Friday, March 05, 2004



A hilarious piece in the New Yorker by one of my very favorite short story writers.

As an obscure, middle-aged, heterosexual short-story writer, I am often asked, George, do you have any feelings about Same-Sex Marriage?

To which I answer, Actually, yes, I do.

Like any sane person, I am against Same-Sex Marriage, and in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it.

To tell the truth, I feel that, in the interest of moral rigor, it is necessary for us to go a step further, which is why I would like to propose a supplementary constitutional amendment.

In the town where I live, I have frequently observed a phenomenon I have come to think of as Samish-Sex Marriage. Take, for example, K, a male friend of mine, of slight build, with a ponytail. K is married to S, a tall, stocky female with extremely short hair, almost a crewcut. Often, while watching K play with his own ponytail as S towers over him, I have wondered, Isn’t it odd that this somewhat effeminate man should be married to this somewhat masculine woman? Is K not, on some level, imperfectly expressing a slight latent desire to be married to a man? And is not S, on some level, imperfectly expressing a slight latent desire to be married to a woman?

Then I ask myself, Is this truly what God had in mind?

Or consider the case of T, a male friend with an extremely small penis. (We attend the same gym.) He is married to O, an average-looking woman who knows how to fix cars. I wonder about O. How does she know so much about cars? Is she not, by tolerating this non-car-fixing, short-penised friend of mine, indicating that, on some level, she wouldn’t mind being married to a woman, and is therefore, perhaps, a tiny bit functionally gay?

And what about T? Doesn’t the fact that T can stand there in the shower room at our gym, confidently towelling off his tiny unit, while O is at home changing their sparkplugs with alacrity, indicate that it is only a short stroll down a slippery slope before he is completely happy being the “girl” in their relationship, from which it is only a small fey hop down the same slope before T is happily married to another man, perhaps my car mechanic, a handsome Portuguese fellow I shall refer to as J?
Whole thing.

No Nelson/ Help Kerry Now! 

Dear Future President Kerry,

Congratulations. I salute your strength and leadership. I admire you and look forward to admiring you more. Keep on working on that stump speech! Keep on sharpening your neat answers to stupid questions! And don't, please don't, don't even consider choosing Bill Nelson as your running mate. He appears to be a speaking corpse of the Republican variety. I don't care where he's from. He positively exudes the "If only I was a Republican" smiling grimace of all the weakest Democrats. Don't do it! Don't! Please!


And from the Kerry campaign:
Yesterday was another million-dollar day, and the amazing thing is, no one had to attend a $1,000 a plate dinner or listen to George W. Bush rewrite history to bring us well over $3 million in online receipts since Super Tuesday. You did it all -- and we're so grateful.

Now, let's make it 3 for 3!


Help us keep the momentum going right now while we've got George W. Bush playing defense. Please help us raise another $1 million by midnight tonight. According to the AP, we've broken Internet fundraising records -- and we're going to keep it up.

This is a special moment for Democrats everywhere -- we've sent a strong statement to the Republican Party in the past few days. They know we mean business -- a three-peat today only drives that message home. Your donation of $25, $50, or $100 can get us there.

I've gotten emails already from AmCop readers who are making online donations to the Kerry campaign--sometimes more than they can afford--because they realize how important it is to donate early and often--especially now, at this crucial time when the Bush camp is on the verge of having to go back on the defensive over their multi-million dollar corpsify-and-exploit ad-campaign.

Conservative think tank to veteran heroes: shut up and stop whining! 

Dawkins writes:

Now that it's clear that the Democratic challenger to Bush will be a decorated Vietnam veteran who's been barnstorming the country with a Band of Brothers, speaking up for the rights of neglected former soldiers, implicitly challenging the patriotism of a president who skipped out of serving his country, Sally Satel, a "scholar" from the American Enterprise Institute, lets loose with an essay on the Times Op-Ed page explaining how -- fascinatingly, contrary to the conventional wisdom! -- those Vietnam vets really never had it that bad after all.

Could the extrusion of this compelling, contrarian piece of "scholarship" have anything to do with the emerging contours of the presidential election? That is, shattered, warrior heroes pitted against chickenhawk draft-dodging phonies?

Some say the president is a big faker.

But what if it's those so-called war heroes who are the real fakers here?

