Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Jeff Sharlet has a great article in the December issue of “Harpers” entitled “through A Glass, Darkly”; it’s not yet online. His sub-title explains: “How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history”. I just made a post about NASCAR-ites, riffing a meaty piece by Robert Lipsyte. Not to beat a dead horse, but it was only yesterday that I came across Jeff Sharlet’s piece and also A) this horse isn’t dead by a stretch and B) this horse could run away with a very valuable wagon that belongs to The People. So we’re off! I’m not going to do an essay; I’ll just comment on this or that as I go through the piece, from the top.

He speaks of a Fundamentalist “mood”. It’s always worthwhile to try to imagine what the emotional or mental content of a particular person might be, working inward from what you can sense about a person. The Fundamentalist ‘mood’, based on the emotional and mental content of the Fundamentalist ‘creed’ is important because for quite some time it has been at the center of national power, in Washington. (It was stoked to white-hot intensity by, and then sucked into the vacuum created by, the Democrats’ nurturing their assorted Identities over a span of decades. This consequence of the Dems’ Revolution of the Identities was unintended, but no less real because of it.) Self-righteous, suspicious, simplistic, sentimental … impatient to gratify their abiding desire to actualize God’s Kingdom on Earth, intolerant of any ambiguity or hesitation or doubt, unwilling to weaken themselves by sympathy for sin or sinner … the very characteristics demanded of them by their ‘religion’ perfectly foil the development of the maturity needed by citizens in a democracy. And yet these people embrace America-as-it-is (or ‘was’ in some golden ‘back then’) with a fierce assurance that their version of God has made this version of America His sheriff and they – by virtue of being both born American and ‘saved’ – His deputies. And unlike the early Mormons, these folks aren’t content to set up their own shop in some empty, out-of-the-way place like 19th-century Utah. Their mindset and heartset now occupy Washington, more completely – and to more deleterious effect – than the Scientologists mentor the lost souls of Hollywood.

They no longer speak of ‘fundamentalism’ but of ‘maximalism’: they want to see every aspect of society conformed to God. Now the Catholic Church had folks like this throughout its 2000 years of existence. It allowed religious orders and monastic orders to develop precisely in order to give this type of intense belief a place to live itself out, monasteries and places removed from daily life where the voluntary adherents could create within themselves and to greater or lesser extent among themselves a ‘perfect’ Christian community. This arrangement kept the truly zealous from inflicting themselves on the rest of the population, who were trying to get on with the business of living. It mostly worked. The Protestant tradition, having been born through a violent rejection of much of the Catholic tradition, never had the monastic ‘outlet’, with the result that its most intense believers pretty much have no alternative but to realize their dreams by inflicting themselves and those dreams on everybody; or at least everybody they could lay their hands on – and having made common cause with the Republicans, the neocons and even temporarily with the Revolutions of the Identities, they were able to get their hands on an awful lot of folks, one way or the other. It made for a curious and jangly church polity among them; it bodes hugely ill for a democracy.

But then, the monks were never seeking ‘purity’; after all, what awful pride would be engendered in the soul if the seeker actually declared himself to have achieved it? No, the monks were seeking to live as best they could, ever increasing in spiritual ability if they could. But religion was a direction more than a place to them, and not primarily of this world.

The Maxis see themselves as living in ‘days of the sword’. Almost everybody is looking for a little excitement in life, and most are also looking for some purpose and meaning to their lives, and it’s always good if you can economically combine the two quests. Living in ‘wartime’, being a soldier, in God’s own army and doing God’s own work … pretty much delivers everything a body could want: purpose, meaning, excitement, status, role, place, belonging, identity. What’s not to like? But ‘war’ requires an ‘enemy’ and when many of those who are politically your fellow citizens are by definition your religious enemies, or at least are obstructions to the Great Work, then the society and the polity are in trouble. When by definition you are not allowed to compromise with them (although you may be permitted to give them a chance to convert – just the one chance) then the fundamental societal expression of democratic process is eliminated. And if you’ve had enough sleep, you may want to ponder the curious similarity between this approach to ‘enemies’ and the approach taken by each of the Advocacies to its client Identity’s ‘enemies’; and the approach taken by the Incumbency toward its enemies, foreign and domestic. The Fundamentalist/Maximalist approach has penetrated through government and up to its highest levels; and for all practical purposes it is the eerie twin of the approach taken by the godless, liberal, secular Advocacies. We are becoming more and more like France in the 1930s: her politically intolerant and fundamentally antidemocratic extremes or Right and Left each pulling apart the central fabric of the society and the polity.

They are looking for a ‘story’ that will never change, and one that will redeem and make sense of everything. Aren’t we all. It’s part of being human beings; we belong to a story-making, story-needing species. Had we not jettisoned all the dreck of dead white males in the service of the Revolution of the Identities (going on here at the same time as Mao let loose the Cultural Revolution in China) we might recall that Plato figured our need for story was an echo of the Ideal world whence we had come; and that subsequent dead white males (many of them not white at all, and all of them ‘pink’ at best) had blended Plato into the Judeo-Christian tradition, which yielded a Heaven that existed Above&Beyond ‘this life’, and was inhabited by a personal God, scads of angels (consolatory or avenging), and the souls of the Just, all of whom possessed both a burning desire for Justice and a force-projection capability that could re-Arrange the best laid plans of men and mice.

But the Fundamentalists’ twist is that the story that meets their needs must then be imposed on everybody else. It’s a sign of the fundamental lack of Interiority of the Fundamentalist approach that the full force of its energy must be directed outward, at others. Not so different from Lenin’s philosophy of things, nor from the Identities’ revolutionary watchword: the personal is political. Maybe it is, but the personal is also so damned much more than that. This makes fundamentalistics (of the Right or the Left) bumpy neighbors and worse Citizens, at least of a Republic and of a democracy such as – oh, say – America’s. It’s not them, mind you – it’s the Fundamentalist mindset, which cannot help but see compromise as surrender, tolerance as treason to the Cause, and empathy as disloyalty. It’s simultaneously a cheap and expensive way to ‘be somebody’: claiming your Mr. Big’s right-hand operative, and then whacking the world upside the head according to your lights. No Catholic patience for them. Then again, John Brown’s activities were not anything Catholic either. Go figure.

And while it’s inspiring to see someone patiently and humbly searching for the redeeming theory that will Put It All Together, it’s prideful, really, to claim you’ve gone and gotten it just by declaring that you’re ‘saved’ and then further that being ‘saved’ gives you the right to whomp on all of God’s other children. Of course, our Fundamentalist brethren and sistern will not accept that the un-‘saved’ are God’s children in the first place, which is sort of a more vividly unsettling version of the Revolutions’ assertion that so many ‘just don’t get it’ (and therefore that they deserve to get it, right where it hurts).

It’s fine to distinguish between ‘kairos’ and ‘chronos’, between God’s time and temporal time, the former being defined by the quality of its presence to God and the latter being defined as merely that measurement by physical laws of those activities not directly contributing to God’s Presence or Plan. But it’s a life-full of work to attune yourself personally to ‘kairos’, to calibrate your transmitter to operate on that frequency – so to speak. To claim you’ve mastered it through self-declaration and then further claim that you are now authorized to start re-arranging God’s world for Him … that smacks of impatience, pride, and cannot but open up avenues for Violence. But then, if you’re His deputy, then your Violence is God’s Violence; a secular echo of that perverse sentiment was essayed by the noted theologian, Richard M. Nixon: if the President does it, that means it’s legal. Echoing through the chronos of the past 30 years, that sentiment has wrought far more damage in the hands of an even lesser man. And yet it’s as Fundamental as apple pie.

And of course, Fundamentalists are not about to make the mistake the Mormons made. Those poor benighted whackjobs invented an entire different history of the world, and wound up living out in the 801. No, the Fundoozies restrain themselves (for once) and limit themselves to the history of the United States, but – irrepressibly - they claim that the history of the United States has always been Fundamentalist (“Christian” is the catspaw code word) although that clear fact has been hidden by a massive secularist conspiracy. The quality of this assertion is on a par with the assertion that Beethoven stole his musical genius from other folks; not ‘copied’ their skill, but stole it – out of their collective heads – like an alien with a probe, such that suddenly he could do reely great music and they couldn’t. It is completely in the democratic spirit to politely hear such stuff out, even though one is educated enough to know that such an assertion is daffy. But to ensure that the citizens are not sufficiently educated as to be able to tell the difference between Truth and daffy, or even able to sense the difference, or to have been ‘educated’ into all the reasons why making such a distinction is ‘bad’ … that is a guarantee for the destruction of democracy. Whether the Fundamentalist or the Revolutionary mindset get us to EndPoint first … well, that’s the horserace of the coming age. And while there is much theorizing that God will rescue His own just before the end of Time, there is no scholarly consensus that He will rescue His own before the end of Democracy. And it will be a hallmark of their folly that while they are certain they will be able to identify and oppose the Anti-christ, they will most likely be blind to the arrival of their first Fuhrer, and will welcome him with loudful cheers. And the Politically Correct will whimper.

The Fundamentalists say that the sacred and the profane are coming together. But God and His Creation (to use their own theological presuppositions) are not ‘the same’. God is fundamentally different from (although not hostile to) His Creation. The two can’t ‘come together’ completely; there will always be a difference between them, and thus a distance. Christ took on flesh, and spirit takes on matter at every human birth. But it’s incorrect and hugely dangerous to imagine that what Ought to be and what Is are one and the same thing. It flattens existence by taking the Vertical and Future dimensions out of it, leaving us not with genuine religious effort but with religious posturing, an imitation, a religiosity that is ungrounded in any efficacious cooperation with God. And it opens up the path to much ‘mischief’: if God is becoming identified with what Is, then those humans who are a little bit ahead of the rest become a sort of ‘vanguard elite’ in the old Communist sense, authorized by their insight and dedication to drag the benighted masses to Perfection. Communism and Democracy are not historically known to be compatible.

It’s also curious, since Jesus is clearly recalled to have recommended letting the wheat and the tares grow together, and let the Harvester separate them at the end. Otherwise, one might rip up the wheat with the tares, their roots being entwined. But such is not the Fundoozie way: they prefer to consider themselves Deputized to imitate the Harvesting Angel rather than toil the long, patient toil of humans farming, watering wheat and tares together (which is the Catholic view), until the Harvester comes to take over from the human farmer. In this hubristic insistence on separating the wheat from the tares and the sheep from the goats the Fundoozie mentality resembles nothing so much as those who in the eyes of the foolish would appear to be on the total other end of the American spectrum: the Revolutionaries who insist on dividing up the world into those who ‘get it’ and those who don’t, and – more recently – those who offend and those who do not. You couldn’t think this stuff up.

“Those who control the past, control the future” one preacher says. So eerily familiar to the early-war Washington honcho’s boast that the U.S. makes history now, and the rest of the world can just watch and adapt. But you can’t control the past; you might be able to ‘control’ peoples’ perception of the past, but that’s not at all the same thing as controlling the past itself. And DITTO about the present: you can control perceptions about it, to some extent; but you can’t control reality itself. If you could, then huge columns of American spin-meisters and PR flaks would be issuing forth from the gates of the Green Zone in satellite TV trucks, instead of the frazzled patrols of over-rotated troops in under-armored, over-used Humvees. George Orwell said you could control the past, but we haven’t gotten to that skills-level yet. And Abe Lincoln said that you can’t fool all the people all the time, which doesn’t mesh so well with Orwell, who didn’t grasp just how much Americans have refused from the get-go to be boundaried by the limits of what is commonly accepted as ‘reality’. “Don’t fence me in”. Not an unwise request. But fences give a certain shape as well as take away some freedom to do something or go somewhere. Americans have never been able to hold a shape, like a lost spirit trying to inhabit this world, or someone caught in a busted transporter beam on Star-Trek. But to all those who ever snickered that the Americans weren’t really all here (or all there), well … we showed’em in Iraq, dint we? We dint? We better. Whatever.

Fundamentalist textbooks are now being marketed for the home-schooling parents. Who can argue with the idea of parents making the education of their kids a priority, given the alternatives bestowed by the Revolutions? Still, while it’s a huge step forward to valorize (as they say) parental involvement in the maturational preparation of their children, it still requires some solid material in order to complete the circuit. “Who can doubt that the United States of America has been a thought in the mind of God from all eternity?” Nicely put, and you wouldn’t have any trouble running this question by the Pope of Rome and all the cardinals therein. But the kicker is “a”: the USA may very well have been “a” thought in the mind of God from the get-go, but not THE thought. God has a capacious Imagination – it must be imagined – and is not easily limited; nor does He obsess or become besotted. Unlike humans. Regardless of their religious assertions.

“God loves the righteous who fight in His name.” Quick now, and no peeking: is this a quote from a jihadist of Bin Laden’s or a fundamentalist icon?

“Law is King”. “Lex rex” as the DWMs would have put it. So said John Witherspoon, the only pastor to have signed the Declaration of Independence. It’s a splendid dictum: establishing the principle that not men but Law will govern the American polity. Thus: the Rule of Law. But current Fundamentalist interpretation is that Witherspoon was of course speaking of the Law of God: “Lex Dei Rex”. But Witherspoon didn’t say “of God”, he just said “Law”. But what’s factual evidence to a true believer? Or a witch-hunter? Or an offender-hunter? Once you have jammed the judgment of human beings as the central factor in between God and Law, then the Rule of Law goes, because “God” is filtered through this or that human and “God” trumps everything. And there goes the Rule of Law. So there is indeed a certain genuine lawlessness at the heart of the Fundamentalist enterprise. And can it be a complete coincidence that it is in the administration of this recovered-addict Fundie-panderer that the country starts to see the Executive and the Legislature abandon all but the merest pretense to following the Rule of Law. And with the Rule of Law gone, what’s left to protect us? Will it be a Fuhrer who will have a rubberstamp legislature pass a Law for the Protection of Nation and People? Well, that law is already here. Did we miss somebody’s arrival in all the excitement of the past few years? Not the Antichrist but the anti-democrat.

A painting is reproduced: A ghostly Washington and Lincoln flanking Bush, each with an arm on his shoulder, as he leans on the Presidential podium, the Stars and Stripes (omnicompetent brand, indispensable prop) rippling behind them. Now there was a time not so long ago when such a motif would have been as normal as apple pie, and perfectly acceptable with a straight face, even by schoolkids. Three things happened. Vietnam was the first thing: could Washington and Lincoln really be held responsible for such a massive, dishonest U.S. cockup? Almost immediately after Vietnam, the second thing was the Revolutions: there is no God (or at least such a purported entity shouldn’t be discussed publicly) and no Beyond from which the likes of Lincoln and Washington could return; and anyway, they were dead white males so why invite them back? And the third thing was Bush: the only way a decent person could seriously accept the painting nowadays would be as a picture-prayer that Washington and Lincoln would indeed come back and either knock some sense into Bush or give him the Vulcan death-grip. And would Bush ever really take advice from anybody?

And why would anyone want to imagine a U.S. president as being particularly attuned to the Divine Mind or responsive to the Divine Will? Isn’t that what Popes are supposed to be? What Fundamentalist of sound mind would ever get near this conceptual badness? But it’s almost as if in the absence of any better alternative, Fundamentalists hallow the nation. Which is a curious borrowing from the likes of Mussolini and … others like him. The point could well be made that once the Old South was discredited in the Civil Rights era, the Fundamentalists had to find some other vessel to bear their (desperate?) need for Status, Role, Purpose, and Belonging. They latched onto the American government – and called it Good. Bush has replaced Robert E. Lee, and doubles in the public forum for the now-banished God. Whether Gore would ever have been accepted as the clear embodiment of God’s Will is a fascinating counterfactual. How they accept Lincoln – given what he did back there during the, ah, ‘sectional dispute of the mid-19th century’ – is almost a question for social psychiatry. In fact, it is. But it will have to wait its turn; questions much like it are lined up like incoming flights over O’Hare on Christmas Eve afternoon. “Put not your trust in princes” was apparently meant for some other bunch of believers. And, literally speaking, America is not governed by “princes”, one or several, but by a President. But things can change, God being God and the human mind being … what it is.

The ‘history’ toward which they look yearningly and by which they judge the present is pre-1947. It has always fascinated me how anyone can look back for the ‘good old days’ and come up with an actual date. Among American traditionalist Catholics the date is pre-1958, the date of the last suitably popely Pope, Pius XII. Or, in the alternative, the High Middle Ages, safely beyond the ferocious Dark Ages but not near enough to the dissipations of the Renaissance or the outrages of the Protestant Reformation. Multiple popes, interminable war, the Plague … these factors the traditionalists discount. So too the Fundamentalists discount the events that even by their own scale must be judged ‘bad’: the widespread cheap ‘hooch’ of the Prohibition era, women getting the vote, lynching … well, come to think of it, none of those was quite so bad, perhaps.

Nor does God require the services of the ‘great’, only of the ‘willing’. This takes them off a huge hook. Willingness can easily be claimed and is a hell of a lot easier to mimic than ‘greatness’ which – sooner or later – is going to prompt folks to ask for a demonstration. Thus ‘greatness’, perhaps any achievement, is not only a distraction but a positive disqualifier for doing God’s will. A neat solution for folks who think the world was created six thousand years ago in the blink of an eye.

“The powers that be are ordained by God.” Can it be any wonder that the vastly literate Founders didn’t quote this passage from Romans? Can there be any doubt that nobody with this mindset is going to have any easy time of it in a democracy that began itself with a revolution and sustains itself through the critical reflection and mutual discussion of the Citizenry? The mistaking of sacred and profane, the sacralization of the profane, lead them to idolatry of the nation, fundamentally. As the Revolutions rely upon the engorgement of the police power of the government in order to protect what they have managed to do, the Fundies’ worship the power of the government as an article of faith. And the government accepts all their offerings. And did some of their most saintly icons – Stonewall Jackson, for example – kill innocents? They were required to do so and in doing so proved their faithfulness to God; they were – wait for it – just following orders. Why do I think Bush already figures he will use this defense when his own reckoning comes along. Commander-in-Chief and Unitary Executive though he was, he’ll claim that he was just an underling, taking orders from – wait again – God . One recalls Billy Wilder’s marvelous line in “One, Two, Three”, uttered by a threatening newsman in late-1950s Germany: “Ja, I vass in ze SS … bahhhhht I vass only a pastry chef!” But hey – the symbol of the State is the sword, not the spoon. “Obedience is our greatest weapon” bawls a so-called Christian coach to his football team; possibly he had translated that from the original German of the SS motto: Loyalty is our Honor. Their loyalty thus assured, they had no need to worry about their Honor being compromised by dishonorable acts, since no such type of act could exist for them – whatever they did was ‘honorable’ by definition. And whenever the President does something, then if the President does it it’s legal. Yah.

All in all, we have as much to fear from the Fundamentalists – now that they have achieved social influence and political power – as from the Revolutionaries of the Identities. Neither wishes a democracy, really, because a democracy would require them to tolerate and respect those who differ with them, those who ‘just don’t get it’. Better that the End come quickly, and that, if it be somebody’s will, they help it along.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006


The American Citizen needs to learn to listen to government pronouncements in the same way as the old Soviet ‘citizen’ did: listening intently BETWEEN the words and BETWEEN the lines, because in all of those marvelously orotund, upbeat Politburo and Presidium and Ministry press releases printed up faithfully in ‘Tass’ and ‘Izvestia’, there was always a sharp-pointed ‘bad part’ where the real news – the bad news – was hidden. Molls used to sneak tools to their jailed lovers hidden in thickly lard-frosted cakes. Government employees (‘apparatchiki’ would be the pithy old Soviet usage) in the pay of our own government do sorta the same thing: only instead of handing us a cheap, inedible cake with a tool in it to help us, they hand us a cheap, incomprehensible press release with the bad news in it. And while we (or our so-called watchdogs in the media) are still doing a Homer-Simpson drool over the cheap lard frosting they’re out the door. That jingle at the end of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons ought to be played at the end of every press conference.

Now comes a retired General (all four stars) and talks to the military newspaper, ‘Stars and Stripes’ ( “We’ve never fielded a more effective fighting force”, he assures us. But in two years it could be “severely degraded”. A problem that doesn’t exist now, that could totally change the present situation, and the General can foresee that. Well if they have that type of crystal ball down in the E-Ring basement rumpus rooms, then how the heck are we in such trouble on the Eastern Front now?

The problem is, observes the military paper’s reporter, that educational institutions are not sufficiently emphasizing the importance of serving the country. Well, Lord knows that they haven’t. The old Left still retains its almost visceral distrust of the military, and who’s to say now that they’ve been wrong?

The new Left, seeking to inculcate the assorted values of the assorted Revolutions of the Identities, has been way too pre-occupied with teaching the Revolutions’ sort of stuff to be wasting time on such dead white European male stuff as Things Military and Things Diplomatic, let alone such quaint stuff as Citizenship. Men – sex-addled, sex-offending, violent, oppressive – are the real enemy, joining or even replacing the over-30 crowd and their stodgy, not-getting-it, oppressive dreck that used to be called ‘maturity’.

The director of the National Defense University’s Institute for Homeland Security blames it on the move to an all-volunteer military, since so many fewer Americans now have a connection to things military, and that is reflected in the entire disconnect today between war and the domestic life of society. Who can argue that there is a disconnect? Elsewhere on this site (“Homeless Partisans”) it was recounted that the toney, bosky residents of Boston’s swanky Beacon Hill recently got rid of a statue in ‘their’ neighborhood park, the historic Boston Common. The statue is a life-sized mounted group of Partisans riding on a dark, lonely, dangerous mission. It was “depressing”, apparently in a way that their defecating Lhasa Apsos and tasteful, tinkling, private white-tent parties were not.

But he tastefully and shrewdly avoids biting the bullet of noting that the Revolutions of the Identities have done more than their share of turning kids against war NOT because it’s a moral evil, but because it’s a Men-ly evil. Of course, the expectation that the success of at least one of the Revolutions would bring about a less-man-infested world diplomacy and a lessening of the male besotment with combat and war is no longer ‘operative’, as Nixon’s old PR flak would have said. But perhaps this is not the fault of the original plan – such as it was – but merely of its poor implementation. There’s some precedent for that excuse working nowadays.

The University of Michigan has a history faculty of about 25, not quite evenly split between gender-historians and identity-historians, and there’s not a single prof who trained in intellectual, political, or diplomatic history. Whether the students can actually read, and sustain attention long enough is only the first level of the Problem. Even if they want to learn and can learn, there’s nobody in the hire of this purported university who can teach them. No wonder it’s not only in rural or butt-crack bars that Fox infotainment is on over-sized TVs; even college grads consider Fox a two-fer: something you can learn from that also provides great graphics for conversation as the drinks and brews slide down and the time drains away. Catch a buzz and kill time while being informed that the WMD have indeed been found, the war was justified, we were right all along, and if only we (well, the troops over there, actually) push a little harder then things will work out great and we will be seen off as liberators. As Dwight D. Eisenhower (General of the Army – all five stars) would growf: Yah.

Imagine the “Titanic” with the Pentagoons in charge. The setting is the first-class lounge, a while after – unbeknownst to most passengers in the upper decks and classes – the ‘Goons had managed to run her up against a berg and rip her open like a can of tuna. A high-ranking, bemedalled Pentagoon chimes their attention with a silver spoon against a crystal glass: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of you on your splendid taste and shrewd insight in choosing “Titanic” and supporting us in our mission to get you safely to your destination. We have never sent to sea so magnificently appointed and powerfully seaworthy a vessel. I want to tell you that in the future our ability to sustain operational capability at a level concomitant with our very high standards may become severely degraded. I cannot tell you how deeply moved we all are by the willingness of our people down below – in their thousands – to put their entire heart and soul into the project of ensuring the continued operational success of this splendid vessel. Even as we speak, they are putting themselves on the line, using their own bodies as sandbags (of which we seem to have embarked without a sufficient supply) against the usual hazards posed by oceanic elements in this type of never-anticipated operational environment for which we hold much hope of ultimate success. Only the most pessimistic, malcontented and unsporting heart could suggest that our current inspiring circumstances should be considered as a struggle for simple survival rather than a resolute march to ultimate victory. Such jellied cream-puff stuff is not what Teddy Roosevelt would expect from the true red-and-blue-blooded leaders of civilization such as are assembled here this evening. To suggest that we have failed is unworthy of us. Nor is this the appropriate time to look backward and simply sit around asking questions; rather, this is the time for manly action. In conclusion, I would like to say that I am deeply gratified and impressed by the grace and concentration which so many of you have demonstrated during my remarks: as your champagne flutes began sliding off the tables and you began to tilt in these marvelous upholstered chairs, you corrected for the angle and kept everything on the level, even changing the angle of your head as your body continued to tilt at increasing angles. This is the sure indication of a people far too capable to ever know defeat. If you continue to hold your heads as you are now, you will see that everything remains on the level, and you may be assured that we of the senior staff are, as always, going to be doing everything that we can do. If you will excuse me now, I have to plan our arrival in New York, where we will be greeted as great and wise travelers. Please avail yourselves of the bar; it will remain open until we dock.”

Of course, there exists the possibility that many Americans are no longer sure what “Titanic” means, except that Leo got drowned, except not before he had a great time up on the front of the ship with the wind ruffing his hair. But he’s back now anyway. So whatever.

But both Left and Right, Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative – to the extent these terms indicate substantive realities or differences – are having the quintessential Titanic-moment: they are running up against something that they were certain was never going to be out there: for the Right, military and political failure on a massive scale; for the Left, Reality itself. For the Right, Americans never lose and our army is never defeated (and always wins by fighting clean and standing tall). For the Left, the only battle is for your Identity and its Idea and against its Enemies (usually some version of Men). That we might crash up against Reality in the middle of a quick, easy war in the East was not on anyone’s agenda. Reality not in the sense of a university course on some form of Identity ‘studies’, but Reality as it has been known since the time of the early Greeks and the earliest scribes of the Bible. Having refused to acknowledge its existence except as it might fit into our own preconceptions, we have wound up ramming right into it – which has only pissed it off.

Our domestic conceits – unacknowledged as such – laid down a rich manure that then nurtured the dragon’s teeth sown by the conceits of would-be conquerors, converters, and liberators of persons foreign. The Greeks, dead, white, European and male, must be laughing, from wherever they now are. Payback’s a Titanic.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Robert Lipsyte has a meaty piece called “Driving Values” on I shall riff.

Lipsyte observes that the so-called NASCAR guys – raised up, he says, by “madcap” political scientists as a counter-weight to the now-classic Soccer Moms – are concerned for the “manly”, especially as that manliness manifests itself in working-class, mostly not-Northeastern, evangelical, often-rural gents.

It’s curious, that such a bunch would be raised up, as the country – in consequence (not necessarily unintended) of one of the Revolutions of the Identities – struggles with trying to incorporate less ‘macho’, more sensitive, caring, feeling habits of mind and heart. Well, actually only habits of heart, since ‘mind’ – being kinda inseparable from stuff like Thought and Reason and fact – is, not to put too fine a point on it, masculine.

We probably saw the first glimmers in those Burt Reynolds good-ole-boy movies of the mid-70s, that came out around the same time as the CB and trucker stuff (remember that song about truckers in a ‘convoy’?). There was a year there when Cadillacs (newly down-sized) came with a CB radio, tastefully incorporated into or under the dash.

Matters were no doubt moved along when the movie “Ordinary People” showed us the ideal of the Revolution: upscale, suburban professional types, well-groomed and tastefully graceful in their mildness of language, possessed of such cutting-edge but sensitive technology as computers (At home! On your desk!) and expensive foreign sedans. There wasn’t a damned thing ‘ordinary’ about them, and the movie should have been called “Tasteful People”. But that flick advertised what (see elsewhere on this site) the Democratic strategists had known (but had been keeping under wraps) for a while: white, northeastern workers were on the way out, and the Information Guy would be the ideal American male now, or he’d better be. And of course, if the northeastern urban industrial white male was now a bird in decline, where did that leave his even-earlier replaced cousin, the rural other-place male: the Midwestern or Western or Southern male?

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Revolution: the latterly-named males refused to go gently into that good night. They fought back – more out of instinct than strategy – by re-asserting the very characteristics that the Revolution was seeking to abolish. They would never have admitted it, might not have been able to do the processing sufficient to grasp the distinction between the category and just-plain-Commies, but those rural males were America’s first Kulaks. They didn’t ‘get it’? They got it, all right, and they didn’t like it and, like horses who sense that a purported ‘bridge’ is actually a death-trap, they wouldn’t be led, and – like the hardy stock from which they were descended, found their own way to keep moving forward. The nerve! In fact, they didn’t even ‘fight back’; rather, true to the American stereotype, finding themselves confronted by what was clearly a foreign language, they simply began repeating their own even more loudly.
It’s an unavoidable testament to the value of the American system of government that the males did not share the fate of the original Kulaks. Not that efforts were not made, and with the sustained collaboration of the highest of the government organs (so to speak). The reduction of the Kulaks to the status of sub-citizen was undertaken with the zeal and confidence of a Revolution assured of its Good Cause (which Cause, unarguably Good, pre-emptively baptized whatever Means were taken to further it). It is, in many ways, an exhilarating life, the revolutionary’s: you can feel good about yourself without having to wrassle with the mental hassles of ambiguity and complexity and evaluating alternatives and figuring consequences: a sort of justifiable – even justified – immaturity that deputizes you to do what has to be done, making mincemeat of anybody who doesn’t ‘get it’.

If the Information Male, raised up by the Revolution, acknowledged his creators, the Southern types didn’t at all; nor would they permit themselves to be made a laughing-stock such as the one incarnated in Archie Bunker; nor were they even momentarily stunned by the media-application of the ‘backlash’ bat full in the face, right between the eyes. In the process, as many missteps were made by the Resistance as by the Revolution. The ‘macho Guy’ now began to bray and brag almost as loudly as the shrill, lantern-jawed Feminists (I can’t keep track of which Wave it was then, although I know it wasn’t the currently-numbered Wave – about which, however, expert opinion differs), and each side demonstrated the lower range of its respective emotional, mental, philosophical, spiritual and cultural capabilities. Time and tide wait for no nation, however, and the world went on, and the great ship of the Republic began to fall off the wind.

As a generation before them had raised up the golden book of the Bible against the debauched godlessness of the Catholic immigrants piled like hogs in their filthy, smoke-choked cities who demeaned themselves to work for ‘salary’ and as slaves to machines, so too this new generation raised up not only a defense, but an alternative to the combined Revolutionary threat: the threat to their masculinity, their social order, their religion, their cultural folkways. And their womenfolk, many many of them, supported them.

Thus the NASCAR race-days Lipsyte describes: evangelical preachers in double-wide trailers setting up shop in the parking lot of the mega-racetracks, entire families and generations of families joining and pooling resources to come together, all to cheer on their heroes with a loud and almost-single voice … one of the closest modern approximations to medieval Christendom and its festivals that is to be found anywhere in Western civilization these days. If there were a Moscow to the Revolution, it would not be pleased. Medieval Christendom is right up there with “Men” as a toxic mis-step of History that the Revolution was designed to correct. But as is true of militaries, so too of Revolutions: no plan survives its first contact with reality. It was the Revolution’s added misfortune, however, to have based itself on the assumption that there is no such thing as ‘reality’, let alone Reality; and so what has come to be called the NASCAR world had time to effloresce. And so it has.

In a way the attractiveness of NASCAR may be similar to the Democrats’ present popularity: they are not their opposite. The Democrats are not the Republicans and NASCAR is not the Revolution of the Identities. That in itself has its charms: keeping out of the path of the Revolution for the past decades has been like those New Yorkers who ran down alleys to avoid King Kong, and the Revolution has had some serious consequences for us as individuals and as a society, not only in the domestic arena but in foreign policy as well.

It’s pleasant to be at ease in a public gathering, rather than walking – however ably – the type of social tightrope usually experienced only by State Department officials at techy diplomatic receptions. It’s pleasant to feel like you are in a big bunch of people with whom you palpably share a great deal, rather than gliding carefully over ice so thin and changeable that you can’t for the life of you imagine why you didn’t stay home, where it’s not only warm but predictable and reliably solid. The revolutionary retort to that last point, of course – and it’s hardly irrelevant – is that what feels predictable and solid to an ‘oppressor’ feels confining and hopeless to an oppressee. Which is as may be. But the revolutionary approach to effecting its desired changes has not been conducive to a free society; Political Correctness was precisely the poisoned fruit of that tree: the citizenry of this purported democracy could not be left free to doubt or to express negative thoughts.

That’s the nature of revolutions based upon intangibles. If a revolution were based upon the fact that water freezes at 12 degree F, not a few folks would quickly work out for themselves that the revolution was not well-grounded. But an intangible poses an entirely different problem: if the ground of the revolution can’t be proven one way or the other, than there’s little chance of folks being willing to go through all trouble of making or allowing the revolutionary changes. So the revolution has to keep folks from testing or discussing the changes. And the very ground of experimentation – reality, testable and accessible – must be discredited. Feeling rather than Thinking needs to be made the default mode of the population, since there’s less chance of obstruction arising against the revolution’s programme.

But in the land of the NASCAR-ites the malignancies of the assorted Revolutions have not been able to gain much foothold. And, as afore-stated, it’s sort of a relief to be among this bunch. It’s a simpler world. A more open world. And it’s a siren song: you find yourself wondering if it isn’t possible to live in a simple, solid world, free of the endless revolutionary cautions and traps, the ever-gnawing anxiety that one will be caught saying the wrong thing … and duly reported … or sued. Flags are freely displayed, and the type of patriotism that flourishes by displaying itself pervades the atmosphere. There are as many if not more Confederate Stars-and-Bars than there are Stars-and-Stripes, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference; for the purposes at hand the two flags appear to be interchangeable, and are displayed with equal pride. Which makes one wonder what these folks’ great-great-great-grandfolks would say. But then again, the present generation could defend itself by pointing out that for all practical purposes the South h-a-s won, insofar as running the ‘gummint’ and the military goes. And given the alternative - the Revolutions’ smiley-face, treacherous new world – that sorta could seem like a good idea.

But it still doesn’t feel right. You can’t help remembering what those Stars-and-Bars fought for. You can’t help remembering those Southern sheriffs munching popcorn and chawin’ Red Man in a courtroom where they themselves were on trial, possibly in front of their brother-in-law. You can’t help remembering that as a kid your parents never left the Interstate down south, stopping only to get gas at a plaza and getting right along; like travelers trying to get through Transylvania before sundown. It wasn’t just that your ethnicity would probably cancel out your whiteness. It was a visceral Southern European aversion to police states and the inevitable violence simmering – like molasses – just beneath the surface of the magnolias, the small town picket fences and – most surely – just the other side of those roadside warnings about God’s terrible love. Catholics knew that they and God were in it for the long haul, and it bred a certain patience. Italian peasants knew that even Jesus only had to spend 33 years down here and never got a chance to develop the ability to wait; always a Kid, that One. Even the priests were there – like a princess marrying into a royal dynasty – simply to provide the physical body that would administer the sacraments; what did you expect – Heaven? That’s some other place, and not here. Here being: in this world, in this life.

Two things brought violence of a quality and quantity that no community could handle: police states and revolutions. No peasant worth his or her salt wanted to see either one. As the Russian peasants put it: May God bless and keep the Czar, far away from us. These people down here in the south didn’t have patience: even their liquor was made in a hurry, and who could ever expect them to make even a half-decent wine? Best to get past here, today. Let them be. The nice thing about America was that a car could get you out of there in one day; who knows how many travelers died in Transylvania because the horses had to rest a while.

And actually, to the Catholic-trained mind, there are a couple-three things that make you nervous. There’s this evangelical-Southern-fundamentalist immersion in the Present and in the flat-surfaced world of Appearances: God gave us this so it must be good.
There’s that lack of depth to their world as they live it day-to-day; no perspective, and so no proportion. No complexity. Flat. But, of course, much more simple. And yet it seems as if, in order to compensate for that lack of dimension, their religion envisions a vivid, hugely violent End-Time, and it might be tomorrow. Or in a minute or two. So they live a flat life, but one backlit luridly by an End-time that would put Cecil B. DeMille to shame. It’s like heavily peppering a bowl of hot water and calling it soup.

And tied in with this is the tendency of this type of religion to make a sacrament of whatever lies to hand, i.e. those Appearances: our Way, our Kind, our Army, our Nation, our chili. What else is there? The Catholics developed ‘sacraments’ because humans need such things: there’s a deep human need (Catholics don’t mind: God created people) for a palpable, visible sense of God’s Presence in their lives. They don’t necessarily need a dragon-slayer intervention like the Apocalypse (and is it me or do these video-games kids play pretty much conceive of the world and existence in much the same way as fundamentalists?); Presence, not Retribution, is just fine, thank you, Lord. After all, if God takes it into the Divine Mind to start retributing, then Catholics pretty much agree with Saint Peter: who the hell of a-n-y of us is going to be able to stand? So no sane human being can wish for God to come in and make that final accounting, not unless that human is crazy. The fundamentalists have cut that Gordian knot by claiming that God will give them a free pass because they’re ‘saved’. So it’s sorta like when the earthly Saigon falls, the Fundamentalists/Americans will get choppered out just in time. Neisss. Yah. And so, not having to worry about accountability, they’re free to indulge that native violence that lurks like a croc under the placid, sticky-sweet surface of their small-towns and their howdy-doo smiles. I think the lemonade is poisoned.

And how can we forget what slavery did to them? Not to the slaves (bad bad bad enough) but to the southerners themselves: you claim to be god-fearing and yet you enslave people who have to live among you, and you do it for centuries and generations, well then how in hell do you keep going to church on Sunday? By claiming that if you just go to the trouble of getting into the magic club, then that gives you a free pass. You went and got ‘saved? Then you’re home free. Go do what you do so vigorously, now that you’re saved. Sorta like what folks felt like when they got their Nazi Party card, back in the day. You’re in – rawk awnnn! Ach ja! Funny how the world moves.

And there’s that black&white vision of life. Which they got from … hmmmm. Where? From the black and white experiences of the southern past? Partially, certainly. But it’s such an undeveloped (dare we say ‘unevolved’?) form of processing information. And when you’re already operating in a universe for which your mental map is only two-dimensional, then you’re trying to navigate in deep space with a world-view and maps based on the assumption that the earth is flat and the universe revolves around it. If you do that too much, you might think you can deal with ‘foreign affairs’ by taking your army and sending them places, and people there will automatically defer to them as liberators.

