The More Fool I

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created the Sentinels and the zealot Bolivar Trask when I was ten years old. Then I outgrew simple "comic book morality". I scoffed at scenarios about religious fanatics seizing power in the United States, of corporations replacing sovereign nations, of killer drones, of disasters manufactured for media consumption. I may have been more naive at twenty than I was at ten.

    

Syrial Killers

Dear Sir,

I would like very much to contribute to the purchase of 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a cost of 1.2 million dollars each, but oh dear, I’ve already spent that money on something else. And I would like very much to send in Wonder Woman to precisely target the pursed lips of Bashar Hafez al-Assad and those who obey his orders, but we. Just. Can’t. Afford it.

I am enough of an amateur historian to believe something must be done when civilians are gassed, but perhaps the Arab League or United Nations might get off their ass if you weren’t so quick to insist on being the only one who can wipe up any mess…?

The blood and treasure in our account are seriously overdrawn. This is the price you pay for having followed the boy who cried wolf in Iraq, the movie star who did nothing when another regime, an “ally”, used chemical weapons on civilian targets, the glad-hander who still feels awful about Rwanda. So do I. I feel awful I can’t kick in the 96 million, but I just don’t have it; maybe next week?

And how many fucking times will my society have to put up with fucking soldiers signing up for another fucking war to be sent by their commanders to do horrible fucking things with a song in their hearts, because that’s the logic of war (as inevitable as gravity, even for those honestly fighting for a noble fucking cause) and then come back and cry “Boo Hoo, I did horrible things because my mean lieutenant sent me to the wrong fucking house”, hoping their therapy circle will tell them it wasn’t their fault when, God damn you, it is.

It’s not as if there isn’t information out there telling us what war is, what war does, what a baby looks like after a stray bullet and what a woman’s face looks like when contorted by a scream. Your Commander-in-Chief is not Abraham Lincoln or King Arthur and the Enemy of the Week (fill in the blank) is not Adolf fucking Hitler. No, I say no, you don’t get to turn in your conscience like your grandfathers did. It does not dishonor the military to say there is a qualitative difference between Little Round Top or the beaches of Normandy and My Lai or Wounded Knee.

There is no get out of Hell free card because the American public is afraid to call you anything but “heroes”. The engineers who created those weapons for you killer apes because they thought it was a nifty “problem” to solve will be screaming in the cell next to yours. And your dear grandmother, five thousand miles away from your next High Value Target, should take that flag magnet off her car, fold it into corners, and stick it up her ass.

Many Are Called, Some Are Chosen, Maybe There's a Reason So Many Are Assholes

There's terra incognita here for research into the social class distinctions among lawyers, doctors, politician/bureaucrats, and teachers.

There's certainly a culture gap between public teachers and professors, and among public teachers, a class struggle between those who love their subject, those who wanted to "teach" as an excuse to coach, and those who were intellectually lazy enough to major in "Education" and get summers off.

We all encounter medical people who followed the path of altruism or scientific interest, versus those who became doctors because that's one does in their family circle. The past isn't dead, it isn't even past, and Faulkner might have added, the family mythology shapes us more than some care to admit.

A friend who did time in a monastery found layers of class distinction between those who excelled at pastoral care, and those who excelled at climbing the ladder of advancement in the church. How much of this is due to the personalities attracted to the profession? This goes a long way towards explaining Vatican politics. We need only look to how John Paul II scorned liberation theology in South America because his lenses were fogged over by Stalinism in Europe. Anywhere he smelled "communism" or impudent women, out came the scourge. After two papacies spent punishing the foot soldiers, we might have a new pope who turns towards the ambiguities of parish work. "Who am I to judge?", he asks. Let's hope this extends to the church women who rather than sit down and shut up, ought to take a fire house to the burrows in Vatican City.

These distinctions might be most apparent among judges. Chief Justice Roberts being the very model of a country club boy who became a judge, and that background shaping his decisions. In my scant experience, I have met judges who vary from the most humane to the least human of officials. And there are shades of diversity in this; if I can't have a Mandela, a Darrow or a pro bono saint in my corner, I'd find it easier to deal with an honestly rapacious Saul Goodman than a sanctimonious pharisee.

Bullies

Just once, I'd like to see someone on the Right "take a courageous stand" against someone who has more money and more power than they do. (Yelling at a president who won't or can't hit you back is not the same.)

