Category Archives: Off-topic

An Announcement: Change of Format

So I have a big announcement. Recent events have made me come to some important decisions about the direction of this blog. First of all, following in footsteps of the site Tumblr, I will no longer be hosting hardcore porn here. Tasteful erotica only from here on out. Secondly, and more importantly, I’ve decided to change the format of the blog.

From here on out, it will still focus on Russia and Ukraine, but instead of serious analysis and long-reads it will be primarily dedicated to entertaining content, mainly satire. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up writing on serious topics, it’s just from now on those writings will be published in other venues geared toward certain audiences. I’ve often had to moderate how I present my own views on this site to give it more mass appeal, and now that I have other avenues for publishing my work, I prefer to present my views more directly on sites that cater to a more receptive niche. Naturally I will still post links to any important works on Twitter, the Facebook page, and Patreon for anyone who is interested in that content.

When I began this blog, it was about writing something I knew in order to stand out and eventually transition into entertainment writing. Unfortunately, I never fully got the opportunity to make that transition, so instead of waiting for that opportunity I’m just going to start doing it here. This means I’ll be doing a lot more Onion-style satirical pieces as well as other humorous articles and lists. Hopefully no more of them end up on Johnson’s Russia List. I’m hoping this will boost readership but also make it possible to post much more frequently as I am free to further exercise my creativity.

Of course none of this applies to Twitter, where there is no line between serious analysis and shitposting. I’m definitely not leaving that hellsite no matter how much I wish I could.

Anyway, prepare for an even more light-hearted Russia Without BS that takes the daily news of our current Hellworld and makes it a little more palatable with a dash of that absurdist shitposting style I’ve managed to craft over these past few years.

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Anarchism and the Military: A Wake-Up Call

So I saw something that never ceases to drive me up the wall when I hear anarchists talking about it, despite how much more sympathetic I have grown to anarchism over the past few years. This rant, which I’ve managed to suppress for many years, was provoked by a Youtube video by an anarchist whose identity I will conceal because I like a lot of their other work. In fact, I like their work more than most of the other Youtube anarchists because unlike them, this individual doesn’t seem to think citing Homage to Catalonia is such a great source to “prove” that anarcho-syndicalism can work. But they touched on a topic that anarchists have often expounded on with zero practical knowledge or expertise, and it’s one of those core issues that any revolution is going to have to solve if its advocates want to get beyond bike co-ops and squatting.

First, a little context. The individual in question was explaining one of the basic concepts of anarchism, the idea of abolishing unjustified hierarchy. For those who aren’t aware, this concept means that if some form of authority can’t be justified by providing some social benefit, it should be abolished or at least severely curtailed. Now the author brings up a common objection, namely how such a community would defend itself without a disciplined, standing army. And here, dear readers, is where we find ourselves face to face with one of anarchism’s biggest flaws.

In the past, when I would ask anarchists about this topic, their answer was simply “guerrilla warfare!” This they would back up by pointing out examples such as the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, the Afghan-Soviet War, and the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this case, the author brings up Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, pointing out that while they are obviously horrible from an ideological point of view, their ongoing existence proves the efficacy of decentralized irregular forces holding off highly advanced military forces. Okay, now that I’ve articulated that I need to take a pause…

spongebob

This is a very, very bad idea that anarchism must do away with if it is ever to have any practical success in the modern world. Where do I even begin? Well if we start with pretty much every example anarchists give of successful guerrilla warfare, and contrary to common belief there are more failed insurgencies than successful ones even in the heyday of the guerrilla in the post-WWII 20th century, none of them were won by forces emulating anything remotely resembling anarchist principles. Vietnam is a really obvious example, and I should also point out that the idea of Vietnam as an insurgency is somewhat mistaken. As one author more accurately described it, it was more like a “low-intensity conventional conflict.” The popular notion of the war was that it was fought mainly by peasants in “black pyjamas” who tended the rice paddies during the day and took up arms at night. This, to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the conflict, is totally wrong. The core of the Vietcong were the so-called “main force” units, which had uniforms. Then you had regional forces, and finally those villagers taking potshots after work or setting punji traps were local militias with limited combat value. And of course as the war went on, the Communist side increasingly resorted to using North Vietnamese Army regulars. Lastly, this whole war was controlled by a state with a rigid hierarchical system.

The Afghan Mujaheddin were far more decentralized, by contrast, but they were largely supported and given shelter by authoritarian states like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, not to mention the liberal democratic US. Besides that, decentralization didn’t necessarily work out better; even before the toppling of the Najibullah government in 1992, the various factions, most notably those of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud, were already fighting amongst each other. After that, civil war broke out between various warlords until a certain enterprising young religious student named Omar decided to put a stop to that shit and kicked off a holy war by hanging some corrupt officials in Kandahar from the barrel of a tank gun. You probably know this movement as the Taliban, but what many Westerners don’t know is that one reason why the Taliban were so successful in the civil war apart from Pakistani support was that they were often embraced by the local population (especially Pashtuns), because they brought order and stability to a populace that was weary of years of chaotic civil war.

