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END TALK — 5/2021
In his Pulitzer-winning book, The End of the Myth (2019), Greg Grandin writes of the American frontier:
“For over a centry, the frontier served as a powerful symbol of American universalism. It not only conveyed the idea that the country was moving forward but promised that the brutality involved in moving forward would be transformed into something noble. Frontier expansion would break every paradox, reconcile every contradiction between, say, ideals and interests, virtue and ambition. Extend the sphere, and you will ensure peace, protect individual freedom, and dilute factionalism; you will create a curious, buoyant, resourceful people in thrall to no received doctrine, transcend regionalism, spread prosperity, and move beyond racism. As horizons broaden, so will our love for the world’s people. As boundaries widen, so will our tolerance, the realization that humanity is our country. There was no problem caused by expansion that couldn’t be solved by more expansion. War-bred trauma could be rolled over into the next war; poverty would be alleviated by more growth.”
Grandin goes on, and throughout the book (this is from the epilogue), he applies this framing to the bloody, complex, mythologized history of this country. Ultimately, The End of the Myth is a movingly-written, deeply-researched map of America’s past. It leaves one wondering—what now? Trump’s loss in 2020 may have been welcome, but via Grandin’s lens—and increasingly apparent in day-to-day affairs—it’s nowhere near sufficient. The sense that we have hit our limits, and then some, is intensely palpable.
This issue of END TALK loosely embodies the spirit of the frontier, our collective ceiling, and the deep challenge of escaping history. We include another roundup of the current climate situation, an essay by Ben on the attempt to create a European Super League, a partial reprint of Will’s essay on fascism, a shout-out to a couple non-controversial Substacks, and several music and reading recommendations, including a recent interview w/ Arundhati Roy & a new music video from our friend Anguid.
Greg Grandin takes the inscription for his book from Anne Carson: To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing.
Daily CO2 (recorded 4/28/2021 in Mauna Loa, Hawaii): 419.75 ppm
On this very topic, via Common Dreams:
The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide surged past 420 parts per million for the first time in recorded history this past weekend, according to a measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.
When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research station “began collecting CO2 measurements in the late 1950s, atmospheric CO2 concentration sat at around 315 PPM,” the Washington Post reported. “On Saturday, the daily average was pegged at 421.21 PPM—the first time in human history that number has been so high.”
Or put another way: “Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years.”
Australia suffered massive, “once-in-a-century” (increasingly meaningless term) floods in March, devastating already vulnerable wildlife:
The timing comes after the continent’s wildlife endured a brutal year in 2020 as bushfires ravaged the countryside. An estimated 3 billion animals were killed or displaced in the deadly blazes. The floods also come just three weeks after national officials announced 12 species have recently gone extinct in the country, including the first reptile known to have been lost since Europe colonized Australia in the 1700s.
The CBS headline below sums it up pretty neatly:
“Western U.S. may be entering its most severe drought in modern history”
In the past 20 years, the two worst stretches of drought came in 2003 and 2013 — but what is happening right now appears to be the beginning stages of something even more severe. And as we head into the summer dry season, the stage is set for an escalation of extreme dry conditions, with widespread water restrictions expected and yet another dangerous fire season ahead.
Al Jazeera reports on the brutal impacts of climate change on Iraq’s Bedouin population:
“There’s no rain, and the land is dry. The grass has turned into desert. We have to sell some animals to buy food for the rest. This is what life has become,” said Thajeel, his kaffiyeh pulled tightly across his face to shield it from the dry, dusty air.
During our two-day trip across Muthanna’s deserts, nomadic herders painted a grim picture of an increasingly uninhabitable environment, where temperature increases and erratic rains have eroded the sustenance of animals and humans alike.
Yet another article on the collapse of ocean biodiversity due to climate breakdown, via Mother Jones:
The research, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “Ocean warming is thus causing large-scale changes in the global latitudinal distribution of marine biodiversity. Despite less warming in the ocean than on land, marine species are shifting their distributions as fast or faster in response to warming than those on land…”
[Professor David] Schoeman said the rate of warming was “quite intense and is becoming more intense” and would continue for decades even with ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. “We really need to be acting now. Climate change is with us and we are already seeing massive scale rearrangements of biodiversity that underpins all of human life,” he said. “I’m nervous about where this ends.”
A central theme in The End of the Myth is the expansion of the frontier concept into novel domains—in the 20th century, particularly, into the realm of global economy—meaning an aggressive export of American-style capitalism worldwide. With that in mind, we share an essay from Ben on the (for now, failed) attempt to create a European Super League in the world of soccer.
Hands Off Our Game: The Bailout that Almost Was
By now, most of you have at least been spoon-fed the major components of the proposed “Super League,” an attempt to create an American-style soccer conference that undermines the merit-based pyramid system of European soccer leagues. We woke up Monday morning (4/19) shocked to discover a ploy by European soccer’s wealthiest clubs to consistently generate exorbitant sums of money for years to come. We listened to the Gary Neville rant, voraciously consumed fan videos about boycotts, and felt somewhat uncomfortable with the solidarity provided by the UK Prime Minister and royal family. And, as quickly as it came, it vanished! Come Wednesday, this deplorable plan to jettison the history of European football was put “on hold.”
Much has been made of the reasons for establishing the Super League, with the major emphasis being owner greed. The largest soccer teams in Europe are largely owned by billionaires, oligarchs, and investment trusts for sovereign nations. This has resulted in a historic bifurcation of interests, since clubs were largely created by working-class groups that then formed ownership trusts, which have typically dictated how revenue is spent within a club. Today, most of these structures have been shattered, with fan ownership groups and quota-based board seat structures becoming less usual. Club owners today are commonly reluctant to watch games, spend time in the country where their club is based, or simply take an interest in the sport.
This phenomenon has worsened in recent history, leading up to the formal declaration of a Super League. Moreover, poor management of the major soccer clubs, combined with the financial shock caused by COVID-19, has left some of the biggest clubs in skyrocketing debt. While the Super League has promised participating clubs a total of $400 million in revenue per year, the combined debt that these clubs hold is just shy of $3.2 billion. Brokered by JP Morgan, the Super League has been touted to provide some of the biggest and most poorly managed clubs in the world a cash bailout akin to the Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.
Only with the Super League, what’s at stake is not only a bailout, but also the priceless history of a working-class game that has been the bones of European nations throughout decades.
During the summer of 2008, the global economy was precariously on the edge of utter collapse. The lifting of financial regulations in the 1980s and 1990s had produced a financial industry that was rapacious and brazen in seeking profits. Exorbitant risk-taking by financial institutions became common practice, even as regulatory systems receded. Eventually, the American housing bubble served as the match needed to ignite this hollowed system—leading to a global financial crisis.
During the crisis, American industry executives—the architects of these unscrupulous economic policies—pleaded with the US government to save them. The financial institutions that had overtly dismantled economies across the globe, immiserating lower and middle-class people worldwide, sought assistance from the pockets of those same individuals. The Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 injected $700 billion directly into the engines that created the disaster. But more importantly, the capital injection made it clear to the masses that corporate incompetence would be rewarded! Following the bailout, the financial monoliths announced pervasive layoffs and increased APR on credit, all while presenting executives with multi-billion-dollar bonuses.
The similarities between European soccer and the dynamics of the financial crisis are impossible to ignore. What almost happened in Europe is yet another example of how avaricious and inept elites are rewarded for utter negligence at the expense of the citizen.
Arsenal football club, like many British soccer clubs, was founded by factory workers in 1886 as a social and recreational club. As the decades passed and soccer developed into a multi-billion-dollar global product, the ownership of these clubs started to erode, transitioning from being community or fan-based into a consolidated hegemonic ownership by a single wealthy entity. Today, Arsenal FC is owned by the Kroenke Sports Entertainment group (KSE), largely under the vested interested of Stan Kroenke, American owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche, and Denver Nuggets—and husband of Ann Walton Kroenke, a Walmart heiress. Stan Kroenke’s current net worth sits at a paltry $8.2 billion.
Since 2015, KSE is one of the only soccer clubs in the Premier League to not invest capital into the club they manage. In fact, during this period, KSE has actually extracted over $130 million from Arsenal FC, likely to support payments for SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Over these five years, Arsenal season ticket prices became the most expensive in the Premier League, forcing a turnover in season tickets that had previously been held by legacy, multi-generational families.
