Double Intuition

On Their Minds, 9-11
Happened Before 2001

After fifteen years, the tragic imagery of Sept. 11, 2001, has taken deep roots into the collective psyche of our era. It became a visual metaphor to every nightmare bred out of fear of terrorism, even as countless acts of extreme violence have followed that crispy, blue-sky Tuesday in America.
Even more intriguing are depictions of exploding planes and buildings that art and pop culture have produced before 911. Two works are particularly impressive: a sculpture by New York artist Michael Richards, killed that day, and a painting by British Willie Gardner.
Wisely ignoring conspiracy buffs, who like to dwell in a made-up reality with even more odds stacked against us, it’s still possible to appreciate the intuition that led these two black artists to conceive works of such haunting, and premonitory, quality, while sharing not much else in common.
To be sure, anticipation, and the ability to eerily foresee a world not quite here, are integral to creative expression, even when that’s not exactly the author’s intention. Also, it’s not unusual for life to emulate what art, and public sensibility had already made possible to conceive.
After all, we all breathe the same toxic, over-saturated environment, suffused through ages by human interference. And our brains are especially biased to see a connected world that does not exist outside our skulls; life happens independently of our will or whims.
The fact that the two works are not in the same level of artistic sophistication is irrelevant too. Richards was a rising talent, who perished when his studio was crushed by the destruction of the Twin Towers, while Gardner, who died in 2010 and only dabbled in art as an amateur, was thousands of miles away.
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* No Pics
* Flight, Interrupted
* Quantum Leaks

There’s no record that either one was imbued of any anticipatory penchant. Theirs was something out of a vision whose meaning they’ve taken with them. But that something inevitably tickles our minds, still eager to find significance, and sense, in that despicable tragedy.
Yes, there were many others for we are particularly good at inflicting progressively horrifying terrors onto each other. And we could be talking here about the victims, or the evildoers, or any number of the cliches that have piled up about that day. But we’re glad we have Richards and Gardner to memorialize instead.
Every year, we promise not to add anything to the meaningless cacophony of 911’s moaning and complaints. And every time we break our vows. It’s just as well. Art and reality are often unexplainable. We’re doomed to face terror over and over in our lifetimes. So at least, let’s try to do it with fresh eyes.

Snow & Zuck

There’s a WebCam
Hidden in the Toilet

Edward Snowden and Mark Zuckerberg shared a week in the headlines. The whistleblower who exposed the National Security Agency’s dirty secrets has a memoir out. And the Facebook’s inventor was caught on tape expressing fears of a future of greater scrutiny and accountability.
Apart from that, their notoriety, and the fact they were born within a year of each other, they’ve got little in common. One, whose daring act cost him his freedom, is an example of moral clarity, while the other embodies the very disregard for principles driving the ownership class.
The fate of their parallel lives, however, is an imperfect but still fitting metaphor for these times: follow your conscience and face exile and the hounds of the establishment. Use your privilege to generate wealth and soon you’ll get to rub elbows with the rich and the powerful.
Snowden‘s ‘Permanent Record,’ rather than boasting his ‘good guy’ image, as a slayer of sinister state-surveillance agencies, zeroes in on the fractured and the personal. It’s a humble account of surviving the pushback while still honoring ethical and private choices.
The leaked audio of Zuckerberg‘s raging about presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, throws a glare on his shrewd political calculations. As in the 2016 elections, he’s prepping his social media mammoth to play again the role of king’s maker.

TWO WHO REWROTE OUR TIMES
Six years ago this November, they were the focus of a Colltales’ Curtain Raiser, an excerpt of which is adapted and reposted below. To many, Snowden’s woes have somehow anticipated our current reality, where a U.S. president uses the government to go after his political enemies.
Or that Facebook, which Zuck started in 2004 – a decade before the NSA scandal broke – would go on to become more powerful than many nations. After all, free, non-regulated access to private citizen’s data is now as common as using cellphones to track people down.
As in 2014, they’re still frozen together in amber: Snowden in the White House’s hit list, unlikely to receive a fair trial if he ever comes back from Russia to fight for his rights; and Zuckerberg, who along the top 0.01% of the population, controls 80% of all the planet’s resources.

CHANGE THE WORLD OR MAKE A BUCK
‘The Big Brother age has produced its first titans whose duality mirrors the ambiguity and radical change of the way we live now. Born within a year of each other, Snow and Zuck have perhaps unwittingly, defined the times: a reboot of government accountability, or our downgrade to a totalitarian society.
They made their choices and so will we. Zuck’s created FB with one thought on his mind, besides getting dates: get rich. He achieved that by eliminating early collaborators and potential competitors, and swiftly establishing his wraparound, impenetrable hold of a niche market.
He succeeded beyond his most outlandish visions of power by conceiving and enforcing the tenet of his business model: the complete eradication of any notion of personal privacy, except his, and (more)
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Secret, Agent, Mad

Poison Pills
& Furry Spies

No one ever said that being a spy was easy. But for humans, the profession holds a certain romantic allure, what with all the dashing undercover, crossing borders and, at least in pulp literature and pop culture, getting the girl in the end. Or getting killed, of course.
The deal’s considerably rougher for animals, and no one should be surprised about that either. But even if we’ve been forcibly enrolling them to do our bidding since time immemorial, nothing compares to what happened when the CIA came up with Project Acoustic Kitty.
It was one of the most cruel and wasteful ideas, in a long line of blunders and mistakes, that the Langley, Virginia, based agency, has been responsible for, hands (handcuffed) down. No wonder even its acronym has been utterly upstaged lately by the Camp Williams, Utah, based NSA, heavens help us all.
This is been a particularly uncomfortable time for shadowy organizations all over the world. The unwelcome glare of a constant flow of staggering revelations leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA coming to light almost daily must be making secret powers that be very nervous indeed.
In fact, what we can only guess that goes on behind the scenes is far from the glamorous world portrayed in the 007 movies and even postwar accounts of heroism and tragedy for agent and double-agents alike, some driven by idealism, and others by the good old fashioned value of hard cash.
Not that the lives of spies have become any easier. The recent bombshell findings that the exhumed body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had ‘unnaturally high levels of polonium’ seem to prove that he was poisoned and didn’t die of a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ nine years ago next Monday.
In other words, he was probably killed by a spy, who knows working for whom. The case also revived in the public memory the 2006 death of Russian officer Alexander Litvinenko, in London, said to have been also poisoned by polonium, after meeting with two other agents from the Russian security agency.
Cases abound, but one has to keep in mind that nobody just simply wound up becoming a secret agent, and even making through the lower ranks of the ‘profession’ requires considerable – and here we’re sure Graham Greene would’ve put it in a much better way – will, skill, and ability to kill.

$20 MILLION TO KILL A CAT
Not with our sentient companions on this Earth, unfortunately not ever given the freedom to make that choice. They’re simply recruited and, regardless whether they fulfill their assignments or get killed right at the starting gate, there’s no possible way we can make sure they’ll benefit from the experience.
Take the unnamed, and unfortunate, female kitty of the CIA experiment. As Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton wrote in Spycraft, their account of the CIA’s diatribes to outwit the Soviet Union during the Cold War, she was the first and, thankfully, the last of a spectacularly misguided project, and unwittingly paid dearly for it.
The project that was to be deemed ‘a complete failure’ a few years Continue reading