And there’s that win-lose element of NASCAR-ing (and that Friday night football they all like down there). The Catholic mind does not accept that life is a win-lose proposition. Such an either-or is simplistic and it’s static. Simplistic because a 100-0 score is almost impossible to rack up in this life; and static because – unlike the games and the movies – there is never ever an ‘end’. A) Whomever you’ve beaten (and if you’ve beaten that whomever through dishonesty or lethal violence this ‘goes double’, as the kids say) or his heirs and assigns or allies or anybody else who feels the urge is going to come after you for payback. B) There is another World in this life, and it is Populated, and They take very serious Notice, and a dim view of our Badness in this life, and They can Express Themselves in our world; Arrangements, as they say, can be made. And even if in the eyes of the foolish nothing happens unless we see legions of fire-breathing dragon-angels trooping across the sky in column of fours with sabers drawn, yet They are unsleeping and keep very accurate score on very permanent tablets of stone, our misdeeds inscribed by quillpens of fire. Nor does the Catholic mind for a single minute imagine itself to be in possession of a ‘free pass’ or a “00-anything” classification that would permit then to do Anything and escape Everything. “Saved” is for settlers in old Westerns. Real people are lucky if they don’t screw up more folks than they help. And that goes for their clergy, natch. It goes without saying that such an approach is gall and wormwood to the saved.

And the preachers chaplain-ing the NASCAR-ites? With what? There are no sacraments. There is only the furniture of the flattened Present, uninformed by the perspective of any difference or any past, and any concept of Above drained of significance by their having been ‘saved’, thus Deputized, thus (like those sheriff-guys in the old newsphotos) above the law because they a-r-e the Law. And this doesn’t happen when their preachers get to combine the worst of both worlds and put on military uniforms? Sit in the mud after a hellish couple of weeks of patrol and listen to a purported man-of-God discourse on the glories of the M-14. But what else has he got? You’re here and that’s all there is: if you’re saved, then you’re Deputized, so go out and kill, imitating courageously the horrible righteous fierceness of the Avenging Angels in Revelations; and anybody you declare killable, so be it – your vengeance is God’s vengeance, and your will is God’s will. (Jesus, not even the Nazis claimed that; not even with ‘Gott mit Uns” on their uniform belt buckles). Is it any wonder we’re in the mess we are in Iraq?

We have sent our children into that maw – and I’m not talking about Iraq; I’m talking about that set of mind and heart and soul. AND I can’t help thinking that if we were winning over there, then the NASCAR-ites wouldn’t be at all perturbed by the working out of God’s vengeance. But then again, Madeleine Albright thought that a couple-three hundred thousand of dead children were an OK price to pay. Of course, she had meant Iraqi children. Yes, the Revolution of Woman has certainly brought us a kinder, gentler world. No wonder the NASCAR-ites haven’t noticed it.

And yet there is something so human in the attempt of the NASCAR-ites to get close to Seriousness, to Clarity, to Focus, to Purpose. They watch those cars zooming around (and whacking each other) and I think of Spaniards at bullfights: watching the struggle and – indispensably – the Death, and drawing inspiration therefrom. Some sort of inspiration. It’s impressive. But then, I ask if there isn’t some serious growing yet to be done if an individual or a culture has to watch (or make) some life Die in order to feel itself alive, to feel itself present to itself, to feel itself in the Presence – even – of Life or of God. A vivid, violent, totally-win-or-totally-lose mindset and heartset and worldview … is going to do stuff to you, and you’re going to wind up doing stuff to anybody who gets in your way, or even just in your life.

And yet the bullfight culture – at least – seems to have realized that down there in the corrida the real fight was not between the bull and the man but between the man and himself. T-h-a-t was the first fight, the real fight. Is the fundamentalist faith of the NASCAR-ites strong enough to platform that type of self-improvement? Self-mastery? I tend to think not. Why grow up if you’re already ‘saved’? And if you can be Taken-Up before supper tonight? Maturity as a concept as well as a goal collapses in the face of ‘being saved’. If the Catholic mind could never resolve the relationship between maturity and sanctity, doesn’t the fundamentalist mindset refuse to acknowledge the problem in the first place?

And yet, where in this Republic a-r-e you going to find decent growing ground for self-mastery and maturity? Surely not in the precincts of the Revolution(s) or any of the precincts currently occupied by its agents. Is American culture presently able to support any aspiration to self-mastery at all? Surely the Revolutionaries do not want it any more than the Fundamentalists, and for much the same reason: they don’t see it as necessary. The Fundamentalists don’t see it necessary because they’re already ‘saved’ into Heaven; the Revolutionaries because Heaven is here, the personal is political, there is only the two-dimensioned universe in which the political is the weapon, the objective, the hope, and the fulfillment. And both see themselves as Deputized by the Goodness of their Cause, such that whatever they have to do is automatically Good because of the Cause for which it was done (as in: perpetrated).

There’s a curious similarity to the world of the NASCAR-ites and the world of the Revolutionaries. In both there is the mistaking of Feeling Good with Doing Good, and the collapse of doing Right into doing Good. And the Feeling is increasingly coming to eclipse the Thinking and the (self-) Judging. Between the crowds of ball-capped, joyously baying NASCAR-ites and the crowds moaning and swaying in unison at Princess Di’s funeral there is a fundamental similarity. And it does not bode well for the Republic or for Democracy.

Both the NASCAR-ites and the Revolution(s) offer us poison, whether thickly sweetened with the molasses of sentimentality or buried in the spicey frisson of utter liberation. And since each Party has chosen one or the other as its ‘base’, and embraced the consequent deformities and called them good, then the Republic is in danger of being pulled apart from this internal struggle (if events beyond the Republic don’t move in such a way as to entoil it first). And The People, if there are not enough Citizens, cannot exist. And the darkness will truly come.

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Monday, November 20, 2006


The previous Post mentioned General Abizaid’s visit to the Kennedy School of Government, wondering – in the process – if there are a few too many main stream media types who seem to enjoy being seen talking to Men in uniform.

The very next day I came across Lawrence F. Kaplan’s “The Troops and Us” in the online “New Republic” ( I am not one for coincidences, and so I must proceed as if on a mission from … elsewhere (var. Elsewhere).

He opens by establishing his Man creds: having dinner with “a senior Army officer”. Senior in relation to what rank? A Sergeant? A Captain? A Major-General? But we are quickly brought up to speed: this officer “commanded thousands” so, he’s a general officer (unless they are reely reely getting to the bottom of the barrel on the Eastern front). And he’s “too often, lifted their remains into helicopters”. Now that’s a scenario that gives pause: a helicopter is kinda a tactical thing, and generals being out where the tactics fly is kinda … not. Of course, it’s a scenario that let’s you know two things: a) Kaplan is much-man and seriously connected and b) the modern major-general weeps for his troops (alas, “he did for them all with his plan of attack”).

This officer confides to Kaplan that looking at news reports of Iraq nowadays “I don’t even recognize it”. Well: either it’s changed one hell of a lot and this general doesn’t know why or it hasn’t changed and this general or Kaplan or both are not just blowing smoke but laying it down like destroyers. But of course, Kaplan isn’t buying the scampi so that the general can embarrass them both by discussing how things went south. Nor is the general munching the scampi only to wreck his career prospects by dessert. No, Kaplan is here on a mission of mutual benefit: he proves his creds and gets grist for his particular mill, and the general gets to plug his kind as compassionate and reely powerful, and he gets the scampi and free liquor as afore-noted (if Kaplan tried this with a 17 year-old … well, they’re not promoting quite that fast on the Eastern front … yet, anyway).

The author had met this officer in Iraq, and that’s OK, because as Kaplan himself goes on to mention, there are a few too many professional commenters who don’t seem to have ever been in-country over there; not – again as Kaplan rightly observes – that such ignorance stops them from going on, and on and on.

These two – getting back to the preliminary scene-setting – are drinking (but of course; it’s what Men do), in a “grubby” joint where, for all we know, the mustachioed Italian bartender spits to polish the glasses in best 19th-century frontier style. There is a television above the bar (this is reely reely a joint). And, by propitious coincidence, it happens to be Election Day night and the drama is unfolding just over the horizon of the ice cubes. I cannot help but by amazed by the ‘coincidences’ that are presented to readers and viewers these days: one recalls – say – advocates for or against working-mothers who gushingly recount how their tyke delivered a poignant, acute and grammatically complex observation precisely supporting their position, out of the blue one day, which prompted (fill-in-the-blank having to do with this cause, this book, this show, or etc. etc. etc.). In this case, our two revelers muse upon a comment that the election will “doom the U.S. enterprise in Iraq”.

First off, let me say that I think the commenter was inaccurate: s/he should have said the U.S. enterprises in Iraq, since there are so many of them, emitting more than a whiff of the commercial, and their multiplicity, as well as the bald fact of their existence and the awesome incompetence with which they have been pursued, constitute a major factor in the military mess. Nor, could a reasonable person infer, might the military and the commercial be considered merely as sub-facets of the same overall plan, any more than –say – the SS commandeering of freight trains for transporting Ukrainian Jews could be considered merely as a professional collaboration paralleling the Wehrmacht project of trying to win the campaign in Russia.

Kaplan deftly notes that few commenters have actually gone to Iraq and gotten to know the situation. He’s right. And yet he knows he’s right. After all, his tours of the front have enabled him to be sitting here in this dive with some general. There seem to me to be a lot of Kaplans around; they all have more or less the same take on things, and I recall the Robert also prides himself on getting right in there with the … men in uniform. It was the Robert who, in 1996 interviewed young Majors at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth where one of them – perhaps also over brewskis in a local dive – confided cockily that the real manly men in the program were looking forward to the day when “we go domestic”. Kaplan (the Robert) seemed quite pleased to be graced with such a professional confidence, moving right along (the Kaplans are nothing if not crisp and efficient) without ‘unpacking’ that confidence: its content was truly disturbing, even more so in 1996 than a decade later. Deploying the Army domestically? One might have been forgiven for imagining that it would only be against sex-offenders, they being at that time the replacement for the recently-dissolved Soviets in the national demonology. But it appears now that the Army was thinking about Posse Comitatus and Habeas Corpus and the far-too-extensive rights of citizens long before 9-11.

