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Dreams of the Empire Part 1

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75 is the twilight of the Gods, and from the vantage point of my tender years, an almost unthinkable expanse of time. Now, young and healthy, a fall down the stairs is something I can jump up and shake off. Yeah boys, I’m ok. Toss me another beer so I don’t feel the bruises. Life is beautiful when you’re young, ain’t it?
But for old John Walton, a fall down the stairs could be the end of it all. Maybe not the final shuffle off this mortal coil, but near enough. It could break his hip, leaving him writhing in pain and deeper in debt than you can imagine. Or maybe you can. I hope to God you can’t though. It could be that final little push that sends him into the home. Not one of those nice retirement centers in Florida where you play shuffleboard and grab-ass with that cute septuagenarian in 213. The other kind, the kind not bad enough to rate a Barbra Walters special, but bad enough in its own way. The kind that smell like shit and Pine-Sol, where when your kids come to visit, all you can do is beg them please. Please get me out of here. Please take me home.


And you’ll discover that this child, this child that your world turned on-still turns on- this child that once you held, this child whose “please” could bring you to your knees; will look at you and say, simply: “no.” If you are lucky, if you have perhaps earned some last smidge of good karma, there will be tears in his eyes. At least for a while. And there may even be an explanation, and a faint promise of next year. The sort of promise easily made and easily broken. The little papercut lies we tell ourselves to sleep at night. And one day they’ll get a call from a 3d shift nurse at 3AM that you are gone, telling them that you went quietly. And it may even be true, for there isn’t enough left in you to put up much of a rage at the end.

This is the world of many, many millions. Probably one or two people you know, or parents of people you know live like this. There probably is, somewhere out there, a John Walton who lives this fear, or something close. Walton is an old name. A hill-country name. They had a TV show about a family named Walton, and ol’ Sam Walton made himself richer than God selling poor white trash cheap Chinese trash. John isn’t one of those Walton’s. He’s just a tired old man, with the wide face and hands of his people,
But then again, what does this have to do with the Empire? Oh sure, John might have humped a pack in Korea, maybe even the early years of ‘Nam, if he stayed in long enough. He might have been a grunt for the Empire once upon a time. But that was long ago, if, indeed, it ever happened. More likely, John is one of that middle generation of history that emerged, phoenix-like, from the wreck of the world that was World War Deuce. Too young to be a hero at Omaha, or in the blue skies of the Pacific, and too old to head west and drop acid. Maybe, if he’d been in New York, he would’ve wound up in one of the little backstreet cafes around 1956 and heard a young buck named Jack talk about America. But he wasn’t. He was in Arkansas.
And John fixes cars. He fixes them real good, too. And he made his living underneath a million chassis, has drained enough oil to fill the Gulf of Mexico, and he can diagnose every rattle and grind with a surgeons easy grace.
He is, in a word, a damn good mechanic. And he worked for many years on fine American cars, and then he worked in his old age on fine Japanese cars. And he admitted, begrudgingly, that the Japs made some damn fine engines, because he was a craftsman, and a craftsman is honest. Men who do a certain work for many years find themselves irrevocably shaped and fashioned by that work, and those who master their work find in it some mastery of themselves. And as wood and metal and wire are honest things, to work in them for years will bend a man towards honesty, and he cannot bring himself to lie when he sees his craft done with grace and elegance.
I tell you all these things because I want you to understand John Walton. He hasn’t read anything except newspaper headlines and the Kelly Blue Book since 1985. He has never heard of Keats or Chomsky, and is vaguely aware that there was a man named William Shakespeare. If pressed, he might remember that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, from a high school class he took when Roosevelt was in power. He does not know calculus, nor can he tread the arcane paths of history. He believes that George Washington cut down a cherry tree because he learned this as a boy and has never been corrected. He is not stupid. He may seem so to you at first glance, this tall man with the soft Ozark drawl and missing teeth, but he is not.
He is the man that fixes your car. A hundred million like him till the land that feeds you. Another ten million work on your refrigerators and keep your electricity flowing, and a million other jobs you haven’t dreamed, but without which your life would be a living hell.
And they get very little. John here worked, man and boy, from the time he was 15 to the time he was 65. And even after those 50 years of sweat and toil were done, he worked odd jobs to bring in money, and because he is not the sort of man who can simply lie idle on the couch and watch the game week in and week out.
And he loves America. He loves America as you have perhaps not loved anything in your life. His love for this country, and its empire, is simple, honest, and yes, unquestioning. He isn’t particularly fond of Toby Keith, and there is a nasty edge to much modern patriotism that confuses him, but he votes Republican because he remembers Ike, and he believes that a man who works hard and doesn’t complain can get ahead in the world. And because he’s been too busy working for sixty years to question the truth of that, he never thought to reconcile his own long, grinding near-poverty and years of labor with the truth or untruth of that belief.
But now he is old and alone, and is dying, and the world slips away a little at a time, because there is nothing to hold onto in this place but sticky off brand linoleum and shit brown walls. And in the fear of dying, he has nothing of his own to cling onto. He has not made riches of his own. His children face the same grinding life he had, he can dimly see the trail of their future, and it leads here as well. He has no hope for his own life, and so, in his fear and his dying, he clings to hope and the Empire. He believes in democracy, free speech, and the right of free men to own a gun if they so choose.
And because there is nothing left for him to hope for in his own life, or his children’s lives, because they are bought and sold by corporate men who will never swing a hammer or torque a wrench, men who will never rebuild an engine, unless it is on the weekends in their garage, he believes in a dream and he believes the soft lies that he has been told.
He believes that this country is good, because it is his country. Because he has owned a small piece of it, and because the heartless bastards at the top have told him he is a good man. And when there is nothing else, he clings to that. That he is right, and good. That his beliefs are not evil, that his prayers fly to something besides an empty sky. Because America might be an Empire, but it is his Empire.
For him, the word Empire itself is not evil. You and I have had the training and the learning to see what lies beyond the smooth veil of that word. We know the excesses of Rome, of Britain and Belgium, but this man does not. He believes because he must. Because otherwise his life will have been lived in the service of a deep and irreconcilable wrong. Because no one can believe that what they love is altogether wrong. Because the word Empire means to him industry and progress. Because he has nothing left to hope for, and hopeless men are the chosen prey of liars, and he has been lied to.
It is easy to hate. And to judge. And I will not canonize John Walton. But I cannot hate him, and I cannot hate those like him. I suppose that I feel for him a deep and lasting sorrow.
John Walton is not a saint. But John Walton, and those like him, is not a fool. He is not evil. He is simply without hope and clinging to something bigger than himself, in hopes that if his own life has been without greater meaning or success, that he has at least been a small cog in something great and beautiful.


Written by newscum

June 30, 2010 at 11:34 pm

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Iranian Scum

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It’s the hot new topic of the day, I guess, and it’s a hell of a thing to see. I was born about eight years too late for the Iranian Revolution, but its cast a long shadow over the past thirty years. It was the first sign of how bad things would get in the Middle East. Back when Bin Laden was a rich little shit pissing about in Afghanistan, the Ayatollah was busy igniting the first great sparks of anti-American, anti-western sentiment.
What most people forget, and what very few people in my generation would ever guess, is that Iran and American used to have an excellent relationship. Back in the bad old days, when men were men and the Shah used his own people for squealing dartboards, the US and Iran were fast friends, the Shah’s new universities were based on American institutions, and the Shah was kind enough to endow chairs in petroleum at the University of Southern California.
It was the hostage crisis that sent everything south…but we could go on like this all day. The important fact is that there was a Shah, he fucked over his people, a revolution that kicked him out, and then a religious regime that set about fucking over the people again in new and interesting ways.
This latest little dust up over the election isn’t a disease, merely a symptom. The disease is the same thing it’s been in Iran since the 1950’s, indeed, the same disease that struck much of the Middle East in the early years of the twentieth century. A society suddenly catapulted from a traditional society to a modern power, flush with oil and freedom, must expect a few growing pains. Western Scum had a long slow process, the slow awakenings of freedom as the feudal system collapsed, Luther and Calvin showing the world that Mother Church was not the only power, and the slow building pressure of millions with a yearn they could not name, until the flames of revolution started in a dozen places; the Colonies, France, South America. But in the west, revolutions, no matter how bloody, were the end of a long slow building process.
In Iran, quite the opposite happened. The rule of Shah, the sudden bloody collapse into theocracy, and this new explosion of democratic fervor is a process that took place over fifty or sixty years. There is also, in the Islamic tradition, no great democratic precedent. While the West looks to Athens and Rome as our great predecessors, the glorious ancient societies that lit the torches we still carry, ancient Islamic society was based in conquest and theocracy.
The (relatively) swift nature of the change, the lack of any historical precedent to examine and copy, and the deeply religious nature of Iranian society all conspired to keep the Iranian Scum down. Like a magician with a tablecloth, the regimes were switched so quickly and neatly that no one had time to inquire into alternatives.
The question of Iranian religion is a separate post, one that I want to address later. Indeed, the entire fucked up, abusive relationship between Scum and religion is a fascinating topic, but is out of place here.
For the moment, the one thing about religion in this new Iranian dust up that I DO want to point out, is that while there has been a great deal of rage directed at Amawhatshisfuckingname, there has been no signs of protest against the Ayatollah himself. It almost seems that the people simply decided not to antagonize both the president and the Ayatollah, and if these protests were more centralized, that hypothesis would make sense. But these protests are more spontaneous. Instead, they are simply thousands upon thousands of angry people expressing their rage at their government’s rampant fuckery. Certainly if the Basij or Revolutionary Guard had found any protesters attacking the Shah, it would be posted everywhere, holding them up as examples of the horrible traitors trying to overthrow the holy will of God or something.
More to the point, I currently have twitterfall open, a lovely little website that scrolls twitter posts on any subject you search. In this case #iranelection. I’ve read hundreds over the past few days, and there are hundreds more queued up, the queue growing far, far faster than I can read (at the moment, it is set on one post a second, with a queue of 400, with no signs of slowing.) And yes, there are posts attacking the religious leaders. But for the most part, the posts out of Tehran are simple information, people exposing government plants (not a tricky job, oppressive regimes aren’t known for subtlety) exchanging software to evade government blocks, talking about what they’ve seen, attacking Amihatethejews…and with a few exceptions, not a word on mullahs, Ayatollahs, or religion at all. Change the wording and this could be the twitter feed for a GTO protest.
Still, it’s easy to discuss the obvious, the words of the Ayatollahs and presidents, and decide on the grand scale what this means. But that isn’t the point of this blog. It’s the Scum I’m interested in, and it’s the Scum who are protesting.
And as usual, if things continue the way they have been it’s the Scum who will be beaten, killed, attacked, and finally ignored. But for the moment, the question is, what is the Scum perspective on all this?
The Iranian Scum, as I pointed out already, are taking an interestingly irreligious approach. If they are not condemning the Ayatollah, neither are they imploring him for aid. Thus far, appeals to religious authority are based entirely upon that bodies secular authority…the ability the religious councils have to weigh in on the elections. The people are treating politics….like politics. A strange sort of thing to find in the Middle East certainly.
But like many things, it makes perfect sense taken in context. Iran has an extremely young population (26 years old is the median age) with all of the discontent and revolutionary fervor that comes with youth.
It seems that every other day there is an article reminding us that the Iranian youth seem to have rejected many of the values of their forefathers, choosing a more secular life that has been forced underground. And now we see that same effect here, in the pragmatic approach to political life that these demonstrations have forced upon the world.
Iranian Scum, more than most Scum, are very self-aware. They are downtrodden, but educated. Repressed under a religious government, they have become secularized in private, a slow boiling rebellion against the religious leaders who don’t seem to understand that their world has changed…or perhaps understand it too well.
And who are these Scumfuckers? Sadly, there is nothing new, nothing unique about the Iranian dictators. Indeed, they are almost tiresome; like watching a 80’s hits cover band, same shit, just not as well done and certainly not as clever. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the strange paranoia that many people in power seem to feel about Iran, it isn’t quite clear why they would get the amount of coverage that they do. Personally, I believe that terrible fear is rooted heavily in the Iranian revolution. They deposed the Shah, and since Scumfuckers the world over stick together, this must have been an unpleasant reminder that they too could be unceremoniously booted out of power.
What’s more, they took American’s hostage. It was a severe blow to our self-esteem as a nation. We had always been the biggest fish in the pond, fat and complacent. People might oppose us, certainly, even fight us. But no one had ever humiliated us before. It was a strange new sensation, and one we haven’t yet forgotten.
Iran right now is a clash, a clearly cut battle between Scumfuckers and Scum. The old regime is fighting for more than a president. Iranian presidents are kept on a tight leash. They are fighting something far more dangerous. They are fighting choice. And the Iranian’s are aware of this, on some level. In Iran, everyone who isn’t in power is Scum. Businessmen or housewife, everyone has to bow to the religious leaders. Until now, the Iranian government has somewhat successfully pulled the same trick Scumfuckers the world over use- convincing the Scum that there are layers of Scum, and playing on the same deeply rooted pack instinct to climb the social ladder that everyone else does.
This election is something new, and something infinitely dangerous. These people on the streets have discovered that they all care about one thing. They all have the same burning desire for justice, for the smallest modicum of human decency, of basic choice from their government. The desire, just once, to see the Scumfuckers listen. Everywhere else, the Scumfuckers are wise enough, or well trained enough, to keep that desire on a leash, to allow elections, and slow change where it doesn’t matter.
The Scumfuckers running Iran have overplayed their hand. They have taken away the last choice their people had, and flouted it in their faces. Now the housewife and the businessman standing side by side, shouting the same slogans, weeping from the same teargas, marching in the same place have discovered something dangerous, something that could sweep the old order before it like a matchstick in a flood.
They have discovered that they are the same. That whatever labels they use, they’re both Scum. And they don’t like it anymore. They don’t like being insulted, stifled or fucked with. And the Iranian government has pushed the Scum too far at last. They have two choices in front of them, and both could be disastrous. One, they let the people have their way. Give in to them, put Rezaee or Mousavi in charge. Give in to their people, the most dangerous thing a dictatorship can do. Let them realize that their protests can change things, and it’s over.
Or two, they stomp down. Crack down with every thug they have. And they’ll probably win, on the surface. For now, for a year, maybe five. Until all the resentment, all the bitterness, not just from their current opponents, but from every person who realizes that their government doesn’t care. From people who used to support the regime, who realize that they were lied too. From the religious who can’t remember what passage in the Koran advocated killing and stomping your own people. From everyone, in their country and across the world, who feels the yearning that has a name now. Freedom. Democracy.
The people of Iran have tasted western money, and gone to western universities, adopted western websites for their revolt. How long can it be before they desire western democracy? The Scum of Iran are on the march. For the first time in a long time, they are tasting power, tasting authority and open rebellion, and if they move, if they take this chance, then the world will see again the proof of my essential point. When the Scum of the world unite and demand to be heard, all the guns and authority in the world are useless.

