Complicity, or, the Willing (and Unwilling) Executioners in Uganda-- and Grand Rapids

But what's one more genocide? More than a thousand people are dying every week in Northern Uganda, in the concentration camps they've been herded to by their beneficent government-- "three times the death rate in Darfur."

It goes without saying that the proposed laws affecting gays in Uganda are monstrous, bugfuck crazy. Friendly heterosexuals and simple humanity are outlawed as well-- the law "also criminalizes failure to report relevant offenses." "Citizens, including health workers and civil society organizations" are compelled " report anyone they suspect of being homosexual." Right-wing American churchmen profess to be embarrassed by their Ugandan protegees, and that bunch swallows camels and strains at gnats without a blush.

This new murder in the heart of Uganda is just a reminder that Amin never acted alone. The thing is, we have a fantasy that the Bad Man went away and all the bad went with him. We tell our children a bedtime story that Hitler killed the children, Amin chopped up the women, some guy Stalin turned the poets into little mounds in the snow. But not us, not us! One of these days, some scholar will add up how many innocent people G.W. Bush killed to stop Saddam Hussein from killing innocent people. The historian Lucy Dawidowicz had a neat phrase, "Cain in corporate embodiment", a phrase Erik Prince might want to invoke when Blackwater (I mean, "Xe") has its day in court.

Without their admiring executioners, your average genocidal maniac is just some nut yelling on a street corner, a frustrated lurker in parking lots. Should we, as a critic asked of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, "separate the Germans from the Nazis"? Does cutting out a cancer guarantee that it hasn't spread?

"The more frightening question is why and how so many chose to follow Hitler. I do not necessarily mean the German people, per se, but the thousands of bureaucrats, managers, and soldiers who physically carried out The Final Solution, knowing exactly what this entailed and what it signified. Hitler seized the opportunity offered by the political and social situation to institutionalize his personal evil...without followers, millions of Jews (and Cambodians and Indians and so forth) could not have died. The evil that is so hard to face goes well beyond Hitler to a place that no one could truly wish to discover."
(Diane L. Schirf)

I've known a few Holocaust survivors, tattoos on their arms. The only Nazi I ever met, an engineer with the Luftwaffe, told me they heard about the genocide "but they were the kind of crazy stories you hear in the military, nobody took it seriously". How much do I pretend not to know about what we enabled in Cambodia and Chile, how many old folks and babies and dogs and cats were torn to shreds and reported as "collateral damage" in my lifetime, how much of that was done for my "security", a favor I neither asked nor wanted?

As Plain as the Balls in Your Face

"Ms. Stoeger, my plastic surgeon doesn't want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose."
"Well, there goes your social life."

The Teabaggers' complaints about Obama's tax plan-- after years of taking it up the yinyang from both Bushes, giving tax cuts 'til it hurts to the richest people in America, then resenting the poor-- reminds me of Mark Twain's comment about the difference between a man and a dog.

The group hug for the bad craziness of Sarah Palin, and the ratfuck Republican co-opting of Teabagger rage, reminds us again that there are some things a rat just won't do.

I do think that the Obama administration will be complicit in its own undoing, if Obama persists in getting Wall Street's stank all over himself. It may be that the Bush-induced bailout couldn't be helped, but Obama has the college professor's knack for not knowing what goes on in the trenches between people's ears. As a public school teacher, who wrestles daily with ignorance, I've seen a lot of his manner at academic conferences, and too many times seen progressives wrest defeat from victory.

You can't scold people for ignorance if you let others educate them. The working class joins the far-right for the same reason orphaned children join gangs; no one else bothers to give a shit. Twice a week, my little country school hosts military recruiters, twice a year I get offers for a free classroom set of Ayn Rand, something Howard Zinn and his admirers never bothered to do.

There are amusing compensations. Was there ever a time when a nude model, impersonating a political figure, sounded more qualified than the political figure she was impersonating? Submitted for your approval, a reasonably safe-for-work interview (warning, some artifical cleavage involved) with "Lisa Ann":
"... This was more of a political piece, so people were asking me my political views and why I did this or that. It wasn’t as much about the sex and it wasn’t as ridiculed as I’ve seen on some mainstream television."

Did you ever have any hesitations about doing the movie?

"Honestly, I didn’t like Sara Palin. I got a chance to do something I felt strongly about. She was just so ridiculous. Such an easy target."

Compare Lisa Ann's syntax with any unscripted speech by Caribou Barbie, and tell me who gets a C and who gets a D-. I don't think we've seen such a topsy-turvy world since Nell Gwynn led the British aristocracy around by the... well, I guess we could call it a nose.

Hold 'Em in the Caul, Field

I still think there's something creepy about Holden Caulfield. What's this business of catching children before they "fall" into adulthood-- when the world needs more adults, not fewer? Or Seymour Glass, waking his wife Muriel from her shallow slumber in a particularly ugly way?

I can imagine Holden (if he stays out of jail) ending as a basement-dwelling iconoclast, proud to be smarter, more "authentic" than the rest of us suffering monkeys, part of the cast of High Fidelity or the local comics shop. Given his social class, Holden might end as Jerry Rubin did, praising Charles Manson and then graduating to embrace Reagan and Wall Street, albeit with a Saturday Night Live ironic twist to his mouth. Is it unkind of me to wonder if Rubin was sneering when he was hit by a car?

Am I the only one annoyed by Salinger's twee characters being made of, well, Glass? I know Seymour had a tough war (Salinger himself was part of D-Day), but does that excuse spattering even the silliest of women with a mess of brains? Better to volunteer for pharmaceutical experiments if you want to throw yourself away. Why not rush into a fire, or find a leper colony like Graham Greene's Burnt-Out Case?

The Canadian Phillip Marchand has some thoughts on the American man-child. Salinger himself managed the equivalent of a James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, never sullying his reputation with lesser work (as someone said of Elvis' death, "good career move")-- but not dying, enjoying his royalties in private, apparently a pleasant enough life with friends and family.

I would have liked Holden better if, having rejected the phoniness of straight society, he picked up a shovel and scooped shit at an animal shelter, or sorted clothes for the homeless, or even (cough) tried to teach in the public schools. Holden creeped me out when I first read Catcher in middle school-- I preferred Irving Stone's Michelangelo and VanGogh, or T.H. White's King Arthur: sensitive, maybe doomed, but not likely to surrender.

I still prefer genre writing to the finger-sniffing stories of "New Yorker" fiction. The wounded detectives, from Spenser to Travis McGee to T. Jefferson Parker, expose the truth like Holden but then try to do something about it. Even the silliest super hero, as Michael Chabon makes explicit in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and implies in Wonder Boys, is at least pretending to be a grown up, picking up their imaginary cosmic shovel or rescuing a kitten from a tree to make the world a better place. Salinger reminds me of those people who don't like kittens because they turn into cats.