to see if any of these ballads from the late 2010s get covered during the next manic phase of the late 2020s, a la "Unchained Melody". I'd guess "Girls Like You," which is weepier and lower-energy than the other big ballads of 2017-'18, and offers the most room for changing it to fit a different zeitgeist in the future. Perhaps even by the same band -- just think of how different it would've sounded if recorded by the manic-phase Maroon 5 of 2013.

December 3, 2018

Soak-the-rich Right revolts in France at end of neoliberal era, as 50-year cycle of political violence also returns

First, some necessary background and context on the French riots from Peter Turchin, whose historical data analysis has shown 50-year cycles in collective political violence -- more organized than individual violence, or crime, but less organized than states warring against each other. The last peak was around 1970, and 1920 before that, and 1870 before that. That means we're due for another peak around 2020, and the view from France certainly looks like we're on schedule.

While the immediate trigger was a rise in the regressive diesel tax on ordinary consumers, the revolt stems from a much deeper anger against the entire neoliberal framework of the past 35 years. From a Bloomberg report on the Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes), their demands are populist rather than libertarian or elitist:

The movement’s demands have expanded from rolling back the gasoline taxes to higher pensions, an increase in the minimum wage, a repeal of certain other taxes, the restoration of a wealth tax, a law fixing a maximum salary, cutting politicians’ salaries, and replacing Macron and the National Assembly with a “People’s Assembly.” While political parties have tried to show their support for the movement, the Yellow Vests have rejected any political link.

One of Macron's first actions in office was to dramatically slash the wealth tax on high-net-worth owners, in response to the exodus of financial elites from Paris to London in search of a lower tax burden, and to implement a flat tax on capital gains, also to placate the parasitic financial elites. As usual, the business press had the real news right away (e.g., this report from FT).

Macron gave the usual trickle-down logic to justify these tax cuts on the wealthy, and as always they failed to benefit the middle or lower classes, and only padded the ill-gotten gains of the elite class. No wonder his approval rating sits in the 20s now.

In the model of regime dynamics by Stephen Skowronek, Macron is clearly a disjunctive leader presiding over the end of an era for his dominant coalition. In his case, it is the finance-backed Socialist party that ushered in the neoliberal era in 1981. Like other Mediterranean nations, the neoliberal era in France has been dominated by the relatively more Left of the two major coalitions -- Mitterrand in France, Craxi in Italy, Gonzalez Marquez in Spain, Soares in Portugal, and Papandreou in Greece.

That pattern contrasts with the Anglo nations, whose nearly identical era of neoliberalism has been dominated by the relatively more Right of the two major coalitions -- Reagan in America, Thatcher in Britain, and Mulroney in Canada. (Australia is an exception, perhaps being too far outside the Atlantic sphere of influence: their neolib era has been dominated by the Left party beginning with Hawke.)

Historical regimes usually turn over by the sclerotic old dominant coalition becoming dethroned into opposition status, while the old opposition realigns itself to attain dominant status. And indeed, the egalitarian Midcentury was presided over by the opposite pattern of the neoliberal era -- the Med nations were governed by the relatively more Right party, and the Anglo-Atlantic nations by the more Left party.

That suggests that the nascent realignment out of the neoliberal era will come from the Right in the Med (and Straya), but from the Left in the Anglo-Atlantic. It's clear that left-wingers Bernie and Corbyn will realign the US and the UK during the 2020s, and the first Med nation has already begun realignment under right-winger Salvini in Italy.

With the current breakdown of order in France against the hated disjunctive Socialist Macron, it seems clear that the post-neoliberal era will be led by France's version of Salvini. As in Italy, the Right in France will have to realign itself in a nationalist populist direction, just as Salvini's party had to realign itself away from regional cultural separatism that would have favored the wealthy north. For most of the neoliberal era, it was Lega Nord ("League of the North"), then to attain real national power it recently dropped the regional separatism to become simply "La Lega" ("The League"), agreeing to a wealth transfer from Northerners to poorer Southerners via the "citizen's income" -- not the "Northerner's income".

Whether it's one of the Le Pen's under a rebranded Front National, or a fellow traveler, the populist Right in France will also have to shed its escapist and separatist fantasies of its earlier years, and promise prosperity for all of France, if it wants to seize national power and hold onto it as a dominant coalition instead of the occasional minority pressure group.

The right-wing character of the French realignment will be revealed once the revolts turn to the migrant question, and join Italy in curbing immigration.

I don't think either side of the Mediterranean-Atlantic divide will close the borders, though, during the post-neoliberal era. They resemble each other at the big-picture level -- including the Anglo-Atlantic nations whose egalitarian Midcentury featured the same closed borders as the Med, even though it was the relatively more Left party in control of the US and UK.

Likewise, the Bernie realignment shows little chance of restricting migration, suggesting that we are not going back to the closed-borders New Deal era, but rather to a new Lincolnian Gilded Age with Ellis Island-era open borders. An earlier post here from August detailed how the Bernie realignment will resemble the Lincoln era of robber barons, open borders, and soaring inequality, rather than the New Deal, on the analogy that the Reagan era has been a revival of the Jacksonian era, and that their successor regimes will be similar as well, taking place during the same phase of a long-term cycle.

Even the far-Left socialists are starting to become aware of how non-socialist the Bernie realignment will turn out to be. From a recent article in Jacobin:

Today’s Democratic Party, to their credit, appears far more committed to preserving civil rights than the late-nineteenth-century Republicans. But as the party consolidates its strength around the wealthy suburbs, the dangers of a Gilded Age–style class division persist. A political coalition led by affluent metropolitans, armed with pietistic certainty about their moral cause, but almost physically allergic to huge chunks of the working-class population: this was the Republican Party of 1884. It does not offer us a roadmap to the future.

If Bernie and Corbyn don't restrict immigration, then their counterparts in the Med probably will not either, despite being from the relatively more conservative side.

Even if immigration does not meaningfully decrease, and even if inequality continues to widen, at the very least we should expect a massive decline in militarism. That was the one silver lining of the robber baron-led fin-de-siecle. Both the Bernie-Corbyn Left and the Salvini-Le Pen Right want to wind down the West's over-extension in so many pointless wasteful military occupations all over the world. Hopefully they can start with putting an end to NATO.

Much further down the cycle, we will see this absence of militarism explode suddenly a la World War I, probably coinciding with another peak in the 50-year cycle of riot-level violence. That will usher in the next phase of egalitarianism, which most of us will probably not live to enjoy, but may at least see the beginnings of.

November 21, 2018

Academic Left more populist than media Left: Immigration edition

A decent article by Angela Nagle on the Left case against open borders has sadly but predictably infuriated many on the Left, from generic liberals to revolutionary socialists, who value internationalism over all else. And in practice, internationalism of sentiment rather than action -- emoting one's values in order to compete against other Leftists over whose moral empathy circle has the greatest radius, as they see it. ("I empathize with anything that casts a shadow.")

As a normie would see it: whose finite amount of empathetic energy is the most diluted across individuals and groups, the most abstract due to the utter unfamiliarity of the targets, and therefore the most unlikely to push them into concrete action on behalf of the recipients of their airy-fairy, one-part-per-billion empathy.

The factual and historical debate is boring, since the pattern is robust in supporting "closed borders for populism," in accordance with the fundamental relationship between price and supply (here, of labor). I'll weigh in on that in an appendix at the end of this post, but the main thing that bears investigation is who on the Left is sympathetic to the closed-borders view? That will help to clarify the nature of the problem and how to solve it.

It is not ideology that makes some Leftists lean toward reducing immigration in order to improve the lot of the working class. Lib, prog, rev -- just about all have their open-borders and their closed-borders flavors. Ideology is mostly a post-hoc rationalization anyways, rather than a first set of principles that lead people inexorably toward certain conclusions. A rationalization can "support" one policy as well as its polar opposite (i.e., make the proponents feel good, by reducing cognitive dissonance).

It's not a split in basic demographics either -- black as well as white activists call for closing the borders, men as well as women, under-40 as well as over-40, and so on and so forth.

The major factor that I noticed while clicking around on a bunch of the Twitter reactions to the Nagle article, was whether the Leftist was supported more by a gig in academia or in the media / entertainment sector. Academic Leftists were far more represented among those saying we need to at least take a cold hard look at how mass immigration affects working-class living standards, organizing prospects, socialist prospects, etc. Among those going further, to say we already know a globalized labor supply is bad for labor, they were virtually all connected to academia.

Those who simply freaked out and decried the article, whether they bothered reading it or not, were far more likely to be from the media / entertainment sector. That includes those with actual paying gigs, as well as those whose "job" is to just react on social media all day long, as a kind of unpaid grunt in the Left propaganda micro-industry.

It's tempting to chalk these differences up to personality -- academia attracting those with a more rational mind, while propagandists ("writers") compete over who can shout the loudest in order to get heard, and entertainers compete over who can please their crowd the most emotionally.

But I think it has more to do with the conditions of their work that make them more likely or less likely to take a more dispassionate look at things, and to make appeals to a broader audience.

In the media and entertainment sector, the audience comes first, and the customer is always right. The writers and performers must either tell them what they want to hear, and make them feel what they want to feel, or the crowd will simply take their attention and/or business elsewhere. Especially in this digital era with its micro-mini-genres and sub-sub-sub-cultures, this selects for the most kneejerk reactions from "content producers". If you've taken even a second to think about it, the audience has already moved onto someplace else -- or already begun to question your true commitments to the purity of the cause.

In academia, it's the other way around: the students have to show up whether they like what they're going to hear or not. That does select for lecturers who ramble on dryly and tediously, since the captive audience has nowhere else to run to. But they are at least trying to get a point across to a general audience, and one that has little pre-existing motivation to believe what they're being told. They need convincing, or they're just going to tune the lecturer out. And that does sting to the teachers, few of whom are imperious drones, and most of whom are sensitive to the palpable loss of attention or outright rejection in real time from their audience.

"Ivory tower" refers to the cloistered nature of the social relations among the academics themselves, not to their interactions with their everyday audience in the lecture halls, who are far more neutral or hostile toward the speaker.

As a conjecture, I'd expect amateur stand-up comics to cluster with the academics, both of whom could easily bomb in front of an audience that is not already devoted to resonating with the performance, unlike the writers and crowd-pleasers who serve a predetermined niche.

Then there is the actual organizing that goes on in either of the two workplace sites -- a fair amount on campuses, and virtually none in a TV studio, digital content cubicle farm, or tech startup playroom. And there are people on campus who get paid to figure things out, as opposed to the media / entertainment sector where people are paid to gate-keep information or emotionally please a crowd. The knowledge and practice that academics get just through osmosis is going to be of a higher quality.

There's also the conformity pressures coming from either workplace. It's very difficult to get kicked out of academia for one's views, or even organizing actions, since there is a higher degree of collective bargaining and a less-than-all-powerful adversary in the administration building. It's trivial for some media boss to fire someone, since the entire sector is dominated by five mega-corporations. And in a workplace more connected to concentrated wealth and power, you're more likely to be surrounded by people with neoliberal views and goals, and to be more influenced by those social pressures.

"The campus Left" has come to refer to the SJW airheads who do indeed take up most of the oxygen on campuses these days, but as the Millennials and Gen Z-ers grow more anxious about their student loan debt than what pronouns to use referring to trannies, they're going to go more in the Bernie direction. The main task, then, is to make sure they have concrete activities they can plug into, and these will be more favorable toward restricting immigration, compared to languishing in the extremely-online echo chamber.

Having to lead a teach-in, canvass for signatures, or engage pedestrians in conversation -- these activities could not be further from an auto-piloting echo chamber. They will quickly discover that "open borders" does not sell, and that kneejerk shaming tactics always fail -- because they are not part of your social circle, and don't care what you think about them. If they want their organization's membership to explode from tens of thousands to tens of millions, they're going to have to approach immigration with the "Left case against open borders". The media-origin Leftists will harden more and more into merely preaching to the congregation, driving a positive feedback loop of clicks, likes, views, and downloads from fellow travelers.

Here are just a few selections from the academic Left, beginning with a somewhat old article on the dynamics of inequality by Peter Turchin (a Bernie supporter), one of the few academics worth following on a regular basis:

Unless other forces intervene, an overabundance of labour will tend to drive down its price, which naturally means that workers and their families have less to live on. One of the most important forces affecting the labour supply in the US has been immigration, and it turns out that immigration, as measured by the proportion of the population who were born abroad, has changed in a cyclical manner just like inequality. In fact, the periods of high immigration coincided with the periods of stagnating wages. The Great Compression, meanwhile, unfolded under a low-immigration regime.

Elsewhere he details other dynamics that affect the supply of labor, such as baby booms -- cursing our economies with the hyper-competitive Boomers -- as well as migration from non-urban to urban centers, swelling local labor markets. But immigration is a no-brainer when it comes to identifying causes of an increasing labor supply -- and on a practical level, the easiest one to change.

The two hosts of the Dead Pundits Society podcast, which is libertarian socialist, or anarchosyndicalist, but open to interacting with all sorts of others:

Some random grad student in their Twitter orbit:

That's where my political views and activities began in the early 2000s, and they haven't changed that much since. The only major difference is that I was open to amnesty for illegals already here (not increased immigration, though), whereas now I'd rather they go back for the benefit of their own country and ours.

Unlike the extremely online media junkies, I actually led discussions at teach-ins, where at least some new folks got clued in to anti-globalist economics or what our military is up to in the Middle East. In everyday conversation with the janitor at my dorm, I managed to sneak him a copy of Chomsky's book on US-Israel relations to counter-act whatever he'd seen the night before on the news -- and he came back the next week saying he had no idea Israel had been treating the Palestinians so badly, and upset that we were supporting them in it.

I got on a 19-hour van ride down to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA -- twice -- to protest our support for the paramilitary death squads in Latin America. Got on a bus up to Quebec City to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas -- the would-be NAFTA for the entire Western hemisphere. Walked a few picket lines in solidarity, although none under active scab assault. There were millions of us protesting the Iraq War before it even started, and I got in even earlier, before September 11th, when it was only the sanctions against Iraq (killing hundreds of thousands for no reason).

Some of these things had bigger pay-offs than others, but at least it was something. And it's not just that it was before social media -- there were any number of online forums, newsgroups, email chains, etc., that I could have wasted my time on. Not to mention passively plugging into the Daily Show, Keith Olbermann, or some other media content delivery vehicle. I never watched any of that garbage -- not even occasionally as a guilty pleasure. It's tasteless as well as pointless.

At the time I saw my future more in the academic than media direction, so that distinction showed up and had its effects early on.

Let's wrap things up with a concrete prediction: if the gang at Chapo Trap House tackle this topic, I'll bet the academics Matt and Amber will have a better take, factually and strategically, compared to the mediaites Will and Virgil (who's already snarkily rejected the topic). I have no intuition about how Felix's Twitch-streaming gamer audience shapes his politics -- is that more of giving the crowd what they want, or having to win over an initially neutral/hostile audience?

Final props to Michael Tracey, one of the few Leftists from a media background who is sympathetic to restricting immigration on class grounds:


The laissez-faire immigration of the Ellis Island era brought us Gilded Age inequality, then during the Progressive Era immigration peaked and inequality began narrowing starting in the 1910s, continuing throughout the New Deal era before inverting during the neoliberal era, with thrown-open borders and widening inequality.

Standards of living for the bottom have stagnated and declined, while they have shot up for those at the top, as the elites have been better able to extract obscene concessions from the working class, now that it is effectively a global meta-population of low-skilled workers forced to compete against one another.

And wages are only the tip of the iceberg -- good Leftists ought to be concerned with wages only as part of the broader picture of the standard of living, dignity, and workplace democracy. When an American worker is forced to compete against 50 million new immigrants, they not only see stagnating or falling wages, they can kiss dignified working conditions good-bye. Some desperate peasant from Honduras is willing to not only work for $2 an hour, but to do so for 12 hours every day, without bathroom breaks, subject to last-minute schedule-shuffling, unpaid overtime, and so on and so forth. Forget raising any objections to the boss, let alone joining a union -- uppity immigrants get deported, leaving only the subservient ones.

It is striking to see a certain section of the Left stick to such a militant denial of basic class analysis of immigration policy. Which class do they think controls the government? On whose behalf do they think the ruling class directs government policy, such as immigration? On what basis do they hijack the government to serve their own interests -- material reasons such as cheap labor, or feel-good cultural reasons like Mexican food prepared by actual Mexicans?

Plainly, immigration policy must serve the material interests of the owners and managers, against those of the workers -- unless somehow the workers have organized and used collective bargaining power to get something from the government that is against the interests of big business. But since no collective of workers has ever used its precious little amount of collective power to open the floodgates of immigration, and only ever done the opposite, they're probably not doing it now either.

Supporting open borders is not just parroting a Koch Brothers talking point, akin to Leftists promoting vegetarianism when Hitler also promoted vegetarianism. That's just some quirky lifestyle thing. Flooding the nation with immigrants serves the objective material interests of the Koch Brothers and other oligarchs who control labor-intensive sectors of the economy, and undercuts the material interests of the working class. Being a vegetarian does not serve the material interests of Hitler and Nazis -- or undercut them, for that matter -- it's totally irrelevant. Open borders, though, is very relevant to whose material interests one is serving.

For the revolutionary among them, they have blocked out the history of actually-achieved socialism, which was "socialism in one country" -- albeit occurring independently in several countries -- rather than an internationally coordinated network of socialist polities or economies. It may make you feel warm and fuzzy to believe you possess a magic wand that will dissolve all of the forces which have made "socialism in one country" the only form that has ever actually been achieved, but it won't get you there.

As for practical solutions for how the Bernie Left can steal the immigration issue from the Trump / Tucker / Bannon Right, and realign the Democrats into the new dominant party, see these earlier posts:

First, raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Outlawing cheap labor will prevent most immigration, which is only approved by the elites for cheap-labor purposes. Those who are still brought in will not be undercutting living wages.

Second, price controls on housing for immigrants, making them dirt cheap. Outlawing slumlords from jacking up rents in response to soaring demand will help to prevent immigration, as realtors no longer lobby for open borders without rent-seeking to be had, while also ensuring that those immigrants who do make it in will not worsen the affordability of housing.

Third, make ICE or its replacement an enforcer against employers who violate these labor laws, not against the immigrants themselves. It will give a more humane face to the efforts to close the borders -- attacking greedy employers and slumlords, not the poor desperate immigrants whom they exploit -- and will be more cost-effective, indirectly sending home dozens of immigrants for every employer and slumlord who is deprived of their cheap labor and jacked-up rents.

November 17, 2018

Alexandria, the anti-fragile

The clueless elites have learned nothing from their bashing of Trump over his most relatable traits, views, and political behaviors. He loves fast food, thinks American companies should buy American and hire American, knocked out a dozen of his party's Establishment candidates during the primaries, and at least way back when, made confrontational moves toward his party's leadership if they did not play ball with his new brand of politics.

These intended attacks on him only made him stronger, because the elites confused themselves for the mass-audience spectators of this political theater, who have the opposite views of the elites. Their individual minds and collective institutions are so abnormally warped that they still cannot weaken him, after nearly two years in office that most of his Independent and cross-over voters regard as a great big let-down. And yet what else is there on that party's side? -- Nikki Haley? Get real.

If the elites had any ability to influence the people, there would have been a "blue wave". The blue trickle that actually resulted ignored the elites' typical attacks on Trump -- his tweets, Mueller-gate, etc. -- and focused more on healthcare and how the tax cuts harmed wealthy suburbanites in blue states.

Now they're turning their failed attacks on one would-be anti-Establishment star to a more promising one on the re-aligning Democrats' side, Ali O-C. Both liberal and conservative elites have completely pissed their pants trying to rag on her for what makes her most relatable to normies, still unaware of how callous and degenerate their own elite class is in comparison.

She live-streams herself making a normie meal of mac-and-cheese, while listening to normie-friendly songs by Janelle Monae. She wears (discount rack) professional clothing while fighting for populism -- remember, "Trump can't be populist because he wears Brioni suits!" Her crazy extremist agenda is seeking a higher standard-of-living for people below the top 1%, including universal healthcare, instead of tax-payers forking over big bucks for Jeff Bezos' helipad at Amazon's new headquarters in her district. And she has stood up to her party's widely loathed zombie leader in that leader's own office, on behalf of a grassroots cause that the leadership takes for granted and ignores (climate change, corruption by energy lobby donors). Why doesn't she think of the damage that could do to getting a cushy committee assignment?!

Normal people distrust nakedly careerist strivers and special-interest agendas, so this entire chorus of elitist sputtering has only made the otherwise disengaged public take a shine to her, or at the least to give her -- and her policies -- the benefit of the doubt.

The generic right-wing objection is "She's not white," but we've seen that one already fail with general audiences against Obama, who was also a normie (if closeted homo) rather than a counter-cultural weirdo.

Right-wingers are also bitter that she represents their loss of the crucial babe support. Women, in particular the attractive ones, are more socially sensitive and easily pressured into conformity. Back when the Reagan revolution was kicking off, an attractive woman would have gone over to the GOP side -- siding with Mondale or Dukakis would have been too great of a social risk to take. The fact that the babes are with Bernie shows which way the mass-audience wind is blowing.

