Monday, July 14, 2008

The horror show goes on

Frank Rich writes in today's New York Times about a new book called "The Dark Side" by Jane Mayer about the paranoia, torture and general Constitution-trampling that characterizes the administration's war on terror. Her compares it to "The Final Days," the account of Nixon's end game with its "cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance" except that the current version is scarier "because these final days aren’t over yet and because the stakes are much higher. Watergate was all about a paranoid president’s narcissistic determination to cling to power at any cost. In Ms. Mayer’s portrayal of the Bush White House, the president is a secondary, even passive, figure" and the ruthless Cheney et al are calling the shots, motivated by paranoia about terrorists. The implicit justification is that yes, torture is sort of bad, but it's necessary to keep America safe from another 9/11. The most interesting point, I think, is the notion that torture has NOT made America safer; it coerced false confessions and bogus "intelligence," including the stuff about Iraq having WMD, leading to a destroyed country and thousands of needless deaths. And now, he argues, we've sunk everything into Iraq while Afghanistan is neglected, Al Quaeda regroups, etc, and we're back risk-wise to where we started in the summer of 2001, including having an uninformed and indecisive president. For this point Rich cites "The Decider Who Can't Make Up His Mind" in the Washington Post -- another scary and infuriating read about a fundamental failure of basic management skills on the paret of our fearless leader. God, how did we ever get such a stupid president accompanied by such evil assholes in positions of gerat power?

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading two different books with a familar theme: people oppressed by the injustices and violence of the society they live in. The books are "If Beale Street Could Talk" by James Baldwin and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khalil Husseini. "Beale Street" is a lyrical and powerful love story about two good people whose lives are shattered basically because they are black Americans in the 1960s. I had previously read "Go Tell It On the Mountain" but couldn't get into the heavy church scene. But this one packs a huge punch. As for Hussein's book, several people had told me this one wasn't as good as "The Kite Runner," his first novel, but they're wrong. The story covers a later period in recent Afghanistan history than the first book, ranging from the fall of the monarchy to the 1990s (and perhaps later -- I haven't finished it yet).

Both books are obviously set in fucked-up societies, though "Suns" has the added patina of open warfare in civilian Kabul even as the Taliban impose their incredibly oppressive social regime, with its special brand of viciousness toward women. I also read "The Handmaid's Tale" a few weeks ago. It's a political/cultural cautionary tale set in the future like "1984," where another repressive regime assigns some women the task of doing nothing but getting fucked so they can breed and bring up the birth rate (severely depressed by unspecified pllution and possibly radiation). No books, love affairs or even friendships permitted, spies everywhere, routine mass executions, etc. Reading these books close together brought me to the obvious conclusion that "The Handmaid's Tale" isn't some fictional future -- it's modern Afghanistan and a lot of other countries as well. The primary horror of books like "1984" and "handmaid" is that they are set in "civilized" democracies (America, England) and not "some Third World country." But we now know that if the current administration had its way in all things, America wouldn't look too different from the worlds in these three books, where people are filled with fear and have to fight for basic civil liberties and personal dignity every day.

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