My favorite Robert Johnson song performed by Keb Mo. The version on his album Slow Down is more personal, and well, just a hair slower, and for me about as heartbreaking as it gets this side of Mozart's "Lachrymosa" or Skip James' voice on "Cypress Grove Blues".
This is good news for the few surviving Neanderthals waiting for the next Ice Age, with their better adaptation to the cold, but bad news for homo habilis in Scandanavia and Britain. Those scrambling to hold civilization together with Scotch tape and baling wire are in for a hell of a time. Vulcanologists wait with tightened spinchters, because one big volcanic ash cloud would be enough to tip us over into night, with nothing much we could do about that. Hello, 6th century! "Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.... Once again, warfare would define human life."
Four years later, and the UN conference on global warming in Bali wants the Pentagon to participate. Love it or hate it, the Pentagon is going to be like the Catholic Church was in the Dark Ages-- the biggest organization of Earth, and the only one with resources and the infrastructure to rescuers, resources and hardware where they're needed in a hurry.
We in the wealthier north can probably dig in, hunker down-- or if you're a Texan, just feel entitled to take what you want-- -- but the Southern Hemisphere, with the wealthy coastal cities like Shanghai and Sidney under water, worsening typhoons and wildfires, massive dislocations of population, will be in a "root, hog, or die" situation.
Upon the darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest
Shrouded by the night
and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead
Oh Night, Thou was my guide
Oh Night more loving than the rising sun--
Oh Night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other
Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart
That fire t'was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come
Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into His sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
And by the fortress walls
the wind would brush His hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow
I lost myself to Him
and laid my face upon my lover's breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the mornings mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
Adapted and set to music by Loreena McKennitt
“That which this anguished soul feels most deeply is the conviction that God has abandoned it, of which it has no doubt; that He has cast it away into darkness as an abominable thing . . . and this comes from the sense of being abandoned by God, being chastised and cast out by His wrath and heavy displeasure. All this and even more the soul feels now, for a terrible apprehension has come upon it that thus this despair will be with it for ever. It has also the same sense of abandonment with respect to all creatures, and that it is an object of contempt to all, especially to its friends.” The "Dark Night" got its name from John of the Cross, but something like it happens on almost every mystic path. Meister Eckhart talks about "leaving God for God", losing your personal, tribal concepts of the divine so they can be replaced by something closer to the Real, but sometimes that means God pushes you down the stairs with a helpful hand in the small of your back. Religious bigots like bin Laden or Dobson never feel abandoned at all, never question, and so stay stuck as spiritual infants convinced they have God's unlisted phone number and God (who strangely resembles them in a mirror) "sits up nights to admire them." Their concept of the Divine will always be small and mean and hunched by their own limitations.
Some dark comfort that the talons griping my soul in the dark once drew blood from the shoulder of Athene. If Jesus isn't abandoned in the garden when God ran from the po-pos to let him die screaming desolate on the cross, if some small part of his consciousness thinks he's going to get out of this, he's not really going to die, then it doesn't really count, does it? In shamanic experience, the Dark Night means your helper spirits leave you to have your body get torn apart, eaten and shat out by wild animals, and the task-- unless you decide to just lie there and stay dead-- is to reassemble the bloody chunks into something resembling a human being. One of the northern nations (Cree, I think) used to leave those exhibiting bizarre behavior alone in a lean-to for the winter-- if you reconstituted and were still alive in the Spring, then you were meant to be a shaman, but if you starved or froze to death, then it was just a schizophrenic episode and not a mystic experience at all. Odin lost an eye messing with this stuff, and probably counted himself lucky that it wasn't his left nut.
For all my bemused exasperation with the magical thinking fluttering around Obama, I still find the promises made at ObamaWill.com very funny.
Hillary Clinton, love her or hate her or express complete indifference to her, would almost certainly lose the general election to the Republicans-- while BARACK OBAMA WILL HELP YOU PICK OUT NEW FURNITURE FOR YOUR DEN.
