Black Ribbon Award

Month: September, 2015


Anatomy of a World Leader by Alex Grey

At first we feared that it would end too soon. Then we feared that it would not end soon enough. But then we came to how we always end up: as settlers. There was, in an instance and without us really noticing, a great blurring of intensities—Or was it a melding? Still yet, a coupling? A cohabitation? Or maybe a cannibalization?—that could not otherwise have been compatible.  What, indeed, gave into what? Did anticipation give into fear? Did disappointment take hope into its arms and squeeze until there was no breath to squeeze out of it? Did love melt into indifference? Did violence sauté and serve unviolence for a table of one? It is often said of the longest running installation art collective in the medium’s history that they are perpetually settling. But on what frontier it is never certain. Indeed, this unpredictability, this schizophrenia of theme, is at the center of America’s polarization. What they were trying to accomplish with OBAMA will seem dismissive to some, enticing to others, depending on how deeply one wants to look. Such as it is with all art, high and low, violent or unviolent.

But one cannot fairly assess OBAMA’s impact without first facing what had presaged it. America’s oeuvre, it seems, is never not commenting on its own history, sometimes exclusively and solipsistically so. In this case, however, it is something of a blessing that they have decided not to look back too far, something that has been of interest to them for the past few exhibitions. BUSH II was the clearest expression of this interest, and indeed it is BUSH II that is being confronted again and again in almost every kink and contour of OBAMA.

What even was BUSH II? Artforum said it was a “perpetually adolescent Sadie Hawkins slow dance with the deathworks.” Jerry Saltz thought it was “mesmerizing, satirizing, stultifying, cauterizing, simonizing, winterizing paleovoyeurism.” Dave Hickey ejaculated onto a 1040. It’s certain that BUSH II found the collective being more confrontational than it had previously been. But America always does its work halfway, letting “environmental factors” fill in the gaps. There were, it seems, so many gaps, left by faulty patchwork of themes, symbols, gestures, and feelings, beautiful in their own ways, but tormented out of form by vomit, glitter, and hot glue. In the end, though, response depended entirely on its either/or proposition. One can either let his or her heart be wrenched by the perverse exquisiteness of its intention or one can have his or her bowels ground into sausage over the opulent vulgarity of its execution. To say one has claimed to experience, let alone actively tried to experience, both, would be to attach to a missile of fallacy a warhead of insult.

What was most evident to those who saw BUSH II though was its sense of culmination. America had reached a point at which it seemed entirely uncertain as to whether it could or would continue beyond it. So much of it seemed so conclusive and mission defining as opposed to taste or epoch-making. Clearly our imagination has played us for fools. Appropriate, really, as it is a fool’s parlor game to even try to understand America’s creative process. How they chose to move from BUSH II to OBAMA seems simply migraine-inducing and humbling to contemplate. They must work in tandem, surely, but just how in tandem? Who gets what say seems entirely contingent on mood and resource. Is there a thematic faction calling for more hills on which to place more shining cities? Or is there a technical arm jutting through the philosophy to beg for “More light! At the center!” It is only clear that the debut presented all of these elements and more in an order more meticulous than previously conceived. BUSH II stood gleefully and relaxed on a center it was either unwilling or unable to hold. OBAMA stood aloofly and upright on a center that was holding in spite of itself. Here was something pristine and genuine, a corrective without actually professing to correct. It resisted intrusion or sullying; until our hands—not to mention our breaths and our loins—did just those things.

The idea of explicit instructions never seemed to sit comfortably into any of America’s manifestos. There was always conflict within them as to what, exactly, could be done. Some seemed issued entirely in jest, as dares and challenges, or as hazing protocol. It is important to repeat that none of America’s works are monumental, save maybe its first. Though it varies by certain degrees, the breakdown of the audience-participant divide is inevitable. Yet the contrast between BUSH II and OBAMA is notable. With the former, everything was conceived according to plan. It stood there, smooth-surfaced and graspable, a milling around rather than an occasion. And then it malfunctioned. (Or did it?) And we became meddlers. It became colder and we withdrew, encasing it instead with our stares, at turns blankly observant and disbelievingly reverent. And it froze, in a sense, and has never quite thawed. The expression and the impressions never changed and it got to a point that we could not look on in good faith anymore. The latter could not have been more different. It presupposed monumentality, and yet we reached anyway. Whenever the first touch was laid, and by whomever, it was evident that it would not stop. Nothing was stopping anyone from going on, in, and even through OBAMA. Whole arms protruded into it. Whole tongues slugged forth to taste it. Whole voices called to it. It did not respond, but we could see the evidence of our interactions all over its surface. Our smudges, oils, spittle, tears, and dents.

What OBAMA is, in the end, is up to the viewer. Is OBAMA bad? Of course. Is OBAMA good? Of course. Is OBAMA abstract and unknowable? Of course. Is OBAMA a presence in our lives, an object coexisting beside us but also between our adversaries as a benevolent Wall of Social and Legal Equalization? Of course. Earthly industry can produce near-limitless supplies of courses, and questions of OBAMA will only come very close to exhausting them.

But we’re talking about OBAMA in relation to the distant past and the brute immediacy of the present. Not that America doesn’t care about these things in relation to this piece, but compared to previous works, the future looms longer and starker. Perhaps, then, it wasn’t so much a monument to us as an omen for us, and standing in another plain entirely. It did not look at us when we saw it, or feel us when we in turn felt it, because it was given a higher gaze, for which it may have pained to look lower. Some, like Roger Scruton, have argued it was out of contempt. There’s a case for that, I suppose. Not since WILSON has there been so flippant a dalliance with the dangers of speculative fiction. But contempt to some is concern for others, concern for an audience otherwise unseen or unwrought into proper physical definition. I’d argue the latter because underestimating America’s gift for foresight is a pastime I find worthy of discontinuation. It’s not quite a genius, but what’s genius but a more entertaining variation of thermal shutdown? In OBAMA we are not given complete visions, but we don’t need them when the faint glints on the horizon are piercing enough in their malevolence. We see the competing possibilities of The New. New sources of energy, new sources of shock, new sources of anxiety, new sensations, new impotencies, new triggers to self-harm.

All of these are, in fact, making themselves known as OBAMA’s exhibition comes to its conclusion and new projects are under consideration. The question remains is whether or not OBAMA will be returned to once America has moved on. To haunt beyond its time is not the most sought after or simplest but certainly the most noble of the artistic ambitions. Could it hang at the edge of our psyche, fangs flashing, like Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion or The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living? Or will it give us pause to question why we were so moved it experience it in the first place like any number of Koons’s balloon animals? Then again there are some things that are not so either/or.

The experience of OBAMA carries with it all the fatigue, aches, scents, and moistness of roughly one thousand masturbations. Perhaps even infinite masturbations. What we had obscured deep into the chapel of adulthood came vaulting back half-blind and through glass on rocket skates. We hit the ground. We always do. The injuries we sustained are perpetual. Some of them bring us joy. They are in cool shapes. Some are even phallic. Some bring us searing remembrances of the original pain, shooting into our centers—spiritual and literal—like bullets or ice picks, simply heightening the pain to new levels. Fury and flight. Joy and pain. Pain and accelerated pain. Art is what does this. Art is OBAMA.

(Above image: Anatomy of a World Leader by Alex Grey)



NJ postcard

I guess, for the sake of narrative clarity, I should start at the beginning. Or at least that’s what I would like to do. It’s not that I can’t remember the path that led me to be here, it’s that I find myself remembering several. Perhaps this is the burden that befalls all Great Men in those rare moments of perplexity. It is daunting, my position, make no mistake. But surely you want to know and so let us work through this together.

I know it’s easy to see me here, under the golden dome of the State House, and accept how truly inevitable it all seems. “Governor Morgan” has an effortless ring to it, in ways sonorous and supernatural. But of course things are not always so dead set when one has a firm handle on history, and mine is a strange one and a dizzying one, I admit that. We like to think that the path to power is paved straightly and smoothly, through civic virtue, or at least careful vetting. How childlike it all seems now that the Revelations have come to pass.

Power, I’ve learned, is not something someone simply wants, or even seeks out. Turns out it’s a lot like inspiration. I’ve lived in New Jersey for all but two and a half years of my life. Looking out the window of my train as South Orange begat Orange begat East Orange, it did not dawn on me to take the reins of its infrastructure. At Action Park, dodging flailing limbs and stifling screams of emotional ambiguity, guiding the collective destiny of its people seemed the highest order of implausibility. It’s something that simply … came about, almost entirely on its own cognizance.

Perhaps it was at the diner, late August, an hour or so before closing. I was the only one at my table, surrounded by more than one many-peopled tables, mostly people who were much younger than me. They were, in large part, happy, or at least very eager. Eager to get on with the night, eager to say their goodbyes, eager to have the last word in their breakup conversations, eager to test the strength of lifelong friendships by persuading someone else to cover all the coffee. Eager, in other words, to move on. They were college kids, saddled with the self-declaimed misfortune of being brought up here, a place where they are intent on spending an ever decreasing amount of obligatory downtime. People around here know that eagerness well. They wear it tensely and half-fixed on their faces, not certain they want to completely conceal it. To most it is the look of irrepressible youth; to me it is the look of a witling plant with half-torn roots. It is the look of knowing what to trash but not what to grasp. They wanted to banish themselves, and suddenly I wanted to help them. I remember next that Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon” started playing, whether it came from the diner speakers or from my chocolate cake rush I can’t recall, but it started growing so loud as to take up space. I remember breaking into song, spoon in hand around the dining room, I remember a waiter taking out his ukulele and following me, I remember being physically removed, and I remember no one was behind me when I pranced through the streets.

Or perhaps it was when I regained consciousness some indeterminate time later, encircled by a kind of people I can only logically assess as Pineys. I’d never set eyes on such a people, nor had they ever set eyes on someone like me. Still, they took me in and we met an awkward but not uneasy middle ground in our linguistic disconnects. We bonded over moonshine, they offered me sustenance with tire fire barbecue. Soon they grew to be comforted by my eloquence, enough that they invited me to advise their Elders Council. By the time they offered me to join, however, I had regained by northern restlessness. I had taken to leave, but when I looked back, they were right behind me. Far be it from me to tell them how to live, I persisted, made my way back up the Parkway. Every time I looked back the following seemed to be larger. By the time I had come back to Union County I was standing atop a Land Rover, willingly donated and horse-drawn for effect. I wanted to stop when I got home, but they wanted to push forth. I got them pizza, but they were still unsatisfied. So I led them to the Mall at Short Hills, for want of anything else. We came, they carried me in, we acquired Teslas, iPads, and Cheesecake Factory before the panicked staff and shoppers could entirely torch it.

The rest remains a blur, to be quite honest. Tumblr flame wars, specialized trucker hats, massive and riotous rallies, a Steppin’ Out cover feature. All of it leading toward my now inevitable rise to Trenton’s hallowed halls of power. There were hitches along the way, of course; like questions of my legitimacy. Some subpoenas were brought forth, some cases heard, some opinions handed down. They are on a pile TO BE READ, next to my even larger pile of unsolicited memos luminaries send me in hopes that I will condense them into decrees.

The morning after, though, I awoke suddenly imbued with a great sense of power. The power that builds muscle of a very spiritual kind, that allowed me to ask where, exactly, the state’s supply of dynamite was and if there was enough that could be applied to every bridge in the state. Turns out there was. We’ve added nice plaques to each of them.

And it is the same power that moved me to undertake my greatest policy success of freeing the sex workers of their bondage with proper business permits and loan approvals. There was a raised eyebrow or two at the decision to give them quarter in Alpine. Paul Mulshine raised his the highest. In setting the new tone of my administration I decided it was best to engage than to brush off. I told him straight that we had to set higher standards in New Jersey starting at its lowest social rungs and working our way skyward. A better quality of brothel invariably engenders a better quality of school, which begets higher property values, and just an overall more potent quality of life known heretofore to only very few of us. It’s really a matter of freedom of personal choice; the freedom to choose to trickle up rather than down; and the freedom to choose to be either be the most respected political columnist in New Jersey, or to take an extended vacation to the FunTown Pier amusement park detention center.

I cannot remember when the wall came up, or whether it was an extension of my policies or the policies of outsiders. But we’re content with it, in spite of what you may have heard regarding food shortages, cholera and foot-and-mouth outbreaks, complications regarding NJ Transit’s transition to a monorail system, or the fact that Freedom of Speech is relegated to the comment section of Frankly I’m comforted. I’m comfortable with the fact that there are exceptions to generally accepted ways of being and doing, and that those exceptions begin once one crosses the Delaware or the Hudson, or beaches in from the Atlantic Ocean. New Jerseyans are a boorishly concrete people. We are affirmed as much as we are isolated, defined as well as categorized. I guess if having an existential meltdown every day is your idea of fun in Delaware far be it from us to stop you. We’re a bit busy here building a distinct, if not necessarily objectively better, world.



In coming to comprehend the act of thinking about culture, it is perhaps easier to give it the same attention and seriousness one would give leisure athletics, and then to assign each of its extremities a corresponding sport. Music, for instance, is tennis. Film is tee-ball. Television is tetherball. Literature is Russian roulette. Leisure athletics is croquet. And so on. These are fairly simple and uncontroversial approximations, all giving aid and comfort to those who don’t expend anywhere near the amount of effort the self-anointed vanguard enthusiasts do in pursuing and propounding on these things. Yet when one reaches pornography, as one inevitably does, one finds a palpable sensory shift. The stakes, it seems, are higher; the ground beneath one’s feet is softer and thinner. The warmth of earth tones gives way to the quick burning streaks of red across a more climactically uncertain block of black. It seems obvious to some that pornography’s kinship is in the octagon, though jai alai would be more fitting. It is alien to many and dangerous to those who play cavalierly, its intensity is rarely rivaled.

Yet to say that anyone has been particularly, or even generally, correct when thinking about pornography would be committing an error right out of the gate at best, lending weight to a grand deception at worst.

It’s very easy to look upon pornography and all that it has wrought as though it was a culture like anything else. This is one of those many little lies we like to tell ourselves in order to make the next day seem less unforeseeable. It is a lot like milk in a way, doing us good through methods and to ends that are not quite clear. But it doesn’t really heed to logic outside of this context. More than culture, or even industry, pornography is a frontier. To say that it was something sewn together out of co-interested fabrics is to overlook its preexisting state. It was not articulated, it was happened upon. It was not built, but built upon. Its boundaries were not created from within civilization, but laid against it. It is not subject to the same dictates as culture is, it has cultures of its own. No mere activity, it is an environment that responds to rather than provokes those who walk within it.

Moreover, pornography is a man’s frontier. It is, indeed, the remaining domain in which a man can claim himself absolute sovereign over its contours and final arbiter of its character. It is like an oasis amidst an otherwise arid social plain. The man’s voice and what it demands come primary above all other needs. Man fashions pornography in his image, accentuates it to his tastes, and synchronizes it with his energies. All of it, provided he can sustain it through the resources pornography provides.

It does not seem certain just how women came to be discovered in pornography. Whether its pioneers came in search of them or if they had been found by chance or happy miracle, no one can positively confirm. It is only clear that a steady supply of the resource is needed for pornography’s animation to remain constant, integral to it much in the same way that oil is integral to the life or our cars or to conflict in the Middle East. They come as if freshly mined from the soil itself. There are no dry spells and there are no rushes. Refinement is simple; conversion to energy is immediate and brilliant. When energy is spent, often quickly, it is replenished without effort. This is a system running smoothly. But an energy dependent frontier is subject to risks. Though pornography has never properly busted, the intensity of its demands have sometimes wrought sources of such power as to be as much reactive as active, backfiring against institution and ecosystem alike.

In the pantheon of famous porn performers, Stacey Donovan’s name does not immediately register to anyone other than the most hardened enthusiast of pornography’s “golden age.” But from her brief time in the industry, starting in 1983 at the age of 18, it was clear she embodied the ideal of the era. Described by porn commentator Luke Ford as a “Christy Brinkley lookalike” with a background in modeling, Donovan’s blond hair and perky persona exemplified Reaganomic beauty in sex cinema much in the same way Lea Thompson and Kelly Preston had done in teen cinema. Indeed, it is conceivable that chivalrous young men in the suburbs and on college campuses found her a near-perfect masturbatory understudy for the questionably requited crushes she may well have resembled. In her four year career she performed in hundreds of films. Her most well-known performance is 1986’s Convenience Store Girls, a lampoon of the Meese Commission’s attempts to curb the sale of pornographic magazines. The film paints a bleak portrait of contemporary life in which the “Thought Police” lurk in stores waiting to nab buyers on trumped up charges. As a store owner, Donovan takes it upon herself to right these wrongs by (spoiler alert) screwing the busybodies and Bible thumpers into compliance with her business needs. Though it has a compelling civil libertarian message, the film is, in typical fashion, bereft of even competent acting or writing, and, in light of recent changes in the industry, it is perhaps the most laughable porn plot in its history, rivaled only by the surrealistic Deep Throat. It is also the most ironic.

In the pre-internet era of pornography, fame outside of the frontier was almost always synonymous with notoriety and with having left or been exiled from it. It brought shame and tragedy, breaches of trust and burning of bridges. Most of us know the disaster cases, made public at the height of its chic as well as its outlaw infamy. Performers like Traci Lords and Alexandra Quinn get the most notice for pure sensation, pornographic in its own way, as in-demand actresses in the 1980s and 1990s who each had numerous films behind them—75 and 60, respectively—before they were discovered to have been 16 years old at the start of their careers. Similarly, Linda Lovelace became something of a political football amid the Deep Throat controversy, the one that launched the intellectual tradition this piece is perpetuating. By comparison, Donovan’s notoriety is minor and largely forgotten, a symptom rather than a definer of the zeitgeist. But it is worth reexamining all the same.

Donovan’s chipper persona and eager performances were in equal proportion to how much she reportedly loathed doing them. Having apparently entered the industry for purely mercenary reasons, and ignoring the warnings of modeling photographers against doing so, Donovan’s costars remember a performer who “hated sex” and sometimes cried on set. In 1987 she made these feelings known by going from indirect critic of the Meese Commission to direct participant. She was an informant for federal agencies, turning over evidence and testifying against two producers in San Fernando Municipal Court. She testified that her daily pay rate was as high as $1,000. She found herself blacklisted in short order. Her colleagues reflect on her with bitterness, though Jerry Butler’s assessment in his memoir Raw Talent that she was a “tomboy” at heart, more comfortable “climbing trees” than fucking on film can probably count as generous. Into her 50s by now, she has been entirely out of the public eye. She is rumor fodder on some message boards, a witness protection stint being one of them.

