Archive for April 29, 2004


April 29, 2004

Cross the street from your storefront cemetery

Hear me hailing from inside and realize

I am the conscience clear

In pain or ecstasy

And we were all weaned my dear

Upon the same fatigue

(You’re staring at the sun)

Oh my own voice

Cannot save me now

It’s just

(standing in the sea)

One more breath

And then

I go down

Your mouth is open wide

The lover is inside

And all the tumults done

Collided with the sign

You’re staring at the sun

You’re standing in the sea

Your body’s over me

Note the trees because

The dirt is temporary

More to mine than fact face

Name and monetary

Beat the skins and let the

Loose lips kiss you clean

Quietly pour out like light

Like light, like answering the sun

You’re staring at the sun

You’re standing in the sea

Your mouth is open wide

You’re trying hard to breathe

The water’s at your neck

Your body’s over me

Be what you will

And then throw down your life

Oh it’s a damned fine game

And we can play all night

You’re staring at the sun

You’re standing in the sea

Your mouth is open wide

You’re trying hard to breathe

The water’s at your neck

Your body’s over me

You’re staring at the sun

You’re standing in the sea

You’re staring at the sun

You’re standing in the sea

“Staring at the Sun,” TV On the Radio


Bill knows music

April 29, 2004

Speaking of fine rock and roll music, Pop Culture Gadabout Bill Sherman has a couple of noteworthy posts up. First is a review of the excellent self-titled debut elpee from edgy-effete rockers Franz Ferdinand. Angular guitars, sleazy lyrics, and you can dance to it! Well worth checking out, and it’s on sale almost everyplace you’d care to shop. Second is a response to my would-be debunking of the cult of London Calling. Bill can sympathize with my lack of enthusiasm about the album’s genre pastiches, but argues that these tracks prepare the listener for the bigger and better things on the album. (He cites another pastiche, the kick-ass “The Card Shark,” but having done some more thinking about this I think one could argue that straightforward rockers like “London Calling” and “Clampdown” might seem merely workmanlike, rather than nuggets of pure punk satisfaction, if there were nothing different to offset them.) Folks, I’ve read a lot of record reviews, and Bill does this sort of thing as well as anybody.

Can’t you hear me? I’m pounding on the walls

April 28, 2004

Today I picked up the Walkmen’s new(er) album Bows & Arrows with some birthday lucre (it was yesterday), and holy cow, how good is its lead single, “The Rat”? It sounds like what Joy Division might have sounded like had Ian Curtis conquered his depression and directed his anger outward instead. The urgency of the tune–the careening guitars, the high hum of the keyboard, the pounding drums pulled way up in the mix–is simply flabbergasting. The video is brilliant as well–just simple, high-contrast black-and-white footage of the band performing the song in its Mercata Studio space, their restraint almost unbearable in light of the fury of the song.

I’m not very far into the rest of the record, but it seems like they’ve become a much louder band, without abandoning the peripatetic song structures that made their first album such a hauntingly bitter pill to swallow. This is a very, very talented band.

Quick thought, after Dave Fiore

April 28, 2004

I appreciate Dave’s theories about the virtue of mainstream superhero comics’ neverending narratives as much as the next guy, but I wonder if the problem isn’t that they never end, but that they do end, over and over and over, and are artificially resuscitated time after time after time. You know what I mean? Compare Amazing Spider-Man, in which stories or story arcs go on for a certain amount of time and are then wrapped up pretty neatly, with something like The Sopranos, which if you go by standard film-crit standards or McKee’s Story is an absolute fucking mess, but, in the way it sends up plot threads like they’re attached to balloons, getting them tangled, having some hang around, some get tied up, some float off into the ether never to be heard from again, replicates the gorgeous power of actual human life better than nearly any work of art I can think of.

Hm. You know what I mean?

Oh yeah, day job, sporadic blogging, blah blah blah.

What one little word will do

April 23, 2004

That is the absolute last time I indulge in rhetorical excess. This I swear to you by all that is holy!

Seriously, I knew when I wrote it that I shouldn’t be advising people to “ignore” Kill Bill‘s critics. I myself am not ignoring them, and have had interesting conversations with at least two via email. I was trying to make the point that I think you (the generalized you) should go see the movie(s), and was trying to make that point using one of those Paul O’Brien-type “I can prove it with graphs” kinda statements. Obviously, I blew it, and now folks think I want to “stifle debate,” which I certainly don’t want to do.

To wit, go read J.W. Hastings, who, in addition to providing an anti-Kill Bill blog post link roundup, righteously and rightfully takes me to task for copping one of those odious “if you don’t like it, you just don’t get it” attitudes. (To be honest, I do think some people just don’t get it–after all, some people thought John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction came back from the dead during the final segment–but I don’t think that of J.W., Dave Intermittent, the Peiratikos crew, Dave Fiore, or any of the other bloggers I’ve read who’ve had negative takes on the films.)

I will, however, stand by my assertion that I like the movies too much to say anything interesting about them. This is not to say that the fact that they are good goes without saying, or anything like that–just that I’m too happy with my happiness with them to produce something worth reading about them, basically. (I’ve seen some cases where something similar is true for people who take the opposing view too, by the way.)

I am a big goddamn geek

April 23, 2004

I am a Total Geek, with a geekiness rating of 34.91124%.

If they had more music questions or asked about college majors or tattoos, I would have done even better. Or if I liked math at all.

(Link courtesy of Dave Fiore, who’s really on right now, by the way: Check out his post on the pros and cons of continuity and its discontents; and on auteurism, which contains this:

Yes friends, we can only wonder what marvels might have emerged from Renaissance Italy, if work-for-hire had not held the art world of that time in its nefarious thrall–instead we are left with trashy “fanfic” efforts like the Sistine Chapel. What a pity.


All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust

April 22, 2004

We were listening to the Clash’s London Calling at work the other day, and I finally had to come out and say it: Wouldn’t it be a much better album with four or five fewer songs?

Critics make so much of how it’s this wide-ranging genre-hopping masterpiece, and they’re right about the range and the multiple genres, but it’s the masterpiece part where I think they’re off track. Granted, I don’t have much interest in roots-rock and world music to begin with, but the Clash’s stabs in those directions strike me as slapdash and vastly inferior to their punk, pop, and hard-rock efforts. Picture a London Calling that goes straight from “London Calling” to “Hateful,” and from “Clampdown” (or, to be fair, “The Guns of Brixton,” which is pretty striking) to “Death or Glory,” and maybe you’ll catch my drift.

It’s not that I don’t admire their ambition or heterodoxy–given the humorless necrophiliac lockstep that much of punk has found itself in during the intervening decades, such qualities are to be commended. Hell, my favorite Beatles record is the White Album, which virtually defines all-over-the-map-ness. But the Clash, for all their virtues, are simply not the Beatles, and London Calling is a case of the Clash’s ambition outstripping their innate talent.

It may come down to a simple matter of aging well, or aging poorly. When London Calling came out, listeners were no doubt impressed that a band with the Clash’s punk bonafides (re-established on any number of the album’s tracks) had a sonic palette so daring and expansive–the punk side stayed punk and the far-out side stayed far-out, if you will. (Obviously, there were limits to how far out the critics would allow the band to go; cf. Sandinista!) Today, the way the album pushed past the punk boundaries is interesting from a historical perspective, and in some cases fusing that attitude with a solid pub-rock core yielded undeniably killer results (“Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Revolution Rock,” and especially the gorgeous Phil Spectorisms of “The Card Cheat”) but it’s the fury and the songcraft of the real rock that makes the record memorable, not its comparatively weak nostalgic novelties.

Public Service Announcement

April 22, 2004

It’s really for the best if you ignore the people who didn’t like Kill Bill Volumes One and Two, which taken together comprise one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

I do, however, wish I knew how people can watch a movie in which bad behavior occurs and, because they find the film amusing on some level, deduce that that bad behavior is being endorsed–particularly in an oeuvre like Tarantino’s, in which characters who refuse to renounce violence and deceit are inevitably punished for that refusal. (You want to see a movie in which gratuitous violence is immorally played for laughs? Rent any of St. Mel’s Lethal Weapon flicks.)

Comix and match, and musings

April 20, 2004

Girls–real, live girls–and kids–real, live kids–buy a lot of manga, and I mean a lot, at the bookstore I’m now working at. They also steal a lot.

Kevin Melrose has broughten his A-game now that Tim O’Neil is out of the linkblogging business. Check him out.

Kevin was nice enough to point me to interviews with Ed Brubaker, author of the terrific Sleeper, and Brian Bendis, author of the terrific (insert one of his twelve million monthly comic books here). The Brubaker interview touches on whether or not Sleeper might be made into a TV series, which brings up that old question: Would Sleeper work better without superpowers? Needless to say I’m not a superhero basher–I just wonder if Agent Carver’s no-way-out predicament seems less grim and inescapable due to the presence of flight, invulnerability, and so forth. Still one of the best superhero books going, but I can’t make up my mind about this.

J.W. Hastings is back on the quickie review beat, with thoughtful looks at Planetary, The Punisher, Smax, Daredevil, The Pulse, The Ultimates, and more.

Franklin Harris draws a conclusion from the success the Hellboy movie has had in driving up sales of the Hellboy graphic novels–in the bookstores, primarily. In light of this, can we read Marvel & DC’s recent “back to basics” moves as a tacit acknowledgement that they’ve given up on their drives to get those legendary New Readers into the comic shops, at least with their main lines, and are focusing on eating up as much of the existing comic-shop market as possible while segregating new-audience outreach efforts into initiatives like Marvel Age?

Demo review coming this week. Please be patient.

Finally, NeilAlien points to Rich Johnston who posts a report that the shooting script for Sin City consists of photocopied pages of the comic book, which of course is ridiculous, but the notion that there are photocopied pages of the comic book being consulted on set isn’t so ridiculous, which leads me to say “Oh God PLEASE let this movie be as good as it should be.”

Sleeper hits

April 20, 2004

Yesterday I asked if Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’s Sleeper would be better without the presence of superpowers. (Flying and laserbeams and suchlike, not the USA and USSR.) Reader Dan Coyle writes:


And here’s why, after giving some thought on the subject: Holden’s motivations are tied strongly to his superpowers- his inability to feel and his invulnerability are both a gift and a curse and probably influences his actions to a very high degree.

Now, your mileage may vary when it comes to such metaphors–“He can’t feel any physical pain, and this mirrors the emotional numbness he feels” may just be the comics equivalent of “they’re zombies, and they’re in a shopping mall–get it?” But the point is that Carver’s power set was not chosen at random. It’s tied directly into the themes of the series.

This is one advantage of superheroes who are, if not creator owned, at least designed with the input of the current creator–whatever themes they plan on exploring can be worked directly into the fantastic elements from the get-go, instead of depending on the kind of heavy lifting required of, say, Brian Bendis to get Daredevil where he wanted to go, or of Grant Morrison with the X-Men.

Just to clear this up

April 20, 2004

When I used the word “broughten,” I was deliberately using a non-word. I just want us to be on the same page about this.

A message for comics fans who have seen Kill Bill Vol. 2 and will therefore know exactly what I’m about to talk about

April 17, 2004

Man, I didn’t expect them to have that conversation!

Comix and match: Special “A Question for Fantagraphics” Edition

April 16, 2004

First things first: Chris Butcher reprints the monthly Fantagraphics newsletter, which announces the impending release of a nearly 800-page hardcover collection of all of Jaime Hernandez’s “Loca” stories from Love & Rockets. Now here’s my question: If releasing an 800-page hardcover isn’t out of the question, why were stories like X and (especially) Poison River left out of the hardcover collection of Gilbert Hernandez’s “Palomar” work? I realize that they aren’t as geographically constrained to the Palomar town limits as most of the stories in the collection were, but so what? They’re both important parts of the stories of major characters in the Palomar mythos–indeed, without reading Poison River the last quarter of Palomar itself is extremely difficult even to understand.

Do any of my readers who are privvy to decisions at Fanta know why this decision regarding Palomar was made? The email link is to your left…

Speaking of Fanta, lots of great news in that newsletter Chris has up, including a new comic from Mark “Shrimpy & Paul” Bell and a revamped, reoriented Comics Journal. The Journal revamp promises “wider and more contemporaneous coverage of current comics publishing,” “[r]eviews of the most noteworthy current comics and graphic novels,” and “columns on every facet of comics from manga to European comics to mini-comics and even (gasp!) mainstream comics.” Hmm, timelier news coverage, more current reviews, and a broader range of subjects that includes the “mainstream.” Where’ve I heard those suggestions before?

Kevin Melrose reprints a terrific quote from Ed Brubaker regarding the backwards nature of the Direct Market, which requires consumers to know months in advance what comics they want to purchase lest those comics not be ordered by the stores at which the consumer is to purchase them. If you can think of a single bigger obstacle to the healthy diversity of both comics and comics consumers, I’d like to hear it.

Bill Sherman submits a massive recap of his six-month foray into manga, and it serves as a great way for newbies to figure out which titles might intrigue them. I’ve yet to go wrong with a manga recommendation from Bill, and my guess is he’ll do right by you, too.

Are you at all surprised that Mike Mignola reads Jim Woodring and Dave Cooper? There’s a very similar streak of superblack humor in the work of all three.

Franklin Harris points out that the best comic-book movies–Kill Bill and Unbreakable, for example–tend not to be derived from actual comics. I think this is because when most Hollywood types look at comic books, what they see is laundry fetishism, boring action spectacle, and deliberate camp, most of which, of course, are not present in really good comic books. A genuine comic-book influence, one that grows organically from the strengths of the medium–the “literature of ethics” in Unbreakable‘s case, the panoptic messin’ around with time and space in Kill Bill‘s–is almost always preferrable to one that comes from just cribbing the most obvious elements of the most obvious books.

I would like to point out yet another reason that Frank Quitely is so goddamn awesome: He realizes that stomach-fat wrinkles are sexy.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in Brian Hibbs‘s latest column, which is no surprise, but to me the key tidbit is that Marvel has apparently misjudged the interest in trade paperback collections of some of its more acclaimed miniseries–Thor: Vikings, Captain America: Truth and Supreme Power Vol. 1 (it is a miniseries, right? To be honest, I kinda hope it isn’t, because it’s really awfully good) are apparently already out of print. Since miniseries are a natural magnet for the ever-growing “waiting for the trade” crowd, I’m surprised that Marvel underprinted them.

Ringwood is probably right about CrossGen’s now-cancelled anti-terrorist comic American Power. Now, I think a lot of people would eat up a good comic in which some American superhero beats the living shit out of Osama bin Laden with a goddamn spoon. The notion that there’s something “offensive” about such an event is, well, fucking cockamamie. (It’s funny, but you don’t see these folks complaining about how Joe Kavalier drawing the Escapist punching Hitler in the face in Kavalier & Clay was representative of an offensively simplistic, black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us worldview, or that by referencing current events it exploited Hitler’s victims, or that such a thing would be wrong because the superhero is big and strong but Hitler was scrawny and only had one testicle, or whatever. Cf. Rich Johnston’s reaction–“you can’t hit Osama bin Laden–he’s got kidney problems!” Boo fucking hoo.) But quite frankly, I’d prefer such a book to be written by someone who isn’t also a giant homophobe. (I’d also like the superhero involved to not look like such an obvious knock-off of Watchmen‘s Comedian, who I guess is Dixon’s heroic ideal.)

Finally, I ruined the Hellboy movie for NeilAlien. Neil, good guess, but what this was actually vengeance for was the damage you did to my waistline by introducing me to Peanut Butter & Company in the West Village…

Comix and match: now with exclusive art from Jeffrey Brown and Craig Thompson!

April 15, 2004

Man, “Comix and match.” Remember those?

I’m extremely proud to announce that I’ve reviewed Paul Hornschemeier’s Mother, Come Home, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and Mat Brinkman’s Teratoid Heights for the Comics Journal’s 2003 Year in Review issue, which should be coming out any day now. (That’s right–for those of you keeping score, I went from letterhack to paid writer in one issue! So much for the theory that the Journal is an uncritical self-promotional propaganda organ….) The latter two reviews are up on the Journal’s website–click here and scroll down, and while you’re at it, read reviews of other great books like Marc Bell’s Shrimpy & Paul and Friends, Jeffrey Brown’s Unlikely and Chris Onstad’s latest Achewood collection. Besides being a great buy for its year-end best-of recaps and its extensive look at some of the best young cartoonists in the business, this ish is chock full of blogospheric representation–myself, Bill Sherman, Alan David Doane, Tim O’Neil, and of course Dirk Deppey all have a hand in it. Neat!

Next, I don’t know why I didn’t link to this sooner, but the Missus has a worldwide exclusive original Jeffrey Brown comic strip up on her blog. Seriously! You’ll enjoy it, though I’m still unsure as to whether or not I should enjoy it. (And oh yeah, that black-and-white portrait of her at the top of her sidebar (scroll up) is by Craig Thompson. All the fly altcartoonists are on her jammy, I tell you.)

Back to the TCJ beat, if Mike Dean’s Manga Doomsday Theory is correct, you probably better ignore this Tokyopop job listing

Franklin Harris wonders why I think putting de-costumed characters like the X-Men back into spandex is pandering to the fanboys, but throwing all of Marvel’s big characters onto the Avengers roster isn’t. There are a bunch of reasons, but the main one is that the latter involves the combination of a bunch of genuinely real-world-popular and (if done properly) interesting characters on a book written by one of the best writers in the industry (see also Grant Morrison’s JLA), while the former is merely the bizarre fetishization of laundry.

The indomitable NeilAlien (no blogging hiatus-taker he!) reminds me that two really interesting comics columns were recently updated: Chris Allen’s Breakdowns features reviews of a bunch of things worth reviewing (The Complete Peanuts, Mother Come Home, Wizard Edge, Be a Man, Alan Moore’s intriguing but ultimately lame Supreme books (which Chris likes)), and relays the hilarious information that Marvel used to have the Punisher use rubber bullets! Meanwhile, Steven Grant’s Permanent Damage takes an interesting look at the life of a freelance writer, and examines Marvel’s new ICON line from that perspective as well, offering up a useful corrective to the current chorus of “sellouts!” echoing through fandom these days.

Speaking of good columns, I missed this when it first appeared, but Shawn Hoke (who apparently really likes my blog! (hat tip: John Jakala)) recently reviewed Ron Rege Jr.’s astounding graphic novel Skibber-Bee-Bye. This is another one of those books that I guarantee you you’ve never read anything like. Please go find it and buy it and read it.

Is the Ninth Art message board even more of a pretentious, let’s-hear-ourselves-talk, brook-no-dissent embarrassment than the Comics Journal messageboard? Dave Fiore reports, U-Decide!

Larry Young (April 14th entry) has noticed that even as many bloggers review the comp comics he’s sent out, many bloggers are also crapping out. Larry, it’s my new day job that’s to blame for my relatively scant blogging of late, I promise. But everyone else is totally your fault. Rimshot!

A quick note on Bendis & Bagley’s The Pulse, the first two issues of which I finally picked up today: I don’t remember who it was, but I remember someone complaining about how lame it was that a book that, essentially, used to be Alias is now doing goofy stories about the Green Goblin, and you know what? This was an un-goofy story about the Green Goblin. Bendis played him (his alter ego Norman Osborn, I mean) like an older, more secure version of American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman. I loved it, and for the first time I could understand why anyone would want to keep the character alive after his “death” during the whole Gwen Stacy situation.

Finally, everyone’s going to go see Phoebe Gloeckner at NYU’s Zine Fest on Friday evening, right?

What the Hellboy?

April 13, 2004

Trying to figure out what to see at your local movie house this weekend if Kill Bill Volume 2 is sold out? Wary about plunking down your ducats to see Hellboy, but still unconvinced by my pan of the flick? Fortunately, Johnny Bacardi is on the case, giving you plenty more reasons to spend your money on the actual Hellboy comics instead. Johnny focuses on the mishandling of the Hellboy character himself, which I’m really surprised to see so little comment on from funnybook fans who’ve seen the movie.

On the other hand, Johnny posts this picture from the movie…


…which, you’ve got to admit, is pretty fucking cool-looking. If the whole movie was this creepy and gonzo–you know, like the comic itself–I’d’a gone ape for it.

Hey, we’re gonna get you too

April 13, 2004

Vis a vis the linkblogging processes, Tim O’Neil‘s had his lot. Bummer. Tim was really good at the Journalista routine, and provided a valuable service coupled with equally valuable opinionating. (If you’ve gotten anything at all out of the ongoing debate as to whether or not the superhero genre is intrinsically useless, you’ve got Tim to thank.) Fortunately he’s promised to continue thinkblogging, and as he points out the blogosphere is now sufficiently extensive and expansive to weather the loss of a one-stop-shopping linkblog. Still, while it may not be as greivous a blow as the loss of Deppey or Doane, Tim’s herculean small-hour efforts will be missed.

Avengers postscript

April 12, 2004

So I guess this means that within a couple-three years there’s going to be an “Avengers Reload” event involving the triumphant return of Triathlon.


April 11, 2004

Jim Henley has found that, in his case at least, the old saw is really true–it turns out he really does hate to say “I told you so.” In a long, impassioned, and obviously heartrending piece, he describes the turmoil he feels as he watches his political standpoint vindicated. Jim has argued long and hard against American interventionism, specifically in Iraq, and to him the events in Fallujah, Sadr City, and the other conflict-ridden cities in that country is the terrible, inevitable proof that he’s right.

He’s wrong.

The tragedy of Iraq does not stem from what we are doing now, but from what we failed to do for decades. Ever since the day our leaders realized it no longer behooved them to refer to Stalin as Uncle Joe, we sacrificed to combat communist totalitarianism. This of course was an enemy that needed defeating–a brutal, evil enemy whose tens of millions of victims go largely unremembered and unmourned even today–but in defeating him we embraced another class of evil men. Focused on the menace of Moscow we shook hands with the grinning torturers of the Third World, who fed the anticommunist war machine with the broken bodies of political prisoners, death squad victims, fodder for mass graves. Our religious nation so feared the godless that we joined forces with men whose religion is so pitiless and bloodthirsty as to be essentially godless itself.

We defeated the communists, yes. And the price of our victory was millions of impoverished, maimed, slaughtered innocents, pawns on the chessboard. It was not until a clear September morning three years ago that we truly saw the face of their killers.

Re-read Jim’s post. Look at the statistics he cites–how in a nation of 24 million people, 2.8 million want American soldiers dead. A sobering, horrifying statistic–but how much more horrifying is the logical consequence of the position Jim advocates? How much more horrifying would be an Iraq where these 2.8 million are lord and master over the 21.2 million? For that matter, how much more horrifying was the Iraq where all 24 million bowed to one? How much more horrifying would have been the Iraq where all 24 million bowed to his two sons?

Across the globe the tyrants slaughter with impunity, but it is only when American soldiers attempt to intervene that the doves’ pangs of conscience kick in. When Saddam slaughtered his hundreds of thousands, where were the long dark 30-graf blog posts of the soul then? Such things only appear when American soldiers, who most doves acknowledge the most decent and fastidious fighting force in human history, kill their hundreds. And these are not indiscriminate hundreds. These are not women and children gassed in their homes and fields, these are not the relatives of the tortured rising up and having their homes razed to the ground or their marshes dried up or their daughters raped and murdered. These are the torturers, the theocrats, the terrorists, the brownshirted thugs of the new fascism. And even with these, we are calling for ceasefires, truces, and negotiations. Yet this is what engenders the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. And the depredations of legitimized killers across the globe rage unstemmed.

Jim once had an exchange with blogger Tacitus in which Tacitus challenged non-interventionist libertarians on the terrible and inevitable results of such a policy. Tacitus said

One last thing: Henley objects to my description of libertarian foreign policy as operating on a Kitty Genovese principle as “overheated and….wrong.” It’s certainly wrong inasmuch as it’s not true of all libertarians: I don’t believe the Samizdata crew advocate such moral abdication. But it is, unless I grossly misunderstand him, a perfectly accurate description of the preferred foreign policy of libertarians like Henley (and Justin Raimondo, et al.), who, for all their radical concern for human liberty within the confines of their particular nation, could care less about it abroad. Arguing that courses of action may only be undertaken when and if they directly involve or affect one’s own country requires a morality exclusively predicated on the national interest. This is clearly an absurdity that leads to monstrous ends. No libertarian of this stripe would have forcibly ended American slavery absent a Southern invasion of the North; stopped the Holocaust pre-1939; taken measures against South African apartheid; supported armed intervention against Hutu Power in Rwanda; endorsed an active role opposing the Burmese SLORC; contemplated action against the Taliban before 9/11; raised a hand against impending genocide in Zimbabwe; or lifted a finger to assist the suffering masses subject to starvation, slaughter, and human experimentation in North Korea. Which is not to say that everyone else does; but at least they recognize that such actions would be good things, and this is, I think, a morally superior consciousness. If, to paraphrase Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing, then this sort of libertarianism only serves to supply that precondition in spades. Its proponents may thank their stars they have not and probably never will achieve power: they would, in short time, have much to answer for.

To this, Jim replied

[Later on, I will] probably [comment] more on the long, blustery section at the end where Tac indignantly lists a bunch of things I would not, in fact, have had the United States do for the most part, most of which were things that, in the event, the United States didn’t do.

At that point we’re getting into basic principles that are probably worth going into some detail about, one more time, and we will, but what appears to be happening is that Tacitus is basing his morality on the “wouldn’t it be nice if” level of discussion, where I’m at “yeah, but how would that work out in practice.”

Jim’s point is easy enough to figure out: As horrible as all those things are, American intervention to prevent them would have made them worse.

How? How could they possibly have been worse?

By this way of thinking, the current situation in Kosovo, admittedly a debacle, is somehow worse than what would have happened had Milosevic been allowed to continue waging his disgusting genocidal wars of aggression. The current situation in Iraq, admittedly a crisis, is somehow worse than decades of further rule by the Tikriti crime family, with their weapons programs ready to roll after the sanctions were lifted (which they would have been, because they enabled the Husseins to inflict a level of suffering on their people that no one in their right mind could stomach) and their stated aims of dominating the entire region and their young heirs who if anything were worse than the killer who sired them. The situations in Rwanda, in the Confederacy, in Nazi Germany, in all the other times and places Tacitus listed, horrendous crimes and tragedies that they were, are somehow better than they would have been had we attempted to stop them (in some cases sooner, in some cases at all). And the status quo ante in the Middle East–ruled by despots and the men of a murderous god, beset by poverty and ignorance and terror, fed by mindless conspiratorial hatreds, producing thousands of innocent dead not just in its own lands but now in our own–is somehow better off left as it is, and as it has been for decades, and as it inevitably will remain for decades more.

This is unacceptable.

Listen, I don’t think Jim is being callous or cold-hearted–no one who read his cri de coeur could think this of him. But I cannot fathom how the current American intervention in Iraq merits tortured comparisons to Stalingrad, while genocides and mass murders and war crimes innumerable–with body counts that aren’t separated from Stalingrad’s by an order of magnitude, waged by totalitarian murderers that aren’t as dissimilar from Stalingrad’s butchers as is the average G.I.–are tucked quietly away in the “unfortunate, but oh well” category.

I am no nationalist. Unlike Jim, neither am I a right-winger. Though I do not lose sleep over the death of fascist myrmidons, I also do not think that the life of one American is of more inherent value than the life of one innocent Iraqi or Rwandan or Afghan. I do not think my absurd good fortune in having been born free must be preserved without any inconvenience, to the detriment of others who were not so lucky. To me, what makes America unique–what makes America my home–is not a question of geography or nationality or race or sect, but of an idea: an idea of freedom, of equality under law, of the right of people to choose their own destiny. That is why, when Americans are called to fight for that idea in lands other than their own, I weep when they are killed, but I do not despair of the cause for which they died. Indeed, I believe that it was our refusal to fight for this cause–to defend the inherent right of all people to live free–that has put that cause, that idea, in such danger. What happened that clear September morning was that we caught a glimpse of the future, the future if we allow the status quo to continue, if we refuse to do what is right and defeat the killers and tyrants we once ignored. Yes, in the short term the risk may be heightened; for those brave men and women on the front line in Iraq the risk is heightened without a doubt, and my own risk, sitting here shouting on the sidelines, is laughably miniscule compared to it; but for all of us, Americans and Iraqis, Westerners and members of the ummah, the risk of what will happen if the killers remain unchecked is far, far greater. We know they will continue to prey on their countrymen; and I cannot feel safe trusting in their lack of resolve or ability to prey upon us as well. As long as we allow them to live and to reign, the freedom of humanity is endangered and destroyed. To deny this is to deny the moral calling of the age.

I’m as surprised to find myself doing this as I’m sure you are, but on this day of all days I can’t help but think of a particular passage that I find relevant, almost uncomfortably so.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

For too long we refused the cup, and who cannot understand why? But we cannot refuse it any longer. We must drink deep, and be strong.

That’s so not crazy it just might work!

April 11, 2004

In a quite interesting All the Rage column today, Markisan Naso reports that Brian Bendis’s upcoming Avengers arc will see the “JLAification” of the team–that is, like the DC superteam, the Avengers roster will come to include all of Marvel’s most popular heroes, rather than second-stringers like Jack of Hearts and stuff. Since I’m not quite so far gone as a lot of comics fans, I really don’t give a good goddamn about the lame old Avengers roster, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the big guns gathered on one team, because that would actually make sense and be popular. Now let’s see if DC reJLAifies the actual JLA.

In other, lamer news, Markisan posts a quote by Mark Millar to the effect that he will be putting Wolverine back in his beige costume on his upcoming run on the character’s solo book. (He calls the costume “tan,” but let’s stop bullshitting ourselves, people.) It’s kind of sad to see that even some of the people responsible for helping Marvel take a bold leap out of 1992 over the last few years are itching to hit the rewind button to feed the industry’s inner fanboy.


April 9, 2004

Another quick thought on the recent battles in Iraq: It could well be that the news establishment’s relentless focus on reporting only negative developments out of that country since the invasion began is actually mitigating the potentially devastating impact the current Tet Offensive-esque hostilities might otherwise have on public opinion and support for the war. People who are following events in Iraq only casually have subsisted on a steady diet of “another deadly day in Iraq” and “angry Iraqis took to the streets today” served up by our nation’s anchorpersons for over a year now. What’s another few days of this to them, one way or the other?