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The lights went off on the iconic statue, unlit for the first time in at least my memory. Ominous to some of us, confusing to others. Maybe nothing? But it's harder and harder to take "maybe nothing" seriously these days.

One rumor is that it was a symbolic gesture for International Women's Day, but given Washington's attitude toward the feminine, I have my doubts. Sounds nice though. A useful rumor that I hope is the simple answer.

Another I heard was that maybe an insider put the lights out in response to the #Vault7 leaks (about the threat to the 4th amendment via "intelligence" agency malfeasance and malware). Same day. Could be.

The official answer comes from the National Parks service, saying:

"the outages were a temporary, unplanned outage. The outage was most likely due to work related to an ongoing project to activate a new emergency backup generator that is part of our last remaining Hurricane Sandy recovery projects.”

That's satisfactory, but the first thing I thought when reading it was what else could it be? Worst case nightmare scenario: Reichstag Fire. Cutting the power to install a means of remote detonation for the theoretical Big One, an attack engineered or allowed that would put the last nails in? I don't like to empower the possibility, but the people who run the machine at a certain level do not look at this world or its life as we do.

Somebody in the deep deep deep state (and it's there, however obfuscated and whatever the papers whose strings it tugs say) salivates over my nightmare, I'm sure. I hate that I went there so fast, and I concede it sounds mad. I hope very much to be wrong. I've developed a sort of paranoid stoicism: imagine the most horrible thing and try to accept the possibility, while simultaneously not believing I've solved any puzzles at all.

I don't know, y'all. I consider myself an optimist despite it all, but it's taking most of my reserves to keep the Lovecraftian sense of creeping dread from my conscious mind so I can go about my business. After posting I'm making it a point to get some sun and exercise and hug my kid a lot.

I hear the lights are back on. I suggest we add our own to them. Couldn't hurt, and sometimes all one can do is not assist in harm. I'd love your thoughts on the matter.


The Audience is Listening. Or are they?

 "How I loved listening to your sweet prayers every night. And then you'd jump in your bed, so afraid I was under there. And I was!"

 - Lucifer, from The Prophecy


Friends, I propose a social experiment in the wake of today's CIA-related revelations, said to be "the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency." It has yet to be seen if any of this is relevant to the great majority of us (probably not) or if we are seeing a clash between intelligence agencies, or very smart people with deep grudges telling tales out of school, or the agency itself muddying the water. What a time to wish for certainty!

But for kicks: 

1. Google "Vault 7," or go right to WikiLeaks.org. The truly curious can download over 8000 files in a torrent. I have not been to that end of the pool, myself, but summaries are appearing.

We can never really know the final truth of anything these days. There's always an agenda and these stories in particular relate to people who shift narratives for a living. Google does its thing and you can buy page ranking to create the illusion of higher authenticity. WikiLeaks has its own agenda that we can only guess at. It's probably best to read the stuff as raw data and discern for yourself.

From first impressions, however, the CIA appears to be doing precisely the things people at the margins have been speculating about for years, the sort of malicious abuse of power any group of rats get up to as soon as the cat's away. Don't take my word for it. Look it up while you can. If it sounds paranoid, dig into what they've been up to over the years.

Collusion with Nazis: Operation Paperclip/Overcast

Drug war profiteering: coke/crack (Iran contra), opium now

Human experimentation: MKULTRA, MKOFTEN, ARTICHOKE

Coup abroad: Pinochet, The Shah

Media manipulation: Operation Mockingbird

These are the things we're aware of, from declassified documents and independent investigations. Certainly use your own judgment as you suss out "no way" from "damn, maybe," but look for yourself. The so-called "intelligence community" is not our friends. They've been up to lot of dirty deeds. They are spies, after all. Spies and thugs. Some of the more out-there things which have been lampooned by opportunists or fictionalized (Stranger Things comes to mind) but you can read scraps about the real deal. Get ready to hesitate the next time you do your taxes if you do.

Organizations of all stripes are made of people, and there's always a spectrum when people are involved. I can't say the CIA is full of demons. But this is an agency built to disable countries. These are not the good guys, and chances are great that they're spending a fair chunk of the money the Treasury Department "loses," to say nothing of the money they make trafficking drugs. Opium production lept up after we invaded Afghanistan. Back home, suddenly everyone you know who pulls a muscle gets a percocet scrip. Funny how that happens.

2. Note the tone of headlines today. I will wager TV and radio are busying themselves with cooler potatoes. To be fair, I mostly avoid these and so I can't chime in on that. Online, you'll note that even the major news outlets with a habit of downplaying validity and relevance of such documents in the past are reporting matters of concern with regard to safety and privacy. This is not "fake news," so far as anyone can tell. Just bad news, maybe. 

3. Because it's so easy to find articles with your existing worldview, read from a few different/opposing publications about the charming forms of "snoop on everyone always just to be sure" technology the CIA is demonstrably using and actually bragging about. What sticks to the story when you shake loose the agendas of the outlets themselves? It feels good to be proven wrong too, actually, though we all tend to prefer vindication.

4. Repeat the experience in a few days. Take note of the difference in tone as search results are re-ranked to shape the conversation. Watch for backpedaling or a cover story or both. They'll arrive sure as a sunrise. Inboxes across the industry just got full of Official Version. You might even hear the same phrasing. "This doesn't hurt average citizens, just bad guys." Yeah, I remember the Patriot Act and similar snoop-first ask questions later activity by the NSA having similar defenses.

5. Witness, watch, and analyze the machinery of The Narrative as this (if true) gets inverted to cover their asses and dupe our masses. (What will they come up with to try and laugh off remote shutoff of vehicles and TVs that record your living room when they're "off? Even if these things are only possible by installing malware and not just doable at will, the implications give me the heebiejeebies.)

6. Realize and accept that democracy is not really what we have. That's the first step. We live in a commercial for democracy. What we actually appear to have is a hustle within hustles which is just beginning to be revealed. Not a grand conspiracy but a "king rat" mess of mediocre ones. That's the rough but good news. Now we know how bad it is, and we can each find our ways to add to the resistance and the replacement.

7. Think about other big stories and wonder what else might be a fairy tale. Plenty, it's safe to reckon. But when you can see the mechanism, it stops working on you. More good news. Doubt it all and investigate until you're satisfied. Doubt the mainstream/legacy media. Doubt WikiLeaks. Doubt the CIA. Doubt me. Doubt is freedom.

8. Adapt to the Adversary.

It's easy to dismiss this as irrelevant. Isn't this mainly of concern to terrorists, anarchists, etc? Perhaps, but keep in mind how flexible those definitions got after 9/11, Occupy Wall Street, etc and how much looser they are getting now. Things are getting crucial. If you're resisting the state, it's wise to evaluate how to proceed. You can't allow paranoia to silence you, but you do want to minimize the chance of being targeted. There are two paths that come to mind.

A. Relative Stealth until you're ready for Plan B

Get off data-mining media platforms, and look for alternatives with encryption. Think twice about buying state-of-the-art, hackable smart appliances with potentially always-on recording functions. If you like, use "outdated" tech, or use old windows versions to minimize threats written for new ones. Go old school and gather in person. We should all unplug more anyway.

B. Get Loud

Eventually we must be heard. The aim of all the fear and example-making being folded into the media soup is to intimidate resistance. Be obnoxious and persistent. Be the signal breaking over the approved broadcast. Fill streets, and stay away from provocateurs who are there to lead the angry into violence which destroys legitimacy. Flood phone lines. Hijack hashtags. Fight the meme wars. Do whatever calls you, covering your butt but not your mouth.

The Curse only works if you fear the spell. The Vampire only gets in if you open the door. The Con only works if we buy the snake oil. Secret Police are only scary if we allow them to be. There will always be more of us.

9. That said, what to do about all this? Make up your own mind, and see the shapes of the invisible as it creeps through the moonlit fog. Survive with your will intact by working around the brambles, and continue to work for the world we all deserve, playing your part in the way you are made to. 

My part? One of many acting as town cryer for the moment, I suppose, though I am no more prescient or expert than anyone. Rather than "The British are coming," I announce that "the intelligence and security communities are not working for you anymore, if they ever were at all." I suppose we all suspected. There's certainly a chain of precedent:

"Carnivore, later renamed DCS1000, was a system implemented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that was designed to monitor email and electronic communications. It used a customizable packet sniffer that can monitor all of a target user's Internet traffic. Carnivore was implemented in October 1997. "

"By the end of the 20th century, the system referred to as ECHELON had allegedly evolved beyond its military and diplomatic origins, to also become "…a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications."

