IT BEARS REPEATING: Rushkoff on the credit crisis (Arthur Magazine, May 2008)

“Riding Out the Credit Crisis” by Douglas Rushkoff

from Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008

There’s two kinds of people asking me about the economy lately: people with money wanting to know how to keep it “safe,” and people without money, wanting to know how to keep safe, themselves.

Maybe it’s the difference between those two concerns that best explains the underlying nature of today’s fiscal crisis.

Is what’s going on in the economy right now really worse than anything that’s happened in the past few decades? Are we heading towards a bank collapse like what happened in 1929? Or something even worse?

On a certain level, none of these questions really matter. Not as they’re being phrased, anyway. What we think of as “the economy” today isn’t real, it’s virtual. It’s a speculative marketplace that has very little to do with getting real things to the people who need them, and much more to do with providing ways for passive investors to grow their capital.

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Finding balance through…skateboarding. (Arthur, 2008)

A column by Gregory Shewchuk

“Halfway There”

originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

Every time I ride a skateboard, I fall over. I slip out, wheel bite, hang up, over rotate, undershoot, overflip, or misstep in one way or another that sends me stumbling, sliding, or crashing to the ground. It’s not that I’m into pain or macho ideas of self-destruction — in fact quite the opposite. I like skateboarding because it is an ideal scenario for testing the limits of control, repeatedly walking a metaphorical tightrope between success and failure. Falling in skateboarding is not a sign of defeat, it is a sign that you are challenging yourself and learning and progressing. The continuous prospect of eating shit on a skateboard helps keep you humble and awake.

Skateboarding is an ongoing exercise in finding balance, using abstract motions to perpetuate the central principle of a perpendicular stance over moving ground. Courting the edge of frictional stability allows the radical insight and expression of the form. Skateboarding is an accessible state of liberation: the hands are free, the feet are not connected to anything, and the skateboard exists between the skater and the solid earth only by careful positioning in the cradle of gravity.

With development and progression of the form come more and more difficult situations in which the skater is challenged to maintain equilibrium in unforgiving environments. Movement is introduced: you learn to push and ride down steeper and steeper inclines. You learn to ride on the front or back wheels (manuals and nose wheelies). You learn to acid drop and land on the board after momentarily floating through the air. You learn ollies and ways to travel greater distances through the air before landing. You learn how to ride circular transitions up to, and beyond, the vertical plane. You learn how to balance in different maneuvers on edges and lips, often themselves curved or steeply inclined. Variations and “tricks” are introduced: riding backwards, the board locked into subtle positions of sliding or grinding, flipping beneath the feet and caught in the air before landing. Maneuvers are done switchstance, developing ambidexterity. Skateboarders go faster and faster and constantly look for new terrain and ways to approach it. There is constant progress and refinement. Edges and possibilities are pushed and validation is immediate and obvious. When you fall, you get up and try again until you ride away on both feet.

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Against iPodiphilia: Or, Cory Doctorow’s way of listening to music is freaking Erik Davis out (Arthur, 2008)

Art: M. Wartella


“Archive Fever”

(originally published in Arthur No. 30, July 2008)

Last month Paul Miller—the avant-garde DJ, musician and theorist who always appends his name with “aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid”—finally released a collection of essays he has been editing for ages on digital and sampling culture, called Sound Unbound. It’s a cool book, and I’m not surprised. I first met Paul at the Village Voice in the early 90s, when I recognized the voodoo vévé for Legba that appeared on one of his stickers. Over the years, his DJ mixes, thoughts, and restless career represent a lot of what I continue to love about digital culture. Paul is relentlessly interconnected and multi-disciplinary, refuses to be locked into one career identity or scene, and restlessly moves between worlds. He thinks and acts like he spins, an endless collage that draws equally from high and low, here and there, old and new.

All this is reflected in the book, a somewhat amorphous but fascinating collection of essays by musicians (Steve Reich, Brian Eno), techies (Bruce Sterling, Jaron Lanier), edge academics (Ron Eglash, Manuel De Landa), and nomads like me. I contributed an essay I wrote over a decade ago called “Roots and Wires,” about dub music, polyrhythm, the African diaspora, and their digital mutation into drum’n’bass. (Today I would talk about dubstep, though I would be rather less enthusiastic.) In retrospect, I realize that my desire to uncover both the spiritual roots of the dub virus and its futuristic implications was another version of my concern with understanding the rapport—and conflict—between the digital and the analog, coding strategies that are also metaphors for much larger processes of understanding and experiencing culture and the world.

I like roots with my wires, but that’s not always how it goes. How much digital and analog can diverge was starkly brought home to me in the foreward to Paul’s book. The short piece was written by Cory Doctorow, a tireless electronic freedom fighter who writes science fiction and posts frequently at the popular group blog BoingBoing. The stark part came a few paragraphs into the piece where, after explaining that he can’t work without music, Doctorow describes how he manages the 10,000 tracks he keeps in iTunes:

“I’ve rated every track from 1 to 5. I start every day with my playlist of 4- to 5-star music that I haven’t heard in thirty days, like making sure that I visit all my friends at least once a month…After that, I listen to songs I haven’t rated, and rate them. Then it’s on to 4- to 5-star songs I’ve heard fewer than five times, total. I don’t want random shuffle: I want directed, optimized shuffle.”

There is no other way to say it: this vision of listening to music blew my mind. It seemed so alien to my way of listening, so alienating in general, that I had to write a column about it to figure out the source of my freaked-outedness.

Some caveats first. One is that Cory Doctorow seems like a prince among übernerds. His Boing Boing posts about the ongoing intellectual property wars are always sharp and informative, and they help insure that the website remains an exuberant if sometimes goofy bastion of old school counter-cultural net values. I haven’t read Doctorow’s SF, but I do admire what he does with it. For one thing, he gives it away for free online—as pure a gesture of ethical culture a professional author can make. And his new book, Little Brother, is a piece of tactical genius: a young-adult near-future novel about a group of kids in San Francisco who use a variety of real-world hacking and encryption tools to take on the Department of Homeland Security in an era of civil liberties crackdown. Lifting a page or two from Encyclopedia Brown, Doctorow includes actual tips and technologies so that kids reading the novel can get their cyberactivist groove on right away.

My other caveat is that listening to recorded music is a matter of pleasure, and it seems silly to spend much time worrying about other people’s pleasures. I think its fine to judge music, and to judge other judgments as well—part of the enjoyment of music for many of us is the pleasure in discussing it, describing it, even arguing about it, although I believe the depth of those conversations are not weathering the Internet well. In any case, it’s hard to overturn the core wisdom of chacun à son gout. Doctorow clearly enjoys music, and I enjoy the enthusiasm. But his pleasure also seems deeply bound up with the process he has created to manage, filter, and tag all those MP3s. This is where we part ways, because all this algorithmic fiddling seems less like listening to music that doing something that, for most of us, is much less fun: data-processing.

