Monday, February 27, 2006

We could all use a little ...

IN THIS ISSUE: Dr. Makow’s Burkha Fetish!

Did you ever play Scruples: The Game of Moral Dilemmas?

I did, some years ago, with a great friend and teacher of mine. We were unimpressed by the game’s attempt to present us with moral conundrums, and we thought that our ethical learning disability was due to the pitcher of martinis that we drank while trying to walk the straight and narrow. Little did we know that the game’s inventor, Dr. Henry Makow, was a bulgey-eyed leaf-nosed Moonbat (chiroptera lunae). We might as well have been taking moral instruction from Larry Flynt.

Having gotten quite rich from selling seven million copies of his warped ethos worldwide, Dr. Makow now gives away stupid ideas for free at, otherwise known as the Canadian Wimmin-Haters Club.

Guess what his favorite religion is?

He explains, in The Debauchery of American Womanhood: Bikini Vs. Burka. (Warning: This article contains debauchery, bikinis, and Americans.)
The Muslim woman's focus is her home, the "nest" where her children are born and reared. She is the "home" maker, the taproot that sustains the spiritual life of the family, nurturing and training her children, providing refuge and support to her husband.

In contrast, the bikinied American beauty queen struts practically naked in front of millions on TV. A feminist, she belongs to herself. In practice, paradoxically, she is public property. She belongs to no one and everyone. She shops her body to the highest bidder. She is auctioning herself all of the time.
I've never heard of a feminist flesh auction. Neither have any of the boys down at the Sale Barn. I assume this is something they only have in Canada.
In America, the cultural measure of a woman's value is her sex appeal ... As an adolescent, her role model is Britney Spears, a singer whose act approximates a strip tease. From Britney, she learns that she will be loved only if she gives sex. Thus, she learns to "hook up" rather than to demand patient courtship and true love. As a result, dozens of males know her before her husband does. She loses her innocence, which is a part of her charm. She becomes hardened and calculating. Unable to love, she is unfit to receive her husband's seed.
This explains the question in Scruples which goes, "You've discovered that your wife is unfit to receive your seed. What do you do with it?"
At his press conference on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld said that Iranian women and youth were restive under the rule of the Mullahs. He implied that the US would soon liberate them. To Britney Spears? To low-rise "see-my-thong" pants? To the mutual masturbation that passes for sexuality in America? ...

Feminism is another cruel New World Order hoax that has debauched American women and despoiled Western civilization. It has ruined millions of lives and represents a lethal threat to Islam.
These thong-clad Canadian feminists are apparently unstoppable, so it looks like Islam is doomed to suffer lethal masturbation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How I Called Ms. Tiscareno a Pussy and Have So Far Lived to Tell About It

My article on Roe V. Wade attracted more attention than anything I've ever written. Even more than my USENET classic, "Defenestration in Film". I got a great deal of positive responses after the excellent Jane Galt linked it in her blog-study of abortion, and I got lots of angry email, too. If I were a sour-faced Perfesser of Stuff at the University of Michigan, like Juan Cole, I'd be suing a bunch of people.

In short, my little salvo set off rather more secondary explosions than I expected, especially for something that I had never intended to blog about as long as I lived. It was a rather passing fancy that made me shell that day-care center, and it must have been a Palestinian day-care center because there was a freaking ammo dump inside of it.

Anyway, of all the places for me to turn up, the article turned up on, the website of the Jeff Rense Radio show. The government of my beloved United States of America (Love it or get your butt out of my amber waves of grain, and stay the hell out) does not entirely approve of The State Department describes it as a "conspiracy theory website" which contains "a great deal of unreliable information".

I don't know what is on that required government attention. There seems to be a lot of UFO speculation, and the State Department is certainly courageous enough to stand up to fleshy-headed alien trespassers, so long as none of them turn out to have a Saudi passport. I didn't ask to be there, but now that I am, I've asked the Foggy Bottom Boys to amend their description to read: "a great deal of unreliable information, and a few bits of deeply moving prose."

Anyway, some responsible person at should have thought twice before dumping my cogitations on a bunch of people who get all their information from The X-Files. Many of these people do not even have "Net Nanny" installed and are more or less at the mercy of anybody with a keyboard. The victim in this case was a Ms. Tiscareno, who went into convulsions after being exposed to me.

Ms. Tiscareno exhausted the entire Planned Parenthood vocabulary in ripping me a new one, even the rarely-used word "Mommy". She accused me of being against birth control, of failure to use prophylactic devices, and of taking a jovial view of coat hangers and abortion clinic bombings. And so on and so on. But what really made her mad was:

I wouldn't be so mad right now, if this A...Hole wasn't so insulting by directly calling us Pussies.

Oh yea, final line, "Sisters are supposed to be doing for themselves, you Pussies."

Free speech or not, that is out completely out of line.

[signed] A very angry Ms. Tiscareno

Okay, so I called them pussies. It's probably not a good idea to call people "pussy", as it leads to playground accidents and fraternity drinking fatalities. But I did Roe V. Wade fans the courtesy of assuming that they were more responsible than that. I was just snapping their jockstrap a little. Ms. Tiscareno had no cause to take it personally - for all I know, Ms. Tiscareno killed her last boyfriend with a carpet razor, and has not a single pussy bone in her body.

But I'm not a pussy either (in spite of what my last girlfriend thinks) and I'm not intimidated by the litany of accusations that the Roe V. Waders hurl at anybody who questions their Sacred Writ. I am particularly unmoved by the "argument" that I am not entitled to even have an opinion because I'm a man. This is the United States Constitution we're dealing with, not "Hints from Heloise". I regard such intellectual bluster as mere bullying, and if you scratch a bully you'll find a pussy every time.

They could all prove me wrong - and someday they may have to. When Roe V. Wade goes to the ash-heap, like Communism and Disco did before it, they'll have to take their case to the state legislatures and fight the democratic fight. They'll win some and lose some, and we'll find out what they're really made of. So screw your courage to the sticking place, pussies.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Diary of a Blue State of Mind

INTRODUCTION: I know you’re evil, but what am I?

One of our favorite mindless political pastimes (and there are so many) is the game of Gotcha, where we indignantly quote each other as if to prove to some theoretical neutral observer how awful we all are. This is much more fun than listening to each other, especially since we’ve become so polarized that we barely speak the same language. The same words are used, but the words no longer refer to shared concepts. So a statement which is innocuous in one wing of the asylum is outrageous in another, without changing a syllable.

Not that we would agree with each other if we understood each other, but we might save a lot of time and choler if we went past the visceral provocations of words and looked at the mismatched concepts a little more closely. Which is what I undertake to do here, by taking a long look at somebody who speaks a language that is very alien to me.

“Grushka” (NOT his real name) is a longtime commenter and diarist at Daily Kos. The moniker is usually rendered lower-case in the e.e. cummings style that is so common on the internet; I capitalize it here. Grushka is a male American, born in Boston and currently living in New York City, where he works as some sort of professional. This biographical information comes from his own comments, and we needn’t ask for any more.

These are selections from Grushka’s Daily Kos diaries, from October 2004 to the present. The entire diaries are archived at Daily Kos, except for the last one (2/15/06) which has been deleted from the site. Besides the diary excerpts, a few of Grushka’s recent comments are included here. I generally give much less weight to a person’s comments than I do to their formal posts, because even the wisest of us get 2:00 AM foot-in-mouth disease. Still, when someone commits themselves to such a sweeping declaration as “American democracy is utterly dead”, I generally assume that it’s not just a bottle of Beefeater that’s doing the talking. Some sober cognitive process must have preceded such an outburst.

My intention here is not to vilify Grushka, or to ridicule him, either. Satire is a very low form of art – hell, I should know – and I am trying very hard to stay off the low roads here. My usual response to sentiments like Grushka’s is to make light of them, but I’m making an attempt to take Grushka seriously, so I resist any impulse to lampoon him. I’ll take a page from Spinoza: “… not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

IT IS NOT MY INTENTION to claim that Grushka is representative of leftists, liberals, Democrats, or any associated flora or fauna. I won’t even claim that he represents Daily Kos. (In fact, as his last diary there was deleted, it’s obvious that someone at Daily Kos regarded at least that particular note as discordant - objecting either to its content or its expression.) So let’s start with the assumption that Grushka speaks only for himself. This is one “Kossack” and one “Blue State of Mind”, not all of them. People who want to can come into this shoe store and wear anything that fits.

