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"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he next comes to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination."

-Thomas de Quincey 

powered by brooder: don't bother clicking, there's nothing there

(started 05.06.02 | 09:38pm EST) SOMEONE KILLED PIM FORTUYN a few hours ago. I'd only vaguely followed Fortuyn's rather meteoric rise in Dutch politics (I mean, Dutch politics; can you blame me?), which was usually considered as parallel with that of Le Pen and Joerg Haider. It didn't seem a fair comparison, for the very simple reason that Fortuyn was openly, flamboyantly gay, and I couldn't imagine him being welcome at the same kinds of parties; he didn't have the social conservative's distaste for the legal prostitution and semi-legal drug trade that have made Holland a peculiar kind of tourist destination. For that reason alone, I didn't include him in a rant about scary anti-modern europolitical wackjobs I wrote an entry or two ago.

Which isn't to say I admired, or would ever vote for a Pim Fortuyn, should the choice every arise here. His m.o. was all too familiar, especially in Europe these days; the immigrant minority as straw man, somehow to blame for everything that seems to be going wrong with industrial democracies. It's a tactic hardly exclusive to liberal, benignly socialist countries like Holland, France or Austria - it had its trial run over a decade ago here with Willie Horton during the '88 presidential race. Like most political shell games, the object of suspicion isn't as important as the feint, and getting your audience to see immigrants - or poor blacks, criminals, welfare cheats, or whomever - behind every sign of societal rot.

Fortuyn knew how to play the game, making racism sound like common sense. "Islam separates people," he told one Dutch newspaper. "They see us as inferior. Moroccan boys never steal from a Moroccan, did you ever notice that?" Well, maybe you never noticed it, but it's pretty unlikely that, unless you were a Moroccan who'd been robbed by a Moroccan, you could ever dispute him, which is the point - and the fiendish elegance - of this kind of politics.

It's a mistake, though, to imagine that Fortuyn was entirely out of order, or to believe that he didn't draw on legitimate, popular grievances. Declining education, social services, and infrastructure during a boom demand an explanation, and incumbent leftist, or even centrist, parties are deeply resented for allowing policies and institutions they presumable favor to decay. (Hey - just ask any Canadian.) If Fortuyn had chosen merely to attack Wim Kok's government on those points alone, he'd have been a standard issue conservative politician, gay or not, and unlikely to attract such a rapid, vociferous following.

What separates Fortuyn from, say Le Pen or Haider is that he had a personal stake in opposing the bland liberal tolerance for "lifestyle differences" brought by immigrant groups from non-Western societies. "They don't share with us the core values of modernity and think quite differently abour relationships between women and men and individual responsibility," he said about Muslims in the west. "Freedom of speech is very important and their treatment of sexual minorities like gay men and women is a big problem."

Simply put, Fortuyn knew that a man like him was probably more unpopular with dogmatic Muslims than he would be with western conservatives, even religious ones. A rich man and an aesthete, Fortuyn was an entirely modern, secular person, a peculiar but not uncommon variation on the "red Tory". He valued tolerance as much, if not more, perhaps, than the leftist protesters who, two weeks ago, hit him with two cream pies mixed with urine (or vomit and feces, depending on what you've read. Pretty revolting either way, and a foreboding indicator of how much Fortuyn was hated.)

In any case, he chose a particularly ripe and serendipitous time to confront the Muslim diaspora in Holland and Europe - a year or two ago he would have been regarded with mere distaste; a decade ago, during the height of political correctness, he would have been considered an abomination. If nothing else, Fortuyn began an overdue dismantling of the popular myth of the gay man as feminine and therefore nurturing, essentially sympathetic to any other minority and a natural constituent of the left.

As I write this, early suspicions that Fortuyn's killer was inevitably a Muslim have dissolved with the arrest of a 32-year old Dutchman. The motive remains to be revealed, but there's a chance that someone from the left decided that Fortuyn didn't deserve the tolerance that can always be extended to suicide bombers, the men who create them, or the communities that support them.

It would be nice to think that the left was as capable of recognizing the real value of tolerance, not as a passive stance - the default setting of a modern society - but an aggressive one, a choice, meant to be fought for and defended. Until that happens, there will be more Pim Fortuyns, I'm sure, though I hope they can count on a more truly rational, democratic response to their politics, no matter how distasteful they might seem. In any case, I have a feeling that whoever makes political capital out of Fortuyn's death might be much, much worse. (finished 10:58pm | 05.06.02)

The killing of Pim Fortuyn; this kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen anymore, not in Holland, in any case. The Goddamned Space Movie again, and Ozzy.

john scalzi
james lileks
alan zweig
mike reed
lucy huntzinger
warlog: ww3
little green footballs
ken layne
uss clueless
andrew sullivan
relapsed catholic
arts & letters
steve bell
talking points memo
jim treacher

Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles buy it

Black Sabbath, Vol. 4 buy it

All this talk of Ozzy made me want to listen to some Sabbath again, but I wanted a record I didn't own back in the day. Vol. 4 was the Sabbath record I always picked up at the record store but put back again. Okay, so it's not as good as Master of Reality, not by a mile, but it's not bad, and it has "Supernaut", and in the words of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits, "Just shut up and enjoy the Ozzy."

The Houellebecq book is something I've wanted to read ever since I read about the author a couple of years ago, a portrait of an awful misanthrope right out of the Celine and Knut Hamsun school. It's a fascinatingly bilious piece of work, basically an attack on the culture of "freedom" that swamped the west in the 60s. I always thought all the talk of freedom missed the point; being free suggests the freedom not to do things as much as the childish blank cheque to do whatever you want, to whomever, whenever. Being French, it's larded with a lot of philosophical bafflegab, but the unwavering spite and bitterness is really something to behold, and more than slightly amusing, if you have an appetite for this sort of thing. Not an Oprah's choice.

(started 05.07.02 | 08:49pm EST) THE LATEST NEWS FROM HOLLAND says that the suspect arrested in connection with Pim Fortuyn's murder is a radical vegan environmentalist. It all just seems too neat, too anticipatable. If it's true, then the "crisis of the left" that began even before Le Pen's brief moment in the sun has just red-lined.

I would really love to indulge in a bout of shadenfreude on this one, but somehow I can't. My patience with the organized political and social left ended years ago, prompted by a lot of things, but accelerated specifically by the tendency for the left to paint itself as closer to moral perfection, more politically virtuous, somehow more evolved than their opponents. It found its expression in asinine statements such as Spike Lee's, that it was impossible for a black person - or any "minority", for that matter - to be a racist in a white-dominated society. Besides being logically absurd, it could be refuted simply by panning the camera over to Lee's erstwhile anti-semitic allies in the Nation of Islam, the habitual vilification of Korean shopkeepers in black communities, or Lee himself, who - I can say this from personal experience - regards it as a point of pride to treat whites with hostility.

Despite this, almost no one I knew or read on the left found the time to dispute this kind of blatant fantasy, mostly because they wanted to believe it, I think, or regarded any kind of internal criticism as dangerously divisive. In any case, if the left was on the side of the angels, it was the right - which was to say anyone in power, anywhere - who conspired to oppress, to diminish liberty, to disenfranchise its citizens in direct proportion to their lack of earning power and to crush dissent at all costs, preferably through assasination, overt or covert. It's a cultivated paranoia that feels almost comforting, inasmuch as, even at the worst of times, you can pretend you're the hero of a Costa-Gavras movie.

And now it seems like a card-carrying member of the radical left has decided that there can be such a thing as too much democracy, especially where they percieve a real threat to comforting, traditional political order. I thought this kind of thinking was supposed to be exclusive to "reactionaries", to militia members, to the Timothy McVeighs of the world.

In (somewhat) related news today, some evil crank in Brussels shot a Moroccan couple dead before being killed in a shootout with the police. I suppose this might be a source of comfort if you're a leftist paranoiac - business as usual, the true face of fascism showing itself. It would be true, sure, if the killer had been arrested, handed a suspended sentence, and released, but that didn't happen, and I think any sensible person would agree that his actions would have been awful at any time, but particularly so right now. In the weeks after 9/11, a wave of anti-Muslim violence was expected to sweep through the United States. True enough, some idiots were moved to action, and were often tragically unable to make the distinction between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.

