Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Scorpions in a Bottle, Part I

The Homeland: Bush and the Congress

Fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.
- George Santayana

Shoot first and inquire afterwards, and if you make mistakes, I will protect you.
- Hermann Goering

...let me give you a word of advice. ALWAYS bet on black.
- Wesley Snipes in "Passenger 57"

[This is the first part of a kinda sorta series, trying to explain any poor gibbering bastards still reading this blog after having put it into mothballs for most of a year, the various factions involved in the Iraq War. I talk about it so much, I practically obsess about it, so I may as well try to convey what little knowledge I have on the subject to, well, the two people I know who check this thing, anyway.]

Can you feel it? That telltale crackling of ozone, stinging your nostrils, setting the hairs on the back of your neck on edge. The peel of far-off thunder, crashing, then receding. It's coming. Press your ear to the ground, tap the jungle grapevine, and you may hear it. The rumble of massive hoofprints, of things enormous and unseen, trundling forward through the underbrush, uprooting trees, stomping huts flat, trammeling everything in their path with an almost admirable and thoroughly monotonous inexorability. It's our One Last Shot. Our Inestimable and Paramount Leader, George W. Bush, Unitary Executive and Commander-in-Chief, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and the Fishes of the Sea, has heard the voice of the electorate, of both parties in the United States Congress, and of his own Iraq Study Group, and decided that he knows better after all.

The Surge is on its way. Well. Such as it is. Bush has cried havoc and unleashed the dogs of war, except that most of the dogs are already out on the hunt, he's just decided to run them for twice as long without letting them rest. You keep the troops deployed for an extra-long tour, you send the ones home supposed to be recuperating back into the shit extra early, and,
voila. Twenty-one and a half thousand troops, pulled from out of the ether, like magic. Sprung from dragon's teeth, sewn in the soil. Never mind that some of them are Going Over for their third or fourth tour, of course. Never mind that generals like John Abizaid (outgoing Commanding General, U. S. Central Command) and George Casey (outgoing Commanding General, Multi-National Force - Iraq...detect a pattern) have previously counseled against sending more troops into theater at this time, saying that whatever window of opportunity may have existed for them to make a difference has long since closed. Never mind that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has questioned the need for more troops. Never mind that the so-called Surge, being marketed as some hitherto unprecedented level of commitment to The War on Terra, is really only going to bring us back to December 2005's troop levels. Never mind that Republican Congresspeople are lining up to throw the drowning President a cinder block and perhaps stave off their own inevitable irrelevancy for a term or two. Never mind that the American people themselves are overwhelmingly against this, 89 percent against in some polls, finally, finally, after a seeming eternity of crawling around in a darkened room, blindly jabbing an electrical plug in every direction in the hopes of finding a socket. It looks like people have finally found it. (Of course, some of us had the fucking foresight to keep a flashlight handy, but no need to be a poor winner...)

See, none of that, none of any of that, matters, in the end.

The Decider has decided.

But what, exactly, has he decided?

The conventional wisdom, often a contradiction in terms, has it that Bush is going to run out the clock, perhaps just out of sheer spite, solely to defy the advice from the Iraq Study Group. Maybe it rankled, having to have Dad's lawyers and golfing buddies take him aside and bail him out and fix his screw-ups. Again. Maybe it was too bitter a pill to swallow, and the loss of Congress, rather than chasten him, actually acted to liberate him, free him, let him finally be the Tough Guy Standing Alone that he's always known, deep down, that he was. This is one of Bush's problems. He actually equates low poll numbers and criticism from other Republicans with physical courage, with seeing combat, I think. He actually conflates unpopularity with valor. That's the kind of privilege he's enjoyed his whole life.

But is this really the whole story?

He can't withdraw (defeat, weakness), he can't tread water (low in the polls), he can't give Iraq any real numbers (none left without invoking the dreaded D-word), so this measly, tightfisted, ineffectual, pusillanimous pinprick of a Surge which will do two things: kill Americans faster, and put guns in the hands of pissed-off Iraqis faster. So...what's the logic to it? Beyond pigheaded, dry drunk stupidity, what the fuck is the point of it?

Well, I'm getting to that. Calm down.

Irbil, Iraq, is the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is still pretending to be part of Iraq even though they issue their own currency, stamps, and passports, train their own militia (the ruthless
Peshmerga, more on them in a future installment) that's twice the size of al-Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi and could probably fuck up any New Iraqi Army unit sent after it, not that they could since Kurdistan refuses to allow any federal troops to set foot on Kurdish soil, but I digress...anywho. Last week, American soldiers raided an Iranian consulate in Irbil. The Peshmerga guarding the building very nearly lit the Americans up, which could have opened up the (inevitable, I think) third front of this two-front war, but miracles happen every so often and no shots were fired. The conventional wisdom being circulated by BushCo and the Weekly Standard is the Iranians detained weren't diplomats, but officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Pasdaran (essentially, the Islamic Republic of Iran's equivalent of the Waffen-SS, a fanatical military formation outside of and rivalling Iran's Regular Armed Forces). The Pasdaran has elements, the Qods Force, that specializes in infiltrating neighboring countries to foment dissent and insurrection, shocking, I know. Last month, similar intelligence of Iranian activity was netted during a raid on the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI (or "Scary" as it's sometimes called) was sheltered by, funded by, administered by, trained by, and supplied by the only other country to have enjoyed the fruits of an Islamic Revolution, namely, Iran. So the notion that the ayatollahs of Tehran are still backing their Arabic pupils is not too fucking hard to grasp, now is it.


is it.

See, now there you're wrong, as usual. Keep quiet and
pay attention. BushCo is putting it out that Iran is not actually supplying and training SCIRI, and their militia, the Badr Organization, even though they created it and want the same goals and like the same TV shows as them, even though they were meeting with SCIRI's leader, no. And they're also saying that Iran is not, definitely not, supplying and training the Peshmerga, even though during the Saddam Era they helped create it, train it, and goaded them on to fight the Iraqi military, no, of course not. These are what are known as "the O.J.s" of Iraq. It's fucking obvious that when you meet with someone you agree with, and have helped before, that you are still helping them. Not to our Dear Leader though. He peers through the fog of our certainties and sees nebulous and tantalizing possibilities. See, actually, Iran (oh, did I mention how much the hardcore neocons, Bush's last supporters, the base of the base of the base, really really please please want to overthrow Iran, too? See, Iraq was the wrong war, they all knew that, what they really wanted to do was go into Iran and "finish the job," stand tall, etc., and this time it would be a cakewalk, this war would pay for itself, ad nauseum...) is supporting Moqtada al-Sadr, you know, that cleric who hates Iran and constantly inveighs against any sign of respect or fealty which his Shia colleagues pay towards Tehran, that Moqtada al-Sadr. The al-Sadr who's desperately trying to outmaneuver Tehran's men in Baghdad. Yes, it's all a clever ruse, apparently. He really loves Iran to pieces. It doesn't make any sense, but it's convenient, since al-Sadr has been the loudest and most consistent voice calling for America to leave Iraq, and his militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi ("Army of the Mahdi"), has fought Coalition forces on and off since 2004. It's convenient, if you want to build a case, or, some might say, sell a story, that Iran is behind all of our troubles.

It makes no sense, but it does. It's what I call Movie Logic. When you watch a mystery, and they introduce a character that seems tangential and unnecessary to the Plot, the friendly neighbor, the girlfriend's roommate, the dentist, whatever, and the camera lingers on said person a trifle too long, gives them too much screentime, dialogue they don't need, well, the informed viewer wonders. Why do I care about this person, who the fuck is he, why am I listening to them yammer on. There are No Coincidences. Just puzzle pieces we haven't matched yet. Tuck it away and remember it later.

Iran is interfering in Iraq. They do have pawns there. They're the
al-Dawa Party and SCIRI, and they're the Kurds they sheltered during the Long Night of Baathism. It's obvious. But these are all the factions that tell us to our faces how much they love us, they're so grateful, American Number One, we love George Bush. And besides, who in Tulsa or Sioux City or Des Moines has ever heard of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, or the Badr Organization. Who the fuck even knows what a Kurd is. And here we have this perfectly good, respectable villain sitting right over here in Sadr City, East Baghdad, sent straight down from Central Casting, this murderer, this demagogue, al-Sadr, not overly educated, owing everything he's attained in his whole life to the name and accomplishments of his father (sound familiar?), going on day and night about throwing the Americans out...yes, he hates the Iranians too, but, and I'm just saying, what if...what...if...we said he didn't.


I said it.

And it's not even as direct as that, no conversation like that was ever spoken, no conscious decision to muddy the waters and distort the facts was ever made. It didn't have to be. The interested parties have agreed to accept the lie,
en masse, without anyone saying it aloud. To speak it aloud would break the spell, perhaps.

Why do I mention all of this?

Because of the 21,500-strong Surge, all but 4000 are going to Baghdad. Mostly, it seems, East Baghdad, the slums called Sadr City. The Shia part of Baghdad. The stronghold of al-Sadr. I'd say that almost all combat deaths we're suffering are being inflicted by Sunni insurgents, but, that's old news, that's yesterdays news, Osama who. It would be exceedingly difficult, even with the slug-brained American public, to sell them on Iran backing them. (Though they're trying that too.) But al-Sadr, he's a Shia. And he's fought us before. He loathes the Iranians, but two out of three ain't bad. He'll do. We can leapfrog from Sadr City to Tehran, hopefully.

Home for Christmas.

With what troops? you scoff. You're really being paranoid now. Oh, maybe, maybe. Of course, it is a little strange that we've deployed two aircraft carrier groups to the Persian Gulf now (the
John C. Stennis and the Dwight D. Eisenhower), though. Maybe al-Qaeda has finally finished building that carrier interceptor fighter/bomber squadron out of cactus spines and camel hides. You never know. I'm sure than Bush hasn't let himself be duped into a fucking jackass play like trying to neutralize Iran's probably non-existent nuclear weapons program and thus commence an all-out Middle Eastern War. He's been great so far so I'm sure the thought never occurred to him.


Where does Congress stand on the Surge, then?
How do you feel about Cleveland? Still too close? How about hopping on an ice floe and paddling to the goddamned Arctic Circle? Actually, Bush does have some extremely tepid support in Congress. The Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who looks remarkably lifelike if you dim the lights, has enthused that Bush's plan might not totally be the worst idea ever and possibly has a chance of not failing cataclysmically. At the press conference held to gift the President with this mealy-mouthed "solidarity," McConnell turned to his fellow Republican Senators for support. They found something very interesting to stare at on the other side of the room. One developed a slight cough. A cricket was heard. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott informed the press corps that he had no responsibilities here whatsoever.

The loudest voice supporting Bush has been The Senate's own Ol' Dirty Bastard, the Rising Phoenix himself, Joltin' John McCain. Of course, he was bleating on in 2005 that more troops weren't needed. And two months ago, when it looked like Bush was going to have to cave in to, you know, reality (ha! right), McCain was saying we needed, oh...about 20,000 more troops in Iraq. This is the right-wing tack on the war: the War was great, it was a fabulous idea - we
love the War! - if only Bush/Rumsfeld/the generals/everyone who isn't me, hadn't fucked it all up. This was the McCain Doctrine. Then, Bush, maybe just to stick it to Johnny, said, hey, let's do that, more troops, good idea, glad I thought of it. Now McCain is saying, 20,000 troops is obviously not enough, we need twice that at least. Obviously. And when it crashes and burns, just remember, I said we needed more troops, and it's not my fault. Republicans may have lost Congress, but McCain still seems to be the ranking minority member of the Select Subcommittee on Covering Your Own Ass and Selling Your Soul to Get the Nomination This Time.

There have always been malcontents railing against Bush's Iraq notions, notably Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, another decorated Vietnam vet who seems to call bullshit when he sees it. But lately Bush is losing his hardcore followers too. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a man so pro-life he
opposes abortion even in rape or incest, and who has compared the progressive and tolerant socialist nations of Scandinavia to a homosexualized Nazi Germany, has said we shouldn't send more troops over. As Kansas goes, so goes the Red Nation. They are falling away from him one by one, swamping the liferafts as Captain Bush stands on the poop deck and insists that the ship isn't sinking at all, it's just waves. The Democrats, for their part, are being strangely timid. They seem delighted that the game is up, but, even with the deer in their sights they can't bring themselves to pull the trigger and terminate the war by defunding it, or revoking their 2002 authorization of the use of force. It's within their power but they're reluctant. Maybe they can't fully believe they're back in the driver's seat, that it was a fluke, that all it will take is one liberal bill or media gaffe and everything will crumble. They're a little afraid of the spotlight so they're hiding in the center. Well, there are a handful of fighters. John Murtha and Charlie Rangel in the House. Ted Kennedy in the Senate. But for the most part, they seem content to go after their minimum wage and their prescription pill reform and ethics reform, which are all quite important matters, don't get me wrong. But like McCain, the Dems are happy to let Bush hang himself. They'll make noise about the folly of sending more troops, maybe vote on a nonbinding meaningless resolution, and quietly back away and let it all fall on Bush. Oh, and on the poor fuckers who are going to die, or lose limbs, in order to prove a political point. But who cares about them anyway, right, they asked for this. So the war will grind on. And on. And on.

Finally, a word should be said about the "Independent Democrat," Joe Lieberman, Bush's favorite Democrat, Mr. Bipartisan himself. One word will suffice, I think. Preferably a four-letter one. Okay. Moving on.

After being shaken up by the November loss, the neocons have circled the wagons ever closer around the White House. Their poster boy, Donald Rumsfeld, was immediately thrown under the train, prompting the neos to say that they'd never liked him anyway. But Cheney seems to have been quietly brought back into the Inner Circle. Rice, that total fucking incompetent, is going to go down with the ship because her loyalty is her only strength to Bush, it sure isn't her ability as a diplomat. John Bolton has been jettisoned (good riddance). Wolfowitz and Feith are long gone. The government neocons were always hamstrung by their need to once in a while appear reasonable and high-minded. The private sector neos are under no such burden. People like William Kristol, the Propagandist-in-Chief of the
Weekly Standard, which is so stridently right-wing it makes the Wall Street Journal look like Pravda; Fred Kagan, resident intellectual thug at the American Enterprise Institute, who helped goad Bush into doubling down and giving it One Last Shot this week; arch-Zionist crypto-fascists (hey, cool word!) like Daniel Pipes and Michael Ledeen, who blithely endorse carpet bombing Iran to get those hypothetical nukes and even coyly suggest that a nuclear first strike on them wouldn't be entirely a bad thing....most of the asylum has been retaken by the staff, but the ones still on the loose are the worst of the bunch, the real fucking crazies. People who want to turn the Middle East into one gigantic oil derrick and let the few remaining Arabs work it for them, people who want to see a Greater Israel from the Suez to the Straits of Hormuz and from Turkey to Yemen, people who rant about the necessity to stop proliferation and then talk about tactical nuclear strikes as if they were discussing what to have for dinner. These are the people that Bush is taking into the Fuhrerbunker with him. And make no mistake, that's where he's going. And he's not going to come out. Not until the Russians storm the perimeter, anyway.

...if you've made it this far, what the hell is wrong with you. This was way too goddamned long. Go get some fresh air.

Coming soon: Part II - The Iraqi Council of Representatives. That should be interesting. For me, anyway, who cares about the rest of you people. Get your own blog.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pimps to Tradition

Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.
- Miguel de Unamuno

You have the watches, we have the time.
- Haitian proverb

Don't look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.
- Maurice Evans' warning at the end of "Planet of the Apes"

I lost an hour yesterday. I've looked everywhere, but I can't seem to find it.

Is it meaningless to worry so over sixty minutes, in a lifetime wasted so far? It almost seems petty. Why fight for your teddy bear after they've burned down your house, after all. And my sedentary, sessile, essentially conservative and timid intellect, at its core willing to cede external reality the benefit of the doubt and let bygones be bygones, has already for the most part engulfed the vesicular meme offered it as an escape, a quaff of hemlock, the veritable Black Capsule itself, and has already absorbed most of it into its limpid cytoplasm, and the matter has been quietly, impotently dropped. But. A nagging doubt tugs at the untucked shirt, demanding attention. I know what I know. I KNOW it. But I have to accept that reality has swallowed me up, sealed me up, broken me down.

A preface:

Yesterday I had to be at work at 5PM. I knew this. I had known this for several days. I awoke originally around 11:30 or 12:00, still somewhat groggy after listless dreams, and dawdled in my room for most of the day, toying with Sudoku puzzles, reading, folding socks, whatever it is that people who are half-asleep do without remembering it precisely the next day. At any rate. I decided to try to grab a couple more hours of sleep before shuffling off to work, and I set my alarm for 4:25, giving myself plenty of time to get ready and go to work.

As my knee had been bothering me somewhat because of the rainy weather, and as I also had a bit of a headache, I took some Advil. The only Advil I had, however, was Advil PM. Now you're rolling your eyes, of course, this is clearly what made you oversleep, why are you wasting my time on this Mickey Mouse bullshit. The thing of it is, as some of you may know, I am a lifelong insomniac. Advil PM and Tylenol PM have never had an effect on me in this regard. Also, I was not falling down propping my eyelids open with toothpicks sleepy. Just a little bit. So I don't validate this accidental overdose theorem.

I heard the alarm go off at 4:25, slapped it down, lay there for a few minutes with eyes closed. Awake. Eventually, I stumbled out of bed and headed for the shower.

It was an ordinary shower, of ordinary length, without incident or noteworthy anecdote.

When I went back to my room and looked at the clock,

it was 5:49.

not four.

not four o'clock.


In walking seven feet to the bathroom, showering, and walking seven feet back, I had lost approximately sixty minutes of my life.

Had I, in fact, overslept? Had the Advil PM worked, this time? Had I hit the snooze button and just conked out for exactly an hour, and then woken myself up, with not the least sensation of being startled awake as one would expect after an inadvertant nap, without seeing it on the clock, without noticing it? No. The snooze button only gave me nine minutes, I would have to hit it nine times or so. Had I just switched the alarm off? In my panic I failed to notice, perhaps I did, but I think not. I just don't know.

This probably sounds inane and trivial and a foolish reason to revive my weblog after six months' dormancy, but, at that moment I felt a deep, stabbing, icy sensation of terror shoot through me. I was, literally, terrified. There was no explaining this to me. It made no sense. None. People often joke about going crazy, and what they really mean is that they are frustrated. They think about why things aren't going their way and they get angry. It's not madness, just misery. But getting a flat tire, breaking an ankle playing basketball, putting down a cancer-ridden pet, getting an IRS audit isn't impossible, just inconvenient. Perhaps two or four of these at once is improbable, but still not alien to our notions of reality. It's seldom that we're confronted with the nakedly impossible.

I had lost an hour of time.

Last year I read a not terribly good book called FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard. (Bargain section, $4.95.) The upshot was that a rational man had lost four hours of his afternoon, and his hat, and after a day and night of phantasmagorical searching and numerous confusing passages it turns out that he went crazy and killed his wife, or something. And that's why he blacked out the four hours. What-EVER. I breezed through the novel in a day, wishing I had that five bucks back, slapped a green sticker on the spine and slipped it back onto the shelf. Silly, implausible, tidy.

I walked down the stairs yesterday, racing for work (well, shambling quickly, really, that's about my top speed), but I purposely stopped to check the house for dismembered bodies. I found none, but plan to spend this afternoon checking the backyard for recently dug holes.

I played it off at work as misreading my schedule, no one really seemed to care much. By the end of the night my mind, that durable fellow, had shrugged it off, mostly. I must have overslept. No other explanation, really. People's perceptions are so often and so easily skewed and confused. It's completely plausible.

But I didn't oversleep.

I know that.

I had an hour of time stolen from me.

I KNOW that.

And I don't understand why.

Do I look for it?

Will I not like what I find?

What mouldering corpses, what shattered monuments, what secret whispers of madness will be found if you walk around the wrong corner and look under the blanket? Is this the world I've always lived in? Did I just never notice it before?

Is this meant to snap me awake?

Is this a warning to go back to sleep?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Scissors for the Turk

I've looked under chairs
I've looked under tables
I've tried to find the key
To fifty million fables
- The Who, "The Seeker"

I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.
- Rodney Dangerfield

This is all my fault. I had to go and shoot my mouth off (well, fingers) with yesterday's post. A pessimistic dirge about our collective guilt for crimes aided and abetted by our indolence. And just to splash a bucket of fluorescent orange paint across the hood of my dingy charcoal gray hearse, the universe has to make Tom DeLay pull out of his re-election campaign and announce his resignation from Congress.

This is an uncharacteristically good thing for the universe to do for me.

This one little thing gives me the feeblest, barest glint of a slightly better country a year from now. DeLay's fall has been fabulously rapid. Last year he was indicted on several charges of stuff like money laundering and conspiracy to commit same and spitting on the sidewalk on Sunday after sundown. (Actually, that just might be a crime in his congressional district.) The former exterminator hollered about a Democratic district attorney conducting a political assassination, blah blah blah, and lots of idiots - or should I say, lots of conservative Republicans - no, I had it right the first time, lots of idiots bought into that. Those so-and-so Democrats, this is a new low, this is another attack against a white male Christian, the country's most oppressed majority. But. But. Surprisingly, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief from the House Republicans, DeLay's former flock. (Former because of a Republican rule in the House stating that any party leader or committee chairman would have to step down if under indictment. DeLay had tried twisting their arms to abnegate the rule when his own indictment loomed, but it blew up in his face. Speaker Hastert, the ordinarily mute and lifeless sack of potatoes nominally in charge of the lower house of Congress, actually became a real live boy long enough to voice his disapproval of such a nakedly political measure, as did numerous mutinous deckhands on the good ship GOP, so it failed.) DeLay then took up ventriloquism and attempted to continue to rule the House through his Whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri. "Blunt" is another word for "dull," and both terms also mean "not too sharp." Needless to say, DeLay's tenure as the Texan Boris Godunov was about as lengthy and successful as one of Bush's oil drilling companies. Blunt is boring and stupid, even for Missouri, and got nothing done, and when the Justice Department managed to flip Jack Abramoff, DeLay's good buddy on K Street, DeLay announced that he would be giving up the Majority Leadership post permanently. He tried to keep at least one hand on the wheel, but he had his puppeteering arm lopped off at the elbow with a serrated machete when Blunt lost the Majority Leadership election several months later. (Alright, alright. So he was driving while practicing his ventriloquist act. Maybe that's just what they do down in Texas, leave me and my poor metaphors the fuck alone.)

Things were looking down for the roach killer, but he still hung in there; he easily won the GOP primary for his district, the 22nd of Texas, and spoke confidently of winning a twelfth term. But the cracks were beginning to show. In a country where Congressional incumbents enjoy something like an eighty or ninety percent re-election rate, the most well-known Republican in the House had three opponents from his own party. Not a good sign. And the polls comparing his chances with his Democratic opponent, Nick Lampson, were not filling him with confidence. Not at all. It was starting to look more and more like he might lose. This hadn't happened since Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas Foley had lost re-election during the Republican Revolution in '94, the very victory that had seen DeLay rise to power as the number three man in the House, and the prospect of suffering the same fate must have been too much for him. At least, I'm sure that that's the story that Republicans want to put out. A combination of party loyalty, tinged with just a dollop of human weakness that even the coldest of us wouldn't begrudge our fallen foe. Poor Tom. At least he did the right thing.

Not buying it, sorry.

