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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Gilly On Fire

I know Dave reads polemicist Steve Gilliard daily, but in case anyone else doesn't (Hi, Mom!), he really outdid himself today. An excerpt:
I'm tired of being bullshitted. Terrorists aren't coming here with nuclear weapons. They aren't going to set one off in Baltimore harbor, because no state, not even a Sadr-run Iraq, would permit such a basic threat to their national security. Osama isn't a threat to they US. You know, most of the stores near Ground Zero were killed by a lack of business, not Osama. People still shop there, still live there, life continues. Who the hell would let crazy people set them up for a nuclear cruise missile attack?

I'm tired of the cowardice masquerading as patriotism. Osama isn't coming to blow up your mall, not coming to poision your water or release a dirty bomb. Because they can't. They couldn't even make the liquid chemical bombs they wanted to. The American muslim community responded to 9/11 by enlisting in the military, not joining Al Qaeda. AQ gets the misfits like Adam Gahan, who was pissed off at his mom, and when Delta snaps him up, he will be blubbering like a small child who banged his knee.

Americans can do great things when asked. Bush has never asked. Not even to rebuild Ground Zero.

Bush wanted to remake the world, but never had the courage to say so. He uses fear to maintain his power because it is who he is, a man scared of the world. He is weak and thus must maintain power by the basest means possible.

But by doing so, he denied Americans the one thing they expected from him: a measure of justice. Not in of the dungeon or the gulag, but of the courtroom. And they have not gotten that. Not even Osama killed in a last stand with Delta troopers gunning him down. Just dungeons, gulags and the excuse that these pathetic men are so dangerous that not only did they have to be tortured like animals, but now he needs a kangaroo court to try and execute them in. As if his word should end the traditions Americans have died for.

Bush and Cheney do not trust the courts or Congress. They trust power and nothing else. Most of all, they do not trust the American people and that will be their downfall. They are not kings, but men elected by and accountable to the people. No matter how many laws they break or mud they toss, will that ever change. They rule as the weak rule, by fear, fiat and suspicion. And the weak will fail, because those who live in fear can never truly gain the trust and respect of those they attempt to lead.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I Wrap Myself In The Flag. Under The Cloth I Can Feel My Ribs Move. Everything Goes Hack.

Cartoonist Frank Miller's "This I Believe" (Johnny Calhoun's spoken word album, anyone?) essay is up at the NPR website. Entitled "That Old Piece Of Cloth", it's Miller's reflection on patriotism in the wake of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks:
I was just a boy in the 1960s. My adolescence wasn't infused with the civil rights struggle or the sexual revolution or the Vietnam War, but with their aftermath.

My high school teachers were ex-hippies and Vietnam vets. People who protested the war and people who served as soldiers. I was taught more about John Lennon than I was about Thomas Jefferson.

Both of my parents were World War II veterans. FDR-era patriots. And I was exactly the age to rebel against them.

It all fit together rather neatly. I could never stomach the flower-child twaddle of the '60s crowd and I was ready to believe that our flag was just an old piece of cloth and that patriotism was just some quaint relic, best left behind us.

It was all about the ideas. I schooled myself in the writings of Madison and Franklin and Adams and Jefferson. I came to love those noble, indestructible ideas. They were ideas, to my young mind, of rebellion and independence, not of idolatry.

But not that piece of old cloth. To me, that stood for unthinking patriotism. It meant about as much to me as that insipid peace sign that was everywhere I looked: just another symbol of a generation's sentimentality, of its narcissistic worship of its own past glories.

Then came that sunny September morning when airplanes crashed into towers a very few miles from my home and thousands of my neighbors were ruthlessly incinerated -- reduced to ash. Now, I draw and write comic books. One thing my job involves is making up bad guys. Imagining human villainy in all its forms. Now the real thing had shown up. The real thing murdered my neighbors. In my city. In my country. Breathing in that awful, chalky crap that filled up the lungs of every New Yorker, then coughing it right out, not knowing what I was coughing up.

For the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden I realize what my parents were talking about all those years.

Patriotism, I now believe, isn't some sentimental, old conceit. It's self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation's survival. Ben Franklin said it: If we don't all hang together, we all hang separately. Just like you have to fight to protect your friends and family, and you count on them to watch your own back.

So you've got to do what you can to help your country survive. That's if you think your country is worth a damn. Warts and all.

So I've gotten rather fond of that old piece of cloth. Now, when I look at it, I see something precious. I see something perishable.
In and of itself, the essay is fuzzy, either because the public radio venue made Miller cautious, or because his mind simply works this way. To that extent I suppose the essay really doesn't matter, just another minor example of NPR's drift toward the right. But as Chuck Klosterman has said, "what matters is that nothing is ever 'in and of itself'". What matters is Miller's context, and the implications of his vague conclusions.

9/11 had a huge effect on Miller. It has apparently resolved any ambivalence in the questions about authority and freedom he has devoted much of his career to examining, from Daredevil through Dark Knight to 300 and his current project "Holy Terror, Batman!' in which the Caped Crusader will take on Al Qaeda itself, in what Miller openly calls "propaganda."

His inital, quite different reaction, captured in the 2002 anthology 9/11: Artists Respond, was a page of shock-induced nihilism: "I'm sick of flags, I'm sick of god, I've seen the power of faith." A few years remove can make quite a bit of difference. More recently, Miller has promoted the Batman/Al Qaeda book by more or less cribbing the Ann Coulter world-view:
...Miller doesn't hold back on the true purpose of the book, calling it "a piece of propoganda," where 'Batman kicks al Qaeda's ass."

The reason for this work, Miller said, was "an explosion from my gut reaction of what's happening now." He can't stand entertainers who lack the moxie of their '40s counterparts who stood up to Hitler. Holy Terror is "a reminder to people who seem to have forgotten who we're up against."
Miller clearly now believes America is faced with a very real threat to its very existence. In other words, he's scared, and if you're not scared like him you're stupid or asleep. It's hard to not read a measure of relief in Miller's words as he describes the altogether successful effect the terrorists have had on him. Fear has ordered his world, clarified his thinking, resolved his vision into Sin City black and white. Shocked into recognition that the US doesn't sit comfortably outside of history, but is part of it, he has embraced the security of faith in his nation's flag.

Miller has always considered himself an independent thinker, as evidenced by his long-standing suspicion of right and left that he uses to frame his NPR piece. Still, it's not surprising to see him now throw in his lot with the 101st Fighting Keyboard Kommandos against enemies both external and internal. Note that, in both quotes above, Miller's immediate concern is not with the hordes of evil-doers who want us all dead, but with his fellow Americans who apparently suffer from what Don Rumsfeld recently called "intellectual or moral confusion" because they question or criticize our country's response to terrorism.
"So you've got to do what you can to help your country survive. That's if you think your country is worth a damn. Warts and all." What is that but "My country right or wrong" in so many words? "America, love it or leave it"? "Warts and all" is a brazen way to brush aside torture, domestic spying...fuck it, incipient totalitarianism. Just when are we allowed to talk about the warts, Frank? When there's a zero percent chance terrorism will ever strike our shores again? Good luck with that. I cannot escape the serendipity of exestential threat for those with authoritarian impulses--The Thing That Ate Western Civilzation so happens to provide one-size-fits-all justification for ever more stringent security measures, ever more restrictions of personal freedom...because "you have no civil liberties when you're dead" as Republican politicians have taken to saying.

But here's the thing. What Miller takes as wide-eyed realism, a raising of consciouness that has transformed his thinking and made him, by his definition, a proudly awakened American patriot, I take as a form of cowardice. This morning I read a new anonymous comment on an old (and now wrong, he ain't dropping out) post of mine about Joe Lieberman; anon's comment read in part:
Until we 'persuade' the good parts of Islam to do away with the parts that still strap bombs on martyrs and expect 72 virgins for it, then all of us, even peace-loving comic-book collecting Democrats are in some dire straits.
These guys positively get boners about this shit. There's nothing they love so much as their new Hitlers coming to kill them and burn their porn collections. And however else Miller might philosophically part from the Keyboarders, here, he's in perfect accordance. Islamic terrorism allows all of them the ability to abase themselves before the Greatest Generation,
to apologize for dismissing old-fashioned world-views, and play at putting on their parents' or grandparents' WW2 uniforms. or the costumes of WW2 era comic book creators (many of whom actually enlisted). Or something.

Of course, there's the possibility that the existential threat may be somewhat overhyped, as this NYT Week In Review piece suggests:
As time has passed without a new attack, the voices of skeptics who believe that 9/11 was more a fluke than a harbinger are beginning to be heard.

“A perfectly plausible explanation is that there are no terrorists here,” said John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University who advances the doubters’ case in an article in Foreign Affairs. “I don’t say there’s no threat, but the threat has been massively exaggerated.”
But that is likely to be discounted by those (presidents, defense secretaries, pundits, comic book writers) who find looming apocalypse with its stark battle lines, potential for self-aggrandizement and self-abasement, and convenient pretexts for the accrual of state power too tempting, too satisfying, too self-justifying to ever relinquish. We are called fools or worse by people who wet their beds and point to the piss stain as a proof of their courage.

Update: Speaking of WW2 comparison rhetoric from Bush on down, the always brilliant Digby sums up what I'm trying to say in far fewer words, in the post "Pimping the Greatest Generation":
This rhetoric of epic struggle that rivals WWII and The Cold War serves the simple political purpose of rallying the conservative base so that the Republicans can maintain power. It is guided by the deep psychological need for conservative baby boomers to find some meaning in their pathetic lives and a cynical attempt to co-opt some sunny, simple vision of the Greatest Generation --- who would be the last people to claim the depression and the wars of their lifetimes were either sunny or simple. The younger conservative generation sees it as a cynical political game, which it is.

The entire campaign is built on a Disneyfied version of WWII and boomer childhood nightmare cartoons of The Cold War. They trying to squeeze all the boogeymen of the 20th century into Osama bin Laden's turban in the hope that they can cop a little bit of that Hollywood heroism themselves. (After all, their hero Ronald Reagan didn't actually fight in any real war either --- he just remembered the movies he was in and thought he had.) It is deeply, deeply unserious.

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