And what about Al Qaeda and the Islamic State? Well this comparison is terrible because while yes, Al Qaeda has shown remarkable resilience, they have rarely if ever controlled any  geographical territory apart from tenuous control in some locales in Syria at times. The Islamic State, on the other hand, improved on this by trying to establish some kind of territorial state, but at the same time this doomed it to destruction because it brought its fighters, infrastructure, and existence into the open to be bombed mercilessly by the coalition. Also when it comes to ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, it’s also important to keep in mind that suicide tactics are a regular part of their doctrine. This has made ISIS particularly difficult to fight on the ground, as we saw with the battles for Mosul and Raqqa. Apart from sowing countless improvised mines and boobytraps, imagine having to deal with this on a daily basis:

The point I want to make here is that ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban all recruit people who are willing to die intentionally, which incidentally is one factor that enables them to carry out an ongoing insurgency against a far more advanced adversary. It’s a lot easier to carry out a successful attack on a much better-equipped adversary if you remove the part about surviving from your mission planning. Somehow I don’t see the folks at punk shows or co-ops signing up to drive VBIEDs, so differences in ideology alone aren’t the reason why this isn’t a viable option for anarchist defense. And before moving on I should point out that even in those other cases of successful unconventional warfare, the guerrillas typically took far more casualties than their enemies, to the point of sometimes losing every engagement above the tactical level. As a result these conflicts spanned many years, if not decades in the case of Vietnam’s struggle for unification and independence. Obviously it takes iron will and discipline to carry out such a conflict, and while I would not say that you must have a rigid hierarchical political/military to achieve that level of discipline, any successful revolutionary movement banking on a decentralized guerrilla warfare strategy has to achieve it somehow.

When we look at anarchist military history, it’s not too promising. Nestor Makhno was said to wage a guerrilla struggle, which is true to an extent, but one problem is that sources on Makhno are hard to come by, often either written by his partisans or detractors. Southeast Ukraine doesn’t lend itself well to guerrilla warfare, which is why Makhno’s hit and run tactics were more likely a matter of mobility as opposed to using restrictive terrain the way the Vietcong used the jungle or the Afghan Mujaheddin used mountains. Cavalry allowed Makhno’s forces to show up were they were not expected, and mounting machine guns on horse-drawn carts, the famous “tachanka,” made it possible to rapidly strike an enemy and retreat before they could adequately react, particularly if they were foot infantry. Still, Makhno lost. Now here most anarchists would say that this is because the Bolsheviks stabbed him in the back, and because they refused to send adequate arms and supplies to his Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine. This argument, however, is irrelevant. In order to abolish the state and then defend the society with which you replace it, you will inevitably have to resort to force. If you cannot supply your revolution with the necessary arms, that’s on you. The Bolsheviks found a way to do it. The Poles did it. “The Bolsheviks wouldn’t give them arms” is really saying “they failed to properly organize their revolution.” As Omar Bradley put it: “Amateurs- strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” I could go on to Catalonia as well, but that’s just another Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back-legend) related to the “May Days of 1937.”

I’m not saying you can’t build an effective military force without resorting to traditional authoritarian hierarchies like we see in existing military forces. Yes, the system we see in the world’s best military (AMERICUH!!!) is hierarchical and disciplined, especially in the Marine Corps, arguably one of the finest fighting forces in history (crayon eating notwithstanding). However, the conventional military culture, even among the best of organizations, can often be extremely arbitrary and stifling, leading to things like stagnation, failure to adapt to new forms of warfare, and even nepotism and corruption. Nobody spends any amount of time in the military without acquiring dozens of examples of ineffective leadership and idiocy that is often impossible to convey to civilians who have never experienced it. Moreover, it’s not hard to make the case that military forces that encourage individual initiative and creative, mission-oriented tactics historically do better than rigid, authoritarian armies. So what I’m basically saying here is that your revolutionary forces need strong discipline and will, but this does not at all mean that this must be achieved via rigid hierarchy and authoritarian culture. That being said, it’s important to note that hierarchies of some sort tend to be inevitable in military organizations, but at least they need not be “unjustified.”

There is a wider lesson anarchists must learn as well from history. Remember that anecdote about the Taliban’s early successes in Afghanistan? There was a similar situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, whereby ordinary Sunnis who might have had zero interest in building a Salafi-jihadist Caliphate accepted and even embraced the IS fighters due to instability and persecution. See whether it’s the Taliban or the Islamic State, while the rules they bring are Draconian with out a doubt, they often applied these rules in a very regular, predictable way, while often putting an end to all kinds of criminal activity and corruption wherever they took over. Consider this horrible dilemma countless people have had to make at certain points in history:

-Live your life without any assurance that your person or property will be respected. You are fair game for authorities who may be of another faith and/or tribe, or just random bandits who know there will be no repercussion for any malicious actions they take against you.

-Accept the authority of a strict authoritarian movement which, while imposing new rules on you, also will impose order and predictability protecting your property and person.

Humans do not naturally crave authoritarian systems or rigid hierarchy, nor do they inherently require them. But one thing we do naturally prefer is stability in favor of chaos. Therefore, any anti-authoritarian revolutionary movement, if it is to be successful, must one way or another establish relative stability and predictability. If your movement insists on deciding every issue with consensus-based councils, for example, it had better make sure people’s basic rights are well-protected and basic needs are met, otherwise people will inevitably seek out whomever can provide these things or convincingly promise them, even if those alternatives are also more authoritarian.

These facts are well-established by history, but they are not death-blows to anarchism or anti-authoritarian socialism, which incidentally is the only socialism really worth fighting for. It’s much better to look at them as challenges that need to be overcome by any movement that truly seeks to liberate people, regardless of what it calls itself. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria has given us a wealth of information to study in this regards. Unfortunately, many idealists overstate the extent to which politics in “Rojava” as it was once internationally known, were bottom-up and “stateless.” In reality, the PYD is quite hierarchical and the territory under their control isn’t exactly run by direct democracy. That being said, no objective observer can deny that they have made some stunning progress in some fields, most notably women’s rights.

Furthermore, many of the examples where the PYD has failed in terms of realizing the stateless, direct democracy it preaches can be reasonably explained by the exigencies of a bitter war and the precarious situation they face between Turkey, the Assad regime, Russia, Iran, and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. The PYD have been described as being extreme pragmatists. Perhaps some, and perhaps even myself, might say they’ve been a bit too pragmatic. But whatever the case, any revolution will have to face the conditions PYD faces, if not worse. I suggest planning accordingly, because in the last thing socialism needs is yet another romanticized lost cause that was drowned in blood because those who fought for it  put theoretical principle over practical reality. The freest society on Earth is no use to humanity if it remains nothing but a besieged enclave or worse, if it is wiped out in a matter of weeks.