Here’s the nub: the more we deal with recorded music in the form of digital files, the more that music takes on the characteristics of data, and the more its specific qualities as music melt into that multimedia torrent of bits that keep us chained to our screens. From a new media perspective, this breakdown sounds kind of cool and futuristic, and it certainly opens up new possibilities of expression and intervention. But I’m not sure these transformations really support deep and engaged listening. Amidst the endless brouhaha over downloading and the radical shake-up of the music market, we have yet to come to terms with this massive transformation in the culture of collecting and engaging recorded music.

Recordings have always been a form of data of course. The music itself can be quantified by wonks as a species of information, while covers and labels come printed with all sorts of words and numbers. Vinyl hoarders face issues of organization as well as physical storage, while the records not yet in one’s collection are also forms of data that hover around your music. Collectors of, say, deeply obscure R&B singles trade lists of recordings so obscure that even almighty Google does not know they exist. But recordings become much more data-like once they go digital. With the severing of music from vinyl discs, magnetic tape, and increasingly compact discs, recorded music does not transend the body but takes on a new one—a body furnished by binary code, the new vehicle of song.

The simple equation of these new bodies is more for less: more tracks cost less money and require much less storage. At the same time, collections always expand to fill all available space—hard discs fill up as reliably as physical bookshelves do. As the capacity of digital memory increases—in inverse proportion to its price—our compulsion to gather bits is compounded, and we hoard. I held off from mp3s so long that I missed the great Napster potlatch, but when I did start hunting and gathering I could not stop, and amassed hundreds of gigabytes in a very short period of time. This is just my experience, but it is hardly unusual. Once touched with archive fever, the forest grows more important than the trees, and the forest keeps growing.

It grows in part because our field of attention is constantly being seeded with information about further recordings, which are themselves multiplying like mad. Your older sister or Spin or the cool guy at the record store has been replaced with a myriad of online environments designed to expose and communicate commentary or links or streams directly to fans: social networks, listservs, collaborative filters like Pandora, online stores with samples, emusic, the blogosphere, myspace. Behind a lot of this proliferating metadata—information about information, in this case, musical information—is the urge to share. This is cool, but it doesn’t necessarily have much to do with listening. Music becomes a chip in a game—a sign rather than a sound, or even—in the case of closed file-sharing communities that demand uploads—an entrance fee. Perhaps the cultural Darwinists are right, and music is just a selfish gene—restless sonic DNA seeking to reproduce itself within this dank hothouse environment of copying and transmission. But I think the aptness of this evolutionary metaphor says more about the environment than the thing itself.

Within this environment, our collections take on the sprawling hairiness of the databases that everywhere process and capture our lives and labors. We are inevitably faced with the problem of organizing, managing, and processing the material, not to mention figuring out a way to extract pleasure from it. Every music fan becomes her own sysadmin. I often ask people how they deal with their mp3s, and am amazed with the ingenious and obsessive systems of rating, tagging, categorizing, and file shuffling that some develop. Others throw up their hands, resist the endless fiddling that technology demands, and allow the mysterious algorithms of the Apple corporation to determine the programming on their portable radio stations. Because I court synchronicity, this is often my method. Doctorow’s system, in this light, is ingenious, as it balances the need to process (rating tunes), and to enjoy, and to enjoy in a quasi-controlled, quasi-random manner that maximizes the efficient delivery of pleasure.

But there’s the rub, at least for me. The efficient delivery of pleasure is not what I want out of listening to music. In fact, the technical cult of efficiency, of developing algorithms to maximize pleasure, is part and parcel of the calculating, over-processed and data-saturated world that I turn to good music to escape, to interrupt, or to buffer. I don’t want to listen to what Heidegger, in his famous essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” called a “standing reserve.” What bothered Heidegger was not machines themselves, but the way that machines turn everything into a reserve of potential usefulness. Once you create a hydro-electric dam, then the rushing stream that inspired poets or musicians or hippie trippers becomes, inevitably, a “standing reserve” of power, another item in civilization’s immense calculus of extraction.

While all music collections can be seen as standing reserves in a sense, the dynamics of digital collections invites that number-crunching calculus much more intimately into the heart of the experience. When I review records, I am sometimes forced to assign a rating, and I understand the value of such consumer guidance. But if I tried to rate every single track as I listened to it, I would feel like a foot-soldier of the machine, because one of the core moves of the machine is to quantify quality, to take fuzzy values and translate them into numerical values. Listening itself becomes processing rather than process, an endless taxonomical twitch mediated by yet another window on yet another screen. And not even a very useful one at that, at least according to my own hedonic calculus. A lot of my favorite music bugged me or flew over my head the first half dozen times I listened to it, while a lot of the pop gems that instantly floated my boat lost their glamour after two or three listens. How do you rate that?

In a way I envy übergeeks like Doctorow. They take the bull by the horns, and tweak the systems that other übergeeks have developed to manage the glorious excess still other übergeeks have helped create. Their engines of musical discovery and pleasure seem like crisp, smoothly oiled machines, controlling the uncontrolled, managing the mania. I look at my collection and my listening habits and just see a big fucking mess. My stereo is in a room without computers, where I love listening to vinyl I still buy because it sounds better and is really fun to shop for. But I don’t have any room for it so it seems kinda stupid too. I am way too lazy and cheap to do lossless rips of the thousands of CDs I have. Besides, even though these pieces of plastic hog my office, I prefer to have my digital memory externalized in a three-dimensional world of objects and colors and images. But of course now I also possess lots of burned CD-Rs and tons and tons of mp3s, which reside on various pods and drives split between my office, my car, and my home. I don’t know where to begin and where to end, but somehow, lumbering around like a dinosaur, I am blessed with an abundance of marvelous encounters.

"BUSH MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO KILL HIMSELF": Dave Reeves on how Americans can restore our nation's good name (Arthur No. 29/May 2008)

from Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008

CULLING TIME by Dave Reeves

Illustration by Sharon Rudahl

“A joke is an epitaph on the death of a feeling.”—Nietzsche

If we are in Iraq looking for the guys that did the Nineleven caper we’re stupid because, according to the FAA, the pilots are usually among the first people to arrive at a crash site.

The only other 9/11 joke I’ve heard is:

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Nine eleven
Nine eleven who?
You said you would never forget me.