Despite the increases in revenue from ticket sales, lucrative sponsorships, and million-dollar television rights, Arsenal has amassed a sizable debt, which has been exacerbated due to COVID-19. This led to the club letting go of 55 employees during the fall of 2020—most notably, the team’s mascot, “gunnersaurus.” Players have not been immune to the club’s struggles, as the majority of Arsenal players agreed to take a 20% pay cut during the 2020 season to help assuage the club’s financial difficulties. Finally, Arsenal was able to borrow $160 million from the U.K. government under the COVID Corporate Financing Facility, as a means of “staying afloat.”
And yet during this period, Kroenke’s net worth only ascended. In effect, KSE has been using Arsenal fans, employees of the club, and British taxpayers as instruments needed to generate further capital.
The problem is not unique to Arsenal; many of the 12 Super League teams are operated by billionaire owners who are worried about dwindling profits due to rising debt and poor fiscal management. They are all looking for automatic cash injections to ameliorate their anxieties about short-term uncertainties. The idea of a Super League was conceived to bail out soccer owners like Stan Kroenke, and to allow such individuals to hide behind the concept of an elevated league and its guaranteed income. (Arsenal has not qualified for the Champions League since the 2016/2017 season, meaning that they are currently missing out on a potential nine-figure revenue stream.)
The Super League fiasco presents a vivid parallel to the 2008 financial bailout, and raises many of the same issues: the proposed league was primed to offer wealthy executives an opportunity to unabashedly pocket millions of dollars, while continuing to penalize everyday fans through poor management and a reluctance to invest not only in their clubs, but more importantly, in their communities. The corruption, fraud, and toxicity of the associated elites exist in plain sight, for all to see.
Corey Robin & the fascism question
At risk of excessively cross-pollinating, I wrote in my own infrequent newsletter about (what I consider to be) the pedantic misdirection of the is it fascism? debate. More specifically, I write about collapse, and the failure of those who would downplay what is happening now to sufficiently understand the concept and how it defines the present. Their alternative, and in my view, limited perspective was recently articulated in a New Yorker piece by Corey Robin; this was in some sense my response:
I find Corey Robin's analysis consistently interesting, well-articulated, and correct, in its way. But Robin is somewhat mistaken on the is it fascism? question, to which he recently offered a sort of post-mortem in The New Yorker. In the essay, Robin argues (among other things) that the question of whether Trump is a fascist is misleading, and that the question itself is ultimately more indicative of the impotence and paralysis of democratic politics in this moment. In other words, Robin says, to believe Trump is a fascist is (in part) to believe there exists mass potency in electoral politics today, potentially exploitable by a fascist strongman—and to insufficiently recognize the paralyzed and stagnated nature of government and its reigning consensus.
In this position he is partially correct, but his analysis feels incomplete, and narrow in its conclusions.
Robin, like others on the left who misunderstand or mischaracterize the fascism question, argues that 1) despite largely rhetorical distinctions, Trump was actually another installment in a certain pattern of neoliberal governance and/or 2) Trump was ultimately weak and constrained by institutions of government and the contemporary stagnated, reigning consensus. There is certainly truth in both points. Some critics (not so much Robin) downplay the brutality of the Trump regime. What they all seem ignorant of or unwilling to meaningfully consider is the ecological context in which this debate occurs.
Read in full here.
Substacks You Should Follow
Substack has become increasingly controversial recently, largely for the company’s decision to recruit (and pay) a number of big-name writers whose output is increasingly transphobic and/or racist. The courting of controversy is obviously intentional (to drive web traffic—“angry people click more,” Adam Curtis likes to say) and is discouraging, among other reasons because Substack is a decent technical platform with many good and unique voices.
While by no means comprehensive, here are some really excellent Substack newsletters to check out, potentially overlooked in the noise around bigger and dumber names:
Worcester Sucks and I Love It — This is a cool newsletter (recently discovered through Luke O’Neil’s singular Welcome to Hell World newsletter) by Worcester reporter Bill Shaner, about the often-overlooked second-largest city in New England. Follow the Hell World link to read an important piece on the (at this point, ongoing) nurses’ strike in MA.
Immigrants as a Weapon — Newsletter by Russian-American journalist Yasha Levine, author of Surveillance Valley. Wide focus, often on tech and national security, with a particular emphasis on the “weaponization” of the immigrant experience in this country in favor of American global hegemonic goals.
