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The Dark Knight of the Soul: Part 1 (draft)

This is a draft of part one of a post I long promised to write here.  For a variety of reasons, it has been a long-delayed labor, which is already extremely long and broken into several sections.  I am posting this draft here because as this has become a piece of writing which is significantly larger than my regular blogging endeavors in both size and ambition, I would greatly, greatly appreciate feedback to let me know how it can be refined for maximum readability and comprehension, and indeed for intrinsic worth (meaning if you think this is stupid, uninteresting bullshit, let me know before I waste any more time and effort).  Thank you in advance for your time.

CAUTION: Spoilers, for the films “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight”, as well as the books Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and much of the rest of the Batman canon, abound in this post.

In contrast to the simplistic opposition of good guys and bad guys, spy thrilers with artistic pretensions display all the “realistic psychological complexity” of the characters from “our” side. Far from signaling a balanced view, however, this “honest” acknowledgement of our own “dark side” stands for its very opposite, for the hidden assertion of our supremacy: we are “psychologically complex,” full of doubts, while the opponents are one dimensional fanatical killing machines.

~ Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes

Truth is a well-known pathological liar. It invariably turns out to be Fiction wearing a fancy frock. Self-proclaimed Fiction, on the other hand, is entirely honest. You can tell this, because it comes right out and says, “I’m a Liar,” right there on the dust jacket.

~Alan Moore  

Quote for Discussion: Gomorrah

As soon as Linda, one of the girls in our group, saw the dead body slide out from behind the steering wheel, she started to cry and hid behind two of the boys.  A strangled cry.  A young plainclothes officer grabbed the cadaver by the hair and spit in his face.  Then he turned to us and said:

“No, what are you crying for?  This guy was a real shit.  Nothing happened, everything’s okay.  Nothing happened.  Don’t cry.”

Quote for Discussion: Epigraph

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.

~Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Aphorism 46

No one has yet been found so firm of mind and purpose as resolutely to compel himself to sweep away all theories and common notions, and to apply the understanding, thus made fair and even, to a fresh examination of particulars. Thus it happens that human knowledge, as we have it, is a mere medley and ill-digested mass, made up of much credulity and much accident, and also of the childish notions which we at first imbibed.

~Francis Bacon, Aphorism 97

Quote for Discussion: Holy Shit Edition

There’s a hard — this is a hard question, because, you know what? I’m sort of leaning — I’ve been so pro-death penalty my whole life — but the Innocence Project, you know, by Barry Scheck, has kind of made me question, as a pro-life guy, that maybe that’s not a good idea. We’ve made too many mistakes.

That is none other than Sean Hannity.  

Support The Innocence Project.

Quote for Discussion: Voxtrot

Too many times you’re gonna go out with a-walkin’

Too many times you come out late

Too many times you set yourself out of the scene, it makes you walk up straight

It makes you walk up straight

Too many times you trade the bottle for the body

One drop of breath and one for skin

You say nobody knows the truth about your body, are you entirely thin?

Are you entirely thin?

But if I were a good man, would it really happen?

Would you walk me home and everyday from work

But maybe I’m a good man, wouldn’t let it happen

I believe in love, I’m married to my work

Cause I can be a father, I can be a brother, I can be a flower, rise up in the dirt

We were born to live here, We were born to die here

And you know this when you work

Yeah, you watch me when you work

Well, you are free from the work or the silence

Well, you know what to do with your demands

It’s not sure

You got a few ideas

And when you wake from this shell of this body

Or will you sink your ghostly man?

Well, it’s not holy

You’ve got something better up your sleeve

Too many times you’ll keep your love dry for your family

And let it over in your sleep

You’ll overtry to hold some burden like a man, something you can keep

Something you can keep

You smell the scent of something burning in the kitchen

He smells the future on the lawn

These are the things we’ve come to recognize as truth, we cut the right into wrong

We cut the right into wrong

But if I were a good man, would it really happen?