 

Inoculation

I spend a lot of time wondering about how reasonably intelligent people start to believe in not-so-intelligent ideas, especially since I myself have been down a few rabbit holes of idiocy at several points in my lifetime. But while the “why” is very important, there is also the matter of what to do about it. Are there things one can do to avoid falling for wholly irrational, tribal worldviews? Is there a vaccine against this? I have a couple suggestions.

When looking back on some of the dumber ideas I fell for in my youth (not counting the religious conservative worldview I was raised with), I sometimes wonder if they were unavoidable, and that if I went in one direction rather than another this was only due to circumstances and experiences. I believe to some extent that young males, well into their twenties, are imbued with a sense of hubris that emboldens them and motivates them to hold fast to the most idiotic beliefs at times. Witness the confidence of some of these alt-right followers display when expounding on society and politics and you’ll see what I mean. Each one is a Dunning-Kruger case study. Now granted, many people carry this overconfidence well past their 20’s, but that’s the thing- either you become self-aware, grow up, and correct yourself, or you remain an overconfident blowhard to the end. The latter of those, incidentally, can lead to a very lucrative career on Youtube or if you’re lucky, Fox News.

What is it that young males (and let’s face it, males tend to fall for this far more often) are so susceptible to? If I had to define it in one word, I’d say epiphany. By epiphany I mean this specific realization that one factor somehow explains the whole system, and when you come to that realization, that epiphany, you now have gained all the knowledge you to truly understand the world around you. That knowledge is like a filter you can apply to any situation, be it a news story, an upcoming election, or some kind of international conflict. In fact, a lot of people who fall for this kind of thing have given that epiphany a name- the red pill. Being “redpilled” has different meanings whether it’s being used by MRAs (“Men’s Rights Advocates) or neo-Nazis; the former see the red pill as understanding that women secretly rule society while the latter say it’s the Jews, although there’s a lot of overlap between the two ideologies these days.

There are left-wing versions of this too. These can range from the general “anti-hegemony,” Chomsky-ite worldview,  whereby everything bad can be explained by the influence of the US and its close allies. Or it can manifest in an extremely mechanical application of Marxist class theory, whereby everything is reduced to class, and specifically class as understood by Marx in his own time, rather than material reality in the present. Marx’s greatest contribution to history was an analysis and critique of capitalism. He did not develop some kind of esoteric knowledge which could explain the workings of all things and allow those with that knowledge to control the flow of history. Some leftists either do not know or forget that Marxist theory is a method for analyzing certain aspects of human society and its evolution, not an answer to all life’s questions or a cure-all for in any every social problem. The misapplication and manipulation of Marxist theory has been disastrous, to say the least.

A corollary to the epiphany is that it is typically forbidden or taboo, and this is used as evidence that it is correct. For example, there is a quotation misattributed to Voltaire which goes: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?” In fact, the quote in question most likely originates from the white nationalist leader and convicted pedophile Kevin Alfred Strom. There’s a good lesson in that; sure, it may be taboo to praise Hitler in public or to defend the gulag system in our modern society, but it is also taboo to defend pedophilia or cannibalism. In other words, being taboo doesn’t necessarily make something right, either factually or morally. Some things are taboo for a reason and they should remain so.

So my advice to the young men out there (because again, it’s mostly a male thing) is this: If anyone tells you this one weird trick that explains the whole system, be very cautious. Remember that skepticism is the default position you should be in with all extraordinary claims, and any claim that purports to explain the whole world is certainly extraordinary. Yes, material reality shows we live in a capitalist world divided into antagonistic classes, but there are many other factors outside of these two established facts which weigh heavily on events. Even concepts like determining who has power and how doesn’t can only really work as rules of thumb. And I don’t think I should have to even point out that any theory that claims the world is run by a cabal of Jews, secret societies, feminists, etc. is clearly bullshit and can be simply dismissed.

While that advice is for the potential audience for such flawed ideologies, what can society do to help foster critical thinking? I have often noted how for many people, the response to the “America can do no wrong” narrative of their upbringing and our political discourse is simply “America can do no right,” as opposed to a more critical and nuanced point of view. It is this kind of thinking that leads “dissidents” to identify with and praise regimes that have done either worse things than the US, or at least did no better.

It seems to me, though I may be wrong, that if we didn’t teach American exceptionalism, if we didn’t teach the “America is the greatest thing in the history of anything, ever” narrative in schools, then we might prevent the opposite idiotic idea, that any regime in a spat with the US must be good or have a righteous cause. In many ways, that view seems to stem from the aforementioned epiphany, and the idea that America and its hegemony is the lens through which we should view all global politics is basically an epiphany. It is and example of “everything they taught you was wrong, here’s the truth.” So what would happen if we didn’t teach that way anymore?

If we just taught US history accurately, warts and all, then revelations of its crimes wouldn’t seem so groundbreaking because, after all, they’d already be revealed. The fairy-tale version of American history is lying to children, and when people figure out they’ve been lied to they tend to get angry. So angry, in fact, that they might even be receptive to someone else’s lies, so long as they go against the lies they’ve already been told.

Of course it’s one thing to say how history ought to be taught and another to actually get the system to teach it. I remember Cracked.com’s Jason Pargin making the very correct point that the reason country’s teach history in schools isn’t to actually teach what happened, i.e. history. The “lesson” you’re supposed to get from history class is that the present order in your country is fair, just, and good, and more importantly- people did certain things in the past so you should do them too. If we taught history as it is, the authorities would have a revolt on their hands.

