I complain. Not endlessly, not I hope, bitterly or boringly. Not without wit and often spontaneous alliteration and sometimes startling and unbidden rhyme. But I do complain (or share or vent or express my feelings), for not to do so might cause me to turn more sullen and reclusive than the disturbing degree to which I am already inclined. To keep my ugly thoughts within me could lead to ulcers or heart disease with a concomitant cost to society of dealing with yet another uninsured loser without the grace and good sense to purchase a fine product from one of our great health insurance corporations.
I feel no constraint upon the nature or scope of my annoyances: politics, religion, popular culture, high culture, pestilence, war, famine, death and the cost and quality of “convenience-store” coffee. I am unhappy with several developments in municipal government in my small and until recently uncomplicated Maine town. I could do with a good deal more money and better quality work. I do not like temperatures above ninety Fahrenheit or colder than zero (I live in a long-winter zone five and would prefer a short-winter version of zone six but with no heat waves and cool nights).
I would feel foolish weighing down my dogs with my problems and I see no more point to talking with God about them than I did when I walked out of Episcopal Confirmation class about fifty years ago. Don't suggest counseling, please. Counselors piss me off too.
Three persons principally receive my thoughts with varying degrees of refinement, editing, abridgment, simplification or adaptation to the interests, prejudices and personality of my audience. Our young town clerk, Ms. Amy Warner, has shown herself to be more open-minded and vulgar and anti-social than you would think for someone whose job requires her to smile at every confused petitioner for a registration renewal who cannot successfully “check boxes two and three, write in your mileage and sign below”, and at the end of the ordeal invite him to “have a nice day!” Also, by giving her my poisonous views on our corrupted world I am helping her understand the hideous darkness better than someone of just thirty-one years might be expected to assimilate through intercourse with the normal citizens or conventional opinion. In this I enrich her existence and make her a better citizen and possible future mother.
Our road commissioner, Mr. Michael Trask, is a big man. He is forty-one years old. He has worked for a school department (bus driver), a multi-millionaire (handyman and winter-caretaker), defense contractor (welder), himself (mowing, plowing) and, as a young man, me (picking rocks). I share his frustrations over the burdens he carries as a road commissioner comfortable with excavators and aggregate and traditional trade relationships in a community lately gone all New-Agey about the supposed benefits of procedures and policies and planning documents.
Trask will buy me gin; Warner likes loud rock and roll in dark venues. Each calls and visits and will listen to me in exchange of my hearing their problems. But mostly, and for the longest time (since sometime in 1976), I carry my outrages to work and deliver a small part of them to my partner Mr. Steven T. Eagles, the other officer and laborer in the firm of Clear Pine Carpentry, Incorporated. A year or so older than I am, he is the best educated, most experienced of my three confidantes and the one most likely to test my insights rather than absorb or ignore them. We share similar unabashedly leftist, socialist sensibilities, but whereas I am convinced there is no hope for rescue through conventional institutions, he retains some hope or faith in elections and at least some persons operating within the Democratic party. He voted for Obama and may yet again; I did not and won't, no matter which empty or rabid Republican is put forth under the pseudo-choice two-party system.
So we agree on what is wrong. Probably I think more is wrong, and am less interested in small ameliorations, half-way measures, compromises and small steps that might be in the right direction or are at least less rapidly marching in the wrong direction. Most consider my partner and friend far outside the mainstream; they probably underestimate just how far because he is blessed with a fondness for conventional social interaction that is absent in my constitution. His personality and behaviors mask his strangeness; mine reveal and illuminate my misfit self. Yet it is a rare partnership that does not devolve into argument and dissolution when you get down into the pits of mud and blood where money is dug from the ground and sweat and heavy lifting and disappointment and despair can be the return on investment in a new customer. We have worked and suffered and studied and survived side by side for thirty and more years and will until one of us dies.
So I said, a few days ago, in an attic in Brunswick, as we pulled up dirty, split, nail-riddled old floor boards the customer intended converting to cabinetry (don't get me started, people!), “That Norwegian guy isn't crazy, he's just willing to do what he believes.” By Norwegian guy I meant, of course, Anders Breivik, the man who killed seventy-six persons, most of them young and all of them innocent of any harm or mal-intentions to him, with a combination of bombs and bullets last week.