Would you walk me home and everyday from work

But maybe I’m a good man, wouldn’t let it happen

I believe in love, I’m married to my work

Cause I can be a father, I can be a brother, I can be a flower, rise up in the dirt

We were born to live here, We were born to die here

And you know this when you work

Yeah, you watch me when you work

It seems that we be smooth like pebbles

But now we get scared like our parents

Or somewhere fake

It’s just a waste of money

And when you wake up tomorrow, my son

Will you be the father of someone terrible

It will it shine, throughout your life

It won’t bury you, cause we know

Somewhere in the darkness, you will find love, baby you will find love

You will feel younger girl

And you will feel young.

~Voxtrot, Rise Up In the Dirt

Quote for Discussion: All My Friends

Spring is nearly here!

Dare I say my transformation started only with clothes

I cashed in young and bought full catalogues, I was seasonally robed

You fear I’m swallowed, know that I’m the one who sips at their cup

Drink down this business spirit, now I found I’m the first to have grown up

Dare I say my education was less than I hoped it would be

Is it unfair to say my mind is more weathered from one less degree

Anonymously writing all your work while perfecting my form

I’m charged to master all these demons, dear, so it shall be done

Providence clearly smiled on me

My name is Andrew I tower with the trees

Left rock for God and I won’t turn back

My name is Lazer all my friends call me Max

My presence went unnoted till I spoke up when I was 16

The plastered walls, like clarion calls, the parochial brats followed me

My private school uprising fooled my way to faux martyrdom

This windy city blows my hopes and dreams in the hopes that they’ll come

My head still grew though I was full grown

My name is Andre I was raised on the Rhone

I’ve learned just about everything

My name is Leonard all my friends call me King

Let’s not forget about our two beloved foreigners

The Russian and the Persian who spend all their time in stoned corners

Daniel’s well prepared to settle down and wed at his lady’s whim

And Edmond is believed lost because his mother’s searching for him

When I was young I did the Ricky Vaughn twice in one summer

We raised in soft surroundings needed to be harder somehow

I found the sweetest angel, years went by before I broke down her front

Before she left, that angel beat me so bad, I swore it was Altamont

And now your stories will not fill what I led slip through my hands

I will not drink a drop, but raise a glass to all of my friends

I found a way to remain 19

My name is Jonathan I’ve just kissed a dream

Bred since birth to be chief Primate

My name is Levi I’m leading the apes

These doctors put me in such a rut

My name is Michael all the chicks hate my guts

I’ve learned just about everything

I am Ignatius, all your friends call me king

Quote for Discussion: A.E. Houseman

THE time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,        

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,  

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers  

After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.  

So set, before its echoes fade,

The fleet foot on the sill of shade,

And hold to the low lintel up

The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head  

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girl’s.

-A.E. Houseman, “To An Athlete Dying Young”

A Few Words About Avigdor Leiberman

Something very sad is happening today, and while this subject isn’t exactly welcome here, and I don’t have anything momentous to say about it, I wanted to say a few words.  The sad thing that is happening is the elections in Israel.

Bibi Netanyahu is probably about to become the next Prime Minister of Israel, which brings me no joy.  But the cause of the bulk of my sadness about this election, other than the fact that I will not be traveling to Israel to vote, is that if the polls are correct, Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitanu party will gain the third-highest vote total, giving him a significant increase in power, and making the Labour party the fourth-largest party in Israel for the first time in Israeli history.

I’m not going to recap for anyone why Leiberman’s ascent is a cause for sadness; if you don’t already know, so much the better for you, honestly.  I’m not surprised in the least it makes me very sad.  The idea of an Israel where that is possible is an Israel which is almost unrecognizable to me.

But I’m quite surprised by how surprised I am.  After all, there is a rich legacy of politicians like Leiberman succeeding in parliamentary governments.  Jeffrey Goldberg today calls Leiberman “the German word for Le Pen” – others have compared him to Pim Fortuyn.  I suppose it is meant to comfort us to know that the Israelis are no more awful than the French, but of course that is no comfort at all.  

But it makes me think, about how last week I saw one of my oldest, dearest friends.  He and I went to Israel together over a decade ago; now, he is in seminary on his way to becoming a Rabbi.  And somehow, our conversation turned to how utterly disturbed both of us were by the tenor of everyone we know’s Facebook status messages during the recent violence in Gaza.  And from there, somehow, we ended up talking about how one of the great taboos is to talk about how the Shoah, and anti-Semitism in general, has traumatized all Jews everywhere.  Not in the childish way that some suggest that Israelis, having been abused by the Nazis, have become the abuser.  But in how this violation of Jews not that long ago remains a violation of Jews living today.  You can’t say that.  It sounds too much like there is something wrong with us, and you can’t say that.

But then today, as I sadly watch the returns from Israel, I think about how just in the last few weeks, there have been attacks on synagogues in Venezuela.  How a British diplomat had to be arrested after going on an anti-Semitic tirade at the gym.  How Israeli tourists are getting shot in malls in Denmark, and the reaction is for Danish schools to tell Jewish kids they shouldn’t enroll in school.  Shit like this just doesn’t happen to other people.  All over the world, there is a chance you might get killed any moment if someone knows you are a Jew.  Not a very big chance, but there aren’t a lot of Jews.  There are a dozen cities with more citizens than there are Jews in the world.

And I understand a bit better how so many people can say “Fuck y’all”, and vote for a Leiberman.  It doesn’t make me any less sad, or even less confused.  But I understand, more than I’d like to, how it happens.

Quotes for Discussion: John Updike

Via Andrew Sullivan and Joe Posnanski, two of the myriad reasons why John Updike was what he was, and why I feel so fortunate to have shared the earth with him for much of my life.

When I was a boy, the bestselling books were often the books that were on your piano teacher’s shelf. I mean, Steinbeck, Hemingway, some Faulkner. Faulkner actually had, considering how hard he is to read and how drastic the experiments are, quite a middle-class readership. But certainly someone like Steinbeck was a bestseller as well as a Nobel Prize-winning author of high intent. You don’t feel that now. I don’t feel that we have the merger of serious and pop — it’s gone, dissolving. Tastes have coarsened. People read less, they’re less comfortable with the written word. They’re less comfortable with novels. They don’t have a backward frame of reference that would enable them to appreciate things like irony and allusions. It’s sad. It’s momentarily uphill, I would say.

And who’s to blame? Well, everything’s to blame. Movies are to blame, for stealing a lot of the novel’s thunder. Why read a novel when in two hours you can just go passively sit and be dazzled and amazed and terrified? Television is to blame, especially because it’s come into the home. It’s brought the fascination of the flickering image right into the house; like turning on a faucet, you can have it whenever you want. I was a movie addict, but you could only see so many movies in the course of a week. I still had a lot of time to read, and so did other people. But I think television would take all your day if you let it. Now we have these cultural developments on the Internet, and online, and the computer offering itself as a cultural tool, as a tool of distributing not just information but arts — and who knows what inroads will be made there into the world of the book.

– John Updike in interview with

Quote for Discussion: Kerry Howley on the limits of Journalism

There is a tendency among those of us who value freedom of speech to believe that the virtuous thing to do is to speak out, access be damned. I don’t know that that is always the right impulse. I don’t know that I did the right thing in trading access to people trapped in Burma for a few opinion pieces critiquing vapid  Western media coverage of the country. The world does not need another American reporter declaring the junta barbaric and incompetent, a position for which there is almost no opposition in the United States. Indeed, those intent on raising awareness have done harm by encouraging both economic sanctions and hardliners within the junta.  I have never understood how American “awareness” of the Myanmar situation was supposed to help the Burmese trishaw driver surviving on two meals a day.

There is one young woman in Myanmar who continues to write me from time to time, thanking me for the time I spent coaching her toward competent journalism. I spent months teaching her how to structure a piece, a skill that does not come at all naturally to people raised in countries without an independent journalistic tradition. Surely helping her shape a single article was more important than any Burma-related op-ed I’ve written. And yet I’ve traded the right to go back-to have influence over individual lives-for the right to spill some ink. I am a journalist by nature, and it’s possible that I would do it all over again. But there is at least an argument to be made for playing by the rules of a paranoid military dictatorship to maintain access to the lives inside.

Kerry Howley, Sad Thoughts on Being Kicked Out of Military Dictatorships

Quote for Discussion: Hail Satan!

the best ever death metal band out of denton

were a couple of guys, who’d been friends since grade school.

one was named cyrus, and the other was jeff.

and they practiced twice a week in jeff’s bedroom.

the best ever death metal band out of denton

never settled on a name.

but the top three contenders, after weeks of debate,

were satan’s fingers, and the killers, and the hospital bombers.

jeff and cyrus believed in their hearts they were headed

for stage lights and leer jets, and fortune and fame.

so in script that made prominent use of a pentagram,

they stenciled their drumheads and guitars with their names.

this was how cyrus got sent to the school

where they told him he’d never be famous.

and this was why jeff,

in the letters he’d write to his friend,

helped develop a plan to get even.

when you punish a person for dreaming his dream,

don’t expect him to thank or forgive you.

the best ever death metal band out of denton

will in time both outpace and outlive you.

hail satan!

hail satan tonight!

hail satan!

hail hail!

-The Mountain Goats, The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton

Quote for Discussion: Facing our Failure

I, too, am glad-elated, really-that Bush’s absurd, colossally tragic reign is nearing an end. But that doesn’t change the fact that we failed. We all failed. Congress failed, the courts failed, and the American people failed. We have suffered through two terms of plainly illegitimate, nakedly contemptuous tyranny in a country that was designed to facilitate overthrowing tyrants, and we failed to do so.

I have no doubt that Obama, as disappointing as he will no doubt turn out to be, is a vast improvement over the past eight years, and may even be the best president of my lifetime-a dubious achievement at best. But it’s not enough to look forward and move on. If anything is to be learned from the Bush disaster, it’s important to look back, and to understand how terrible our failure has been.

As citizens, our expectations have fallen far and fast. When Nixon ignored a subpoena, the nation was outraged. Even Republican congressmen were vocally outraged, and Nixon was forced to resign to avoid impeachment. When Nixon tried to fire a special prosecutor, his Attorney General resigned. Then his Deputy Attorney General resigned. When Reagan lied to the people about crimes far worse than Nixon’s, it was a scandal, but our expectations had already been dramatically lowered. There were hearings, but no impeachment. A few years later, a Republican congress abused the impeachment process as an instrument of prudery, in an act of supreme political perversion…

…All of this could have and should have been avoided, if the congress or the American people had any sense of duty, or responsibility, or really any sense at all. The fact that Bush, Cheney, and the rest will walk out of the White House and back into lives of decadent opulence and ballooning bank accounts is a shame, a damn shame of historic proportions. And the shame is ours. Bush is the worst outlaw ever to occupy the White House, and it is not enough that he simply leave. The message we have sent to power-mad, totalitarian presidents of the future is clear: Do whatever you want; we will do nothing to stop you. The press will do everything in its power to gloss over your worst excesses, and marginalize your critics, and when the public finally catches on, the press will simply ignore you in favor of optimistic coverage of your possible successors. At least that’s how it works for Republicans.

Bush lied about Iraq; it’s nothing if not clear at this point. And what the hell did we do about it? Bush failed miserably in New Orleans, dashing the image of Republican competence. But what did we do about it? Even now, as Bush’s economic team fools us into pouring an insane, gargantuan amount of money into the largest banks in the world, pulling a classic scare-and-switch tactic we should all be familiar with by now, nobody even murmurs about holding him accountable. As we all hold our breath and wait for Obama to take office, we allow the most craven, criminal administration in American history to keep right on pillaging our laws, our money, and our collective sense of decency right to the end. We, as a nation, are a miserable failure.

-Allan Uthman, The Great Shame

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