For the GOP to make up the difference, they would have had to run a cutie associated with the Trump 2016 campaign, running on those same anti-Establishment issues, and dethroning an old-guard incumbent. But two years into Trump's administration, Kayleigh McEnany is still a talking head rather than a Congresswoman, and stumps for her party's Establishment as spokeswoman for the RNC. Nor will Hope Hicks run and win for Congress in 2020, or 20-whenever.

Deep down, though, the Right is just upset that their own sclerotic party, at the end of its Reagan-era reign, doesn't have these re-aligning insurgents who will take on the backwards leadership in their own offices. Can you imagine any of the Trumpian groups showing up to protest in Paul Ryan's office, after Election Day of 2016, only to be visited and led by Trump himself? That would have portended successful re-alignment. Instead, none of them showed up, and Trump did not get to publicly have their backs against the widely hated leadership.

Some spin this into a narrative about the "end of white people in America," either explicitly or tacitly, and in either dystopian or utopian terms depending on which side of the political spectrum they're from. But it's really just the end of Reaganism. The end of an entire race gives this turnover of political eras a far more grand and apocalyptic significance than it deserves. At root, the complainers are just upset at no longer belonging to the dominant coalition, and have an emotional need to make this important.

Most of those who voted for Obama twice before Trump will be all on-board with Ali O-C, and the freak-out over her most relatable character traits, agenda items, and political behaviors will only make them trust her more.

November 14, 2018

Playful banter duets for coaxing people out of their shell, in restless warm-up phase of cultural excitement cycle

The last post on sultry anthems focused on their role in the 15-year cultural excitement cycle -- announcing that girls are getting more comfortable coming out of their shell and are willing to engage the opposite sex again.

The feeling is no longer mellow, vulnerable, and withdrawn, as during the previous refractory phase. But it has not yet taken off on another manic spike. It's the restless warm-up phase, where people are transitioning from withdrawn and emo into hyper-social and invincible. They're doing warm-ups and exercises to wake themselves out of their slumber, to prepare for the real auto-pilot activity they will be doing when their energy levels spike soon.

Another aspect of that social mood is practicing flirting with each other, something they'd gotten rusty on during the emo refractory phase. They can be more spontaneous and let their guard down during their manic, invincible phase to come, but for right now, they have to spar with each other just to get back into fighting condition.

During the late 2000s, this manifested in the pickup artist phenomenon, and the accompanying female strategy of endlessly engaging in "witty banter" and shit-testing.

The natural musical form this social dynamic takes is a duet between two people who have just met, and are playfully teasing each other back and forth, usually in a call-and-response fashion. The lyrics are one line of banter after another. The rhythm is danceable, highlighting the mating-dance nature of the social setting.

These features distinguish them from other popular duet forms, such as those between couples who are already in a relationship. Those are either celebratory or melancholy in tone depending on the relationship's trajectory, and slower in tempo and lower in danceability, to suggest a couple simply embracing or looking at each other across the dinner table.

The playful banter duets pop up during each restless warm-up phase, the most recent one being the late 2000s. Several songs have elements of the form ("Hips Don't Lie," "Beep," "My Humps"), but the purest example of back-and-forth banter was already highlighted in the post on sultry anthems.

"Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado & Timbaland (2006):

Before then, the last restless warm-up phase was the early '90s. An honorable mention goes to "Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul, which is sung between an existing long-term couple, but does fit the rest of the criteria. Although not technically a duet since the performer raps both the male and female parts, with studio effects used to make his voice sound like a woman's, the main example from this period has some of the funniest lyrics of any rap song ever recorded, and is notable for the guy never catching a break with the girl.

"I Got a Man" by Positive K (1993):

The next restless warm-up phase before then was the late '70s disco era, although the clearest example of the form comes from a rock-oriented musical.

"You're the One That I Want" by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (1978):

During the early '60s, the next restless warm-up phase back in time, the same duo made two duets that fit the playful banter form. "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" is the lesser, since it's not quite as energetic and suggestive of mating-dance rituals.

"A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)" by Dinah Washington & Brook Benton (1960):

And although I generally don't go back before the 1950s, for lack of a fine-grained intuition about the pre-rock era, the 15-year cycle does predict that we'd find a playful banter duet in the late '40s. Sure enough, it's probably the first one that comes to most people's minds, especially as the winter season approaches. A good theory turns up insights even where they're not expected.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban (1949):

November 10, 2018

Sultry anthems come out of their shell during restless warm-up phase of cultural excitement cycle

While reminiscing about the decadent dance club climate of the late 2000s, I looked through the comments on YouTube videos for some of the major songs, and one phrase that kept showing up was "hoe anthem".

There are entire lists of hoe anthems out there, but they're a bit too broad, including anything where the woman is unapologetically sexual. That misses the tonal differences among them -- some are matter-of-fact, some are self-congratulatory, and others have the singer using her openness to lure in someone.

The ones I remember hearing were from the last category -- dark, sultry, and hypnotic, designed to make a connection between two people. They're not like the others that are bragging, annoying, and meant to get individuals to congratulate themselves.

As part of the restless warm-up phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, the late 2000s had an atmosphere of still being somewhat withdrawn that carried over from the vulnerable emo phase of the early 2000s, yet starting to feel comfortable coming out of one's shell after the refractory period. It was not yet the next upbeat, manic and invincible phase, but people were starting to wake up, get warmed up, and train for the next spike in energy levels.

Boy-girl relations in pop culture were no longer characterized by numbness or brokenheartedness, but that was still in recent memory. These sultry anthems tend to have a minor key and a downer tone, reflecting their ambivalent state -- eager to come out of the withdrawn phase, but still somewhat anxious about it since they have not yet taken off into a hyper-social manic phase. They're not upbeat, carefree, and cheerful like manic-phase music. But they are about two people coming out of their hibernation state, and getting warmed up close together.

They have to be somewhat direct and on-the-nose with their lyrics, since they're trying to wake up someone who's been used to aloofness between the sexes during the vulnerable phase. The female singer has to convince them -- both the male and female listeners -- that that phase is over.

However, the directness of the lyrics does not take the listener out of the mood, since the delivery is sultry and seductive rather than in-your-face and aggressive, and the danceable grooves let the audience lose themselves in the rhythm, so they aren't standing around awkwardly and self-consciously.

First a quick review of some of these from the most recent restless warm-up phase of the late 2000s. These were all big on the charts, though I'm focusing more on those that were also club hits (so, none from the more radio-friendly Pussycat Dolls). Summing up the genre: sultry, dissonant electro-pop.

"Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado (2006):

"Gimme More" by Britney Spears (2007):

"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry (2008):

"LoveGame" by Lady Gaga (2009):

Before then, the last restless warm-up phase was the early '90s. Not quite as danceable as the other similar phases, but still more groovy than what else was on the charts at the time.

"I Touch Myself" by Divinyls (1990):

"Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins (1992):

"If" by Janet Jackson (1993):

Before then, the last such phase was the late '70s -- disco. No need for further comment.

"More, More, More" by Andrea True Connection (1976):

"Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer (1979):

The next phase further back was the early '60s, so you'd expect to see these kinds of anthems then as well. However, that was before the revolution of the mid-'70s through today, of moral and economic laissez-faire (if it feels good, do it). The culture was more restrained in the '60s, so these songs aren't quite as direct and uninhibited as the later ones, but they do contrast with the weepy emo music of the late '50s (and a fair amount that carried over into the early '60s), without being as unbridled as the late '60s manic phase music.

"Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas (1963):

"He's So Fine" by the Chiffons (1963):

November 6, 2018


I've seen nothing to change my calls from March and from August that the GOP will narrowly retain control of the House and Senate, while still having a poorer showing than in recent years. To make things a little more interesting on Election Day, let's say they lose 15-20 seats on net in the House, and win 0-1 on net in the Senate.

Read those two posts for extensive historical context, drawing parallels between these midterms and those of other disjunctive, end-of-an-era administrations -- Carter, Hoover, Pierce (and Buchanan), John Quincy Adams, and John Adams.

Those posts cover the "why" as well as the "what" -- the dominant party of a historical period, such as the GOP during the Reagan era, begins and ends its disjunctive phase with full control of government, including limping across the finish line during the midterm election. Voters do not transfer control during the midterm, as is usual, because the big issues are at stake during a disjunctive phase, not the minor issues that draw attention during the regime's heyday. And the opposition does not, or cannot, campaign on these revolutionary issues during an off-year election.

Still relevant:

This year's opposition Democrats are not offering enough of a radical change to counter the escalation of militarism, the record widening trade deficits and de-industrialization, soaring numbers of cheap labor immigrants, falling real wages and deteriorating standard of living, and last-ditch inflation of the bubble economy by cutting taxes without paying for them, leading to yet another record year for our national debt. So while voters will not be pleased with the GOP's performance so far, they will not transfer power to the Democrats...

The big story is the rise of the Bernie candidates, just as 1854 saw the first-ever explosion of the realigning Republicans. They began with no one in the Senate before 1854, and picked up 3 (out of 62). And they began with only 4 in the House and ended with 37 (out of 118). Whether they're affiliated with Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, the Democratic Socialists of America, or are their own economic populist and anti-imperialist, these candidates are the clear wave of the future...

For now I'm keeping the chances of this "two disjunctive terms" scenario below 50%, but when the Democrats fail to pick up either house of Congress in the midterms, I will raise it above 50% if the psychotic centrists double down on ignoring the major issues and offering only the status quo, at a time when it is rapidly disintegrating. When the status quo was strong, during the '90s, it was feasible to offer their take on the status quo and win. But by now, Reaganism is dead, and they must offer a wholly different system -- at least as radically different as the system that Trump campaigned on in 2016.

Democrats will keep losing until they internalize what Trump ran and won on in 2016 -- a repudiation of Reaganism (neoliberalism) by the GOP's own hardcore primary voters, crossover voters, and the leading candidate himself. Wanting to close the borders and deport illegals is only one part of the broader reversal of neoliberalism, which relies on open borders for cheap labor, and return toward Progressive Era or New Deal outcomes, which both relied on closed borders to protect domestic labor against boatloads of foreign scabs (immigration peaked during the 1910s).

Almost no Republicans support restricting immigration, let alone closing the borders or deporting illegals or building a wall. With full control over government since Reagan's initial victory, they have flung the gates wide open, given amnesty to millions, and lost sleep trying to import millions more. They are about maximizing profits for labor-intensive sectors of the economy, not airy-fairy bullshit like "maintaining white supremacy". That means they need endless cheaper and cheaper labor, and that's not going to come from here, so it must come from somewhere over there. It's that simple.

The very small handful of Republicans who do support restricting immigration, however, do not come to that policy from a populist standpoint -- Steve King of Iowa does not want single-payer healthcare, soak-the-rich wealth tax to pay off the debt, de-globalizing our military, and so on and so forth, like Trump has promoted before becoming president (and getting promptly cock-blocked by the GOP Establishment). King wants the same ol' Reaganite garbage of tax cuts, deregulation, and imperialism, but he doesn't want it to go so far that "maximum profits" leads to 100 million new immigrants. Too bad, numbnuts -- that's exactly where laissez-faire and profits uber alles leads us.

To win dominant status, rather than an occasional opposition victory whose effects are fleeting, the Democrats must campaign on populism rather than elitism, and anti-globalization -- their spin on Trump's nationalism. If they refuse to adapt to the new climate of the Trump era, they will lose in 2020. No matter how minuscule Trump's accomplishments will be by then, all he has to do is say, "Hey folks, at least I'm promising the right policies of anti-globalization -- the Democrats won't even give you their word. They're promising to open the borders, send more factories overseas, and stay bogged down in the Middle East, NATO, and everywhere else."

At that point, he may even get away with the whopper he's been testing out about how it's the Democrats rather than the GOP who wants to gut Medicare and Social Security. If the Democrats refuse to campaign on single-payer, if they refuse to campaign on collective bargaining against the pharma cartels to crush the prices of drugs way down, if all they do campaign on is "protecting pre-existing conditions," then maybe voters will conclude the Dems don't actually give a shit about Medicare after all.

As of midterm Election Day, I see zero sign that the Democrats are going to try to steal Trump's own popular winning issues from him, leaving him with powerful weapons to beat the shit out of them with in just two years. It doesn't matter if he himself runs, or if he campaigns on behalf of Pence, Haley, or whoever.

I think it will take a second disjunctive, end-of-an-era term to finally break the Democrats' stubbornness and force them to do what the voters want, and shut their mouths about the fake idiotic crap that alienates 95% of the country. Otherwise, they are effectively extinct as a party.

November 2, 2018

Halloween spirit peaks during manic phase of 15-year cultural excitement cycle

Leading up to Halloween, I used to write an annual mini-series of posts on the social rituals surrounding the holiday, and how they've changed over time, from the perspective of both an observer and a participant.

Clearly I did not feel like it this year -- observing or participating -- then I realized I haven't felt like it in awhile. Going back through my archive, I notice that those posts are almost all from the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, the first half of the 2010s. These links are collected in an appendix.

I don't think this personal experience is idiosyncratic, since I'm an eager participant in Halloween when everyone else is -- so if I'm not, likely they are not either. And I've been an informal cultural chronicler for my adult life, whether or not I like the way things are heading at the moment. If there were still as much excitement surrounding Halloween in 2018 as there was in 2012, I would sense it.

Beyond these personal observations, during the most recent manic phase, Hollywood re-released Ghostbusters into theaters nearly every year leading up to Halloween, to help get people in the mood. Even better, at least when I caught it, they were projecting film instead of digital, as part of the general interest in all things vintage during that phase. The movie had lain dormant since its original release in another manic phase (1984), and has not been re-released during Halloween season since 2014, as we've entered the vulnerable refractory phase.

Before the early 2010s, I was also really into Halloween during the second half of the '90s, during another manic phase. I was in high school, too old to trick-or-treat, but still felt excited to participate in the traditions all the same. To get ready for handing out candy, I used to dress up in face paint or full-head masks that I made, in black and white and as close to Expressionist in style as a high schooler could manage. Then I would play whatever spooky-sounding music I was into at the time (like the Residents) out of the windows, and generally try to create a playful haunted house atmosphere so that the kids would not feel cheated on the only holiday meant for them.

This period of participation began in either '94 or '95, when my best friend and I spent Halloween pretending to be leaf-stuffed dummies on his front lawn, with a "help yourself" bowl of candy next to us. As the kids came up to get their treats, we'd rise out of our chairs to give them a good spook -- assuming their helicopter parents had not ruined the surprise already by saying, "I think those are kids under there". It was affected and comical, all in good fun, not trying to make them piss their pants.

