07 July 2023

Police abolition refrain

With Twitter imploding, it is long past time to name something about my long thread there featuring a recurring refrain:

Fire every cop.

Raze every police station. Salt the earth where they stood.

Start over. No guns. No one who was a cop before.

We cannot reform institutions which do this. We can only replace them.

The legitimacy of liberal democracy is at stake.

The thread captures hundreds of examples of horrors perpetrated by police in the US. I refined my refrain over time.

Fire every cop.

People protest that there are good cops who should not be punished.

But I am not talking about punishment. I am talking about remedies. However many “good cops” there may be, sifting them out would be difficult … and I have cause to doubt it is worth doing …

Raze every police station. Salt the earth where they stood.

Policing in the US demonstrates profound institutional failure, baked into all of its systems. We must reject every part of that inheritance, both pragmatically and symbolically.

Start over.

What should we try to achieve? What institutions and practices suit our purposes?

I imagine that we need some rough equivalents to things we have in existing policing; I think something like homicide detectives are a good idea, for example. But for most of what we ask from policing — addressing “crime” — we need social welfare delivered by entirely different means. Police abolition asks what society we would need in order to make it possible to do without police.

We must avoid legacy assumptions. We must think and work from a clean slate.

No guns.

Guns in the hands of police create a host of harms. Their mere presence deforms our systems and processes for the worse. We must simply eliminate them from whatever new institutions we devise.

No one who was a cop before.

I take institutional knowledge seriously. I hesitate to sacrifice it, but dread even more carrying it over from a monstrous system. Even the best people are bent by their adaptations to the old system.

Moses could not enter the Promised Land.

We cannot reform institutions which do this. We can only replace them.

My original Twitter thread shared countless examples of horrifying policing. I shared them not to indict the examples but to indict the systems which produced them. We need a clean break.

The legitimacy of liberal democracy is at stake.

Hobbes calls for a state monopoly on use of force. The liberal democratic ethos — that is, not “liberal” as in not-conservative or not-leftist, but as in Locke and Mill and Jefferson and Berlin — legitimizes the state’s power with democratic accountability and a driving purpose of securing universal rights. If agents of the state directly contradict those libdem principles, as they do in the US, it indicts not just policing but the state itself and the state’s animating principles.

I desperately want to rescue the libdem ethos because I have no better alternative. Radicalism about police abolition is necessary to preserve the institutions and ideas we have which are worth saving.

05 July 2023

Tarantino, fascism, cinema, and violence

Rescued from Twitter:

Emperor Norton <@ashleynaftule> argues:

Something I really appreciate about Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained is that they are a very rare species of Hollywood cinema that understands that half-measures in the face of fascism don’t work and doesn't try to equivocate about the morality of its political violence

tl;dr Nazis and slave-owners getting absolutely Itchy & Scratchy wrecked is good

Like, Quentin isn’t a Marxist or anything but it’s hilarious when people call him a reactionary. Absolutely no conservative on planet Earth would take this much joy from depicting jackboots and slavemasters getting turned into torrential streams of uncanned Chef Boyardee

I find this fascinating because I simultaneously understand this reading and think it is profoundly wrong.

Both Basterds and Django call shenanigans on cathartic movie violence. They say: “Hey, in the world we portray in movies, slavery and WWII would have been over quickly with victories over evil. So movie logic is bullshit.”

As I have described before at length, I do not see how one can watch the Bear Jew sequence in Basterds and read the movie as just a cathartic good time killin’ Nazis. It drags us back and forth over the line of I Want To See It Happen vs Oh Gods No I Don’t. Tarantino marshals every bit of cinematic vocabulary he can — framing, music, editing, et cetera — to give the Nazi a Stoic Heroic Sacrifice at the hands of cruel maniacs. Not just a German soldier, a guy who expresses his antisemitism directly.

Nazi officer with the Bear Jew’s bat poised next to his head in the movie ‘Inglorious Basterds’

It is not Tarantino saying that Nazis are the real heroes here; one cannot read the movie that way. It is Tarantino criticizing movies. Criticizing the kind of violent movies he himself has made.

Understand, I love a cathartic good time watching movie heroes killin’ Nazis. My favorite scene in all of cinema is one of those.

I love Tarkovsky and Kurosawa and Bergman and all that film nerd shit but honestly this is my favorite scene in any film I have ever seen. I have watched it a hundred times and I will watch it a hundred more. There should have been ten movies of this.

I am not above enjoying Inglorious Basterds that way as well. It invites us to! But I think it delivers that in service of trying to get us to examine why and how we like it.

