Roving thoughts and provocations

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Portable Hell

Abner Dean

The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, I say to myself, and think of people I know who care little about what goes on in the world. I have sympathy for them. It’s no fun starting one’s day or retiring at night with images of dead children.

When he was old, my father said that he could think of two ways to break his addiction to newspapers: enter a monastery or a lunatic asylum.

Today’s news is always old news. The innocent get slaughtered and someone makes up excuses.

The same type of lunatics who made the world what it was when I was a child are still around. Their names have changed, their nationalities and causes, too, but they are as demented and as bloodthirsty as they ever were.

To hear our conservatives talk, our problems are only moral ones: the laziness of our poor and the insatiable sexual appetite of our women being on the top of the list. Yes, of course, but it’s more than that. They just can’t close their legs.

We should demand that the servants of the rich and powerful in every walk of life wear livery appropriate to their rank, as they did in the past centuries.

I caught myself scratching my head with a match as if trying to set it on fire.

They got up and applauded the rich guy for bankrupting companies and laying off employees and crowded afterward to get his autograph.

Eighty thousand people held in solitary in our prisons. Think about that as you plump your pillow and make yourself comfy in your bed some night.

Has any country ever admitted killing civilians out of a desire for revenge? Like everyone else in occupied Europe, I hated Germans and wished them all dead. However, later on, when I saw the extent of destruction the Allied bombing had done to their cities, I was horrified by what was obviously pure malice.

Collective punishment, in which the entire population of the enemy country is targeted, so that an old man in a wheelchair and a kid reading a book in bed are in as much danger as a tank, is a vile impulse, and though it is now regarded as a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, it has continued to be practiced long after Dresden and Hiroshima.

Taking into account unintended consequences is not regarded as a necessary component of strategic thinking in Washington. No wonder our grand project to remake the world in our own image, shape the future, and determine the outcome of history has proved to be as much of a flop as the world revolution the old commies were preaching.

“Collateral damage” is what somebody’s grandparents with their heads blown off are called today.

Of course, this is not generally how we talk about things. We practice what Ted Snider in a recent blog post called “a doctrine of historical creationism,” an interpretation of current events that is manipulated by selecting a convenient starting point for them—one that leaves out prior events and the larger setting in which they are unfolding.

There’s an authoritarian strain to this need to restrict historical precedent and turn serious issues into comic book narratives. We encounter it both in political commentary on Russia, Ukraine, Gaza, and Iran and in the way domestic issues are discussed. For people with long memories, this is not just infuriating but also terrifying.

This is a just war; we ought to remind the population of the next country we invade. People killed by our bombs can regard themselves as extremely lucky.

Portable hell, the kind that can fit comfortably inside your head, despite the vast crowds of the damned and all that fire and smoke, is what you end up with after reading the world news these days.

It’s strange that reporters continue to ask our elected representatives for their opinions, as if the rich who contributed millions to their campaigns would allow them to have any of their own.

A society like ours in which the wealthy are spending millions to prevent the minimum wage from being raised for those sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and to sabotage health insurance coverage for those who have none, is not a society at all but a state of war, as Mark Twain would have said.

Who would have thought that people with a thorough knowledge of history and science would become pariahs among their fellow citizens?

It’s been a while since I last read anyone, aside from palpable hucksters, make an argument that the world is getting to be a better place, or that we are about to turn a new leaf in this country.

“Privatization” is what the transfer of public funds into the pockets of the few is called.

I forget: Who said, “He lives most gaily who knows how to deceive himself”?

The gourmet recipe in the dining section of the Times was Fisherman’s Beef Stew—or did I get that wrong?

A man changed himself back into a monkey through an operation and returned to live in the trees happily ever after, I once read in a tabloid waiting in line at the supermarket. I’m thinking that may not really be so bad.

May these beautiful summer days that remain pass with as little hurry as a pregnant nun going to confession.

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