Monday, June 15, 2020

A Contaminated Culture (2)




A live version of Peter Gabriel's tribute/lament to Bantu Stephen Biko, a South-African anti-apartheid activist who was arrested and beaten to death by Port Elizabeth state security officers in 1977.


"You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher."

- The last stanza of "Biko", 1980 Peter Gabriel.



Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Contaminated Culture


Maybe it's just me, but, from Mac's expression in this 2008 self-portrait
(shot from a cell-phone), he seems to be peering into the future...
and that future is now.
  

"SARS is an unknown disease. We don't know where it came from; the possibility exists that it came from space or was cooked up by a terrestrial lab. Already, the virus is mutating. Just beneath the calm surface of newspaper headlines, a viral storm is brewing. We'll probably weather this one out. But what about the next one? And the one after that? 

A barrage of mutations, new vectors, failed quarantines. A choking silence engulfs the planet..."

- Mac Tonnies via this April 17, 2003, blog post. (Note: the initial strain of the 2020 Corona virus was referred to as SARS-Cov-2.)


"Up early. New short-story idea: "The Other Room" (based on a futuristic version of the 'looking glass' technology described in the previous post). In the story, venturing outdoors is rendered virtually impossible due to genetically contrived airborne diseases and pollution. Interpersonal contact is limited to communing with 'neighbors' via high-rez wallscreens. The screens are so advanced that they're easily mistakable for actual separate rooms, fostering a sense of enhanced personal space.

The main character has lived his adult life 'sharing' his germicidally insulated apartment with a female love interest. But all they can do is look at each other and talk; it's as if they're on opposite sides of an invisible glass barrier (which, in a very real sense, they are).

Anyway, toward the end of his life something goes wrong with the programming of his homeostatic apartment building and he realizes that the woman in the 'other room' is a computer program designed to keep him from going crazy -- she never existed; he's wasted his life pining away over a simulacrum. And the World Outside is worse than he's imagined.

. . . And they all lived happily ever after."

- Mac Tonnies via this March 15, 2004 blog post. (Note: From the Life Imitates Art files, here's a couple of recent articles about proposed legislation in England: Sex is now illegal in the UK between people from different households, and the BBC article, Coronavirus: New laws come into force as England lockdown eases. I'm not sure if said legislation passed, but I certainly hope not!)


"Although I harbor serious reservations about humanity's ability to make the evolutionary cut, I'm not without hope. I sense great things in the making. I enjoy experiencing this dire, ever-accelerating point in our species' history; our potential as genuine cosmic citizens challenges the imagination and stretches conceptual boundaries to dizzy extremes.

I'm willing to embrace transcendence or endure extinction. I must perpetually concede either possibility, no matter how dramatically different, regardless of how exciting or dismal. I walk a fine existential edge, fearing and cherishing, enlivened by a vertiginous sense of astonishment and horror."

- Mac Tonnies via this April 19, 2006 Posthuman Blues blog post.


"The New Totalitarians come forward smiling obsequiously like head waiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit." 

- A quote from British author J. G. Ballard (1930-2009) posted on Posthuman Blues December 09, 2004.

***

Originally this post was meant to present a number of blog quotes from Mac's Posthuman Blues posts tagged "disease," with the notion that, while it's not possible to determine Mac's view on our current world crisis, reading bits of his output regarding past epidemics might be somewhat illuminating... although the fall-out from past disasters wasn't as severe as that which we are currently experiencing.

That was my intention anyway. But, after spending a great deal of time gathering together Posthuman Blues material, I found some of it disturbing but much more of it consisting of quotes pulled directly from news-pages with merely a sentence or two ad libbed by Mac  it seemed almost  pointless. Well, pointless except to remind us of certain historical information that many of us may have forgotten, although the last of the disease posts was written in 2007, merely over a decade ago.

For example, I don't know if many of us ever knew about this event (via this April 13, 2005 post), one for which Mac reserved comment:

"Labs scramble to destroy pandemic flu strain. Nearly 5,000 labs in 18 countries, mostly in the United States, were urged by the World Health Organization to destroy samples of the dangerous virus because of the slight risk it could trigger a global outbreak. The labs received the virus from a U.S. company that supplies kits used for quality control tests."

And, then again, there were those three bubonic plague-infested lab mice which went missing from a biocontainment lab in New Jersey posted on September 25th of that same year. Mac's comment?

"So far no one has been reported dead from bubonic plague, so it looks like we lucked out. Emphasis on "luck."

Lest we forget, also from 2005 (apparently a banner year for medical lab disasters) and posted on October 8th we have a report of a deadly Spanish-flu virus reconstructed by alumni at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and stock-piled in Georgia... supposedly under "strict safety conditions" and (allegedly) to "predict future pandemics and develop new vaccines and treatments." Interestingly, its DNA sequence was made available on the internet. Understandably, Mac compares those "strict safety conditions" with the earlier story about the rodents at large.

One of his final disease posts - Plague of bioweapons accidents afflicts the US - from July 25th, 2007, begins with the sentence: "Deadly germs may be more likely to be spread due to a biodefence lab accident than a biological attack by terrorists."

Ah, yes, as if "biodefense" wasn't potentially a form of terrorism. In any case, regarding the present pandemic, despite media efforts to bring global-warming into the fray and/or blame it on animal contact, etc., if recent history tells us anything it seems equally as likely (if not more) that the Corona virus strains originated and/or were contained in some medical lab or bio-weapons lab as was initially reported.* The worst-case aspect of this possibility is that a new pandemic cannot be very far behind. After all, not only can accidents happen, accidents will surely happen. This is a given. It's a Murphy's Law kind of thing... and I've heard Murphy was an optimist.**

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Wisdom of Cockroaches

Archy the cockroach - a character created by Don Marquis -  in the throes of poetic passion; drawn by Creole artist, George Herriman, known for his surreal comic strip Krazy Kat (1913-1944) - Herriman articles here and here.


"i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have removed
she nearly ate me the other night
why dont she catch rats that is what she is supposed to be for
there is a rat here she should get without delay"


***

And, so begins the saga of Archy the cockroach - a reincarnated free-verse poet - and his female sidekick, an alley cat named Mehitabel, who was the reincarnation of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra (!). Both were the creations of Don Marquis (1878-1937), a columnist for the New York newspaper, The Evening Sun, in the early half of the 20th century. Originally written as a daily column, Marquis eventually published compilations of Archy's poems - illustrated by George Herriman - in three books during his lifetime: archy & mehitabel (1927), archy's life of mehitabel (1933) and archy does his part (1935).

I just discovered Archy and Metitabel quite recently. As for Mac Tonnies - a huge fan of Kafka's Metamorphosis - it seems that he'd have caught on to the cockroach poet with the feline companion a long time ago. But, I don't think he ever did... or he would definitely named one of his own cats Mehitabel!

As it is, I'm missing Mac more than ever these days. Wouldn't you give anything to hear his thoughts on the recent Pandemic Pandemonium, possibly the most surreal "current event" that any of us have dealt with in our lifetimes? Well, that is, apart from those few existing survivors of WWII. Not that this is a war exactly, although the Big Boys in Charge would have us believe just that (see here). And, really, cats and kitties, I'd put my 2 cents in if I had the slightest clue as to what's really going on. Sadly, there are so many holes in this pandemic narrative, we'd be better off knocking some golf balls around.

Well, that is if we were able to... and not confined to our indoor habitats like so many rats in their individual cages. Which kind of reminds me of this man I met in California years and years ago. He had a whole high-rise apartment complex in his backyard composed of cages stacked on top of each other. Each cage contained a well-fed white rat... live food for his pet boa constrictors which he kept housed indoors in glass terrariums. I'd like to think this was not a metaphor for our present situation.

So, how will this nightmare play out? Will there be a tomorrow? Who can say? Meanwhile, I've posted more cockroach wisdom after the jump. Enjoy!