Obviously none of Grushka’s broad political ideas are original, or even uncommon. Many reasonable people share these general opinions. They may also share Grushka’s view that their differences with their political enemies are intractable, without sharing his grim mindset. My interest is not in Grushka’s political opinions (all of which we have heard many times before) but in the personal conclusions he draws from them.

Finally, about the excerpts themselves: The usual objection to presentations like this one is that comments are being “cherry-picked” or taken out of context. Actually, I’ve sinned more in the opposite direction. A great portion of Grushka’s diaries from three periods over the past year are reproduced here, and most of what is left out is repetitive, irrelevant, or of momentary interest only. I certainly have not intentionally deleted any “context” that would change Grushka’s meaning, in an attempt to distort what he is saying. Grushka is given to making blunt statements, and to making it clear when he feels his statements require illumination to be understood (“PLEASE read this entire diary before bashing me. PLEASE.”) I can’t reproduce Grushka verbatim, but I’ve made every effort to let him speak for himself, and to explain himself. And of course, the entire diaries are archived at Daily Kos except for the last one.

ABOVE ALL: This is not about Daily Kos, and this is not about Grushka as a person. So long as he does no violence to others, Grushka’s soul is nobody’s business but his own. I wish him as much karmic happiness as he allows to others, whether he wants to be happy or not. Or I would, if there were such a thing as karma. There isn’t, really, but you know what I mean.

Part One: “I want to create a blue state of mind in my blue state.”

October-December, 2004: Grushka confronts the election. He vows to break with all his “Bush friends” and to “opt out of America”. (Subsequent diaries indicate that these threats are not entirely carried out.) Thirty days after the Fall he questions the meaning of his life, and worries that his political commitment will get him into professional trouble.

What have you learned through this whole process?
by grushka
Sun Oct 24, 2004 at 07:05:33 AM PDT

… I have always been a liberal. But I was not a fighting liberal. Now I am, and I feel as though the world has shifted - in a tiny, yet cosmic way - because I have become an actor.

I have never been a 'joiner' in my life: I fancy myself a skeptical person and an individual. But I have truly gained so much by subsuming myself (to some degree) into a group with a larger purpose. We are all individuals, yet working for a common cause that is so... well, good.

The New Strategy: Strengthen Europe
by grushka
Fri Nov 05, 2004 at 10:29:47 AM PDT

so they can be a counterweight to an increasingly insane United States. I have NO idea how to win over these red states. I truly believe these people cannot be reached. religion ends all debate, all discussion. And that is why the power structures validate it so.

Time to Prune my Friend Lists
by grushka
Fri Nov 05, 2004 at 09:02:44 AM PDT

I'm going through email, going through the cell phone... and I'm junking my Bush "friends."

It's not a spite thing. It's more than that. I detect in these people something that repels me. A latent white male fascism that I had always laughed off or chalked up to maleness. I mean, I have an aggressive, obnoxious, pointlessly destructive male side, too. But I don't elevate it to the sphere of polics.

I don't validate my masculinity by cheering the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.

I want these people out of my life. I want to create a blue state of mind in my blue state. Travelling to the swing states during the election, I met the most amazing people - people whom I have missed out on over the years.

I think I can make it without moving abroad. I'm pretty sure I can.

Opt Out of America
by grushka
Mon Nov 08, 2004 at 07:47:13 AM PDT

I certainly am. Not a Sinclair-style targeted boycott, but a general opting out of the American.
No Hollywood movies. No cable. I don't drive, but if I did, it would be a very old used car. Very few new clothes - and none from chains. No eating at chain stores of any kind. As few household products from large companies as possible.

Only extremely progressive magazines - no mainstream newspapers, either. No more New York Times.
No medications. Of course, I'm young and have no prescriptions, but I'm increasingly skeptical of the pharma industry's products, across the board.

Any other suggestions? I want this election to mark a change, where a substantial portion of America said "no" in a fundamental way, in addition to the more specific forms of protest we will be developing over time.

What say ye, Kosites?

What is our obligation to our own lives?
by grushka
Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 05:39:15 PM PDT

… I'm simply agonizing over this question: what is my obligation to live, to improve myself, my career, my (potential-future) family?

American politics is no place for the weekend warrior any more. To accomplish anything, you need full attention. You also need a strong stomach for battle with the neo-fascist/authoritarian/corporatist/theocracy.

I fought that battle, like so many of us, during the presidential election. I feel pretty good about my contribution.

And yet, what am I to do these next four years? I'm the kind of person who takes this all very seriously. If I do not disengage from the struggle, I will not be able to vigorously pursue a career here in NYC, where one has to be on one's game. Because I WILL have an edge that comes from caring too much about this stuff, and I WILL get into trouble. Because all (nearly all) is political.

Part Two: “EVERYTHING is political.”

September-December 2005: From Grushka’s last terse observation that “all (nearly all) is political”, we take him up again almost a year later. Hurricane Katrina seems to have driven the nail all of the way into the wood: “It's time for all of us to realize we are facing a murderous enemy. One that lives in our own towns, right next door. I hate to say it - even in our own homes.”

Shoot Looters!
by grushka
Thu Sep 01, 2005 at 08:33:28 AM PDT

To careful observers, everything has always been political. But the ramping up of the right wing noise machine over the past 20 or so years has made it a lot more obvious. EVERYTHING is political. Even hurricanes …

… They've (fucking bastards) taken us to war and killed Americans and people from other lands to loot even more ...

I have to say it: it's racism
by grushka
Thu Sep 01, 2005 at 07:32:07 PM PDT

It's a dark thought. But the subject has been broached: much of the New Orleans story has been race.

And I now believe it is race that has caused this entire situation. Which may lead to the deaths of many Americans. The reason the Administration has been so slow is not incompetence. It's pure racism.

It's too late. We have a huge fucking catastrophe on our hands. And one that shows a very, very dismal American face to the world. One that lets its black skinned citizens die.

Who set off this "explosion"?
by grushka
Fri Sep 02, 2005 at 10:09:40 AM PDT

[Earlier Friday, an explosion at a chemical depot rocked a wide area of New Orleans and jolted residents awake, lighting up the dark sky and sending a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a ruined city awash in perhaps thousands of corpses, under siege from looters, and seething with anger and resentment.]

Sorry, but this smacks too much of dirty tricks. It seems an incredibly convenient - and television-compelling - image of "complete chaos that hampers relief efforts."

It's also a not-to subtle visual analog of the LA riots. A strong cue for white America.

This shit is amazing. I won't even apologize for the seeming "conspiracy theory" nature of this assertion. It seems all to plausible to me.

I Turned Down US Open Tickets Today
by grushka
Mon Sep 05, 2005 at 03:46:10 PM PDT

A Wall Street friend from a top investment bank left a message this morning: he had an extra ticket to the US Open Tennis matches today. Fancy corporate pavillion, great food, champagne.
I never called him back.

I cannot bear to be with the American elite right now. I cannot abide their casual cruelty. If I heard one disparaging remark - and I know these Wall Streeters , it would've happened - about Katrina's victims I would not have been able to hold back.

I have always dreaded living in a society like this. Where lies and repression are the only means of maintaining order. Where cruelty is a sign of belonging and participation. Where crushing others is the essence of every social interaction. And yet it is here. This America in 2005. This is the Bush America.

American Stress. Why?
by grushka
Wed Sep 07, 2005 at 08:14:12 PM PDT

… everyday American life is fraught with a good measure of stress. Stress in the purest biolgical sense: the constriction of breathing, the release of adrenaline, the near constant fight-or-flight stance.

Does it make us more biological fearful - and thus easily divided by race and class? (I do realize that fear also keeps us in line politically).

I guess I want someone to tell me it's all worth it...

Bachelor Party in Montreal
by grushka
Thu Oct 06, 2005 at 01:01:32 PM PDT

First, getting there: the anger towards Americans was palpable at airport customs entering Canada. God, that was unpleasant. Even more annoying was having no one in my party understand when I said the surly behavior was because the world has had it with America.