A Bad Cartoon

This cartoon:

pokemon

I hate it. It keeps popping up in my feed, usually for the purpose of mockery, but it still makes me angry. This is less funny than a New Yorker cartoon. This has no point whatsoever. I get what the boomer/possibly elderly cartoonist was going for here, and yet it still sucks because there could have been an actual joke in this. Hell, even Hillary Clinton’s “Pokemon go to the polls” line was a better joke than this. I have to dissect this. I have to do a fucking autopsy on this abomination.

Let’s start with the really freakin’ obvious- the kid likes Pokemon Go. “Oh but how do you know that?” you ask, dickishly. “What makes you so sure?” Yes, the cartoonist actually lazier than Jim “I’ll-make-a-cat-that-has-no-job-but-hates-Mondays” Davis was thorough enough to give him a T-shirt that says “I (heart) Pokemon Go” on it, plus the phone appears to say Pokemon Go on its screen. Why not just go full-on Ben Garrison and label the kid “POKEMON GO FANATIC?”

Alright now, let’s get to Dad. Ah yes, suburban boomer dad whose wife is having an affair if there’s any justice in this world. What can’t we say about him? I mean is this guy surprised his kid’s not interested in the thrilling bedtime story that is “Jack and Jill?” Forget Pokemon Go for a second; that kid would probably rather listen to Day of the Jackal than a stupid poem. You’ve got to read the room. When I was little, my mother found ways to reuse children’s books in ways that kept me interested, for example, she’d read all the words in the book backwards- the individual words, not the story itself. Let me tell you to a four-year-old, that routine simply kills. And that’s how you take a 25-page children’s book and stretch it so it goes further. Oh yeah and speaking of books….

WHY ON ALLAH’S GREEN EARTH is he reading “Jack and Jill” out of a book? The entire poem is six lines. SIX GODDAMNED LINES! Boomer dad hasn’t memorized that poem by now? What was he like: “What will I tell little (INSERT WASP-IEST NAME IMAGINABLE HERE) for a bedtime story? I know! I’ll tell him that old chestnut, “Jack and Jill.” Young people love that classic! How’s it go? Oh right! Jack and Jill went up the hill to…uh…err. What were they doing again? Darn it I’d better go get my leatherbound hardback edition of stupid poems kids are taught in kindergarten!” You incompetent son of a bitch. You fraud.

And that’s that. The dad tries to read a stupid poem to his kid and the kid, in the most diplomatic way possible, tries to steer the conversation towards Pokemon Go because frankly, he’s under a lot of stress. He hears Mom and Dad arguing. The game helps him focus and take his mind off of it. His teachers, while somewhat concerned about all their pupils’ obsession with the game, notes that he is in a good mood and socializes well with others because they’re playing the game too. He’s not an outcast like the neighbor boy whose parents, equally lame as the dad here, expressly forbid him to play Pokemon Go like all the normal kids his age.

In short, son doesn’t want to hear about your dumbass poem and pails of water. Maybe you could tell him some of your heroic war stories- oh wait, you don’t have any, because back in the 60’s you were taking advantage of the post-war boom to douse yourself in sex and drugs, only to make a complete 180 degree turn later in life and vote to destroy the country and environment election after election because you want more tax cuts. And what will you spend that extra money on? Bullshit from Home Depot or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, because you never accomplished anything of merit, because you never knew what struggle was. You’re idea of an accomplishment is putting on a great Super Bowl Party and showing off your workbench you never use because you have no actual skills, your flatscreen TV (it’s three inches bigger than next-door Dave’s!), and your new BBQ grill.

There. There’s the dumbest cartoon ever to be put on paper. It’s even dumber than Ben Garrison’s work, if only because Garrison, as batshit insane as he is, tries to make a point. Even the dumbest point ever serves some purpose in this world gone mad. This technophobic boomerific cartoon does none of that. It killed trees and nothing more. This is the kind of thing that drives characters in Lovecraft stories insane just from staring at it too long. Hell maybe that’s what happened to me after seeing this imbecilic trash pop up in so many places on this cursed labyrinth they call the internet. Maybe it’s already happening to you too. Embrace madness.

 

 

No, Russia Didn’t Make People Hate The Last Jedi

One clickbait story that’s been making the rounds lately is how Russian trolls may have influence or been involved in the hate campaign against Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Naturally, these articles range from the more thought-out and cautious, to…eh…whatever the hell this is supposed to be. The reaction, especially in some of the cinephile groups I frequent, was, as you might imagine, pretty incredulous. It mostly amounted to people posting links to the more clickbait-y versions of the story with a comment like: “LOL! Looks like Disney is trying to blame RUSSIA for people not liking Last Jedi!”

The problem is, if anyone had bothered to look, this whole story is based on one academic paper by one Morten Bay at the University of Southern California. Moreover, even reading the description in the link shows that the thesis of the paper is nothing remotely resembling an accusation that the backlash against The Last Jedi was driven by Russian bots or trolls. It makes a comparison between the Russian information campaign of 2016 and some of the Twitter activity directed toward The Last Jedi and its director Rian Johnson, and it notes how the activities of some of the accounts involved in the backlash resembled those of known Russian bots and trolls, but when it actually gets to the topic of Russian involvement in the hate campaign, it in no way implies that they were driving it. In fact, from what I read it doesn’t even state anything conclusive on whether any accounts were confirmed to be Russian trolls or bots. Most important of all- I did a CTRL-F search and did not find the magic kill-word “Hamilton.” Any time I see “Russian bots are tweeting about (insert trending news story here),” I run that simple procedure and I get a hit, I close the tab and save several minutes of precious time.

