Cold, again. September has turned its back on us all. Indifferent drizzle, interminable parades of low clouds heading somewhere with great self-importance. I turned on the Oak Island Water Feature for that summertime feeling, and it ran dry after ten minutes. Used a plumber’s snake on the overflow pipe, and all was well. Aside from the rust-stained hands and heaps of sodden leaves. Good mood nonetheless – I’m enjoying the new regime, the new hours. I get up early and I get lots done. I have a blessed interval of silence after Gnat gets on the bus; my favorite local talk show host doesn’t come on until nine, and I’m not in the mood for music. The house is still and secure.
When you’re a latecomer to the day you end up making absurd claims on the night; when you rise at an early hour you’re content to let the night do as it wishes. Or so I hear. I still straddle the two, which is why I rise early and hit the hay late. This means I need a restorative nap – 20 minutes carved from the generally useless hour between four and five. Gnat works on her computer, then wakes me when the stove timer dings. Sometimes she wakes me by throwing Hello Kitty dolls at me. Today she sat on my back and read me a story about a friendly ghost and his relationship with a labile mouse.
In between the rising and the napping I did a lot. At home. I’m in a Masque of the Red Death phase, I guess; haven’t left the house much. I had intended to write something about “Rosemary’s Baby,” which I spent the last three nights watching, never having seen it start to finish. Bottom line: pretty good movie, all around. What stuck out, though, was a peculiar aspect of 60s cinematography: people seemed fleshier. The lighting, the film stock, the lenses – whatever it was, people had a physical presence that seemed to evaporate by the 80s. (Except for Mia Farrow: she’s straw.) The movie was also notable for the soundtrack, which introduced the idea of the Ominous Somewhat-Out-Of-Key Wordless Vocalizations of an Innocuous Theme element into the subsequent flood of Satanic movies; in the end, your basic ABC Movie of the Week was required, by law, to have something in the soundtrack that sounded like demented nursery lullabies such by a whacked out bulemic.
Anyway. I finished one column this morning, took a deep breath, wrote another, then wrote the copy for the Fargo site until bus time. After homework and piano practice I took the aforementioned nap, and then it was time for choir.
Warning: the following inevitably slides into what some might see as simplistic screediness, so if you’re disinclined to bathe in my trough o’ drivel, you can just check out now and hit the new Fargo additions. Almost 20 pages of urban details. (Note: the link has changed; it's now the persistent www.lileks.com/fargo link
We arrive an hour early for choir, because Tuesday’s pizza night in the tertiary adjunct church basement annex. (It’s a big place.) The kids all watched TV and ate horrible pizza; the moms chatted, the toddlers waddled. Sometimes I chat with the moms, but there wasn’t a seat at the table, and I didn’t want to make everyone move six hundred pounds of coats and purses, so I went up to the library and got the Klemperer diary. (I hadn’t finished it, and when I’m at church with time to spare I pick it up.) I’ve mentioned this before – it’s a meticulous account of life in Dresden during the Nazi regime, written by a Jewish academic whose “Aryan” wife kept him from the chimney. The diaries start in the early years of Hitler’s rule, and it’s unutterably depressing; in 1937 the diarist is insisting that the government cannot last, and all the decent people believe it will fall soon. (He survived the war, incidentally; the diaries go to the end.)
I was reading the 1941 passages today. Klemperer had his house confiscated by the state, although he was still obliged to pay for a new roof. He was put in a Jewish Home with his wife. Every month, the noose tightens, and not just for him; shortages are rife, and the planes begin to drone overhead. His descriptions of the media give you an idea of where Orwell got the tone and flavor of “1984” – the state’s incessant pronouncements are heroic and brash and uncomplicated by nuance. Every battle is the greatest ever; every tactic the most brilliant in history. What interested me was his description of the dreaded Sunday announcements: The week would begin with stock phrases, such as “the plan is unfolding as expected;” the middle of the week would offer a glimpse of the news to come, and Sundays were always the same: blare of trumpets, drum roll, Deutschland Uber Alles and the Horst Wessel song, followed by an announcement of a victory on the whichever front the government chose to spotlight. The diarist found Sundays depressing; every victory meant the attenuation of the regime, a continuation of his torments. But surely it would fall soon; surely people would turn. Why, he’d noted that fewer people said “Heil Hitler” instead of “Good Morning” – this must mean something. It must. Perhaps it did, but it didn’t matter.
By “torments” I don’t mean he was hauled down to the station and beaten. No. He was just denied something different every week. Once the Jews had become accustomed to being banned from public libraries, they were banned from private lending libraries. Once they had gotten used to the special taxes, the taxes were raised. Once they had settled into the special apartment buildings after their homes were taken, they were denied common areas after dark and confined to their apartments. And so on. That was 1941. He had four years to go. Imagine yourself standing on a street at 7:30, watching the taxis pour past, knowing you must be in your room by eight, or it’s the train and the barracks.
Imagine telling that detail to a friend, and noting his shock: he had no idea. He was appalled. (As Klemperer relates it, his German friend, an eminently liberal humanist, nevertheless hoped for the defeat of England; he had managed to separate his dislike of Hitler from his abiding hatred of Great Britain. You infer that the latter blinded him to the former, and that allowed him to reconcile his humanism with the deprivations he knew his Jewish friends faced. In the end we must all make sacrifices, no?)
That was fascism.
Yesterday my paper’s editorial section ran a cartoon from one of the staff artists, a feature that illustrates a quote chosen for its stinging pertinence. The illustration shows two typically stupid Americans with toothy grins and military hats emblazoned with dollar signs. They’re clutching books that say “HOLY WRIT.” The quote:
“I have often thought that if a rational, fascist dictatorship were to exist, the it would choose the American system.” Noam Chomsky
And I used to think that if Elle McPherson really existed, she would parachute naked through my apartment window. She never did but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Any day now. Any day.
An angry man on the radio yesterday insisted that talk radio was part of the “fascist control” of the media. He was, of course, a barking lunatic, as nuts as the people who were certain Clinton would use Y2K to appoint himself Bubba the First and suspend the Constitution. But if you dial down the rhetoric a little, you find the same overheated sentiments in more mainstream quarters. It reminded me of Keith Olbermann, who, by his own words, is the first person to criticize the current Administration, all other voices of dissent having willingly stifled themselves in accordance with Archie Bunker Act of 2002. The other day he birthed this rich observation:
. . .That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think. Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth. It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he alone has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights.
Yes, indeed. Well, having just read what actual altering and reshaping rights looks like, I am disinclined to panic over the thing made out in the distant horizon via lightning, even if it reveals “a world” – presumably Manhattan, below 150th street – in which “authority” – presumably Drinky W. Flyboy, the Resident-in-Chief – actually suggests that thinking is unacceptable, and we must hereby rely on our autonomous nervous system.
Hear ye: if ever I announce that the lightning is sending me messages about how the government seeks to control what I think, please have me commited for paranoid schizophrenia.
Then again, it’s no ordinary lightning flash. It simultaneously “reveals not merely a President we have already seen,” but one who is preparing to revoke Keith Olbermann’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of a job on a network a lot of people actually watch. Fine; it’s good red meat, and there’s always a market for that. (Insert obligatory Ann Coulter denunciation!) Mr. O has his furrow, and he will spend the next two years shoving the blade in the dirt. He will have fans and nice write-ups and profiles and the rest of the perks that follow when you stake out a particular niche. Just like Art Bell. And just like Art Bell, he will instantly become a footnote the moment something horrible and significant happens, and his nonsense is swamped by things that actually happen, instead of things he believes are actually suggested.
One of the constant rhetorical ticks in my email concerns my incontinence when it comes to “terrorism.” Apparently people of my ilk are constantly pissing or piddling ourselves when the government plays the ol’ booga-booga card. We drop our Big Gulps and shout “oh, protect me from the scary Mooselmen, Great Father!” I think it was Woocott who first dribbled this particular riposte, and it’s caught on. A day doesn’t go by in which someone doesn’t point out a direct connection between ginned-up scare-news and the retentive abilities of my urethra.
Perhaps it’s so; perhaps there’s a reason I sit in the dark at night making cold calls to Pakistan, hoping the government taps my phone and maybe, just maybe, finds a terrorist on the other end.
But there’s a certain dark jot of damp trouser-front to Olbermann’s rhetoric as well, no?
Today two important speeches were made at the UN: one was a sack of lies dumped out by a religious simpleton bent on heralding the apocalypse, and the other was by the President of Iran. At least that’s how a Fark headline might put it, depending on the IQ level of the submitter. There were various desultory FARK threads on the speeches. My favorite concluded thus: there was the usual debate about whether Ahmadinejad had actually called for the destruction of Israel. (It’s a matter of faith among some that Bush personally blamed Saddam for 9/11, but a matter of debate as to the Mullah’s true feelings about the Jews.) Someone posted a MEMRI link with a video, and provided the transcript:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: I hereby declare that this sinister regime [Israel] is the banner of Satan. It is the banner of the Great Satan. All it does is to implement the orders of the criminal America and England. They think that the peoples are the same as they were 100 years ago. They are not aware that things have changed in the world. Today, all the peoples have awoken. The Iranian people is the standard-bearer of this awakening for all the peoples. As we can see, from the southernmost point in South America to the easternmost point in Asia, all the people are shouting a single cry. With placards their hands and clenched fists, they shout: Death to Israel.
The response was priceless:
So where did he say anything about genocide or killing jewish people.
(again I have to stress, it's still a boneheaded statement to say. But it's a matter of borders/land/politics than hatred for a race.)
Of course. That’s why the rent-a-mobs shout Death to Israel: it’s all about borders. That’s why the Jews are sons of monkeys and pigs: borders. That’s why the very stones will call out, yo! I got a Jew on my six! Smoke that yid! Borders.
The Iranian presiden, having stated that the US was behind Israel’s unprovoked disproportionate war against innocent Lebanese apartment blocks, closed his UN address with a nice prayer:
"I am emphatically declare that today's world more than ever before longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity, and above all longs for the perfect, righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet.”
That would be your Dozenth Imam. He continued:
“Oh Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirst for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers among those who strive for his return and his cause."
I may be misreading his remarks, but he strikes me as the sort of fellow who believes he has a monopoly on current truth.
Make us among his followers. This would be akin to President Bush concluding his speech with an appeal for everyone to follow Jesus. The commentariat would fall off their chairs en masse: he’s outPoped the Pope! But Ahmadinejad, I suspect, will get a pass. Not because his kumbaya blather and deliciously naughty anti-empire rhetoric chubbed up the lads at AP and Reuters, but because he’s seen as a vaguely absurd figure. He says the most colorful things. Nice smile, too! Always good for a quote, that one.
There’s something else behind the indifferent reaction, though. Everyone has already accepted the idea of Iranian nukes. I think it’s been factored into our subconscious calculations, where they lie as great red glowing things whose threat is somehow still abstract. They won’t use them. They just want them. The way we all want a big-screen TV, and would keep it in the box once we bought it.
I frequently hear people remark that Iran would not be stupid enough to use a nuke, since they know it would bring about retaliation. But MAD only works if the other guy’s SANE. If the Administration regularly made remarks like Ahmadinejad and the other top-tier leaders, critics in the West would have long ago been dissolved in a puddle of corrosive urine. Imagine the President of the United States addressing a group of supporters and leading them in a chant of “Death to Iran.” Imagine what that might mean.
If it helps clarify things, imagine a flash of lightning.