Yeah, it’s not funny. Not just because the feeling isn’t dead. It plays on the fact that 9/11 is an old heartbreak whore of ours, the one who unfettered our basest desires, which we’ll be paying for for the rest of our children’s lives. Har de har.

Your kids are going to be pissed when they see the pictures which Colin Powell pointed at when he talked us into World War Three.

“Daddy is it true that you guys started World War Three over a picture of a meth lab out in the desert?”

“Well honey see we didn’t have no education back then and so we didn’t know that nuclear fission takes whole buildings full of advanced ceramics, Germans and yellow cake uranium to manufacture…”

It’s good that we can’t tell a meth lab from a nuclear bomb-making facility because it means that our elders saw fit to give us the gift of bliss, which more judgemental people would call ignorance. With this bliss we are free to see the world without any preconceived notions based on science or pre-known facts.

Back when people got educations they were indoctrinated so thoroughly that they believed crazy shit like the Civil War was fought to free black slaves. Anybody stupid enough to think that white people went to war and killed other white people for the rights of black people will be stupid enough to believe that we are looking for Osama Bin Laden in Iraqian Permian basin.

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“Applied Magic(k)” – a column by the Center for Tactical Magic

from Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008


“What kind of times are they, when talk about trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?” —Bertolt Brecht (To Those Born Later)

Most people have an appreciation for plants and make an effort to occasionally hike among them, repose in their shade or even co-habitate with them. And while it’s safe to say that we recognize plants’ value and usefulness, it’s also a fair assessment to state that the plant kingdom is frequently taken for granted. When we’re not trampling it, cutting it down, or eating it, we’re usually ignoring it altogether.

Perhaps that’s why the vast majority of modern people who encounter the idea of human/plant communication—or “psychobotany,” as we prefer to call it—find it strange. But it’s equally strange that this viewpoint has become normalized. After all, anthropologists largely agree that people have been attempting communication with the plant kingdom for as long as there have been plants and people. So why is it considered “abnormal” to attempt communication with plants today? And what can we hope to accomplish by entering into such a conversation in the first place?

From engendered grudges and evolutionary angst to theological quibbles and accusations of entrapment, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has certainly been fertile ground for all sorts of controversy. But surely there’s an upside. At the very least the Bible has given us a glimpse of Utopia: proto-hippies living blissfully in a magic garden. In one corner of paradise they receive vitality from the Tree of Life; in another they gain consciousness of self after sampling the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

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SKATEBOARDING AS A MIND-BODY PRACTICE: Greg Shewchuk’s new Arthur column debuts (Arthur, 2008)

“Advanced Standing” by Greg Shewchuk

Illustration by Joseph Remnant

from Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008

Anyone who claims to know what skateboarding is “all about” is full of shit. To define it as sport, art, science, transportation, play, culture, lifestyle, or anything else is to minimize the unlimited potential within the form. Skateboarding is inherently meaningless. Its lack of meaning is what allows it to be such a progressive and influential experience.

The origin of skateboarding cannot be localized to any single point. The skateboard was never invented; it was discovered by children across America simultaneously as apple-crate scooters of the 1940s and 50s were broken down and converted into the legendary 2×4″ with roller-skate trucks. Thus, the skateboard has no intention behind it: no inventor, no purpose, no ownership, no goal, no rules. Nothing in the creation or design of the skateboard assumes any meaning or value. It is a perfectly uninhibited vehicle of action-oriented possibility.

As the skateboard was refined with technical advancements (urethane wheels, slight changes in board and truck design) and influenced by surf culture and technique, it evolved and attracted the daredevils and visionaries who crafted the form as we recognize it today. The terrain of streets and sidewalks led to ramps and pools and drainpipes, and eventually begat massive concrete skateparks. Journalists and photographers and filmmakers developed a symbiotic relationship with the athletes, documenting the physical forms and commenting on the culture and surrounding artworks and personalities.

The masters of the form, the leaders and great events of skateboard history, the varied terrain and infrastructure: all of this has been documented and pored over by an appreciating audience. And yet, for all of the journalism and vicarious entertainment that surrounds skateboarding, there’s never really been a deeper examination of the form— specifically the subtle internal and energetic processes—of skateboarding itself.

The technique of actually riding on a skateboard is not that different than standing still. The skateboard is a vehicle, with wheels and axles and a platform to stand upon, but there is no drivetrain. A skateboard moves by the kinetic energy of being pushed, or by taking advantage of its potential energy positioned at the top of a hill or transitional wall. Once the skateboard is up to speed, the majority of the techniques start and end with simply riding along—standing still on the platform of the skateboard, while the world rolls beneath one’s feet, occasionally in excess of 40 miles an hour. In this standing position, the skateboard and rider may cover larger distances, they may roll up and down steep inclines, they may ride up circular transitions above and beyond the vertical axis, they may launch into the air and cover great distances through empty space before returning to solid ground. The skateboarder, more than anything, must shift his or her weight and stance to accommodate these changes in trajectory. The technical aspects of contemporary trick performance include a lot of board flipping and body spinning and sideways sliding and shifting and grinding, but the foundation of riding a skateboard in a casual, two-footed stance remains.
The standing skateboarder experiences dramatic changes in acceleration and frame of reference. Dropping into a ramp or bowl sets the rider off on a path of varying degrees of linear and radial acceleration. Physics students are aware that radial acceleration—the way a skateboarder will circumnavigate a bowled transition, or a planet will orbit a star— results in acceleration towards the center of the curve. This curious feature of Newtonian physics segues neatly into Einstein’s theory of relativity, involving acceleration along the curvature of space-time. Einstein postulated a geometric interpretation of the “force” of gravity, and this revelation completely changed the way we view and understand our world.

This means that the skateboarder, in his ongoing dance with gravity and acceleration, can use the fine instrument of the central nervous system to examine the most dramatic and fundamental forces in the universe. This movement affects physiological change, in the form of blood flow and oxygenation and chemical release and so on, but also affects awareness and psychological change. Finding the center in these dramatic curves, attaining balance in the midst of this tremendous spiraling movement, is as much an internal discipline as an external one.

Over the past ten years I have considered skateboarding in the light of two disciplines which are often grouped together as “mind-body” practices, Taiji (also Taijiquan, T’ai Chi) and Yoga (specifically Hatha Yoga). While the comparisons have been made before, a deeper investigation is overdue. Taiji and Yoga are physical practices with corresponding philosophies that have endured for literally thousands of years, drawing from the sophisticated and profoundly spiritual cultures that spawned them: Taiji evolved with Chinese Taoism, and Yoga evolved with Indian Hinduism and Buddhism. A greatly simplified explanation of their intention is to prepare the human participant for the discipline of deep meditation.

