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All I Ever Needed to Know About Adolf Hitler, I Learned From Daffy Duck

7 Jul

In the days and weeks after 9/11/01, I recall being very disappointed in some of my friends and acquaintances who, through one instance or another, proved themselves to be racist assholes. I admit and have admitted that right after the Twin Towers fell, I had a little bloodlust, myself. I wanted to pound Osama bin Laden in his ugly face and carpet bomb whatever sand-choked hellhole he had squirreled himself away in. But I never felt like attacking Muslims, frankly I didn’t make the direct connection between Islam and the events of 9/11 until FOX News kindly pointed it out for me. When someone carries out hurtful acts in the name of a religion that otherwise preaches peace and moderation, then they are not representatives of that religion. They’re wackos.

So right after 9/11, I noticed that a lot of my peers and neighbors were fucking dickfaces. It wasn’t just the people around me, either, but all over America there were flags on car bumpers and anti-Muslim slogans and outbursts of racist violence that, quite honestly, scared the shit out of me. As our army was pulled from Afghanistan and sent to Iraq in order to ferret out those elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction, I wondered what the fuck is happening in my country? I felt powerless, the events that directly affected my life were out of my control and coalescing into something I could not understand. There is nothing wrong with owning and displaying the American flag, if that’s your thing, but the implied and actual jingoism of the early twenty-first century was a little much.

I got a similar sense reading In the Garden of Beasts by the engaging and talented Erik Larsen. It’s about a family of four, the Dodds, the head of which was a Midwestern university professor, tapped by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for travel to Berlin as an ambassador of America. He takes his clan: wife, son, and his free-spirited and sexually liberated daughter Martha, and when they arrive to Germany in 1933, Hitler has only just become Chancellor and the Nazi Party is gaining its footholds. In just one year, the Nazis break the Treaty of Versailles, remove practically every right of Jewish citizens, and stage a bloody coup in which as many as a thousand people are simultaneously assassinated. In the middle of it all is the Dodd family, beholden to American isolationist interests, but recoiling in horror at what is happening in Germany.

It’s easy to pretend that the Nazis rose to power overnight, confounding an otherwise peaceful public who went to bed one evening and discovered Stormtroopers goose-stepping down their streets the next morning. But it didn’t happen like that, and political coups are rarely that abrupt. We remember the acts of violence: Kristallnacht, concentration camp murders, the bombing of London. But we don’t recall the legislation put into place years earlier that forbade gentiles to marry Jews, or made it mandatory to salute parades and any Nazi officers that happened to pass within one’s field of vision. It’s a subtle ramp up to accepting a fascist dictatorship, so sneaky that you barely realize anything’s changed until you discover that all of your Jewish neighbors have disappeared. And then you remember that they had an awesome radio in their living room.

I wonder how far along this path we Americans went in the years following 2001. We accepted the Patriot Act, we accepted an unjust military foray into Iraq, we accepted that we would have to sacrifice some of our personal freedom for the hope of safety. Often I wonder if we’re still headed down that path. We subject ourselves to a degrading experience every time we travel by air, is it impossible to think that at the end of a line of people taking off their shoes and belts, wearily but willingly being prodded by metal detectors, there might be a communal shower filled with Zyklon B? Would you step into the shower if you thought that it would stop another 9/11 from happening, or would you resist? At that point, would resisting even be an option?

I’ve heard from a few people that don’t know what the title of this essay is about. I’m surprised at all of you! See below.

Take My Legally Recognized Life Partner, Please

27 Jun

Since the passing of landmark legislation this past weekend, more than a few people have asked me what my thoughts are on New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo ratifying a bill to allow same sex marriages in the state. I’m curious to understand why people want to know my opinion, I don’t think I’ve ever come out staunchly for or against homosexual relationships in the past. The most I’ve written about it here was a quick mention at the end of this essay, essentially to say that I don’t care about homosexuality. Not against it, not for it, don’t really give a shit. That’s not me adopting a cool, disaffected attitude to mask some underlying anxiety about homosexuality, but the result of deep, soul-searching introspection which has turned up a complete and utter void where my personal opinion was supposed to be. I think I must have taken some of my opinion on this matter and used it to pad out my opinion on Saved By the Bell, about which I can go on for volumes. Don’t test me on that.

Now that the deed is done in New York State, let’s all be real here for a minute: by and large, the conservative attitude against gay marriage has not been about marriage between two women, but between two men. That double-standard where homosexuality among males is a sin but homosexuality among females is more innocent–a turn-on, even–is as pervasive as it was in Ancient Rome and underscores the entire anti-gay agenda. When a woman dresses like a man, it’s cute, but when a man dresses like a woman he’s a fruitcake. When women kiss each other hello, it’s accepted, yet if men kiss either hello many people are disgusted. I get disgusted by it, too, but not because I assume the two men kissing are gay. I assume the two men kissing are French. French people are gross.

So I’m not going to elucidate the point that it’s okay for two women to be married. I think only the shrillest, most fundamental Christians are opposed to that, and there’s a limit to the things a well-paid Republican will rail against. “I just got a blowjob in the bathroom from a Taiwanese runaway,” thinks a Republican senator, “how can I, in good conscience, not allow two women to have a legal partnership? Especially if they’re hot women. And Taiwanese.” No, the issue here is whether or not it’s okay for two men to get married. Matrimony is not part of the life cycle, it’s a social construct. It’s really two people signing their names to the same piece of paper so they can get tax breaks and lots of junk mail from Babies “R” Us. I know there’s a deep religious component for some people, but since our Bill of Rights guarantees a separation of church and state, who cares? Start up a new church called the Holy Cathedral of Not Letting Gays Marry Ever and deny homosexuals membership. From a purely bureaucratic standpoint, two gay people getting married as about as newsworthy as a gay person signing up for a fishing license, or a gay person filing for bankruptcy. It’s just paperwork.

I guess the foundation of my understanding of homosexuality lies in the belief that gay people are born, not made. Living in New York, I’ve probably encountered every gay stereotype around, plus met plenty of gay people who did not fit a stereotype. One of my mom’s first employers was a fat, belching dude who drank whiskey and smoked cigars and had a voice like James Earl Jones, since his throat was destroyed by whiskey and cigars. And my mom’s boss had a boyfriend. He wasn’t closeted, but he didn’t wear his homosexuality on his sleeve like “new gays” sometimes do. I’m reminded of a time that a newly-outed lesbian friend of mine suggested I read the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For because she knew I liked comics. I told her that the comic sucked, and she said I probably wasn’t into it because I’m not gay. “No,” I replied, “the comic sucks. That it involves the lives of several gay couples is the only interesting part about it, and that’s just not interesting enough by itself.”

So what the hell was my point again…oh right: my stance on gay marriage. What I’ve been asked to opine about is whether two men who are titillated by each other should be allowed to be wed. What I can’t wrap my head around is why I should care at all. People are enticed by so many disparate things, being aroused by another human being as opposed to some cartoon character or anthropomorphic deity makes more sense to me personally. Of course gay people should be allowed to legally marry, just like they should be allowed to get a driver’s license or register to vote. It’s a municipal designation where the law is concerned, nothing more. We’ve got a country of people who stay married for decades out of spite, partners who think of other people when they make love, couples that engage in shocking, dangerous stuff behind closed doors that would make the most avid Real Sex viewer puke. Two guys that appreciate each others’ penises should be allowed to get married, divorced, they should be allowed to open a limited liability corporation together and also have their names embroidered on hand towels. At least two men aren’t going to marry because they’re being pressured by parents or because one knocked the other up. No, gay people will marry, at least for the foreseeable future, out of love. And plus, every time a gay couple marries, it really pisses off an evangelist. That alone is reason enough to support gay marriage.

Doing the Right Thing is For Morons

2 Jun

We humans always do the right thing. It’s true! “Right” and “wrong” are subjective principles by which we guide our lives. Everyone can justify their actions, even if they are colloquially wrong we will convince ourselves we deserve the small pleasures derived from being bad. “I’ve had a rotten day, I can eat this entire carton of ice cream,” we might mutter to ourselves while filling shopping carts with crinkly packages of carbohydrates. “I lost ten bucks last week, so getting back too much change at the corner store evens things out.” Perhaps in a cosmic sense it does. But in a cosmic sense, money is a pointless construct that exists in our minds and nowhere else.