Robert Lindsay, a free-lance journalist who's written about the suspicious death of Colonel Theodore Westhusing in Iraq, has an entry on his blog that that considers and finally rejects the rumors that Colonel Westhusing was not a suicide, but murdered by military contractors. There are more than enough unusual circumstances as described by The Texas Observer and Los Angeles Times to cause suspicion, but Lindsay believes these are unhappy coincidence and not proof of murder. Hardly the first suicide connected with the Iraq invasion, certainly not the last. What's missing is public outrage at the situation, some "hook" like Teapot Dome or Nixon's Saturday NIght Massacre that will focus the lazy mind. No one seems surprised that we've spent twice as much "rebuilding" Iraq as we spent on Japan, and that was after two atomic bombs. Baghdad still doesn't have reliable electricity or running water.
Westhusing's commander, General Petreus, wears four stars now, and $14 billion dollars have been spent on training programs in Iraq. The GAO can't find 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets that were bought for Iraq; maybe, like the Sixth Avenue El, someone's saving it for a surprise. Six billion dollars' worth of expenditures are being investigated for the fraud Colonel Westhusing complained about, and the $9 billion that Paul Bremer lost has been shrugged away.
Here's another useful tool: a website that allows you to generate your own Dantesque Hell
Apologists for Capitalism Have Their Food Stolen by Virtuous Pagans
Circle I Limbo
Barbara Bush, The Beastie Boys
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind
Tony Blair, Joe Leiberman, Pharmaceutical Salesmen
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow
Dick Cheney, Staff of Fox News and ABC This Week
Circle IV Rolling Weights
Oliver North, George W. Bush, William Casey, Creationists and Censors, George H.W. Bush, Saddam Hussein and The Boys
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled
Objectivists, Joe Quesada
Circle VI Buried for Eternity
Ronald Reagan, Chauvinst Republicans, The Contranistas
Circle VII Burning Sands
MTV Programmers, George F. Will
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement
Osama bin Laden, Benito Mussolini, Auguste Pinochet, German General Staff and Nuremberg Defendants
Circle IX Frozen in Ice
One of my favorite comics of the last five years, Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man reached its conclusion this week. This is science fiction (throat clearing, pretend it's not a "graphic novel") to push on comic-averse friends, and oodles more fun as an adventure story than pretentious wallpaper like Jimmy Corrigan.
The premise is, literally, the second oldest trope in science fiction; Mary Shelley had a go at it in her second novel, The Last Man. A pandemic takes down our precarious civilization-- to paraphrase Roberto Vacca, the more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to sabotage. Survivors are left to sort through the wreckage, as in memoirs of the bubonic plague. Almost simultaneously, a mysterious plague kills every mammal on earth carrying a Y chromosome, except for amiable slacker/stage magician Yorick Brown and his helper monkey, Ampersand. Try one, two, or all ten collected volumes.
1. Unmanned (collecting issues #1-5)
Wearing a gas mask against the pestilence, Yorick makes his way to Washington, D.C. to find his mother, Congresswoman Brown, and sister Hero (their father was a Shakespeare scholar). Republican wives stage a coup, as the surviving government, composed of females, is predominately Democratic (do the math). A new President, the former Secretary of Agriculture, is sworn in by Agent 355, a member of the Culper Ring, the remnant of George Washington's personal spy agency and the only viable intelligence operation left in the US.
(The Culper Ring was, in truth, organized by Washington and Benjamin Tallmadge, and the first agent to die anonymously in the service of this country was a woman known only as "355". We know that she was captured as a spy in New York, akept on a prison ship in the harbor, and was either hanged or died from complications of childbirth and imprisonment. In Vaughan's novel, the Ring has been hidden-in-plain-sight all these years from the rest of the military industrial complex. 355 is the 10th woman to carry that designation, a badge of high honor within the organization.)
The President sends 355 and Yorick to Boston, to contact geneticist Dr. Allison Mann in an attempt to learn what's happened. Dr. Mann's lab is destroyed by Israeli agents led by Alter Tse'elon, a ruthless Israeli Colonel (always the goddamn colonels-- maybe we should abolish that rank altogether) who has learned of Yorick's survival and wants him for Israel. Yorick, 355 and Dr. Mann head towards a government lab in the Midwest and Mann's backup lab in San Francisco.
Girls That Kick Ass
Kung-fu women, once limited to Mrs. Peel and Wonder Woman, are everywhere you turn around in pop culture since the success of Buffy, and Vaughan and the series artist, Pia Guerra, avoid several of the pitfalls. 355 is tough, watchful and calculating in desperate situations, but not omniscent or invulnerable, and Guerra made a deliberate effort to keep the fight scenes grounded by gravity and realistic forms of combat.
Vaughan also avoids the trap of "the Magic Negro", a hideous trope in fiction and film in which the leading black character has all the soul and weary world wisdom, while the white characters are repressed and plastic. Having grown up and worked for some years in predominately African American communities, I am here to testify that "the Magic Negro" is a Hollywood fiction, possibly from the same ranch in Arizonia where they find all those blonde girlfriends and villains with British accents. In my experience, African-American friends and co-workers were as shallow and uninsightful as their white suburban Republican counterparts, just as quick to worship the plastic over the real. Black schoolmates, drawn to the arts, were rejected by supposedly "soulful" brothers and sisters and had to hang out with the white hipsters. One friend never knew he was "black" until he went away to an all white college, and could earn authenticity points in the English Department for that accident of birth. I dread the coming film adaptation of Y and suspect that Hollywood will turn 355 into another Magic Negro, if only because the audience and the studios are comforted by seeing Foxy Brown in the preview. If anything, it's Yorick Brown who brings humor and soul to the upright Agent 355, and in spite of the thousand shocks that flesh is heir to, neither of them have a background as traumatic as the third lead, the biologist Allison Mann.
Boys to Men
Yorick Brown himself is no booted survivalist, but funny, affable, well read, unambitious except for his own dreamy pursuits, and more than a little hapless-- the kind of man women call "a sweet boy" among themselves, someone to cuddle but not a man to take seriously. Before the plague, Yorick would have been the eternal "boyfriend" rather than the "husband". But needs must when the devil drives, and Y is also the story of Yorick's growing maturity, and a gallant effort to acquire steel in his character without losing his gentleness (he is more soft-hearted than either Mann or 355). If "Man does, woman is", it is interesting that Yorick's attention to a craft-- locks and lockpicking-- more than once saves the day and earns grudging respect from his companions. (Vaughan is quite aware of the layers of implication in his stories, and I wonder if he knew that the hapless Louis XVI was a locksmith, one who tried to escape just a little too late to save his family.) One irony in Yorick's "slackerdom" is that he is the opposite of the kind of man who got the species into this mess-- not a follower, not a bully, not an amoral engineer who creates a doomsday weapon out of curiosity. Yorick, for better or worse, is the voice of the Humanities ("I'd have an easier time finding a fellow Stooges fan") and the head-shaking dynamic between Yorick, 355 as praetorian guard and the voice of the soldierly virtues, and Dr. Mann as the voice of technology without prudence (imagine a family of Victor Frankentsteins), is one of the pleasures of the series.
The travellers find refuge in rural Ohio, in a community governed, ironically, by surviving female convicts from the local prison. The village is attacked by a doomsday cult, the Daughters of the Amazon-- including Yorick's sister Hero-- intent on killing the last male. This cult of violent women who've mainlined Andrea Dworkin was, for me, the weakest idea in Y, and I was glad to see the back of them-- but even Mary Shelley's Last Man has a doomsday cult in it, perhaps with the medieval flaggellants in mind (or the vampire zombies in Omega Man did'jya see it? It was Beauty, eh).
For me the Daughters of the Amazon are the only undeveloped idea in the series, the least worked out and dependent on science fiction cliches, though living in a world where women blow themselves up to secure the privilege of wearing a burkha, and send young people to die in foreign lands so they can stand tall in an election, I suppose I could be complacent about the vicious power of hysteria and the mob. The Daughters fade out after a couple of volumes and a few hundred miles of road, to my relief, and become irrelevant to the overriding quest.