Taiji and Yoga use the body-mind correlation to enhance and actualize the understanding and expression of spiritual connectedness. In Yoga, the intention is to “yoke” or unite with the divine through mental refinement and physical alignment in the flow of universal energy. The intention of Taiji is to follow the way—the Tao—by “uniting heaven and earth”, balancing the opposing forces of the universe internally and externally. The famous “yin yang” symbol is actually called the Taiji—it means supreme ultimate, and is intended to suggest that the universe in its true state is in perfect balance.

Considering skateboarding as a mind-body activity and relating it to Yoga and Taiji can allow insight into the less than obvious internal processes at work. It is not sheer athleticism—strength, endurance, etc.—that make a good skateboarder; a good skateboarder must be a master of balance, focus, perseverance, creative ingenuity, and fear management. It takes heart and vision (and a good sense of humor) to ride a skateboard, not muscle. Cultivation of the heart and vision are among the primary intentions of a traditional mind-body activity, and they do not involve a painstaking enhancement of the ego, but quite the opposite. Skateboarders have as much to learn about the physical aspects of their craft from these ancient disciplines as they do about the internal, mental, and spiritual aspects.

Regardless of whether these systems are studied or adopted by skateboarders, the point is that there is an opening here for some higher purpose. When you are skateboarding, any goals or obligations are self-created. The intention of your skateboard practice is up to you. For someone who has been skating for 20 or 30 years, the reasons for skateboarding have probably changed greatly. What begins as sport, art, play, a job, etc. can become an opportunity to merge a physically balanced form with open-minded spiritual potential. This can take place by studying Yoga or Taiji, or by incorporating another religious philosophy (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zen Buddhism, and so on) into the mix. It is certainly not necessary, but the choice is yours.

Whatever you choose, you will not be alone on your path. In 50 years skateboarding has developed into a worldwide culture with millions of participants, growing and evolving at the speed of life, and every flavor of humanity and human achievement is accounted for. This progressive, diverse living community is more available to spiritual development than perhaps any other group of people in the history of the world. In America, where freedom of such pursuit is a constitutional right, we have a unique opportunity to follow our own path and uncover personal insight into the deepest workings of the universe, a balanced experience that might as well take place while standing on a wooden plank with trucks and urethane wheels.

I don’t want to try and define skateboarding, nor do I want to attach any extra importance to it. Its meaninglessness is its ultimate value, and any rewards are up to the invididual to discern. That said, the internal processes of skateboarding are available for anyone at any level to explore—but to do so you will have to see beyond the obvious, and you are well-advised to take a cue from some ancient wisdom. Skateboarding goes deep, and it can be about a lot more than fame or success or being cool; it can quickly transcend any imaginary differences between human souls. Skateboarding is a real, life-long spiritual trip, a profound relationship with a higher power. Skateboarding will require you to open up to the unknown, and confront it without fear or judgment. Then you may bear witness to the freedom within the form.

Greg Shewchuk is the director of the Land of Plenty Skateboard Foundation.

WILLING DUPES: Douglas Rushkoff on the credit crisis

“Riding Out the Credit Crisis” by Douglas Rushkoff

from Arthur Magazine No. 29/May 2008

There’s two kinds of people asking me about the economy lately: people with money wanting to know how to keep it “safe,” and people without money, wanting to know how to keep safe, themselves.

Maybe it’s the difference between those two concerns that best explains the underlying nature of today’s fiscal crisis.

Is what’s going on in the economy right now really worse than anything that’s happened in the past few decades? Are we heading towards a bank collapse like what happened in 1929? Or something even worse?

On a certain level, none of these questions really matter. Not as they’re being phrased, anyway. What we think of as “the economy” today isn’t real, it’s virtual. It’s a speculative marketplace that has very little to do with getting real things to the people who need them, and much more to do with providing ways for passive investors to grow their capital.

This economy of markets was created to give the rising merchant class in the late middle ages a way to invest their winnings. Instead of actually working, or even injecting capital into new enterprises, they learned to “make markets” in things that were scarce. Or, rather, in things that could be made scarce, like land.

That’s how speculation was born. Speculation in land, gold, coal, food…pretty much anything. Because the wealthy had such so much excess capital to invest, they made markets in stuff that the rest of us actually used. The problem is that when coal or corn isn’t just fuel or food but also an asset class, the laws of supply and demand cease to be the principal forces determining their price. When there’s a lot of money and few places to invest it, anything considered a speculative asset becomes overpriced. And then real people can’t afford the stuff they need.

The speculative economy is related to the real economy, but more as a parasite than a positive force. It is detached from the real needs of people, and even detached from the real commerce that goes on between humans. It is a form of meta-commerce, like a Las Vegas casino betting on the outcome of a political election. Only the bets, in this case, change the real costs of the things being bet on.

That’s what happened in the housing market and the credit market—which, these days, are actually the same thing. Here’s the story, in the simplest terms:

Bush’s tax cuts and other measures favoring the rich led to the biggest redistribution of wealth from poor to rich in American history. The result was that the wealthy—the investment class—had more money to invest, or lend, than there were people and businesses looking to borrow.

The easiest way to bring more borrowers into the system—and to create more of a market for money—was to promote homeownership in America. This is precisely what the Bush administration did, touting home ownership as an American right. Of course, they weren’t talking about home ownership at all, but rather pushing people to borrow money tied to the value of a house. If people could be persuaded to take mortgages on homes, real estate values would go up for those already invested (like land trusts and real estate funds) and banks would have a market for the excess money they had accumulated.

In short, there was a surplus of credit in the system. Americans were encouraged to borrow in the form of mortgages, which created demand for the credit banks wanted to sell. In many cases the credit itself wasn’t even real, but leveraged off some other inflated commodity that the bank or investor may have owned.

Banks and mortgage companies invented some really shady and difficult-to-understand mortgage contracts, designed to get people to borrow more money than they could. Banks didn’t care so much about lending money to people who wouldn’t be able to pay it back, because that’s not how they were going to earn their money, anyway. They provided the money for mortgage companies to lend, and in return won the rights to underwrite the loans when they were packaged and sold to other people and institutions.

So a bank might provide the cash for a bunch of loans, but then get it back, plus a huge commission, when those loans were packaged and sold to someone else.

Lots of people take out mortgages, and housing prices rise. This is used as evidence to convince more people that real estate is a great investment, and more people buy into the housing bubble. Lots of these people put little or no money down, and buy mortgages whose interests rates are going to change for the worse. But they believe the price of their home is inevitably going to go up, and pin their futures on the idea that they can refinance their mortgage before their rate changes. Since the house will be worth more, the mortgage for what they owe should be easier to get; it will represent a smaller percentage of the new total cost of the house.