Geir Lippestad, Breivik's attorney, said, “This whole case indicated that he is insane.” And that, I said to Eagles, is bullshit. He's not insane, he's just right-wing. He has a world-view not greatly dissimilar probably to the preponderance of American Tea Party adherents. The majority of Republican Congressman, millions of American citizens, despise Muslims in much the same way that this man did and does. Ask around. Test the American public on issues of immigration, domestic security, racial profiling. Dark thoughts about the advisability of letting Muslims (or Mexicans, for that matter) live among us and for granting them equal protection and a right to privacy and freedom from unwarranted search and seizure (not to mention ludicrous FBI sting operations that lure young men into plots hatched by undercover operatives who give them guns and fake bombs and money and then arrest them)--these thoughts are not hidden in our country.
We do not, it is true, most of us most of the time, violently misbehave as a result of these opinions. Oh, there are slights and insults and graffiti and signs, and some beatings here and there and discrimination so common we do not often see it when it happens or know or admit we do it. But you and I don't build bombs. We do not use automatic weapons to slay scores at a youth camp. (A great many of us would look seriously askance at an openly liberal youth camp in our neighborhoods of course, and Mr. Breivik did not shoot up a Young Americans For Freedom camp or a DAR meeting after all.)
But nobody suggests he hears voices in his head. He does not assert the Biblical necessity of his actions; God didn't speak to him. He did not take orders from his neighbor's dog (younger readers may Google Son of Sam or David Berkowitz). There was no possession, no demons, no history of split-personality, bi-polarity, acting-out, manic behavior. He was not in a blind rage over a cheating spouse or a job disappointment. He was not employed by the United States Postal Service. Hell, he wasn't even jacked up on angel dust or bath salts. He was just an ordinary citizen, a quiet Norwegian who was just about at the limit of what he could take from these strange foreigners and their liberal apologists and enablers. He saw a problem and he did something about it. He behaved badly, shockingly, horribly. He is a mass-murderer. He will burn in Hell for it if that's your vision (are Christians crazy for their wild beliefs? That's an investigation for another day, my friends.) He will, one presumes, be locked up for the rest of his life. But he is not insane.
Enter Eagles. Forward he puts the suggestion that to operate so far beyond the bounds of acceptable civilized behavior is itself prima facie evidence of insanity. No sane person would take a gun and slaughter dozens of strangers. One yearns to agree. I wish our world, our culture, could be so clearly differentiated between the normal and abnormal, the reasonable and unreasonable, the proper and improper, that which we allow and even encourage and that which we revile and restrain and must not tolerate.
But come with me now to the utterances of Brother Breivik's lawyer. Mr Lippestad said Breivik sees himself as a "warrior" at the beginning of a 60-year war. "He believes if you're in a war, you can do things like that without pleading guilty." "He says he is sorry that he had to do this, but it was necessary to start a revolution in the Western world. He believes that in 60 years, this war will be won." And this, according to counsel, is why Anders Breivik is insane. Well Holy, Jumped-up Jesus! as my late and profane mother (who nonetheless tried to get me to be an altar boy in the Christ Episcopal Church in Guilford, New York all those years ago) used to say. Let's re-consider that statement about Breivik's beliefs and actions in the light of recent American history.
Remember the “War On Terror”? Remember the spying and torturing and lying and the thousands of civilians we killed? Remember Dick Cheney and George Bush? How about the coffeeshop and barroom talk in the aftermath of 9/11? “Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.” After a while the Bush people took to calling our multi-nation military adventuring “The Long War.” Have you read Nineteen Eighty-Four? You'll remember the never-ending war between Oceania and Eurasia. We were expected to cheer news of victories by our side without questioning the our motivations or actions. Think or act otherwise and Big Brother would deal with us.
President Obama promised hope and change. Millions voted for him believing we needed both and thinking or wishing or, I guess, hoping he would deliver. But he retained many of Bush's Wall Street buddies and appointed others. He redefined compromise as pretty much whatever Republicans and rich people and corporations asked of him. He gave us a health care plan that benefits principally insurance companies. His chief of staff, the loathsome Rahm Emanuel, said “Liberals are fucking retards!”