My participation ended in '99, during my freshman year of college when I wore black tie and a top hat with a plague doctor mask, scaring the Japanese girl in our dorm to death. "Ohhh, I don't like this holiday..."

During the 2000s, though, Halloween was mostly a joke, as highlighted in the 2004 movie Mean Girls -- no longer an occasion for dressing up as something out of the ordinary and scary, but just getting a free pass to dress like an ordinary sexualized attention whore at a party. Or to dress up as a self-aware topical reference. People were being their ordinary selves (ironic hipster, pseudo-slut), not changing roles as part of a temporary carnivalesque inversion.

As for the last vulnerable and warm-up phases of the cycle before the 2000s -- the second half of the '80s and first half of the '90s -- I was too young to know whether the teenagers and young adults were more excited or less excited for Halloween than they were during the previous manic phase of the early '80s. Taking hints from pop culture portrayals, there's only one big movie outside the genre of horror / occult to feature Halloween -- The Karate Kid from '84 has a fairly long scene set at a costumed dance for the high schoolers. Must have been a pretty big deal during the new wave age.

I don't think average teenagers and young adults were as into the holiday during the late '80s and early '90s as they were back then. Toward the end of the restless warm-up phase, in '94, My So-Called Life devoted an entire episode to Halloween, focusing on its carnivalesque spirit. Watch it here. It's one of the best portrayals of the holiday's social rituals, and in a sympathetic, appreciative tone -- not overdone and fanboy-ish, nor cynical and dismissive. But that was more of a cult hit, ahead of the curve that would see popular fascination with Halloween revive during the second half of the decade.

Before the '80s, Halloween was not really a holiday for teenagers and young adults, so it's hard to tell one way or the other how much they got into the spirit across the three phases of the excitement cycle before the early '80s manic phase. I assume they were warming up to it in the late '70s restless phase, especially in the context of disco, and not in the mood at all during the refractory phase of the early '70s. If there were another period where they really resonated with it, it would have been the manic late '60s, but that was back when it was still a holiday strictly for children.

Without getting into a whole separate post about why these rituals peak during the manic phase of the excitement cycle, it seems pretty straightforward, and would seem to generalize to other holiday rituals as well, such as Christmas.

During the vulnerable refractory phase, people cannot tolerate social-cultural stimulation, and these big spectacle-sized rituals like Halloween are too much for them. It feels almost oppressive, and they prefer something low-key, if at all. As their energy levels are restored to baseline again, they're open to the spectacle-level rituals, some are experimenting with them, but they haven't really caught on broadly either. During the manic phase, these spectacles are just one of the many outlets that their all-purpose excitation is channeled into.

Appendix: Earlier posts on Halloween's social rituals

1. Schools using diversity sensitivity as an excuse to ban Halloween costumes altogether.

2. Review of scary pop culture to get your children, nieces, and nephews into the proper mood.

3. Decline of trick-or-treating phenomenon.

4. Trick-or-treating as a measure of communal cohesion.

5. Halloween's shift from communal rite of rebellion to egocentric business as usual.

6. Changes in the carnivalesque nature of Halloween, especially the shift of the main celebration to "the Saturday night before Halloween" so as to not disrupt the work week.

7. Turning Halloween into an individual status contest.

8. Grab bag of topics, including the conservative drive to banish Halloween as pagan, Satanic, etc., without wanting to replace it with something else / better.

9. Another grab bag, including the prolonging of the Halloween season to the entire month of October, preventing any spike of excitement by the time it eventually arrives, due to 30 days of habituation. (Just like Christmas.)

10. Only incidentally about trick-or-treating, but an excuse to show how romantic the landscapes used to look back in the '80s when the society had not yet come down with collective OCD, and did not rake their leaves, letting them blanket the ground.

October 30, 2018

Neocon fanatic Frank Gaffney to replace Mattis after mid-terms, start war against Iran

An item at Blind Gossip says that Trump has tired of Defense Secretary Mattis and will replace him after the mid-terms. He idiotically discussed this plan with someone who is even farther away from Trump's 2016 foreign policy platform (isolationism) than Mattis is -- John Bolton, who he's already elevated to National Security Adviser.

Bolton is a crafty behind-the-scenes operator within the bureaucracy, and has chosen one of his own allies to replace Mattis, with Trump's blessing.

The identities of Mattis and Bolton are simple to figure out from the blind item. But what about the new Defense Secretary ("Beardo")? Here are the hints, where Mattis is Smoothie and Bolton is Mustache:

Smoothie’s best bet is to simply resign himself to the fact that the end is near… and try to keep from making any big gaffes before it’s his time to leave!

You definitely know Smoothie and Mustache, as they are currently high-ranking officials.

Frankly, you would have to be a Washington insider to know Beardo. The general public will meet him in a few weeks, after the midterms. And then, if everything goes according to Mustache’s plan, you will not stop hearing about Beardo for the next two years!

I did an image search for "neocon beard," and Frank Gaffney came up. He's a close Bolton ally, insane hardline neocon, sucked up to Trump big-time about getting out of the Iran nuclear deal, and is certainly not a known name to the general public.

Re-reading those paragraphs, I got sick to my stomach upon noticing the give-away clue words -- "gaffes" and "Frankly". It's Frank Gaffney, no question.

As a so-called anti-Islamic anti-jihadist conspiracy theorist, will Gaffney use his position as head of the war department to invade jihadist ground zero, Saudi Arabia? Only a gullible MAGA-tard would think that at this point.

Having bad-mouthed the Muslim Brotherhood means nothing either -- Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood are sworn enemies, since the former favors direct militarist jihad while the latter prefers Islamist infiltration of civic institutions instead. Strategic differences, not ideological. The only way to tell if someone is against jihadism and Islamism is for them to want nothing to do with either Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

Generally speaking, the GOP aligns with Saudi Arabia, since the military controls the GOP and therefore aligns with the militarist approach to jihad favored by Saudi Arabia. Democrats are controlled by the media, finance, info tech, and intel sectors, and therefore align with the more financial and propaganda approach to jihad favored by Qatar.

The litmus test is Syria -- both of these fanatic Islamist nations want to destroy the secular nationalist government of Syria. If someone criticizes both Saudi Arabia and Syria, they are controlled by Qatar (liberals). If they criticize Al-Jazeera or the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Syria, they are controlled by Saudi Arabia (conservatives). If they criticize Saudi Arabia and Al-Jazeera / Muslim Brotherhood, and defend Assad against the jihadists who want to replace him, they are controlled by no Middle Eastern nation, and they are the true anti-Islamists (anti-imperialists on the Left or Right).

Neocon garbage only uses their attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim immigrants who bring their alien ways to this country, in order to further their own goals, not the goals of those who they dupe among the electorate.

Gaffney will not defend an anti-jihadist government like Assad in Syria or Hussein in Iraq or Qaddafi in Libya or Arafat in Palestine. That is what Trump promised during the campaign -- they're bad guys, but they're secular strongmen who keep the jihadist whackjobs in line, and that's the only alternative, so let's just leave the secular strongmen alone, unless we want more jihadism being spread all around the world. But Trump the candidate was not a neocon looking to prolong the Cold War in the Middle Eastern theater.