This guy is a motherfucker. An honest-to-God dyed-in-the-wool two-fisted red-blooded Texas-style motherfucker, and people such as these do not just step aside, they don't cave in, and they certainly don't decide to start doing the right thing at this point without a shotgun poking them in the ribs. As a once funny man, Dennis Miller, opined years ago, nobody finds Christ on prom night. Jack Abramoff, the human albatross around the neck of the entire Republican Party, has come in from the cold, and the next few years are going to see them start to plummet from the skies towards the firmament one by one. Former DeLay aides Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy, both of whom also worked for Abramoff, have pled guilty to conspiring to block investigations into Abramoff's activities. And now, suddenly, DeLay's bastard prick heart just isn't in it anymore. I have to ask what's about to come out that has DeLay willing to give up his seat in Congress, the one thing he has left now that he's become a political pariah. A video of him jerking off a goat while sodomizing a 12-year old Malaysian boy prostitute? I dunno. Something good like that. Something really incriminating.

I guess it's bad form to revel in another human being's foibles and shortcomings. But fuck it, that's always been a shortcoming of my own. Let the bastard twist in the wind.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back to the Lab

Some who did not fight
Brought tales of old to light
- Rush, "Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres"

A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edge tool that grows keener with constant use.
- Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle"

The sin which makes you sad and repentant is more liked by Allah than the good deed which turns you arrogant.
- Ali ibn Abi Talib

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It's what sunflowers do.
- Helen Keller, "Optimism"

After keeping my head down and swimming through the chum for a couple months, I decided to bob back up to the surface to steal a lungful or two of acrid air and scope the surface conditions for half a tick. I would have been better off keeping my snout fully submerged. Is there really a need to go into it? My readership being what it is, describing the latest Bad Things Happening In Iraq would be a bit of carrying coals to Newcastle, as they say, or maybe as they used to say, when people used coal more often, I guess. But if a point can be made, it ought to be belabored to the brink of wheezing, incontinent death, I always say. 50 or so Iraqis got snuffed out today, sectarian-style, in a smattering of shootings and carbombings; 42 more were murdered yesterday. Another Shiite mosque was blown up (not, thankfully, a major shrine like the Samarra one to the tenth and eleventh Imams), along with the usual pile of bodies found handcuffed and double-tapped. The Bushite retort to this is to highlight the high number of fatalities in a typical American day of car crashes, housefires, bubonic plague outbreaks, and rabid emu maulings, as if because of the epidemic of sectarian violence no one else is also dying in Iraq of all those other things as well. The reason they're reporting these murders is because they're above and beyond the usual daily butcher's bill of death, you nattering dolts. Jesus. and now, after embracing the Iraqi Shiites, BushCo seems slightly astonished that the religious Shiite parties voted into power might feel more than passing affinity towards the neighboring Shiite theocracy that supported them financially and militarily during their years of persecution and exile. (I don't think anyone could have anticipated the breach of the Baghdad levees.) Our efforts, which were more commands, to choose the next Prime Minister were (surprise!) Ignominious Failure #504, so we're trying to forge a ridiculously unfeasible coalition of fascist Kurds, Islamist Sunnis, secular Shiites, and neo-Baathists to topple the UIA and their Prime Minister-designate, al-Jaafari, because he's too cozy with Muqtada al-Sadr, whose major crime was defeating the United States armed forces by not knuckling under in 2004. Got all that? I mean is any of this a surprise to anyone, really, at this point the Bush Administration has become so thoroughly synonymous with ineptitude and failure that to even recount for the first time the details of their latest display of wanton hubris just seems painfully redundant...animators talk about persistence of vision, wherein the rapidity of transition from image to image is so great that it overcomes the ability of the eye to discern it, and still images bleed together and breathe and move...what we have here, instead, is more like a persistent lack of vision, with individual failures blurring together into a singular and grand unified theory of incompetence, where the overall pattern is so dismally overwhelming that the daily grind of murder and despair loses its power to shock, horrify, and dismay. So pro- and anti-war Americans alike can read (the ones who still do, that is) that 50 Iraqis were murdered during the course of a single day, sigh, curse either the President, the insurgents, or CBS and the New York Times, and go back to their Raisin Bran. We don't really care. I don't really care. If I did, I would be in the streets, wouldn't I? But I hem and I haw, sometimes both at once, and I equivocate and even dissemble (NOT "disassemble," you fucking nimrod), and I don't do what I should do. What's wrong with us? Would any crime be monstrous enough to pull Americans into the streets for longer than a single day, and without the promise of a free concert by Green Day? Because I can't see it happening.

Today, I finally roused myself to see a film for which I had borne moderately high hopes, V For Vendetta, which was based on an excellent comic series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The film was, of course, a mild disappointment, or perhaps more accurately an interesting failure. But it was not without its ability to move me, in some cases very much so. (Spoiler alert, in case someone reading this wishes to not be spoiled.) The first of the two scenes which particularly affected me was the rather amazing scene when Evey (Natalie Portman) is freed from her cell and discovers that she has been imprisoned and tortured not by the government, but by her friend V, and she collapses in a sobbing heap at his feet as he implores her to understand why he did what he did, why he had to do it, why she was now free for the first time in her life. The second scene was a montage wherein the harried and grudingly loyal detective, the Arkady Renko of the story, predicts that in the climate of fear, uncertainty, and repression that V has brought into existence, inevitably a government agent will cross a line and do something stupid. (A girl, spraypainting subversive graffiti while wearing a copy of V's Guy Fawkes mask, is shot dead by a thuggish plainclothes policeman.) People will only be frightened so much for so long, and after a certain psychological barrier is breached, they will react to this pivotal event not with fear but with rage. (Townspeople who witness this, slowly converging on the officer, some brandishing shovels and crowbars.) The spark will ignite a fire. (The officer waving his badge, then brandishing his gun, to no avail, as he is struck down and beaten.) The government will react the only way it knows how, which will only exacerbate the situation. (Rioters storming police barricades in first one city, then others.) It will reach a breaking point and then there will be no hope of turning back. The character, Inspector Finch, is more finely nuanced in the original story, not just the stereotypical detective consumed by his calling but someone who really did once believe in the order and security that the State offered, and whose allegiance seems sustained by force of habit more than anything else; when we meet him in the film, he is immediately contemptuous of the State which he continues to diligently serve, his every observation and suggestion is met with disdain and sneering disbelief by "the Chancellor," and yet he seems genuinely surprised that his government was responsible for murdering 80,000 people in a sort of biohazardous Reichstag fire. The character, in short, conforms to the obvious telegraphy of movie logic, but makes little sense if you stop to think about him in real world terms. If the Chancellor disagrees with everything he says and every opinion he offers, why does Finch continue to sit in on meetings at the highest rank of government and why is he entrusted with such responsibilities in a world were people are routinely kidnapped and murdered for failures a tenth as slight? If he's inherently moral, and a keen detective, AND he knows that the government casually kidnaps, tortures, and murders people, how can he serve it so loyally without a hint of internal conflict or turmoil? Luckily for Finch, he had the good fortune to be played by the great actor Stephen Rea, who imbues this straw man with far more gravity than his poor scripting deserves. Rea can convey more with a single sad glance than other actors can with 20 pages of exquisite dialogue. At any rate, this scene leapt out at me.

2003 was more than merely three years ago. A lot more. I remember when the streets of the capitals of the world were swollen with protestors, almost ten million people marching to try and stop a war. Imagine that for a moment. In this day and age, when nobody cares about anything, except for the wrong things...ten million people, most of whom had never met one another, all had the right idea, and they did something about it. Or did they do anything at all...the marches meant nothing, here. Absolutely nothing. They were a day of bitching about the tied-up traffic. They were a blip on the news, for those that still pay attention to what passes for the news. Americans are a thoroughly conquered people by now, and we sit and watch things happen to us. There was a brief surge of energy when more than a few of us managed to punch out of the gravity wells of our couches and did something, sort of, but since it didn't immediately set the world on fire, we lost what litle interest we had in the matter in the first place. We deserve this war. We deserve it, because we didn't fight hard enough to stop it. Now we have 2300 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis dead, and we still don't give a shit. We want the war over, we want the soldiers home, and if someone would just do this for us so we could watch it happen on the Teevee, hey, that would be cool, but if not, well, whatever. Our president tells us that we have a minimum of three more years of war, that he can eavesdrop on any conversation he wishes, that he needs to be able to torture people, that he feels free to ignore laws that Congress passes, and we sit here and accept it, occasionally balling our fists in rage, but politely, complacently, so as not to bother anyone else in the room.

