The point’s been made before, by people a lot smarter than me, that empires approaching their natural end, often seem quite stable to the people comfortably ensconced at or near their centers.

Just to take a few more recent examples:

In 1900 it would have been a rare citizen of Europa (or intellectual for that matter) who suspected that, within a generation, all of the European empires except the British and the French would completely collapse.

In 1920, with the Brits and the French smugly dividing up the spoils of the Great War (i.e., using “the War to end all Wars,” to create, as one wag had it, “the Peace to end all Peace”), with a special eye towards reigning in that up-and-comer, the United States, it was a real party pooper who insisted on whispering the mere possibility that, within a little more than another generation, their empires too, would be part of history’s enormous ash-bin.

Similarly, in 1980, it was only the occasional crank (exactly none of whom worked at CIA or the State Department) who was convinced the “permanent” Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would implode inside a decade.

And, marching back through history, so it has gone.

Here’s where we are now, as we sit safe and sound inside the heart of what is, on paper, the mightiest empire in the history the world….what you might call The Empire to end all Empires:

Take a story….any story.

Take the recent story of a rash of attacks on Jewish targets (cemeteries, synagogues, community centers), which has been accompanied by a much larger number of harassing threats.

The arc of the story as it percolates through the body politic goes something like this:

–Attacks/threats happen and are duly reported

–Social media (Twitter/Facebook/Blogosphere etc.) take sides.

–The left side of the spectrum keeps repeating some version of:


–The right side of the spectrum keeps repeating some version of:


–A perpetrator is discovered by the police, who release his (it’s almost always a “he”) personal information to the media who report it to the public.

–Whichever side lost this round goes silent on their own sites and, if confronted by the pesky, irrational, hateful opposition, puts its collective fingers in its collective ears and keeps repeating ICAN’THEARYOU while waiting for another shoe to drop (i.e. a second perpetrator who is more acceptable to one’s own Preferred Narrative) or a new “crisis” to emerge.

These days, a new crisis–real or manufactured–can be reliably counted upon to replace the old crisis within days, if not hours.

A new issue to rage-about-without-really-caring-about-it-too-terribly-much will be along shortly.

That’s now the complete sum of our “politics.”

The Death of Politics (and Culture and everything that attends Politics or Culture) happens just so.

You reach a point where the issue (in this case what we really should be doing, politically or culturally, to stop or at least abate the harassment of Jews) is never the issue. The issue is what sort of points can be scored off the present issue until it’s replaced by the next issue. The only value of any particular round is that, if you “win”–either the round in question or some part of the round–then it can be used to buttress your side’s moral superiority in all future rounds.

If you lose, it can be safely forgotten. If you stay within your own safety zone, then you need never hear of it again.

And if you do hear of it again?

Well, then it’s your own fault! And just know that you are totally off message.

Unless maybe you have real questions about any part of the message. In which case you just might be an Unperson.

The whole point of Twitter is that you never have to apologize! There’s a reason those people you allow into your private space are called Followers dammit.

Ah, yes. Politics.

Of course, all of this has been foretold.

For did not the Major Prophet, James Marshall Hendrix,  in the Book of Axis Bold as Love, Chapter 1, Verse 7, intone…

.Fall mountains. Just don’t fall on me.

And was not the Prophet well aware that the mountains will fall? And that they will fall on us?

Well, I don’t know if he was or not. He was a Prophet, not an accountant. You need literal interpretations, take one of those English courses where they drone on about subtext. Else be a math major.

Just know that the mountains will fall. On us.

While we are busy tweeting our rage, no doubt–hurling insults at enemies who, if they are as vile and dangerous and different from what came before as we claim, require us to be in the streets, taking real risks to oppose them, instead of standing forever on the ridge, in safety, thumbs to the keypad, waiting for that half of the Security State which is currently dedicated to making us feel all warm and fuzzy to rescue us from the other really, scary half, with a bugle blowing the charge.

(Sorry there are no readily available links to the Experience’s full version…the bit from Easy Rider will have to do…)

LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS ALBUM COVERS (Paean #1: The Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968)

[NOTE: I have an attachment to album covers in part because, for me, they were a big way into the music. Since I had often not actually heard most (or sometimes any) of the music inside, when I started chasing the music of the fifties and sixties in the seventies and eighties, I studied LP covers for clues.

But, more importantly, I also “felt” them. I formed ideas about what I was going to hear and there were times when it actually took me years to really hear the music if the LP cover hadn’t done a good enough job of prepping me for the experience.

I suspect there are some fine albums I haven’t managed to appreciate yet for this very reason–though, of course I can’t say which ones. Yet.

Later, much later, I took to framing them and hanging them around my house, collecting books dedicated to them and so forth, but even these things only go so far. In the heart of the rock and roll era, LP covers were a world unto themselves. So I’m gonna start sharing some of my favorites, some with extensive commentary, some with just a caption–whatever strikes me as appropriate.]


To really appreciate this one, you have to keep in mind what surrounded it on the racks at the time of its release in January of 1968. Not that I was cognizant at the time–I was told to cross to the other side of the mall when I passed the record store because, invariably, even in the mall, people who were clearly dope-smoking hippies hung about the place. But I’m familiar enough, in retrospect, to imagine the impact.

Granted, the impact was mostly on the future. Notorious did not sell particularly well and was the first Byrds’ LP to fail to produce a Top 40 single.

This is from the age of Sgt. Pepper and Their Satanic Majesties’ Request and Forever Changes, though, and it’s a telling peek at what was just around the corner. Yes, there were plain-song equivalents around, too, in the aftermath of the Summer of Love, but few were so prescient. You can look at this now and feel (not “hear” because once you got to the vinyl, The Notorious Byrd Brothers was its own thing and not much like anything else that had ever happened or ever would, out there even by the Byrds’ other-worldly standards) the coming of CCR, Southern Rock, California Rock, Country Rock, Outlaw Country, Alt-Country and even some elements of Grunge.

Some version of Cowboy Hippie, then, or at very least Cowboy Long-Hair.

And when Peter Fonda said he modeled his character in Easy Rider after Roger McGuinn (pictured in the middle here–Dennis Hopper was channeling David Crosby, who left the band part-way through the recording of Notorious and, thus, wasn’t included in the LP cover shoot), I always felt like it was this Roger McGuinn he specifically meant.

This was the last Byrds’ album released by the original band. Michael Clarke (pictured at the right) would depart before their next LP, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (which had a more immediately visceral cover and, with Gram Parsons on board, actually did sound at least sort of like “the future.” though it still sounded like a lot of other things, too). Chris Hillman (left), split not long after that.

But while they lasted–and however many copies of any given record they sold–you could always tell what was coming down the pike by what the Byrds got up to.

Even if it was just messing around in a horse barn with camera shutters clicking.