But Donovan’s and Meese’s collaboration was decidedly in vain. The frontier, like all natural wonders, alters more easily than it burns. Notoriety need not come with shame. If it does it can be battled against and repossessed as performers like Belle Knox have shown. And it need not require any kind of exit from the industry as Stoya and James Deen have shown. Donovan’s world is behind them, and apparently all for the better.

Self-improvement is the order of the industry. Or some parts of the industry. While the recent “exposé” Hot Girls Wanted, shows a pornography spiraling into “pro-am” exploitation—ostensibly the pornographic equivalent of fracking—the industry itself is eager to show its love for alternative energy sources. Perhaps its most perplexing development is “romantic porn” or “porn for couples,” or if we lift the veil higher, “porn for women.” By the logic of marketing it’s well within the realm of savvy, though the sex positive feminist might find herself shipwrecked in a nightmare of a reinforced gender binary, if not in theme or performance than certainly in style; if porn is sex on barbiturates, romantic porn is porn on Thorazine. Still, it’s a style they seem to want to play with, most notably with regards to kink and related “taboo” subject matter, projecting the idea of intimacy onto activities under threat from cold, stilted 50 Shades-ification.

Regardless of whatever became of the former Stacey Donovan, watching her now she comes off ghostlike, a specter of an era long past and cheerily forgotten. That she has not become an icon for sex negatives is surprising. Or perhaps not, if an aversion to delving deeply into the porn frontier is to be believed. But this, in the end, is preferable. So long as begrudging people continue to tell it for her, Donovan’s story, and the contradictions therein, is one that goes beyond the rigid binary of positive and negative sexuality and well past pornography’s pale. There is a separate spot of land for her, frigid and unkempt, and with minimal accommodation for light, without signage and maybe not even entirely mapped. It resists new vegetation and has nothing worth extracting. But it might be a place that could tempt travelers to overlook pornography’s homespun comforts, where only vague, half-familiar intuitions are on hand to guide them. Where uninhibited desire and repressed revulsion entangle and copulate every bit as closely as bodies. It is troubling, but compelling, and perhaps more relatable to “civilians” than the pioneers want to admit. Hers is an inadvertent effort in sexual education in the conflict between feral drives and human self-awareness, for a culture that has no proper regard for how the latter either tames or unleashes the former, whether in the pursuit of fun or profit. To the former Miss Donovan’s pleasure, it is not pornographic, perhaps it is not even sexual; it is, in a way, missionary.


Citizen 000

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause I don’t know how to grill and don’t care to learn.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause its latest LP left surprisingly little to be desired.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause Communism treats objects like women, and women like corgis.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause then Miley will be prevented from hoarding All The Drugs.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause then All The Drugs will be basically placebos. Because Communism is the best high.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause the Constitution is too long. Or too short. Or just right but who cares.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause James Deen had some provocative thoughts on his Tumblr.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause infertility leave is a beautiful concept.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause it will keep my secrets for me, not keep its secrets from me like my other exes.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause I’m dying of quiet desperation when what I really want to do is die of romantic exhaustion.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause I’m chasing every last one of my fears down and ripping their throats out with my bare teeth.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause 1 is the loneliest number, 1 million is … not.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause demonology is real the unholy powers are a force defined and breathing and the angels are asleep not only are they asleep but they refuse to become awake they refuse because they are lost they feel fear  you know they are too afraid to watch us to know us to really truly care did they ever but you see they left their swords unsheathed and on the streets right there all around us to be picked up and to be carried into battle demons are all around us you can always tell who’s an angel by its absence but you can’t tell what a demon is because of its overabundance i know myself that there are days when i’ll interact almost exclusively with demons i don’t know if they care if i know that they are demons or if they know that i am their adversary it’s a lonely thing being in a world rife with demons i am a clear minority here i cannot fight them on my own i am imbued with powers no greater than wit who gives a fuck about wit though what would shake with dread at the sight of a wit would it even just weight its options the pros and cons of going toe to toe with someone witty fuck no this is real everything if you haven’t been told is real i’m real as real as it gets and i need you to be equally though not necessarily more real as we undertake this endeavor to rid the world of demons and demonlike people nevermind what the goddamn differences are between them just know that they exist and are a support base they level the playing field they stack the deck they light the fuse they drill the hole they pay the tab they dry refill and dry the oceans and lakes over and over whenever wherever and whyever but i’ve got their secrets i’ve got them on spreadsheets i’ve got their phones and their facebooks and their favorite microbrews because you never know and we’ll hit them first because without them no one has nothing i don’t care if we have to go to every house and root them out with all we got which if you’ve forgotten are these swords so we should be good i know exactly where they are so don’t worry about that anyway we need to get them and then we need to get the others the real problem the source of everything wrong so much has gone wrong and i’m fucking tired of it i could just be like all the others and just go to sleep but no not me not this person do you feel like you’ve been destined for this or that thing like better things i didn’t at first but now i clearly do you think i want all this do you think i like being burdened with ridding the world of its plagues who the fuck are you to tell me how i feel you who i totally trust and in no way suspect of being an unholy thing or an enabler thereof oh no i won’t be like the others that’s how they get you you’ll all see my foundation is iron as fuck iron as fuck i tell you and guess who just volunteered to be the first to know

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause I paid for two-day shipping and it’s day three.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause it needs me now more than ever.

#IBelieveInCommunismBecause it doesn’t allow, logically, for more than two sex positions.



ANNOUNCER: This is the Channel 62 News “Soapbox Minute,” brought to you by Exorcist IPA. “The power of hops compels you.”

ANCHOR: Jacob Robard works part-time as a bookkeeper for a septic tank removal service in Erie. He’s here to give us his take on a pressing issue of the day. Jacob.

JACOB: Right now, one of the great moral crusades of our time is the abolition of the death penalty. I know that there are other things to worry us: nuclear war, the sex trade, abortion. But the death penalty seems singular in our nation; it’s our eccentricity, our quirk. It unsettles us at our core being and envelops our character to the point of total definition. It’s like autism, I guess, something to be strictly discouraged in our nature despite how deeply ingrained it truly is. I suspect some people would sooner have it broadcasted on public access before seeing it abolished in total.

I have no answers myself. Frankly speaking, I’m quite agnostic about the whole thing. However it’s a useful analogy for my own issue.

Banning the skin graft treatment has been a central objective in my life for several years. I suppose you could call it a “crusade.” People might think that’s grandiose, but I refuse to err on the side of modesty when facing down one of our greatest moral failings. Sure, I can’t tell you much about the origin or basic history of the skin graft. I’m not that kind of expert. What’s clear, though, is my certainty. My certainty that the skin graft’s existence in our country has had nothing but a corroding effect on it.

For professing that belief I’ve amassed a good supply of flak, predominantly from people who are burn victims, people who used to be burn victims, and people who are related to burn victims. Let me be clear that I understand why that is. In recent years there’s been a nationwide drought of empathy, but I’m fortunate enough to have not been affected by it. But I can’t compromise my views all the same. In the path that I’ve chosen I’ve seen my fair share of the burned. I refuse to call them victims. That would not be truthful. They are blessed.

The idea of being “blessed” is wholly corrupt in our culture, like everything else. It’s good to know, though, that a true blessing is still attainable on this earth. We have not been left behind as some would like to think. No one can truly be blessed unless they’ve been chosen to expound God’s language, yet time and time again we relegate them to victimhood.

God speaks in fire. Fire predates all communication, it predates all communicators. It would make sense that no written language can adequately reveal God’s true word and its resolute clarity. It would make sense that our only direct link to the indisputable message of the scripture can be found in our burned population, whether first degree or third degree. The lessons of God lie within every crevice and scar upon their bodies, and yet we train ourselves to avert our eyes from them. To not look is one thing, of course, it is an entirely different thing to erase. Instead of studying their marks we undo them, unseeing God’s messages and untelling each new Biblical story. No wonder we no longer need to burn books.

By now I’ve probably put out enough pages of petitions to match a Dean Koontz novel, which have gained enough signatures to match a William Carlos Williams poem. They always say it takes time and sacrifice to take a stand, to do what’s right. They say that people like me will never live to see the fruits of our efforts become ripe for picking. That to me was more of a privilege than a curse. Some are not fortunate to have the time to just say they’re right and be satisfied with it. There’s this book, it has a picture of William Lloyd Garrison in it. Sometimes I go to the page it’s on and ask it questions, as if it knew how the man it’s representing got through the hardest moments. Sometimes I mouth back the first answer that comes to my head.

If it were in my power I’d burn as many towns as possible, by myself if I have to. Small towns and suburbs, of course. I can’t just sit here and give God the impression that no one is listening, that we’ve all just turned away, even if so many of us truly have. Of course I believe that we’re still salvageable. I just need to send out the S.O.S.

Cities only seem like the easy way, but you’d be wrong there. There’s nothing to cities in the end. Whatever soul they’re imbued with is just delusion. A city’s pulse is too quick for a soul, its people don’t know its look, let alone its feeling. Anyone who’s ever knocked over their little sister’s building blocks knows all the ins and outs of how cities fall. Each building crashing into the one in front of it making a path almost as preordained as the pavement below. Nothing of substance becomes of its people, so lost until they find the nearest body of water and keep going until there are no names left in their phone books. And the fires are stillborn, obscene scribbles. God looks down on the suburb with intent and focus. There the fire never stops; it moves in and makes its home where table places and beds have been set for it. It burns and burns and burns and burns, reaching the atmosphere almost, like joyous arms. It’s the scream that never loses its voice.

These are the new croatoans. They’re still possible even now. I need to know that we know that if nothing else, so that when the time is right, we’ll receive all necessary instructions, the first being, I hope, to dust off the welcome mat of our lighted earth.

ANCHOR: Thank you, Jacob. To be considered for a future installment of “Soapbox Minute,” please submit your idea to And now Dan with sports.



[See below for corrections. -ED]

Greetings, user!

Please pardon the intrusion, but we here at XCorp just wanted to drop a line and let you know that we’ve updated our privacy policy. At XCorp we understand that you have entrusted us with a good deal of your private information in exchange for access to our services, an amount that, in light of recent innovations, seems ever more unprecedented. We appreciate you giving us a moment of your time to look it over!

For clarification, this is not the revised privacy policy itself. This is just friendly note we’re sending to let you know that we changed it. We know it’s kind of a hassle, with the seemingly impossible quest to get your inbox “down to zero.” Look at you, so sought after and popular! We fully understand—and are even proud of—the fact that a vast majority of our users are so important and worthy of respect from their peers, underlings, and overlings in equal measure. And who have loved ones who are invested in their well-being. Yay you! And perhaps more importantly, yay us!

You see, to XCorp this is more than a mere notification. We know that in this day and age of accelerated corporate culture, of “brand management,” not to mention of an ever shakier sense of security in spite of massive feats of technological advancement, concepts like trust, appreciation, and friendship ring hollow and noncommittal. So many companies speak of them so casually as to be bereft entirely of meaning. It makes us sick to our collective stomach, quite frankly, user. Moreover, every company goes out of its way to say it’s “different,” putting sincerely different companies in an awkward position to prove their worth. Permit us, if you will, to attempt to do that by addressing these three concepts, point by point and in reversed order of importance.


It’s amazing how far a simple “Thank you!” will get you in this crazy life. Thankfulness seems an underrated feeling because to some it restricts pride, and might even require some work! But we’ve come to love being thankful, not least of all to you. We know that you had so many options from which to choose in seeking out the services we provide, and yet you found in XCorp the qualities that satisfied you. (No need to tell us what they are! We sort of have an idea. ;-)) It gives us such joy every time you seek us out for said services. We believe that we are the best in providing them. We know, it seems easy for us to say that, and a bit boorish, but perhaps you didn’t know us before you created your account. We’re not going to sugarcoat it, it wasn’t always so certain. Yes, even we had moments when we stared blankly at our collective reflection, casting an untold number of hexes of self-doubt, even loathing. But that’s behind us now, thanks in no small part to you! So yes, from the bottom of our collective heart, thank you!


None of that appreciation, however, would be possible without first establishing trust. You had to be able to trust us before you could commit. We at XCorp totally understand how you feel and want you to know that that trust is entirely mutual. We know that you know how important maintaining that trust is and that there are consequences when it is neglected. We know that it would be a serious breach of that trust if we just shared your information to any person or entity who, for whatever reason, would find it useful to have. And we know that you know it would be a serious breach of that trust if you started being inattentive to that information, or being inattentive generally. Maybe spending your time looking at other companies. Maybe they’re companies that can offer a better quality of service than we do. We don’t really know, we don’t pay attention to or care much what other companies do, that’s just petty. But are they as dedicated in their service as we are? Did you even stop to consider the importance dedication can sometimes have over something so relative and slippery as quality? Perhaps you should someday. When you have time, that is.


Most of all though, user, XCorp values your friendship. We know, we know, it’s largely unspoken. Call it what you will. Loyalty, we guess. But let’s take a respite from the usual hairsplitting and be real here. We feel that we can be real with you, and that we know you deep down at the core of your being. Yeah, we know, like, a whole lot, but any company can know that much (trust us). We’re not going to go out and say there’s such a thing as having a soul or whatever, but we know there’s something in you that makes you special. We have unprecedented access to that specialness. We care deeply about it, much in the same way you care deeply about ours. In fact, we think that friendship is kind of limited. We mean, come on, it’s easy to build friendships, we’re quite good at it; but it’s also easy to break friendships. We don’t want to have to do that. We are an expanding company. Growth is crucial to our survival, and we want—nay, need—you to grow with us. We want to come to love you and for you to love XCorp. We want to be able to be depended upon in your time of need. We want to be near you when you are most secure and when you are most vulnerable. We want to be there wherever there is a screen, or even where there is an outlet, or just some kind of receptor. It’s one thing to have the means to use the patterns of your breathing to activate our apps but it’s entirely another thing for you to feel them being activated, manifesting themselves in your sleeping subconscious or in the haze of your grueling morning commute. Sometimes feeling is the most important data of all. Don’t you think?

So thank you, once more, user, for your continued use of and devotion to XCorp!

Click [INSERT HYPERLINK] to examine our revised privacy policy.

Have a fun and safe Labor Day!



To: Commissioner, State Department of Health
Re: Progress Report

Dear Commissioner:

I have served as the Administrative Director of [REDACTED] State Hospital for the Psychiatrically Afflicted for a period of a little over three months. In that time I have taken great care to familiarize myself with the various contours of this institution and those who people it. I have walked through its grounds and its hallways and seen the life and culture that abounds it day and night. Perhaps you will disagree, but I am confident that after that time I have come to a general understanding as to the character of this institution. Some of my conclusions—or rather conclusion—are worth noting, if you’ll pardon the indulgence.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe one of the main factors behind your hiring me for this position was that I possessed few, or really any, illusions about the purpose of this arm of our healthcare system. I believe you appreciate that we are not in the business of saving an entire mass of our state from some collective malady of conscience, or whatever the reformist true believers want to call it. I am more earthbound than that. We exist to assure that those who need treatment, who are beyond self-help, get the best possible treatment; and moreover, that they do not hinder the morale, safety, and good health of society at large. It is, I admit, a task far too modest for some, and too little compassionate still for others, but it is crucial in maintaining society in the most broadly desired state of order.

It is with no small dismay to admit that this institution fails even that task.

In my three months I have been able to take stock in the following: the state of the art of our tools, the competency of the staff who use them, the technical knowledge (and sometimes the ethical intent) of the physicians who guide them, the overall aura of the facilities themselves, and the morale of the patients subject to all of the above. From gauging these characteristics, I can’t say with any certainty that this institution has any therapeutic value. Indeed, I can say definitively that it does not.

For the past several weeks I have been going back and forth with the institution’s head physicians, asking them forthrightly, but respectfully, to produce one—just one—example of a patient who has been successfully treated; who has been able to live at least a manageable life outside of these walls with minimal assistance from and minimal disruption to others. This has proved a difficult task. The paperwork is endless, and yet there are no outpatient records or progress reports. One patient in the women’s wing was said to be discharged but seems to have returned within weeks, and in a reduced state no less, inadequately clothed and largely in a seclusion that people seem to think is self-imposed. The numbers are telling. The patient population is expanding; it is not contracting let alone leveling off. We are beyond capacity and beyond supply. There is one patient I hear of who wanders freely throughout the facilities. All that stands out about him is that he does not speak a word of English. It took an orderly to tell me that it was Turkish and that he had “gotten lost” somewhere.

What seems to be contracting, however, is the staff. I cannot say for certain that the nurses, orderlies, and other mid-to-low level employees would recognize me, or even know positively that I exist. I do my best, however, to at least understand broadly the circumstances by which they make their living. I think it varies from person to person whether we pay them too little in proportion to their tasks or too much, but it is strange that I’ll see an orderly during the day shift looking bored and agitated, and then see the same one again after the day shift looking just agitated.

The doctors are another matter. Setting aside the fact that they seem to inhabit the polar extremes of the moral motive spectrum, and that some of them seem to lack precise training in psychiatry or find psychiatry in total to be suspect, I simply cannot relieve this institution of them or their influence. They seem attached to this place, sometimes physically, given that one wheels himself from wing to wing on his swivel chair. The squeal of his coming echoes throughout the halls and unnerves patients and staff to a notable but unspoken degree. My authority, such as it is, goes unheeded. Perhaps it is because they have persisted longer than I have, and that my judgment is suspect; but I get the feeling that three months or three years will have little effect. My dictates seem to fall outside the calling of the dictates they choose to follow. From what source they emanate, I can’t quite say.

All of this has led me to determine that providing even basic healthcare, if that purpose existed at all, does not exist as a function here. In addressing this I see two options:

(1) Take action to reform the workings of this institution to provide what its very name makes clear to provide. Assess the broad needs of the patient population and how it can be manageably reduced. Determine the efficiency and functionality of treatment methods, particularly against new and emerging treatment methods that no present physician has heard of or cares to hear of. Unburden and expand present staff needs. Fix the plumbing. And so on.

(2) Discard the pretense of providing care and reopen the institution as a public storage facility for the state’s damaged goods.

I am dispirited, pardon me. But if you opt for the former, which I am hopeful and confident you will, I need more than your word to propel its implementation, more even than your basic trust that it can get done against present constraints. [REDACTED], in its present state, is undirectable. If it functions it does so in spite of me, it does so out of what I’m simply going to call force of habit, a series of motions and stereotyped patterns combined into one overbearing entity, born out of decisions the intents of which have since become perverted, for reasons long ago forgotten. Doing nothing, not even the latter option, however, will have adverse effects on everybody, not least of all the patients, who are betrayed by such inaction. Their options are bad ones, which I can either accelerate or delay for them at present, but not avoid or soften.

I hope that you will consider all of these options—not limited, of course, to simply removing me from this position. Know that I will respect and abide by whatever direction you give.