And I realized something else: the republican/conservative type gets a kick out of degredation. They LIKE being served obsequiously, as close to plantation style as they can get. Lording over the masses is a thrill to them.

This hostility, love of degredation, status consciousness gone wild goes a great way to explaining phenomena our side seems baffled by. It's why you can't logic out the reasons for the Iraq War, or tax cuts, or drilling in ANWAR, or the reaction to Katrina.

I'm not sure how understanding this dynamic can help us. But I think it may somehow. I urge you to think about it, and how we can develop strategies for making the true face of conservatism apparent to Americans. A face which for me is perfectly summed up by Dick Cheney's gruesome sneer.

The Varied Brains of Kossacks
by grushka
Fri Oct 14, 2005 at 09:03:52 AM PDT

I'm interested in the ways people think. The ways different minds operate and apprehend the world. The sheer range of intellectual types is fascinating, with some people thinking in such different styles as to make them almost different species.

You can see this all over our beloved Daily Kos.

First, a bit about my own mind. I have always been drawn to theory: big ideas, connecting different systems, trying to tease out what makes the whole thing work. I interpret the world through metaphor; I'll recklessly apply Goedel's incompleteness theorem to epistemology, for example, or use the Big Bang to think about the start of the Cold War and the resulting solidification of the national emergency into bureacratic forms (like stars and planets forming after the Big Bang). I'm not so good with math so I've always used language as my primary intellectual tool - as with any way of thought, it has its benefits and drawbacks. I'm sure certain Kossacks would consider such a mind frustratingly sloppy at times.

Others are more like me: they see the actual manifestations of republican/conservative polices as trivial, and proceed from the overarching conviction that conservatism is a charade that masks a transfer of wealth to elites via and endless number of subterfuges. Each individual outrage is merely an outgrowth of this central truth.

IRRITATING: Gloating When the Right Attacks Bush
by grushka
Wed Nov 09, 2005 at 08:17:13 AM PDT

When it comes to fighting the hydra-headed conservative beast - Leninist in its willingness to throw away all rationality, reason, and logic to pursue its regressive agenda - I'm open to any strategy. What we're fighting is so extreme and so dangerous that we need to be deft and nimble and strategically sharp.

When we gleefully say Bush is "spending like a drunken sailor" and how the "fiscal conservatives" are angry about that, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Instead of selling the American people on tax hikes for the wealthy, we reinforce conservative dogma that government spending is "bad."

Why are we giving credence to right wing ideology? Why are we playing their game for them?

The right is using us for fools. When they paint Bush as a moderate who ignores their views, they are solidifying that insane notion: that Bush is a moderate because he hasn't ended income taxes or expelled Muslims from the country. And we play right into that, guarenteeing that the new "center" becomes Bush-style republicanism.

I'm all for anything that hurts conservative republicanis. Anything. I loathe these people with all my heart…

The Right is Our Enemy. Never Forget That.
By grushka
Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 02:10:22 PM PDT

This qualifies as a contentless diary. It is mere admonition, and a short one at that: I beg you to remember that the right wing in this country is your mortal enemy. At best, they do not care if you die. At worst, they want you dead.

What we've seen the past 5 years is mind-boggling. It is beyond belief. We've seen new low after new low. Katrina was bad enough to damn any Administration for all time. Add Iraq, 9/11, the Patriot Act, the manipulation of religious sentiment, the torture, the deficits, the detention camps, the endless lies...

It's time for all of us to realize we are facing a murderous enemy. One that lives in our own towns. right next door. I hate to say it - even in our own homes.

You have to figure out how you will deal with this enemy, but remember: it CAN happen here. IT absolutely can happen here.

It's time to hate.

Part Three: “I hate it so much it hurts.”

January and February, 2006: The first five entries are comments from various Daily Kos threads, in which Grushka renews his vows of alienation from the “cosmic evil” of conservatism, and all its works and pomps. His tone seems to range from wistful humor to genuine anguish. The final entry is his diary of two days ago, which was deleted from Daily Kos and is here reproduced in its entirety.

By the way, I neither praise nor blame Daily Kos for deleting the diary. Regardless of their reason for doing so, they have a perfect right to delete anything they please from their site, without explanation. I am not presenting it here in order to stick it in their faces. (Thanks to those who screen-captured it before it was deleted.)

I am 100% liberal

I believe in social justice, a social safety net, all of it.

That said, our backs are against the wall. I am NOT willing to go down fighting for gay marriage or affirmative action or even abortion. I deeply believe in all those things, I truly do.
But we don't have the luxury. We are in mortal peril right now, and we need as much sanity as possible from US leadership.

I am willing to jettison these "nice to haves" in order to quite literally save the world (if possible).

The right is killing America

by grushka on Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 09:24:01 AM PDT

Civilization sucks

Humanity was better off in small, roving bands foraging for food.

I'd've been a million times happier as a native American, circa 1300 AD, living in the Pacific Northwest or California or New England or the Great Lakes region.

Damn that would've been great. Hunting, fishing, taking psychedelic substances before festivals, living free.

Seriously. Everything since then has sucked except for the Simpsons and "Exile on Main Street."

The right is killing America

by grushka on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 09:31:13 AM PDT

Look, this is a complex moral issue

Are American soldiers basically noble? I dunno. Perhaps they are as individuals. But what they did in Vietnam, Cambodia, and what they're doing in Iraq is REPREHENSIBLE. THey are at the service of a dark power structure with no moral decency at all. And nothing good can come of it.

The right is killing America

by grushka on Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 06:57:08 PM PDT

American democracy is

utterly dead... the admin knows - rightly - that the American people are sleepwalking zombies. They've put up with everything over the past 5 years with nary a peep.

Pathetic, but the only threat to the permanent right wing oligarchy-junta may be from within the security services/military.

The right is killing America

by grushka on Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 12:05:06 PM PDT

Someday these fascist pigs

may be doing this shit to you, or me, or my family or your family.

Not that it doesn't make me fuckin sick when it's done to Iraqis (or the other brown-skinned people we seem to have been perpetually bombing for 60 years now).

I don't really consider myself an American any more. I mean, I'm morally guilty for what this fascist country does because I live here and live fairly well on its rickety, imperialist-driven economy. I have no illusions about my inherent guilt.

But as for the flagrant, war-loving, motherfucking ACTIVE douchebaggery that infests 50% of this country - I deny it outright. I hate it so much it hurts.

I know this should be "our country, our flag, too." But come on. You know what they've done to this country. It's not even partly ours anymore, if it ever was.

A $ trillion down the drain. A world lit on fire. Thousands upon thousands dead. All thanks to the cosmic evil of conservatism, and its grinning death heads in the white house.

I spit in all their faces.

The right is killing America

by grushka on Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 06:32:51 PM PDT

I Hope Cheney’s Shooting Victim Dies
by grushka
Wed Feb 15, 2006 at 08:12:09 AM PDT

PLEASE read this entire diary before bashing me. PLEASE.

I’m going to try to make a moral argument for why I hope Harry Whittington dies from his wounds. It is not a simple argument, and I fear I may not be able to articulate it as well as I have conceived it in my mind.

But I feel quite morally justified in hoping that Harry Whittington dies from his wounds. And here’s why.

The Immorality on Focusing on One Person

I believe it is impossible to have a compassionate response to the death of a single individual you don’t know in any way. In a world of 6.5 billion people, roiled by war and suffering every moment of every day, it is impossible to feel meaningful compassion for the death of an individual who has no direct connection to you. I believe to feel such compassion for an individual is morally vacuous, given the very real suffering of such vast swathes of humanity.

I find the propensity of human beings, or at least modern human beings, to focus on the deaths of individuals while ignoring mass suffering, incredibly distressing. And immoral. I believe it was Stalin’s dictum that “one death is a tragedy, a million are a statistic.” This propensity makes great crimes possible.

Note: there is a special case when feeling great sorrow at an individual death is morally justified: the tragic death of an admired figure (your JFKs, MLKs, RFKs, and so on).

To sum up: Harry Whittington does not exist for you or me. He is a media phantom, an abstraction, a symbol, a tool. He is nothing more than those things (and I mean that in a non-ideological, existential sense).

He Deserved It

OK, this is where I may seem more conventional in wishing for Harry Whittington’s death. But again, please bear me out. My argument may not seem as subtle as I wish it, but I think I have a point.

Do I flat out think that conservatives deserve to be shot? Of course not. That is not what this diary says or what I believe. Do I think a man who engineered the Texas GOP takeover – with its disastrous effects on the US as a whole – deserves to be shot? Again, no. Not in the sense of a jury trial and subsequent execution.

Now, do I think a man who was engaged in a quail massacre with the architect of the most despicable Administration in US history, at a time when Americans are dying and killing Iraqi civilians for a pointless war … a man (I’m referring to Harry Whittington now, not Cheney) who almost certainly supported the war, and who almost certainly would not send his own children to die in it (yes, I’m now assuming things. But I don’t care – I’m willing to bet $500 I’m right) deserves to be shot by the VP in a hunting accident?

Do I? The answer is an unequivocal YES. In such a cheap, idiotic, ironic, nauseating, appropriately feudal circumstance, a situation so far removed from the run of real existence as to make it refer to nothing else, the answer is YES. In this particular circumstance, with these particular players, normal human pity and compassion do not apply.

And so, I do indeed hope Harry Whittington dies from this particular circumstance. The conservative revolution he played a part in spreading has brought misery, destruction and death to untold thousands of Americans. As he romped like a feudal lord with his dark masters, he got what he indeed deserved. I hope this plays at least some small part in waking Americans up. In that way, Harry Whittington’s death might atone somewhat for everything else he has wrought.

AFTERWORD: What kind of people are we, anyway?

I think most of us who engage in political discourse on the internet (or in any medium) assume that some of the people who listen will agree with us, and praise us for our insights. We also probably assume that some people who don’t agree with us will experience some sort of negative reaction, though what that negative reaction is supposed to accomplish is not always clear. Sometimes we chum the waters with red meat and sometimes we fish with flame bait. And sometimes we actually try to persuade the fish to jump up on the dock, which is much harder to do.

But all of us think that we’re talking to somebody. And the voice we speak with is not necessarily our real voice. Those of us who are not public persons can adopt cyber-personalities that behave differently than our real selves do back in “meat space”. All writers have a literary existence that is different from actual space-time existence, and God help the writer who gets them mixed up (see DICK, PHILIP K.). It would take a clinical psychologist with a doctor-patient relationship to know for sure which of us are crazy and which of us are faking it, and he could not possibly know that by analyzing the semi-fantastic creatures that we are in cyberspace.

Since our real selves are a matter of guesswork – maybe even to ourselves – we must adopt a paraphrase of Vonnegut’s moral from Mother Night: On the internet, you are what you pretend to be – so be careful what you pretend to be.

So we don’t need to worry about whether the real-time meat-space person who wrote these diaries is a genius or a sociopath. We only have to deal with “Grushka”, his ethereal manifestation, and we are free to judge that entity by its words, without assuming anything else.

So here is what I observe about Grushka:

1. Grushka is a “politicist”.

For Grushka, everything is political, and not just because he explicitly states, “EVERYTHING is political”. We don’t have to take only his word for it - his belief is reflected in his black-and-white dogmatism and his wish to be free of all politically objectionable associations and friendships. Only “extremely progressive” environments are acceptable, because he assumes that anyone who is not with him is against him. He goes so far as to doubt that prescription medications really work, because they’re made by evil pharmaceutical corporations. He probably isn’t kidding.
In all its forms, [politicism] defines human beings as exclusively political animals, based on characteristics which are largely or entirely beyond human control: ethnicity, nationality, gender, and social class. It claims universal relevance, and so divides the entire human race into heroes and enemies. To be on the correct side of this equation is considered full moral justification in and of itself, while no courtesy or concession can be afforded to those on the other.
That definition fits Grushka very well. His entire self-image is defined by politics. Because his reality is immersed in politics, he cannot escape from it into the private refuge of friends, or into non-political pursuits. Those private spheres barely exist for him, or at least bring him very little happiness. Because his identity is wholly political, he can’t afford a sense of humor or self-irony. Because the contrast between his political identity and the political identity of “those people” is so stark, he can’t afford any compromise or self-criticism.

And because politics is in everything he sees, he can’t get any critical distance from it. His attempts to reason about it in cold blood – as in the “Whittington had it coming” essay - are extremely painful (he repeatedly begs the reader to follow him down the excruciating path) and the results are self-contradictory and grotesque.

Like any good politicist, Grushka is prone to conspiracy theory, because no event can be neutral or incidental.

2. Grushka’s reality is ruled by Evil.

Nietzsche contrasted two types of ethics, which he called “master morality” and “slave morality”. (These are not intended to represent all moral systems; in fact, both are deeply flawed.)

Master morality begins with a definition of good, which the moralist generally applies to himself: “All people like me are good.” People who do not meet the criteria of “good” are not necessarily evil, but insofar as they fall short they are not good, either, and are regarded with condescension, pity, or indifference.

Slave morality, on the other hand, begins with a definition of evil. The slave moralist regards himself as “good” simply because he does not meet the definition of evil; he needs no moral justification other than the fact that he does not belong to the evil class of persons. The bigger the evil, the more evil the evil, the better he is – regardless of his own character or actions. It is therefore in his interest to exaggerate evil as much as possible. His entire moral world is determined by evil, and he is more or less at its mercy (powerlessness is a great virtue in slave morality).

An old teacher of mine (himself a leftist) described Nietzsche’s idea of slave morality this way: “In the relationship between good and evil, evil wears the pants.”

Evil definitely wears the pants in Grushka’s world. Boy, does it ever. He describes his world as “a world of 6.5 billion people, roiled by war and suffering every moment of every day.” All human progress has been in vain: “Civilization sucks. Humanity was better off in small, roving bands foraging for food.”

Because evil is stronger than good in Grushka’s world, hatred is stronger than love. Hatred operates by a special logic of its own, and only more hatred can match it. Note that in the Whittington essay, he declares that it is impossible (even immoral!) to feel compassion for an unrelated individual, but then goes on to justify feelings of lethal hatred for that same individual.

3. Grushka is a fatalist.

Some people are attracted to political ideologies that offer the possibility of heroic action – not necessarily action of their own, but at least a sort of voyeuristic gratification. Leftist politics are notoriously loaded with such possibilities. Unfortunately, Grushka has chosen a “progressive” strain that seems to deny the possibility of any progressive action, and he is locked into a posture of impotence and frustration.

In his post just prior to the election, Grushka says he has (lately) become an actor “by subsuming myself (to some degree) into a group with a larger purpose.” The problem with subsuming yourself into a larger purpose – over which you actually have little or no control – is that if the larger purpose fails, so do you. By setting standards of success or failure that are far outside of your own abilities, purposeful action and just reward become disassociated. When the dissociation becomes serious enough, the “life is meaningless” syndrome sets in.

If Grushka’s “larger purpose” had succeeded, he could at least enjoy (mostly undeserved) feelings of efficacy. But it failed, so he must suffer equally undeserved feelings of helplessness. His tone thereafter is relentlessly pessimistic. His reaction to the reality that has over-awed him is to hide from every possible part of it, jettisoning friends and reaffirming his total emotional rejection of the hated regime again and again.

In short, nothing makes Grushka really happy except a mass political triumph. Belonging to a sect that rarely if ever triumphs, though, means he is doomed to frustration. He seems to be quite aware of this, and even hostile to any idea that this situation might change: “I truly believe these people cannot be reached.”

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Grushka wants to be alienated and unhappy, or at least believes that he is morally obligated to be unhappy because reality is so intractably evil.

4. Grushka is a collectivist.

Politicism generally implies collectivism, but it’s worth taking a closer look at Grushka’s collectivist aspect.

The Whittington essay is a fine example of collectivism’s awkward moral reasoning, in which the existence of evils (real and imagined) in the “big picture” negates the moral value of the individual. It’s the warped view of Stalinism, pure and simple: “I believe to feel such compassion for an individual is morally vacuous, given the very real suffering of such vast swathes of humanity.” This reminded me of a movie about an uptight girl’s school, where someone said, “I don’t know how we can even talk about having a school dance when there’s so much hunger in the world.”

The conclusion of all such logic is that nothing less than a universal utopia is required for morality (or happiness) to exist at all. “Scientific socialists” of the past recognized that, and claimed that, indeed, morality does not exist.

It is the dilemma of contemporary collectivism that it is deprived of the historical determinism of Marxism, which promised a good result at some point in the future. At the same time, they are burdened by notions of morality, guilt, and the significance of individual action, all of which Marx would sneer away as “bourgeois”.

They are stuck with the prejudices and complaints of Marxism, without the utopian faith and the cold-blooded amorality of Marxism. Marxism was a miserable failure, and Marxism with half the pages missing can’t be much better.

5. Grushka is anti-democratic and anti-rational.

The two characteristics go together, so closely that they are almost the same thing. Grushka, at best, embraces the tragic Leninist idea of “democracy”: the total submission of collective humanity to a narrow political ideal.

Grushka does not see, or seriously look for, rational ways out of his dilemma. He wallows in emotional denial instead. He certainly does not see the power of democratic debate and persuasion – like so many on the left, he is not interested in challenging the right intellectually, and instead seeks to isolate himself from any possible intellectual contact with them.

Grushka’s views the democratic masses the way Charles Foster Kane did: as a bunch of people who think what they’re told to think. He angrily assumes that the other side is doing a better job of straw-bossing the peasants than his side is – their propaganda is better, or at least louder.

This idea, incidentally, is why the left has become such a mess in the mass media, notably on talk radio. They refuse to accept that many among the masses have ideas and values of their own, and that they look for public figures that reflect their ideas and values – not for demagogues who dictate new ones to them.

6. Grushka’s beliefs lead him to psychopathic conclusions.

I won’t say that his beliefs logically imply psychopathic conclusions, because Grushka’s logic isn’t that good. Others could hold the same beliefs without taking them to the disturbing lengths that he does.

That doesn’t mean Grushka is crazy. As I noted before, we have no way to make that diagnosis. The human mind contains infinite possibilities, and it is possible for a perfectly sane, healthy mind to embrace psychopathic concepts, especially when political ideology is involved. The mind is also prone to insincerity and exaggeration, but Grushka is in dead earnest and he obviously does not engage in hyperbole for mere effect.

What do I mean by psychopathic? I’m not a doctor and my use of the word is not clinical or strictly scientific. I call it “psychopathic” when the mind deliberately withdraws from reality in order to justify a specially edited version of reality. It is psychopathic to deliberately associate individuals, groups, or events with things that they have no relation to, in order to justify your own negative feelings. (If you see a group of teenagers horsing around on a street corner, and you feel angry towards them because somebody stole your car battery three weeks ago, this is not exactly psychopathic thinking – it’s just all-too-human emotionalism. It’s the sort of thinking that you should admonish yourself for, not the sort of thinking you should rationalize and embrace.) Irrational feelings of hatred or rage towards individuals, groups, or things are not necessarily psychopathic, but building a conscious rationalization for those feelings is.

This tendency stands out most clearly in the Whittington essay. It is bad enough to hate another individual for ideological reasons, worse yet to wish them harm, but worst of all is to convince yourself that the individual has no meaningful existence at all. Likewise, treating people as if they are mere symbols of something you despise is not healthy or moral. (You couldn’t blame a 19th century Russian Jew for hating Cossacks, or for feeling distaste at the very sight of a Cossack. Even if such hatred is totally unconstructive, it has a rational basis in experience. Extending that hatred to a Russian you just saw walking down the street in New York, on the other hand, is just bigotry.)

That said, I think it’s also obvious that Grushka is not a dangerous cyber-person. His feelings of hatred mostly cause him to withdraw into unhappy isolation, so the real victim is himself. A good example of this is his description of his trip to Canada. The inconvenience of going through customs is blown up into a metaphysical indictment of the United States. The failure of Grushka’s companions to understand this makes Grushka a lonely boy. Impotence, inaction, and a feeling of being the cat-toy of omnipotent forces is Grushka’s thing, not murderous rage.

CONCLUSION: How do you get along with people like Grushka?

Again, we don’t need to make assumptions about how representative Grushka is. One Grushka would be bad enough, if you happen to know him. If you should happen, for instance, to invite him to a Superbowl Party, not realizing that he seethes with silent rage at your very existence.

I don’t know the answer. I certainly don’t delude myself into thinking that Grushka could be reconciled with people like me by love, or reason. His alienation is a self-reinforcing dynamic, and he is not only closed to reasoning from the other side, he regards such attempts as hostile.

Albert Camus wrote that a man would rather die than become the thing he hates most. That’s probably true of most of us, not just Grushka. That’s why you should be very careful about what you hate, and why.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

True Kufr Romance

COMIC BOOKS: Definitely an important part of my education:

Early comics were kid's comics, like Baby Huey (about a huge duck in a diaper), Richie Rich, Sugar and Spike (the last one was about a little red-headed boy and girl, twins, and it had some remarkable artwork for a kid's comic, with futuristic themes). But those kind of books were only introductions to REAL comic books, which were about Superheroes and War.

Comic books were extremely gloomy and dark in the early 70s, when I first started to read. Later, when I saw reprints of older comics from the 50s and early 60s, the contrast was incredible. (In the 70s, DC did lots of reprints of old comics). If the real world changed a lot in ten years, the comic book world changed completely - it went inside out.

In the 50s, Superhero comics were still crudely drawn (they were only for kids, after all). The advertisements said FUN and ADVENTURE! Figures were cartoony and poorly proportioned, anti-realistic, with artwork actually declining since the 40s. One guy drew Superman for years without ever learning how to draw Clark Kent's horn rim glasses (in the 40s, Clark wore tidy wire rims). When you saw Clark in profile, the arms of his glasses were an inch above his ears, as if they were glued to his temples. Superman had an enormous, bulky torso --- his waist was as big around as a tree trunk --- but his arms and legs were shrunken and frail-looking. He looked awful, like a steroid junkie. Batman was better, but not much. In the 50s, stories were all about science fiction and magic (pretty much the same thing in comics -- magic was just extra-dimensional science) and everything happened in the day time. Everything was upbeat and ended happily, with the heroes never doubting themselves, and usually overcoming "evil" with clever tricks rather than violence. This was appropriate, since "evil" was something that was mainly played for laughs. Villains no longer carried the huge Colt automatic pistols they used to have. The Joker was just a tricky clown, not the murdering fiend he had been back in the 30s and 40s, when he poisoned his victims with a toxin that left a gruesome rictus on their dead faces. The Joker never killed people in the 50s. Nobody did. People didn't even punch each other in the face anymore. They just played little pranks on each other, with the last laugh going to the hero. The last panel always showed the hero and his sidekicks with huge grins on their square-jawed faces. "Hmn. I wonder what trick Lex Luthor has in store for me next time? Ha ha ha!"

Then everything changed in comics, completely.

Artwork went from being clumsy to super-realistic, and the sun went down forever. Everything was dark and shadowy now. Heroes were suddenly moody and plagued with self-doubt, to the point of being neurotic (sometimes they actually described themselves as neurotic). The happy sunny world of locker-room pranks turned deadly as hell. The Joker rediscovered his lethal poison and started a regular massacre, practically slobbering with maniacal laughter over his grinning victims. In a way, everything was thrown back to the dark 30s, but with modern angst mixed in. [The violent heroes and villains of the 30's had cleaned up their act during WWII, when they became patriotic citizens] Only the really sinister super villains survived the transition to the late 60s: the Joker, Two-Face, the Scarecrow, Lex Luthor (who stopped being the over-bright class clown and became the kind of guy who threatened your immortal soul). The "fun" bad guys like the Riddler, the Penguin, and Mr Mzxpltk (or whatever) were out. More and more often, though, the bad guys looked like regular people.

