Revisiting Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero Ten Years On

Nine Inch Nails’ album Year Zero was released in April 2007 to the excitement of many, myself especially. I’ve been listening to NIN for over twenty years so in normal circumstances it would’ve been welcome, but the idea of a dystopian concept album criticizing our government’s actions at the time held extra purchase. I purchased both singles (Survivalism and Capital G) on the day they were available, as well as the album. Savagely critical of George W. Bush’s administration (among others) Year Zero felt like a revelation then. And given the election of Donald fucking Trump and its upcoming ten-year anniversary I decided to jump deeper into it and see how it holds up. Concept set in 2022 the album is startlingly accurate for what looks to be our path rather than a decade aged.

Year Zero’s first track is the non-lyrical song Hyperpower. It’s a savage introduction packed tight with menace and shouting voices. It’s also eerily reminiscent of the Hate Song in Orwell’s 1984 complete with a “savage, barking rhythm…that resembled the beating of a drum. Roared out by hundreds of voices to the tramp of marching feet, it was terrifying.” Hyperpower begins, as most 1984-type marches, not with collective action but the sinister directions of a leader. The guitars cut in, then the chants. As the chants continue the tension of a counterguitar ramps up tension until a third guitar sample cuts in. The track, the march, has reached a tipping point and become an emergent phenomenon zagging across all previous narratives and signifying the terrifying loss of control. All hell breaks loose. There are screams and corrosive feedback. Then a gasp of silence.

For just a beat or two, and then The Beginning of the End cuts in with a raw, driving drumbeat. Reznor sets it up with smooth warnings. “Down on your knees you’ll be left behind/this is the beginning/Watch what you think, they can read your mind/This is the beginning.” The pace is relentless – the song starts with the fear of being isolated from society but immediately begins to show how toxic and dangerous that society’s become. Immediately we’re left feeling alienated, as the song’s subject no longer recognizes their own reflection. The idea that society’s progressed is questioned, and the dishonesty by which we survive – “We think we’ve climbed so high/Up all the backs we’ve condemned. We face no consequence/This is the beginning of the end.” There’s a clear corollary in the Bush years to our actions as a nation-state but this reads much darker in the wake of Trump’s election. The assumption of lack of consequences has become microcosmic but in an extremely distributed way, now applicable to personal actions – thus the rise of mosque and synagogue vandalism, attacks on people of color, the public adoption of and evangelism for Nazi ideology. And in each case the idiot feels entitled to act with no consequence.

From the first line the song introduces consequences, though (“you’ll be left behind”). Being left behind doesn’t seem so bad until you realize you’re forced to give up what’s left. And Reznor then addresses a predatory society in which you take what you can in a zero-sum game, depriving others haphazardly. The venture capitalism and financial engineering of the Bush II era holds no candle to what we’re seeing now as far as bold and heartless vultureism, the cynical money-grabs of mortgage and payday lenders, the lies we depend on for derivatives market securitization and the ad-revenue model of the internet. But the song ends on a note of warning – that our personal cognitive failure to see the consequences of our actions really is the beginning of the end. That seems born out by so many events.

The next track -and the most popular, Survivalism – continues the emphasis on predation and societal ego but focuses in particular on ecological issues.

“I should have listened to her
So hard to keep control
We kept on eating, but
Our bloated belly’s still not full.
She gave us all she had but
We went and took some more
Can’t seem to shut her legs
Our mother nature is a whore.”

Survivalism starts with and regularly revisits an incessant, distorted buzzing as if an angry swarm lay just beneath the surface. That threatening drone is cut off only by the chorus, which switches from “we” to “I” as the chorus addresses engagement with society at a personal level.

“I got my propaganda
I got revisionism
I got my violence
In hi-def ultra-realism
All a part of this great nation
I got my fist
I got my plan
I got survivalism”

The song begins with ecological devastation and has now moved to the I. The swarm is momentarily obfuscated as we follow Reznor’s rabbit hole from a collective, diffuse responsibility to the immediacy of a particular subject’s contributions and withdrawals from society. The first five deal with selfish and destructive comforts the subject has had to surround themself with in order to get by: propaganda, revisionism, flashy simulated or simply relayed real-world well-detailed violence, nationalism. But the song then pivots to consequences. The subject’s comforts won’t be as effective considering the trajectory of the nation. A collapse approaches. So the subject self-soothes with the idea that they’ll survive through force, wits and savagery.

After the first chorus we see society descend into chaos; sirens, rifles, marching, global fuckery. Self-deception after a loss of faith regarding their original beliefs which have been traded for this barbarist ideology.

Survivalism ends after the subject is given one last chance to move towards society and environmental health again. That chance is spurned. While Bush II EPA and climate change steps were appalling, after an attempt at remedying them we are confronted by a different monster and his minions. A monster that appoints the head of the EPA a man who has sued it over a dozen times and takes actions against national parks that tweet about climate change. His followers closely fit the pattern of the song – self-deceiving environment exploiters who cling to propaganda, revisionism, depicted violence and the fantasy that they will persist and even thrive in the case of a societal collapse.

Me, I’m Not presents an internal conversation in which the subject initiates changes internal and external, again finds themselves sort of disbelieving what they’ve become. It feels like they’re a small part of an avalanche that’s careening faster and faster down a mountain. And having considered this darkness within, they make a conscious decision not to stop.

Capital G presents a fascinating foresight to Trump voters and current circumstances. It presents as the slow, simplistic, proud confessional of someone who pretty much knows and admits that his vote enabled war crimes. It highlights the tension between rejecting any kind of responsibility for their own circumstances (financial exploitation, climate change, voting mistake) while demanding accountability of others.

“I pushed the button and elected him to office, and
He pushed the button, and he dropped the bomb
You pushed the button, and could watch it on the television
Those motherfuckers didn’t last too long
I’m sick of hearing ’bout the have and have-not’s
Have some personal accountability
The biggest problem with the way that we are doing things is
The more we let you have, the less that I’ll be keeping for me.”

The song provides more and more interesting corollaries to our present circumstances, such as trading all your previous morals and ethics in order to stand behind a powerful figure. In doing so they’ve forgotten their original fortitude and dignity, ending up on their hands and knees just to appease the boss. It’s a piece-by-piece buildup of both Trump supporters and the Republican party leaving behind any previous scruples and lowering themselves to menial, humiliating service and aggressive atavism. But there’s an explicit warning in the midst of this to the presumably horrified listener: “There’s a lot of me inside you/Maybe you’re afraid to see.”

My Violent Heart continues the idea of a movement initiated by the broken but in truth a consequence of the society at large, now reaping what they have sown. The Great Destroyer stands as a sickly sweet discussion on surveillance and the inner struggle of someone fully conscious that they’re thoroughly different than the regime and both afraid of and anticipating their own magnificent power.

The parallels continue. They’ve not only held up over time but deepened in the midst of the last three months and specter of the next four years. It’s just that Reznor’s projected date of 2022 was… optimistic.

No, The Ninth Circuit Does Not Have A Stupendous Reversal Rate

Hi folks. Let me preface this with: I am absofuckinglutely not a lawyer in any way, shape, or form, and you should check my sources at the bottom as well as other sources.

Especially in the wake of this week’s ruling but also previously from the GOP I keep seeing a talking point about the Ninth Circuit having an “incredible reversal rate of 80% becuz liberal” and I’d like to address it a little.

Are most Ninth Circuit justices democrats? It’s a possibility. In this particular case (Washington/Minnesota v. Trump et. al.) the liberal argument lacks any sort of substance, given that it was a per curiam ruling – a very specific ruling that only occurs when every judge on the panel reaches a unanimous decision. Richard Clifton, a Bush II appointee, is a noted conservative and, if you listened to the oral arguments, pressed Washington state pretty damn hard. Even he found the DOJ position thoroughly lacking. Put frankly, DAG August Flentje’s arguments were ludicrous to begin with and resulted in a bipartisan ruling against an overreaching executive.