Personally I find it odd that in an economy that revolves so much around advertising, the media hasn’t yet figured out why a bunch of Russian troll accounts would tweet or retweet things about a super popular Star Wars film or any other trending news story. It’s not rocket science- they’re trying to garner an audience. Those who are familiar with the history of the so-called Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg know that it initially focused on domestic audiences; it still is largely dedicated to this as far as we know. The purpose was to get Russians to rally behind Putin an his foreign policy aims. A typical tactic here would be to set up a social media account which posts about all kinds of mundane things like shopping or cooking, but which will, when needed, share or post some key government talking point. Imagine you follow some blog about recipes, but one day out of the blue there’s a post about how the CIA is supporting a Nazi coup d’etat in Ukraine. Many Twitter troll accounts act in a similar manner, sometimes going dormant for long periods of time before emerging with a different persona, for example.

One of the most important things for these trolls, of course, is to get followers, so naturally they’re going to be watching what topics trend and who’s following those topics. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that there was a huge buzz about Star Wars online, and apart from ideological affinities toward the far right, the Internet Research Agency (maybe I’ll just call them “The bad IRA” from now on) cannot have missed how easy it is to get a huge, dedicated following if you pander to the “anti-SJW/feminist” chuds. So you tweet something about how “Cultural Marxist SJWs are runining teh STAAAAAAAR WAAAAAAAAAARZ!!!!1” and voila! You have picked up some severely sexually frustrated but loyal followers.

And this gets back to what I’ve written about recently, about the real purpose of these information operations. They are not, as the grifters “narrative architects” or talking heads say, trying to “divide” America. This is the perspective from someone with privilege, power, and who is generally disconnected from daily reality for most Americans. Most Americans understand that we are extremely divided and have been for some time. The reality is that Russia’s influence operation is about creating unity, uniting polar opposites of the political spectrum around talking points or ideas that are in line with the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals and in some cases, its domestic agenda.

But before you can get anyone to start listening to your specially crafted talking points, you’ve got to get their attention and keep it. Hence the tweeting around trending topics, the hashtags, the memes, and so forth.

However, let us not lose sight of the biggest issue in all of this. Namely, that despite the fact that Rian Johnson had ambitious goals for The Last Jedi, he ultimately failed hard thanks to a number of mindbogglingly stupid decisions and poor writing, thus squandering all the film’s potential and possibly ruining the whole new trilogy. This, is of course, objective fact, and there is nothing the entire St. Petersburg troll factory could ever do to change that.

Don’t @ me.

…..

………

Okay let me just say something about this bullshit excuse where people say “What does it matter if Snoke doesn’t have a backstory? You didn’t question the Emperor’s backstory and they didn’t even say the name Palpatine in the original trilogy!” 

Mocking-Spongebob

“tHe eMpErOr dIdN’t hAvE a BaCkStOrY iN rEtUrN oF tHe jEdI! yOu’Re jUsT mAd yOuR sTuPiD fAn tHeOrY wAs wRoNg!” -Idiots

We knew in the original trilogy that the rebels were fighting the Galactic Empire, and empires are ruled by emperors. We naturally assumed an emperor had to exist and he’s mentioned throughout the trilogy! The First Order is not the Galactic Empire- in fact it’s not really very well explained what it is at all! Therefore it’s perfectly reasonable to want to know just who the hell Snoke is, why he’s leading the First Order, and why he’s so powerful. Also maybe explain why the hell the First Order has almost wiped out the rebellion almost immediately after said rebellion completely destroyed their massive home base in The Force Awakens. And why would you ever want to bring up fuel in a STAR WARS MOVIE?! None of this makes any sense! 

Goddammit, Rian! What were you even thinking?! 

A Parable

You’ve been interested in socialist politics for a long time. You’ve read a lot but you’ve still been on the sidelines all this time. You decide it’s time to actually start doing something about it. Thus you do some research and decide to go to your first real socialist meeting.

When you arrive, you find a room with about a dozen males in it, all repeatedly punching themselves in the balls. You think you might have made a mistake.

“I’m here for the socialist meeting, I think I might be in the wrong place,” you say, secretly horrified.

“No, you’re not,” one of them replies, wincing each time his fist connects with his own testicles. “This is the place.”

“Why are you all punching yourselves in the balls,” you logically ask.

One of them seems offended. Not offended enough to stop punching himself in the nuts every few seconds, but he’s clearly upset.

“What are you talking about? We are advancing the cause of socialist revolution!”

“By punching yourselves in the nuts,” you ask.

“We aren’t punching ourselves in the nuts, as you say,” another puncher replies. “We are fighting for socialism. We’re revolutionaries. This is how you fight for socialist revolution. Won’t you join us?”

Not terribly inclined toward the idea of punching yourself in the balls repeatedly for at least an hour, you politely decline and say that this doesn’t seem like a viable way of achieving socialism, or any political change, in fact.

“WHAT?!” One of them exclaims, almost breaking the rhythm of punching himself in the testicles.

“You’re an anti-Communist! You believe all the CIA propaganda!”

“What are you talking about,” you ask, dumbfounded. “I just don’t want to sit in a room punching myself in the testicles. I don’t see how that’s socialism. I’m quite certain that there are a lot of other approaches to socialism.

“TROT!” one of the occupants yells, just as his fist connects solidly with his crotch.

“I don’t know about this one, comrades,” another begins. “The only people that would reject socialism so adamantly are fascists. I think we’ve got a fascist infiltrator on our hands!”

This idea clearly resonates, because now the whole room is shouting “NAZI!” each time their fists smack their own balls. It’s insulting, but when the label is being hurled by a bunch of men sitting in a room hitting themselves in the testicle it kind of loses it’s bite. Not only are you not a Nazi, you’re not anti-socialist; you just don’t want to hit yourself in the balls over and over again. It’s very natural.

You back out and quickly leave. This can’t be it. There must be a mistake. Socialism can’t possibly be about punching yourself in the- actually no viable political ideology can be about that.

You decide to continue your search. There must be a real socialist movement out there. There must be a movement where the people care about actually achieving justice, equality, and a sustainable system that is superior to capitalism, as opposed to punching themselves in the nuts. At least you hope there is.

 

80’s Nostalgia Without BS

Hey remember THE EIGHTIES?! Remember Nintendo? Remember 8-bit Mario?! Remember Ghostbusters?! Remember the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! Well, do you remember? Do you, you consumer son of a bitch? REMEMBER?!  

Seriously though, of course you remember all that. Everybody who lived through that decade remembers those things because they were immensely popular. And yet lately it seems that the entertainment industry has got the idea that things as mainstream as Star Wars and Ghostbusters are examples of “geek culture” that can be used to sell virtually anything. As you might have gathered, I’ve got a bone to pick with the industry.

This all came to a head around the time I heard several reviews for Ready Player One, which seems to be the perfect example of the weaponization of 80’s pop culture. In fact, if you think that film and the novel it’s based on represent a horrible one-off, you’d be wrong. Apparently the author, Ernest Cline wrote another novel, one that’s basically a ripoff of The Last Starfighter, but guess what- it has pop culture references! From the 80’s! I’ve spoken about this topic with friends a couple times in the past few months, but what finally triggered me to write on the subject was a trailer I saw recently for a sequel to the Creed film, part of the Rocky Cinematic Universe that’s apparently a thing now. It ends with a reveal of the antagonist and get this- it’s the son of Ivan Drago! Yes, that Drago, the one who killed Apollo Creed in the ring all those years ago. You remember that, right? REMEMBER, AND SEE OUR FILM!!!

Look, I don’t hate the 80’s- I love nostalgia as much as the next person. I also like a lot of the aesthetic that’s coming back into style. I like synth music. I like uzis. I also get that a lot of this is just plain marketing- my generation is the one with disposable income (or it’s supposed to be, at least). But I feel like this is going to wind up being a big missed opportunity to shine light on things from the 1980’s that aren’t universally recognized. That and I can’t stand this obvious pandering whereby makers of pop culture pretend that we’re in some super-exclusive “geek” club because we both remember Ghostbusters, an insanely popular franchise at the time.

We live in an era that gives people far more access to produce their own media and entertainment content. Hell I’m doing it right now. And while I cannot influence Hollywood, I can at least hope some content creators of my generation see this blog, and perhaps take my plea to heart. If you want to take the route of 80’s nostalgia, do it with passion. Don’t reference the things everybody remembers, reference the things you remember because they were special for you. Sure, many people won’t immediately get it, but the interested will head to Google and Wikipedia and actually learn something. Art is about making an emotional connection with your viewer or reader (at least I read this somewhere), and one way to do that is by sharing a part of your own personality or experience with them. The media that mattered to you personally, even if it faded into obscurity, can perform that function. And I’d argue that this would reach readers on a much deeper level than “Hey! Remember Back to the Future?!

To set the example I’d like to share with the reader some things from my 80’s childhood that I’m nostalgic for- things which didn’t necessarily make it into our era or achieve widespread popularity. If I were going to make a film packed full of 80’s nostalgia or otherwise inspired by it, these are the things I’d reference or draw inspiration from, even if only as a joke.

Bad Dudes

“The president has been kidnapped by ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?” 

This is all the mission briefing you get after dropping a quarter and pressing start in the arcade game Bad Dudes, also known by it’s full title Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja in case you’re one of those arcade consumers who wants to know exactly who’s fighting whom in any game you might play.

I used to play this game religiously in a bowling alley in Texas when I was about six years old. At that age, on a good day I could get to the boss of the third level. Might have beat him once or twice.

The concept is pretty simple- fight your way through an army of color-coded ninjas who have an extensive division of labor, and defeat a boss at the end of every level until you finally rescue the president, who incidentally is clearly based on Ronald Reagan. If you succeed, president “Ronnie” invites you and your bad best friend for a burger and I assume you get a couple post offices named after you or something.

Most of the time you’re punching and kicking, but you have a couple special moves such as a spinning jump kick and, if you hold down the attack button, your heroes arms burst into flames and you can release a powerful flaming punch because…80’s. Occasionally you can pick up nunchaku or a knife to ease the killing of color-coded ninjas. Whenever you beat a boss, your character raises his hands over his head and proclaims: “I’m bad!” Honestly I felt that was a bit pretentious. I mean being “bad” is something that other people should say about you; you can’t just claim the title for yourself unless you’re Michael Jackson.

Looking back, it’s the plot that sticks out to me most when it comes to this game. See when I was a little kid I dreamed of making video games (that dream really worked out well!). To be honest, most of “my” games were basically just mish-mashes of other games I liked at the time, only done in the way I thought they should be done. Now in those days, a lot of games had a simple plot device- someone’s kidnapped the hero’s girlfriend. Other times you’re trying to avenge some family member’s death, such as your father’s in Ninja Gaiden.  Bad Dudes raised the stakes by having the president getting kidnapped, and that had an impact on my 6-7 year old mental game design. The way I reckoned at the time, a hero could get in serious legal trouble if they engaged in vigilante violence and destruction of public and private property just because their girlfriend got kidnapped. You’re expected to contact the police and file a missing persons report. But, little me reasoned, if the president is the one being kidnapped, then the authorities would probably let you slide for beating ninjas to death on top of a moving cargo truck with a pair of nunchaku. Extreme times demand extreme measures, after all. Based on this child-logic, I made sure that all my “game” plots that took place in our world involved a kidnapped president, so the hero wouldn’t be bogged down with criminal charges and legal fees should he complete his mission.

Looking back as an adult, imagining this plot playing out in real life is even funnier. I hate to bury the lede about the president being kidnapped by ninjas, but the emergency meeting on what to do about it would have to be pretty amazing. I’d imagine you’d have the National Security Council with the heads of all the intelligence agencies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and everyone in the line of succession.  The army’s recommending Delta Force. The Navy recommends SEAL Team 6. And then there’s this guy, a White House aide, perhaps, who meekly pipes up with his suggestion:

“Guys, I know this is going to sound a bit unconventional, but I know just the people who can handle this situation. They’re the best martial artists in the world. A couple of real bad dudes. I think we should give them a chance.” 