Kaplan (the Lawrence) rightly casts a shadow on another (conservative) journalist’s sniffing that an actual trip to Iraq probably wouldn’t make him much the wiser. Even taken at face value, the comment tugs the jaw downward. You wonder just how many journalists actually know much about things they ‘report’ on these days. Then again, there isn’t much investigative reporting capability left any more. It appears that the new M.O. is to pick an obvious target, put a few scary but suggestive headlines out there, and wait for the ‘tips’ to come in. Or better: the horror-stories. Then you report yourself stenographizing the story and, with more or less lurid inferences, let the lower appetites of the readership/viewership take it from there. Given the number of people these days who seem to operate on the assumption that Feeling is as much of a decent day’s work as Figuring out the true state of affairs … well, you can run a paper, keep a show on the air, and professionally surf that crowd for quite a while.

But then again, it all depends on what aspect of Iraq one is concerned with. Someone who goes on about the morale of the troops without going in-country deserves no attention (which hardly means s/he won’t get it). Someone who doubts the legal or moral legitimacy of the military validity of the war and its strategy in the first place … there’s no demonstrable imperative to go over and talk to the troops (senior to others or not so). In fact, chumming with the little people (and may they be blessed) might distract that someone.

Loyalty and enthusiasm are wholly secondary virtues: their ‘goodness’ depends on what one is being loyal-to and enthusiastic-about. There are film clips extant of a parade field on a cloudy day, bright-eyed, fresh-scrubbed young men in faultless uniforms and crisp haircuts, concentrating intensely at their task under the barking eyes of senior NCOs. All music to a certain ear, and not wrongly so. But these were young SS bandsmen, perfecting the maneuvers they would exercise at the massive parade in honor of their Fuhrer’s 50th birthday.

So too then, hanging out with the troops in the front isn’t necessarily going to give you a clarity about the larger issues of a given war. In fact, this is precisely why a certain genre of mawkish slipperiness is a perennial at certain types of newspapers or in certain broadcasts: the I-couldn’t-oppose-this-war-because-I-met-little-(fill in the blank)-who’s-trying-to-win-it. Thus, chronological adults – and Citizens - allow their judgment to be swayed by the sentimental goop which some of the troops munch on for a quick pick-me-up. Adults who hang around youngsters and adopt their lifestyle and thoughts … that type of behavior nowadays is on certain police checklists. The French didn’t call it the ‘infanterie’ for nothing; they’re the youngsters. Yes they’re our youngsters, and they’re putting their lives on the line. But since we let them get sent over there in the first place, we aren’t doing them or ourselves any favors by giving up our judgmental capabilities and taking our emotional cue from them.

Troops at the front: just how reliable are their ideas about ‘stuff’? Are they going to tell you just what they figure you want to hear? After all, if they don’t like the war and they tell you that, you might tell their bosses (with whom you trade boozy insights in grubby dives) and they’d catch hell once your well-wiped ass gets back on a plane to the world. Or, if they do put on blinders and refuse to consider the wider implications or complications of said ‘stuff’ just so that they can get through the (increasingly) endless days, then just how valid is such (hugely understandable) ‘thought’ about the said ‘stuff’? But such ‘reporting’ seems to be the Kaplan (the whole of them) schtick.

Are we as The People going to allow our assessment of a war to be determined by the youngsters we send to fight it? It’s an iffy course to pursue in the best of wars, but in this one it’s a betrayal of ourselves as The People; a dereliction of the duty assigned to Us in the Great Scheme of the Republic. We’ve already let the thing get started, and now it’s going south. Now we want to make our initial failures worse by taking our guidance from the youngsters we sent over to live in the deforming furnace of battle? We as adults and as Citizens and as The People owe them so damned much more than that.

This bad stupid misadventure is going south. And it’s threatening, like a sinking liner, to take our troops with it. It’s already taken more than died in the 9-11. It’s taken 4 or 5 times as many again in physically wounded. It’s taken we-don’t-know-how-many in psychologically deformed. And how many will not be emotionally and spiritually deformed for life? This is not the Good War, people. Its own perpetrators now openly call it “the long war” and they apparently figured that it would be so long before they shared that thought with Us. This thing promises to get endless. And it is asymmetrical and it is frequently urban: there are no front-lines, therefore no ‘safe’ rear areas; only – with savage ironies – forts where the cavalry can hole up while ‘the Injuns’ control everything else. Enduring bases. We will all be enduring them for a long time, in consequences of our quick handing of the hot potato of 9-11 to ‘the National Command Authority’. Too quick.

We did this to those kids over there (who can even begin to comprehend what we have done to the Iraqis?). We failed to hold our horses and those horses ran away with the government wagon. Nicely, there is a plot being worked out in this year’s season of “Superman”: young Clark Kent, through his own impatient exploration of his powers and of his true nature and calling, allowed a passel of super-baddies, evildoers even in their own super-worlds, into our world. Now he’s trying to round them up before they kill any more than they already have. And despite the urgings of all his (few) loved ones and confidants that it’s not his fault if he ‘didn’t mean to’, he insists that the mess is his responsibility and continues his lonely and dangerous task of making things right as best he can.

We’ve let loose the dogs of war. We elected that stunning bunch in Washington City, twice. Nor have we allowed ourselves to complain. Here’s a mental exercise: imagine that a race of aliens arrives tomorrow (a less overtly religious variant of a vision that is presently ‘reality’ for a disturbingly large fraction of this population); they go around the galaxy and help worlds by holding them to their stated ideals and laws, and they’ve just dropped by. They neutralize all the weaponry and set up a Court to judge the Iraq war by this-world laws that were/are in effect. How do we explain ourselves? Not how Bush or the generals or the diplomats will spin themselves. How do we as a people, as The People, explain how it was that we allowed what we allowed with so pitiably little dissent? How is it that after the example of 1933 we allowed ourselves to behave so much like … well, Germans. Is it any surprise that our Army has taken to certain of the less-pleasant German attitude and tactics, since its People have assumed the vigorously supine position of the German people of 1933? Is it any surprise, more immediately, that our government is demonstrating some of the same characteristics as that government of 1933? (No, I am not making an equivalence, but I am noting some irrefutable similarities).

You do not easily commit your young to war. You do not do it because any – ANY – journey through the blood-dark valleys of Ares Ferox and Ares Atrox is going to leave a mark on soldiers. It was not just a pious custom that in early Christian times soldiers returning from wars were not permitted to receive Communion until they had gone through a period of cleansing. It was ASSUMED that they were tainted, because nobody – citizens, congregants, clergy – were under any damned illusions as to what war or War does to troops, no matter what side they’re on and no matter how Good their Cause and no matter how unintentional the evils consequent upon their operations.

But we – We – are indeed under such illusions. And it’s killing our troops, and not just the ones who come home in boxes by night (upon whom be peace eternal).

Nor do our veterans and their organizations do any service, seeking to be identified with, even photographed with, the whipmasters of this war. Worse than having ‘gone shopping’, they have ‘gone native’, forsaking the hard-won knowledge of Ares’ pomps and works, condemning another generation of youngsters to his maw, while they themselves seek cheap ‘purpose’ and stature by buttlicking the treachery in Washington City.

Mr. Kaplan is right enough that journalists should know what they’re talking about. His own niche (and it seems to be a family affair) is to go visit the troops and from them take increased devotion to the tasks set them by the government in Washington City, and then to frost that cake with a sentimental, self-indulgent, self-flattering, Man-mawkish, faux bonhomie that can only come from having a well-wiped ass, of which there are, at the front, very very few. And morally speaking, back here ‘at home’, there are even fewer.

We as a People have so much to do in this holiday season. Let’s not let the troops down. Our role as ‘the home front’ is as vital now as it was in the Good War 60 years ago. Not just baking cakes to send them; but doing the hard stern work of Peopling, for we are indeed The People of whom so much was written and from whom so much is expected. If there is any cavalry that’s going to come over the rise in the nick of time for our troops in Iraq, it’s going to have to be Us, our decisions resolutely reached and our will resolutely imposed on our Employees in Washington City. They want a ‘unitary executive’? We’ll give them a unitary People. It’s the American Way.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006


General Abizaid, the commander in Iraq, was at Hahvahd a few days ago, at the Kennedy School of Government (or as they often say in the Army: "Gummint"). There was a time in this country when you got dressed up to go to Hahvahd, just like you got dressed up to get on a plane. Each was in its way a special locus of The American Way and you sorta wanted to respect that.

Not anymore. The General wore his combat fatigues. Not the ones that made you look like a forest elf, nor the ones from the Gulf War that made you look like one of those sand-creatures from "Star Wars", but the new ones that make you look like a stippled trout.

What, do you suppose, was his motive?

One imagines that he might have wanted to impress the insembled entourage with the fact that there is a war on and that he has taken time out from his busy schedule to talk to them. But surely, if anyone treading the sacred boards at Hahvahd would be aware of serious goings-on in the outside world, it would be the crowd that brunches at the Kennedy School. Maybe, though, he was going for the wider public who, although naturally not invited, would get all they needed to know from the photo-op.

Or perhaps he was trying to prove his manhood. There’s nothing like combat fatigues and stippled trout to announce to the world that you are a true Manly Man. Especially if you are addressing the ongoing wienie roast that is Hahvahd in convocation assembled. And of course, the Man of All Men, John Wayne himself, visited Hahvahd once, driving into the Square on a combat vehicle loaned to him by the military. Of course, Wayne wasn’t in the process of losing a war, nor had he ever – although Henry Fonda almost got him killed near Fort Apache and, as always, there was The Alamo. General Abizaid did not arrive on a combat vehicle; they are presently in short supply, being chewed up at a prodigious rate on the Eastern front. But no matter: today manly men of consequence arrive in armored SUV’s with blackened windows, that travel in gaggles, surrounded by police vehicles which themselves often bear their operators’ military decal of choice. And then they get to the chopper(s) and lift off, perhaps to commune with the other gods of war up there shielded by the clouds.

Curiously, though, he is quoted. We shall pass over in silence his assertions that the General thinks we are winning this fight, as we shall his Commander-in-Chief’s (yes, veterans of America: George Bush is General Abizaid’s commander-in-chief, but he is not yours) almost simultaneous assertion in Hanoi that “We’ll succeed unless we quit”.

No, he made a remark about his uniform: he noted that he wasn’t wearing his standard uniform: the one with the white shirt, black tie, green pants and black shoes, and the green suit-jacket covered in decorations and those many, many stars. It was, he said, “covered in blood”. Well, if we have reached the point where the command generals cannot get their uniforms dry-cleaned, then things are going even worse on the Eastern front than we have been told. But of course he was making a joke. He damned well did have a good uniform on a hanger not far away. But Props told him to shoot this scene in the trout-suit and so he did. And the “blood” crack was a little-Manly reminder to the assembly that previous generations of Hahvahd students had thrown blood on soldiers returning from Vietnam. And of course, that it was the Hahvahd studentry, aided and abetted by the faculty, who had lost Vietnam; who had gotten all those dozens of thousands of American kids killed. The generals spent their sleepless nights in-country just wanting their “folks”, their “people”, to have a nice day. In the inimitable word of Dwight David Eisenhower: “Yah.”

On the way back to the chariots, he and his staffers encountered demonstrators. He is quoted as saying to his staff: “Put your shields on, boys.” Now, frankly, this one puzzles. Yes, there is an established tradition of soldiers being associated with shields: Spartan lads departing for a campaign were told by their mothers to come home with them … or on them. Roman generals who lost wars often fell on their … ah, no, that was swords, and come to think of it, the Army doesn’t do swords anymore. Too much danger of tripping over them, or of too easily reminding people that you had one handy in case you needed to be called to account for a failing war.

But even as unswordy a guy as Abizaid should know that the armor-shield was put “up”, not “on”. It wasn’t so much worn as it was carried. If indeed he is sufficiently recollected to be thinking of Roman generals at all after just giving a talk at Hahvahd.

Of course, there IS a way in which shields are “put up”. In Starfleet, on starships, one is always well-advised to do so: “Shields up, Mr. …” whoever was ever the command that heralded the rolling of the good times. James Tiberius Kirk, the unflappable Picard, the no-crap-taken Janeway … perhaps at this point in the flow of history the General Abizaid is more comfortable seeing himself as a fantasy commander than as the actual commander. They don’t ever lose, and so much of what he’s telling us is not so far from fantasy anyway.

And while we’re in the realm of fantasy, we have Joe Conason in Salon ( talking about Jim Webb. Well and good. But while he is making some very good points in favor of Senator-elect Webb, he feels constrained for whatever reason to shout-out to “the military officers who tried and failed to preserve habeas corpus, due process, and the Geneva Conventions from the zealous authoritarians of the Bush administration”.

There is a need in the media these days to have to have a ‘good guy’ if you’re going to be fingering a ‘bad guy’; it’s part of the entertainment-driven dumbing-down of news that’s also eaten deeply into the capabilities of much of the citizenry: American scripts have good guys so that good guys can eventually win over the bad guy; it’s all about black&white, you can’t have any complications. And we owe this development as much to the Advocacies as to Fox News. And there is also this instinctive need among many journalists to shout-out to military officers, sorta like the half-sober no-life who always has to go over to the uniformed cop in the donut shop and start talking loudly about the new paint scheme on the cruiser. There’s probably a professional term for this sort of thing, in the DSM.

Anyhoo, Mr. Conason is too clever by half in his little aside. He is, of course, not referring just to “military officers” (such as the heretofore mentioned General Abizaid) but to military lawyers. And in this particular case, to the Boss of all lawyers in his particular Service – the big JAG. Or the Big Giant JAG, the JAG to whom all the other JAGs are subordinate and from whom – whether they are functioning as judges, prosecutors, or defense attorneys – they take their orders.

These Big Giant JAGs preside over the military justice system; they are all generals (2-star) or admirals (2-star – although they’ve all been angling to surf this war’s waves to get themselves a 3rd star). Some things have been said about that system (see “Bishops Bomb” elsewhere on this site). And more will be forthcoming in a future Post. Enough for now to say that from where I am standing, the extraordinary events (to put it politely) of the past five years are not the result of Bush’s perversion of the military justice system but rather simply of his arrogant overextension of it. And losing his gamble in the process.

Thus, after five years of silence, now that the war is being lost and the ugly phrase ‘war crimes’ is being mentioned in reference to American officers and officials (Nuremberg with the Americans on the other side of the bench, as it were), the Big Giant JAGs suddenly came and stood up tall, to stop the Military Commissions Act. They were not going to let their good names and character be associated with this very very bad idea, they were dedicated professionals, there is a Higher Law, things could go wrong. Yah.

They were supported by Senators McCain and Graham, who would support them in their tall-standing. Thus reassured, the public rested a bit more easily, until all the bhoys caved the night before the Big Game, the Act got passed, and now neither the Big Giant JAGs or the honorable Senators seem to be standing up. Given what they must have done for the Act to pass so suddenly and easily, it’s a wonder they can sit. That Mr. Graham is himself an ex-military lawyer, who then got into the Reserves as a military lawyer, who then had a nice rank, and who then got himself both elected to the Senate and appointed as a judge in the military-justice system … but he, like so many others, is an honorable man. Shame on us who think ill of it. Yah.

No word from the BGJs since the Act passed. Perhaps they were too discouraged by the completeness of the Congressional dismissal of their purported concerns. Or perhaps they were just covering their bases, perhaps even with Administration approval, to distract folks (and the always easy-to-distract mainstream media) from the content of the Act by letting them watch what looked to be a dog-fight among the gods there in Washington City.

However the job was managed, the idea of referring to them as the “military officers who tried” is like referring to Al Capone as “the noted Chicago businessman”. Yes, it’s true, as far as it goes, but it don’t hardly go far enough to be worth the sayin’. And that so many of the media won’t say that makes me think they like to be seen talkin’ to men in uniform.

So the Bosses are trying to do a bunch of things at once: keep Bush happy while remembering that after he’s gone they’re still small enough fish to be tossed into any war-crimes net that might get thrown. And, as far as their ‘professional’ concerns, they’ve got to keep Bush from so overextending their core racket (the military justice system, about which more later) that he exposes it and it’s cleaned up (which no Pentagoon wants to see) and/or its high-priests are hauled before the courts themselves (which ditto).

It’s not easy being a Big Giant JAG these days. It’s never is easy being in a command position, if the outrages you cockily perpetrate turn out to be losing outrages as well. You might very well wind up being unable to go overseas for retirement vacations, or you might wind up making an extended inspection of the supermax fortress at Fort Leavenworth that they’ve built to house those caught in the toils of their ‘justice’ system, ‘the worst of the worst’ … oops, no, that moniker has now been assigned to a new bunch. And oops again – in all its fifty years of grinding on resolutely and implacably, the system has not sent one single general or admiral there. Apparently, although unable to develop the Star Wars technology or meet the demands of post-Soviet military operations, the Pentagoons have discovered the cure for Original Sin: make someone a general or an admiral. But if it’s true, what I’m thinking, then it’s classified. We’ll have to wait until the technology is released in commercial version, or until it’s sold to some foreign country. I imagine the Vatican might be interested.

Meanwhile, it’s just after Veterans’ Day and all over the world ‘the little people’ of the military keep on keeping on. They are where they are, Mr. and Ms. Spartan, obedient to o-u-r word. Let us take time to reflect on what we wish that word to be. Let us, this holiday season, follow the advice of a certain noted sage, put down the drink, go home and rethink our lives. Because so many lives depend on it. On us. On ‘We The People’.

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Friday, November 17, 2006


I’m rummaging through the net here. We have the Catholic bishops, in convocation assembled, coming out with an antiwar statement, sort of. Kinda curious, since they had published their agenda before they went in and it was mostly housekeeping. Then Robert Waldrop took them – rightly – to task for almost total collective failure to speak out against the invasion of Iraq, even when their reputed Boss in Rome spoke out against it ( One of the prelates, from the Great State of Jawja, actually categorized the Pope as simply another foreign diplomat, and dismissed him thus. Now, suddenly, the bishops have barely unpacked their neat cone-hats and – presto – an antiwar statement (sorta).

I say sorta because actually they’re only calling for a “responsible transition” in Iraq. Curiously, it’s just a week after – at long damned last – The People generated sufficient political will and insight to rebuke the Incumbency, if not renounce all its works and all its pomps. And it’s just a day or two after the New York Times (a newspaper in New York) editorialized to much the same effect (

Pity the poor bishops. They’ve had a hard time of it. Not unprecedented. When Kirk Douglas led the slave revolt against Rome, bursting out of Capua with his self-liberated gladiators freeing slaves as they went, Robin Hood without any tights at all, the first official opposition he encountered were City Cohorts. The City Cohorts were units of Roman troops stationed permanently in the larger and medium-sized cities of Italy; they were big on parades, highly polished armor, and basically beating up – when necessary – on the urban poor and any obnoxious members of the peasantry. Not so different from some of their modern descendants. Overfed, picky, and a little leery of the dark, they were not the legions. They were not employed for such challenges as Spartacus flung at them, and they were speared flat in no time.

Thus the bishops. Raised to the prelacy at a time when the Catholic Church in this country was still coasting on the long-ago-earned laurels of its early missionaries and the remarkable energies of the immigrant generations of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, they were picked for their ability to hew to the doctrinal line and ‘administer’ stuff. The American Church having mastered the ‘Protestant threat’ back in 1960 and simultaneously proved its patriotic bonafides by its many youth sent off to the wars Great and Good and not so much so, its attention was now focused on in-house problems.

And they were and are legion. There are traditionalists who want Time turned back, women put back into Kitchen, Children, and Church (it works better in the original German), the gays outed and out, and some who doubt the validity of the election of every Pope since Pius XII died in 1958. There are ‘liberals’ who want the Church run democratically (defined as whatever seems The Thing To Do in the U.S. these days); womanists who want men out of the priesthood or at least themselves in, and the right to an abortion should the need arise; and a shrinking corps of priests, many of whom – serving out there in the bush – appear to Rome to have gone somewhat native.