As to the 9th circuit record: that 80% figure isn’t nearly as remarkable as people upset with them keep trying to portray it to be. As of 2010 the Federal Circuit has a higher rate at 83%, and the mean overturn rate across all circuits is over 68%. As of 2014 SCOTUS was reversing 70.5% of lower court rulings. The Ninth Circuit reversal rate was 79.5%. The Ninth Circuit also makes up for a disproportionate amount of cases referred to SCOTUS at nearly 26%. Between 2010 and 2014, the Eighth Circuit had a reversal rate of 87.5% and the Sixth at 87%, though they accounted for 8 and 23 cases respectively. The Eleventh Circuit scored 81% reversals.

An overturn rate isn’t evidence of political bias or rift but a reflection that one set of judges disagreed with the way another set of judges interpreted the case and applicable law – largely about commercial, not constitutional, issues. POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola is a great example – heard by appointees of Reagan, Bush II, and Carter – it was reversed, but SCOTUS also rejected the DOJ view. But it’s hardly evidence of ideology, unless you feel strongly about pomegranates. In the 2010-2014 period the Federal Circuit had a reversal of 66% but those particularly consisted of SCOTUS overturning Federal patent rulings.

Don’t take my word for it. Read more from the American Bar Association and from SCOTUSblog

“At least it was a peaceful transition”

I’ve heard in a few places something along the lines of “well the election was rough but it was a peaceful transition and for that we should be thankful.” But the amount of violence that the Trump campaign carried with it isn’t inconsiderable.

The constant encouragements from top to bottom to assault and even kill those that disagree, or those that are different; the constant threats during the campaign to levy the coercive force of the state against his opponent, the press, protesters, latin@s, Muslims; the direct violence threatened and now in the process of being perpetrated on some thirty million Americans soon to lose healthcare they’re paying for; the violence involved in wresting from women self-determination over their own bodies; these are all things that occurred not only throughout the campaign but have carried over in the transition and into the new administration.

The only thing we’re missing at this point is for Trump to begin that levying of state power against Clinton as he repeatedly promised in the form of illegitimate prosecution, or utilize the same or similar resources to directly pursue and punish journalists that published anything not laudatory. And we’re only one day into his term.

This wasn’t a peaceful transition. The specter of violence threatening life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for anyone not white, male, healthy, able-bodied, and Republican has been ever-present and continues to loom over the Capitol.

For god’s sake, not the windows!


Oh heavens, oh my, oh deary me, the young people are breaking corporation windows in Washington DC. It’s like they’re mad or something, in the week or so in which healthcare was stripped and on the day that climate change and LGBT protection policies were scrubbed, along with the DOJ beginning to drop voting rights protection cases. I for one am shocked that anyone could be angry enough to cause property damage as a cabal of old white men explicitly and purposely wreck their circumstances, country, planet and future.

As the Department of Education is handed to a dilettante billionaire who believes it’s her duty to defund public schooling in favor of private Christian religious education, the Department of Energy is handed to a man that didn’t know what it did but wanted to abolish it anyway, the Environmental Protection Agency is handed to a man that sued it multiple times to block important regulations, the Department of State is handed to an oil executive that’s close enough friends with the anti-gay, anti-human rights authoritarian leader of Russia, and the Department of the Treasury is handed to a Goldman Sachs executive who failed to disclose A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS IN ASSETS.

I can’t imagine why people would be angry with a vice president who believes that electroshock torture is acceptable on people with different sexualities, or a president who belittles and sexually assaults women. I can’t imagine why anyone would be angry enough to break a window in a country where an oil pipeline is diverted away from a city over water fears and re-planned to cross through crucial water resources for an already marginalized Native American population. I can’t imagine why a limousine would be vandalized and burned as we discuss creating registries and immigration and visitation rules on the basis of religion.

I for one am aghast that someone would be angry enough to light a trashcan on fire as legislation is proposed in North Dakota allowing motorists to run over protesters or in Indiana empowering police to shut down protests “by any means necessary.”

There is certainly no need for property destruction in the face of an explicit agenda to illegalize countless loving marriages between our gay friends and family, or in the same stroke deprecate useful sexual education and prohibit any access to birth control and safe abortion. Those windows, that limo, that trashcan, they’re all innocent bystanders in this. And certainly there’s no need for anyone to register a note of dissent beyond a strongly-worded letter.