Andrew Shirvell, former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Michigan, was ordered to pay 4.5 million dollars to Chris Armstrong for "defamation" after repeatedly libeling and indeed, stalking Armstrong on campus.

Shirvell (a name worthy of Dickens) calls the decision "a clear violation of my first amendment rights", although the harassment occurred while Shirvell was an Assistant Attorney General and the person he persecuted was a student council president. It seems to my untutored eye that Armstrong was the one whose rights of speech and assembly were being breached by this self-appointed Javert.

On the other side of the world, the power of the Russian state is sending Pussy Riot up the Volga for two years-- hard time for women with small kids. "Hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" was the charge, although the BBC says it was a protest against Putin and the Russian government. Religious hatred was indeed the motive for Shirvell's crimes here: homophobia inspired abuse of government power, bearing false witness, and stalking twinks without a license.

I don't know why the performance artists staged their protest in a church. I'm guessing that Russians have a... complicated relationship with the Orthodox Church; sometimes the church shelters the people, sometimes the church licks the ass of the powerful. Their reasons are above my pay grade.

I doubt that orders came down from the top to punish these upstarts. More likely, somebody decided that Vladimir the First would be displeased, naysayers must be punished and loyalists will be rewarded. Maybe Putin will issue the girls a pardon in a couple of months: a wink from a crocodile, his whispered "I could hurt you but I won't."

The two cases are funhouse mirrors. The Russians are still acting out the psychodrama of a culture that jumped from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution with no Enlightenment in between. Here, a bigot on the government payroll was told to sit his silly ass down, and he refused to listen.

The recent flood of complaint about a gay / liberal / feminist / immigrant / socialist / elitist/ (who's left?) agenda is nothing more than the complaint of an entrenched bully squalling because someone slapped back. The right is going to whinge that the Shirvell decision makes us worse than Russia, but here, it was the person in power that was told to back off.

Jack Benny, the X-Men, and Continuity in Comics

Re-reading Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men led me again to its sequel, Joss Whedon's Astonishing--
and I now proclaim to the anxious masses that Torn (Astonishing X-Men Volume III) is best read in tandem with Morrison's Imperial (New X-Men Volume II). Jack Benny is supposed to have gotten the biggest laugh in radio history when an armed robber snarls, "Your money or your life!" Benny doesn't say anything. The audience explodes. He waits (the power of the pause) and lets them subside before he answers, "I'm thinking about it." The joke works because the audience knew Benny's comedic persona, and knew that he would need time before such a "difficult" choice. Just so with Whedon's "Torn", in which Cassandra Nova tries to escape by planting herself in Emma Frost's subconscious, then using Frost's manipulative ability to paralyze her captors. Scott is frozen by his deepest anxiety. Henry "devolves" into a feral carnivore. Logan reverts to his Little Lord Fauntleroy childhood.
Logan's "turn into Percy Dovetonsils" works because of the character's backstory; it wouldn't be so funny if the audience wasn't in on the joke.
The first time I read this story, the attack by Emma's psychic avatars was confusing (as it's meant to be) but I shrugged it off and went along for the ride. Read immediately after the Morrison stories and I realized how poignant they were, manifestations of Emma's own guilt and fear. Cassandra Nova personifies Emma's pain at surviving the Genosha genocide; Sebastian Shaw represents Emma's self-loathing in her longest-lasting relationship. I didn't recognize Negasonic Teenage Warhead ("Boy, we really have run out names," Kitty says) until this second or third reading:
She's one of Emma's murdered students, seen for only a few panels in Morrison. The last manifestation, "Perfection" is an early version of Emma herself as the White Queen, dominatrix from Hell. Kitty's reaction matches the readers, as we all thought she'd already left Emma trapped in a cave.
Ordinarily, I dislike comics fans' worship of continuity. It's the inside baseball that drives readers away from serial story telling because some Asberger's/fashion victim just broke into your adult conversation with the news that Squirrel Green Lantern only wore the Star Sapphire costume for three issues in 1967, and he, the fanboy, really likes the second version of Empire Strikes Back but the third one makes no sense. Yes, great artists build up layers upon layers of meaning, allusion and reference in their work, but continuity is not the same as depth. So what did we (I) learn here today? When writers use continuity in the way that Jack Benny did, the reader's prior knowledge adds layers of pleasure. Used as barbed wire to keep the gentiles away, continuity is a disease. One more reason to promise me you'll never pay money for a comic with Cable on the cover or the word "Crisis" in its title.