Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Painful Extended Metaphor on the Occasion of Alberto Gonzales' Resignation

Ding, Dong! The witch is dead!
Which old witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding, Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead!

I admit, it was the first thing that went through my head when I heard the news this morning. It's childish (though if you've got a little one of your own, you know how easy it is for their music to get stuck in your head) but heartfelt: the failure of the Department of Justice to be anything but an enabling enforcement arm of unconstitutional and un-American activities cuts to the quick of my citizen's heart.

Then I thought about it a little more and realized that we may have begun the journey that will get us back to the heartland, back to reality, back to those we love. Yes, I'm about to compare the future of the Republic to The Wizard of Oz.

Having landed, more or less by accident (something about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind applies to our soon-to-be-former-AG, not to mention Congressional Republicans) on the Wicked Witch of the East (I think that makes the DoJ employees Munchkins, which I hope they won't take the wrong way: they're free!), we now have on our feet a great power which the Wicked Witch of the West would willingly destroy us to get (subpoena power, independent prosecutors, real Justice) but we can't really use it all on our own. We want to get back to Kansas (restore the Constitution! abandon Imperial projects! etc.) but we can't do it on our own, so we look for leadership and wisdom in the Great and Powerful Oz (Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential candidates). They tell us that we have to slay the Wicked Witch of the West first, which we do in the process of trying to protect ourselves and our friends (investigating illegal wiretapping, bringing an end to the slaughter in Iraq, protecting our troops by calling administration-connected contractors to account, and generally putting an end to this administration, via impeachment or electoral victory).

We then discover, to our chagrin, that the Great and Wonderful Oz is a fraud who has no magic (we've been disappointed by our Democratic leadership before, and there's an awful lot of mealy-mouthed moderation out on that campaign trail), but that we ourselves have the power within us to restore that which is precious. The Ruby Slippers can bring us home if we truly believe that we belong at home, if we deeply understand what it is we've lost and honestly wish to return. Even with all its flaws, there's no place like home. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Democracy, Constitutional Government, Responsible Leadership, Messy Internationalism: that is our farm in Kansas. It's a lot more colorful than we give it credit for; certainly a lot more real and precious than the technicolor certitudes of Oz, the false color of the Emerald City (in the book version, it's all illusion, like looking for a "true leader" among modern careerist politicos), the rule by magic and force of the Wicked Witches.

I haven't fully cast this yet. I think Dorothy is the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," though she's also the whole American population. The "Heartless" but Sentimental Tin Man, the "Brainless" but very clever Scarecrow, the "Cowardly" but frightening Lion, the "Good Witch" who keeps us from falling deathly asleep.... I'm not sure who fills those spots. We need them filled, though.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Quotations #097

"Three moral successes don't equal one operational success." -- Avi Dichter, former head of Shin Bet (Washington Post, 8/27/06)

"The Devil is part of our experience. Our generation has seen enough of it for the message to be taken extremely seriously. Evil, I contend, is not contingent, it is not the absence, or deformation, or the subversion of virtue (or whatever else we may think of as its opposite), but a stubborn and unredeemable fact." -- Leszek Kolakowski, "The Devil in History," My Correct Views on Everything (2001), p. 133.

"You say that to think in terms of a 'system' yields excellent results. I am quite sure it does, not only excellent, but miraculous; it simply solves all the problems of mankind in one stroke." Leszek Kolakowski, "My Correct Views on Everything," (response to E.P.Thompson) in My Correct Views on Everything (2001).

"These revolutionary doctors and their pitilessly determined disciples are the only men in Germany who have any life; and it is to them, I fear, that the future belongs." -- Heinrich Heine

"In the reading room of the New York Public Library, that mausoleum, designed by some schoolmaster with memories of hard oak, dust and gloom, there are men who sit day after day, bulwarked by stacks of books, scribbling, scribbling in the little pools of light from the green-shaded lamps on the long oak tables, and you look at them and wonder what will-o'-the-wisps they are pursuing day after day, year after year. One of them may be writing a history of dentistry in America, another studying explosives in order to blow up the world, a third gathering evidence that Shakespeare wrote the Bible. Their faces are pale and grim. The only cheerful people in that place are those who do not read the books, but only handle them as they come from the dumbwaiter, and set them on the counter like mouldy slabs of beef. Those who sit at the long tables day after day are dedicated men; some of them are brave men. There is death in old books from the stacks of a great library; the dust that impregnates their pages is death and darkness; the dust says, "These are books that no one has opened for twenty years, fifty years, eighty years; and when you have written your book, it too will gather dust." White book dust, bone dust: garden dirt and axle grease are clean in comparison; they are living and unctuous; rubbed into the skin, they do good. The dust of books causes blains and hangnails; ingested, it provokes dyspepsia, flatulence, and heartburn; in the lungs it is cancerous. Who would not choose, if he could, to sit chained to an oar in a Roman galley, in the sunlight and salt air, rather than in this sunless crypt where, in the years from 1905 to 1920, Charles Fort sat? Many people must have wondered why he was here behind his tall stack of books: but one does not ask. Perhaps there is another like him there today, silent and determined under the green-shaded lamp." -- Damon Knight, Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained (Victor Gollancz, 1971)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quotations #096

"The difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people-and this is true whether or not they are well-educated-is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations-in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward." -- Neal Stephenson, Diamond Age.

"History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of history it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened." -- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

"If the evidence that existed always spoke plainly, truthfully, and clearly to us, not only would historians have no work to do, we would have no opportunity to argue with each other." -- John H. Arnold, History: A Very Short Introduction, p.13.

“I am looking forward very much to getting back to Cambridge, and being able to say what I think and not to mean what I say: two things which at home are impossible. Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.” -- Bertrand Russell

"lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful, and bereft of moral fibre." -- Joseph Goldstein, describing Bertrand Russell at age 68 (1940).