Roll your eyes as protesters block highways or inauguration gates. Clutch your pearls as windows are broken. Change the channel while people die from preventable and treatable diseases and state-enabled violence. But for god’s sake don’t break a window.

Post-inauguration Podcast List

Now that Trump has been sworn in it’s more important than ever to seek out valuable and credible information sources. In that spirit I suggest the following podcasts to subscribe to and prioritize to stay up to date and well-informed on current and emerging national security, domestic and foreign policy issues.

Arms Control Wonk – The nuclear weapons, arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation podcast. Companion to the popular Arms Control Wonk blog (www.armscontrolwonk.com). Hosted by Jeffrey Lewis & Aaron Stein. – Arms control experts discussing timely current events topics in the areas of and with the benefit of their expertise. Great for dispelling misinformation and pointing out bad reporting.

Intelligence Squared and Intelligence Squared USTwo great sources for lively discussion and debate, great for expanding the perspectives you consider.

LawfareCompanion podcast to the Lawfare blog, often with talks or panel discussions on national security issues.

Rational Security – A weekly discussion of national security and foreign policy matters hosted by Shane Harris of the Daily Beast and featuring Brookings senior fellows Tamara Cofman Wittes and Benjamin Wittes. – I often disagree significantly with the views put forth here but they’re always intelligent and well-informed and listening and engaging with the views is always beneficial.

Newsletter just shipped

The seventh issue of my newsletter on security, technology, society and other issues just shipped! You can sign up for it over here. In it I talk about rolling dumpster fires, drones, and my big fear about artificial intelligence – not that it will be super smart, but that its stupidity will be weaponized.

Check it out when you get the time!

Review: Spirits of Place

I’ve just finished reading Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion, the Daily Grail-published collection of writings on place, narrative, history and spirit. I was not disappointed.

Reppion opened by – among other things – describing an event of the same name he organized earlier in 2016 hosted on the same site as a degraded Neolithic tomb. The event itself raised sacred space in spectacular fashion and is, perhaps, a lesson and charge for the coming year without the participants having known just how stark it feels. As Reppion states, “To create a space that is emphatically ‘anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-sexist’ on the grounds of so malevolent an enterprise and to fill it with events for young people does seem redemptive. Yet to perform in such a space can never be lighthearted.”

There’s a bit too much to unpack in a proper review – the collection is part essay grouping, part philosophical studies journal, part occult newsletter – but the essays in each case stand proudly for themselves with each raising their own space. Whether it’s Gazelle Amber Valentine talking idenity, Warren Ellis writing on radio signal as bomb blast radius, Maria J. Perez Cuervo illustrating the process of secret, dangerous and necessary libraries growing seemingly of their own magnetism or Vajra Chandrasekera on fascism, nationalism and grief, the contents are topical and fascinating and juggle between dreamily speculative and heartbreakingly eloquent. Chandrasekera’s contribution in particular felt crucial and grounding, setting the tone almost as clearly as Reppion’s introduction:

In our periodic riots, Sinhala mobs in search of Tamil or Muslim people to assault but still unable to identify them on sight (because we all pretty much look the same) would demand that potential targets perform their Sinhala-ness or Buddhist-ness with shibboleths: pronouncing particular words to test for accents, or reciting Buddhist prayers that people of other religions were unlikely to know. For example, the ඉතිපිසෝ, which in a great irony is a recitation of the virtues of the Buddha, probably including suitably incongruous things like kindness and compassion. I say probably even though I know it by heart (I suspect my not-particularly-pious parents insisted on me learning these prayers by memory in anticipation of future riots) because the prayer is in Pali, not Sinhala, and I’ve long since forgotten what the words mean: to me, it’s just a string of sounds that represent thuggish fanaticism.

With my breath fully taken away by lines like:

Grief is a nation, like the dead are a nation. These are the nationalisms I can get behind.

I name only a few here not to suggest they held themselves over the rest, but precisely because I could go on and on about the other writers included and so bore you to death and draw my review out to outlandish and unhelpful proportions.