3. One Small Step (issues #11-17)
A Russian astronaut, Natalya Zamyatin tries to rescue the astronauts (two male and one female) who were trapped in orbit by the plague. Yorick, 355 and Dr. Mann reach a sealed government lab and geneticists Heather and Heidi. Oh, great, the fricking Israeli Army invades Kansas looking for the last man, soldier girls following the psychopatic Colonel Alter. And one of the astronauts is pregnant. The survivors of this mess fall in with a theatrical troupe performing something called The Last Man its characters taken from Mary Shelly's other novel.
4. Safeword (issues #18-23)
Ampersand is sick, and his survival of the plague makes him more than just another shit-thrower. 355 and Mann leave Yorick in the hands of Culper Agent 711, who has the damnedest cure for depression and survivor guilt you've ever seen. Survivalists in Arizona block the road to California, and they're no better than their male counterparts.
5. Ring of Truth (issues #24-31)
On to San Francisco. Yorick discovers another survivor named Beth, my favorite of the female characters in the series. How Yorick and Ampersand survived the Plague. Yorick and his sister Hero are reunited, but a fucking ninja ruins everyone's plans.
6. Girl on Girl (issues #32-36)
Pirates, a sea voyage, female navvies on an Australian sub, the return of international espionage. And the return of that fucking psychotic Alter Tse'elon of the Israeli Defense Force, one of the most despicable literary villains of recent memory.
7. Paper Dolls (issues #37-42)
Yorick is revealed to an unbelieving world; his sister Hero finds Beth II (from Volume 6); we learn the biography of Culper Agent 355, and the origin of Ampersand, Yorick's caupuchin.
8. Kimono Dragons (issues #43-48)
The secrets of Dr. Allison Mann, her father and mother are revealed along with a tentative explanation of the plague. The unhealthy lengths some Japanese survivors will go to in their worship of pop divas.
9.Motherland (issues #49-54)
Yorick and 355 and Toyota confront the murderous origins of the plague. One last ninja fight, ranking right up there with the finale of Rob Roy. Yorick and 355 make their way across Russia towards Paris.
10. (Finale, tentatively collected as Whys and Wherefores (issues #55-60).
The cast of characters, including Natalya the Russian, Beth II, and their offspring, reaches Paris, and a reunion with Yorick's old girlfriend Beth. Some truths are told and some hearts are broken. I hate Alder more than ever. Coda.
Of all the post-apocalyptic science fiction I can think of, from low-minded drive-in to NYT approved literature-- Jack London's The Scarlet Plague through I Am Legend, Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Lessing's Memoirs of a Survivor-- I'd say King's The Stand and Brian K. Vaughan's Y: the Last Man are the afterworlds most populated with human and humane characters.
The Captain Renault Awards (don't bother to Google, I made them up) have almost always gone to a Republican, if not a salaried member of this administration, but this time...! Now... a surprise winner of the Captain Renault "I'm Shocked! Shocked!" Award for Sheer Brazenness, Gall, Audacity and Butter-Wouldn't Melt in My mouth Denial of Objective Reality...
Hillary Rodham Clinton and her outriders now claim that Barack Obama is the "establishment" candidate, and she herself is the anti-establishment insurgent. Close your mouth, gentle reader, before the flies get in. I was just as astonished at her audacity; (ga-kak) I think I swallowed a bug.
It is absolutely true that Hillary-bashing has brought out the strange misogyny lurking beneath the suits and ties in mass media, as with the David Schuster vileness, and the just plain weird stuff scurrying around behind the eyeballs over at the RNC-- but now Hillary's defenders are going off the rails, as in Robin Morgan's argument that not voting for Hillary equates with hatred of women in general.
I hope that this casting of herself as upstart rebel against Old White Man Obama is laughed into oblivion, and Clinton stops "framing the issues" like a Rove Republican. There are objective reasons why we will not vote for Hillary Clinton as president, while wishing her all the best as a leader of the Senate. There are objective reasons why I support Barack Obama: his experience as a teacher of Constitutional Law and community activist, the ability to perceive ambiguity expressed in his memoirs, his childhood exposure to a variety of cultures. Charisma doesn't enter into it until I have to ask if he's electable in November. The Republicans are scared pissless of him. If the Democrats lose this November election by insisting on Hillary Clinton, the most divisive nominee since the Republicans nominated Goldwater in 1964, they will move beyond the Captain Renault Award to having their names inscribed next to George Bush himself and the city fathers of Troy on the not-so-coveted Monkey Fucking a Football Terminally Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Award.
"Your explanation depresses me," I said.
"Your nonsense depresses me," said Simple.
-- Langston Hughes
While obsessing about the work of Will Elder and Wally Wood, specifically their Mad parodies of the 1950's, it was a pleasure to be reminded here of Jack Kirby's ability to parody himself. I still remember a short he drew somewhere (an early FF annual?) where he drew himself squinting out from under an assortment of ever more bizarre Kirbyesque helmets. The man had an unappreciated sense of humor about his own quirks: distorted anatomy, apocalyptic force lines, grimacing minions, and all.
John Candy as Harry from Harry's Sex Shop in downtown Mellonville: "Just look for me, the guy with a snake on his face." You can admit it now, SCTV was almost always funnier than the self-mythologizing Saturday Night Live.
Wonkette is funny again, which might make its "liveblogging" the only sane choice for Primary updates tonight. CNN becomes more and more unwatchable as the "host" format wears on, and even their last shining glimmer of intelligence, Anderson Cooper, has been buried somewhere beneath panels of second rate pundits and canned segments, when he should be out in the hinterlands doing his investigative thing on these mother@#@Qcock$#@$###sonofa *&%##$#$ voting machines. Apparently his second hour is stunningly coming in behind the O'Reilly hate broadcast, and Fox I mean CNN is cutting back on Cooper's chance to become the peripatetic Murrow of our day. Because you know, our mission statement at CNN has nothing to do with a well-informed democracy, not since we started dressing like the cool kids at Fox. And remember what Paley told Bill Moyers back when he left for PBS? "I'm sorry, Bill. but the minute's just worth too much money now."
I've nothing to say about Fat Tuesday and "Super Tuesday" falling on the same day, other than to complain that wretched excess makes my gorge rise, and I'm not talking about the Mardi Gras. The drunken half of America will be showing their tits, and the sober half showing their asses like parading baboons, and who can say which spectacle will bring happiness to the greater number of people?
10:30 PM EST: The History Channel is showing a Megadisasters episode about the possibility of an alien virus causing a pandemic after riding in on a comet or returning spacecraft. This is way more entertaining than Mitt Romney's pep rally chants on the networks. PBS is an island of sanity with Jim Lehrer the Betazoid anchor (really have you ever seen his pupils?) NBC has reached the absolute low in expert opinion by hiring reknowned Arabist Karen Hughes. You don't just reach for the remote and change the channel when that happens, you scream "Dive! Dive!" and start punching buttons like a submarine crew. Back to the space bug pandemic, where there is at least some hope for a cure.
11:00 PM: Obama has nine states so far, even snatching Connecticut and Delaware out from under Clinton's nose. Clinton has Massacusetts, the only state that went for McGovern over Nixon in 1972, proving once again that they're Democrats that don't mind losing.
Ah, syncreticism, without which we might as well all be Protestants. Julius Caesar conflated the triple goddess of the Celts as related to Minerva, which was dandy for religious tolerance but a pain in the butt for for historians because, following the custom of interpretatio romana, he described the Celtic pantheon to the folks back home using their Roman names. The original names are lost to the vagaries of oral tradition. Roman Catholics followed his cue and turned the Irish goddess Bride into the "Mary of the Celts" Saint Bride or Brigit or Bridget, midwife to Mary the Mother of Jesus.
