Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Stopping the Madness

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Can We At Least Have A Different New Year?

An idea whose time had come - "The world will come to understand that it stop this mad course towards the future and we demand the governments of the world and the United Nations declare a moratorium to stop, this December 31, the future."

Stop the future? You can read all about it here -

    Taking the French love to say "non" to a new extreme, some 600 people gathered in the western city of Nantes not to ring in the New Year, but to protest its arrival on Monday.

    Lashed by rain, the organizers joked even the weather was against 2007, as they milled about under banners reading "No to 2007!" and "Now is better!"

We are told too that "the tension mounted as the minutes ticked away." But midnight, and 2007, came anyway. Of course these folks had an answer - they immediately began to chant "No to 2008!" And they plan to hold the event for a third time on December 31, 2007 - on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Good for them - we all need an active and lively absurdist movement to laugh at this sorry world. Not all of us read the Absurdist Monthly Review, the magazine of the New Absurdist Movement.

And what happened in Nantes was so very French - it was Camus, after all, who introduced the idea of acceptance without resignation and asked if man can "live without appeal" - defining a "conscious revolt" against the absurdity of the world. Thus we have the "conscious revolt" of folks in Nantes. Absurd, yes, but why not? After all, in an absurd world devoid of higher meaning or judicial afterlife, man becomes absolutely free, right? Camus held that it is through this freedom that man can act either as a mystic - through appeal to some supernatural force - or an absurd hero - through a revolt against such hope. It's all about the heroic refusal to hope, and about living in the present with passion, and humor of course. You cannot do a thing about the damned new year, so see you all next New Years Eve on the Champs-Elysees, nor not.

Frequent contributor to these pages Phillip Raines could be there - "I know I'm French somewhere, somehow, because I so get this."

But there still are the mystics - appealing to some supernatural force or other. They're also in France, in Lourdes -

    Piousness and partying came together for New Year's celebrations overnight as Christian pilgrims visiting France's famous miracle town of Lourdes got down and boogied in "God's disco."

    Around 1,000 faithful kicked up their heels in the unusual nightclub as Exo, a Christian pop group created in 1991 by a couple of US missionaries, blasted out their tunes from an outdoors stage.

That's not absurd? God's Disco? So much for The Song of Bernadette (1943) - we get second-rate mid-seventies disco covers, with the lyrics no doubt sanitized, performed some evangelicals from Iowa. That may not be worth a pilgrimage to the town of miracles. Many of us would have made the pilgrimage to Nantes, not Lourdes.

It should be noted that there were, simultaneously, some serious things happening in France -

    Homeless families and their supporters have taken over an upscale office building in Paris and set up a mock housing ministry in a bid to keep housing rights on politicians' agendas before spring presidential elections.

    The plight of France's homeless and others living in poor conditions becomes a hot-button issue each winter. But with presidential elections on the horizon this year, it has taken on real political meaning and encouraged groups to take action.

    A group calling itself the Children of Don Quixote recently set up tents for the homeless in the French capital - and invited Parisians to spend the night in them. Associations made a push to register the homeless for the April and May two-round vote before last week's deadline.

    The enthusiasm on behalf of the homeless, and those housed in cheap hotels, appears to be spreading.

Chirac spoke out on the matter in his annual New Year's Eve address (video here) - he pledged to work to "make the right to housing a reality." On Tuesday, the government studied a first draft of a bill that would allow the homeless appeal to the courts. Two leading presidential candidates, "Bush-lite" Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the winsome Socialist Segolene Royal (think Hillary Clinton, but with actual charm), each did what anyone would expect - Sarkozy designated a famous lawyer to follow the issue, and Royal spoke by telephone with the Children of Don Quixote. The Lyonnaise de Banque group, which owns the building in question, a vacant place across the street from the old Bourse, was not impressed.

There are sixty-three million people in France, and some 86,500 homeless people - about as many as we have here in Los Angeles. But we get this Children of Don Quixote thing - Don Quixote, the symbol of noble and somewhat absurd lost causes, and this mock housing ministry. The French know absurd when they see it. It's all about the symbols - the little camp tents that appeared during the holiday along the Canal Saint Martin and the Parisians who joined the homeless there in solidarity. Such things don't happen in Santa Monica.