Contends Satel, as she attacks the results of a study on post-traumatic stress disorder published in 1990 by the Veterans Administration:

"What is generally put forth as an established truth - that roughly one-third of returnees from Vietnam suffered psychological problems - is at best highly debatable."

And why is it that so many vets claimed to have suffered?

1. Because they're greedy:

"…There is an economic incentive to claim suffering. A veteran deemed to be fully disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder can collect $2,000 to $3,000 a month, tax free."

2. And they're whiners:

"…The syndrome provides a medicalized explanation for many unhappy, but not necessarily traumatized, veterans trying to make sense of their experience."

Because, you know:

"Psychological studies have shown that people tend to reconstruct the past in terms of the present - they often exaggerate the degree of earlier misfortune if they are feeling bad, or minimize old troubles if they are feeling good."

And so:

"Until a better study is done, the "facts" on post-Vietnam stress are simply speculation."

So now you see that there's no empirical evidence that proves that the war-time or post-war experiences of John Kerry or Max Cleland or their cohorts who served were any harder than those of George Bush or Dick Cheney.

Case closed! Let's move on to the real issues facing our country.

NYTimes: "The spot is effective as an emotional jolt to those for whom the attacks have begun to fade, reminding them of Mr. Bush's leadership." 

Dawkins writes:

A description of Bush's new campaign ad, "Tested," from the New York Times:
The spot opens with Mr. Bush strolling along the corridor abutting the Rose Garden. There is a slightly obscured shot of a child in silhouette leaning against the door of a dark room. The screen remains in black and white as it shows a girl looking up at the camera resolutely, a squat suburban house flying an American flag, an older white man outdoors, looking sideways thoughtfully. The first burst of color comes when the spot shows the American flag flying before the outer shell of the World Trade Center. The screen comes to full color after a black man and his daughter hoist a flag. Then we see children: running in a schoolyard, pledging allegiance in a schoolroom, running on the lawn of a white church. Toward the end parents hold their baby in the air, and two firefighters, one black, one white, sit on an engine. The spot closes with a montage of Mr. Bush and his wife.
Concludes the Times' Jim Rutenberg: "The spot is effective as an emotional jolt to those for whom the attacks have begun to fade, reminding them of Mr. Bush's leadership."

I see. For "those for whom the attacks have begun to fade," the ad will remind them of "Mr. Bush's leadership." It would then seem that those for whom the attacks have not begun to fade need no such reminding of "Mr. Bush's leadership." Consequently, all have been reminded of, or are already fully aware of, "Mr. Bush's leadership."

And so:

9/11 + black man and daughter hoist a flag + children run on the lawn of a church + firefighters =

Total cognizance of "Mr. Bush's leadership."

To view "Tested," and other fecal products, visit:


The Environment "vs." the Economy 

From Common Dreams:
Insurer Warns of Global Warming Catastrophe

GENEVA - The world's second-largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, warned on Wednesday that the costs of natural disasters, aggravated by global warming, threatened to spiral out of control, forcing the human race into a catastrophe of its own making.

In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the economic costs of such disasters threatened to double to $150 billion (82 billion pounds) a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World Trade Center attack annually.
Now, Republicans obviously don't care about the health of the economy. But if we could convince them that greenhouse gases are anti-Christian, I think we could get moving on this problem.

Teardrop Poised on Edge of Jesus' Eye; Ready to Fall if Hatch Keeps Moving Lips 

Their faces tell the whole story, in a way.
GOP Aides Implicated In Memo Downloads
Democrats' Files Accessed and Leaked In Security Breach

A three-month investigation by the Senate's top law enforcement officer found a systematic downloading of thousands of Democratic computer files by Republican staffers over the past few years as well as serious flaws in the chamber's computer security system.
And while Pat Leahy said in the press briefing yesterday that he believes the actions were criminal (yeah, I guess it wouldn't be going too far to say the theft of 4,670 documents might warrant a charge or two), Orrin Hatch still insists that they were merely "unethical." Now, Orrin--

--yes now, L'il Orrin, we remember what happens when we lie, don't we? When Orrin doesn't tell the whole truth, because it might make him unpopular with his friends? When Orrin's a bad, bad boy?

"That's right, Orrin. I weep."

Oh, and this a bit of absolute pure-gold shamelessness:
In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Miranda [one of the two accused staffers] said the report "fails to find any criminal hacking or credible suggestion of criminal acts," and called on Hatch to investigate the substance of the Democratic memos. He accused Pickle [the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms] of having "acted improperly toward me from the first day I met with the investigators."
Mean Pickle. Hatch, do the right thing, and get to the bottom of what's in those memos that is so sinister and transgressive it compelled these two fine young men to hack them!

I Didn't Even Know This 

From Matt Bivens' The Daily Outrage:
Remember when President Bush visited Ground Zero to address workers via a megaphone, and threw his arm around a weary fire fighter? This time last year, that weary fire fighter, Bob Beckwith, stood in silent protest at the President's State of the Union speech: The Bush Administration was refusing to release funds Congress had set aside to monitor the health of Ground Zero workers.
I guess Bush was too busy "steadying the nation." And:
Harold Schaitberger, who heads the nation's largest union of fire fighters, calls Bush's use of fire fighters as campaign props "hypocrisy at its worst" and "disgraceful."

"Since the attacks, Bush has been using images of himself putting his arm around a retired FDNY fire fighter on the pile of rubble at Ground Zero. But for two and a half years he has basically shortchanged fire fighters and the safety of our homeland," Schaitberger says. "The fact is, Bush's actions have resulted in fire stations closing in communities around the country. Two-thirds of America's fire departments remain under-staffed because Bush is failing to enforce a new law that was passed with bipartisan support ... to put more fire fighters in our communities. President Bush's budget proposes to cut Homeland Security Department funding for first responders by $700 million for next year."

In a formal resolution, the fire fighters union has declared, "the President's record on Fire Fighter and First Responder issues is one of failure and neglect," and they call upon Bush to discontinue the ads and apologize to the families of fire fighters killed on 9/11.
It's stuff like this that really makes me wonder what the hell the White House is thinking. I mean, they're supposed to be ruthless, calculating political geniuses over there. And yet here is an issue--short-changing firefighters, for Christ's sake--that seems both idiotic policy-wise and even more idiotic politically. What am I not getting, here?

In any case, it seems like the Kerry folks should have plenty of material for some TV ads of their own.

Iraq Intelligence Provided By a Sock Puppet, a Cat, and an 'Invisible Being' 

Experts Say U.S. Never Spoke to Source of Tip On Bioweapons

The Bush administration's prewar assertion that Saddam Hussein had a fleet of mobile labs that could produce bioweapons rested largely on information from an Iraqi defector working with another government who was never interviewed by U.S. intelligence officers, according to current and former senior intelligence officials and congressional experts who have studied classified documents.
So who was this defector?
...intelligence officials have discovered that he is related to a senior official in Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles who actively encouraged the United States to invade Iraq.
But surely someone must have been able to vouch for this guy's info, right?
Powell also cited another defector in his speech, an Iraqi major who was made available to U.S. officials by the INC, as supporting the engineer's story. The major, however, had already been "red-flagged" by the Defense Intelligence Agency as having provided questionable information about Iraq's mobile biological program. But DIA analysts did not pass along that cautionary note, and the major was cited in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and was mentioned in Powell's speech, officials said.
As Josh Marshall notes,
It's bad enough that Chalabi and the INC helped scam us into war. But the ultimate indignity they've subjected us to has to be forcing us to endure investigations of our own intelligence services that read like Monty Python scripts.

Howard Stern: Anti-Coprophagiac of the Week 

Some good news from an article in Salon:
At least one radio pro suggests Stern's sudden turn against Bush could prove costly to the administration during this election year. "Absolutely it should be of concern for the White House," says Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, a nonpartisan trade magazine serving talk radio. "Howard Stern will be an influential force for the public and for other talk show hosts during the election. Despite the shock jock thing, Stern has credibility. He's looked upon as an honest person.

"Clear Channel is a good target and Stern may be honestly upset with them. But over time he'll realize Bush makes a better target, and Stern could be the leader of a new anti-Bush movement. Bush is very vulnerable at talk radio and Stern could reinvent himself as a new, improved Stern and take on more serious issues."

Stern's political conversion came on Monday, Feb. 23, when he returned to the show after a week's vacation and announced he'd read Al Franken's anti-Bush book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." That morning Stern, who had strongly backed Bush during the war on Iraq, told listeners, "If you read this book, you will never vote for George W. Bush. I think this guy is a religious fanatic and a Jesus freak, and he is just hell-bent on getting some sort of bizzaro agenda through -- like a country-club agenda -- so that his father will finally be proud of him ... I don't know much about Kerry, but I think I'm one of those 'Anybody but Bush' guys now. I don't think G.W. is going to win. What do you think about that?"

Three days later, on the morning of Feb. 26, Stern was suspended from all six Clear Channel stations that aired his wake-up program.
Full story.

[Note: to read Salon articles without subscribing you have to choose the "Free Day Pass" and then watch an advertisement.]

Thursday, March 04, 2004

'Civilized World' Outraged at Bush 9/11 Exploitation 

Front-page news in the Guardian UK:
President George Bush's re-election campaign ran into trouble today after he was accused of delivering a "slap in the face" to the victims of the September 11 attacks by using images of the atrocity in television adverts.

A £5.5m advertising campaign, which began today in 17 key election states, marked the opening round of Mr Bush's counter-attack against his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry.

One of the 30-second commercials includes a brief clip of a body, wrapped in the American flag, being lifted from the wreckage of New York's World Trade Centre. Firefighters, who emerged as heroes of the rescue effort, also feature in the adverts.

But the campaign appeared to have backfired badly today as relatives of those killed on September 11 accused the president of exploiting the tragedy to boost his political career.

"It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people. It is unconscionable," said Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the attacks on the twin towers.

Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, said: "I would be less offended if he showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty. But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that's just some advertising agency's attempt to grab people by the throat," he told the New York Daily News.

Firefighter Tommy Fee called the adverts "sick", adding: "The image of firefighters at Ground Zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics."

Microcephalic "president" too "busy" to testify before 9/11 commission, yet has no trouble corpsifying "re"-election ads with 9/11 dead 

From 9/11 Citizens Watch:
"It's a bad, bad move," Monica Gabrielle told Salon.

"It's unconscionable that any political candidate or person would use Ground Zero, the hallowed ground of 3,000 dead, including my husband. It's unspeakable and outrageous that President Bush would choose to use it in his re-election campaign," said Gabrielle, whose husband Richard, died in the World Trade Center. What's especially galling to Gabrielle -- and other 9/11 victims' families have levied similarly blunt criticisms against the president -- is that Bush "did nothing to prevent [9/11], as far as we know," and is now trying to avoid testifying before the 9/11 commission.

"The fact that he won't give a half hour to speak to the deaths of 3,000 people, let me take another Zoloft. You can just tell the outrage. If they have any sense of decency, they'll pull those ads, and if nothing else, it's also a very good indication of the fiber of these people," she said. (For the record, the White House wants to limit Bush's interview with the commission to one hour and only wants two people to question him. The commission has rejected the terms.)

Gabrielle isn't registered in any political party, although she used to get into political debates with Richard, who was a Democrat. "To annoy him, I would say I was a Republican," she said. But now, it's no joke -- 9/11 politicized her, she says. "Now its 'out the door in 2004.' It's just unconscionable what they're getting away with," she said of the Bush administration.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Terrifying Hersh 

If anyone missed the Seymour Hersh article, "The Deal," in this week's New Yorker, I would advise you to check it out.

According to past and present military and intelligence officials, however, Washington’s support for the pardon of Khan was predicated on what Musharraf has agreed to do next: look the other way as the U.S. hunts for Osama bin Laden in a tribal area of northwest Pakistan dominated by the forbidding Hindu Kush mountain range, where he is believed to be operating.
A large-scale American military presence in Pakistan could also create an uproar in the country and weaken Musharraf’s already tenuous hold on power. The operation represents a tremendous gamble for him personally (he narrowly survived two assassination attempts in December) and, by extension, for the Bush Administration—if he fell, his successor might be far less friendly to the United States. One of Musharraf’s most vocal critics inside Pakistan is retired Army Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a fundamentalist Muslim who directed the I.S.I. from 1987 to 1989, at the height of the Afghan war with the Soviets. If American troops start operating from Pakistan, there will be “a rupture in the relationship,” Gul told me. “Americans think others are slaves to them.” Referring to the furor over A. Q. Khan, he added, “We may be in a jam, but we are a very honorable nation. We will not allow the American troops to come here. This will be the breaking point.” If Musharraf has made an agreement about letting American troops operate in Pakistan, Gul said, “he’s lying to you.”
“There is a nuclear network of black-market centrifuges and weapons design that the world has yet to discover,” a diplomat in Vienna told me. In the past, he said, the I.A.E.A. had worked under the assumption that nations would cheat on the nonproliferation treaty “to produce and sell their own nuclear material.” He said, “What we have instead is a black-market network capable of producing usable nuclear materials and nuclear devices that is not limited to any one nation. We have nuclear dealers operating outside our front door, and we have no control over them—no matter how good we are in terms of verification.” There would be no need, in other words, for A. Q. Khan or anyone else in Pakistan to have a direct role in supplying nuclear technology. The most sensitive nuclear equipment would be available to any country—or any person or group, presumably—that had enough cash.

“This is a question of survival,” the diplomat said, with a caustic smile. He added, “Iraq is laughable in comparison with this issue. The Bush Administration was hunting the shadows instead of the prey.”
Lose more sleep.

Please Contribute Now 

The race is on. We have an excellent candidate. But if we want John Kerry to actually become the next president, we must contribute early and often--as often as we can afford over the next eight months, beginning now. Bush launches millions of dollars of slanderous ads starting tomorrow. Let's help immediately.

I just contributed to both the Democratic National Committee and to the Kerry for President campaign. I think both donations serve different and important functions. Please join me today. Use these links:

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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"Philo-Semitic" Anti-Semitism 

speakingcorpse writes:

In case anyone was wondering whether I had gone off the deep end because I have been so I insistent about connecting uncritical support of Israel with anti-Semitism, and connecting both of these with the crucifixion, let me announce for the record that I am completely serious about all of this. There has been an upsurge of support in America for the racist and self-destructive policies of the Israeli Likud. The support often comes from hardline Christians, who accuse moderates (yes, I am a moderate) on the Israel issue of being "anti-Semites." These same guardians of the Jews and warriors against Jew hatred are very big fans of a current film, "The Passion of the Christ," which is anti-Semitic (it reflects the director's choice to revive an old aesthetic tradition--the passion play--which was designed to inspire guilt and anger in its audiences; guilt for needing and wanting Christ to die, anger at the Jews who wanted the death even more, and aren't grateful for it; passion plays in the Middle Ages were often explicitly associated with anti-Jew violence). So: fans of medieval anti-Semitism, people who long for the Christianization of America, are constantly and fanatically defending the manifestly self-destructive policies of the Israeli Likud, and accusing people who disagree (mostly Jews, in case you were wondering--Jews constitute the vast majority of liberal critics of Israel, in Israel and America) of being anti-Semites. So put two and two together: it is the anti-Semites (the real ones, the bloodthirsty reactionary Christians) who are the most fanatical supporters of regressive Israeli policies. This is not a coincidence.

I've discovered a weblog whose author takes of all of this very seriously. He's a prominent economist named Max Sawicky, who has much to say about the relation of anti-Semitism to the patronizing "Philo-Semitism" (Jew loving) of those who believe the Jews killed Jesus.

(NOTE: the belief that the Jews killed Jesus has long been associated--since Augustine--with the idea that the Jews must publicly suffer to remind Christians of their sin and Christ's gift; Jews, said Augustine, ought not be exterminated, just publicly abused. Modern "Philo-Semitism", which has been around since the 19th century when self-righteous British imperialists began to think the state of Israel would be a fun way to help (and get rid of) those tenacious Jews (see George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda") is perfectly consistent with the Augustinian doctrine of exemplary Jewish suffering. How? Think "compassionate conservatism." The suffering we see is necessary and GOOD; so we can stop cursing the victims and instead declare our "compassion" for them; which does not, of course, mean that the suffering should ever STOP...) Anyway, here's Max Sawicky; there's a lot of other related material at his site, MaxSpeak:

I've been warning for a long time -- well, a couple of years at least -- that Christians who exalt Israeli militarism and cultural conservatism are not necessarily friends of the Jews. No more than white baseball fans of Jackie Robinson were necessarily friends of African-Americans. Philo-semitism can become anti-semitism.