Gaffney, like all neocons including his ally Bolton, will use smokescreens about the Muslim Brotherhood in order to give a 100% free pass to Saudi Arabia, jihadist militias, and radical Islam as it truly exists and stems from our Saudi ally. He will instead try to attack a secular state like Syria, or the non-jihadist Muslim government of Iran, which is in fact the target of the jihadists. Absolutely nothing will change about the US military having as their #1 ally the jihadists and Zionists in the Middle East, and directing foreign policy in alignment with Saudi and Israeli goals, mainly against Iran.

The blind item says Bolton will try to make sure that we never stop hearing Gaffney's name for the next two years -- most likely an invasion of Iran, sponsored coup against Iran, something big to do with Iran. It's the only place the neocons have left to go against the original Axis of Evil, and one of the few things that strongly unite the Pentagon, the jihadists, and the Zionists.

Rationalizers have been saying, "It doesn't matter if Trump has bent the knee to the neocons on foreign policy -- at least he hasn't started another Iraq War". Famous last words. Bush Jr. didn't start his Iraq War until the start of his third year, 2003, after the midterms. Ditto for Bush Sr., in 1991 after the midterms.

I haven't brought that timing up for fear of jinxing it, but that doesn't matter now that we know an insane neocon is going to replace the relatively milder Mattis (still a deluded and failed imperialist, but at least realistic on Iran and the nuclear deal).

The only possible saving grace this time around is that we're about to plunge into a major recession or depression, thanks to the central banks of the world tightening their monetary policy. Our chief central banker Jerome Powell, popper of the Everything Bubble, is one of the few Trump appointees I actually like (naturally Trump himself hates his guts).

Hopefully that will make it too untenable to undertake a massive war that must be financed by an insane amount of debt (trillions), knowing full well it will all be wasted rather than earning a return on the investment, just like all the other failed neocon wars ("Blood for no oil," in Greg Cochran's phrasing).

The choice will be between feeding America or fattening up the generals. Imperialism is necessarily globalist, sucking the core nation dry in order to fund the failures of its chessboard players on the other side of the world. This will weed out the mouth-breathers on the Trump supporter side, from those who genuinely don't want any more of our over-extended empire, especially in the Middle East, bankrupting the treasury and staining our honor with yet another pathetic failure, not to mention all the pointless death and destruction inside the targeted nation.

As we head toward the Second Civil War, an invasion of Iran could easily be for our neocon era what the Bleeding Kansas conflict was for the plantation slavery era. And unfortunately, that would not be solved by the next presidential election -- like the 1850s, we appear bound for two, not just one, terms of disjunctive, end-of-an-era rule. The opposition has collapsed just as much as the Whigs did back then, albeit in a less formal manner.

A war against Iran, like spreading slavery beyond its original boundaries, ought to ignite the opposition into finally re-aligning themselves into the dominant party and de-throning the party that has shaped society in its image for the past several decades. But just watch how many Democrats, liberals, and MSNBC anchors and talking heads are going to respond to a war against Iran with tepid annoyance at best, and eager war-mongering at worst, just like Hillary et al during the last major war in the Middle East. Gleefully joining in with the dominant party's major action was hardly what the opposition needed in order to win over voters in the upcoming election.

Whatever particular form these policies take, there can be no doubt that after the mid-terms, we're going to enter a truly dark phase of this increasingly neocon administration.

October 29, 2018

Locating horror: Stalking the freely mobile vs. torturing the imprisoned

To instill a sense of dread in the audience for horror fiction, the victims we're identifying with must experience futility in their attempts to avoid the villain. Once our fight-or-flight reflex kicks in after the villain's opening move, we must know that simply fleeing is not an option, leaving us only with the more terrifying decision to confront the force that is trying to do us in.

There are two fundamental ways in which the victims could develop the feeling of there being nowhere to hide from the villain: either they're trapped in a location with him, or they are free to roam from one location to another, but always being relentlessly stalked and pursued by him, so that he could strike at any time and place.

Different types of villain are best adapted to those two choices of setting. When the victims are free to move around various locations, they are like game animals that must be tracked by a hunter, and the villain is a hot-blooded type who is in his element being out and about, constantly on the move. When the victims are confined inside a single location, they are like trapped insects in a spider's web that can be played around with at the trapper's leisure, and the villain is more of a cold-blooded type who is a clinical control freak.

Still, that is not to say that the two types are equally frightening, only in their own distinct ways. It is more unsettling to be pursued like a game animal because there are no external constraints on our movement, eliminating one of our potential hopes -- maybe we'll just out-run it, or flee its domain, and be rid of it. As the victim tries out that option, and fails, we cannot hold out hope for anything other than confrontation, which we are hardly guaranteed to win.

If the victim is only trapped, we can never know for sure how well the "flight" option would work against the villain, if only they could break free from the constraints imposed by their location. Perhaps the villain isn't that powerful on his own -- maybe he has merely cheated and tipped the scales in his favor before the attacks even began. He's just shooting fish in a barrel. The victims, and the audience, do not fear the villain himself so much as the dungeon-like location that prevents them from simply fleeing, or from directly confronting a villain that may not be very dangerous in a mano-a-mano scenario.


This key distinction in location, and in the method the villain uses to attack his victims, helps to clarify types of horror fiction, such as the slasher movie. Early on, academics referred to this genre not as "slasher" but "stalker," which is more accurate. All sorts of villains may attack by slashing, even in serial fashion, but not necessarily by relentlessly tracking and pursuing their victims across a range of locations.

The heyday of the slasher movie was the first half of the 1980s, with Halloween from 1978 serving as a lone harbinger of a broad phenomenon soon to explode. Michael Myers, like the prototypical slasher, stalks his victims around multiple residences, inside and outside of the houses themselves, not to mention the local school, and other places around the neighborhood.

This rules out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from being another early harbinger, since the villains abduct their victims and trap them inside a single isolated house that they themselves control, and their behavior is more like leisurely torture than determined hunting. They give off a playful sadism, because they know the victims cannot get away -- unlike the relatively more serious and determined persona of the slasher villain, who could very well lose track of his prey if he isn't focused on them.

That movie came out in 1974, too early to be seamlessly incorporated into a phenomenon that exploded during the first half of the '80s. Rather, its setting and villains place it more within the mainstream of other '70s horror films, where the single focal location is cursed, haunted, or controlled by psychos -- the dance academy of Suspiria, the suburban home of The Amityville Horror, the remote hideout of the rape gang in The Last House on the Left, the high school gym that Carrie seals off during her attack, and so on.

Likewise, Black Christmas is less a forerunner of the slasher / stalker genre, and more of a "haunted house" movie typical of the '70s, taking place entirely within a single sorority house, whose villain is more of a leisurely torturer than a focused hunter.

Finally, we can exclude 1960's Psycho from being an "early slasher" since the attacks take place entirely within the isolated Bates Motel, which is controlled by a torturer rather than a hunter.

Cycles in the stalker type

Other than the slasher phenomenon of the early '80s, when else have horror movies featured villains that stalked their victims, rather than a dangerous location? We're looking for trends or broad phenomena, not lone examples.

There was the slasher revival of the second half of the '90s -- Scream and Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, etc. This is the stand-out trend of its time. The Blair Witch Project also had a villain that stalked its targets across a variety of locations (around open wooded areas as well as inside houses).