It's a real pile. But I mean, they are spies doing spy things. Not amazing, just troubling since they're out of bounds. What do I suggest we do? Well, the spy versus spy game is one we are going to lose if we let it go on with our blessing. The threats these agencies are supposed to shield is from are mostly fictions, used to justify further domestic invasions. The Emperor has no clothes. Point it out. Laugh the Beast back into the hell mouth it snuck here from, and keep watch that we don't invoke it again. Ideally, flush the toilet and put the black budget money into cleaner water. 

Decide for yourself if this is bullshit or revelation. The investigation is good practice for a free mind in these times. As things stand, we're probably not the fish the CIA or NSA want to fry, but the principle is irksome. As citizens of a country in a very strange place, it does put a certain taste in the water.

President Truman set the CIA up, and even he came to hate what became of it. In his words: 

 "Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there's nobody to keep track of what they're up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on. They've become ... it's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody.

That's a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it's got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there's got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don't care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things.


And when you can't do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we're on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn't have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn't prove that, I don't know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn't matter whether it's the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA."

Where's the line, and how do we keep things on the side of it we want? A lot of boundaries are being pushed. A lot of frogs are boiling. In one way or another, this is a test. Studying and checking our homework is a good idea. 



For those wishing to dive in and see the bones yourself, there is allegedly a torrent here:


The password is rumored to be a JFK quote: "SplinterItIntoAThousandPiecesAndScatterItIntoTheWinds"

(His stated plans for the CIA before he got publicly perforated.)

Of course, "I can neither confirm nor deny this information."

It Tolls for Thee


First they came for the elections, but we grew up hearing that "voting doesn't matter." A slow boil of district manipulation and a thinning pool of viable candidates made that essentially true, but still, turnout was dismal and symbols are important.

Then they yanked the reigns of the media, but we were blasted with the idea that dissent and conversation about corruption are "fake news" now. Division everywhere, a priority. TV, radio, and print sold out years ago. The web is being purged. Hijacking online conversations is a growth industry. We were told who to trust and who to scoff and it was easier than looking for ourselves.

Then they rolled back progressive laws but that only hurt "snowflakes." We figured anti-queer hate crimes and transphobia and racism were overblown. We bought into stereotypes and stopped seeing strangers as human or individuals. We didn't think the Klan was even really a thing. Seemed like a joke. A relic of a former time.  How lucky we were to have such delusions as others watched their backs for lifetimes, as "lone gunmen" and badged officers alike got away with xenophobic murder.

Then they shut the gates. They started turning people away who had nowhere to go, and years of conditioning made us associate the wrong countries with "terrorism" and "job stealing." They started stopping people on planes. Asking for papers. The mask is slipping.

Then they militarized the police, and sent them after indigenous people who wanted clean water. In the cities they hired a few people to mix with peaceful protestors and break windows for the camera so they could point to the violence. They started criminalizing protests, but we took the bait and assumed it was mob rule. Miles from pipelines or the inner city hunting grounds, we figured we had nothing to shout about.

Until we did. We all do. Now what?

Turn inward and to each other now. These are the times we expected. Cross the artificial divides. Resist the death grip of the old institution as we quietly make them irrelevant.

Authority was never the friend of the people, and the pretense is finally falling away. The Germans lost the war, but plenty of Nazis got new jobs and learned to take new shapes. Biding their time and inspiring new legions. History repeats and mutates. And here we are.

This is the moment for vigilance and courage, self-empowerment and cooperative subversion. It's now or never, in a very real sense.



That escalated quickly, or: how to deal when the monsters are real

Number 45 is trying to pass for normal but he has no clue how to live outside his gold plated universe. He can barely read the speeches he stumbles on or the life-destroying executive orders he signs, his cabinet think we're cattle to be looted or destroyed, and we might finally have annoyed the world enough to sweat the sky again. Yikes, to put it mildly.

It feels like somebody hit reverse on western civilization. Very Bad Things are being unleashed. I've been letting it get to me. Don't. Try every day not to, anyway. Be aware of what's happening and admit it's awful, rail against it, but don't succumb to the weight of our predicament. Keep being kind and keep getting smarter and keep finding ways to be visible and formidable. Connect with your neighbors and disconnect from time to time from the holographic universe offered by sponsored screens.

On the one hand fear is pumped into the culture nonstop to keep people distracted. On the other, real evil walks in human skin and feels it has permission to play now. Be vigilant and don't be afraid to punch it in the face if you get the chance. Nazis aren't famous for being reasonable.

Take better care of yourself than you are naturally inclined to. Your pain teaches you your needs, so listen to it and act. Listen also to people when they talk, even if they seem like the enemy for ideological reasons. People may not understand, but only a malignant few truly choose ignorance. For the rest it's a mask, armor. Armor comes off when people feel safe and since the veil is being ripped off the Legend of America only sociopaths and really grounded people feel safe right now.

There is an enemy, but it isn't your neighbor or even the strangers you're conditioned to fear or blame. Certainly not the Enemy of the Moment blasting on TV. The real threat is not one thing exactly (wouldnt it be great if there really were only ONE conspiracy?) but a community of parasites working against each other but also against everyone not in their club.

The Growth has wrapped itself around everything like those vines that slowly choke trees over a century. It has a lot of faces but you know it when you see it. Don't work for the parasites, and don't work against yourself.

Despair is easy to come by, trust not so much, but don't give up and go dark. We need you. Like Henry Rollins said, it's punk rock time. You've felt the premonitions for years. It's time now.

I'm writing this as much for me as for you. Good fight to us all.


 Let's not invoke the RoboCop version of reality, okay? 

Let's not invoke the RoboCop version of reality, okay? 

The Cliffhanger

Will America plumb the depths of corruption before it wakes from the trance of separation and fights back or will we sleepwalk into a Fourth Reich with nothing but a few unread petitions to show for it? Will the gravity of the new dark age take hold before the pendulum effect pushes us back toward science and growing up as a species? Will we make real moves to try the human experiment on other worlds before the inevitable space debris comes to push reset as it did in days past when we still cared enough to pay attention to the sky?


Dialing down the feedback: a simple strategy to stave off depression and anxiety

1. Remove yourself physically from the space you were feeling the emotional pangs.  Find a private place and allow yourself to feel it until you believe it's had enough audience. Now concentrate on breathing until you feel the depression/anxiety wane to a functional level. It's too easy to just keep dealing with it and carrying it, but we are finite containers. People may not understand this practice and be offended if you leave, so explain it before or later, but either way just make the time.

2. Improve your situation slightly, and by this I mean put your full attention into a small project that can be completed in one go. Cross off a chore, fix a meal in advance, pay a bill, walk the dog, something. The point is to accomplish some little victory that adds dopamine back into the brain soup and lifts a little of the subconscious burden.

3. Create something. Don't make it a big deal. It doesn't matter at all what medium is or what your skill level is or if it's worth showing to anyone. It's for you. Expressing what is difficult to articulate otherwise and honing the ability to do so are life skills that everyone has a right to.

4. Go to bed at a reasonable time, and try to relax again before lying down. Set an alarm early enough to give you some time to repeat steps 1-3. If you can't sleep, read, but probably fiction and probably not for very long. Your entire being needs true rest to survive.

5. Rise early and do steps 1-3. Have water before coffee. Eat a sustaining breakfast. Take stock of what you have before anxiety about lack creeps in. In this way you'll be bolstered to recognize the thought loops as far more fragile and distorted than they appear when you are weakened.

6. Do this as often as you can and take notes on what works best and what doesn't work. It won't prevent depression or anxiety from coming on, but it will help you to identify triggers and remedies.

7. Remember that everyone experiences this differently. The insight you gain from your own mental hygiene practice doesn't give you a master key to fix people. What it does give you is a way to keep yourself in tune so you can be of better service to them.

Love them as well as you can while they're here.

12 years ago, I was in an animal shelter looking for a buddy for my other dog. While I was looking in the little pen where the wee dogs were, somebody brought in a little black and white rat dog.

He was scrawny with wonky eyes and an endearing Holstein coat that included a heart shape. He was being returned by a family who said he didn't bark enough.

I named him Putney Swope after the movie because he was a funny little guy and that movie had just made me laugh hard. I had originally thought of naming him Parcifal after a story in a Robert Anton Wilson book I was reading. Parcifal was a Sufi clown who taught people by making them laugh. That name didn't stick because not everybody has a sense of cosmic humor. Robert Anton Wilson died in 2007 on January 11th. And today, I am sad to report, so did little Putney.

By the way, he barked just fine. He had a penchant for inconvenient urination, but an absolutely adorable howl. He couldn't decide if he wanted to be inside or out for hours at a time. He used to push me right out of bed an inch at a time. He ate cat poop when I had cats and his breath smelled like a graveyard. I loved him despite all this. To be fair I was not the caretaker I might have been as often as I'd like to have been.

He had most of his teeth out and he went blind and he got diabetes and got dropped a bunch of weight. He was a ghost. I got the insulin and got pretty good at shots and he put the pounds back on. He howled again and he cussed out the garbage truck and he gave me his gross little kisses and I was happy to see him reanimated. I got hopeful and vowed to make up for being a lazy dog-dad.

And he died anyway because bad and unfair things happen to everybody despite intentions, and I would trade a year of my life to give another to him but there's nowhere to file the damn paperwork.

I miss the sweet little bastard. He couldn't hear me when I apologized with snot all over my face and a shaking voice for not being there at the last moment or making his world a little safer or trying harder a lot earlier. He couldn't feel me hugging him. He wasn't there anymore.

I don't know how you feel about heaven for people but there sure better be one for dogs. If there's not one when I get to wherever you go when you die, I'll build it. Because dogs get a really bad rap but they all earn their way into Paradise for putting up with us for so many thousands of years.

What can I say, Putney Swope? Goodnight and better luck next time, little dude. I'd do it again, and a lot better, and I loved you more than might have been obvious and I'm truly sorry that the end comes to everyone and everything.

I'm gonna choose to believe dog heaven is already there, and I hope he's full of treats and whizzing on the furniture of a much better world.

 Putney Alan Swope

Putney Alan Swope

Hi, How Are You?

How many times a day do we hear, ask and reply to this on autopilot? 


Hardly anyone actually answers this question. If we felt free to, many of us might answer something akin to:

"I am weary of the human game in which we each forsake our inner truth and deny our inner pain for ease of social interaction because we're all to some degree fascinated by and terrified of each other.

I am starved for a sense of community and fearful that I may not be anything but self-reinforcing hallucinations swirling around the drain of mass culture. I feel the echo of impending mass extinction in the aches and pains of this body and the gravity of this world makes tiny cracks in my spirit.

I cry out for some company in this howling void of illusion. Please see me and accept me as the flawed being in search of love that I am, that the seeds of my being may grow rather than continue to wait out the winter in their psychological hulls."

But that doesn't roll off the tongue at dinner. So we say, "I'm fine," and immediately pass the hot potato with, "How are you?" And so it goes.

Society is a coping mechanism and it isn't one size fits all. Much of what most of us do and say are placeholders for real interaction, born of habit as we try to fit the mold.

Did we ever really know anyone? How much have horror have we unleashed, how much pain have we ignored, and how much have we lost by being cowardly and polite instead of simply truthful? 

This is not to say we shouldn't keep checking in with each other. If we ask, "how are you?" with an open heart, those we encounter may sense a space in which to finally answer. In the meantime there will still be dozens of automatic surface-only interactions a day, but there is room there for kindness in the space within the hollow words. Most communication is nonverbal anyway. You can use the tired old dialogue to imply a deeper story if you talk with your eyes and from your heart. 

In short, it's ok to play the game until we're ready for what lies beneath it, but we have to be kind to the other players in the meantime. We have to stop treating other people's pain as a threat to our serenity.

Let's give each other permission to hurt. Without that, none of the wounds of our species can ever heal, much less escape the gravity well of willful delusion. Until we learn to open that space for each other, we should practice on ourselves. 

So how are you? You don't have to tell me. But tell yourself. 

Are We All Out of Bubblegum Yet?


John Carpenter’s They Live is brilliant commentary too often dismissed as a piece of camp due to its leading man being plucked from the world of professional wrestling. Indeed, with classic lines like "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum," Roddy Piper did a great job of making us laugh so that the message behind the plot sinks in. I believe it is one of many films trying to nudge The Sleeper before the house burns down. To keep it very brief, the plot unfolds like so: Man loses job, man finds box of sunglasses in the trash, man puts them on and has his paradigm inverted by being overwhelmed by sudden evidence of a parallel world where predators are masked within the visual spectrum, man strikes back.

As you do.

More detail is in order, so spoilers follow.

Piper's character is "Nada," an everyman who is nothing/no one and therefore potentially anything/anyone. He drifts from town to town, collateral damage of the 80s recession which never really ended, and lands a job in Los Angeles digging ditches, appropriately enough. He's happy to have honest work, and still "believes in America" despite recovering from the reaming Reaganomics has given him of late. At the shelter he spends his nights, other transients stare into a TV that holds the space a campfire might have been. The insipid programming is interrupted by a hacker who struggles to suppress the main signal while attempting a wake-up call. This gives everyone an instant migraine and they resent him for it.

Nada notices commotion at the adjacent church, including flyby from a mysterious helicopter. He drops hints, gets the cold shoulder, and breaks in to satisfy his curiosity. He finds a secret room with what looks like a junior meth lab with a tape loop of hymns playing over loudspeakers. He scarcely has time to question all this before hearing arguments on the other side of the wall and sneaking back out. The police arrive to finish what the chopper started.  Nada finds the trap door again. Inside is a box of sunglasses rather than the stash of drugs he expected to find. Baffled, he wanders off.

Once outside with shades donned, he's hit in the face and punched in the gut by the world that was always there, just out of sight. Rather than blocking sunlight, these "Hofmann lenses" pierce the veil draped over a stark occulted reality. Our bespectacled hero can now see the subliminal control grid laid over everything, and he can see the awful faces of a race of humanoids (called "Owners" by the preacher from the shelter) who have nested their world within ours, using power structures we consider our own to hide in sight and use us as cattle. A small band of resistance fighters hacks the TV signal to blast out spurts of warning and has secret meetings to spread awareness. They are discredited by the complicit corporate media and stalked by the pet police, who know them as terrorists and strike at them with orgiastic fervor. Flying drones, invisible to most, spy from above with weapons at the ready. I suppose this is all sounding a little too familiar by now.

The Owners (referred to as Fascinators in the original short story by Ray Nelson) have built a perfect prison for humanity, with the bars being installed within the mind rather than around the body. Billboards and magazine racks howl commands in stark bold print. TV oozes saccharin lures of magic products and brain-numbing political speeches. Even the traffic lights try to inspire drowsiness. Every media message is a behavioral program, every fad designed to distance people from each other and make them ever more shallow. The masses toil and burn out like cheap Christmas lights, chasing the carrot and dodging the stick. Meanwhile the monsters feed off human fears and lusts, making deals with the willing and disposing of resistance to their "multidimensional expansion" while keeping the majority in the dull thrall of consumption and materialism. They Live is fiction, but not far off the mark.

In his shock at all this, Nada goes a bit mad and has a bout of sketchy behavior ranging from tries to get his co-worker Frank to try on the glasses but he adamantly refuses. Being a "minority," Frank is already dealing with living in one world under the heel of another. Being a family man, he must protect his loved ones by "walking a white line" (telling language indeed) to stay out of trouble. He can't afford to ask these questions, as so many people can't. He is just trying to survive. He doesn’t want to know, but Nada won’t let him walk away. A now-infamous street fight ensues, and the men incapacitate each other. The clash of paradigms takes quite a toll on their bodies. When both men are exhausted, Frank finally accepts the glasses and both can now see. They have initiated each other into a brotherhood of two.

After a much needed beer and a night of pondering how long this has gone on and what's next, Frank and Nada team up to investigate how far the rabbit hole goes, and deep it goes indeed. They regroup with the resistance and escape through good luck into a portal as sole survivors of a "scorched Earth" level raid. They explore the subterranean compound where the Owners collude with the one-percenters who've sold out their species for cash and power, and are newly inspired to carry on the work of their dead comrades. They make their way to the roof of Cable 54 to destroy the transmitter which broadcasts the control signal, and while both perish in the effort, they succeed in revealing the truth to a staggered world just before control is absolute. Nada dies with a raised middle finger.  

They Live was timely but also timeless. The dialogue ranges from cheesecake puns to poignant wisdom and the points between the lines are well-made. The imagery is iconic, kept in the zeitgeist by Shepard Fairey's Obey line and a wonderful series by Hal Hefner. Twenty-eight years on, the film has shown itself to be unfortunately prescient, like many John Carpenter films. It has deep resonance with myths and history alike, from the Matrix-like revelations of the Gnostics to the current American creep from chickenhawk oligarchy in democracy-drag to shameless corporate fascism.

They Live is not just a spot-on portrayal of cultural mesmerism and the way it enslaves and destroys us. It doesn't just remind us how quick we are to sell ourselves and each other for a piece of imagined ease. It’s also an excellent demonstration of the way that first bit of truth finds its way into the cracks in our delusions. We hear the earnest admonitions of those who can see all the time, but dismiss them as "conspiracy theorists," not realizing the term is not only meaningless but misleading and tool of our parasitic manipulators.

Then one day, we stumble upon it in a way that cannot be denied, and it shocks us. It even hurts a bit until we see it in the greater context. We feel compelled to share it, but when we try we look crazy because we’re off script. People resist, perhaps even violently. With persistence we win over a few and work with them to spread truth to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, but in the end people don’t open up to shifts in consciousness until they’re ready.

The way things are going, those who've always smelled a rat are watching the Doomsday Clock and hoping against hope for some undeniable revelation to come and knock sense into the world at large. In the meantime, it's frustrating. The water's getting hot and the frog won't jump. People don’t want to “put on the glasses.” We're terrified of what we might see or have to accept. We don’t even really know how to talk to each other. We’ve grown accustomed to talking without communicating. Nobody really cares about the weather unless it’s dangerous. Hardly anyone gives an honest damn about television or sports or politics. Yet this is what we talk about, this is how we fill the moments and spend all the chances we have to connect.

We compare notes on our distractions instead of telling stories of our adventures. When we do allow ourselves to have a good conversation, it’s like having a luxurious meal after being at the brink of starvation. We’re missing something, and we know it. Even from the safety of the screen, social media explodes daily with utter drivel and we toss it around like a ball trying to outdo each other in our performances. The computing power of a planet is available and we use it to distract ourselves from being alive, waiting for the next generation to disarm the bombs. Another spoiler alert: they never seem to get around to it.

Foreknowledge of mortality and finding ourselves in the grip of sociopaths makes us do a lot of questionable things. I don't exactly condemn us for putting on these performances, though I do insist that we recognize we’re doing it and explore the reasons why.  It’s awful to contemplate the raw uncertainty underneath all this well-meaning artifice. At some buried level, the fear of silence is the fear of death. The mystery is painful until we embrace it. They say the truth hurts, but I propose that it’s the resistance to truth that causes the pain we shrink from. We seek solace from these fundamental questions in whatever answers we can find, and this opens us up to being manipulated at every level if we aren’t mindful. Present a ready-made belief system complete with behavior codes and most people will eat it up like chocolate fried in butter, but that isn’t food.

You and I probably aren't going to stumble upon a pair of Ray-Bans that double as bullshit detectors, but we can work on our inner Nada until we too can see. Along the way it's good to keep our inner Frank there to kick our asses when we need grounding. The antidote to the meme magick of The Con is con-text. You need the pieces to solve the puzzle. Once we understand how something has been used to wall us in, we can wield it to break out. To borrow a line from Ray Nelson's story, "It has to believe it can master me to do it. The slightest hint of fear on its part and the power to hypnotize is lost.”


Thus begins a little pet project of mine called Put On the Glasses, in which I will do my level best to decode and present the nuggets of truth that have always been buried in fiction for safety. I have begun it here, with this post, but hope to make the jump to video when the opportunity arises. In the meantime, for a crash course in what I like to call The Verbal Hologram, check out The Century of the Self, and definitely go find a copy of They Live if you haven't seen it! (There are rumors of a remake. I will reserve judgment and venom for now.)

Update: There will be stickers.