The impression I get from honest reviewers is that Gibson's film includes a layer of anti-semitism. It's soft on the Romans and Pontius Pilate, and tough on the mob and the local Jewish elite. So we have this huge phenomenon of popular culture giving rise to predictable actions among some of our mental lumpenproletariat.

So what of the long-standing project to wean Jews away from the Democratic Party? This film plays to anti-semitism. It is being used as a recruitment device by some Christian churches. Meanwhile the President is going to defend marriage against the unbelievers. The R's are inclining against the center and towards their theocratic wing. Right-wing pundits attack critics of the film as Hollywood elites.

If you didn't know, the notion of the rootless, non-patriotic, insular, cosmopolitan elite is one of the oldest chestnuts of anti-semitism, along with the international speculator. That is the well from which the pundits are drawing. Fascists identify cultural elites or financial operators as ruling elites.


Monday, March 01, 2004

Jesus: Friend of Israel 

speakingcorpse writes:

In case any AmCop readers are trying to figure out whether or not to see Gibson's "Passion" flick, here is a good review of the movie, with some interesting reflections on its cultural significance. It should give you a sense of what you would be signing up for if you bought a ticket. It seems clear that the movie is a ferocious and not-unintelligent appropriation of the most dangerous and unsettling component of orthodox Christian theology--the idea of substitutive sacrifice (the idea that my OWN suffering can't save me, only the suffering of another) and the accompanying tendency of believers to stare google-eyed at images of the suffering of Christ, because subjecting oneself to this guilty/pleasurable pornographic contemplation is the only way to get in touch with the deep and horrible Christian paradox--that I am personally responsible for Christ's death, because I cannot but be GLAD that he was killed in my name.

The author of this review has some interesting things to say, as well, about the film's anti-Semitism. His remarks don't exactly jibe with the ideas of a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine (an avid reader of David Brooks, and a passionate "friend of Israel.") Here's what my fundamentalist friend said:
"Mel's movie wasn't anti-Semitic at all, though I do feel obliged to say that it might have been even LESS anti-Semitic had it tried to represent the story of Jesus' final hours, as that story has been taught to me on the local Christian television network. As I always understood it, Jesus got into trouble with the Pharisaic authorities when, one afternoon, he went to the Temple to explain to them his revised understanding of the meaning of the Mosaic Law. In the middle of the debate, a local Philistine criminal ran into the temple and poured a flammable liquid everywhere, and then quickly set a deadly fire. The Philistine himself was killed, as were many Jews; but Jesus and Caiaphas, and a few others, survived the Philistine's inexplicable murder-suicide. Afterwards, Pilate heard about the crime and set out to destroy the mud house in which the Philistine madman had lived with his parents and family; Pilate wanted to teach other Philistines a necessary lesson about the wages of the sort of arbitrary and terroristic violence that had been perpetrated in the Temple. Jesus was gathering his disciples together to help Pilate take revenge against the Philistine family, when Caiaphas, and a number of other apparently self-hating Jews, intervened. "No!" they exclaimed, "Don't punish unjustly the family of the Philistine madman! He was desperate and crazed, and what he did can't be undone. There's no point in taking this sort of blind collective revenge." Jesus then accused Caiaphas of being a self-hating Jew. Caiaphas in turn spoke to Jesus and to the increasingly large crowd of onlookers: "Perhaps there was some reason the Philistine was driven to desperation," he shouted. "Perhaps it would be best for the community of which we are members if we somehow brought an end to the cycle of violence." At this point, Jesus jumped on Caiaphas' back, threw him to the ground, and tried to strangle him. Pilate, horrified by Jesus' behavior, quickly arrested him. Later that evening, he was crucified."
My fundamentalist friend points out that this version of the Gospel very clearly foreshadows recent events, and it forces us to reckon with the "anti-Semitism chic" that has infected today's liberal intelligentsia, just as a plague of self-hatred infected the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day.

Needless to say, I don't agree with my fundamentalist friend.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Guns, Trauma, and Time 

I just listened to tonight's episode of This American Life on public radio. The show featured interviews with two people who had been victims of horrible gun violence. One was a woman from Texas whose parents had been shot when a psychotic gunman opened fire in a restaurant. The other was a black police officer who had been shot repeatedly in the chest while sitting in a patrol car with his partner.