Of course, this was dumb. Banks didn’t really care (because they weren’t holding the bad paper) but the people investing in those “mortgage-backed securities” were slowly getting wise to the fact that many of the borrowers were in over their heads. What to do? The credit industry went ahead and lobbied Washington to change the bankruptcy laws. While corporations could claim bankruptcy and stop paying for their retirees’ health coverage, individuals would no longer be able to claim bankruptcy, and even if they did, they would still owe their creditors the money they borrowed, forever. The credit industry spent over $100 million lobbying lawmakers for the new provisions.

Then, just like the credit industry predicted, loans start going bad. (The industry labels these loans “sub prime” because they want to make it look like the borrowers were somehow less-than-respectable people. But the term really just refers to a less-than-respectable loan.) As homeowners default on their mortgages, housing prices start to go down. This, in turn, makes it impossible for people to refinance their mortgages when they thought they would; in fact, now many homeowners actually owe more on their home than the home is worth. How can you refinance a million-dollar loan on a house that is only worth half that? You can’t, so instead you have to hold onto the variable-rate loan that you foolishly bought from the predatory lender. The rate rises higher and faster than you can pay it.

Lenders go ahead and start foreclosing on properties, kicking out the mortgage holders who can’t pay. But this creates another problem: what to do with the house? It’s not even worth the outstanding portion of the loan, in many cases. And even if they can sell it, how to distribute the money? No one even really knows whose mortgages belong to whom, as they’ve been sold as parts of packages, again and again, to different lenders, pension funds, money markets…you name it.

This leads to what became known as the “credit crunch” or “liquidity crisis.” No one feels good about lending money anymore because so much of it was tied in one way or another to these bad mortgages. The creditors don’t want to take possession of all these foreclosed homes, and they turn to the government for help.

Under the guise of helping homeowners “stay in their homes,” the government starts bandying about various “relief packages.” The Treasury department and the Fed are actually taking a two-pronged strategy towards fixing the problem. One prong is cynical PR, and the other is just plain stupid.

First, they want to create the illusion that something is being done, so they talk about “superfunds” to bail out homeowners, freezes on rate hikes, checks mailed to every taxpayer, and other useless gestures. They do all this to appease angry consumers and consumer advocates because they won’t want real lending industry regulation (like what Barney Frank and other progressives are pushing for) to gain any traction.

Second, they want to make more money available to the creditors (banks), so they can keep lending money—because this is their business. So the Fed lowers interest rates again and again. Banks get more money, and guess what? We’re back where we started: with tons of money and nowhere to invest it! By lowering the “prime lending rate,” they simply add to the surplus cash that created the problem in the first place.

Of course, both measures serve to stave off panic selling, because it seems as though something real is being done. Homeowners may get a slight delay in the paralyzing rate increases on their mortgages, giving banks and creditors the chance to make a more orderly exit. They will bail from these mortgages while selling the artificially secured credit to the likes of you and me through money market accounts and other retail products. They just need time to make sure the real losses trickle down to someone else.

And remember: this whole mortgage fiasco is just a little preview of what happens next year when the credit card industry faces the very same self-imposed “crunch.” In the case of mortgage lenders, at least the terms of the loans were disclosed. Credit card companies—which are some of the very same banks that are in the mortgage mess today—are busy rewriting their policies, increasing rates, and adding fees to the policies of people already in debt to them.

You know those little ‘inserts’ in your credit card bill? Read them, and you’ll find out, like I did, that some credit card companies have begun charging interest on your purchases from the moment you make the purchase. You pay finance charges even if you pay your whole bill every month. Most people carry big balances, so they won’t notice the additional charges, or at least that’s what the credit card companies are—quite literally—banking on.

* * *

After a certain point, consumers just won’t be able to pay their bills. Even though they’ve paid the cost of their purchases several times over, they’re simply buried in interest and interest on the interest, sometimes compounding at a rate of 30 or 40 percent per year. The creditors know this, which is why they’ve sold a lot of this debt to other banks, pension plans, money market funds…you get the picture: the kinds of places where we invest our retirement money. The banks invested in us; we were the assets. Now that we’re about to go broke, they’re busy selling us to other financial institutions in a game of musical chairs that will cost the last debtholder a lot of money. Of course, unless we can convince some foreign sheiks to buy some lousy US assets with their oil money, that last debt holder will end up being you and me.

Over the past few months I’ve spoken to top strategists at some of the biggest banks in the world, and they share my perception of the scenario. Most of them are “holding cash” as their main investment strategy, spread out over a few of the major currencies. Those making money are doing so by short-selling shares of other companies in the same finance industry that they supposedly work for.

The bigger picture, of course, is that speculation just worked too well for too long. The disparity between the market values and real values (rich people and poor people) got too large. Every asset class, even money itself, got too expensive. We became more valuable for our borrowing power than our labor—which also meant there was no way to work off our debt. Meanwhile, the people using reality as an investment vehicle have overwhelmed the real economy on which their “structured investments” are based.

Sure, this has happened before. It’s just that, traditionally, when wealth disparity got too great and there wasn’t enough money in the right places, the wealthiest bankers temporarily suspended their greed to bail out the system. Or progressive tax policies opened corporate coffers, permitting a “New Deal” that employed people while rebuilding the infrastructure required to make real things and provide real services to citizens.

Today, however, such temporary restraints on greed are systematically untenable and philosophically unthinkable. Conservatives are still so angry about New Deal reforms of the 1930s that that they have infused politics and banking with an economic ideology that sees any regulation of worker exploitation or predatory investment as anti-capitalist, anti-American, and even anti-God.

So instead we are the beneficiaries of “wink” reform: stuff that’s supposed to make us feel good while reassuring the speculators that their interests will remain paramount. A few hundred dollars mailed to every American family creates the illusion that government is lending a helping hand, but this money is not redistributing anything. It’s being taken from the same people who are receiving it, in the hope that they’ll just pump it back into the system at Wal-Mart or the Exxon station.

Whether the coming economic crisis will be deep or shallow is left to be seen. We may be at the start of the kind of depression our grandparents lived through in the ’30s, or we may simply experience what our parents lived through back in the ’70s. Foreign investment trusts may come in and buy our biggest banks and turn us into global citizens through the very World Bank policies we were hoping would turn all of them into US vassals.

Whatever the case, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your interests is to make friends. The more we are willing to do for each other on our own terms and for compensation that doesn’t necessarily involve the until-recently-almighty dollar, the less vulnerable we are to the movements of markets that, quite frankly, have nothing to do with us.