I'm not afraid of that cop shooting a girl and sparking a riot someday. Not in America. I'm afraid that the trigger has already been pulled, that the girl is already lying dead in the street, her blood pooling around her pale, still body, and we're stepping over her on the way to the Wal-Mart. We'd rather she was still alive. But what can we do.

That's enough for now. Back down into the murk. More later on something else, maybe.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Flunking Out of the Electoral College

The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular.
- Mohandas Gandhi

Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame.
- Lawrence J. Peter

Vote early and vote often.
- Al Capone

The first time I was able to vote for president, I was too ignorant and addle-pated to make good use of it. It was back during the "Autumn of Love," in the dim and distant year of 1992...seems a thousand centuries ago to me, was a time of sandmen's entrances and of hearts that were both achy and breaky, a time when going into Iraq was a fun weekend outing where nobody got hurt and the good guys easily won, a time when portable phones were slightly smaller than a lunchbox, no one was getting spammed, and everyone was too sexy for everything else. I was 18 years old, and even stupider than I am now, if such a nadir is even remotely conceivable. I was...well...there's no way to ease the blow here, so out with it: I was conservative. Sort of kind of Republican, actually. I know. I know. Stop freaking out. It's not like I shot someone just to watch them die. I blame historical circumstance; I grew up in the Age of Reagan, the son of an indifferently conservative Secret Service agent, and we bombed Libya and invaded Grenada and pushed those Russian commie fucks around with total impunity, because these colors do NOT run, and freedom isn't free, and blah blah blah. I was ostensibly interested in politics and history, but hindered slightly in the pursuit of such studies by a near-total ignorance of both political theory and history, and it was some time before I discovered that bombing Libya in a cheap and careless act of political theater led directly to 189 Americans dying over Lockerbie, Scotland; or that we knocked over a pathetic and embryonic left-wing regime in the Caribbean because 2 days earlier we had lost 241 servicemen in a humiliating terrorist attack in Lebanon; or that driving the Soviet Union into bankrupcy with an exorbitant arms race saddled us with massive debt and left Russia littered with a massive nuclear arsenal that it was now unable to secure or safeguard; and on, and on, and on.

I was what I call a Cosmatos conservative. George P. Cosmatos (1941-2005) was a film director of modest ability who gave us the one-two punch of Rambo: First Blood Part Two (1985) and the even more repellent Cobra (1986), two movies which together crystallized the worldview and Hollywood pseudomorality of a whole generation of American boys born in the 1970s who grew up under Reagan. Ronnie himself quipped once that he made his decision to launch Operation El Dorado Canyon, the retaliatory strike on Libya following a PLO terror attack on USO personnel in Europe, after watching Rambo. Rambo showed Sylvester Stallone, the celluloid embodiment of 1980s foreign policy, battling insidious gook murderers abroad and cowardly skulking bureaucrats at home. The follow-up film was just as loathesome and creepy as it was ridiculous, showing Stallone again gunning down "psychos" left and right, conveniently one-dimensional villains who always drew first and who deserved what they got. These two films, released within a year of each other, really Summed It All Up for kids like me: there's "America," which is where the good and nice and decent (and white) people live, and America has to be protected at all costs from those who would subvert it, corrupt it, destroy it. A red-white-and-blue demi-paradise ringed with enemies, yellow ones, brown ones, black ones, and even some white ones, who are perhaps the least deserving of sympathy or understanding. This was nothing new in American culture, honestly. Thirty years earlier, it would have been John Wayne gunning down Comanches with his Colt Peacemakers; as it was, my generation got Stallone and Schwarzenegger taking out every variety of non-Anglo lowlife with their equally iconic M-16s and RPG-7s. (Ironic that the mantle of John Wayne, who made about two and a half million WWII pictures, should be taken up by an Italian and an Austrian. It's too bad Professor Toru Tanaka never graduated from villainous flunky to action hero, we could have had a former Axis Power trifecta. An Elseworlds tale for someone else to tell, perhaps. Today, it's been subverted even further, with a career in rap music becoming the new prerequisite for B-movie stardom. But let's not lose the plot here.) I wasn't an ideologue deeply devoted to Ayn Rand or Barry Goldwater or The Wealth of Nations, I just liked seeing the bad guys get shot. To be honest, I think the vast majority of Americans who think of themselves as conservatives feel that way. They want the bad guys shot, and taxes to go down. I wish I could see life so simply sometimes.

(Why don't I call it "Stallone conservatism?" Because of a little movie called Rhinestone, that's why. Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton in a rootin'-tootin' country music comedy. Waiter, check please.)

Anyway. 1992. I was in my first year of college, in the Arctic. Close enough, anyway; the University of Maine at Orono, chosen because it was next to the town where Stephen King lived. (Staggeringly stupid, yes. This is not in dispute.) As such, I had to vote by absentee ballot. For a few months, this thing sat amidst the clutter of my desk, staring at me. I was in a bit of a quandary, truth be told. Of course I was still a Republican, a good guy, let's not be ridiculous here, we were the winners and the strong ones. But. College was starting to expose me to deviant writings. I had heard about something called BCCI, I had read a little bit about Iran-Contra, I had seen pictures of the Highway of Death. Things were starting to stir inside my brain. Thoughts I wasn't sure what to make of. Notions that maybe things were...well, not different than what I had believed, but at least a lot more complicated. So I was thinking, maybe I wouldn't vote for Bush. But Democrats were still a bunch of hippie pansies so far as I was concerned. The guy who really made me excited about voting was a tin-horn Texan billionaire named H. Ross Perot, a maverick and an outsider who'd made his fortune the old fashioned way, by locking up government contracts. Perot had decided to buy the White House, and for a brief and shining moment in early 1992 his Zen campaign-without-campaigning looked like it might take him all the way to the Emerald City. But then he started acting all wiggy, saying he didn't want to run because the Republicans were trying to sabotage his daughter's wedding (how weird! well, actually it turned out to be true, but still, odd reason to give up the Presidency), saying he was back in the race in October (a strategy which worked SO well for Gary Hart in '88...who, you ask? exactly), getting folksier and folksier by the was just a dream, but for a while it made politics seem exciting, and I was actually thinking of voting for him, simply based on the novelty of having a three-candidate race in a two-party system. (Looking back, Perot might have been able to stop NAFTA, which would have been good...but given his later autocratic manipulations that strangled the Reform Party baby in its cradle, maybe it's good that he got crushed the way he did.) So. Bush, no; that dope-smoking draft dodger Clinton, hell no; Perot, probably no. I decided I wanted to vote, but I didn't want to bear any blame for electing a bad president, so I gave my vote to the Libertarian candidate, one Andre V. Marrou. No, I didn't remember his name, I had to look it up because he was a nobody who did nothing and went nowhere. I wasn't even sure what the Libertarian Party was about. Christ. I'll bet the shades of Arlington were all delighted that they had died to safeguard my American right to be an idiot.

1996, I didn't vote, because Clinton's re-election seemed a foregone conclusion. By this time I had drifted quite sharply to the left in my political thinking, and if I wasn't quite a Democrat, I certainly had bid farewell to the Republican Party for good. The Dole-Kemp ticket was the last nail in the coffin; a tired, listless candidate who himself seemed to realize he wouldn't win, who didn't seem to want to win particularly, running with a zealous supply-sider who used to be quarterback for the Bills. Oh, and they both hated each other, rather publically. Yeah, I really want them to run the country for four years. It would be like dinner at my house when my parents were arguing. "Honey, would you please ask the Vice President to pass the fucking potatoes." No thank you. Clinton didn't seem all that bad to me, 10 years ago; he'd recovered from the Somalia debacle to show a bit of steel when it came to Yugoslavia (just a bit, mind you), and the antics of Newt Gingrich had really started to sour me on conservatism. But Clinton had it in the bag, so I didn't bother voting.

