Mortaljive: The Rest is Silence

There is no still point in all the Universe, and that is the rock upon which I stand

Friday, September 02, 2005


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In a surprise and apparently impromptu announcement, which took place at a Chicken Hut on the outskirts of Atlantic Beach in South Carolina, President George W. Bush told fellow Chicken Hut customers Larraine and Wilson Hentners, and their two adopted children Stanley and Marinda, that he would be resigning "probably next Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest," as Bush and the Hentners were dining on an outside patio, cooled by a breeze from the ocean. The Hentners, enjoying a Saturday Family Meal Deal with all the trimmings, were caught off-guard by the president's words. "I mean, we were just sitting there, and his security guys were doing that head-back thing, looking at us in their dark sunglasses, and out of nowhere he drops that bomb on us," said Larraine, age 41. "I about spit out my diet cola, I can tell you."

Wilson Hentners, 42, a swimming instructor at a nearby resort and part-time video store clerk and part-time dairy employee was also taken aback at the President's pronouncement. "He was just non-chalant about it, I almost forgot who he was. Heck, I almost said 'Who asked?' That would've been awkward for sure." Larraine, who teaches at a local elementary school and has a part-time job waitressing at a crosstown eatery and has another part-time job writing fake letters to newspapers, added, "If he was looking to us to talk him out of it he picked the wrong day. We just think he's in a kind of downward spiral, and we don't want him dragging us down and killing all of us and we're gone forever and everybody goes to hell because we got that whole Christian thing kind of assbackwards, you know what I'm saying?"

President Bush went on to say, "I have destroyed lives, I have destroyed this country, I have spent all of my political capital like a drunken sailor and have no right to lead this nation. My decisions have resulted in the deaths of thousands and thousands of Americans and Arabs and dark people, who are Americans too but when I say 'Americans' I don't always remember that." The president paused and took a sip of his sweetened iced tea, then continued, "I will have Cheney dragged into court for acts against the interests of the United States, up to and including military-funding graft and fraud. Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert will be given the opportunity to resign or face a minimum of thirty years in a toxic barrel. Karl Rove, whom I love like a brother, will be killed and eaten by Eskimos in a ceremony to help heal the damage of our drilling in their hunting grounds. Just thinking about the list of things to do is exhausting, and I haven't even gotten to Condi and Don, Grover and Libby and Wolf and Perlie and Barbara and a whole lot of other ridiculous and pathological fascists. I might just put them on a barge on the Potomoc and have our Navy blow it up. I think I can order that--sure, I'll need a back story, but it's worth a try. Can I have one of your chicken wings?"

The Hentners children were playing with their food kind of distantly, and looked as though they didn't want to be at the Chicken Hut anymore. Marinda, an eighth grader at a local middle school, finally offered, almost to herself, with eyes downcast, "It's too late. People are suffering, people are dying or dead, and we as a nation have failed our brothers and sisters horribly." Asked where she learned to talk like a liberal, her 15 year-old sophmore brother, Stanley, stood up for her. "That's what has happened to our country: if you look at issues with a degree of reflection and compassion, with more than a superficial morality or some party-approved talking point, you are immediately accused of being a liberal, as if that were a bad thing. Never in the history of the United States, a flawed but great country, has such a tactic been used by so many in power to squelch reasonable and responsible political dialogue."

After his lunch the President excused himself, apologized again for his miserable and awful life, and walked like a broken and haunted man to his waiting limousine. He looked back at the Hentner Family and said, yelled actually, "Thanks for not making any 'Chickenhawk' jokes. You could have and you didn't, what with this being a Chicken Hut and all. Thank you."

Bush climbed in, and a Secret Service agent closed the door behind him, his steely features betraying no emotion. As the limo driver steered his way out of the roadside parking lot, Larraine looked up and said, "Well, I can't say as how I didn't see that coming," contradicting her earlier claim to be surprised. "Goddamn Chickenhawk."


Image from here.



At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Godfrey said...

MJS: I was applying the term “tolerance” to the ability (or lack thereof) to hear and consider divergent opinions. I believe this propensity ultimately leads to an inability to apply common sense to important matters. This tunnel vision is proving disastrous for our country.

I think too many people on both the right and the left are content to exist in an echo chamber surrounded by caricatures of their “enemies” and idealized portraits of their “allies”. I see too many people on the left take Bush’s idiocy or diabolical cunning (or, incongruously, both) for granted. I see too many people on the right accept with unblinking affirmation every justification and every rationalization for his every failure.

What happens when you put both of these types in a room together? Nothing, absolutely nothing constructive. Certainly no intelligent dialogue. All discussion is motivated more by hatred for the opposition than by common sense. Hurricane? Bush did it. Terrorists attack? Clinton’s fault.

I look at the situation in New Orleans and I shudder at the ineptitude of the government on all levels. I see absurd accusations being hurled back and forth and it reminds me of warring troops of chimpanzees, each in their own tree, screaming and flinging feces at each other. The truth is that Republicans and Democrats will both shoulder blame for this--Bush, Blanco, Nagin, Brown. This is a disaster that should not have happened. Once it did, it should have been dealt with much more competently.

I frequent blogs of all political stripes and there are two things I see in common. First, lots and lots of people really care about what’s happening in New Orleans. Churchish right-wingers and secular lefties are mobilizing their resources, raising funds, offering their homes to refugees, helping victims contact families. Everyone is donating money; even those who can ill afford it. People are filling pickups full of stuff and heading south. Naturally, each side thinks it’s the only group that is doing anything.

Second, everyone is blaming the effects of the hurricane on the opposing political party. This is mystifying to me, but hardly unexpected.

On the one hand I am heartened by the response of everyday people to the plight of their fellow man. On the other I am chagrined by this odd willingness of people to politicize this tragedy, to allow themselves to be manipulated by their respective spin machine into assigning blame and allowing the shirking of responsibility. To be ruled by anger rather than by reason.

This whole mess has illustrated the libertarian position quite well: when the chips are down, we see big government at its worst and individuals at their very best. I’ll put my faith in the latter, thanks. I’ve stood in line at the DMV for long enough.

But I, too, digress.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger MJS said...

Fair enough. I find libertarianism a kind of abstract "what if" as in "well, the market will provide the correction but only after a billion people die due to the deregulated viral research market." It is as though a wall disappears and we're not supposed to notice. It works better with Lewis Carroll than with Socrates.

What's so frustrating about language are phrases like "everybody generalizes" the meaning of which includes the subject making the observation. We can't escape ourselves: there is always a subjective view (which upsets zealots who believe they have the best didacticism). There is, and there isn't, a collective "we" and that contradiction keeps us in a continuing struggle to live in this world with some measure of quality and sense of justice that is not skewed to the latest cash envelope that a lobbyist brought over. We are all flawed, just not all of us are rich.

I know in the case of Bush we're not just talking about the man but a whole laundry list of people and actions that betray the foundation of the so-called Straussian neocons: an amoral application of brutal hegemony over any and all who disagree with them, democracy and reality be damned. Elitist entitlement, machiavellian intrigues, abrasive framing of memes and anti-government to the core, this group wants to shrink government, or "drown it in the bathtub" as Norquist so elegantly suggested. There are very real stakes here, and very real differences as to what it means to be a human being and how shall we live in the world.

The foundation of the Bush Administration is anti-democratic, and yet it holds the reigns to the world's once brightest democracy: a bit ironic, that. Of course those who are opposed to Bush are going to find fault with most of what he does. His being in the White House goes against the very core of our beings, and as we watch our Republic reduced to ID rantings and homophobia by fiat and oil wars on demand each incident puts the nail in deeper and deeper. We never said "I do" to this man and now he's killed our son and tore out the family room and raided the bank account and smeared shit all over the bathroom, smirking the whole time, but like Eddie Haskell when Aunt Christian comes over he bows his head and says he is grateful to Jesus. Yes, it is that bad.

The democratic side? By and large a huge disappointment: in order to get elected in an increasingly irrational and fearful America many have disposed of basic ideals of equality, fairness and a strong central government. But they have a steep, uphill fight just to get a bill close to an important committee, and every day DC grows increasingly acrimonious and bizarre. And the mob is scary, no doubt about it. Lord of the Flies in what, two days?

We need the kind of people they don't make anymore, because when such a person shows up we are shown by MSM (sometimes straight from the RNC talking points) the spin, the faults, the blow-job, the affair, the this or that, and that ends the game. Pity.

Thanks for the exchange. Peace.


At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Godfrey said...

We obviously have divergent views on government, and I think it goes down to the very core of government’s purpose. I think the notion that we need a “strong central government” shows a remarkable lack of confidence in our own ability to run our own lives. It also dehumanizes its citizenry. I could not differ more on this subject.

Bush & Co. are certainly not for weaker or smaller government. A weak government would strip them of the ability to dictate who is allowed to adopt a child, marry the person they love, smoke a joint or start a business. Smaller government would be terrible for these people because they intrinsically feel that whatever lifestyle they lead is the same lifestyle everyone else must lead. What is the purpose of government if not to foist Christian morals on the Philistines?

I find interesting your contention that libertarianism is more of a theoretical abstract than a real-world system. In fact it could be argued that it is the other way around--that the Democratic Party ideal and the New Deal has created an egalitarian dystopia. A nation where people believe that they deserve to have everything, immediately, just because someone else has it. You laud “equality” but true equality is impossible in the real world. All that can really be given to someone is an equal opportunity, not an equal result. And in my view this is a good thing: knowing that you must do something yourself or you will fail is a strong incentive to succeed. Knowing that a “strong central government” will levy taxes on successful people to pay for your potential failure is a disincentive to pursue success yourself.

Imagine a classroom where everyone was guaranteed an “A”. Some kids would do the homework, sure, but a lot of kids would coast through the class without a care. And why not? The result is the same, right? That is why programs like welfare are so destructive: they guarantee and “A” that they can’t really deliver. They create a permanent underclass, a huge segment of society who feels that the government owes it a check every month. What could be more harmful to a person’s morale than that? And what do such people teach their children about the value of work? This has wreaked havoc in the poor and minority communities of this country for the last 60 years. It may have started out as a good idea with good intentions, but look at what it has wrought.

These programs, like most entitlement programs, should be severely limited to those in dire need. Children, mentally ill, temporary family assistance, that sort of thing. If government is involved in charity at all, such involvement should be greatly reduced, even to the point of vouchers for education and childcare so that people can ultimately take care of themselves. It creates a terrible dependence on the part of the populace, one that lasts for generations.

I know you differ on this subject- I would be interested in hearing your viewpoint. Do you think strong central government is a boon to human dignity?

As for disaster relief, the last week’s events have shown that the Red Cross is infinitely more adept at providing relief that a government agency. If government money is used for disaster relief, it should be given to private organizations rather than dumped into a massive, unwieldy bureaucracy like FEMA.

I am not an extreme libertarian or a Randian- I don’t believe that market forces are the only morality or that self-interest is the only real virtue. Government can be a very good thing, so long as it is constrained to what it does best. Enforcing laws, protecting its citizens from foreign enemies, adjudicating lawsuits, protecting the environment, etc. Things private industry can’t or won’t do. But everything that private industry can do should be taken out of the hands of inept government agencies like FEMA.

They’ve already proven time and again that they’re not up to the job. Why would a stronger central government be any better?

At 11:13 PM, Blogger MJS said...

I think FEMA has been gutted by neocons who want to prove that government should be replaced by the private sector--they build their own prophecy and call it truth "See, government is incompetent." And yes, the irony is that Bush hasn't vetoed a single bill, with pork for all his friends a given. They put the lie to conservatism: I care not for their lies. If they did to MicroSoft what they're doing to the BLM, FEMA and others Bill Gates would be on the public dole.

The automobile industry cried "foul" and fought for years against seat belts and air bags--then they trumpeted them in their advertising as signs of their superior products, so markets can respond, albeit slowly and dragging their feet, to sound ideas that promote safety for their customers. That's not holding someone's hand, that's keeping Jonnie's head from going through the windshield. Tobacco companies were happy to sell you and your loved ones a product they knew was addictive and caused cancer, and they fought having to tell their consumers. As an ex-smoker all I can say is that cigarettes were the bad friend that was always there for you, and I am glad the government taxes it heavily: why should we have to carry the burden of all the medical bills associated with the use of this product? Corporation make profits private and costs public: government makes projects public and profit moot. Without a motivating profit factor, however, Hollywood would make lousy movies, TV would largely be a wasteland of...snark.

Re welfare, a subject that hadn't come up earlier on the other thread (at least that I was aware of): I know that corporate welfare outstrips "welfare queens" by an enormous margin--and why should anyone be surprised? Who has the ways and means to peddle influence but those with the most power and wealth?

Social Security is one of the most successful social programs in the history of the world--can you imagine all those displaced people from New Orleans, all the elderly, without those checks? It's not enough to live on but you can avoid dying. Bush would starve that system and toss it into Norquist's bathtub in a second: lacking social skills and imagination, he cannot fathom why a guaranteed source of rudimentary income has paid profound dividends for millions of Americans. He "didn't think" that the levees would bust, how can you expect him to examine the Depression and The New Deal in depth? He probably thinks S&Ls did fine in the eighties. "Didn't think" is the Bush mantra.

Corporations are comprised of people who are not answerable to the general public (shareholders are a different story, and don't tell me we need everyone to become shareholders cause that ain't gonna happen): their executives cannot be voted out every two years by anyone registered to vote. I think a mix of free enterprise tempered by the sober hand of a rational government was and is the best way to both build a society and to keep it from unraveling. I don't want a socialist state that holds everyone's hand from birth to death, but if you look at government programs pre Bush many of them have performed better than the private sector, in everything from costs to transparency to accountability, deadlines, etc. Are there abuses? Of course. Better the devil you know.

Adam Smith notwithstanding, the stakes have changed in the last two hundred years or so, and so have the consequences of unbridled profiteering. And private entities playing footsie with the military has gutted our treasury and stained the sands of Iraq a crimson hue.

What is "Human dignity?" Seems it's something we want others to have because if we perceive that they don't have it they are described as moral failures, victims, etc. "Dignity" was that moment in the movies when the black maid was fired for no fault of her own, and she left with her head held high--"Dignity" was all we had for poor folks in desperate times--"Dignity" was what kept a soul from dying, a soul beaten and whipped and denied and enslaved and subverted and broken--dignity was all that we had for the descendants of African slaves who were brought here against their wills, and they had to pay for that dignity themselves. Wealthy people have power and stuff: the poor have dignity.

The future bodes ill, but maybe a growth of smaller companies, local control, and some return to environmental sanity and environmental sustainability will be possible to keep civilization running in these here parts. Smaller companies are more flexible and can respond quicker to market forces, etc. I am no expert, however.

Like I wrote, a mix of capitalism tempered by benevolent government would be attractive to me, but how to sustain it? Years pass, people come and go, rabble rousers get people agitated, and if you hadn't noticed we're on an outer spiral of the Milky Way in a Universe beyond our ability to fathom. People like to think that they are going somewhere whether to heaven or to the promised land or what have you--when we debase humanity as in New Orleans, and make no mistake, we have debased the poorest of the poor, and treat those people like dish rags, where is there for anyone to go that will clean that wound, that will wipe away the latest mark of Cain?

Poor people need hope: rich people need a spanking, and for fifty dollars there is a man in Seattle...



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