Archive for May, 2004

Coming Soon: Me bitching about an entirely different topic!

May 31, 2004

Now that the Iraqi Governing Council’s political appointments have displaced the Abu Ghraib and 9/11 hearings on the front pages, the great debacle has taken on a more distanced tenor and the stream of incoming news has grown a tad more wieldy. (That in itself is some kind of blessing. If in March and April Bush had the worst six weeks any president has had since the summer of ’74, for the average citizen trying to keep up with the breaking news and assimilate it all into some kind of knowable whole became a truly daunting task.) This has to please the White House since it was just that other kind of news – in which a new scandal broke almost daily and was inexorably accompanied by another handful of American deaths – that it was having no luck in managing.


Even now it can’t buy a break, though. You’d think that God had sent Karl Rove a ribbon-wrapped package when a star NFL player who turned down a fat contract to join the Special Forces was killed leading a San Juan Hill charge in Afghanistan, but alas, Pat Tillman turns out to have been a victim of friendly fire. And when what’s seen as the crown jewel of the “liberal media” has to prostrate itself before the world for its credulous reporting, the administration can’t even take any (public) satisfaction from the fact because the very wrongdoing that The New York Times is fessing up to is its reckless acceptance of Bush’s (and Chalabi’s) word that Hussein was sitting on a Blofeldian stockpile of WMDs. In the meantime John Kerry keeps edging up in the polls as he (finally) begins to spell out a foreign policy that emphasizes national security over world transformation, which is the same sort of “America is not the policeman of the world” philosophy so much beloved by Republican voters – not to mention the campaign-trail version of one George W. Bush.


All of which may help to explain the clouds of bitterness and confusion currently hanging over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When first Nancy Pelosi and then Kerry accused Bush of “incompetence,” the GOP howled as if the charge were first-degree murder, signaling that the bull’s eye had been pretty squarely hit. (Their claim that Pelosi had crossed some imaginary “line” sounded especially thin-skinned coming from the folks who did such a number on John McCain in the 2000 primaries and Max Cleland in the ’02 election.) John Ashcroft dramatically announced that Al Qaeda is poised to hit the U.S. again, and yet the color-coded Alert Level for Dummies wasn’t raised and Heimat Security head Tom Ridge all but pooh-poohed the threat. Similar confusion reigned around who exactly – U.N. envoy Brahimi or the IGC – picked the new prime minister, the administration grew more desperate for the international support it so arrogantly shined on little more than a year ago, the Chalabi divestiture has the neo-cons grinding their teeth, Colin Powell continues to explore the boundaries of the reservation, and what was billed as Bush’s major address about Iraq’s immediate future last Monday night was notable mainly for its lack of details. (He didn’t even mention Iraq while dedicating the new World War II memorial over the weekend.)


Naturally, none of this means anything, it’s still a hell of a long way until November, and I don’t trust Kerry’s ability to bring the campaign home any further than I can throw him. But if like me you’ve never seen any hardcore proof that karma is a real thing, it’s hard not to take some pleasure from the fact that Bush and his fellow bastards can’t be dropping off to sleep too easily these days. In the words of the immortal Nelson Muntz: Ha-ha!

Restive, not restful

May 27, 2004

My apologies to anyone whose hopes of finding fresh material here have been repeatedly dashed in the last few days, but I’ve been working a full-time office job (and the intense ramp-up part of a project to boot), and by the time I’ve gotten home I’ve been so mentally trashed that I’ve only had enough energy to sit on the couch and stare at my big bare feet. However, a slew of subjects and events have tickled or whetted my interest in the last few days, and with any luck (and sleep) I’ll have the wherewithal this weekend to get around to at least a couple of them. In no particular order there’s been:

  • that mercurial (and devastating) opening credit sequence in Capturing the Friedmans
  • last Sunday’s episode of The Sopranos, from which I’m still trying to recover
  • a glorious lunchtime walk along the San Francisco waterfront that climaxed with my running headlong into Willie Brown, whom I’d been thinking about only some ninety seconds earlier
  • Marcel Ophuls and the reopening of the Emmett Till case
  • why Jack Shafer should get down on his knees every night and thank God for Judith Miller
  • how well that whole Iraq thing is going

Notes from an Insomniac

May 19, 2004

“You can watch things about the Holocaust. Why can’t you watch this?”