Next time: Religion and the Scum Part One.
Also, at some point, if she agrees…a guest blog! (Four posts in and I’m already guest-blogging. This bodes poorly for the future.) A good friend of mine who has qualifications in this area that I certainly don’t. Namely, she’s actually been to Iran. Should be a good time.

Written by newscum

June 23, 2009 at 9:19 pm

The New Scum

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That isn’t my phrase, I stole it from Warren Ellis’s comic, Transmetropolitian. In the story, the futuristically fucked up lowlifes that are the teeming masses, are referred to as “The New Scum” by a would-be president. And the term sticks, a badge of pride for the people whos lot in life isn’t describable in normal economic terms. The people that don’t fit that happy ladder of “lower class,” and “upper class” and “upper middle lower middle class” or whatever new rapist abomination the desperate world of 24 hour journalism has unleashed on the English language.
The New Scum don’t fit. They aren’t counted, aren’t called for their opinion on the bailouts, or Iraq or any other of the dozen desperate issues that catch the spotlight and pass on. CNN will never claim that Obama is polling well among hookers, that pimps vote McCain, or that the druggies are voting in a solid block for flying purple people eaters.
And hookers, pimps, and druggies are just one tiny facet of the world of the New Scum. The barriers, the buffers, in a way. The obvious social ills. The people that you can rail against, attact with impunity. The easy targets when the real problems get to big. But the New Scum are every so much more than our most visible members.
Sure, the pimps and whore and junkies are the New Scum. But so are you. The college student, who just realized that the best use for their diploma is as the most expensive ass-wipe you’ll ever enjoy. The blue collar worker who just realized that his boss just realized that some other Scum, Mexican or Indian or Chinese Scum, can do his job for less money, and churn out more product without those inconvenient “labor laws.”
And we hunch over for the new arrivals, the NEW New Scum, perhaps? For our new brothers, the bankers and investors who have just seen their years of work and investment, their carefully preserved, carefully delineated rung on the ladder rot from under them, splashing them down into the muck with the rest of us.
We’ve always been here. Hunter Thompson reported on some of us, the “Freak Power” movement that nearly unseated Nixon, years before his mad hubris hurled him from his pedestal down here into the muck.
But there’re more of us now, more of us and we’re more powerful than ever before, more diverse than ever before. We jabber in a dozen languages, from Pakistani and Spanish to Mississippi mush-mouth, and I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which is harder to follow. And we are powerful. The latest election was a touch of that.
Remember that feeling, dear reader? Remember the rush of being there, of seeing the election results? Remember the waiting in lines for hours to see Obama? Remember going to DC on inauguration day, just to see a 20 minute speech? Or did you watch from your living rooms? Did you cheer hope and change? Did you lose yourself for a moment, just a moment in the hope that things really would get better, forgetting for a moment the bills on the table, the layoffs at work, the weird rattle in the car that you can’t even afford to get checked out?
And do you remember coming down and realizing that we’re still fucked? And did it make it worse? Did for me. Nothing like being Scum and seeing the stars and realizing that they’re all the way up there and we’re all the way down here.
And that’s who we are, friends. The New Scum. The people who get fucked, no matter who’s in power or what letter they have after their name. The people who get fooled, who get told that we’re different, because I believe in Gay Marriage, and you believe in The Family. Who tell us we’re different because I’m white and you’re brown or black, or I’m Black and you’re Mexican, or I’m Puerto Rican and You’re Cuban. Who build us our own ladder out of Scum and tell us that We are here and They are down there.