If you’re sourcing your garlic from your neighbor over the hill instead of the Big Ag conglomerate over the ocean, then shifts in the exchange rate won’t matter much. If you’re using a local currency to pay your mechanic to adjust your brakes, or your chiropractor to adjust your back, then a global liquidity crisis won’t affect your ability to pay for either. If you move to a place because you’re looking for smart people instead of a smart real estate investment, you’re less likely to be suckered by high costs of a “hot” city or neighborhood, and more likely to find the kinds of people willing to serve as a social network, if for no other reason than they’re less busy servicing their mortgages.

The more connected you are to the real world, and the more consciously you reject the lure of the speculative ladder, the less of a willing dupe you’ll be in the pyramid scheme that’s in the process of collapsing all around us at this moment.

Think small. Buy local. Make friends. Print money. Grow food. Teach children. Learn nutrition. And if you do have money to invest, put it into whatever lets you and your friends do those things.

Douglas Rushkoff writes books about media, technology, and values. He’s currently working on a project called “Corporatized,” which will explore how chartered corporations disconnected us from reality.

ENDARKENMENT MANIFESTO by Peter Lamborn Wilson aka Hakim Bey (Arthur, 2008)

From ARTHUR MAGAZINE No. 29 (May 2008): Peter Lamborn Wilson’s half-serious proposal for a political movement to uphold and propagate the ideals of Green Hermeticism. Wilson sometimes uses the pen name ‘Hakim Bey.’ He is the author of the Temporary Autonomous Zone concept and manifesto, which, for better or worse, was the original inspiration for the Burning Man festival..


At least half the year belongs to Endarkenment. Enlightenment is only a special case of Endarkenment—and it has nights of its own.


During the day democracy waxes, indiscriminately illuminating all and sundry. But shadowless noon belongs to Pan. And night imposes a “radical aristocracy” in which things shine solely by their own luminescence, or not at all.


Obfuscatory, reactionary and superstitious, Endarkenment offers jobs for trolls and sylphs, witches and warlocks. Perhaps only superstition can re-enchant Nature. People who fear and desire nymphs and fauns will think twice before polluting streams or clear-cutting forests.


Electricity banished shadows—but shadows are “shades,” souls, the souls of light itself. Even divine light, when it loses its organic and secret darkness, becomes a form of pollution. In prison cells electric lights are never doused; light becomes oppression and source of disease.


Superstitions may be untrue but based on deeper truth—that earth is a living being. Science may be true, i.e. effective, while based on a deeper untruth—that matter is dead.


The peasants attacking Dr. Frankenstein’s tower with their torches and scythes were the shock troops of Endarkenment, our luddite militia. The original historical Luddites smashed mechanical looms, ancestors of the computer.


“Neolithic conservatism” (Paul Goodman’s definition of anarchism) positions itself outside the ponderous inevitability of separation and sameness. Every caveman a Prince Kropotkin, every cavewoman Mrs. Nietzsche. Our Phalanstery would be lit by candles and our Passions avowed via messenger pigeons and hot-air balloons.


Imagine what science might be like to day if the State and Kapital had never emerged. Romantic Science proposes an empiricism devoid of disastrous splits between consciousness and Nature; thus it prolongates Neolithic alchemy as if separation and alienation had never occurred: science for life not money, health not war, pleasure not efficiency; Novalis’s “poeticization of science.”


Of course technology itself is haunted—a ghost for every machine. The myth of Progress stars its own cast of ghouls and efreets. Consciously or unconsciously (what difference would it make?) we all know we live in techno-dystopia, but we accept it with the deterministic fatalism of beaten serfs, as if it were virtual Natural Law.


Technology mimics and thus belittles the miracles of magic. Rationalism has its own Popes and droning litanies, but the spell they cast is one of disenchantment. Or rather: all magic has migrated into money, all power into a technology of titanic totality, a violence against life that stuns and disheartens.


Hence the universal fear/desire for the End of the World (or for some world anyway). For the poor Christian Moslem Jewish saps duped by fundamentalist nihilism the Last Day is both horrorshow and Rapture, just as for secular Yuppies global warming is a symbol of terror and meaninglessness and simultaneously a rapturous vision of post-Catastrophe Hobbit-like local-sustainable solar-powered gemutlichkeit. Thus the technopathocracy comes equipped with its own built-in escape-valve fantasy: the Ragnarok of technology itself and the sudden catastrophic restoration of meaning. In fact Capital can capitalize on its own huge unpopularity by commoditizing hope for its End. That’s what the smug shits call a win/win situation.


Winter Solstice (Chaos Day in Chinese folklore) is one of Endarkenment’s official holidays, along with Samhain or Halloween, Winter’s first day.


Endarkenment stands socially for the Cro-Magnon or “Atlantaean” complex—anarchist because prior to the State—for horticulture and gathering against agriculture and industry—for the right to hunt as against the usurpation of commons by lord or State. Electricity and internal combustion should be turned off along with all States and corporations and their cult of Mammon and Moloch.


Despite our ultimate aim we’re willing to step back bit by bit. We might be willing to accept steam power or hydraulics. The last agreeable year for us was 1941, the ideal is about 10,000 BC, but we’re not purists. Endarkenment is a form of impurism, of mixture and shadow.


Endarkenment envisages a medicine advanced as it might have been if money and the State had never appeared, medicine for earth, animals and humans, based on Nature, not on promethean technology. Endarkenment is not impressed by medicine that prolongs “life span” by adding several years in a hospital bed hooked up to tubes and glued to daytime TV, all at the expense of every penny ever saved by the patient (lit. “sufferer”) plus huge debts for children and heirs. We’re not impressed by gene therapy and plastic surgery for obscene superrich post humans. We prefer an empirical extension of “medieval superstitions” of Old Wives and herbalists, a rectified Paracelsan peoples’ medicine as proposed by Ivan Illich in his book on demedicalization of society. (Illich as Catholic anarchist we consider an Endarkenment saint of some sort.) (Endarkenment is somewhat like “Tory anarchism,” a phrase I’ve seen used earliest in Max Beehbohm and most lately by John Mitchell.) (Other saints: William Blake, William Morris, A.K. Coomaraswamy, John Cowper Powys, Marie Laveau, King Farouk…)


Politically Endarkenment proposes anarcho-monarchism, in effect somewhat like Scandinavian monarcho-socialism but more radical, with highly symbolic but powerless monarchs and lots of good ritual, combined with Proudhonian anarcho-federalism and Mutualism. Georges Sorel (author of Reflections on Violence) had some anarcho-monarchist disciples in the Cercle Proudhon (1910-1914) with whom we feel a certain affinity. Endarkenment favors most separatisms and secessions; many small states are better than a few big ones. We’re especially interested in the break-up of the American Empire.