Newsvandal — Not actually a Substack, thank God, but this weekday newsletter by JP Sottile provides a curated selection of daily stories, and is an invaluable resource for information on contemporary events.
At TomDispatch, Alfred McCoy writes about the reality of waning American, and rising Eurasian, power:
In the aftermath of World War II, America’s Cold War leaders had a clear understanding that their global power, like Britain’s before it, would depend on control over Eurasia. For the previous 400 years, every would-be global hegemon had struggled to dominate that vast land mass. In the sixteenth century, Portugal had dotted continental coastlines with 50 fortified ports (feitorias) stretching from Lisbon to the Straits of Malacca (which connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific), just as, in the late nineteenth century, Great Britain would rule the waves through naval bastions that stretched from Scapa Flow, Scotland, to Singapore….
By now, the inherent strength of Beijing’s geopolitical strategy should be obvious to Washington foreign policy experts, were their insights not clouded by imperial hubris. Ignoring the unbending geopolitics of global power, centered as always on Eurasia, those Washington insiders now coming to power in the Biden administration somehow imagine that there is still a fight to be fought, a competition to be waged, a race to be run. Yet, as with the British in the 1950s, that ship may well have sailed.
By grasping the geopolitical logic of unifying Eurasia’s vast landmass — home to 70% of the world’s population — through transcontinental infrastructures for commerce, energy, finance, and transport, Beijing has rendered Washington’s encircling armadas of aircraft and warships redundant, even irrelevant.
ET/Will wrote about imperialism and the frontier in Star Trek (with reference to Greg Grandin), in Blood Knife Magazine:
Despite its theoretically boundless final frontier, we can see the inherent limits of progress exhibited in Star Trek: the Enterprise’s ostensibly scientific mission is belied by its militaristic functioning; although the Federation has egalitarian and peaceful objectives, it continues to battle and dominate. Progress always comes with a cost—a few redshirts, at the very least.
Of course, Star Trek’s conceit is that with an infinite frontier, these disharmonies will resolve themselves in time. Such is not the case for us. Since we lack the ability to fuel ourselves on infinite resources—unlimited dilithium crystals, for example—we need to drastically rethink our conception of expanding progress.
The always vital Arundhati Roy answers seven questions in The New Statesman:
You’ve long been critical of globalisation, of capitalism, of human abuse of the environment, and of nationalism. Do you feel that now there is, finally, an appreciation that these things are connected? Or are we still trying to address one without the rest?
In some quarters, yes, that understanding has dawned. And that took years of relentless work by many people. But it has to be said that massive environmental destruction has been the calling card of both the Soviet Union and the Chinese government too. When it comes to environmental destruction, state-led capitalism has had the same imagination as market-based capitalism. To view the earth as a resource to be mined by human societies in their wars of supremacy against each other, even at the cost of the annihilation of themselves and their habitat – it is very much like the fundamental logic of weapons of mass destruction.
Now capitalism itself has become a weapon of mass destruction. We know that, but it has become almost a universal religion, the God of all Gods. We don’t seem to know how to stop worshipping at its altar. India for example, has become a lab experiment: it’s so clear to see how religion, nationalism and capitalism have merged into a heady elixir. To believe that people will be logical, will look out for their own material interests, their own survival, is not always true, as we have learned from history. I’m still trying to understand the man in my neighbourhood, a friend of a friend. Despite having lost his livelihood after Modi’s demonetisation fiasco and then the brutal Covid lockdown, he was a loyal Modi fan. Even on the day before he hanged himself last week, I’m told he had nothing but praise for his hero. A true blue “die-hard fan.”
Another Mainer—rapper Sole—put out an album in March; stream/purchase below. (Favorite track: All I Know). Also check his podcast, lots of good interviews (among them Will Bonsall, Scott Crow, Kevin Tucker) and general discussion of ecology, politics, music, other subjects.
I first saw Wolf Parade play in 2007 (w/ Ben, at the Download Festival outside Boston). Several years later I saw co-frontman Spencer Krug play solo at a small bar in Winooski, VT, while touring as Moonface. Both great shows. Last month, Krug released a beautiful solo album under his own name:
We have not plugged our music much here, but just about three years ago we put out a video for our song Molly Marry Me. The video was carefully composed of clips from various 90s Nicktoons—check out below! We are currently at work on at least two new songs and a re-mixed release of older material. If you want to follow, check our Instagram.