2000...a lot of people will say they regretted voting for Ralph Nader, but not me. One, I do have some legitimate problems with the Democratic Party, particularly the Democrats of 2000 that saw the moderate Clintonian faction at the height of their influence and power. And two, I don't live in Florida, so it wasn't my fault.

2004, I think it's fairly fucking obvious who had my vote. And it wasn't the Chimp.

This year, we'll be having congressional elections, and I am nurturing some tentative but genuine hopes that the Democrats might retake one or both houses of Congress. But we'll put off any detailed analyses of that for now. I'd like to discuss two foreign elections, one that transpired last month and one set to occur next week.

The results for the December 2005 Iraqi National Assembly elections are finally in. I was going to open by saying that the fact that it took over a month to announce the results might be a poor augury, but then I recalled that it took about that much time to settle our own presidential election in 2000. So I can cut them some slack in that area. However, the results are indicative of some rather disturbing future trends. The United States had, again, bet heavily on the seculars to win, personified by the Iraqi National List, a coalition mostly comprised of secular Shiites led by Iyad Allawi, who was (appointed, not elected) Prime Minister under the previous Iraqi Interim Government (replaced by the Iraqi Transitional Government following the January 2005 elections). BushCo had believed that Allawi was all but guaranteed to win the January elections, but he was handed a humiliating defeat by the United Iraqi Alliance, the more religious Shiite coalition dominated by SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is almost, but not quite, a creature of Tehran. Last January, Allawi's List won 40 seats in the transitional National Assembly; this time around he's been cut down to 25. The big winner, once again, has been the UIA, which Washington does not like, not one bit, as they are quite cozy with our new Worse Than Hitler nominee, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The UIA did not win enough seats to gain an outright majority in the National Assembly, but since they'll almost certainly ally once again with the chief Kurdish bloc, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, and since no other party is anywhere near them in seats, this means little. The Shiites and Kurds have been working hand-in-glove fairly consistently since the invasion, on their basic "Fuck the Sunnis as hard as we can" platform; I think inside a few years, once American troop numbers in Iraq dip down to about 50,000 or so, the Kurds will make their move to break away formally, cutting a deal with the Shiites to divy up the oil. The (somewhat) big news this election was the substantially larger participation by Sunnis this time around; it looks like they cut rather deeply into Kurdish seats, and to a lesser extent Shiite seats. There were two major Sunni coalitions, the Iraqi Accord Front (pretty hardcore Islamist, meaning they want an "Islamic" government if not an outright theocracy) and the Hewar National Iraqi Front, which is made up of secular Sunnis allied to Christians and ethnic minorities like the Shabaks and Yazidis. The HNIF won 11 seats in the new National Assembly; the IAF, which seemed to trade their support for the Iraqi Constitution for guarantees of regional and municipal autonomy with regards to implementing several harsher aspects of sharia, or Islamic law, won 44. This almost puts them on a par with the main Kurdish bloc...which may have been the Shiites' plan all along, to raise up the Sunnis while cutting down the Kurds to a more manageable size. If it was their plan, it worked; the DPAK lost 22 seats from the previous election, owing to voting from Sunnis in cosmopolitan areas in northern Iraq (where Sunni boycotts last January ensured Kurdish electoral victory), and to a minor, but noticeable, Kurdish splinter movement. The Kurdistan Islamic Union won 5 seats; they are Islamist, and allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, a delightful bunch of chaps who were supported by the Third Reich to make trouble in British-held Egypt and who probably were behind the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat over the Camp David Accords.

So, let's summarize. The factions that lost ground in the December 2005 elections: secular Shiites, and secular Kurds. The factions that remained dominant, or gained ground: religious pro-Iranian Shiites (still far and away the ruling party), Sunnis in general (but the religious Sunnis winning 4 times as many seats as the secular Sunnis), and religious Kurds. This is a seriously disturbing sign. Across the spectrum, the violent and intransigent elements, who are most eager to go to war with each other, are gaining power and influence. More and more, endorsement from America is costing Iraqi parties electoral standing. Allawi is now a two-time loser; he seems finished. Our former fair-haired boy, the nigh-indestructible Ahmed Chalabi, did not win one single seat in this election, and so seems to be ingratiating himself even more with the pro-Iranian faction. The Sunnis have now joined in the process - and they're led by those most sympathetic to the insurgents. Tolerance, cooperation, mutual understanding...these characteristics are becoming political hemlock in Iraq. And, just for good measure, all Sunnis united to express serious doubts about the legitimacy of the election at all, with widespread accusations of fraud made against the Shiites (accusations that were totally ignored).

To paraphrase King Pyrrhus, another such victory for democracy, and we are undone.

It might be instructive to view an example closer to home. Next week, Canada will hold federal elections, and it's starting to look as if there might be a major shakeup there that won't bode well for us here. Some backstory: the current government in Canada, led by the Liberal Party under Paul Martin, is in big trouble. The Liberals have dominated Ottawa for most of the past half-century, but their fortunes seem to be on the wane after the replacement of an extremely skilled and wily politician (former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien) with a somewhat bloodless and politically inept successor. Think George H. W. Bush following Reagan, or more accurately, John Major following Margaret Thatcher. The scandal currently endangering Liberal power, the so-called "sponsorship scandal," stems back to the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum on whether or not to withdraw from Canada. Chrétien, a Québécois but not a separatist, knew he could not politically survive the embarrassment of having his own province secede from the nation (actually, it probably would have meant the end of his reign as well, since his riding, or district to us Americans, would no longer be a part of the Canadian parliament), and pulled out the stops in winning an extremely narrow "No" vote. Following this, the federal government in Ottawa decided to create a program to foster pro-Canadian sentiment in the historically separatist province, the "Sponsorship Program" (or perhaps Programme? damned Commonwealthers), which would pour money into advertising a pro-federal, pro-unity, pro-Canada message all over Quebec. For the most part, this apparently consisted of putting huge Canadian flags all over Montreal and Quebec City. Not long after its establishment, the Sponsorship Program/me began to lose or, shall we say, misplace, a lot of money. The February 2004 report issued by Canada's Auditor General showed that out of about $250 million spent by the Program/me from 1996 to 2001, roughly $100 million was unaccountable or misspent. Misspent how? Well, advertising firms in Quebec that were affiliated with both the Quebec Liberal Party, and the Quebec branch of the federal Liberal party, sent the government bills for advertising work that was never done. In some cases, Liberal government officials later found work with these firms, or were bankrolled by them. There have also been accusations of outright embezzlement by Liberal Party members of these funds. Chrétien got out while the getting was good, retiring from politics in 2003 and handing off the Liberal Party and the prime ministership to his hated rival, Finance Minister Paul Martin. Now the sponsorship scandal has blown up in Martin's face; he looks particularly bad because he was Chrétien's Finance Minister while this was all happening, and would have been directly aware of this kind of malfeasance. The three other major parties in Canada, sensing an opportunity, passed a vote of no confidence last November which led to the dissolution of the government and a new election.

Now, who fucking cares? you might ask. Well, I care, for one, because it's interesting. But you should care, for another, because it now appears that the sponsorship scandal may hand a victory to the Official Opposition party, the Conservative Party. Canadian politics is a little weird for Americans to follow, being raised in the unchanging duopoly of rotating Democratic and Republican cycles of dominance, but currently there are four major parties in Canada. The Liberal Party, which is mainly centrist with some errant leftist tendencies, has been the top dog (or le premier chien, if you will) for a while now. From the little I know of them, they seem corrupt and without principles for the most part. The leadership, anyway; the actual platform of the party isn't that bad. They recently all but decriminalized marijuana, and gave gay people the right to marry. Their current principal rivals are the Conservatives; having the second largest number of seats in Parliament, they become the Official Opposition. The Conservatives have spent the last decade forming new parties, splitting up, and merging back together again, most recently in 2003, but this time they just might have their act together. The current leader, Stephen Harper, seems tentatively poised to become the next Prime Minister, and this is what is troublesome. Harper wants stronger ties to Washington. Harper is against decriminalizing marijuana and gay marriage. Harper wants to become an active partner in our national missile defense shield boondoggle. Harper, in short, seems like a Canadian Bush; more polite, more educated, less redneck, but nonetheless the leader of a deeply troubling political movement. A victory for the Conservatives would be a feather in Bush's cap; he might find the new willing partner in Harper that he was hoping for in new German Chancellor Angela Merkel - the new conservative leader of a G8 nation that sided against Bush on Iraq (as Canada's Chrétien and Germany's Schröder did). A clean sweep in Britain, Germany, and Canada would finally undo the damage of the "Spanish betrayal" in March 2004, when the pro-Bush People's Party was soundly defeated by the Socialists in the wake of the Madrid bombings. Blair, Bush's junkyard dog, won re-election, and Merkel seemed marginally closer to Bush than her predecessor (although the difference would probably have to be measured in microns), so a win for Harper's Conservatives would be good for Bush. See, the world is moving our way. Would Bush ever be able to wheedle troops for Iraq out of Harper? Unlikely, but, likelier than he would from Martin. The missile defense crap is what's more bothersome, frankly. This system, should it ever actually fucking work, would just pour gasoline on the nuclear proliferation fire. A missile shield would just make an American nuclear strike on some pathetic rogue state that much more tempting. How do you counter an anti-ballistic system? Swamp it with more missiles. We only have the dozen or so built. Best built a fuckload more, then, don't you think? Dangerous. Very dangerous.

Complicating the matter are the two other Canadian parties, the New Democratic Party (leftish, described to me as "Communist" by a close Canadian source who reads this blog) and the separatist Bloc Québécois. The BQ, a federal party, only runs candidates in Quebec province, and is mathematically incapable of ever having a prime minister, which to me is very strange and I don't know why it's allowed, but whatever. They could, however, form a coalition government, or be "partners" with a larger party (supporting their votes but not holding any cabinet seats or agreeing on policy issues). The NDP is probably too small to win control of the government but again could share the power. These two are poised to be kingmakers for this election, perhaps...a Liberal-NDP government is entirely possible, with the NDP taking a lot of Cabinet seats while ceding the PM's chair to Martin. The BQ is mostly left-wing, but above and beyond all else it is focused on Quebec sovereignty, so who the hell knows what they would do. I don't see them joining a Conservative government, but maybe a deal might be cut. Doubtful, though. It looks like the Conservatives might win it outright without the need for such an arrangement.

Democracy is pushed these days as the panacea for all political ills. Oppression and genocide would just disappear if only we could have free and fair elections, or even rigged ones. How innocent people are sometimes. And when I say "innocent," I mean "stupid." Doesn't anyone remember that Hitler was elected?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In the Land of a Million Elephants

I would've warned you, but really, what's the point?
Caution could but rarely ever helps
Don't be down when my demeanor tends to disappoint
It's hard enough even trying to be civil to myself
- Fiona Apple, "To Your Love"

War is a perversion of sex.
- Alan Moore

She'll come back as fire, to burn all the liars,
Leave a blanket of ash on the ground
- Nirvana, "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"

Is it weird to actually want to get fired, on some level? I think it is, except...I'm not exactly at that point, but I can see it, not too far off, through the morning haze. Like a rider approaching. I can see the outline of him, or her, or it, through the fog, mist, duststorm, sleet, rain. Approaching at a trot. The Man with No Name, roaming the timeless Italian moonscape of the Never-Was West? Or some eyeless, skeletal Templar, a revenant shade blinded in life to keep his blackened soul from finding its way back from Hell? A herald, a messenger...a blatantly overt symbol, maybe...hmm. Hold on. Nah, it just looks like some guy on a horse. I don't see any guns or swords. ah well.

We peer out at the half-glimpsed and hazy and hope, just for a moment, just for an instant, to catch a flicker of the unreal, a contour of the impossible. Curving claws clacking against mail barding. Ancient weapons gleaming in the noon sun, lovingly honed and oiled, notched upon dead men's bones, flecked with dead men's blood. Yellow fangs, yellow eyes...we don't want to see these aliens canter down Main Street but maybe, possibly, just for a moment, just for an instant, we hope that they would. Or at least, we'd like to hear about it later, after the fireworks are done.

We don't want to get fired, exactly...but...




There is a But, isn't there.

Dame Fortune sometimes visits a boatload of gold bullion and whores on some poor slob digging latrines in Intercourse, Pennsylvania (wonder what they call their high school football team...), and more often unloads a freight car's worth of flaming dragon shit on top of some dunce sanitizing telephones in Bald Knob, Arkansas, but most often of all, I find, is that it just moves the pieces around the board without really adding or subtracting any from play. A job gives stability, economic freedom, provides basic human needs and if you're lucky some creature gives you General Wherewithal. It also eats up your time, robs you of sleep, wears your hopes and dreams down to a smooth, round at the marrow in your bones, basically. If you don't like it, of course. There are some people who live to work, rather than work to live. I sincerely wish I was one of them. Maybe it's my diet, my metabolism, maybe it's just stamped into the folds on my brain, but I have never, ever had to cope with a surfeit of energy. Never been a problem for me. Lazy as fuck? Not always. But often. Honesty is the best whatever. And I have friends who routinely tell me of rising at dawn, rushing here and there, spending the day building things, filling out reports, handling orders, rushing to and, yes, fro, 12 hour workdays, 14, 15, and I feel like a fucking sponge, the lowest molluscoid sessile porous blob of snail flesh of which one could possible conceive. I get tired just listening to them telling me what they did. I'd like to blame my job for my lack of get-up-and-go, but again with the honesty; I was like this when I was 12 years old, and it's not as if I spend my day swinging a pickaxe over my head. Maybe it's not the job itself, but the routine of it. Pushing paper or picking cotton, a job eats 45 or 5o hours of your week regardless. It's 50 hours I have to spend outside my own mind, my own concerns, worrying about shit that truly means nothing at all to me. Kissing that off would mean a sudden swell of free time to sit and wonder how to pay my phone bill, my car payment, how to afford shoes and dinner. Free time to pick up and go wherever I'd like, at least until my car ran out of gas. Freedom from bosses that never show up to work but expect you to do their job for them so they can take the credit, freedom from screaming children and testy seniors who live to fuck with you as an antidote to watching the clock and waiting for Death to tap their shoulder, freedom from dumbasses. But that's illusion, of course. What the Hindus call maya - the skewing of one's perceptions, like a thick cloth draped over one's sense of reality, through which one might vaguely see the outlines and edges of the Truth, but never see it truly. Like a rider in the fog.

Take a razor and slice away the maya of your existence, and you'll see it for what it is, and you'll know the truth; the dumbasses, the poltroons, the jackanapes and dullards and curs, the slack-jawed morons that people this planet are everywhere. They're inescapable, and they fuck faster than we can. They're around every corner. And shuffling the pieces on the board won't free you from them. You'll just trade the old ones for new ones. Be it a new job, or unemployment, or a nomadic existence across the highways of the night, there's no Kryptonite for stupidity. There are problems no matter where you go. It all depends on whether you're a "devil you know" person, or a "devil you don't."

I've always preferred the devil I know.

So I'll feel that clammy hand ball up in a fist inside my stomach if they fire me. Or, sorry, if they choose not to hire me for the job I already have. Or whatever gentle euphemism it pleases them to bandy about like a snifter of fine brandy in the parlor of some railroad tycoon, smiling the dagger smile of a rapist as they apologize for being true to their own unscrupulous nature. I'll be nervous about it once it sinks in. And probably depressed, just because it's been a part of my life for so long. And worried about how to take care of myself, not forever, but for the immediate future. I won't enjoy the experience. My world won't end, but it won't be a pleasant feeling, to be sure. Once it sinks in.



Just for a moment. Just for an instant. I'll think of faraway places that I'll never see, of roads snaking off over hills and through deserts, leading anywhere I've ever wanted to go. And I'll see someone standing there, nervous, trembling, taking a deep breath, about to take his first step. Not approaching, but withdrawing, growing more and more obscure. It's hazy. Distant. But if I could see his face, I know I'd see a smile.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Fall of the House of Hooper

Sculpture is a celebration of lime and time. The stone I carve is millions of years of age. It is old and stubborn and reluctant to change but change it must for that is the challenge to the sculptor.
- Fred Conlon

My centre is giving way, I cannot move, situation excellent, I shall attack.
- Ferdinand Foch

hahaha. I wasn't sure how to start this, the first entry of 2006. I'm definitely powering through some karmic turbulence at the moment, although the jury is still haggling over whether it'll prove to be some moderate chop that's easily traversed, or a ruthless sequence of implosive air pockets that yanks the intestines out of both starboard engines with a cheerfully, savagely nonchalant grunt, and sends me spiralling earthward, trailing some will-o'-the-wisp death-plume of inky black smoke and shimmering halos of showering sparks, like the phosphorescent arterial spray from a butchered phoenix, and the flicker of mischievous joy I felt at writing this ridiculous and histrionic run-on sentence is hardly worth the risk I incur, or amplify, or magnify, by all but daring aforementioned karmic powers and thrones and dominions (ah, but now I'm mixing up my superstitions, assigning angelic ranks to impersonal universal tensions, but is anyone even reading this still?) to bring down said turbulence upon my poor benighted mind and soul, souls, ka and ba and anima, well, whatever. Whatever you call it. The ectoplasmic demi-dragon that wraps its tail around my spine and rakes it claws across my heart and blows the smoke of dreams over the skin of my brain. Wow, am I floating in strange currents tonight...sorry folks. I'll do my utmost to rein it in a tad or three. Anyway. It's a strange time. Change doesn't come easily to me; I am, by nature and inclination, a sedentary sort, and oftentimes were it not for inertia I wouldn't be going anywhere. But a perfect storm of economic and emotional forces converged on me last October, churned into a froth by eight days of unending rain, and a word of quiet insistence whispered to me by a dear friend, and in an unthinking fit of assertive self-interest I crossed my mental Rubicon and decided to leave my abode of (now) 4 years and return, or retreat, home for a spell. Hopefully a short spell.


The fear, of course is that sedentary nature. But I don't think it will be too much trouble. For one, I enjoy living on my own. Clarification: I have yet to, actually, technically, live on my own sans roommate(s). But that's not the same as living at home. But it's been over 6 years now since I moved out of the mausoleum, and while I appreciate the opportunity to regroup that this strategic withdrawal affords me on the financial front, I don't relish the prospect of becoming someone's houseguest again. So I'm hoping to remain slightly uncomfortable with moving home. I should be slightly uncomfortable about it. Not hugely. Just slightly. Moving home wasn't the ideal scenario here, but. To be honest, this last year kind of wiped me out. After a couple years racking up debt buying stupid shit I didn't need with credit cards I didn't need, and falling behind on paying them one by one, my credit score had been raped within an inch of its sorry life. And then after another couple years of being sued, pestered by collection agencies, scraping up to pay off creditors, I'd managed to pay almost all of it off. My credit rating, which had settled on the bottom of the fiscal Atlantic like the shattered hulk of some doomed luxury liner, began to shrug off its silty dormancy and show signs, wan and feeble and diminished but unmistakably detectable, of life. Two thousand and five was going to be the year of recovery for me, a year when I could refill the war coffers a bit. I wasn't just treading water; my feet were touching the bottom now. I could start to wade to shore.

It's practically a truth of war that no battleplan survives contact with the enemy. I'm constantly amazed at how things which I already know continue to constantly amaze me.

Christmas of 2004, my car, an ill-advised purchase from a friend, or at least an acquaintance, grunted and died. The car's chief appeal was buying it left me with a sizable chunk of insurance money left over (my previous vehicle had been mistaken for a power pill and mostly flattened, as long-time readers of this blog will note) to fritter away on strippers, DVDs, and Pizza Hut, which of course I promptly did. So when it died, replacing it pretty much wiped out my financial reserves. I was able to secure a car loan with my mother's help as a co-signer, but at a rather usurious rate of interest and over a period of 5 years, owing of course to the previously mentioned bad credit. (That's the strength of this blog, the tightly interwoven continuity. I think that also explains my low ratings, though; we're just not accessible to the casual reader here at C-fH. sigh.) Then, one of my roommates and oldest friends had the fucking temerity to meet the perfect woman and get engaged, and to add insult to injury bought a house and moved out. Fucker. He really let me down. (haha.) Anywho. This one-two punch sort of wrecked any plans for accruing in 2005, and compounded by the humiliation and irksomeness of my forced relocation to living underneath the kitchen sink, I settled in for a long, relaxing stretch of grinding my teeth in my sleep and shuddering every now and then from the occasional bleeding ulcer.

I seem to be circling here. Drifting in circles. But the territory is familiar to me, if just barely; stick with me. I think I can find a way out of here.

So this week I'm off from work, perhaps my last week of vacation, perhaps the start of my unemployment (but that topic's been talked to death, and frankly I'm worn down into indifference at this point, so let's skip it), and half my stuff is downstairs in boxes, and in no time at all I'll be gone from here, gone gone gone. No more patches of mold flaring up across the basement walls in creeping fingers of dead blue-green after every hard rain, no more puddles of rainwater bleeding into the basement carpet. No more parking lot, with potholes, without painted lines, and garnished lovingly with broken glass more often than not. (Four flat tires in four years.) No more driving down Brick Boulevard; no more Brick, probably. Which I'll miss more than I thought I would, actually. I wish I'd spent more time down at the shore while I was here, I wish I'd spent more time hitting on the Russian girl who cuts my hair at Supercuts...I wish I'd scratched a little more than I had and tried to ferret out Bricktown's character. Gotten more of a sense of the place. I'll miss it the way you miss a cast after the bones heal, I think.

Or maybe there isn't that much to miss. The town's not much more than a few highways intersecting around some shopping plazas, when you get down to it. A Barnes and Noble, a Sports Authority, and an autism cluster. Them's pretty much the highlights here.

I'm looking forward to having a door again. And walls. When I moved here in January of 2002, I didn't have a bedroom door at first. Had to tack up an Afghan blanket over my doorframe. They put a door up soon enough, but I lost it again last year. Lost the whole damned room. I've been drifting along with the current for a while now. Sometime this week, I'll tear down the sheets I've draped up around my bed. I'd bury them somewhere, but the ground is too frozen. Maybe that's for the best. It's bad luck to court symbolism so bluntly, I think.

...I almost forgot! The accidental discovery that made me start this post laughing. I was browsing Wikipedia tonight, as I'm wont to do, and I came across the entry for Dover, Delaware. Why would that make me laugh? What could possibly be funny, or noteworthy, about Dover, Delaware? Or Delaware itself for that matter? I joked once that Delaware was a parking lot with a state bird. I don't think I was too far off. Out of boredom, I quickly perused the article, and saw something that made me laugh out loud. The only thing I really knew about Dover is that it's the capital of Delaware. (And on an episode of The X-Files, a computer hacker called "the Thinker" was murdered there after turning over secret Pentagon files to the Lone Gunmen. But that's a fictional fact and it doesn't truly count.) But maybe there was something else distinctive about the place, something that might pique my interest, make me contemplate a visit, charm me, seduce me, make me fall head over heels in love with the town of Dover.

I doubt it.

The nickname of the city of Dover, which appears on all signs leading into Dover, is: "The State Capital since 1777."

That's all that's ever fucking happened in Dover, I guess. And they weren't even the original capital. How sad for that other town. "Welcome to beautiful Schmuckville, Delaware. We used to be the state capital but we lost the coin toss. Don't forget to visit the acorn museum. Please." Holy shit. In retrospect, I think I will retain some fond memories of Brick after all. At least this town has the decency to admit that there's no here, here. And soon my here will become my there. So, so long, Brick. Don't drop your guard around these new tenants; I don't like the looks of them.