Endarkenment also feels some critical admiration for Col. Qadhaffi’s Green Book, and for the Bonnot Gang (Stirnerite Nietzschean bank robbers). In Islamdom it favors “medieval accretions” like sufism and Ismailism against all crypto-modernist hyperorthodoxy and politics of resentment. We also admire the martyred Iranian Shiite/Sufi socialist Ali Shariati, who was praised by Massignon and Foucault.


Culturally Endarkenment aims at extreme neo-Romanticism and will therefore be accused of fascism by its enemies on the Left. The answer to this is that (1) we’re anarchists and federalists adamantly opposed to all authoritarian centralisms whether Left or Right. (2) We favor all races, we love both difference and solidarity, not sameness and separation. (3) We reject the myth of Progress and technology—all cultural Futurism—all plans no matter their ideological origin—all uniformity—all conformity whether to organized religion or secular rationalism with its market democracy and endless war.


Endarkenists “believe in magic” and so must wage their guerrilla through magic rather than compete with the State’s monopoly of techno-violence. Giordano Bruno’s Image Magic is our secret weapon. Projective hieroglyphic hermeneutics. Action at a distance through manipulation of symbols carried out dramaturgically via acts of Poetic Terrorism, surrealist sabotage, Bakunin’s “creative destruction”—but also destructive creativity, invention of hermetico-critical objects, heiroglyphic projections of word/image “spells”—by which more is meant (always) than mere “political art”—rather a magical art with actual dire or beneficial results. Our enemies on the Right might call this political pornography and they’d be (as usual) right. Porn has a measurable physiopsychological effect. We’re looking for something like it, definitely, only bigger, and more like Artaud than Brecht—but not to be mistaken for “Absolute Art” or any other platonic purism—rather an empirical strategic “situationist” art, outside all mass media, truly underground, as befits Endarkenment, like a loosely structured “rhizomatic” Tong or freemasonic conspiracy.


The Dark has its own lights or “photisms” as Henry Corbin called them, literally as entoptic/hypnagogic phosphene-like phenomena, and figuratively (or imaginally) as Paracelsan Nature spirits, or in Blakean terms, inner lights. Enlightenment has its shadows, Endarkenment has its Illuminati; and there are no ideas but in persons (in theologic terms, angels). According to legend the Byzantines were busy discussing “the sex of angels” while the Ottomans were besieging the walls of Constantinople. Was this the height of Endarkenment? We share that obsession.

Jan. 1, 2008

U.S. Senate hit by ghost mob

by The Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in the “Applied Magic(k)” column in Arthur Magazine No. 25/Winter 02006

Ghosts are unwieldy subjects to contend with. It’s as if their ephemeral nature predisposes them to be barely tangible topics of research. The vast majority of evidence used to support the existence of ghosts is subjective: first-hand reports and eyewitness accounts. Despite the fact that forensic science, cultural geography, physics, and parapsychology all suggest that any given area is inscribed with the residue of that area’s history, the hard data on hauntings remains inconclusive.

To make matters hazier, the definitions of ghosts often swirl together with religious beliefs and philosophical assumptions. For example, if we define ghosts as being the spirits of the departed, we are stating clearly that we believe in life-after-death and some notion that separates body and spirit. Whether this notion is Cartesian dualism, Egyptian ka, Polynesian mana, or the yin-world spirits of Taoism, the assertion is that the individual is not indivisible. At the very least we are forced to accept the idea that the self is multiplicitous.

This shouldn’t be such a leap. At any given moment a person can be characterized by many different activities that s/he engages in: mechanic, musician, anarchist, lover, gardener, cyclist, etc. A person doesn’t think of him/herself as a mechanic when s/he’s in the garden, although s/he also doesn’t stop being a mechanic. We are many things to many people in many spheres of activity – simultaneously. But still we remain ourselves. On the most basic level, we live multiplicitous lives every day.

And when we go to sleep at night, it doesn’t end there. Our dreams continue to embroil us in action-adventures that would surely leave us breathless and exhausted if it weren’t for the simple fact that our bodies barely participate in all of the fun. If there is any sort of universal logic that can be applied as a subjective proof for the insubstantiation of the self, it is the simple fact that we all dream, whether we remember it in the morning or not.

To be clear, dreams don’t prove that ghosts are real. Nor does it prove that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. Rather, the travels we undertake when our eyes are closed simply suggest that a meaningful disembodied existence can occur. Even if we dismiss dreams (and ghosts) as immaterial and inconsequential, anyone who has ever experienced a nightmare won’t deny the fact that these visions can cause acute physical and psychological sensations in our waking lives.

But what are ghosts exactly? The incorporeal dead hanging out amongst the living? Reflected light? Psychosis? Atmospheric anomalies? Holographic messages from the future? Alien lifeforms? Osama’s latest WMD (Weapon of Mental Distortion)? Whatever they are, ghosts, like magic(k), pop up, in one form or another, in nearly every culture on the planet, and have been described in legends, myths, and stories throughout history. A popular Chinese attitude towards ghosts is voiced in the age-old expression, “If you believe it, there will be, but if you don’t, there will not.” According to legend, the saying was penned by a scholar named Zhuxi (Song Dynasty, 960 – 1279). Now Zhuxi was such a strict non-believer that he decided to write an essay about the non-existence of ghosts. But, lo and behold!—a ghost showed up to convince him otherwise. The ghost made such a lucid argument, that Zhuxi was forced to reconsider his thesis. In fact, it’s actually the ghost that is credited with authoring the aforementioned expression, and Zhuxi merely wrote it down.

Whether we believe in ghosts as actual paranormal phenomena, or as manifestations of mass cultural imagination, we can agree on some fundamental characteristics of ghosts. For starters, it’s significant to note that many such manifestations consistently take the form of people, or exhibit seemingly conscious behaviors. This could be similar to looking skyward and seeing faces in the clouds; however, there’s one major exception. When we let our minds drift in the cumulo-nimbus we also tend to see things like bears in bathtubs, and inverted Lay-Z-Boys. And we don’t hear ghastly tales of glowing gaseous forms resembling anything quite so banal, or cute and cartoony. Instead, we are most often presented with accounts of haunting encounters that evoke horror, sorrow, fear, anger, remorse, passion, and purpose. Ghosts emerge from the shadows; from dark corners; from forgotten and abandoned recesses. Regardless of whether or not these phantoms are psychological projections or external paranormal phenomena, it’s clear that our collective response to these apparitions is apprehension, angst, and anxiety.