The ewes start lactating, almost ready for the lambs, not that I'm one to be so up close and personal with sheep. Bridget features a cow, "our second mother" in her iconography, and some traditions hold that Brigid herself was wet nurse to the infant god. There's a lot of milk and fecundity and swollen bellies running around this holiday-- the name Ibolc itself means "In the Belly". Psychologically I suppose this is the part of the winter when we're waiting for something to happen, pregnant with change maybe, and waiting for the weather to break.
This plump little figure is from one of Saint Bridget's wells in Ireland. And the plump little fellow peeking out of his burrow represents my favorite part of the holiday, because what other day do we honor my favorite Mammalian order, the Rodentia?
The Celts had a rhyme they recited about a serpent coming out of his hole this day as a predictor of the coming Spring. That custom must have been brought over to America on the same boat as the carved turnip Jack O'Lantern, and mixed in with the animal the Algonquins called weeauchok. There's a paradox involved in the Chuck's prediction that I've never understood-- if the sun shines, and he sees his shadow today, that means more winter, not less?-- but it is the nature of the mystic quest and the way of the groundhog shaman to learn to live with paradox.
The prize for guttsiest groundhogs I know goes to a band of chucks who moved into a Michigan peace officer's back yard. Being a bear of very little brain, he decided to get rid of the woodchucks by setting charges of dynamite in and around their holes, inserting blasting caps and standing back to blast the critters out like Yosemite Sam.
Sad to say, it was an amateur installation-- by the trooper's brother-in-law-- and the dynamite failed to go off when they turned the crank. Didn't go off when they shot at it with pistols, either. Now instead of one groundhog family, there's a colony of woodchucks living in an overgrown mound more than 10 feet across, lined with explosive. The cop is afraid to go anywhere near the dynamite, which only becomes more volatile as its components separate, and he carefully mows around it. The chucks now live in a bramble and grass covered fortress, protected by the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction.
The New York Times has a story about the rehabilitation of Michael Vick's fighting dogs. Casual readers are strongly cautioned that the story includes explicit descriptions of Vick's cruelty to animals. Television coverage was uncharacteristically discreet about what, exactly, was done to these dogs. Let's just say that Vick and his accomplices deserve to be in prison, though whether prisons cure or incubate savagery is a topic for another day.
My tougher but tender-hearted friends will want to read he story for the patience and kindness shown by the people who are caring for the dogs and trying to rehabilitate them. The dogs, as always, inspire me because of their ability to learn tenderness once their torment is removed. As Whitman observed, "they do not sweat and whine about their condition"; a dog or a cat missing an eye or a leg can become as cheerful and un-self conscious as the most complacent show dog.
I have known a rescue animal who became, with care, as bold and cheerful as any fictional Tiny Tim or Smike, who did her best-- with crippled feet that must have hurt-- to leap with joy in her own modest way, to walk tall with giants as if nothing could ever hurt her again. I knew a cat who had been used as a football by cruel boys who was a trusting and affectionate pet, though never quite secure enough to be picked up without coaxing. These small souls teach me stoicism in a way that Marcus Aurelius never could.
Friday, two women wearing explosive vests were used to murder at least 100 people in two Baghdad pet markets, places dedicated to the gentler side of humanity. It is not enough, apparently, that the killer apes go off in the bushes and kill each other; they feel justified in forcing their sorrow on others. Places like the pet market are called "soft targets", because those are the places where you can inflict the most damage on undefended, happy people.
To the happy warrior, this seems counter-intuitive-- the cause would be better served by targeting the people directly responsible for our suffering, though they tend to be surrounded by bodyguards, barbed wire and presidential palaces. These are called "hard targets", and sadly, they tend to die in bed.
The terrorist's dream is that suffering and chaos in undefended places will result in more government control, which will inspire the people to rebel against their repressive governments. In this, al-Qaeda played Bush and the US Congress like a cheap ukelele. We have a panicked government that embraces torture, air strikes and the invasion of privacy and kisses the hand that takes its freedom.
For antidote, the same issue contains an article on Animal Planet's Super Bowl Puppy Bowl (with the traditional kitten half-time show).