That’s a 14 year old student, talking about the suspension of three high-school teachers who in one way or another helped make the Nicholas Berg tape available to their students. It seems to me that the lad or lassie has a good point or two. I’ve long been struck by the illogic that makes it acceptable for primetime network TV to run uncut versions of Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan but not, say,  Straw Dogs or Blue Velvet. What’s the difference? If sex, violence, and profanity are bad for children on Sunday night, then it stands to reason that they’re bad for children on every night of the week. The underlying assumption – and the justification that ABC relied on to air the movies without protest – is that Spielberg’s epics are so “important” they somehow transcend the standards that ordinarily govern such things, but that’s merely eyewash for the blind. Forgetting about kids for a second, most adults can’t distinguish between the intentions of people like Steven Spielberg and Sam Peckinpah, and in any case no one can argue, not on the basis of the films anyhow, that the two Spielberg movies are somehow more responsible or life-affirming than the Lynch or Peckinpah films. The fact that Spielberg’s movies “really happened” gives them cachet and a built-in sense of importance, even if it’s the same illusionary virtue which the Coen Brothers lampooned in Fargo. It’s probably some combination of their historical rootedness and the fact that they’re “trying to show” some finite, high-minded condition (e.g., the sacrifices of “the Greatest Generation” or the horrors of war) that makes Spielberg’s films more palatable to mainstream tastes and values than Blue Velvet, whose messy questions and emotions make its unruly elements harder to justify in a simple topic sentence

Concentration camp footage has been readily accessible as long as I can remember that much of the student’s argument is undeniable. (I first saw it when Judgment at Nuremberg was still in the theaters, and the sight of the bulldozers and marbled bodies made me shoot a startled glance at my mother, who clearly wasn’t expecting it either.) The question is, how (apart from privacy issues) does footage of Dachau differ from the video of Nick Berg’s beheading, and should people – particularly young ones  be protected from whatever those differences are? The Berg video is terrifying on a pure animal level, but that’s the nature of witnessing violence as it occurs: the right bar-fight can knot your stomach with dread, and I once saw a friend – a pretty tough boy from Louisiana who’s fairly unfeeling when it comes to animals – reduced to a squirming mass by just the first five minutes of Georges Franju’s Le sang des bêtes. (As bad as it is, think how much worse the concentration camp footage would be if it’d been shot, not after the camps’ liberation, but while they were still performing as designed.) In this post-Columbine era our concern about 14 year olds probably has less to do with protecting their innocence (an impossible task in any case) than with not feeding them destructive ideas, yet I think to anyone who isn’t already troubled the spirit-killing sound of Nick Berg’s screams would serve as a deterrence, not an incitement, to violence.

 I say all this and yet I’m far more undecided on the question than I sound. (I don’t even know if there is a right answer.) I’ve yet to talk to another adult who’s seen the video, and the vast majority of people I’ve discussed it with adamantly refuse to look at it. It’s easy to sympathize with that impulse when I’m talking one-on-one with someone, but I find it less comprehensible as a societal impulse. I watched the video because I felt that if I’m really going to do this war, there’s no comfortable place to draw the line. A chronic and totally justified complaint in American society, going back at least to the ’89 Panama invasion, has revolved around the scrubbed and sunny brand of warfare that the Pentagon presents to us. As we grind away at our jobs or take a walk on a sunny day, it’s hard to remember at any given hour all the activities that we’ve set into motion or that are being undertaken in our name. Nick Berg’s death fills in a part of that larger picture, and in that sense it feels unchivalrous to turn away just to preserve my tender equilibrium.

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide

May 16, 2004

After watching tonight’s TV movie of Helter Skelter I’m convinced that CBS needs to hire a house psychiatrist. Some hack named John Gray (he made the crappy TV movie about Lewis and Martin a couple years back) wrote and directed this thing, but like CBS’s regular series CSI and Without a TraceHelter Skelter feels aimed at emotional shut-ins, and plays on their phobic view of the world by scaring them sick with frightening ghoulish airs. The emphasis is less on the physical violence than its psychological effect; a naive but heavy feeling of “What if this happened to you?” is buttered over every gesture and line. In all of the show’s three hours, only one brief shot – Patricia Krenwinkel, seen from afar, tackling Abigail Folger in her nightgown on the Cielo Drive lawn captures the horror of those August nights. But what really kills the show is its constant and unnecessary nods to yuckily conventional family values, in such touches as Manson’s insistence that The Family’s children be raised communally, or the wistfully pained looks that Krenwinkel’s and Linda Kasabian’s parents throw over their children like fallout clouds.


Jeremy Davies may be able to strike all the poses that Manson made familiar in his still photos, but he can’t come close to finding the man’s interior. He speaks in a strangled whisper instead of Manson’s unabashed near-shout of a voice, and he delivers Manson’s soliloquies while whirling around like a Deadhead who’s snorted too much nutmeg; he’s even more over-the-top than the real Manson, but in such a flibbertigibbet, lightweight way that he’d never draw anyone into his web. His speeches sound like babytalk, and don’t carry any of the offbeat sense that made some of Manson’s declarations hard to dismiss entirely. What made Helter Skelter the book such an interesting read was Vincent Bugliosi’s willingness to see more than a monster in Charles Manson. Again and again, he makes it clear that he also found him a genuinely interesting man, and in support of that idea he quotes Manson on such occasions as the time he told a reporter, “You’re in prison more than I am. You’ve got more rules to live by than I do. I can sit down and relax. Can you?“


I’m no Jeremy Davies fan but I’m fairly confident that the fault isn’t all his this time around. Only one character in the entire production the biker Danny DeCarlo (here called “Joey Dimarco” and played by Hal Ozsan), who filled in some important gaps for Bugliosi – is fleshed out enough to believably have a life away from our view. The others are mannequins and stereotypes, delivered by half-present actors who look like they’re already thinking about their next project. It makes sense that the character called Charles “Tex” Watson is a blur since the actual Watson’s most notable trait has been his inability to come into focus even after 35 years a lack of definition that almost certainly made him easy prey for Manson. But people like Squeaky Fromme and especially Susan Atkins (Sandra Good isn’t represented in any form) would’ve been treated as the memorable grotesques they were by anyone truly interested in The Family. As it is, the girls are wholly interchangeable not only with each other, but with all the other empty-eyed smilers who fall into cults on network TV, and their healthy model’s looks are yet another indication of how off-the-mark John Gray’s take is: the real-life Krenwinkel’s extreme homeliness provided an opening that Manson leveraged with great skill, yet in the show she’s a raven-haired beauty. Such rough parsings of the facts abound, and Gray’s liberties with the truth hit rock-bottom in the pre-slaughter chitchat about marital fidelity that he stuffs into the mouths of Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring. Oh, what the hell they’re dead now, aren’t they?


Helter Skelter is so careful not to offend anyone, at least on any but moral or aesthetic grounds, that it doesn’t even hazard a guess as to what Charles Manson meant to America, or why his story might rate a second TV rendition so many years after the fact. A brief montage contrasts a smugly punch-worthy Jerry Rubin telling us “I fell in love with Charlie Manson the first time I saw his cherub face” with a frizzy-haired (presumably fictional) chick disavowing The Family on behalf of hippiedom everywhere, but that’s about as deep as it gets. Manson’s fascinating connections to organized cults, or the three-ring epic trial that resulted from the murders – these things Gray can’t find room for. Even the overworked hypothesis that the murders (along with Altamont, natch) somehow “killed” the ’60s counterculture, and all that yada-yada, is too intellectual, too rarefied, for Gray to get his tiny little mind around. His lack of real interest in his material is most apparent in the quickness with which he wraps up the proceedings: an opaque jailhouse sit-down between Bugliosi and Manson shifts to one last flashback of Charlie preaching to The Family as some subtitles inform us that while everyone was found guilty, thanks to California throwing out the death penalty they’re now all serving life terms with the possibility of parole. (Emphasis in the original.) What the epilogue doesn’t point out is that only Leslie Van Houten, who “merely” stabbed Rosemary LaBianca’s corpse, is considered to have even a slim shot at hitting the streets anytime soon, or that Steve Grogan who participated in one of the group’s less notorious murders and whom even the other Family members considered crazy was paroled in 1988 with Bugliosi’s tacit blessing.

Me and My Shadow

May 15, 2004

One day in 1991 I was dozing on my couch when John Lennon’s “Mind Games” began playing on a mix tape a friend had given me. It was in the last couple days of the hectic run-up to the Gulf War, at a time when you could catch Bush the Elder and Saddam Hussein on the tube practically every minute of the day, smearing on the war-paint and girding themselves with a self-righteousness that felt specifically designed to preempt any peaceful solution to the Kuwait crisis. While I was lying there with my eyes closed I experienced one of those nonsensical visions you sometimes get on the verge of sleep, with Bush and Hussein suddenly appearing to me as a pair of nightclub performers, clad in tuxedos and showmen’s smiles, and trading off lines from Lennon’s song while swaying in time to the music. I snapped out of it after a minute, but not before I’d stopped seeing them as enemies, and realized they were actually partners, mates even, who were engaged in a private dance that just happened to be taking place on the world’s stage – a dance that sustained them and made them secretly glad for the definition they could draw from each other.

Now Bush’s son is caught up in another spectral dance with Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents, with each side clinging to moth-eaten tactics that have long been exposed as counterproductive to their stated goals. When he isn’t reinstating Baathist generals, this Bush has his people downplaying the grand expectations of only one short year ago, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that Al Qaeda doesn’t give a shit about winning our hearts and minds, not even when a heaven-sent opportunity like Abu Ghraib falls into its lap.

Poor Nicholas Berg. With every sign telling him that Iraq was no place for him, he was a classic case of twenty-something naivete and stubbornness, but where most people who fuck their lives up at age 26 just have to move back in with the folks for a year, the gods wouldn’t be satisfied in Nicholas’ case until someone had cut his head off. I really hope somebody close to the Berg clan can convince Michael Berg to take some Valium and go into seclusion for a while. Though it certainly looks like the FBI’s repeated visits to Nicholas were rooted in suspicion and not goodwill, his father’s grief has left him cruelly exposed to the world – he looks like a walking nerve-end – and it’s easy to imagine him blurting something out that’ll boomerang on him or his family.

Naturally both sides can only beat their chests now. The White House, still operating under the assumption that this is all just a global version of America’s Most Wanted, is vowing to bring Berg’s killers “to justice,” the same way it swore to bring in bin Laden and the Fallujah mob and Muqtada al-Sadr (and his militia), while for its part Al Qaeda promises an endless conveyor-belt of “shroud after shroud and coffin after coffin.” Oh goody, a war of attrition – those always work out so well. Just before we invaded Iraq the Pentagon screened Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, and even though they learned exactly jackshit from it, maybe it’s time they heard the description of the IRA that can be found in the gangster classic The Long Good Friday: “You can’t wipe them out. Kill ten, twenty – bring out the tanks and flame-throwers, they’ll just pour back. Like an army of ants….You won’t stop them. To them you’re nothing, nothing. The shit on their shoes.” But neither side cares about common sense now – this is a private shadow dance. You and me, we’re only the spectators.