Although a quarter-century ago the bishops had risen up, or been chivvied up, by some vigorous prelates, to majestically defy the early Reagan era’s facile brandishing of nuclear weapons, and not without success, yet since the fall of the Soviet Union – in which events the Polish John Paul II played no small part – they had been busy with the consequences of the Revolutions of the Identities as those storms roiled even the protected harbors of Church polity. The seas beyond were lost to view in the spume of the surf.

When the country started the long wrack of the sex-offense craze, such an ominous sea change was not noted in the protected fortress-harbors of the American Church. When the fundamentalist Ascendancy separated from the more modest, less alarming evangelical phase and assumed the characteristic trajectory and tactical movements of a vessel of war, this too was hardly noted.

There was a jolt in the early-90s when several priestly-rape cases made the news. They were treated from a purely internal point of view, the coincidence of the publicity with the nascent but now-clearly identifiable Ascendancy not even noted. For reasons variously prudent, cowardly, greatly uninformed, or just plain witless, each Cohort Commander – authoritative within his diocese – tried to deal with matters according to his own lights. The initiative quickly passed from them, although not before – individually and collectively – they had demonstrated no large ability. But within a year or so, the wrack had passed. They assumed that, having survived a frightening case of it, they were now inoculated and – ‘dues’ having been paid to the increasingly sensationalist culture – they would now be allowed to pursue their occasions, unmolested as it were.

That was not an unreasonable assumption: American society has been wracked by crazes of various nature since the first Great Awakening, and with the development of urban concentrations and various types of ‘press’ (including the dime novels, the crime broadsheets, and the ‘yellow’ press that brought on the Spanish-American War) these things came and went. That in the crucible of the culture wars of the post-civil-rights era these waves were becoming more intense and reaching further and further into the main ground of the culture and the society and the law, and were not dissipating even after receding … none of these facts were noted, much less evaluated. That there might be a number of interests served by their substantive discomfiture the bishops never even imagined. That these interests might exist both within and outside of the Churchly sphere equally escaped such notice as they ever took of matters.

Almost a decade went by. The sex-offender storm had retained its strength, though it had moved on from the territory of the Church; out of sight, out of mind. In New York, the patriarch of a family that had raised up a major newspaper retired and in the best tradition of the grand monarchies of yore, he let his kid take over. In time, said scion – having given the seasoned, experienced, mature professionals on staff more than a little scare – purchased a smaller paper. And as these things go, and have always gone, he appointed a satrap for the new province, one who wouldn’t outshine his master.

Said satrap needed to make his bones, however. Having faithfully hewed to the organizational line in the matter of supporting war in the East, he also needed to distinguish himself on his own. He would need a sure thing, and one that would have a wide support. He would need a target that would be fat, dumb, and happy in the run-up, and equally so in the stunning assault, such that victory would be a slam-dunk and he would be greeted as a liberator. Where he conceived of such a plan … who can say?

Thus in January 2002, the satrapy revealed that during the months leading up to and following 9-11, it had devoted the bulk of its limited investigative resources to exposing Catholic priests and sex-offenses. The Cohort Commander in Boston, one of the most prestigious among his peers, sallied out secure in the impressiveness of his burnished chariot and ceremonial armor, only to find that he was now assailed from within as well as from without. He was choppered out from the roof, without vowing to return.

When just last year the satrapy took a victory lap in an article reporting the contestable conviction of a priest who had apparently advocated sex with young boys in print, it published figures which – if one did the math – indicated that since 1940 .065 children – variously defined from birth to the age of military recruits – per year were in some form or other abused, molested, assaulted or raped by priests of the Archdiocese. The variety of verbs required is partly occasioned by the fact that such acts cover a gamut from an untoward comment – perhaps not even delivered in person – to aggravated and repeated rape. The curious obliqueness of the article leads one to think that the great majority of the cases were at the lower end of that spectrum. And if one totes up the number of interactions between a diocese’s priests and its ‘children’, and then the number of ‘abuse’ incidents, it looks like the percentage of incident-free events would surpass the US airline safety percentages. Most curious.

It is for a future historian to explore the coincidence of this type of investigating and reporting with the goings-on in the by-then deteriorating expedition to Iraq: WMD not found, elastic definitions of the offense, elastic definitions of the objective, elastic definitions of the enemy, elastic definitions of applicable law and laws, and – as a lubricant to smooth the intense frictions created by the foregoing – a stentorian insistence that the word of the government be taken without dispute, dissent or – most vehemently – further investigation. But we digress.

The bishops have spent the past four years in a rather early-Medieval way, each trying to protect whatever is within the walls of his fortress-city, risking the arduous journey to attend equally risky convocations, where nothing can seem to placate or appease their accusers, whose Desired Outcome recedes every year tantalizingly just over the horizon. Hardly surprisingly, Their Worships have not found the time or inclination to make significant pronouncements about – oh, say, the morality of American involvement in the world community. One – the afore-mentioned Jawja prelate – spoke only to demote his Pope to the status of foreign diplomat, and another – the one in charge of all the Catholics in the armed Services – broke radio silence only a couple of weeks ago, to issue what amounted to a Pentagoon talking-points lecture on how things are swell, if the media would only get on-board (see “Bishops Bomb” elsewhere on this site).

And so now, the elections having – as they say – ‘sent a message’, the bishops convoke yet again. And as afore-noted, although it wasn’t on their agenda, they suddenly issue a statement against the war (sorta). It’s anybody’s guess whether they got their notes from the Pentagon or the New York Times, but I’m sure that at this point they’d be happy to be allowed to sit at anybody’s table and not have … It … brought up.

And it woulda been embarrassing: a Vatican prelate made a speech on Tuesday making the unkind, but hardly inane, observation that within the lifetime of the same generation that saw the Berlin Wall come down the U.S. is putting a fortified border wall up. No doubt the Vatican, which has a habit of thinking things through and thinking ahead (those wily, inscrutable foreign diplomats!) quietly sent an advance copy over here by diplomatic pouch or fax. And over here such active folks as Robert Waldrop at Romero House has pointed out to the bishops that their silence does not speak well of them nor does it bode well for the Church.

(The vigorous and outspoken Archbishop Romero of San Salvador, one recalls, was killed by right-wing hit-squaddies in 1980 while saying Mass at the altar of his own cathedral church. That such a descent into Medieval massacre is an awefull signal of the increasing regression to debauchery of our modern world was lost upon the usually logghorreic Catholic traditionalists for whom by his concern for justice for his flock the Archbishop had apparently demonstrated to their own satisfaction that he was not validly an Archbishop; in this he joins a distinguished company of churchmen comprised, among others, of John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II.).

But back to our American bunch. They want to get back into the mainstream and be allowed to sit at the table with the Macher (bless the Yiddish!) in this country; and they need to prove to Catholics here and to those foreign diplomats in Rome that they are worth their salt. Otherwise, even when eating alone they’ll face a thin gruel. So they issue a thin gruel of their own, suggesting that justice now requires that we act responsibly in Iraq and that in the face of that debacle we think deep thoughts. Hardly inappropriate sentiments, although the card and the flowers have arrived a couple-three years after the funeral. But then again, just as the whole earth is the grave of honorable men, so too every day marks the funeral of an honorable man; not a few of them members of the flock presided over by the Pentagon’s command-bishop. O tempora, O mores!

Meanwhile, back at the capitol, the House passes a bill that classes certain animal-rights tactics as ‘terrorism’. Now, that’s reely reely an elastic category! Unwashed, glaze-eyed animal-lovers, citizens all, are somehow in the same class as the beady-eyed Islamofascist suicide-bombers and Middle Eastern masterminds who perpetrated 9-11. Can Congress do this – I mean, to the language? Can you just – whoosh – pass a law and declare that birds are large mammals? Well, sure you can. For the purposes of legal fiction: like the one that a corporation is a person and has all the rights and protections of an individual human-type citizen. Or that Congress-members can read. Or think.

But seriously, this is another example of that elastic definition that was mentioned above and that has helped many another craze keep itself afloat. Slaves – it will be recalled – were not considered to have Constitutional rights, not being considered in any real way human, except when the State in which they were held in bondage was counting heads to qualify for Congressional representation, in which case – magick! – each slave was defined and counted as three-fifths of a white man. Have we matured intellectually since those days? Sex offenses, if we take the trouble to notice, can run a gamut from peeing in the park to multiple premeditated abduction-rape-cannibalistic murders of children by strangers (of which the vast majority of “sex offenders” are probably not at the high end of the scale; I have to speculate because curiously there aren’t any reliable figures on just what each of the country’s sex-offenders was actually convicted for). And you need not be physically present. Or commit a sexual act. The basic dynamic is that so long as the offense can be expanded to compensate for small or shrinking numbers of actual perps, then the Emergency can continue. And on the basis of that Emergency (see elsewhere on this site) some of the most fundamental pillars of Western Justice can be undermined or ‘reformed’. Following the same game-plan, later on, such an elastic definition can expand to cover the too-obvious lack of results in a failing, hugely misconceived, dishonestly begun war in the Middle East.

But then again, it was only a rhetorical exercise to propose that Congress-members can’t read. I think they most certainly can – most of them. In order to qualify as ‘terrorism’, the law continues, you have to do something that “causes a loss of profits”. Ah. As American as apple pie, and just in time for Turkey Day. We are regressing to the 1880s in so many respects: not only the Robber Barons and a prostitute Congress, but the increasingly obvious deployment of the Federal police power by the government in the interests of those who pay its Executives and legislators to play. Do they study the labor history of the 1880s to WW2 in school these days? This may be a great opportunity to get back beyond the gauzy, muzzy, mawkish aura of “The Good War” to the brimming, frothy, earnest and deadly serious stewpot of America before the smiling rigidity and willing conformism of the postwar National Security State. Democrats take notice.

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