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Fri07282017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Not far from the White House, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Yayoi Kusama’s blockbuster retrospective show Infinity Mirrors has been attracting insanely large crowds of people who stand in line, eager for the 20-second stretches of disorientation inside Kusama’s infinity rooms.

The rooms use facing mirrors, hanging lights and polka dots to create vistas of infinite regress. As art, it is perhaps underwhelming—an empty spectacle with no real depth. But as I stood in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” I snapped a picture and realized it was far more compelling on my screen than in life—perfect art for the age of the selfie.

On my phone, I saw myself in a Blade Runner-like world of “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” as the lights created towering psychedelic spires surrounded by replicants of myself. It was impossible to tell which one was real—because none of them were. They were all reflections on the screen.

I felt a similar sense of vertigo a few days earlier at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding Russian active measures—or propaganda—intended to use the refracting mirrors of the Internet to disrupt our election.

“What’s hard to distinguish sometimes is: Did the Russians put it out first, or did Trump say it and the Russians amplify it?” said Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, to reporters after his testimony on Trump’s embrace of propaganda conspiracies. “He actually repeats propaganda put out by RT or Russian sources and, vice versa, they parrot him.”

Reflections reflecting reflections again and again so that nothing is true.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Russia’s propaganda strategy was designed and perfected by Vladislav Surkov, who brought postmodern theory to the Kremlin, creating and managing Russian political reality like performance art. When he was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which he largely orchestrated, he said he didn’t mind. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

In Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, he writes that “Surkov’s genius has been … to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.”

Pomerantsev says that Surkov turned Russian politics into a reality show.

Then, as if in a new kind of arms race, we elected a real reality-show star as president.


I wrote that just before I heard that Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase after pictures of gassed children in that country changed the president’s mind about intervention. He explained the strike to the nation in a statement recorded at his country club.

Our country is making one of the most serious decisions possible, and yet, locked in our mirror rooms of constant conspiracy, we have no way to know what is actually happening. We don’t know whether Trump is trying to show that he is independent of the Kremlin, or whether this is another one of Putin’s ploys as he manipulates Trump. Trump himself has told us not to trust the intelligence community, and no one has any reason to trust Trump.

In “Without Sky,” a pseudonymous short story generally attributed to Surkov and set after the “fifth world war,” he describes the “the first non-linear war,” a war “of all against all.”

“A few provinces would join one side,” he writes. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”

This sounds precisely like the situation we are getting into—Assad, ISIS, Russia, American-backed rebels, Iran, and now Trump’s Tomahawks. All sides shifting. Regardless of the aims of this attack, the spectacle and confusion are good for Trump and Putin. And bad for the Syrian people who will continue to die. Those who escape will be denied entry into the U.S. as refugees.

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” NBC’s noted fabulist Brian Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

Surkov couldn’t have scripted it better. It is so disorienting, but it all feels somehow familiar.

I was 18 the night we went into the Gulf War in 1991. Those missile launches were prompted in part by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which collaborated with one of the chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to present fabricated testimony to the caucus about atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. But we were all mesmerized by the night-vision green missiles flying through doors.

In 2003, we went back to Iraq on the basis of another massive PR campaign.

Perhaps the best way now to know if something is propaganda is when they say it is not. Marco Rubio—who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the way—went on CNN to praise Trump and call the attack “an important decisive step ... not a message.”

But a step toward what? Do we want to take out Assad? At this moment, nobody knows. But people are lining up behind Trump. He will realize war, the ultimate image enhancer, is good for him.

“Trump became president of the United States (last night),” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said the next morning.

It’s like we’re all trapped in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, waiting for the missile to burst through the door. But we don’t know where the door is. We have lost all orientation.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in National/International

Dear Mexican: Why do white people love Marco Rubio and cry at his speeches? Rubio was in my town selling his vision for America mierda to his gabacho constituency, and they drank it up like Tía’s fresh jamaica. They laughed; they cried; they wondered why we Mexicans can’t get behind the Great Brown Hope. Do we know if Rubio even talks to the kitchen help and wait staff when he’s finished talking at banquets?

“Oh, my God! He’s so inspiring!” FUCK THAT.

Mark Blondie

Dear Pocho: The great thing about your pregunta was that you attached a tweet from some PR hack essentially ejaculating while commenting that Rubio was “speaking to Spanish-speaking employees post-fundraiser.” Hell, Democratic politicians in the Southwest have given shout-outs to the help during their speeches for years now, but you don’t see Dems freaking out about it, mostly because they realized Mexicans were humans long ago.

I won’t elaborate too much on why Mexicans don’t like Rubio here—go find my columna in the Guardian from last month for a more thorough explanation; the Mexican promises that essay WON’T give you a pain in the gulliver—but explaining why gabachos like Rubio is easy: They think he’s their brown bullet to make more Mexicans into conservatives.

The more interesting trend I find is what you pointed out: Gabachos try to shame Mexicans into liking Rubio, just like they’ve used Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson to claim liberal African-American voters who don’t appreciate them are traitors to the race. Only in America do gabachos have the audacity to tell minorities they’re not minority enough because they don’t embrace a token—and if you don’t believe me, witness the campaign to make Carlos Mencia a likable person.

Hello, Mexican! My wife and I are gabachos living in a 99 percent Hispanic neighborhood. We are very tolerant folks and actually chose where we live because of its diversity (lots of people of every type—long story). Unfortunately, our immediate neighbors are putting us in an awkward situation.

One neighbor has four pit bulls tethered in his backyard, and they bark loudly ALL THE TIME (whether he is home or not). They never go inside his home; they just stay outside and bark.

The other neighbor has a boomin' system in his car and loves to sit in his driveway at the end of his day and clean the car while BLASTING gangsta rap. (I’m not kidding; this rattles the dishes in our cabinets!) Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but we work out of our house, and the incessant noise greatly affects our ability to converse with clients over the phone.

I’m totally understanding of the need to be loud every now and again, but not so much when it comes to a blatant disregard for neighbors. Do you have any suggestions for addressing the problem without my being shot by gangsta-man or alienating my pit-bull-loving neighbor? I want to avoid having them see this as a white-on-brown thing; it’s more of a, “I live right next to you, and you are ruining my life by your inconsideration” thing. Or is it just con estos bueyes hay que arar? ANY suggestion would be greatly appreciated.

¡Yo Estoy Como Perro en Barrio Ajeno!

Dear I’m Like a Dog in a Strange Neighborhood: Don’t give me this “Plough with the oxen you have” bullshit. If you bought into your neighborhood not knowing that Mexican dogs bark a lot, that cholos like to blast music (and don’t forget the comadres cranking up Marco Antonio Solís to 11 every Saturday morning), and that Mexicans also work out of their houses (where do you think bathtub cheese comes from?), I’m marking you as a gentrifier who deserves no pity. Your only solace is that other gentrifying pendejos will no doubt also move into the neighborhood, and all those loud Mexicans you complain about will be gone in five years.

Congrats on being the Cortés of the barrio!

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican