30 September 2007

AN UNEXPECTED REALITY CHECK

I've spent the last few weeks desperately attempting -- fruitlessly, pointlessly -- to ignore as much of what's going on as possible, to stop riding the wobbly see-saw of hope and despair, to unhitch Fortuna's debilitating wheel from the bent and greaseless axle of my consciousness by paying only so much attention as is absolutely necessary. I've tried to move myself even further towards the margins and fringes, not so much to garner perspective but obliviousness, to shut out what little awareness of things I might actually have. A psychic pit-stop, a mental safe-room, an extended breather from the immense psychological burden of giving a shit within a cultural milieu that prizes self-centered indifference above all else ...

Needless to say, the more I tried to ignore everything, the more it all drove me into bouts of stationary batshit panic. This useless endeavor has been an unmitigated failure -- not to mention misguided and ludicrously hypocritical as well.

Luckily (or not -- I'm not sure which), I've been rudely jolted out of my self-generated, over-excited torpor through the highly unlikely agency of what appears to be an endless troop of homeless people, purposefully rummaging around the long row of garbage cans across the street from the grimy coffee joint I happen to be sitting in. I seem to be the only caffeine junkie here who notices this interesting activity, occurring just a few feet from the front windows of this tackily hip crap hole. From the neatly-dressed executroids in their SUV's, to plain-clothes cops with guns, to the self-conscious grunge-fucks who ride up on their carefully de-engineered bicycles while smoking "organic" cigarettes (the basic clientele of this place), they're all pretending not to see the trash can people they practically have to wade through -- or drive over -- just so's they can get their desperately needed coffee fix. I watch this low-rent spectacle, and I think: What's worse, that there are so many in the "wealthiest nation on earth" who must forage through the garbage to survive, or that the people responsible for producing the trash in the first place act as if the rubbish-harvesters don't actually exist?

The irony of deriding confirmed consumerist assholes for actively ignoring the blatantly rising tide of poverty, homelessness, and all the other fun features of predatory capitalism, while at the same time complaining about how difficult it is to ignore all the grotesque ugliness myself, is not lost, which is the point of this post. In fact, "irony" is probably not the correct term -- "hypocritical stupidity" better approximates the situation here. Whatever the case, the idea that ignoring something will make it go away, whether that something be dumpster-diving street people or the neo-con appetite for destruction, is patently ridiculous and self-defeating. Leave it to group of hard-case trash pickers to dish up an unexpected reality check, to remind me that -- all the psuedo-snark and sophisticated cynicism aside -- I'm basically no better than the disconnected money-worshipping corporate fuckwad in his Escalade, righteously plowing through the paper-thin fabric of this tattered society with nary a worry or concern, or a thought about anything really. What an eye-opener.

So, for better or worse or otherwise, I'm here for the duration -- that is, until the drab and most foul neo-con era runs its course, or we're all rounded up by Blackwater goons and locked away in some Halliburton-approved dungeon, or some such combination of the two. Or something else entirely. I know full well that this hosehead blog doesn't mean anything, but so what? Trying to ignore the world as it comes apart at the seems probably doesn't mean anything either.

***

Simply as an aside: "ignore" is the root of the word "ignorance," is it not? Enough said.

14 September 2007

10 September 2007

THE "GOOD AMERICAN"

Half a lifetime ago -- or very nearly -- I was a faceless enlisted nobody in the United States Air Force. I was stationed in Germany at the peak of the convoluted shadow-play known as the Cold War, well before the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Soviet-run eastern bloc collapsed like the sorry house of cards it was. We worked extensively with a character-filled gaggle of German civilians, there at our little flugplatz nestled in the pleasant countryside north of Kaiserslautern, in the federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz. An interesting period, to say the least, bookended as it was by the end of World War II and (what we always thought of as) the highly unlikely re-unification of Germany, encompassing huge chunks of US and European social, political, and military history. To have played even so small an anonymous part in such an unsettling, fermented cauldron of triumphant confusion and profound transformations was, if anything, a deep privilege I'll always appreciate.

A reasonably large portion of our German friends had been born before the war, early enough, in fact, to have rather vivid recollections of the Nazi era -- a couple of them were old enough to have actually fought in the war, as teenaged conscripts. These old-timers were, in effect, biological conduits to a radically different world, living representations of a cultural/political order far beyond anything our own relatively narrow and limited experience could imagine. As such, they were boundlessly fascinating to know.

I haven't really thought about these people for years, even though it would be impossible to completely forget them: Hans Felker, missing a thumb on his left hand and who looked almost exactly like Archduke Franz Ferdinand; Heiner Ultes, the gas-passing champion of the Rhineland, if not the entire Bundesrepublik; or Kurt Kniereman, he of the Bozo the Clown hairdo and the mad, cackling lunatic laugh -- to name just a few. An unforgettable cast of wonderfully weird crazoids and reprobates, particularly from the viewpoint of a nitwit fresh from the bland suburban sterility of the Sacramento Valley, such as myself.