And there seems to be a war of symbols, as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, notes. He forwards a communication from the mayor's office (he seems to be on distribution). The mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, is a bit unhappy with the action of some right-wing group to distribute free soup to the needy. Specifically the mayor objects to "pig soup" on the grounds that it of course will be unacceptable to Muslims and Jews. He says he is going to ask the Prefect of Police to take appropriate measures.

That goes like this -

    02/01/2007 - Communiqué du maire relatif à la distribution de soupe au cochon

    Par M. Bertrand DELANOË

    Je prends acte, en la regrettant, de l'ordonnance du juge des référés au tribunal administratif de Paris, qui a autorisé le 22 décembre l'association d'extrême droite « Solidarité des Français » à reprendre sa distribution de « soupe au cochon ».

    Cette décision est d'autant plus étonnante qu'elle reconnaît que cette action - je cite - « poursuit un but clairement discriminatoire ».

    Je souhaite donc vivement que le Préfet de Police fasse appel de cette ordonnance, espérant que le Conseil d'Etat aura, comme d'autres tribunaux administratifs dans un passé récent, une interprétation différente des principes républicains.

    Je rappelle que dès juin 2004, le Conseil de Paris avait voté un vœu demandant l'interdiction de cette distribution qui exclut sciemment les personnes de confession juive et musulmane.

    Face à cette initiative aux relents xénophobes, je veux exprimer à nouveau la volonté de la municipalité de dénoncer et de combattre toute forme de discrimination, de racisme et d'antisémitisme.

    En cette période hivernale où les besoins de solidarité sont toujours plus criants, je veux également rendre hommage aux milliers de Parisiens qui, sans « faire le tri » entre nos concitoyens dans le besoin, consacrent leur temps et leur énergie à les aider.

    Ce faisant, ce sont aussi les valeurs et l'identité de notre ville qu'ils honorent.

    Avant même que le Conseil d'Etat se soit prononcé, je demande bien entendu à Monsieur le Préfet de Police de tout mettre en œuvre afin que ces agissements indignes ne puissent provoquer de troubles à l'ordre public.

You hardly need much French to see what he's saying.

The parallel here is the Texas pig races -

    A Texas man protested the proposed building of a mosque next to his property by holding pig races and selling sausages. About 100 people showed up to catch the races.

    Muslims are forbidden to eat pork. Craig Baker, 46, said he was defending his rights and his property.

    Baker has been at odds with the Katy Islamic Association who plans to build a mosque, community center and school near his property.

Is this absurd? You can see what the people in Nantes were up to. This madness has to stop.

How mad has it been here in the United States? Dave Barry has an answer in his annual Year in Review. He knows absurd when he sees it - "It was a momentous year, a year of events that will echo in the annals of history the way a dropped plate of calamari echoes in an Italian restaurant with a tile floor."

He suggests that 2006 will be a year that we will not want to remember -

    This was the year in which the members of the United States Congress, who do not bother to read the actual bills they pass, spent weeks poring over instant messages sent by a pervert. This was the year in which the vice president of the United States shot a lawyer, which turned out to be totally legal in Texas. This was the year in which there came to be essentially no difference between the treatment of maximum-security-prison inmates and the treatment of commercial-airline passengers.

    This was the year in which - as clearly foretold in the Bible as a sign of the Apocalypse - Howie Mandel got a hit TV show.

    Also there were many pesky problems left over from 2005 that refused to go away in 2006, including Iraq, immigration, high gas prices, terrorism, global warming, and avian flu, Iran, North Korea and Paris Hilton. Future generations are going to look back at this era and ask us how we could have allowed Paris Hilton to happen, and we are not going to have a good answer.

Then follows his month by month assessment.


    … a month that dawns with petty partisan bickering in Washington, D.C., a place where many people view petty partisan bickering as honest, productive work, like making furniture. The immediate cause of the bickering is the Republican ethics scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, both of whom you can tell, just by looking at them, are guilty of something. The Democrats charge that the Republicans have created a Culture of Corruption and should be thrown out of office so the Democrats can return to power and run the scandal-free style of government for which they are so famous. The Republicans respond that the Democrats are soft on terrorism soft on terrorism soft on terrorism softonterrorism. Both sides issue press releases far into the night.

    The other big focus of the bickering is the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. As always, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings provide high-quality TV entertainment as the nation tunes in to see if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will be able to successfully remember the nominee's name. The bulk of the hearings are spent in the traditional manner, with Democrats trying to trick the nominee into revealing his views on abortion, and Republicans reminding the nominee that he does not have to reveal his views on abortion. The subsequent exchange of press releases is so intense that several government photocopiers burst into flames.

    In the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden, who may or may not be dead, nevertheless releases another audio tape, for the first time making it downloadable from iTunes. Bin Laden also starts a blog, in which he calls upon his followers to destroy the corrupt infidels and also try to find out how a person, hypothetically, can get Chinese food delivered to a cave.

    In the Middle East, Palestinian voters elect the militant Hamas party, which assumes control of government functions such as street repair, which Hamas decides to handle by firing rockets at potholes. Canada also holds elections, which are won by some Canadian, we assume.

    In economic news, the big story is the retirement of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who, after 19 years as the person most responsible for guiding the American economy, steps down, taking with him the thanks of a grateful nation and a suitcase containing $11 billion.

In goes on in this manner. February brought the president's address on energy policy'' - the nation has an ''addiction'' to ''foreign oil'' and we should do something, one day or another. And there was the administration's decision to allow a company owned by the United Arab Emirates to operate six US seaports - absurdly defended, then abandoned. And that was the month Vice President Dick Cheney shot attorney Harry Whittington in the face. Oops. That had its own absurdity, followed immediately by the business with the cartoons published the previous year in a Danish newspaper, depicting the Prophet Mohammed. How do you explain all that? You didn't - you watched the Steelers win the Super Bowl or the Winter Olympics. They made more sense, or didn't.

March - gas hits two-fifty a gallon, and the Israeli government changes. Sharon is out with a massive stroke and Israeli voters give a parliamentary majority to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but it's a quiet month. But then there's April -

    Tom DeLay decides not to seek re-election to Congress, making the announcement via audio tape from a cave somewhere in Pakistan. Republican leaders express relief over DeLay's decision and issue a statement pledging that there will be "no more Republican scandals, unless somebody finds out about Mark Foley.''

    Meanwhile in the Middle East, tension mounts still higher when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has successfully produced enriched uranium, although he claims that his nation plans to use it only for peaceful purposes ''such as cooking.'' In Iraq, there is good news and bad news for the Bush administration: The good news is that rival Iraqi leaders have finally agreed on a new prime minister. The bad news is that it is Nancy Pelosi.

    Domestically, the national debate over illegal immigration heats up as thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of major U.S. cities, thus causing a total shutdown of Paris. Meanwhile the Mexican government, in what is widely viewed as a deliberate provocation, convenes in Milwaukee. But the big story is the price of gasoline, which continues its relentless climb toward an unprecedented $3 a gallon. Responding quickly, Congress, in a rare display of decisive bipartisan action, takes a recess, with both sides promising to resume bickering the instant they get back.

Yeah, a little glib, but so what? That's approximately what happened.

May? The Bush administration comes under heavy criticism following press reports that the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone records of millions of Americans. Responding to the outcry, President Bush assures the nation that ''the government is not collecting personal information on any individual citizen.'' And the president announces that he will use National Guard troops to stop illegal immigration. And there was Enron - "In Houston, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are convicted of fraud by a federal jury, which apparently is not persuaded by the defense's claim that Skilling and Lay could not have been responsible for the collapse of the $100 billion corporation because they were, quote, 'both getting haircuts.''" That wasn't what they said, but it was close - after the verdict, Lay actually said, "We believe that God in fact is in control.'' Some worry about that - it could be true. And less than two months later, Lay dies of heart failure. Spooky.

June? That's easy -

    In politics, the debate over Iraq continues to heat up, with President Bush insisting that ''we must stay the course, whatever it may or may not be,'' while the Democrats claim that they would bring the troops home ''immediately,'' or ''in about six months,'' or ''maybe not for a long time,'' depending on which particular Democrat is speaking and what time of day it is. On a more positive note, US troops kill Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who is identified by intelligence experts as ''a person with a really terrorist-sounding name.'' In another hopeful development in Iraq, the Sunnis and the Shiites agree to try to come up with a simple way for Americans to remember which one is which.

    On the legal front, the Supreme Court rules that the Bush administration cannot try suspected terrorists in ad hoc military tribunals, after the court learns that the administration is interpreting ''ad hoc'' to mean "under water.''

    Dan Rather, who stopped anchoring the evening news in 2005, announces his retirement from CBS after a career spanning 44 years and several galaxies. Explaining his decision, Rather cites a desire to ''explore other options'' and "not keep getting maced by the CBS security guard.''