Did you ever wonder why they did that, dear reader? Did you ever wonder why they split us up? Why we get polled as “Black Males” or “NASCAR Dads?” It’s because they are scared of us. Power has a long memory, and they remember. They remember the Scum in France getting together, and dragging a king off of his throne. They remember German scum three hundred years before that decided “fuck the Pope” and broke the back of the Catholic Church.
And they remember a little batch of colonies scattered along a scraggly shore-line of some second rate land in a third rate part of the world that was good for a few fast bucks and for dumping the Scum. And they remember those 13 little shit kicker colonies, FILLED with the Scum of Britain, deciding that they wanted freedom. They wanted their own representation by god, and they took it.
The whip-scars never fade on the backs of the losers. They remember the power in our unity. So they divvied us up. White man against Black Man against Hispanic Man against Uppity Woman Against Blue Collar against College Educated. And the people at the top picked their teams, as surely and as deliberately as the NFL draft picks.
And we bought it. We’ve been buying it. Buying that because I’m a White, Evangelical Christian Male from Austin, Texas, means that I have nothing in common with a Black Steel-Mill Worker from Detroit. Means that because he votes for one pigfucker and I vote for another, that he’s trying to destroy America and I’m trying to save it. Us vs. Them. Believing that anyone cares what we believe, what we think, what we hope and pray for. Believing that if we vote for the swine with the D’s after their names, we’ll get health care, and if we vote for the ones with the R, we’ll end abortion.
And they throw us a bone and we roll over and get our bellies scratched, and every now and then, a hometown boy makes good and claws his way up the halls of power, and we believe the system works.
And we forget who we are because we don’t want to remember. We are the New Scum, and they don’t give a fuck about us. Forget eighth grade social studies. Forget all the stupid fucking commercials you see around election day. Your vote means shit. You mean shit. As far as the powerful go, you are shit.
So here is your truth for the day. The president doesn’t care. You’re congressman doesn’t care. The CEO of the company you work for doesn’t care. The universe doesn’t care, and the world is a mean unforgiving place that will break your back and move on without even wasting the energy to eat you.
But all of us, together. We are powerful. We have made kings and emperors, and we have torn them down. The New Scum. That’s what you are, that’s what I am. And we should be proud of that. All the good ideas have come from Scum. DNA and cellular life was invented in some pond scum a few billion years back. Fire was some Neanderthal Scum trying to keep warm. Writing was designed by Mesopotamian Scum who needed a way to count sheep. Penicillin is nothing but applied extract of Scum. Rice, the most popular and useful food on the planet, is grown in Scum. And that’s what we are. The New Scum. The Bipedal Scum. The worthless, ignored, trampled and regularly fucked masses. And without us, the world is nothing. Without us, the busses don’t run, the trains stop, the crops rot, the assembly line slows, the streets fill with trash and horror of horrors…the rich have to scrub their own fucking toilets.
So wear it like a badge of honor. I’m here because I know what I am. I’m here because your newspaper has a business section filled with stocks you can’t buy, companies you don’t work for, and bailouts you aren’t getting. This is news for you, as seen and filtered by one of your own. I’m going to read their stories, and their crimes, and the endless shit spew of information our fathers couldn’t dream of. I’m going to do this, chew it up and vomit it back at you. The news isn’t a pretty thing. It’s the world, and the world isn’t pretty but it’s there. And you need to know.
I’m one of you. I’m the New Scum. And it’s about time we figured out what that means.

Written by newscum

June 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm

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