You’d have to see the footage of the Deputy Defense Secretary pinned and wriggling on the wall to appreciate how badly he came off when Senator Jack Reed asked him whether it’s “humane” to hood another human being for 72 consecutive hours. Asked once, Mr. Wolfowitz blew all the air out of his cheeks and began to answer some other, easier question that no one had actually put to him; but when interrupted in mid-evasion and bluntly accused of “dissembling,” all he could do was lower his head in surrender, with his troubled silence in that long, heavy second answering the question better than his eventual, reluctant “No” ever could. Compared to Rice and Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz only talks the talk.

The Tribe Has Broken

May 10, 2004

At various points in the last few weeks, John McLaughlin, George Will, Lindsey Graham, and Andrew Sullivan have all surprised me w/their unwillingness to play Charades any longer, but nothing that any of them said may be as indicative of how quickly the worm is turning as this editorial. (And I think it was just yesterday that the Times printed an article about various high-ranking brass who’re openly discussing their growing certainty that the war has been strategically lost.)

The Army Times also has an interesting archive of results from their weekly polls, including the answers to a poll from two weeks ago that asked, “From what you’ve seen and heard to date, do you think John Kerry has offered a comprehensive strategy for how he would deal with the situation in Iraq if he is elected president?” 78% of the respondents responded “No,” which I’d imagine is something very like the number that would result if the question was asked of the general population. I saw Kerry on TV at a town-hall forum a few days ago, and a woman who’d lost her son in Iraq asked him how he’d manage the war differently than Bush. (An unmistakable dollop of venom filled her voice when she pronounced Bush’s name.) It was a question Kerry should’ve knocked out of the park, but all he could manage was a generalized wonk’s call to “internationalize” the war, in a voice wholly unclouded by such messy emotions as passion or urgency. Isn’t it time for him to deliver a speech—the major speech of his candidacy to date—in which he spells out in simple but certain terms his vision of the war and the future of American-Iraqi relations? It’d be a nice gesture,  if only to remind his supporters that he’s still running for President.


Last night I caught all 16 hours of the Survivor All-Stars finale, and while generally amused I was also bewildered by how seriously these people take what they keep solemnly calling “The Game.” (You can hear the capitalized initials in their voices.) Only two contestants made a lick of sense, one of them a highly-strung woman who had the audacity to point out that The Game is “about entertainment.” That may not sound like such a radical notion, but she made it in front of a live Madison Square Garden audience—not the best place to puncture people’s illusions about television—and sure enough the crowd, acting like she’d called for Charles Manson to be paroled to their neighborhoods, shouted her down with boos and catcalls. Okay, so she was no Daniel Boorstin, but she’s still the only one who deflated the proceedings and recognized that the holy “Game“ actually consists of shoehorning a bunch of half-bright money-grubbers into a crassly manipulative spotlight where their chances for success largely depend on such uncontrollable factors as luck and stamina, and spackling in the gaps with Viagra ads.

Beyond the mystifying air of High Seriousness that surrounds the show like a tall curtain, I’m struck by the notion of “reality” as it plays out on Survivor and the other reality-TV showsit sure isn’t like any reality I’ve ever seen. The cameras rarely catch the players when there isn’t some little point to be taken away, or when they’re just lying around in situations where we might really get to know them, preferring instead to repeat the same forced and dopey tropes—the wistful long-distance shots.of someone walking down a beach as ghastly flute music plays in the background, or the line of torch-toting castaways marching with bovine pace and constipated expressions towards yet another Tribal Council. How is it that fictional works like California Split or The Sopranos actually catch more, and reveal more, of reality than a show that’s actually set there?

Another thought or two…

May 8, 2004

1) If Rumsfeld himself is prepping the U.S. and the world for the new pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib, and using a phrase like “sadistic, cruel and inhuman” to describe them, they must be real doozies. Even more interesting is the fact that, with that announcement, the White House seems resigned, for God knows what reason, to the idea that the pictures are going to be published. As Rumsfeld says, on one of those rare occasions that he and I agree about something, “It’s going to get still more terrible, I’m afraid.”

2) It’s also going to be interesting to see what happens to Lynndie England. In her Abu Ghraib photo-shoot her beefed-up looks and stylish posturings with a cigarette brought to mind the butch Private Vasquez that Jenette Goldstein played in Aliens. Yet in her civilian photos England’s a vision of American down-homeness, and now she’s 21, freshly home from serving her country, and reportedly pregnant by her soldier boyfriend (who also happens to be one of her co-torturers).Scenarios like that normally melt like butter in the mouths of middle America, and despite her starring role in the photos that brought the shitstorm on, she wasn’t formally charged w/anything until a day or two ago, when she was finally ticketed with abusing prisoners in salute to her contribution to the wreckage that our foreign policy has become. In almost any other circumstances the White House and Pentagon might try to spin her as an All-American Girl who got in over her head, an aberrant version of the Jessica Lynch meme, but how can they do that now? And how will they look in the eyes of Bush’s supporters when they do hang her out to dry?

Also, before I forget, anyone in need of a good cry should definitely take a stroll through The White House Press Briefing Archive, though whether you’ll shed tears of mirth or rage probably depends on your capacity for handling black comedy. In places it’s almost heartbreaking to watch the inept Scott McClellan, a living exemplar of the Peter Principle who you probably used to beat up in high school, struggling to stay on message in the face of all the questions an openly skeptical and frustrated press corps can throw at him. It’s rich if maddening stuff.

Mistakes Were Made Redux

May 8, 2004

It’s been a giddy 48 hours, what with seeing the words “Rumsfeld“ and “resignation“ yoked together so promiscuously in the national and world press. (Though Fred Kaplan’s Slate piece explains why there was never a real shot that he’d quit.) Yet the Pentagon’s failure to keep Congress informed and the “abuses” themselves (Rummy still isn’t sure if beatings, sexual trauma, & 35 suspicious deaths rise to the level of the “T” word) keep muscling aside the fact that the Abu Ghraib photos were most devastating in their confirmation of every bad thing anyone’s ever thought about America. Moreover, Rumsfeld’s dodgy performance before Congress yesterday was just the kind of event that becomes the highwater crest for scandals like this one–a week from now the American people will vaguely remember that Rumsfeld “already explained all that stuff” & flip back over to Alias. Rummy accepted hollow, semantic “responsibility” for what he himself deems a “catastrophe,” and graciously offered that of course he’d resign if he were no longer “effective.” “Effectiveness” in this context must mean “My limo driver still takes me where I tell him to” since the past week has proven like nothing before that Rumsfeld’s ideological fervor makes him screw things up on an intergalactic scale.

Much too was made a couple days ago about Bush’s refusal to apologize to the Iraqis–a result born, I suppose, of Bush’s genetic arrogance & an unwillingness to let his constituents see The Leader of the Free World kowtow to a bunch of whipped little brown people, especially in an election year. Luckily for Bush the King of Jordan happened to be in the neighborhood, so Bush pulled him aside and apologized to him–after all, Abdullah lives over there, doesn’t he?, and he has lips, doesn’t he?, so presumably he can pass the message along to anyone who’s interested. Bush then went on “Arabic TV” to talk directly to the Iraqis. Only one problem: one of the two stations he appeared on was merely our propaganda arm, while the other was pointedly not al-Jazeera, the widely watched but U.S.-unfriendly Middle Eastern network, and even in the interviews he did give, Bush was short on apologies and long on phrases like “The Iraqi people must understand…,” as if all this unpleasantness was caused by their swinish recalcitrance to face simple facts.

His appearances brought up the further question: If the last year has truly been about democracy-building, why didn’t Bush make a point of appearing on Arabic TV, on at least some kind of semi-regular basis, to explain his reasoning & perspective directly to the Iraqis all along? Like always with these guys, the answer is either stupidity or arrogance, and as usual it’s hard to tell exactly which of the two answers is the right one. Anyway, the idea seems like the least a guy can do for a country he’s invaded, & who knows, it might’ve even put a human face on an occupation the Iraqi people are rejecting with increasing force. It certainly seems a more far-sighted–and more prudent–course than inviting the insurgents to “bring it on.”

Sunni Bloody Sunni

May 2, 2004

For once the circumstances facing Bush are forcing him into the right thing, or at least the most reasonable facsimile of “right” that’s left available to him after all of his previous choices. Having to cede responsibility for the handover to Brahimi must be a sting in the ass to an administration that only a year ago was treating the U.N. like a doormat, but then again this is the group of forward-lookers who initially looked to Jay Garner as Viceroy Pro Tem. (Garner probably can’t help it if he looks like somebody’s drunk uncle—okay, I guess he could lay off the 40 weight until his nose stops glowing like Chernobyl—but still, what in the world made anyone look at him & think, “Here stands a molder of men’s destinies,” when in the end he couldn’t even cut it as a sock-puppet?) (Answer: He’s pals w/Rumsfeld.) What must be even more galling to Bush—& especially to his brass—is the need to have an old Hussein general bail their asses out at Fallujah. How long it takes before this decision blows up, too, is anybody’s guess but it really wasn’t much of a choice: Bush could either have started a real bloodbath just as the world press was swamped w/pictures of our cleancut lads & lassies troops torturing Iraqi prisoners or else he could’ve sat on his hands & tried to pass it off as prudence when everyone knows that patience isn’t his long-suit. (Besides, nothing makes Little Lord Fauntleroy pissier than having to wait out circumstances being imposed by someone else.)

Elsewhere the administration keeps hemorrhaging from places unimaginable just minutes before. Yesterday CNN ran a story about a speech Paul Bremer gave six months before 9/11, in which he said that the Bush administration was “paying no attention” to terrorism: “What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ‘Oh my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this.’” If the Democrats were only running someone—anyone—other than an uninspiring Massachusetts “liberal,” Bush would already be packing his bags.


Finally caught up with The Weather Underground the other night, & one little bit of it keeps coming back to me: Mark Rudd saying his community college students occasionally ask him what he did during Vietnam & how, when he tells them that he helped found an organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the United States, they just look at him like he’s “from another planet.” I’ve had similar disconnects talking to people who’ve read about the Weathermen or the SLA but don’t remember the days leading up to them—who don’t understand the situation in which: a) the idea that a real change might be made to the system if only it were given a strong enough push; b) the politicians were neutralizing peaceful protests, no matter how massive, by appeals to the Silent Majority; and c) the American public’s complacency had become as great an enemy as the politicians’ & corporations’ greed. If I’m less comfortable w/Naomi Jaffe saying that she’d jump at the chance today to be involved in a violent revolution  than I am w/Rudd’s admission that 30 years hasn’t solved his confusion about the proper tact to take, I also can’t help but feel that a continuation of the complacency that doomed the Weathermen underlies a lot of the moral objections younger people have towards the idea of planting bombs even in unoccupied spaces. There’s a gloating, pointing quality in their objections, as if only a total fool might do such things, but they’re judging it w/the benefit of perfect hindsight. I’d love to know if things will be so crystal-clear to them if we’re still fighting it out in Iraq 10 years from now. (Todd Gitlin at least claims to have seen the Weathermen’s wrongheadedness at the time, though his moral outrage seems inextricably laced w/his anger over their appropriation of the SDS, a crime he seems unable to place into a larger context.)

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