During the first half of the 2010s, the dominant trend was the paranormal haunting -- Paranormal Activity (a forerunner from 2009, with the series continuing into the 2010s), Insidious, The Conjuring, and so on. In a unique spin on the haunted house formula, these three iconic movies emphasized that it was not the location itself that was dangerous. Rather, there was a demonic stalker that would follow the targets from one location to another once it had initially locked onto them, making flight a pointless option.

This fixes the basic weakness of the haunted house formula -- why don't they just fucking leave? "Because they've been trapped inside" reduces the action to the villain shooting fish in a barrel, and the tension reduces to the uncertainty over when -- not if -- the villain will kill off the next victim. And "they're too emotionally or financially invested in remaining in place" is unconvincing, when they're in imminent danger of brutal murder.

It Follows also featured a villain that relentlessly stalks its victims in serial fashion across a wide range of environments. The villains of Let Me In are hunters who track their prey all over the place. And in The Babadook, the demon that cannot be gotten rid of pursues its victim once they have read about it and become aware of its existence.

These periods of stalker villains -- the early '80s, late '90s, and early 2010s -- all lie within the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. When people feel excited and invincible, they don't resonate with horror victims who are trapped inside a single location and get picked off with no real way to challenge the villain. They also don't want to see a villain who is cold and leisurely -- he too must be on the move, making the plot more action-packed.

With their higher free-floating level of arousal, audiences during this phase are more inclined toward harnessing their manic energy toward a confrontation with the villain, rather than withdrawing from direct conflict due to concerns of over-stimulation.

Cycles in the torturer type

During the proceeding vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, after energy levels have peaked, they go into a refractory state where they want to avoid over-stimulation at all costs. In horror movies, this leads to agoraphobic characters who are not roaming all around while being stalked. Action taking place all over the place would be too much social stimulation for audiences in a refractory state, so the characters with whom the audiences are trying to empathize must be set in a single isolated location.

And because these audiences are in a vulnerable rather than invincible mood, the victims they're watching must also be more powerless than taking decisive action against the villain. Vulnerable people feel like they're being tortured by something with immensely greater powers, unlike the manic people who feel like they're only being outmatched in a contest against someone who they could conceivably defeat.

We've already covered this trend in movies of the '70s, the first half of which was a vulnerable phase, after the manic late '60s, and was more akin to torture porn than to the slasher genre.

After the manic early '80s, the trend of horror movies of the late '80s was no longer a stalking slasher but various evil forces confined to a single cursed location, such as Hellraiser, Pet Sematary, and House. There was also the evil toy trend, such as Dolls and Puppet Master, whose attackers haunt only one house, and behave more as sadistic torturers than hunters.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, from '87, is more of its own time than it is of the early '80s zeitgeist of the original, set entirely within a single mental asylum in which Freddy Krueger tortures the victims in highly elaborate ways, which pre-figures the elaborate traps of the Saw franchise during the next wave of torture porn.

The most prominent period of torture porn was the 2000s, kicking off in the first half's vulnerable phase with The Cell, Cabin Fever, House of 1000 Corpses, and Saw, as well as endless remakes of '70s torture porn like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When slasher movies were inevitably re-made, they were transformed into torture porn.

The early 2000s also saw a revival of atmospheric haunted house movies that were light on gore compared to torture porn, beginning with The Grudge.

One major exception was The Ring, whose villain relentlessly stalks its victims across multiple locations, not just within its own lair.

As the vulnerable phase has returned in the late 2010s, so too have the stalker-hunters been retired in favor of leisurely tormentors whose victims are confined within a single locked-down location.

The Saw franchise has been revived with Jigsaw, Don't Breathe is set in a home whose psycho owner operates a sex torture dungeon in the basement, Get Out also relies on a single household and its creepy domestic dungeon, Krampus features a demon that terrorizes the Christmas guests of a single family's home, The Belko Experiment is set in a sealed office building, the victims in The Witch are a single nuclear household tormented within their homestead, Hush is set entirely within one victim's home, the evil in Hereditary is localized within the protagonist's household, and although we never encounter an external villain in It Comes at Night, it is still set within one agoraphobic household being shared by two nuclear families, whose distrust tears them apart.

The Conjuring 2, unlike the original from the early 2010s, does not develop the theme of demons that can stalk their targets no matter where they move to. It's more of a standard haunted house movie, where they make no attempt to flee, and even worse, where they are not trapped in place by the evil force.

The major exception is A Quiet Place, where the victims are stalked by hunters across a variety of environments, and where the deaths are not elaborate gimmicks designed by a sadist as a leisure activity.

Cycles in the transitional stage

As the cycle shifts out of vulnerable and into the neutral baseline energy level of the warm-up phase, there's a mix of both types, with the torture type continuing on from the last phase, while a few experiment with the stalker type again, now that they are no longer avoiding stimulation at all costs.

The late '70s were mainly a continuation of the early '70s, as described earlier. But Halloween was a clear signal of a new stalker type of horror movie, and even Alien hinted at this. Although the movie is set within a single spaceship, the different areas look and feel so distinct that it feels more like a variety of locations. We would only feel like the spaceship were a single gestalt setting if the frame of reference were the rest of space, other planets, other ships, and so on. But it feels like a self-contained community with a diverse mix of discrete locations.

The early '90s mostly continued the trends of the late '80s. Demonic Toys joined the torture toys trend, and Bram Stoker's Dracula continued the haunted house trend set by Hellraiser and others. Gremlins 2 is also set entirely within a single haunted location, in which the villains deploy an array of specific attacks akin to the gimmicky traps of torture porn. The original movie from the manic phase had the villains terrorizing people all around the town, and with less specific and less elaborate attacks -- reflecting their greater sense of urgency, since they might lose track of their prey.

More naturalistic movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Misery still featured psychos who did all their torture within their home lair, even if they ventured out to lure in unsuspecting victims.

The two harbingers of the late '90s slasher revival were Candyman and Wes Craven's New Nightmare, both of which also set the template for drawing explicit comparisons between slasher movies and urban legends.

The late 2000s generally continued the torture porn trends of the early 2000s, whether sequels to Saw and Hostel, further re-makes of '70s torture porn, or new entries like The Human Centipede. (Cabin in the Woods was made in this period, although shelved for release until 2012.) Building on The Grudge, the atmospheric haunted house trend caught on with The Grudge 2, An American Haunting, The Haunting in Connecticut, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The Descent moved the cursed single location from a house to a cave into which the victims have fallen.

As mentioned earlier, Paranormal Activity was more of a harbinger of the early 2010s, since the threat was not from a house or other single location, but from a demon that had been following its victim for most of her life, across multiple changes of residence. This novel variation on the haunted house theme is not elaborated on much in this first barebones example, which would have to wait until Insidious, where the family does move out of the haunted house, and the demons follow their victims to their new home anyway.

In Paranormal Activity, the concept of stalker demons is only there to tell the audience why they're not taking the obvious decision to simply move out of a haunted house. The tone is naturalistic and documentarian, so they could not have the characters stupidly and suicidally staying in a haunted house. And since they're aiming to create a sense of fear in our everyday settings, the characters cannot be trapped in the house by a malevolent superior being -- they have to be going about their quotidian routine, able to leave if they felt like it.