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And, oh, boy, did he give us war. But, we did get change: quite early in his tenure he purged the system of the GWOT terminology. Even as he went wild in Afghanistan and opened a new and wholly illegal affair in Libya (not that Congress could find any real objections, the War Powers Act notwithstanding) and turned the CIA loose worldwide and the FBI at home, he eschewed any description of our wars other than as specific and necessary acts. You know, sort of like the compelling necessity of invading Iraq all those wars ago because the liar Colin Powell showed Congress a bag of talcum powder (yes, children, you can look it up).
So, whether explicitly stated or carefully avoided, administrations R and D alike, and Congress and the public mostly, agree we are involved in a long-term war against forces inimical to our way of life, to our very existence. As George W. Bush (a fucking retard if ever there was one, Rahm) so directly and so often said, “They hate us. They hate our freedoms.” So it's war. Long war. War of more than a generation's length they tell us. And in war, you do what you must. You bomb. You shoot. You use torture if you're Dick Cheney. You use “enhanced interrogation” if you're uncomfortable with calling it what it is. So, back to Breivik: a long war, regrettable, sorry to have to do it, but the opposition to our system, our way of life, the inherent alienness of them all, just must be overcome. He's thought about this a lot. He saw what needed to be done and he did it, hoping to fire the first shots in a war of urgent necessity. We've been there (collectively). We've done that.
The leftist press and even such mainstream apologists as David Brooks have lately begun saying or suggesting or intimating that certain Republican members of Congress and their Tea Party supporters are “acting crazy” or are “insane” as they push ever more blatantly to favor the rich and the super rich and to reduce or eliminate programs or policies that might favor the poor, the afflicted, or even the middle class. But of course they aren't out of their heads with misfiring neurons or corrupted synapses or chemical imbalances. Some are jacked-up on Christianity, but only a few. Most, and most particularly and definitely those we elect and allow to define our purpose and increasingly control our limited futures, those “at the top” our “leaders”, are rational, logical, calculating believers in a system that rewards and enriches the few members of a particular class and does so if necessary or when convenient by taking the meagre assets and often the lives of members of the much larger less favored class.
You may say these persons are misguided. You may even assert that they are evil. But they do not pass the crazy test. When they kill, as they so often do, they do so not in the heat of any passion but coldly and methodically. Indeed, our favored weapon of civilian annihilation is the pilotless drone, which kills from a height, as often as not the target not at all what the boy wielding the joystick in the Stateside command center thinks it is or is told it might be. So he finishes his shift without blood on his hands or the smell of death in his nostrils or the cries of the dying and wails of the survivors in his ears. He sleeps untroubled. He finishes his tour and goes home to his wife and kids. Then, of course, quite often he does go crazy. Who wouldn't. But he is easily replaced at his console and forgotten in his misery.
Barack Obama is a Democrat. It makes no difference. He has expanded George Bush'es wars and started others. He was as jingoistic and insensitive as any fat old vet slumped over the bar at the VFW when we reveled in the triumph of the extra-legal killing of Osama Bin Laden and the hurried disappearance of his corpse. He expresses conventional pieties more lucidly and grammatically than his predecessor but he is now killing at a more furious pace. The ignorant right reviles him for his supposed Socialism. The self-deluding left forgives him because he “is not George Bush.” And we shop and we vacation and tend our lawns and we tell pollsters we want more bipartisanship, more compromise. And of course lower taxes.
But you remember how it was in the last months of the Bush years: the demonstrations, the end-the-war petitioners crowding bridges every weekend the mainstream press in its mild way finding fault. All that is gone. We read from some of the most widely-printed op-ed columns how we should “help” President Obama gain the “courage” to do the right thing, to “find his true self.” Boys, he's found it. He's a friend to Wall Street, to banksters, to the rich and the corporate. And he's a warmonger. That's a word we used a lot back in the Sixties when I was a decade younger than my friend Amy Warner is now, but you don't hear it much today. But there it is. He likes the Commander-In-Chief business and he likes war and you can bet he knows more than you and I do about how many boys and girls and babies and grandmothers we've blown up on his watch and by his orders and he's just fine with all that.
We kill 'em with bombs and we kill 'em with bullets. We will do it for as long as it takes until we “win.” Return now, please (a long walk, I know) to paragraph thirteen. Same m.o. Same justifications. Same lack of remorse. He's crazy? Obama's crazy; Bush was crazy (not merely stupid and sad and petty and used by his powerful “friends”.) If we conclude these august leaders of the Free World are not insane, then it would be time for some inquiries and trials, except, wait, Mr. Hope and Change said he's all about “moving forward.” He “believes if you're in a war, you can do things like that without pleading guilty." I suppose so. Time to open a new front somewhere, I'm sure.
All right, you may grudgingly agree, if Breivik is crazy, a great many Americans and most of the big boys in D.C. Are crazy. But if the Norwegian shooter-bomber is sane, and culpable and should be tried and sentenced (and most would suggest executed, I imagine), then we had better get started drafting juries and hiring judges because our list of mass-murderers is a long and bipartisan one.
It gets worse of course. (It always does.) Many, possibly most of us are comfortable accepting the notion that we are governed either by madmen or by cold-blooded killers. But, as Bruce Springsteen told us a long time ago when hope seemed more possible and less tainted than now and change was a real possibility we thought, “the poets down here don't write nothin' at all; they just stand back and let it all be.” Our country is taken over by killers. They use our money to kill foreigners and tax us more heavily to feed themselves and their wealthy friends and they pass laws that guarantee more of us will struggle harder and die sooner. Obama and Boehner are in agreement that it is necessary to chop up Social Security and Medicare. Maine's own fucking retard Governor LePage announced last week he was “going after Mainecare” in the next legislative term. It is blood and guts all around; we are on a battlefield and they're shooting at us and most of us are too preoccupied with Twitter or too deeply lost in our tribal affiliations (“but he's a Democrat!”) or too poorly-read and willfully unobservant to even understand that they are only killing you and me through collateral damage and slow starvation. Mostly they don't even respect or acknowledge us enough to trouble to come to our homes and do away with us point-blank as Anders Breivik did.
I wish I had a better insight to offer young Amy and aging Mike. But they're tough and smart and they're accustomed to my view of things. And don't worry about old Eagles. As he often says, “I'll be dead soon enough.” But I've taken on (oh so willingly and joyfully) the burden of raising a boy who, however maculate his origins and maybe even because he came into this world without planning or purpose, deserves whatever small attempts at influence or correction I can muster as I creep up to sixty-two and am told to expect less Social Security and Medicare and more war and blood. Karter respects me (so far); I owe him.
Recently I've received three separate Email messages, one each from three different women who used to read and appreciate my weekly columns, lamenting my absence from my former venues online and in print. But what do I have to say? Only this, and this seems so bereft of anything positive or uplifting that I am not certain even now that I will publish it after I proof it.
If I do, if you read this, I ask you to remember that nine out of ten Americans believed Colin Powell when he shook out his white dust and warned us we had best commence killing or we would surely be killed by terrorists from Iraq and beyond. Well that man was a liar. A cold, rational, respectable, sane, well-paid liar. And as a result of his deception, given the forces he enabled, the plans he put into play, a murderer. He should be tried. He ought be hanged.
That may not sound so radical to you now, all these years later. I'd have been ridiculed and reviled everywhere had I said it then, and beaten or killed in many communities, so high was our war fever. Now I seem only mildly agitated about some old history and somewhat laughably intense, wasting this perfect, dry, cool Maine summer afternoon between heat waves trying to sell you all my misbegotten shit. But practice saying “Obama is a warmonger.” “The Democrats like the Republicans more than they like me.” “My banker wants to steal my house” or “My insurance man hopes I die quickly and cheaply.” It will feel strange at first. Practice. Look around you. It's getting worse. I hope Anders Breivik is insane. Then Obama and Boehner and LePage are insane. And you and I are losing a grip. And nobody can blame any of us for being what we are and for doing what we do, for allowing it in our name.
Now do you ladies see why I don't write to you any more?
The author thanks the late, great Warren Zevon for today’s title (from “Mr. Bad Example.”)