The woman had not been armed at the time. She had left her gun in her car, as required at the time by Texas law. She had thus been unable to defend her family from the gunman. She went on to become a leading advocate for a Texas law allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons. The law passed, and the woman was elected to the Texas House.

The police officer had been (naturally) armed at the time. As he points out, his being armed did not protect him from his attacker. He has since gone on to become a leading proponent of gun control laws, and has given up his own weapons.

The stories of these two people caused me to reflect on the gun issue, and what I think is a fundamental philosophical difference between "conservatives" and "liberals," having to do with the nature of time and trauma.

Conservatives are always presenting themselves as the clear-eyed realists who understand the nature of human evil in the world. They caricaturize liberals as foggy-headed romantics or idealists whose refusal to admit the capacity of humans for evil only contributes to more violence and inhibits societies from protecting themselves against it.

But (as you might guess) I see it the other way around. Conservatives are wounded people who have embarked on an entirely natural and understandable but quixotic and impossible effort to reverse time and re-stage the scene of their trauma--but this time with the power to defend themselves and thwart the trauma. As any reader of Freud knows, this instinct is ingrained in us, and is a cause of the repetitions and compulsions in our behavior through which we both seek to minimize our suffering, and ensure the continuation (and increase) of that suffering.

Conservatives suffer from the delusion that they can will these repetitions of past trauma--that they can crouch in wait with gun in hand for the killer to stalk once again into the restaurant--and this time they will be ready to blow his head off. This delusion seeks to create a sense of power by making fear permanent, and thus less threatening: the gun-holder awaits the image of the killer with gun in hand, an image from the past which will at any moment step out from the future, ready to kill, but now anticipated and thus contained, controlled and defeatable.

This fantasy really partakes of the same logic behind capital punishment, which tempts us with the fantasy of retribution--that we can re-stage (and overcome) the scene of trauma and violence, but with the roles reversed: ourselves as punishers, and the murderer as victim. This act will reverse the pain of time through a theatre of "justice," offering the semblance of a symmetry or balance of aggression and wounding that suggests fulfillment, the re-paying of a debt, temporal and moral closure.

Liberals, however, take the more realistic view about violence, evil, and the nature of time. Yes, evil exists; yes, violence bursts into our experience and creates trauma. But we (and I recognize the ambiguity of this "we") recognize that the essential nature of trauma (as of experience, flowing out of the future into our present) is that of surprise: it cannot be anticipated, just as time cannot be reversed and the past will not repeat itself according to the designs of our desires and imagining.

Not that we can't (like any good Boy Scout) "be prepared." Not that we can't be savvy and smart. Not that we can't even (should we so choose) arm ourselves with weapons. But we understand that the thing we are preparing for and arming ourselves against will not and cannot be the thing which caused the fear that made us arm ourselves in the first place. The killer will not be the same killer. The old killer has done his work--work that can addressed in all kinds of different ways, but cannot be reversed or obliterated.

And available to us is a more empowering protective stance arising from a more realistic (i.e., more humble) view of the future. We can't see the future, and we can have the wisdom to know that when it comes it won't take the shape we expected it to. What we can do is conceive of futures different from (and preferable to) the past, and assist in (though not determine) their creation by open-mindedly equipping ourselves for them.

Thus the thinking of that police officer. He knows that no matter how he crouches in wait with gun in hand, he can never be prepared for the moment when the killer reaches in the window and commences pumping bullets into his chest. He is also surely aware that no gun-control law or laws can ever prevent some other killer from arming himself and enacting more violence. There will always be people ready and able to kill indiscriminately. But he (the police officer) can imagine a world in which there are fewer guns in fewer hands. Maybe--maybe--in such a world the violence that was perpetrated against him will be less likely to happen to someone else. He can't be certain of this: but what he can be certain of is that what did happen to him cannot be repeated, cannot be undone, cannot be made right. Unburdening himself of this malignant fantasy enables the police officer to face the future with mourning, with regret, with the after-effects of trauma, but with hope. Hope is empowering. Wise humility is empowering. But delusions of power--over violence, over trauma, over time--can only come to no good.


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