BUNDY STANDOFF

There’s a fascinating (although poorly written) article out about the Oregon standoff trial. Apparently during the siege there were 15 FBI informants feeding information to the feds, nine of whom spent significant time at the shooting range that served as HQ. One of them, a Swiss national posing as a French/South African weapons expert, alias “John Killman,” [Note: Nice.] ran firearms and hand-to-hand combat trainings and even supervised the range for several days.

27 men were ultimately arrested, meaning, incredibly, that between a third and half of the men involved in the incident were FBI informants. Shades of G.K. Chesterton. This is such a weird story.

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ZOMBIES

I was thinking about zombies the other day. It seems like the trend peaked a couple years ago, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it from the proliferation of TV shows, movies, and public events revolving around the walking dead.

It’s a truism that depictions of zombies and other monsters reflect society’s fears and insecurities. However, the old, zombies-as-mindless-consumers trope beat into the ground by George Romero (and most recently used in the excellent remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) doesn’t seem to work anymore. It certainly doesn’t apply to the phenomenon that is The Walking Dead, which is really what we’re talking about if we’re talking about zombies in 2016. It seems to me that The Walking Dead is popular because it’s basically a fantasy: atomized, alienated, financially insecure Americans want to live on the run, camping in the great outdoors with a tight-knit band of fellow survivors that can only depend on themselves and each other. It’s basically a self-help show about how life gets a lot simpler if you can forget looming debt repayments and retirement planning and focus on the now of kinship bonds and wasting zombies. This also parallels the recent trend of pop evolutionary biology, with Grimes the alpha male leading his pack of ur-humans around. You know, how humans are supposed to live.

There’s probably also some variably interesting ideas in there about The Walking Dead subconsciously channeling a decreasingly-religious-but-increasingly-millenarian America’s fears of post-Rapture abandonment. As John Dolan likes to remind us, there’s a shitload of old-fashioned American Calvinism underpinning the ideology of the officially secular progressive left in this country, a group which would probably include the creators and much of the fanbase of the show.

Lecter and the Fedd

Last night I was watching Maria Bamford’s new show Lady Dynamite (which incidentally is the best comedy I’ve seen in years), and in the second episode there’s a part where she madly drives to her date’s house and climbs in through his window. The song playing in the background is a twangy Bakersfield country tune of the sort that I unconditionally love, so I paused the show and Googled the lyrics to find it.

The only result that came up –the ONLY RESULT– was a Tumblr blog called The Softest Working Man in Show Business, which is run by an unknown entity named the FantomSquid and apparently solely dedicated to researching 20th century Canadian pop culture oddities. In an August 9, 2015 post, the FantomSquid embedded a recording of the song from the show, along with a faithfully transcribed set of lyrics. It turns out that the Haggard-esque stomper that had so entranced me was titled “Theme from Lecter and the Fedd,” and had been recorded by Woody Burl, Jr. The FantomSquid also helpfully added that it had been a number-one hit in Germany for three weeks in 1994. There was no other information.

Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Googling combinations of “Woody Burl,” “Lecter and the Fedd,” and “FantomSquid” all led me back to the same Tumblr post. There was no trace to be found, no clues, no hints. I was left only with dead ends and questions that subdivided into still more questions. Who was this Woody Burl, Jr.? Did he really never record another song? Why was his obvious talent ignored by the Nashville establishment? Was his given name really Woody? It must be, since his father was apparently also named Woody. But why was there no evidence online that either of the Burls, Elder or Younger, had ever existed? And where did the Germans fit in?

Furthermore, the song itself was an enigma. To quote the refrain:

Yeah, we’re Lecter and the Fedd
Lecter and the Fedd
Stoppin’ crime and haulin’ on time
That’s the job of Lecter and the Fedd

What on earth does that mean? What or who was “the Fedd?” I threw myself back into my research. Hours, days passed. Finally, I unearthed the little-trafficked Twitter page of a man named Bernard Benjimin. His profile picture struck my heart like a thunderbolt. It appeared to be a shot from the opening credits sequence of a television show; an old-style cabover tractor-trailer upon which were superimposed the words “Lecter and the Fedd.” The words “and the” were inside a gold sheriff’s star.

This was big.

Bernard’s bio was brief and to the point: “Just a man caught up in the endless search for Canadian TV classic Lecter and the Fedd, which may or may not be real, apparently.” His pinned tweet was a link to the Fantom Squid’s blog with a disturbing caption: “IT HAS A THEME SONG! IT HAS TO BE REAL! THIS IS NOT A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION!!!”

I sat back in my chair, stunned. I was not alone, I reflected. Others, too, had been ensnared by Woody Burl’s siren song, others too had unheedingly followed that voice. Kindred souls, were Bernard and I. But I would not crash upon the rocks.

Subsequent investigation of Bernard’s Twitter feed revealed little. His cover photo was a grainy video still of two men behind the wheel of a truck, but the image quality was too low to make out details. Previous activity was mostly concerned with posting cat videos and retweeting 1990s wrestling stars. Bernard could take me no further.

I took stock of the facts, of which there were precious few. Lecter and the Fedd had, or perhaps had not, been a Canadian TV show, a “classic,” in Bernard’s telling. It had a theme song by a man who did not exist. And tractor trailers were involved. I grew disheartened. Perhaps this was worthless. Perhaps there was no point. Perhaps there was nothing.

No.

No, I thought. I would see this through. And there was only one place I could go, one man or possibly incorporeal cephalopod that could give me what I needed. I went back to the FantomSquid.

I dug through the archives of the Squid’s blog until I found it. A lengthy post entitled, “CANADIAN TV GOLD: Lecter and the Fedd.” Here it was. And it was everything I had hoped for.

Lecter and the Fedd was a popular buddy cop/trucker show that ran for five seasons on Canadian television in the mid 1990s in which FBI agent Lance Fannis (alias trucker Jeb Fedd) teamed up with serial killer Hannibal Lecter to solve mysteries across the highways and byways of the American West. Yes. Oh yes. It acquired a cult following in Germany, which held its first FeddFest in 1994. The show was also popular in Finland, Austria, and Japan, but never aired in the United States. And the FantomSquid, who evidently was quite a fan, had a favorite episode called “Where’st Went the Waybill?,” guest-starring William Shatner in what I can only assume is a truly gripping half-hour of television.

But despite the thrill of discovery, and the obvious awesomeness of the show, I was left with some nagging questions. Why was there no other information? Was this all a sick joke perpetrated by that Canadian bastard the FantomSquid?  If so, his machinations had already claimed one casualty in the clearly deranged Bernard Benjimin. And so if anyone out there has more information, or God forbid, access to episodes of this show, TELL ME IMMEDIATELY.

 

NYT

To me this article embodies a certain —THE certain— “liberal” mindset at the moment, and not just because it’s Amanda “Poor People are Fascists” Taub interviewing Michael Ignatieff, who once, seemingly forever ago in a universe we seem to be trying to forget, was the biggest Iraq War booster on Earth not named Dick Cheney or Jonathan Chait, and who made his name declaring that the US should establish a Humanitarian Empire over the world. Anyway, regardless of the relative merits of these two lovely people, they’re bringing some standard Elite Consensus assumptions to the table that I think undermine their argument.

The first is apparent in Taub’s initial question. “Brexit took a lot of people by surprise as an…expression of some larger trends. One of those is rising nationalism despite globalization…” Yes, rising nationalism despite globalization. From Taub’s viewpoint as a Vox columnist and NYT contributor, it is a surprise that the intertwined forces of globalization and Thatcher/Blair neoliberal economics, which ripped apart towns and cities across the UK, took good jobs and pride and replaced them with nothing, might make people upset enough at London and Europe and immigrants and whoever else to vote for Brexit. The fact that they had no electoral solution, that the aforementioned trends were not arrested but perpetuated by a “leftist” Labour party abandoning the working class, does not seem to enter the equation.

To his credit, Ignatieff seems to understand these things. His diagnosis of the divide between a global cosmopolitan elite and the alienated masses is apt. However, I would object to his assumption, shared by a lot of commentators on what the British press is calling the “soft left,” whatever that means, that globalization (and, by extension, a neoliberal policy environment) is an inevitable force with distinct winners and losers which can’t be ameliorated or improved (and by the way, fuck you, we’re busting your union, you racist). It’s basically Thomas Friedman’s thesis and it’s good for people like him because it absolves the “cosmopolitan elite” of responsibility to assist those people in Sunderland and Wigan. Note his lack of policy prescriptions. No talk of actual help for people, union support or regional investment or at least a halt to austerity. Just let Jesus take the wheel as we drift into the globalization lane.

And that’s the real challenge of the 21st century: not “who belongs” or how to handle (read: repress) nationalism or anti-immigrant populism, which although worrisome are symptoms not causes. It’s how to provide solutions to national inequality in the context of a globalized world.

Brexit

I really do understand the more nuanced, Govian Leave side. As an American, how could I not sympathize with the desire for self-governance and the fight against undemocratic uses of taxpayer money? Ultimately though, that narrative was probably irrelevant, or at least impossible to distinguish amidst the torrent of racism supporting Leave.

Also, those sorts of Liberty and Justice arguments seem outweighed by the absolute crushing weight of reality that is dropping on England. It won’t take long before they find out exactly how irrelevant their little island is; how easy it is for City banks, sadly the only exceptional thing left in the country, to up stakes for Frankfurt and New York; how vindictive Brussels bureaucrats can be when the European project hinges on the relative success or failure of their experiment in departure; and how little interest the United States will have in their problems without the power of the EU.
Very interested to see how Labour deals with this. Blairites are already pivoting to blame anti-capitalist critics of the EU for Leave, which is the same bullshit argument deployed against Nader voters in Florida, and with the same intent to discredit (and then destroy) the Left. They’ll hang Corbyn for this. Labour had it coming, though. When the party of the working class turns neoliberal and spends the next two decades shredding their base constituency, can we really be surprised when those spurned voters turn to Nigel Farage, who might be a worthless cunt but is at least recognizably a human being? It’s a shame that the media are casting this as a morality play of Young Multiethnic Professionals vs. Old White Racists when they should be blaming Thatcher and New Labour, but it’s not a real surprise and the situation of course has no parallels whatsoever with American politics.

Armchair Generaling Game of Thrones

OK. So Jon Snow, hardened general and leader of men, brings like 3500 men to fight Ramsay Bolton’s 6k or so. Snow has little cavalry, and his army relies on a core of elite Wildling light infantry. The Boltons have a classic Alexandrine combined arms force: a strong cavalry contingent, good missile troops, and heavy pikemen.

Against such a daunting army, Snow has few options. The logical move would be to accept aid from Littlefinger in advance of the battle, or at the very least for Sansa to TELL Jon that there’s a few thousand knights riding to their aid. But let’s set that aside for the moment.

Even if we accept Snow’s pre-battle assertion that the Bolton soldiers are demoralized (an assertion for which we see ZERO evidence in the episode), open combat with the above order of battle is suicide. Snow must play to his advantages: wage a guerrilla campaign aimed at drawing the Bolton forces out of Winterfell, lure them into favorable terrain that mitigates the Bolton cavalry advantage (after all, there’s no shortage of forests or badlands in the North), and use the speed and flexibility of his light infantry to spring an ambush.

Instead, of course, Jon Snow the idiot meets the Boltons on OPEN GROUND and JUST FUCKING CHARGES THEM HEAD-ON, playing perfectly to Ramsay’s advantages and completely neutralizing his own. He keeps his cavalry within the main body of infantry without deploying them to the flanks to fend off the Bolton horse or, say, the units of spearmen which he just watches encircle his forces. He bunches up his troops instead of creating a wide, thin line to envelop the Bolton army. He does not hide reserve forces in the woods or deploy them in the flanks. His missile troops JUST STAND AND WATCH instead of advancing to fire on Ramsay’s archers or attacking the rear of the encircling spear troop. Also, hey, you have a FUCKING GIANT, JON, MAYBE THINK ABOUT HOW THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL? Finally, he charges out ahead of his own forces to rescue his mentally handicapped brother, who runs in a straight line away from a man with a bow.

The Knights of the Vale seize victory from the jaws of defeat, admirably rolling up the Bolton flank, but not in time to save Jon Snow from going down as the worst general in the history of premium cable. Kudos to Ramsay for a well-executed battle plan, but really, he could have done whatever he wanted and still out-generaled the Stark bastard and his crack military council of George Custer, Douglas Haig, and Fightin’ Joe Hooker.

Flat Earths

There is a fun article in the Atlantic today on Donald Trump’s evolving views on climate change, which follows the standard e-publication roadmap of taking other people’s reporting (in this case Ben Adler and Rebecca Laber of Grist) and repackaging it into a branded format with some added context or snark or smaller words, depending on the publication in question. Anyway, as we all know Donald Trump believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, but as it turns out, in 2009 he added his name to a list of VIPs on a full-page ad in the New York Times calling on the U.S. government to take action against climate change. The Atlantic article goes on to list other high-profile Trump about-faces.

Buried in this catalogue of historical flip-flops, which is probably already being passed around by shocked former Trump supporters like a Luther bible in Reformation Germany, is a quote from Ted Cruz:

Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers,” Cruz said. “It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

That stuck out to me, because if I remember correctly, Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic Church because he believed in and propagated a heliocentric view of the solar system. So what was Cruz, who despite his HUAC haircut and regressive views towards established scientific theories actually went to Princeton and presumably learned some history, doing talking about a flat Earth?

In the 6th century BC Pythagoras hypothesized a spherical Earth. This was confirmed by Aristotle in the 4th century BC, and from there an all-star cast of Western and Islamic scientists/philosophers in an unbroken line from Ptolemy to Pliny to St. Augustine to Boethius to Isidore to Bede to Muslim astronomers in Baghdad and Isfahan and Cordoba to Thomas Aquinas and various monks and Christian commentators straight to the present day all accepted that fact. Dante portrayed the Earth as round in The Divine Comedy, Columbus and everyone else knew it was round when he sailed to the Americas, and then in 1519-21 Magellan actually sailed around the goddamn world. In 1615 the Pope didn’t care that Galileo knew the Earth was spherical, because he knew it was too. As a matter of fact, historian Jeffrey Burton Russell writes that “with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the Earth was flat.”

The myth that medieval Christians believed in a flat Earth dates from early-modern Protestants who sought to discredit the Catholic Church. This gained credence during the Enlightenment, which (generally incorrectly, historically speaking) viewed Christianity, and especially the Catholic Church, as backwards and anti-science. One leading Enlightenment thinker, Thomas Jefferson, even claimed in his Notes on the State of Virginia:

Government is just as infallible too when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the Earth was a sphere: the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error.

One of the more interesting ironies in Cruz’s assertion is that it’s based on the writings of anti-church thinkers like Jefferson. That makes a little more sense, however, if we remember the theory’s roots in anti-Catholic bigotry, which the evangelical Protestant community of which Cruz is such an enthusiastic supporter used to embrace more whole-heartedly than it does today.