And with that, a legend is born.

For people like me, Bad Dudes is a piece of nostalgia, but for younger people, I think it resonates differently. Whereas once it was considered a nightmare scenario, these days the idea of the president being kidnapped by ninjas is actually a message of hope, and I don’t think anyone, bad or otherwise, would bother to rescue him. If anything the ninjas would be trying to foist him back on us within a few days of holding him in captivity.

Ninja Gaiden 

Ninja Gaiden had a reboot of sorts on the XBox around the mid-2000s, but from what I gather the modern game had little to do with its predecessors. I first became acquainted with Ninja Gaiden in the arcades, where it was a side-scrolling beat-em-up with one of the most notorious continue/game over screens in arcade history, such that it traumatized me any time I saw it.

Soon, through Nintendo Power magazine, I learned that this was also a game on the NES console (I didn’t own one at the time), and while that version is very different from the arcade version, it quickly became clear that it was the better game. In fact, in recent years I’ve seen virtually every incarnation of Ninja Gaiden game from that era and I can state with confidence that the original NES trilogy was in fact the best incarnation in every way.

Ninja Gaiden is an extremely tough game, but more or less fair. I was only able to beat it around 1992, when I finally had an NES console of my own and a friend lent me the game. Your protagonist is Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja who comes to America not to kidnap the president, mind you, but to avenge the death of his father, thus making all his activities in the United States extremely illegal.

Seriously though, what was great about Ninja Gaiden was its plot. For it’s time, this was a sophisticated game in terms of its music, graphics, gameplay, but the real novelty was in its story that was told via cinematic cutscenes (but you can skip them!). For a game of that era it had a pretty decent story that becomes far more fleshed out than just “kill the guy who killed your father.”

Basically your dad was an archaeologist, presumably after leaving the no-longer lucrative field of being a ninja,  and he and his colleague Walter Smith uncovered these ruins in South America along with two statues of a grotesque horror (shades of Call of Cthulhu). After coming to America and killing tons of street thugs and their dogs you learn that the light and dark statues hold the spirit of a world-ending demon and they must never come together. You get where this is going now- an evil cult gets one of the statues and then Ryu is tapped by the CIA, yes, the CIA, to go to the same ruins his father found and get the statue back. And by the end of the game, you’d better believe those two statues come together and you get to fight Mr. Demon himself.

Since I didn’t have an NES at the time and because few of my friends that did had the game, I mostly became acquainted with the game via Nintendo Power magazine, which ran several feature stories about it which typically came with beautiful illustrations and random trivia about ninjas. In other words, crack for seven-year-old boys.

The illustrations are particularly noteworthy because in the days of 8-bit graphics, you really had to use your imagination. Illustrations in gaming magazines or instruction manuals helped give you an idea of what things were supposed to look like. As it just so happens I managed to track down some of those old magazines shortly before I moved to Russia in 2006, and a friend of mine kept them safe all this time. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what it was like in that era:

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In case you’re wondering, yes, that is my actual hand.

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When a magazine intended for children gives tips on ninja weapons.

The sequel, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, came out in 1990 but for all intents and purposes is still an 80’s game. It is arguably the best of the original trilogy and in terms of art the people at Nintendo outdid themselves with a special strategy guide I had when I was about nine. In it, nearly all the game’s cut scenes are beautifully drawn in comic book form throughout the guide. While I did find a copy on eBay, I was not able to locate it among my old library when I was in Phoenix. However, I did some googling and managed to find a blog post someone made about the guide, complete with some shots of the illustrations to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Shinobi

In case you haven’t noticed, we liked ninja shit in the 80’s. Shinobi was a game series started by the then-rising star Sega company and usually encountered in arcades.

The game was ridiculously hard but introduced some really novel concepts. For starters, your character was a ninja, but they did not wear a mask and you could use a gun sometimes. Also, while you would die in one hit, the game had a somewhat more realistic system. Typically you die only if you get hit by an enemy’s weapon. If you just touch the enemy you get knocked back but are otherwise unharmed.

In 1989 a sequel came out which was only released on the debut Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe) home console. Revenge of the Shinobi, as it was titled, changed the formula by giving players a health bar but also limiting the supply of shurikens, the game’s main weapon. Although it deviated wildly from the format of the original, it was a major hit and is remembered not only for its gameplay and graphics but also its music and copyright infringement, as earlier versions often used popular film and comic book characters as bosses in the game.

To give you an idea how good the soundtrack was, many of its songs have been remixed by people today.

One could argue that the third game, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, is the best game in the series, but that came out a little too far into the 90’s for this survey of 80’s culture.

It’s worth noting that there was an arcade sequel called Shadow Dancer which I did not encounter until later, in the early 90’s, at Circus-Circus in Las Vegas. This was more in line with the gameplay of the first arcade game and while a version of it was ported to the Sega Genesis, it was essentially a different game. While the arcade version initially looks better, the Genesis version has a much better soundtrack and is ultimately a better game (though arguably not as good as Revenge of the Shinobi). For comparison:

 

Game Tapes

The explosion of home gaming took place concurrently with the explosion of home video. As anyone familiar with Red Letter Media’s Wheel of the Worst series knows, anything that could possibly be put onto VHS was recorded and shoveled out the door. Anything.

Home gaming was accompanied by strategy guides, typically in the form of magazines like Nintendo Power, shown above. But it didn’t take long for someone to figure out an even better way to show someone how to not suck at video games- game tapes. Now technically I never owned any of these until the early 90’s, but I was aware of them in the 80’s. There was a series from a group called Game Players, and I had the one that featured games by Ultra (actually a division of Konami) such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the ridiculously hard one) and Metal Gear. It also features intro music that may rupture your ear drums (or compel you to do the job yourself with a pencil). On the positive side, it got me interested in playing Metal Gear, but then again that just set me up for disappointment in 2001.