Even serial killers believe they are doing the right thing, as prescribed by the voices in their heads and their strange sexual urges. Many in the secular world seem to hold on to this belief that karma exists, that good things happen to good people and deviants always get theirs in the end. That simply isn’t true. Life is pointless and brutal, and there is no ethereal reward for making nice just like there are no punishments for being an asshole. Perhaps you are a member of some religion that has promised an eternal reward for a lifetime of servitude. If that’s the case, then your mind is already so warped that other people’s potential motives are as foreign to you as Martian wine. Your versions of “right” and “wrong” are all written down in some ancient tome full of subtext and hidden reasoning and you don’t apply critical thinking to anything but liberal politics.

There is no inherent equity in the world, and that can be proven. There is no justice for the deer whose fawn is eaten by wolves, there is no justice for the guy who careens off the road because he was cut off by some asshole in traffic. Existence is a string of meaningless and disparate events that are not tailored for or against your favor in any way. Rich people continue to get more wealthy while entire nations starve. Child abusers are exonerated by the Pope while child daycare becomes less and less affordable. There is no balance, there is no yin and no yang. There is no justice in the world, it’s just us. And most of us are repressed balls of rage, just biding our time until we can vent on those weaker than we are. That’s human nature.

How do I know that there is no justice in the world? I learned today that Gary Carter, Hall of Fame catcher and one-time player for the New York Mets, has brain cancer. Gary Carter was a central figure on the 1986 Mets team that won the World Series, not just for his skill behind the plate but because he was the only clean-cut gentleman in a baseball club full of philandering goons. Keith Hernandez would give locker room interviews while smoking cigarettes, Lenny Dykstra showed up drunk to most practices, Darryl Strawberry couldn’t stop touching the nose candy. But Gary Carter was always out there signing baseballs for the kids, promoting clean living and good behavior, flashing his bright Canadian smile from beneath the shadow of his brim, displaying thumbs up to everyone facing his direction. The Nationals didn’t respect his Expos Hall of Fame number and still, he kept smiling. He’s an active philanthropist who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to public schools. He has over three-hundred home runs for crying out loud! So what part of the cosmic plan is Gary’s brain cancer? What is the universe trying to tell us? Doing the right thing is for suckers. Be sure to kick a puppy on your way home from work today.

Justice. Is Done.

2 May

I was just about falling asleep Sunday night when my girlfriend, who keeps later hours than I, came into the bedroom to tell me that Osama bin Laden had been killed. “Osama bin Laden has been killed,” she said, “I thought you might want to know.”

“Great,” I replied, and rolled over to go back to sleep.

I feel like a bad American because I don’t grasp the significance of this event. It’s like I’ve been playing some overwrought sandbox video game where I’ve spent so much time doing side missions for non-player characters that I forgot the original plot which brought me to a town of incapable retards in the first place. Sure, I remember Osama bin Laden, I can recall focusing my rage on his smug, bearded face in the days and weeks after 9/11/01. I naturally assumed that the U.S. armed forces would swarm upon bin Laden like futuristic robotic ants at a picnic hologram. And I supported it, for the most part. Despite my sneaking suspicion that the tragic events of 9/11/01 weren’t wholly unjustified, that there was a bigger reason behind the attacks than some crusty supervillain hating “our freedoms,” I wanted revenge. Who the fuck was this guy to mess up the New York skyline and kill those hapless people? Blow his head off.

So George W. Bush sent our troops over to Afghanistan to flush Osama out of his hidey-hole or whatever. I recalled the early 1990s Operation: Desert Storm where the U.S. military fired hair-seeking missiles from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy recliners, killing only the guilty and simultaneously breeding gratefulness among the Kuwaiti people by sending Jolly Rancher cluster bombs into the most populated districts for women and children to enjoy. Plus, every country was on our side, remember that? For a brief time, everyone wanted in on the revenge, so I figured it would be all be over in six months–a year, tops. I felt pretty assured that this asshole would die, and though it wouldn’t erase the events of 9/11/01, at least it would satisfy some of my bloodlust.

But W. Bush didn’t fight the same war as his dad, no, he sent in a lot of ground troops and old-fashioned fighter jets to drop bombs instead of the science-fiction gadgetry I saw just as grunge music started taking off. Then W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq and burnt up all of our worldwide goodwill by brow-beating everyone in the United Nations. Osama bin Laden was on the run, we were told, proven by periodically released grainy video where he’d talk a lot of shit. Meanwhile, we had to get rid of Saddam Hussein for some reason or another. I started to feel like Osama bin Laden was the Joker, a diabolical mastermind would could not be caught so we’re better off not even trying. We can deal with his messes when they crop up, but for now we’ve got to corral the Riddler and Catwoman so let’s concentrate on them. It’s not like I started feeling sympathy for bin Laden, I just kind of pushed him to the periphery of a new cast of villains which included Saddam, Kim Jong-Il, and pretty much anyone and anything French.

It got more complicated from there. It turned out that the Iraqi War was fought for no reason yet we couldn’t leave because we’d unsettled the region politically (duh). The world’s economy went tits up and tens of thousands of mortgaged homes were foreclosed upon. There was also that thing where Israel bombed the Gaza Strip and a bunch of Turks were pissy about it. Or was it Greeks? The story was more complex than an episode of LOST, and in the shuffle I forgot that we were still looking for Osama bin Laden. I knew he was still an enemy, but it looked like we had bigger fish to fry. I mean, if the U.S. military ran into him at the 7-11, there would probably be a showdown. But provided bin Laden stayed wherever he was hiding out, he’d probably die naturally of vitamin D deficiency. Which is, in its way, a kind of justice.

One of the pivotal points of Barack Obama’s campaign platform was that he would remove troops from Iraq and put them back in Afghanistan. Unlike most political promises, Obama made good on that, and rather quickly as I recall. I was glad to see troops withdrawn from Iraq, a conflict that made little sense, and felt kind of lukewarm about them being sent to Afghanistan. I guess it’s to keep pounding the Taliban, I thought, or maybe to ferret out that bin Laden guy. I was so inured to our meddling in that region, I didn’t even bat an eyelid to hear that the U.S. was supporting Libyan rebels. I guess Ghadafi is the new enemy? I thought. That was comforting because I remember when he was an enemy before, way back when I was in grade school.

Last night, at the end of a press conference where Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, he said, “Justice is done.” I’m wondering: for whom? For the thousands of people who died on U.S. soil during the attacks on 9/11/01? I find it hard to believe that the ethereal spirits of these people have been assuaged by the knowledge that some guy they’d probably never heard of in their lifetimes is going to join them in purgatory or wherever. Even for the families of these victims, it seems like a paltry vengeance. Was it worth hundreds of trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives and ten years doing fuck all but tracking bin Laden down for an unceremonious late night announcement? Does this assure that we will never suffer a terrorist attack again? Or have we put ourselves at an even larger risk by making a martyr of the very mad scientist who concocted 9/11/01 in his nefarious war room nestled deep within Dimension ZX-13? (Where, incidentally, everyone is evil, but Osama bin Laden was still the most evil. That’s how evil he was!)

I know I shouldn’t be glib. I know that killing Osama bin Laden is a big news story. But I wonder: what’s changed, besides more security precautions and the increased allocations to law enforcement that come with them? Has justice been done for cops? Is this justice for George W. Bush, who so desperately wanted to catch that varmint but was distracted by the nagging problem of Iraq’s exploitation at the hands of non-corporate interests? Perhaps this is justice for the U.S. military who haven’t even been tasked with killing bin Laden since 2003. It occurs to me that the only real justice that could happen after the events of 9/11/01 would be if America’s citizenry had returned to the naive, over consumptive state it enjoyed at the expense of the Third World prior to that fateful September day. To that end, we’ve been living in a state of justice for about half a dozen years now. In fact, we’ve barely curbed our wasteful ways. Justice is done.

Let’s Agree to Disagree

11 Apr

For almost five billion revolutions
Our planet has spun ’round
Give or take a few thousand years
(My watch was not yet wound)

Cosmic forces spewed red-hot goo
And, at first, it did expand
Then, over time, cooled and shrank
Into that on which we stand

That’s how it passed, I do not lie
Though others claim as such
They feel our whole existence
Came from bristles of God’s brush

If that is how you’d like the tale
I’ll be happy to adapt it:
God painted Earth with thermal law
The Big Bang was His palette

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