I do want to single out the piece by Damien Patrick Williams, one of the primary reasons I picked up this book (along with the topic itself and work by luminaries like Ellis and Alan Moore). In addition to being a friend, Williams has been quoted in WIRED magazine and interviewed on the Flashforward and Mindful Cyborg podcasts on the intersection between magic and technology, one of my primary interests. His contribution to this book excelled my expectations as it seamlessly covered biographical explanation, philosophical exploration, virtual space and place, mythology and psychology. He covers two more of my favorite topics, ravens and synchronicities, and pulls apart the phenomenons of my experience masterfully:

But the concept structure of ritual space can be applied to any time or place which, for reasons of mentality and mood, must be set apart. In sociological and trauma studies, we discuss this idea in terms of “safe spaces”; in martial arts, we have the dojo; in magic, the drawing of the circle. In all of these instances, we use words, or a knife, or chalk, or a song, and we carve out something sacred from within the profane, and the 1990s Internet was pretty much a perfect expression of this. The complex protocols to log-in, the aforementioned terminology and conceptual framing, all of it conjured an intentional Otherness of place and mind.

The ever-magical Alan Moore closes out the collection with a fantastic and thoroughly electrifying piece that serves, as Reppion laments not doing with the actual event in April, as a closing ritual for the book. And as many of the other pieces do, spiraling ever outward from Reppion’s convocation, Moore’s entry exists in a sort of trifold space; it covers the past, it applies to the present, and reaches out to the future with a mystical, speculative beckoning:

Everywhere the grind and rumble of epochal gears, the flat stones of Satanic mills as they commence to turn. A creaking at the limits, at the edge of our condition, a raw frontier of our lust and fear and capability.

The topics truly covered across the book are legion; if your interests cover anything around philosophy, place, folklore, magic, immediate urban experience, history and future of politics, this book will absolutely have something for you. My suggestion: seek the book out, raise your own space, read it and proceed from there. It’s easily one of my favorite books of 2016.

Scrape to soothe the rasp, hiss to hide the hum

Emily had been dreaming again. No tears on her pillow this time but the sound of rocket engines still rushed in her ears for a few fleeting moments. Slowly she came into her body, felt it materialize. Slowly the concrete around her became, well, concrete again. The camping mattress underneath felt like it had become concrete during the night as well. Against all inertia and blanket warmth a slow familiar ache in her back convinced her it was time to get up.

She limped to the bathroom with the tenderness of intense sleep.

At least there’s still hot water, she thought. One of the few comforts of her building compared to others around the country. Others might have not had the entire rest of the staff abscond but damn it she could still take a civilized shower.

She turned the water on to let it warm up and took a few spare moments to look at herself in the mirror. Tired eyes framed by faded pink hair, roots showing through, undershave grown out. She had wanted to do something about her hair for months but she couldn’t risk the trip to town. Not any more. Maybe a care package would come soon. She had listed pink dye under essentials, only partly expecting to be taken seriously, but hoping someone would come through. Those packages, though. They had been coming less and less frequently. It contributed to her feeling that the whole clandestine enterprise was expiring with a whimper and it was probably time to wrap things up.

That line of thinking always felt like a mood trap but as she looked around she couldn’t deny the multivariate truth of it. Less external support, more equipment problems, hell even the bathroom needed a good cleaning. She slipped as she felt the place slip, somehow out of time and consequence into its own experimental bubble. She needed to clean the bathroom but she recognized for the hundredth time that she needed to pull the trigger on her data even more.

After the shower she sat down to check her email and found one precisely to that effect. Sergio pestering her for a final go-ahead despite being the original Principal Investigator at her site and also being the first to flee. The fucking audacity bothered her as much as the nagging concern that he’d make her effort as much his when the time came for credit. But the packages he sent helped, and the occassional pep talks. She archived the email rather than responding to it just to let him stew a little more. It took three tries while the network connection flickered. One more failing piece of shit equipment. Lovely.

The near-silence only served to let her brood more and to let her analytical side pick apart the hum from the next room. Always noisy, the combined thrum of computation and exhaust fans had developed a noticeable rasp recently. Probably not unfixable especially given her comp sci chops. But that depended on replacement parts and those were harder and harder to come by. They hadn’t planned for extended isolation. They had barely planned for anything. But that rasp increasingly felt like her throat and her mood, felt like the slightly threadbare clothes on her frame, felt like the discordant protests of undyed hairs and a body that hadn’t danced at a nightclub in eighteen months. She didn’t want to own the rasp yet.

So she put on music; the new Nine Inch Nails, the only good thing that had come out of 2016. The scrape to soothe the rasp, the hiss to quiet the hum. Code waited for her as it had every day for the past few years. Code sat coiled in its box at the propulsion lab, then the oceanographic fellowship, and finally the Midwest Computing Cluster. It sat coiled waiting to flex; waiting to be let out; waiting to strike. And it responded to the harmonics of her snake-charmer keytaps. Just not always in the way she expected. She dove into the code.

Numerical models lay in wait as she worked her magic, repeating her mantra at the beginning: I’ll show you snowballs in congress, you dumb motherfuckers. Cold fingers jumped across the keyboard arrhythmically. A flurry, a pause for thought, a blizzard. Then rumbling back through with a logical plowblade to clean up the mess. She banged away and hit her own runner’s high stopping only to think or sip rapidly cooling coffee. Work continued straight through lunch without a thought for it until the eventual trip to the bathroom (hello, caffeine) and only then she felt the rumble of hunger.

She set the data to run and wandered into the small, cluttered kitchen to make a sandwich. Made a mental note to do some of the dishes she often neflected as the only person there. And studiously ignored the aged refrigerator as its compressor labored. Only the coolant pump for the GPU cluster sounded worse.

Chewing unenthusiastically, she put a language lesson on speaker. German. Which she’d need assuming she made it out. French may have been smarter for general communication – it had encountered a renaissance of sorts across continents as English fell out of favor – but the Germans were doing more science, and science she was.

After the lesson she answered a few emails. One from her father that mentioned grandkids for the third time in a row. Reading the news soured quickly. She browsed old data. And got up the will to clean the bathroom, ignoring the fact that the model had probably finished.

Scrubbing the toilet she thought for maybe the thousandth time about the NOAA bureaucrat that saved her, saved them all. Cabinet pushed against the door, moving from server to server wiping their data, especially their facilities data, while federal agents pounded and demanded access. First the transition team request for the names of government climate scientists. Then the president’s demands. Then the agents. They would’ve had every observation and computation site in the world. So he exfiltrated as much data as he could and then rushed from cage to cage with a handful of thumb drives and instructions printed off the internet. DBAN became a tool of the resistance.

After that no one could quite piece together where all the sites were. They tried but legal documents had been, well, misplaced. Each site had a networked generator installed on a DHS grant but imagine how quickly computer science-savvy lab rats de-networked them. Then government threats, please, bribes. Some worked. Some didn’t. Some sites got raided and some sites remained to moulder along with their staff.

The cash rewards to the public for turning in climate labs changed things, of course. No more trips to town just in case the locals remembered who they were. And no more pay. And figuring out how to keep the power on in the labs.

And why.

She knew why. Earth was her favorite place and she wanted kids to have a better one, or at least know what a shitty hand their elders had dealt them. And she didn’t even like kids.

Emily scrubbed and imagined that middle manager and his USB drives, defying armed agents, a president, a cabinet worth more than the bottom third of American households. It would’ve been cold in the server room. The cabinet was wedged between the door and a pillar and the feds didn’t think to kill the power. And so there had been just enough time.

A brief flight of fancy had her thinking about one of the men behind it standing in an East German courtyard nearly thirty years previous. The young KGB officer had brandished a pistol to keep an angry crowd at bay so that Secret Police files could be destroyed before the crowd got their hands on them. Data then, data now. Angry crowds. A future in the balance.

Holding that crowd off had made the spy’s career. The NOAA guy, on the other hand, ended up in prison.

The final crash of the door coming down. The rush of thick bodies and the shout of indignant authority. The click of handcuffs chilled by the air of the server room.

And then, well, Emily Wong and her climate science team had been on their own.

It’ll be nice to dye my hair again, she thought. And buy some comics books.

She stopped ignoring the completed model run and looked it over. Waves of unreality washed over her as she reviewed data she already knew. She watched the room from outside herself, disconnected. The data was thorough. The model was groundbreaking. She could string it out a while longer. Surely a new package would come soon.

She sent the email that faceless internet people were waiting for. Not the data of course. That would go later and unintercepted if everything went to plan. Every border, even digital ones – especially digital ones – acted more as intelligent and sinister membranes now, analysing what lay at the surface and keeping most of it in or out.

The email was surely intercepted. Luckily it consisted of a donut order. The order was received. She wondered if a package would arrive soon. Then she started packing.

The courier arrived the next day in a car slightly more dated than her student loans. Older, she realized. No integrated GPS, no satellite radio, no smart system. He brought donuts which she scoffed at. He brought fresh coffee that she blessed him for.

“Don’t knock the donuts,” he said. “Know what we used to call those in the station? Power rings.”

She stiffened. A cop. He read her and raised his hands nonthreateningly.

“Sorry. Just trying to banter. Long gone from the force, but we aren’t all bad.” She nodded. It had gone too far now anyway. She traded the hard drive for the donut box.

“Where does it go from here? I guess I shouldn’t ask.”

“Nah, you can ask. I just can’t tell.” He smiled at her and raised the hard drive before slipping it into a black canvas messenger bag. “Thanks for this, doc.”

She wanted to tell him what was on it. She said nothing. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him what it suggested, what might be coming. Not with the rollbacks, the broken accords, the new government and its partnerships. She desperately needed someone to talk it over with that didn’t see it in numbers and code, but she said nothing.

The courier left. She enjoyed a donut – sweet and moist and perhaps indeed a power ring – before getting into her own aging car and heading north.

The data, she knew, would make its way north too. Through some complex chain of handoffs and pirate microwave transmissions from abandoned and decrepit offshore broadcasters. North to exile, refugee status like her. A country Americans had once fled to in order to avoid being drafted. And yet the data headed north to be drafted in its own kind of conflict, nearly of its own intention.

Emily thought about visiting her parents on the way. It wouldn’t be riskier than anything she had done already. She wiped powdered sugar on the steering wheel and queued up the CD changer to her road trip tunes. Her data would find its own way home.

On Cabinets, On Trying and On Rules

There’s an old-ish bit of political apocrypha about Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior: that he was a born-again Christian and explicitly believed that conservation of any type was unnecessary because the Second Coming was imminent. And that Reagan appointed him specifically for that fact. Secretary of the Interior is responsible for all federal lands – some 20% of US land – and especially conservation thereof.

Now, I never saw it proved, which is why I refer to it as apocrypha, but it’s always used as a warning about presidential appointments. And it’s always been mocked whenever it’s come up, in some ways rightfully. But suddenly we have an administration that is literally going beyond that, outdoing a mad, old evangelical and making appointments that aren’t just opposed to their agencies but utterly antithetical.

Let’s examine that for a moment. His cabinet now includes: three Goldman Sachs alums despite a keystone of his candidacy being criticism of Goldman Sachs; two generals known for outlandish conspiracy theories; a Secretary of Labor who is staunchly anti-labor; a Secretary of the Interior who intends to sell off federal land; a Secretary of Education that decimated the Michigan educational system even further; an EPA director who is suing the EPA; a Small Business Administration director who was an entertainment executive and couldn’t even get elected in her own state; an Attorney General hostile to just about every vulnerable segment of our society; and the best one, a Secretary of State who has possibly the best relationship with Vladimir Putin of any American, and whose company is eager to allow through a $300 million deal with Rosneft which was halted under Obama’s sanctions after Russia INVADED ANOTHER COUNTRY. That’s not to mention the complete lack of response from Trump’s side about what looks to be significant Russian interference in our election, Trump bashing the CIA and actively protecting Putin, and one of his top advisors having illegally served as a top Russian lobbyist for years.

A cabinet worth over $11 billion – more than 4x the net worth of Obama’s and THIRTY TIMES the net worth of Bush II’s latter cabinet. A real cabinet of the people. Congratulations on it.

There’s a term of art in finance called IBGYBG – “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” – that signifies a deal that’s profitable in the short term (especially for the negotiators) which all involved parties know will sour in some way but by the time it does the people negotiating it will have retired or moved on. It’s quite literally a financial mechanism of short-sightedness and it defined many of the mortgage and securitization deals that led directly to the 2008 financial crisis. “By the time these mortgagees default to the point that the investment is toast we’ll be gone.” Trump’s cabinet both codifies and transcends IBGYBG thinking. In a decade we went from “I’ll Be Gone/You’ll Be Gone” shortsightedness to “Eh, We can afford good bunkers, let’s run it into the dirt.”

I keep hearing “at least Trump’s trying!” Let’s see what Trump has been “trying” this week: has he even taken any intelligence briefings? No. He spent his time on twitter attacking a small labor union representative. He went to the Army-Navy game (and sat with Ollie North, of course). He revealed a scheme to charge $35 for a “Trump Inaugural Membership Card.” He reaffirmed his stake in a reality TV show. And held another self-congratulation rally.

The transition of Turkey’s political landscape over the last several years and in particular this year shocked analysts and commentators with its speed and severity. Erdogan went from Washington DC darling to troublesome pariah to tolerated dictator relatively fast as these things go – especially that last step. I fear the change in America’s political landscape will be no less severe and possibly just as fast, if not exactly commensurate. If you want to know why I’m feeling more extreme lately and speaking in more extreme ways realize I’m reacting to a two-party system in which one party has decided that rules no longer matter and winning is the most important thing, a cabinet full of paranoid generals and people looking to strip resources off the country for profit, a precarious technological landscape which empowers the state more than it empowers individuals and the trajectory of a disrupted country ruled by a strongman who favors mass purges.

That all leads to a single conclusion for me above all others: it is no longer in anyone’s interests to continue playing by the rules.

Aleister & Adolf: Great, Thoughtful, Quick

A few days ago I picked up the new graphic novel from Douglas Rushkoff and Michael Avon Oeming, “Aleister & Adolf.” I’m more familiar with Rushkoff through his reporting and expansion of ideas through nonfiction – first the excellent Program or be Programmed, and now as I read through the interesting Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. Rushkoff has a tendency to explore the immediate and farther-reaching implications of not just technology but the way we utilize and integrate it. I had no idea, and was frankly quite excited, to see him work through an interest in sigil magic. Grant Morrison’s introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book – especially given his own sigil work – and it proceeds accordingly.

Aleister & Adolf’s premise is this (more or less): amidst World War II, a skeptical American soldier is sent to England to meet the great occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley fancies himself locked in direct magical combat with Adolf Hitler (a not-outlandish premise as anyone who watches the “History” channel surely knows by this point). From there it gets deep into the practice and practicalities of sigil magic in the race to save Europe.

The protagonist is straight-laced but not without a history of his own. You’d expect him to be militantly opposed and disbelieving but as the book continues he follows a different path. It’s in both repeating the blueprints of our parents and trying to transcend their results that we often find ourselves – and so does Roberts.

Rushkoff’s treatment of Crowley is interesting to me – a stern man of ideas, perhaps a bit more disciplined than the man himself but not without reason. Crowley feels like a condensation of the real man for the sake of moving the story along swiftly, as does Daphne, the female support character. The pacing feels off. The book feels rushed. But it still manages to lay out some decent philosophical groundwork that comes close to rivaling, say, Grant Morisson’s Nameless.

Aleister & Adolf does have its satisfying moments. It’s an interesting and curious reframing of Crowley, World War II and some more modern elements. It doesn’t sew itself up neatly but surely does leave me wanting to know more about what happens after. I want to know more of Hugh and how he continues to manifest his change. How it and the knowledge affect him and change his approach to a life he already seems thoroughly displeased with. Maybe even a deeper treatment of corporations and occultism as well as Hugh’s client in particular.

While it felt a bit condensed Aleister & Adolf was a great and quick story that kept me entertained and left me hoping it continues in some deeper fashion. Job well done, I’d say.