These tapes were pretty lame, but also the only way you could see significant gameplay from a game neither you nor any of your friends had (unless you lived by one of those Nintendo stores).

Another tape I found at a flea market (again, early 90’s so doesn’t quite count) boasted that it featured the “World Video Game Champion” Skip Rogers (so I guess he’s like Captain America if Captain America sucked). The writer Sean Baby already did a hilarious and thorough review of Skip’s work some time ago, but I’ll post part of the video here to give you an idea.

The main difference between the tapes, from what I could see, is that whoever was playing on the Game Players tapes was far more competent than the World Video Game Champion. I’m sorry, Skip, but someone had to say it.

 

Movies

This section is going to be a bit shorter but for a very good reason. In keeping with the theme of this article, I’m naming things that had significance for me personally, and most of the 80’s movies I liked were the big popular films that everyone remembers. Of course some of them I wouldn’t appreciate until later. For example, I first saw part of Aliens on cable when I was maybe five, and naturally it scared the shit out of me. Imagine you’re five and you think you’ve found some kind of futuristic war film, like live-action G.I. Joe. Then you suddenly come face-to-face with H.R. Giger’s living nightmare (it was the scene where the alien kills the dropship pilot- you never forget something like that). So while Aliens is easily one of my favorite all-time films, I can’t pretend like I get nostalgic for it, nor did I ever watch the whole thing in the 1980’s.

It’s really hard to think of a film from the 80’s that I liked but wasn’t insanely popular, and the films that weren’t so popular I either didn’t like or didn’t see until I was much older. But there is one film that is very relevant to this blog. In fact, you might say it altered my entire destiny (still not sure for better or worse). That film is Russkies, from 1987.

To understand it’s influence on me let me provide some context. I was maybe still six or seven and I started to get interested in Russian stuff. See the Cold War was going on and Russians were always appearing, obviously as bad guys, nearly all the time. Of course kids don’t understand politics and at that age, things like ushankas and greatcoats just looked cool. I also liked how everything the Red Army had was like an exotic version of our own military equipment. We had the sleek, modern-looking M16 and they had the unusually-looking, wood-and-metal Kalashnikov that still got the job done. We had the Abrams tank with its angular lines and they had T-72s and T-80s with rounded shapes. Obviously I couldn’t make this comparison at the time, but it seemed like two sides in one of those old real-time strategy games where the difference between the two playable factions is mostly just cosmetic.

Now as you might imagine, being into Russia while living in Cold War-era Texas doesn’t make you the most popular kid, but it’s not like I engaged people in political discussions. I just really loved those ushankas. So one day I’m in this convenience store that has video rentals and I see on the shelves this film, Russkies, with a Soviet submarine on it. It’s basically a family movie so my mom rented it and I proceeded to watch it roughly two dozen times or so until we had to return it.

To understand what kind of film it was, I would call it the anti-Red Dawn. In fact, that other film, which came out three years earlier, is referenced in Russkies by one character. But overall the film is mocking that kind of Cold War paranoia. It features a Russian submariner who falls overboard and washes ashore on Key West. He’s discovered by some local kids, some of whom initially believe he’s a spy and try to catch him. The rest of it is wacky fish-out-of-water hyjinks, standard fare for the time. I think Russkies can be categorized in that genre of Perestroika-era Hollywood films that promote cooperation and understanding between the East and West. This was a time when, for example, G.I. Joe teamed up with the Soviet special forces team October Guard. Unfortunately it also transformed into a genre that could be called “Let’s put aside our differences and gang up on the Arabs,” but that’s another article.

As I write this, I have never seen the film since I watched it back when I was little. I had trouble locating a suitable version online for years. Now it appears the whole thing is on Youtube (always the mark of a great film!), so I plan to watch it again. If it is totally lame, keep in mind I was six or seven the last time I saw it. Whatever the case, this film kindled my interest in Russia, one which would wax and wane until the point where I had to take a foreign language course in high school and Russian was available. That led to my first trip to Russia, which in turn led to me moving there after that. Yes, it has been rough at times, but it’s better that little me was obsessed with something like Russkies and not something like the Death Wish series, which glorifies murdering random people on the street, or Rambo III, which might have led me to idolize waging jihad in Afghanistan.

Music

This section is a total fraud, because I’m just using it as an excuse to post a video of “Africa” by Toto.

But if you’re looking for something a bit more obscure and rooted firmly in that era, I recommend the work of Ian Hammer for the TV show Miami Vice. 

Also, while I can in no way claim this has any nostalgic value for me, I present to you what may be the synthiest song of the whole decade, from the soundtrack of the TV movie Manhunter (this was based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon and is the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter).

 

Conclusion

So there you have it- a slice of my own personal 80’s nostalgia. To be fair, my childhood was split rather evenly into both the 80’s and 90’s, so this is only a fraction of a fraction. I also acknowledge that a film like Russkies is probably too obscure to use as a reference in any other work of art (I’ve literally never encountered anyone who’d heard of the film or saw it), but if I were going to make some kind of art that references the 80’s in some way, those video games are examples of things I would reference. If you get it, great, it’s a bonus for you. If not, no big deal. That was what made things like the original Simpsons great- it appealed to everyone but the references were a bonus for people who were more knowledgeable or who did their homework. Now references have replaced jokes and good writing entirely, and apparently you’re supposed to be entertained simply because you recognize something.

If you’re a creator reading this, break the mold. By all means embrace this 80’s nostalgia trend, but make it your own. Don’t let Hollywood shape your memories. If you remember anything I’ve mentioned in this post fondly, or have some of your own examples to share, by all means tell me in the comments.

Also here’s “Africa” by Toto again in case you missed it.