Herein lies some sort of point, surely. I suppose it might be this: it was exceedingly difficult, if not utterly impossible, to really imagine the Germans we worked with, or any with whom we were acquainted for that matter, as having had anything remotely to do with the thankfully extinct Nazi regime, whether as active enthusiasts or not. The great bulk of them seemed to embody the stereotypical attributes of the "good German," and we dumb chuckleheads had no basis from which to discover what was real and what wasn't. Beyond the specific peculiarities of their "German-ness," they struck us warm, good-natured people, apparently untouched and unburdened by the frightfully debilitating baggage of their nation's recent history.

***

Fast-forward to the present. There's an existential dilemma facing Americans these days not unlike that which (I would imagine) beset the Germans in the years leading up to the Third Reich. Both 21st-century Americans and post-Weimar Germans are, and were, witnesses to the systematic destruction of the political order in their respective countries, in both instances by relatively small groups of bloody-handed thugs, animated by avarice and the aberrant intoxications of power. Both regimes, the Nazi and the Bushist, were (and are) composed of fanatical devotees to the rule of force, the cynical manipulation of the populations under their hob-nailed heels, and the proposition that any half-truth or deception or outright falsehood or act of murderous violence is justified -- whether before, during, or after the fact -- so long as the selfish interests of the powerful are served thereby. The dilemma derives, on the part of the Germans, from genuinely enthusiastic, largely across-the-board participation in the criminality fostered by the government; for Americans, it's the mind-bending depth and breadth of indifference to, and passivity towards, the same basic types of lawless excesses committed by our own "leaders" in the present epoch. The result is pretty much the same: comprehensive public complicity, guilt by association.

You just know that, in a generation or two (or less, even), there'll be an entire industry devoted to promulgating the idea of the "good American"; that when the disastrously defiling neo-con hangover finally runs its course, leaving the American body politic desperately gasping like a landed flounder with a hook in its eyeball, there'll be legions of academics and pundits and animatronic blowholes of all persuasions voluminously explaining that it was all a ghastly mistake. We'll be informed, non-stop, that the advent of the neo-con era was, well, just an accident, that it really wasn't a reflection of the deep-seated flaws in our collective consumerist psyche and the socio-political constructions that give it outward form ... There was nobody here but us anti-Busheviks! ... Always did think those neo-con fucktards were crazy ...

For those of us who are truly and legitimately opposed to the repulsive banality of neo-con politics and policies, and have been from even before the beginning, how will we fit within the rickety framework of apologetics that, even now, is in the early phases of construction? Will we have a clear and distinctive voice, easily distinguishable from the opportunists, blood swillers, and generic goosesteppers who will only turn against the regime when ultimate disaster looms? Or will we be marginalized, co-opted, and/or drowned out completely by the veritable army of diseased rats who're already fleeing the rapidly sinking tub that they, themselves, were so instrumental in launching? Will the respectable, official, public image of the anti-Bush "good American" be cobbled together and manipulated by these same verminous scum, desperate to obfuscate their own not inconsiderable crimes while establishing their "democratic" and "anti-neo-con" credentials, the better to strategically position themselves to take advantage of whatever opportunities might appear in the as-yet amorphous backwash of a post-Bush United States?

In the end, actually, the only question that counts is: What do any of these rhetorical questions matter, so long as our sickeningly compromised, seriously bent, and heavily damaged democratic republic survives this dangerous far-right misadventure in something resembling one piece? My old German friends would likely agree -- sure, the larger portion of Nazi criminals escaped justice, at Nuremberg or elsewhere, and most successfully rehabilitated themselves enough to eventually become pillars of the post-war versions of the German state, both east and west; all Germans, high and low, young and old, have been broadly slathered with the taint of their own past, fairly or not, but it hasn't weighed on them all that much. In fact, they'd probably make a fairly convincing argument that anything would be a vast improvement over a fascist dictatorship and catastrophic defeat in war, even an imposed political order that quickly fell under the control of the same "nodes" of power that benefited handsomely from the Nazi regime. The trade off? No Feurher, no swastikas, no bombs falling on their cities, codified civil liberties, a form of representative government, and a reasonable amount of economic prosperity for the past sixty years or so. Not bad, if I may say so.

***

Yes, well. I'm astounded beyond belief that we, Americans one and all, are in roughly the same equivocal moral position the population of Nazi Germany found itself in, circa 1938-39. Never would I imagine that we’d have anything in common with a fascist police state that, if you recall, was only brought down after the bloodiest, most violent war in human history -- something that has permanently stuck itself on the very front edge of my consciousness. Shit, will there even be any "good Americans" when this strange neo-con dream is finally over ... ? Does it even matter?

02 September 2007

BRIEFLY: IN PRAISE OF BEER AND BREWPUBS

One good thing about three-day weekends -- they provide your weakling chronicler here the rare opportunity of making four trips to the Rubicon Brewing Company in a mere two days, knocking back banger-and-egg breakfasts and steak sandwiches and about twenty pints of the best amber ale this side of the Mississippi River. Free wireless Internet access has allowed me to read so many blogs that I'm thoroughly sick of the whole thing, as well as being queasy and cross-eyed. Fuck, I think my liver AND aorta are both exploding ... ah, what a way to go.

Anyhow, just wanted to share a brief Who-Gives-A-Shit moment with all my brethren and compatriots out there. I think I'm gonna have to check into AA one of these days ...