  1. The movie gives us a theater full of Nazis gleefully enjoying a movie depicting pointless nihilistic violence. Tarantino is asking, “What the fuck is wrong with me and my audience? Is this what we are?”
  2. Not for nothing, the logic of cinema reverses at the end of Inglorious Basterds. The Action Heroes’ plan fails. The Nazis are defeated by ordinary people, a Black man and Jewish woman, by them burning their back catalgoue of films.
  3. The overpoweredginger <@AdmiralOPG> adds:

    also I think it’s worth noting that the Allies’ plan fails not just because of the violence, but also because of the language

    their inability to communicate like the Germans & Italians directly hampers their effectiveness, but the people from within that environment don’t

    Tarantino says here that expertise in violence is worthless where it really counts; cultural sophistication is far more powerful. Notice how from the very beginning, his films have been Comedies Of Manners Decorated With Violence.

Turning to Django Unchained, of course there is a lot going on in it. Surely one can see in there its own ambivalence about the fantasy of cinema projected onto real historical horrors? Yeah, it feels great to unleash Black Cowboy Murder on slavers, and movie logic lets Django & Broomhilda get away. But in the movie, slavery is not defeated, is it?

Literally as I was walking out of the theater, it was clear to me that it was about not history but movies about slavery, making it impossible to watch Gone With The Wind uncritically. I said at the time:

Django Unchained is, first among many interesting things, Tarantino vs. Selznick. Tarantino wins.

I think that needed doing.

Now Tarantino does have a third, explicitly political film about how we respond to the fascist sensibility.

Poster for the Quentin Tarantino movie ‘The Hateful Eight’

And boy howdy is The Hateful Eight a lot more complicated than either simply advocating responding with violence, or not. Maybe someday I will find time to write about that, or find someone who has already said it better than I could.

The fae courts of America

Rescuing another thread from Twitter.

It starts with David Thomas Moore <@dtmooreeditor> saying:


Hotel California and The House of the Rising Sun are rival fae courts, and She and The Gamblin’ Man are their monarchs, locked in an endless war for the souls of America.

New blue jeans sewn by your mother are a powerful protection charm, but you must never take them off, and the creatures of the Two Houses will give you powerful incentives to do so.

A mirror on the ceiling will trap an unwary fae. Pink champagne is a lure to them, and can seal a sworn oath of loyalty.

The Gamblin’ Man can be outwitted, outfought or reasoned with, but only when sober. He carries a suitcase and a trunk everywhere he goes. Tempted though you may be, never open them without his invitation.

She keeps many treasures — Tiffany jewels, a Mercedes Benz — but will tolerate no wine being poured in Her hall, for reasons She does not share.

There is a Beast in the Master’s Chamber. It can never die.

(They say She took wine with Buzz Aldrin, Her last mortal consort. She truly loved him, they say, and so afeared for his soul was he that he fled the Earth to be free, and now She cannot bear to taste or even see it.)

I offered additional lore, mostly responding to comments on this and elsewhere.

DrBlonde <@DrBlonde1> adds:

In the version I know, the singer is the Gamblin’ Man’s wife, tempted away from her home. But as she ages & her husband does not, he becomes more and more obsessed with a projection of She which roams outside the Hotel’s walls. She has no name but the fishermen call her Jolene

The song “Jolene” is a protective charm against She, the Queen of Hotel California. There are additional, secret verses which are more powerful, but one risks one’s sanity learning too many of them.

Gail Simone wonders:

Seriously though what if Fonzie was an elder god and Potsy was his herald of death and splishy splashy carnage

Given the powers he exhibits, that the Fonz is an avatar of a dread and incomprehensible cosmic entity is obvious. The question is whether the Fonz and Jolene are lovers, adversaries, or family.

Steve Cooper <@stevecooperorg> asks:

Is the beast a horse with no name?

Oh, the immortal Beast in the Master’s chambers has a name. One should pray never to hear it. Long ago there were those who tried to lure it through the desert in hopes that it would forget, but the Beast was far too cunning, so now it is their names which are lost to us.

Oiling my traps <@KaraSunburst> says:

On further reflection, I think “Spill The Wine” is like the Silmarillion to this. The wine, the girl? It’s all there.

Every kind of girl. Every kind of girl. If you understand the implications, then you see another clue about why wine has not been served at the Hotel California for more than half a century.

Rob Northrup. This Gun in My Hand podcast🕵 <@evilbobdayjob> reflects:

The Midnight Special or the train they call The City of New Orleans?

As a bonus, South Detroit is itself a fae land that humans rarely find. (Actual Detroiters call area to the South “Downriver”. No one but Journey calls any area “South Detroit”.)

Recall also that Midnight Train tickets are available to anywhere. But, once again, it is wise to carefully consider the risk if one rolls the dice just one more time.

porterwoman <@porterwoman> proposes:

So the Son of the Preacher Man was actually a changling, roaming the land, teaching and reaching out to mortals to bring to his mistress or master? Checks out 👍🏽

The sacred verses teach us that the Son travels with the Preacher Man, but uses his persuasive reassurances counter to his father’s will. One cannot trust the ease the Son offers to last.

Greys <@Greyist> says:

The Wayward Son is a hero that rises from men in times of great strife to bring peace, however brief, between the houses. They are not always welcome to do so, lead astray by mortal desires

There are in fact two Wayward Sons, brothers who know every back road and never stop anywhere for long. One is handsome and brash, the other beautiful and learnèd. No man, beast, fae, demon, or god can stand against them when they stand together.

Weaver95 🍔🍟 <@WeaverXP> asks:

But what about the joker, who said to the thief that there was too much confusion and could get no relief?

The Joker will tell you not to worry. He may offer to teach you a secret word which reveals the truth of love. He may hint that his name is Maurice.

Do not believe him. The Thief has his number. He speaks falsely.

CD <@Davisindisguise> asks:

How does Black Betty fit into all this

She is armed with a whip, a bottle of whiskey, and a flintlock musket. If she permits you to kiss her or one of these, choose wisely.

She stands with the House Of The Rising Sun, rock-steady in her fealty.

Fear her wild daughter, Brown Bess, who stands with no one.

Anosognosiogenesis <@pookleblinky> made the related observation:

Prince and David Bowie were 2 of the 3 mystical pillars holding the universe together. Dolly Parton is the third, and last. She is the only thing keeping reality itself from decomposing. She must be protected at all costs, the fate of the entire universe depends on it.

Tom Waits is not one of the pillars, but he has the important cosmic task of tricking people who attempt to find them.

And Dr Damien P Williams Warned You About Exactly This <@Wolven> adds a lovely bit of related lore:

Happy 70th to the undisputed king of hobos, tramps, rail-riders, yarn spinners, leg pullers,& backwoods devil deal-makers — we found his party clown in a diner built from the haunted rubble of the last Woolworths in Sheboygan — everybody give it up for Mr Thomas Bartholtleby Waits!

Now some people say it’s <@tomwaits>’ 73rd birthday, but see, he sold those extra three years back in ’97 for a pack of Pall Malls and a ’67 Chevy. Now the pall malls were stale and the chevy had a bad carburetor, but Jimmy the Pin had a line on fix and all old Tom had to do was run the Preakness and lose on the back of a broke down Palomino mule.

Now Tom stole the starter pistol so they had that downtown train whistle blowing like Gabriel kickin' down the absolute gates of hell to start the race when the jockey old Tom robbed for his saddle pulled his switchblade from a riding boot and a riding crop from exactly where you think he did and cut out sideways across the circuit riding Tom right down.

The polka band in the stands started playing a chase and Jimmy the Pin put that old carburetor right down in that ’67 Chevy and came barrelling around the bend just in time for Old Tom to jump right off the back of that palomino mule and through the window, and they took off out through the stables, and all to way down to the best diner in the Baltimore docks.

Never did see those three years again.

Responding to a lost tweet from Saladin Ahmed, I said that an important addition to the pop cosmology would be the trinity of Light Dolly, Dark Elvira, and the Red Sister.

setmajer he/him <@setmajer> offers deep lore on this:

The Red Sister is sibling to the Red Queen who in turn is the ancient antagonist of the all-knowing oracle Alice.

The Queen earned Alice’s eternal enmity when she sent her Knights in White Satin, famed for communicating entirely in reverse speech, to take Alice’s head.

Alice escaped thanks to instructions from her network of spies, known as the Chessmen.

Frustrated, the Queen lost the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. She shot and killed a man named Andrew, who was her Sheriff, though she spared his Deputy.

However, some in the south whisper that it was in fact the Red Sister, reputedly an unerring huntress, who murdered Andy.

Sadly, it was an innocent, who returned from a ramble to discover his wife had an affair with Andy, who was sent to the dungeons of Folsom for the crime.

It is said that the Queen, her already-fragile sanity shattered by guilt, went over the hills to the Misty Mountains where to this day her shade can be heard wailing ‘Let me go!’

To which the sylphs reply, ‘Bismillah! We will not let you go!’

While most say her disciples simply grew tired and emotional due to her distant and fickle demeanour, in the southern province of Georgia some whisper the true cause was her infidelity with Seth and Andrew, and the conviction of her innocent husband for Andrew’s murder.

In this we see the cruelty of the fae, as in fact one of the sylphs, posing as a girl so fair, had captured the innocent Rambling Man’s soul as it departed his body and carried it over the hills and far away to become the Spirit in the Sky.

The Rambling Man, of course, was the son of The Gambler who also hailed from Georgia. But his is a story for another time.

Nor will I talk about the Midnight Rambler, who none living have seen, save to say that as to his purported seelie origins he’s not one of those.

I will add to that lore:

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaraunt. Except for Alice. She delivers what you want, not what you asked for, so a Thanksgiving dinner which cannot be beat may leave you with a criminal record … or may prevent you from being conscripted for military service … or both. As always with the fae, deal carefully, for the wyrd of price is impossible to predict.