    On a happier note, the United States marks the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System - an engineering marvel consisting of 47,000 miles of high-speed roads connecting 157,000 Waffle Houses. A formal ceremony is planned, but has to be canceled when Dad refuses to stop.

July, along with the Floyd Landis and the Tour de France win that wasn't, and the famous head-butt at the World Cup final, the Israel-Hezbollah war starts and North Korea tests a bunch of ballistic missiles on the

four of July - "including two believed to be potentially capable of reaching US soil. World tension goes back down when the missiles, upon reaching an altitude of 200 feet, explode and spell HAPPY BIRTHDAY." No, they didn't

August brings the big terror scare, and more -

    … commercial air travel turns into a total nightmare. No, wait, it was already a total nightmare. But it turns into an even worse total nightmare after Britain uncovers a terrorist plot targeting international flights, which results in a whole new set of security rules, including a total ban on all gels and liquids, including spit, urine, heavy perspirers and lactating women. After days of chaos at the airports, the TSA issues a new directive stating that ''passengers may carry small quantities of liquids on board, but only if they are inside clear, one-quart, sealable plastic bags.'' This leads to still more chaos, as many TSA employees interpret this to mean that the passengers must be inside the bags. Eventually the TSA issues a clarification stating that "if necessary, the bags can have air holes.''

    … In crime news, a man in Thailand claims that he had something to do with the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It quickly becomes clear that the man is an unstable creep whose story is totally unbelievable, so the cable-TV shows drop it.

    Ha ha! Just kidding! The cable-TV shows go into days of round-the-clock All-JonBenet-All-The-Time Wallow Mode. Battalions of legal experts are brought in, some of them so excited at the opportunity to revisit the JonBenet tragedy that additional janitors have to be brought into the studios to mop up puddles of expert weewee.

At this point you see what he's up to. Click on the link for comments on September - Steve ''Crocodile Hunter'' Irwin and Congressman Mark Foley of Florida and Pope Benedict XVI giving a speech suggesting that the Muslim religion has historically been linked to violence, and then apologizing. It's like shooting fish in a barrel - an absurd image in itself. October - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test, Congress authorizes the construction of a seven hundred mile fence on the Mexican border, sort of, Cheney on the radio defends the interrogation technique known as ''water-boarding'' and John Kerry screws up a joke and the political world explodes.

November brings the elections -

    As the campaign lumbers to the finish line, the Republicans desperately hope that the voters will not notice that they - once the party of small government - have turned into the party of war-bungling, corruption-tolerating, pork-spewing power-lusting toads, while the Democrats desperately hope that the voters will not notice that they are still, basically, the Democrats. The actual voters, of course, are paying no attention, having given up on politics months ago because every time they turn on the TV all they see are political ads accusing pretty much every candidate on either side of being, at minimum, a child molester.

    Thus nobody really knows what will happen as the voters go to the polls. In Florida, nobody knows anything even after the voting is over, because - prepare to be shocked - many electronic balloting machines malfunction. Voters in one district report that their machines, instead of displaying the candidates for Congress, showed Star Wars Episode IV. (By an overwhelming margin, this district elects Jabba the Hutt.)

    Nationwide, however, it eventually becomes clear that the Democrats have gained control of both houses of Congress. President Bush handles the defeat with surprisingly good humor, possibly because his staff has not told him about it. For their part, future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issue a joint statement promising to ''make every effort to find common ground with the president,'' adding, ''we are clearly lying.'' Pelosi sets about the difficult task of trying to fill leadership posts with Democrats who have not been videotaped discussing bribes with federal undercover agents.

    The first major casualty of the GOP defeat is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, the day after the election, is invited to go quail-hunting with the vice president. He is never seen again.

It's almost too easy. As is December's Iraq Study Group report -

    In accordance with longstanding Washington tradition, the panel first formally leaks its report to The New York Times, then delivers it to the president, who turns it over to White House personnel specially trained in reading things.

    In essence, the study group recommends a three-pronged approach, consisting of: (1) a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, but not on a fixed timetable; (2) intensified training of Iraqi troops; and (3) the physical relocation of Iraq, including buildings, to Greenland. Republican and Democratic leaders, after considering the report for the better part of a nanosecond, commence what is expected to be a minimum of two more years of bickering.

    … But despite the well-founded fear of terrorism, the seemingly unbreakable and escalating cycle of violence in the Middle East, the uncertain world economic future, the menace of global warming, the near-certainty that rogue states run by lunatics will soon have nuclear weapons, and the fact that America is confronting these dangers with a federal government sharply divided into two hostile parties unable to agree on anything except that the other side is scum, Americans face the new year with a remarkable lack of worry, and for a very good reason: They are busy drinking beer and watching football.

Heck, at least the folks in Nantes were doing something.

So we do need to stop the future, if it's anything like the past.

As for the new year we have, it's not starting well. Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - the New York Times details how 'Chaos Overran Iraq Plan in '06,' (here and here), while President Bush is said to be getting ready to escalate, and to expand the mission, in 2007 (see this, this and this). All they need to do is figure out what the mission of the new troops will be. They're working on that.

The hanging of Saddam Hussein is still an issue. After reporting that US officials were "privately incensed at the dead-of-night rush to the gallows," John Burns said that he "could hardly imagine an event more emblematic, of what America has accomplished or failed to accomplish here than the final chapter of Saddam Hussein." With Iraq's prime minister now reportedly ordering a probe into how the execution of a 'model prisoner' (see this) became "a televised spectacle," some people recalled that 'Saddam Was Right and Bush Was Wrong' about WMD (see here). Yeah, but who's dead?

The final word may be Christopher Hitchens on what he calls The Shameful Hanging -

    The disgusting video of Saddam Hussein's last moments on the planet is more than a reminder of the inescapable barbarity of capital punishment and of the intelligible and conventional reasons why it should always be opposed. The zoolike scenes in that dank, filthy shed (it seems that those attending were not even asked to turn off their cell phones or forbidden to use them to record souvenir film) were more like a lynching than an execution. At one point, one of the attending magistrates can be heard appealing for decency and calm, but otherwise the fact must be faced: In spite of his mad invective against "the Persians" and other traitors, the only character with a rag of dignity in the whole scene is the father of all hangmen, Saddam Hussein himself.

    How could it have come to this? Did U.S. officials know that the designated "executioners" would be the unwashed goons of Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army" - the same sort of thugs who killed Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf just after the liberation and who indulge in extra-judicial murder of Iraqis every night and day? Did our envoys and representatives ask for any sort of assurances before turning over a prisoner who was being held under the Geneva Conventions? According to the New York Times, there do seem to have been a few insipid misgivings about the timing and the haste, but these appear to have been dissolved soon enough and replaced by a fatalistic passivity that amounts, in theory and practice, to acquiescence in a crude Shiite coup d'état. Thus, far from bringing anything like "closure," the hanging ensures that the poison of Saddamism will stay in the Iraqi bloodstream, mingling with other related infections such as confessional fanaticism and the sort of video sadism that has until now been the prerogative of al-Qaida's dehumanized ghouls. We have helped to officiate at a human sacrifice. For shame.

    … Reporting from defeated Germany in 1945, and noticing some brutal treatment of captured SS men, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay called "Revenge Is Sour." I hadn't thought of it for a while but pulled it down from the shelf when I returned from Iraq. Here is the key passage:

    "Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.

    "Who would not have jumped for joy, in 1940, at the thought of seeing S.S. officers kicked and humiliated? But when the thing becomes possible, it is merely pathetic and disgusting. It is said that when Mussolini's corpse was exhibited in public, an old woman drew a revolver and fired five shots into it, exclaiming, 'Those are for my five sons!' It is the kind of story that the newspapers make up, but it might be true. I wonder how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless, she had dreamed years earlier of firing. The condition of her being able to get near enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a corpse."

    The shabby, tawdry scene of Muqtada Sadr's riffraff taunting their defenseless former tyrant evokes exactly this quality of hysterical falsity and bravado. While Saddam Hussein was alive, they cringed. Now, they find their lost courage, and meanwhile take the drill and the razor blade and the blowtorch to their fellow Iraqis. To watch this abysmal spectacle as a neutral would be bad enough. To know that the US government had even a silent, shamefaced part in it is to feel something well beyond embarrassment.

Well, we gave Gerald Ford a great funeral.

On the other hand there's this -

    In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Tuesday God has told him that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007.

    "I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

    Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

    Robertson said God also told him that the U.S. only feigns friendship with Israel and that U.S. policies are pushing Israel toward "national suicide."

Where to start? Ah, it's off to Nantes. Maybe we can stop this New Year yet.

This item posted January 7, 2007

[Stopping the Madness]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik