‘It’s about the art of creating this sensory experience’

I’ve returned to my critical listening of Tool albums — mostly just Aenima and Lateralus. They’re incredible works of art, and I’m glad that I stepped away from them for a few years there. Immersing myself once again in the lyrical depth and instrumental intensity of a song like “H.” is such a richly rewarding experience.

And so I’ve had this tab open for a while, this conversation between Tool singer Maynard James Keenan and Joe Rogan. It’s a great talk, and part of it centers around Keenan’s world-building philosophy — both in Tool and as a winemaker in northern Arizona. Rogan’s a masterful interview (much like Marc Maron, who also interviewed Keenan), and the two clearly jibe over shared interests and friendship.

(Skip the Conor McGregor nonsense in the beginning.)

More than 60 people were thrown out of a concert put on by Keenan’s other band, A Perfect Circle, last week, because they violated the band’s strict no-photo policy. The whole point is to keep phones in pockets (or cars) and out of sight. The whole point, you see, is immersion.

“I embrace the storytelling,” Keenan tells Rogan. “I embrace that whole tradition of oral storytelling.” Around 1:07 in the interview, Keenan impresses the need to tune in fully to one’s surroundings,

“It’s a tradition of being able to understand the details and being able to explain and expand on the details from your recollection of what you saw,” he says, pivoting to his opposition to fans using phones or cameras at shows. “But if you have no skills of absorbing what you saw, if you rely on this thing to capture those stories for you — first of all, nothing you’re gonna get at a show is gonna represent what you just saw or what you were there for. I guess as a postcard, I suppose, it works. But stay present. Stay with these people to be there for this thing. That’s far more important. And, as a courtesy, maybe the person behind you would like to be this person, and now your shit’s in their way.”


Henry George

I think now of Tom L. Johnson, the greatest mayor in Cleveland history and a devout political devotee of Henry George’s philosophies. And so as I’ve been reading about the early 20th century in Cleveland political lore, I came across this quote from George himself: “What protectionism teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.”

It’s hard to think of a better summary of our current American landscape.

The Baltimore City Paper runs its last issue, and we look for hope in the offing


This week, Baltimore City Paper editor Brandon Soderberg oversaw his paper’s last issue. It’s another blow to the alt-weekly world, which I watch very closely for obvious reasons. (Everyone knew this was coming by the time I met Soderberg in July. No big surprise, I guess.)

Here, the Washington Post chronicles the end of that era. Soderberg called his staff’s “Baltimore Ceasefire” reporting earlier this year the thing that “best captured” his vision of what the City Paper could be.

I think often about my own vision for Scene, and if you’ve shared a drink with me in a shadowy bar anytime in the last five years you’ve probably heard some aspects of it. I’m proud as hell of what our staff has accomplished this year (and in years past) in our public accountability reporting and our in-depth chronicling of Cleveland culture. And the next story looms evermore.

For Soderberg’s part, beset by the knowledge of his paper’s own execution, he began testing what he calls “journalistic IEDs” throughout the summer and fall. He set up a nonprofit to help fund investigative journalism, which he then worked to get into other regional outlets. He and a staff will now debut a new weekly newspaper, Baltimore Beat, on Nov. 15.

And so there’s still hope for independent print media in cities run by cartoonish public criminals and liars, in towns operated solely to gaslight taxpayers and in regions beset by environmental disaster in an age when the very notion of “nature” is morphing quickly like a spectral ghost into the stuff of fantasy. I hope the people in those cities are watching very closely too.

The conveyor belt

Anyone remotely interested in observing how American government is crashing into fascist rule under President Donald Trump would do well to pair this recent report on Geo Group’s annual leadership conference and this earlier report on Geo Group’s brutal labor practices at its prisons.

The link between Geo Group’s financial outlook and its relationship with the White House is horrifically obvious. The private prison “giant” is at the heart of what I would classify as a conveyor belt of fascism. (Here, I describe a presidential administration “test-driving” the road to a coup.)

2300-geotrump1.jpgDespite its denials, Geo Group has been currying favor with the president and with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It was visible and instrumental in the 2016 campaign, after Obama-era policies began to chip away at its business dealings. It’s a shadowy corporation that has used unsavory labor practices with alarming frequency for years. (Geo Group owns several locations in Ohio.) Armed with a federal contract that bolsters the White House’s targeted deportation of undocumented Latino immigrants, there’s ample room for almost indefinite detentions and forced labor that shows no sign of letting up. From the Mother Jones article:

The GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Aurora, allegedly forced more than 50,000 immigrants like Ortiz to work without pay or for $1 a day since 2004, according to a lawsuit that nine detainees brought against the company in 2014. On February 27, a federal judge ruled that their case could proceed as a class action, breathing new life into a suit that exposes the extent to which the for-profit company relied on cheap or unpaid detainee labor to minimize costs at the Aurora facility.

“I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better,” Trump said in March 2016.

Sherrod Brown decries Wall Street vote

“The vice president only shows up in this body when the rich and the powerful need him. Well, it’s pretty clear tonight that Wall Street needs him. This vote will make the rich richer, it will make the powerful more powerful.” — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Brown was talking about the 51-50 vote finished off by Vice President Mike Pence, which will overturn a consumer protection rule written by Richard Cordray’s CFPB. (Cordray, of course, is another Ohioan. He has hinted at a run for governor next year.)

“Republicans latched on to the rule as a way to cast the agency as a player in the regulatory regime that was impeding business and the economy,” Jessica Silver-Greenberg writes, exposing the rhetoric behind some of the more divisive and evil machinations of Congress in the last decade.

The morning news

Each morning, I start my news reading with Twitter. I’ve cultivated my timeline to act as a sort of news wire. I actively curate the list of top-notch journalists I follow. (On Twitter, I prefer people to platforms like the New York Times official account.)

From there, I do turn to those platforms: I read the New York Times and Washington Post (digital subscription), Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, the Chronicle-Telegram in Lorain, and then I run through some standard news.google.com searches for keywords (“Lake Erie,” “opiates ohio,” “ohio governor,” “medical marijuana ohio,” etc). If I have time, I hit the Toledo Blade and the Akron Beacon Journal too.

That’s the gist of my morning news consumption. Facebook offers nothing for me in the morning, and I rarely check it until midday.

No is not enough

noisnotenoughI’m reading Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough now, in which she explores the rise of the corporate lifestyle brand and the decline of public institutions and a shared sense of community. Those two trends, she argues, lead us to the 2016 presidential election reality television show. In her argument, she takes us back to The Apprentice and WWE pro wrestling events; Trump played a centerpiece role in both TV phenomena. He mastered those forms and built a hollow brand on their foundations. Then he took them to public office.

Watch this interview with Klein on Democracy Now! 

She says: “…[T]his has huge implications for how we understand the corruption at the heart of Trump’s decision to merge his global brand with the U.S. government, which is what is underway on so many different fronts, because, honestly, what it means is, every time we say the word ‘Trump,’ even when we’re saying it in a negative light, we’re doing his marketing for him.”

The other side of the coin in Klein’s book is the “shock doctrine,” which she explains as a political tactic “in which large-scale shocks to societies, large-scale crises, economic crises, wars, coups, natural disasters, have systematically been used by right-wing governments, using the disorientation and the panic in society, to push through a very radical, pro-corporate agenda.”

The ongoing economic crisis — the growing wealth gap and the reverberations felt by the 2008 crash and the Obama administration’s decision not to prosecution major banking institutions — opened a window for a demagogue like Trump to slip in and rouse support among a frustrated electorate. What’s happening now and what comes next is the onslaught of deregulation, racist travel ban policies, anti-LGBT policies, indefinite detention for undocumented immigrants, etc.

I said in lamenting voice on the night of last year’s election that this just might not be a fight I’m willing to take part in. The upcoming struggle, which seemed so suddenly obvious, just might not be a thing I have the heart for. Perhaps I’d move to Montreal and start a new life?

But I’m here, and I’ve been watching the collapse of our public institutions very closely this year. I’ve lived through 10 months of Trump now, and I can say that I do grow stronger and more invested in this fight each day. As a member of the press, I’ve zeroed in on minority populations (at the local level) to ensure that their voices are heard — much as I’ve always done in my career, but this time with a more ontological bent. I’ve removed meat and dairy and eggs from (95 percent of) my diet, solely for the unavoidable environmental impact that the animal agriculture industry levels against this planet; with the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Accord, there’s no rational excuse to continue supporting an environmental disaster like the meat processing industry.

I seek new ways to live a more mindful life of resistance each day. I’m of the mind that it will take at least a generation to course-correct the trends being forced into American political and social culture by Trump and his megabrand, but I’m also willing to be a part of the fight that will restore democratic ideals for my family, my friends, my future children and grandchildren.

Obviously, we would like this not to be happening. We would like Donald Trump not to be president. We would like not to have such an array of bad options on the table. But given what we have, I would say that people are stepping up. And that is what the climate movement needs to be doing, is sending this very clear message that because of the recklessness, because the U.S. at the federal level has gone rogue, at every level that Trump does not control, whether it is universities and their fossil fuel holdings, you know, whether it is states and their ability to get to 100 percent renewable very, very quickly—because we don’t get our energy at the federal level; we get it at the state level, we get it at the provincial level, we get it at the city level—at all those places where Trump doesn’t control things, there has to be an increase of ambition.