Generally speaking, there are two dominant types of ghost stories: lost love, and grave injustices. The “lost love” category encompasses all of those apparitions who wait endlessly for lovers to return, or visit their living loved ones for comfort, counsel, and last condolences. In the second category, the vast majority of ghost stories hover around a central theme of grave injustices yet to be rectified. Murder. Torture. Betrayal. The plight of this sort of phantom is one of paradox; it seeks to rest in peace, yet refuses to quit the struggle until things have been set right. While the crimes of the past still linger at the site of a haunting, the ghost’s job is to make sure we, the living, don’t ignore it. Their refusal to let injustices be forgotten manifests in a form of spiritual civil disobedience. From silent vigils to shrieks and moans to outright property destruction, these ghosts are paranormal protestors bearing witness to a world gone woefully awry. In their quest for peace, the phantoms that haunt us defy the laws of the material world in acts of otherworldly anarchism. Offering spiritual resistance to the complicit affairs of everyday life, these insurgent souls have little regard for the rules and boundaries that restrict the world of the living.

They defy even gravity itself. Moving through gates and walls, no barrier restricts their attempts to resolve the inequities that torment them—and consequently us. After all, it is the apathy of the living that drives them to disturb the peace, because they cannot rest until the conflict is, once-and-for-all, addressed and resolved. There is no moving on. Not until unsavory events are properly put to rest.

It’s this kind of dissenting spirit that needs to be channeled today. Even Senator Specter (R-PA), whose position on most policies is rather ghoulish, could not sit idly by when faced with the recent legislation surrounding Guantanamo Bay detainees. Like all hauntings, the degree of uncanniness is quite remarkable. It’s only too fitting that the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee be named Specter. And perhaps even more appropriate that he should take issue with the United States’ recent dissolution of habeas corpus (meaning quite literally “(You should) have the body”). Dating back as far as 1305, and included in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, habeas corpus is one of the oldest and most celebrated guarantees of personal liberty. It grants individuals the right to question their detainment and challenge the government on the legality of their imprisonment. By killing habeas corpus, the clock on civil liberties is set back more than seven centuries to a time when judicial courts were simply a king and his dungeons. No wonder Mr. Specter is voicing his disapproval.

The haunting of society by the ghosts of our collective past resonates within a present that continues to manifest grave injustices. Generation after generation, the abuse of power materializes in a reoccurring nightmare, claiming countless victims—collateral damage in a battle to maintain hegemony. Doomed to repeat the tragedies of the ages, these lost souls insinuate their desires and anxieties into the world of the living. Each step of the way, these energies inform our thoughts, our dreams, our actions—indeed, every aspect of our existence. Ghosts are an unsettling reminder that the crimes of the past have not yet been resolved. Refusing to quietly fade from consciousness, they demand that their howls be heeded. The residues of injustice permeate the physical, psychological, and parapsychological landscape, inscribing the present with desperate warnings and demands for reconciliation.

Perhaps it’s time for the living to start paying attention to the stirring in the shadows. These aberrations in space, time, and freedom remain inscribed in mind, spirit, and social body, awaiting their release through the discovery and recovery of our own self-determining forces. Can the righteous spirits of the past truly join forces with the living to achieve peace and justice? If you believe it, there will be, but if you don’t, there will not.

Through methods of divination, channeling, investigation, experimentation, and active engagement, we can invoke those that seem most experienced in dealing with past inequities—ghosts. Here are a few experiments in magic(k) to get you started. As always, please let us know how it goes by emailing to: goodluck at tacticalmagic dot org

1. Summoning ancestral spirits for guidance and inspiration is an age-old practice re-popularized in the ’70s through Milton Bradley’s mass production of the Ouija board. But you don’t need to jump on eBay to get a piece of the action. Make your own walkie-talkie to the spirit world by covering any smooth surface with the letters of the alphabet, numbers 0-10, and the words, “yes,” “no,” “unclear” and “goodbye.” Use another object that glides easily over the surface as your planchette, or pointer. A shot glass, serving spoon, or cell phone will work okay. A generic board will likely attract a general audience. For the best results, craft your set-up with a righteous spirit in mind using items and symbols that the spirit might find appealing. If, for example, you wanted the counsel of Nathan Hale, draw the board on a copy of the Patriot Act. For Harriet Tubman, try replacing the planchette with a broken handcuff. Grab a few friends, dim the lights, and place your fingertips lightly on the planchette. Then, invite the spirits, and begin your supernatural conspiring.

2. The problem with ghosts is not that they won’t shut up, but rather that it took death to get them to speak up in the first place. Is it fear of death that keeps us from voicing our dissatisfaction with the world of the living? Or fear of life? Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for that last breath to start haunting places. Form your own ghost mob and venture out to haunt sites of known social injustices. Banks, police stations, recruitment centers, and chain stores are but a few potential targets. From large-scale occupations by friends in Halloween gore to quiet insertions of tape recorded whispers and groans, a ghost mob can embody suppressed fears and desires whilst banishing the specters of social control.

3. Encounters with ghosts are said to increase during times of social crises and the post-trauma periods immediately following. Most notably, research suggests that more people see ghosts (or at least report them) in wartime and during post-war transitions. If this assessment is accurate, we should expect a barrage of ghost sightings related to Katrina, Afghanistan and Iraq. We are sincerely interested in studying this trend. If you have had paranormal experiences that you feel are related to social crises, please let us know by emailing us at: socialhauntings at tacticalmagic dot org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The Center for Tactical Magic is a moderate international think tank dedicated to the research, development and deployment of all types of magic in the service of positive social transformation. To find out more, check out

“Things You Should Know About L.A. County Men’s Jail” by Dave Reeves (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 28 (March 2008)


Illustration: Joseph Remnant

by Dave Reeves

There were Laws, but they were not feared. There were rules but they were not worshiped like laws and rules and cops and informants are feared and worshiped today. –Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Elko”

If you are reading this magazine then there is a pretty good chance that you break some stupid ass law every other day. Be it dabbling in tax evasion, watering your lawn on Thursdays, smoking weed, walking your dog without a leash, or drinking two and half beers before driving home, you are overdue to beg for the non-existent mercy of some unlaid grinch posing as a judge (you know who you are, Kirkland Nyby). I’m here to tell you that being a white non-violent person with all your teeth will not be enough to save you from doing hard time for minor infractions anymore.

America has slid far past the point where a well-regulated militia would be able to relieve us of our vicious tyrants. The myriad weapons and tactics perfected over the course of our many stupid foreign wars are easily turned against the American civilian population. We are cowed behind the magic of infrared radar helicopters, electronic ball breakers, automatic weapons and a skein of surveillance cameras: the American population rendered naked to the aggression of a police state gone corporate.

I have seen the future and it is California. That which is not illegal is mandatory. If you find yourself in California, here’s what you should do:

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