Some 30s heroes who had been hopelessly out of style in the middle decades made comebacks in the early 70s. The Shadow (in a beautifully drawn DC comic) was back, with his sinister psychological warfare and his Colt automatic pistols. The Shadow was the Joker gone more or less straight. Then there was the Specter (DC again) who was first drawn in the 30s but had dropped out of sight for 20 years. Now he was back. The Specter was the ghost of a murdered police detective who used paranormal powers to KILL his enemies in gruesome ways, such as snipping them in half with (magically conjured) giant scissors. Magic was still around, but it was no longer alien science. It was Satanistic, even when it was used for good.

The Joker, the Shadow and the Specter were back in their element, but everybody else seemed hopelessly lost. Heroes were a mess. Robin went to college in 1969 ("I'm a man now! 'Least, that's what my draft card says") and Batman moved out of the Batcave into a modern office block, but that didn't help. (""We're in grave danger of becoming --- OUTMODED! Obsolete dodos of the mod world outside!") Superman got a new artist and a new world to live in, too --- the Daily Planet got bought out by a giant media corporation The covers of his books had titles like "Superman --- ENEMY OF EARTH!" and "Superman, You're Dead, Dead, DEAD". One showed Lois Lane being taken into Hell by demons (Help! Save me!) while Superman cowers helplessly. Because Superman was so super, it was a major effort for his writers to come up with ways to punish him: new kinds of kryptonite, magic, even Satan himself. That was his problem --- I never liked Superman, starting with his circus-suit costume.

Themes of death and rejection were very big. Heroes went from being colorful outlaws (in the 50s, they were model citizens who went to banquets and bridge dedications) to being despised outcasts. The Teen Titans (who included Robin the former Boy Wonder) were total disgraces who were forbidden by law to wear their costumes because they had screwed up something big, so they wandered dark streets in slacks and turtlenecks, resenting each other. I vividly recall opening a Green Lantern comic and seeing the hero, in his nice green and black costume, standing with his head hanging and saying "Well, I guess I'll recharge my ring and see if I can manage to do that without screwing it up." Failure, inadequacy, death. Lots of stories featured images of heroes actually dying, showing their coffins or their tombstones with mourners surrounding them --- the hero never actually bit the dust, but he was always hanging by a thread. Everybody was Sylvia Plath in tights. It was very, very common for the last panel of a story to show the Superhero, not smiling, but with his face in his hands, WEEPING.

The Green Lantern was extra notorious for his insecurities. That was too bad, because he had the best-looking costume of any Superhero, and he was probably the best-looking man, too. That was all for nothing, since girls didn't read the Superheroes and I doubt if gays did either.

There were two schools of Superhero fans --- kids who read DC comics and kids who read Marvel comics. I was a DC reader because DC comics did not have so many "To be continued ..." stories, and my favorite heroes were Batman and the Shadow (later I discovered an old-timer who was the greatest comic book hero ever - The Spirit. More about that later.) But I read Marvel books, too. Marvel's artwork was not as good (they had the famous Jack Kirby, who drew characters who looked like they made out of Lego blocks or something), and the stories were more upbeat, almost 50ish. But the depression and spirit of the times was there, as well. The Fantastic Four, you could tell, didn't really like each other very much. The Silver Surfer, who surfed through space, was constantly spouting metaphysical angst, he sounded like Pascal's "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread" etc. The Silver Surfer had something called the Power Cosmic, which was like "the Force" for semi-suicidal hippies. Worst of all was Spiderman (Marvel's top hero --- their financial equivalent of DC's Superman). Spiderman had a terrible time. His girlfriend Gwen got killed (top that!). He was always swinging around fuming about what a loser (his word) he was. Then there was Dr. Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk, who was just plain crazy, just short of being the psycho killer that the Specter was. Bruce Bixby later played him on TV, always paranoid and stammering: "Don't ... make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Another Marvel superhero was Prince Namor, the Submariner (Jules Ffeifer called him the "Black Muslim" of comic books, in attitude -- he was actually white, from Atlantis). The Submariner originated in the 30s, when he was a total sociopath who used his super powers to smash New York City, ripping up elevated trains, tearing the spire off the Empire State, and KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE in huge batches. How he ever made it into mainstream comics is a wonder. Then WWII came and he switched to beating up Nazis. He was still around in the 70s, a big sinister bully with pointed ears. In the 70s a Superhero was either a self-doubting whiner or an angry killer.

I didn't like the dismal, disturbing world of the 70s comic book, so I looked for older comics whenever I could. The greatest discovery was the Spirit, by Will Eisner, which was the best written and been drawn comic character I ever saw. But the Spirit was totally unknown to most comic book fans, because he'd never been in comic books. He was published in the Sunday supplements of major dailies in the 40s and 50s, in seven page black and white stories. So relatively few people ever saw or read him. I found him in 1974, when Warren comics reprinted his stories in book form, with some of the stories colorized. Warren comics were not like regular books: they published magazine-sized black and white comics like Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian --- aimed at teenagers and adults.

The Spirit's world was completely out of sync with the comic book world of the 50s. It had a lively sense of humor, but it was the dark 30s world of film noir, sinister and sometimes oppressive, but without the angst of the 70s. The Spirit wore a blue suit, gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat, with an eyemask that looked like it was painted on. He was a big man, the strongest looking man in comics, with a better build than Superman even if the Spirit didn't have any special powers. When he hit somebody, you could tell it really, really hurt. He was definitely better drawn than Superman. The artwork was as good or better as the 70s art, twenty years ahead of its time. The dialogue was superior, too. A Spirit story had lots of sound effects.

The Spirit's hometown was Central City, which was like an extra-seedy Chicago, not Gotham or Metropolis (the first realistic comic book setting for a major hero, until Spiderman, who lived in New York). Central City was grimy and rusty - a lot of loose paper blew through the streets. It had corrupt political parties instead of nice authority figures. Unlike other comic cities, Central City had weather -- lots of it. It rained and snowed like hell, the wind blew, and they had awful heat waves where everybody oozed sweat.

Bodily fluids: the Spirit comics didn't just have sweat and tears --- they had BLOOD, lots of it, huge gouts of blood, spreading in puddles. If someone got shot, you saw the impact ripping through their clothing, and then they bled. Blood spread over sidewalks and dribbled into the sewers. Other comics almost NEVER depicted blood, even in war comics, even in the 70s.

The Spirit wasn't the sunny, smiling politician type, like Superman and Batman were at that time. The Spirit got mad, really flew into rages. He got mad at his girlfriend Ellen (blond daughter of police chief, always plotting marriage). When he got mad at villains, he gritted his teeth and steam rose from his head, and then he would wallop the daylights out of them. Now these were the days when Superheroes in other books never hit people --- they just lectured them and outwitted them. The Spirit beat them senseless. Really awful beatings, where men would be flung end over end into a tangle of garbage cans. Their faces would squish up under his fist. They always bled, with blood streaming down their noses and chins, and their eyes would swell completely shut. At least he didn't use a gun. They used guns on him, though. The Spirit got shot more than any hero I ever heard of. He would topple down long flight of stairs and crawl away trailing blood. Later he would show up, blood running through his fingers as he covered the wound, sweat dripping from his face, and get somebody to "dig the slugs out" of him. He felt real pain; it hurt like hell to look at him.

But he was also a nice guy --- a believably nice guy, not the grinning cardboard goody two-shoes like Superman, but a real person that you actually believed cared about people, like juvenile delinquents that he tried to set straight. And when he was cool, he was very cool. He would ho-hum when they threatened to shoot him or cut him to pieces. He only got mad when they did something really bad.

The Spirit might get mad at himself when he made a mistake, but he was worlds away from the crybabies in other books. If the Spirit cried (and he had to have been the first comic hero ever to do that) he just got a little tear on one cheek, and there had better be damn good reason for that. He sure didn't rack himself with sobs, or go around blubbering about what a loser he was. He wasn't a loser, just human, and he knew it.

And he had the most incredible women --- besides Ellen, there was a whole harem of female semi-villains (the term was "adventuress") like Silk Satin, Sand Saref, P'Gell, Thorne Strand, and a cute doctor with librarian glasses and a killer body. They were the most beautifully drawn women you ever saw in a comic, and they were the only enemies who were allowed to run circles around a comic book hero indefinitely --- because of course they were all deeply in love with him, and always sneaking away in last few panels to sob over him with big fat tears rolling down their cheeks. The Spirit was perfect. The kids moping over Spiderman's personal problems never knew what they were missing.

Eisner was an exception to the kind of comic book art I usually liked. I liked realistic art, not "stylistic", and I wanted stories with NO KIDS in them. The idea that kids like to read comics about other kids so they can "identify" with the story is one of the stupidest and most persistent ideas in comics. That was where Batman got Robin, Captain America got "Bucky", etc. I hated Robin and all boy heroes. I wanted to read about grown-ups, period.

The Spirit had a lot of kids in it, and the kids were caricatures with big heads and eyes, not realistically drawn. Villains tended to be caricatures, too, with names like J. Sneever Squinch. But there were real villains, too, like the Octopus. And there were those fantastic women, who would come home from some criminal activity and find the Spirit lounging on their couch, complaining that the perfume in the closet had made him dopey (he was incredibly cool and laid-back with women - with everybody, in fact. He would break into the crook's hideout and take a nap on the sofa until they got home. If they got irate with him or pulled a gun, he beat the utter living crap out them). I put up with the "stylistic" elements, because the Spirit was such a great comic it more than made up for any defects. And when he went for straight realism, he was better at it than anybody.

Eisner was way ahead of his time, and he was the master of the "splash" panel, where the action busts out of the frame and flows across the page. He was also the master of the "opening shot". The first page was always spectacular, with creepy buildings and rain pouring down gutters. It was too bad that the newspaper format limited all Spirit stories to seven pages, which was way too short. But he told incredible stories in that limited space, some of them funny, some tragic, and some that were apocalyptically weird science fiction.

War comics were the other kind of comic book. Charleton comics published comics with historical themes, but the main war comics we read were by DC: Sgt. Rock, G.I. Combat, The Losers, The Unknown Soldier.

War comics were very big in the early 70s, during the last years of the Vietnam War. After '75 they went into decline. There had to be a sociological reason for that, but never mind. The Vietnam-era DC comics were not about Vietnam, but about WWII. And they were not nostalgic about it. All of them had off-beat themes, and they were as gloomy and death-tripping as Superhero comics, but seemed to have better reasons for it (being about war).

Sgt. Rock was the most straight-forward, about a tough top sergeant from "Easy Company". But the stories were some of the most depressing ever. Sgt. Rock was always in a funk. He never smiled and hardly ever cracked a joke. Instead he talked about "the bloody cobwebs in my brain" and such. The stories were all about infantry combat and about men being killed in combat, as if they were written for hard-boiled veterans, who would hardly have wanted to read them, anyway. They had a few touches of comic-book fantasy, like Little Sure Shot, an Indian GI who wore feathers on his helmet and who could knock out tanks by shooting arrows down their barrels, but mostly they were death-trips.

G.I. Combat was about a tank that was haunted by the ghost of Robert E. Lee. The Unknown Soldier was about a G.I. who'd had his face blown off by a grenade. He became an OSS agent and covered his mangled skull with rubber masks to disguise himself. The Losers were a group of four soldiers who were, well, losers. They survived, but the reader was always left with the impression that they'd blown it. That comic was definitely a cipher for Vietnam.

Marvel had war comics, also always about WWII, some in the same mold as DC's - one was War is Hell, starring a Polish character with an unpronounceable name who was the first man to be killed in WWII. His Hell was to be reincarnated over and over as a WWII soldier from various countries, where he would get killed again. In the one issue I saw, he was a Finnish soldier fighting the Soviets, a part of WWII I'd never heard of before (who says comics aren't educational?). The last panels of the story showed corpses of Russian soldiers frozen to death in the snow. Another Marvel war comic was about a Dirty Dozen-style group of misfits, led by an Irish sergeant named Kelly who lived in remorse because he'd once killed a man in the boxing ring, and had been court-martialed for it. In one story a civilian holds a weapon on the group and threatens to shoot them all down. Kelly says "Go ahead, the world would probably be better off." That summed up the whole comic hero philosophy of the time.

The sole exception to the anti-war War Comics of the time was Marvel's Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes. This book had a completely different attitude. Sergeant Nick Fury liked war. He led a group of Rangers who were a complete ethnic mix, as if they'd been designed for politically correct purposes. There was a Southerner named Reb and a black named Gabriel, who naturally were best friends. There was a Jewish mechanic from Flatbush named Izzy Cohen. There was an Irishman named Dum-Dum Dugan, who wore a steel-plated fedora with corporal's stripes on it, and an Englishman named Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton. They even had a German defector named Eric. The commanding officer who sent them on their missions was a mean-tempered captain who was ironically named "Happy Sam" Sawyer.

All of the Howling Commandoes were heavily muscle-bound, even the dainty Englishman Pinky. Sgt. Fury was a muscular comic, full of bulging biceps. The Nazis not only got shot, they got punched, beaten, picked up and thrown like rag dolls (though there was no depiction of blood in Sgt. Fury). All the while they were shooting, punching, and tossing Nazis, the Commandoes cracked wise. They were the biggest wise-crackers in comic book history, and unlike most smart-mouthed Superheroes, they were actually pretty funny. The humor was muscular, too. Sgt. Fury was hilarious to us when we were kids, and it was also the most thrilling book to read. No downers. The Commandoes were all true-blue patriots who believed in the war 100%, and who gave stirring denunciations of the Nazis (or "Ratzis") when they weren't cracking wise. Here was typical dialogue (after they parachute behind enemy lines):

FURY: Awright, Izzy, you got five minutes to steal us a Kraut staff car.
IZZY: Since yer givin' me so much time, Sarge, is there any partic'lar color you'd like?
FURY: SHADDAP! Yer down ta four minutes now, wise guy!

Even the text of Sgt Fury (the sub-panels where narrative background was supplied) was written in Brooklynese Wise Guy argot, using phrases like 'Natch! and 'Nuff said! Profanity was represented by "Ever-lovin'" and "Blazes" - the Commandoes never said #@%&%$! Grenades were always "pineapples" and Thompsons were "toy cannons". The cigars that Fury constantly smoked were "cheroots". You didn't carry things, you "toted" them. The comic book itself was referred to as a "battle-mag" (an issue was an "ish") and the reader was generally addressed as "true believer" (that was true of all Marvel comics). The editor was "Smilin'" Stan Lee, publisher of Marvel Comics. He would insert helpful notes into the text panels: "That's a Me-262, fer all you scissors-totin' scrapbook hounds out there! - SENTIMENTAL STAN". Marvel comics were actually footnoted (*SEE ISH #243!) as if reading comics was some kind of scholarship, where writers were required to cite references.

Stan Lee created Sgt Fury, along with the famous Jack Kirby. I didn't like Kirby's artwork at the time I was growing up, but he was considered maybe the greatest comic book man of all time. He invented the super-patriot Superhero when he created and drew Captain America all the way back in 1941. His old comics were great, but by the 1970s he was drawing the kind of anti-realistic style that I hated. He was doing comics for DC, too, like Kamandi, a muscle-bound teenager (with hair like Betty from Archie comics) whose shtick was that he was "the last boy on earth". It was awful. I wouldn't read him even if he was the last boy on earth. I was glad Kirby didn't draw Sgt. Fury. The artists were generally realists, even if the action wasn't. Jack Severin was on of the artists who drew him (he also drew some of Sgt Rock and The Losers.)

Although it flew over my head at the time, it's obvious in retrospect that Sgt. Fury was meant to make a political statement. In one story, a newspaper editor decides to send a "bleeding heart" pacifist reporter to the front to get a look at the war. (I had no idea what a "bleeding heart" was, I thought it was a medical condition). The reporter winds up with the Howling Commandoes ('Natch) who can't stand his anti-war guts. The reporter winds up killing a Nazi after he witnesses an atrocity, and so he is cured of his bleeding heart.

They went further than that. One of their stories was set in the present day (about 1970), with the Commandoes re-uniting to go to VIETNAM and sabotage a North Vietnamese atom bomb! This was absolutely unheard of. Other books, war or otherwise, never EVER so much as mentioned Vietnam. But Sgt. Fury actually went there and fought Viet Cong, just like they fought Nazis.

During the whole formative period up to age twelve or so, I don't remember hearing adults talk about the Vietnam war, and I remember very little about news broadcasts relating to Vietnam. I knew there was a war going on, but I assumed that we were still fighting WWII. That's what people in the comic books were doing, so it seemed a logical conclusion to me.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Three Paths for Islam

If there’s one thing that Muslims and non-Muslims can agree about, it’s that something has got to give.

Here in the West we’ve been acting as if we’re the ones who are already beaten. The Left, which lost all interest in Rome decades ago, is accustomed to sympathizing with any barbarian horde that shows up at the gates. The Right is equally accustomed to wallowing in defeatist visions of apocalypse, in which a world bereft of courage and integrity caves in like a rotten pumpkin, and we can’t wait to say I-told-you-so. The Middle seems to think we can hide from all of this, walling ourselves off in our corner of the globe and nicely ignoring history until it goes away.

Everybody seems to think that the situation is too much to handle, and we shudder to think what it would take to handle it – not only war between governments, but total war between entire cultures. Not just destruction, but nuclear destruction. Yet capitulation is even more unthinkable, even to people who pretend to favor it.

The Muslim militant seems enviable in comparison, with his noble savage simplicity. He has little to lose, and an entire world to win. He burns like a pure fire while we smolder with self-doubt, bad faith, and fear. He has the “passion” and the “authenticity” that we’ve taught ourselves to covet.

All the same, he is hopelessly overmatched. Historian Paul Johnson remarked recently that Islam’s crusader spirit will die before the end of this century, and probably sooner than later. If this sounds too optimistic, I recall Johnson’s prediction in the early 1980s that the Soviet Union would soon die of demographic convulsions. Reading Modern Times as a boy, that prediction astounded me. I’d never heard anyone say such a thing before. My formative understanding of the world was built around the Manichaean confrontation of East and West; supposedly an indefinite stalemate, fossilized by the nuclear Balance of Terror.

And yet it happened, and Muslims played an important part in the death of that political galaxy. Not just the Muslims of Afghanistan, but the great mass of unassimilated “Soviet” Muslims whose Islamic culture was living and vibrant. The soulless, artificial corpse-culture of Marxism was no match for it. It was only a matter of time and mathematics.

But Western Civilization, for all its materialism and spiritual malaise, is no Soviet Empire. It is, in fact, exactly what the Soviet Union falsely claimed to be: an awesome product of natural history, against which Socialism is as fake as a cardboard tree. Its crises have always led to ever greater strengths, in defiance of all Marxist so-called logic. Political, cultural, and economic liberty are truly the Jinns that can’t be put back in a bottle. No ideology can control the West, let alone conquer it. It co-opts ideologies as easily as the Romans collected pagan gods. And its visible strength is only the merest tip of the iceberg. It suffers endless ridicule, defiance, and betrayal – but it always survives, because its spirit is the spirit of Life itself, and its inertia is too great for any revolutionary enthusiasm to overcome.

So the question is not how the West will survive the challenge of Islam, but how Islam will survive it. This collision has come before; it happened in the 16th century when modern Christianity confronted the modern world; a world which was no longer entirely Roman or entirely Christian. Christian thinkers looked on the warring kingdoms and decadent petty states of Europe with much of the same disdain that modern imams do: a morass of money-grubbing, quarrelling, moral indecency, and Godlessness.

In the accommodation of Christianity to modernism, the way was necessarily led by the Protestant reformers. In the 16th Century the Catholic Church was politicized and secularized, entombed in the status quo. The glory of Augustine and Aquinas had faded away (like the golden age of Islam has) and the Catholic humanists who would lead Catholicism into the future were only beginning to emerge. So it was up to the leaders of the Reformation to reconcile the old God with the new Caesars. Three major solutions to this problem were explored, one of which was successful. These three paths now point the way to the possible futures of Islam.

THEOCRACY. The ideal scenario for the zealots, of course, was the political subjugation of Papist, Jew, and heathen king. This was the path explored by Calvin and Zwingli. Zwingli’s protestant theocracy in Switzerland was short-lived; it led him into a hopeless war with Catholic powers, which killed him and his oppressive regime in the same blow. Calvin established a theocracy in Geneva which likewise did not last; nor did it last when it came again in Puritan England - and again in Puritan New England.

The old Catholicism had tried it all before, of course. But ruling kings had not turned kings into good Christians; instead, it turned Popes into second-rate politicians. By the time of the Reformation, Rome’s power was treated with contempt even by Catholic princes. Reached for comment, Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Calvin and Zwingli never had a chance. If the universal Pope of a unified Christian Church could not micro-manage civilization, how could a couple of upstart theologians do it? Yet their task was simple compared to the ambitions of the modern Lords of Jihad, who think they can swallow all of Democracy, Christianity, Capitalism, and Modernity, and digest it, too.

SEPARATISM. If you can’t beat them, stay away from them. This was the path taken by the so-called Anabaptists. They withdrew from the objectionable worldliness of the world into enclaves of their own, seeking to live a pure interpretation of Christian doctrine.

All Christians had grappled with the problem of reconciling Christ’s injunctions with life in the modern world. The Catholic Church had held that these injunctions were literal, but not universal – they did not apply to all Christians and only monks were expected to obey them in full. Lutherans, who had done away with monks and even with priests, held that the injunctions were spiritual guides that were binding on all Christians; not literal in their interpretation, but universal in their application. The Anabaptists went for both literalism and universalism, which put them completely at odds with society.

The Anabaptists earned a reputation for honesty, humility, and willingness to die for what they believed. They were often admired even by the people who persecuted and killed them. But there was a dark side to the Anabaptist force: humble in demeanor, some of them became excessively proud in spirit. Martyrdom convinced them of their own saintliness, and of the irredeemable evil of the rest of the world. Eventually their pacifism turned into militancy, their asceticism turned into the worst kind of crusader spirit, and their alienation turned into belligerent paranoia, as it so often does. They became obsessed with apocalyptic revenge fantasies in which a Christian elite would pour forth from a New Jerusalem, slaughtering the infidels.

In 1534, somebody tried it out. Anabaptists seized Munster, violently overthrowing the city fathers and expelling Catholics and Lutherans. They declared Munster to be the New Jerusalem, and prepared for the apocalypse in which 144,000 "saints" would conquer the world. In the meantime, they experimented with the most absurd literalism: in imitation of various Old Testament prophets, they went around naked or attempted to eat hot coals. The Anabaptists, once peaceful and meek, proved to be close relatives of the Christian theocrats who were their chief enemies.

The “New Jerusalem” lasted just long enough to permanently discredit Anabaptism, which dwindled thereafter to small minority sects. Their descendants are the Amish and other separatist communities, which have survived only by the tolerance of democratic societies. They no longer militate against the secular world, which is in fact their only reliable protector.

That is not the fate that modern Jihadists aspire to, not by a long shot. If it were, they would oppose all Islamic regimes and embrace democratic ones, as their only possible means of survival.

CO-EXISTENCE. This was the path chosen by Luther, in which church and state lead a separate life alongside one another. The Christian may participate fully in civic and economic life, while keeping his spiritual self separate from society’s unchristian aspects. He obeys the law, serves in the king’s army, pays taxes, and generally renders unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s – but nothing else.

If he can’t do this, he peacefully accepts martyrdom. Luther was horrified by the fate of the Anabaptists and disgusted by the crusades. He taught that Christians must never defend the faith by force. He went so far as to say that the state should not defend the church if it was attacked, as the church must trust to God alone. A Christian may kill to defend his country, but he may not kill to defend his faith.

This arrangement was, of course, the historically successful one. It is the path followed today by western Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, and by Judaism as well.

It didn’t all work out the way Luther would have liked. Ceding the public square to secularism led to a level of social permissiveness that outraged the old German. “Women go about bare these days, front and back, and I cannot stand to see my teachings put to such abuse.”

Plunging necklines aside, Luther should have been grateful that his worst fears were not realized. The church did not die in a pool of martyr’s blood, being now protected by its harmonious relationship with the state. One influenced the other, not always for the best, but neither would ever destroy the other. Out of this harmony, western democracy was born.

It is up to Islam now to follow one of these paths. The first two lead to extinction – in the West, at least - and the third leads to democracy.