The great wave of bigotry never arrived, though - except in Europe, where it became suddenly permissable to give voice to anti-semitic and anti-Muslim sentiments; a Le Pen supporter, inspired by their leader, could often manage to do both without tripping, an impressive but not, alas, uncommon feat of ambidextrous bigotry. It was Europe, not America, that made closed borders and deportation election issues. It's not that those ideas weren't discussed in the U.S. - there's always an Anne Coulter, after all, if you want to flirt with the truly offensive - but they weren't anywhere near the political mainstream. Immigration here, after all, is a historical fact, the lifeblood of a country like the United States (or Canada); in Europe, it's a contemporary fact, a frightening aspect of "globalisation", of an encroaching future that a vocal minority would like to roll back.

I'd like to be able to anticipate the onset of some real soul-searching, an intense moment of critical self-examination by Europeans across the political spectrum, in the aftermath of Pim Fortuyn's death. His last wish, apparently, was to be buried near his vacation home in the north of Italy, near the border with Slovenia, a funeral journey across western Europe that suggests a powerful symbolism, drawing a diagonal line through the continent, implicating every supposedly civilized nation on its route in the obligation to consider the possible futures that might proceed from this moment. As Leonard Cohen once said, I have seen the future, baby, and it is murder. Murder, sure, and more, but just right now it's not too late. (finished 11:06pm | 05.07.02)

(started 05.08.02 | 07:36pm EST) THE WORD ON THE NEW STAR WARS film is pretty grim. Norm, the other movie reviewer here, phoned last night to let the entertainment editor know that it was a bale of crap. At a screening this morning, Jason from one of the free weeklies was more loquacious. "No suspense, no drama, lousy action sequences, awful script; boring, boring, boring." I'd all that pretty unequivocal.

here's a spoiler, ya pathetic milkbabies!
only a flesh wound!

I'm not expecting The Red Shoes but it sounds awful. It's a mark of the dreadful state of the movie industry that someone like Lucas is an unimpeachable success, almost sacrosanct, and that, bad as Attack of the Clones (gawd, what a tin-eared title!) probably is, it'll probably earn mega-millions. It's amazing to think that someone can forge a very lucrative career out of the fond wish of millions that a film they loved with uncritical awe when they were ten can be just as great, moreover the basis for a whole, rich, fictional universe, when they're thirty-five.

I don't get much of a chance to review the big movies around here; Norm has that territory pretty well staked out, only partly because he's free for evening promo screenings while I'm here tethered to Reuters and riding Photoshop. I don't mind - I probably see more decent films in the foreign/indie/Canadian ghetto than he sees in the land of the stars, but I know I'm read quite a bit less in the same pages. You have a choice: an everyman superhero making liplock with a rain-soaked Kirsten Dunst in between bouts of battle in the skies of New York, or a disturbing little Indian film about child rape as a religious rite? Don't worry, I'm not offended.

In any case, there's a screening of Episode Two the morning after it premieres, and I think I'll go, if just to get a chance to empty my spleen of a lot of stored-up animus. Sure, it's not being very critically "objective", but I don't care. I won't get paid for whatever I write, and I hope my little review will be more about whatever qualified - and usually disappointed - hopes I have for movies; miles in spirit from a fawning skull-job by a prostrate, adulatory hack, in any case. (I mean, "Line up now. This Star Wars is for real." Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Bilge-gorged catamite.) (finished 08:42pm | 05.09.02)

(started 05.08.02 | 08:45pm EST) THE OSBOURNES FINALLY ARRIVED up here this week and Glen, the news editor, is the only one in the newsroom with a satellite dish, so he's taping the episodes and passing them around the newsroom. As the only person willing to admit ever owning a Black Sabbath record (Paranoid and Master of Reality, naturally), I get first shot at the tape each week.

This thing has been written about everywhere else, so I'll only talk about one scene. Poor Ozzy, who seems so spend most of his time shirtless, lying on the pillowewn French country sofa in the oversized family kitchen watching the projection t.v., is having problems with the high-tech remote. Ozzy seems to have problems with a lot of things, having scrubbed his neurons clean years earlier with liberal applications of drugs. He smacks away at the "remote" - a touchscreen gizmo about the size of a thick trade paperback - howling in outrage as all he can get is the Weather Channel. (In my mind, playing on an endless loop: "I AM IRON MAN!" I can't help it.)

He screams for Jack, his tubby little hip geek teenage son, who wanders away from the chaos of moving day to attend to his father. The podgy little demon spawn taps confidently away at the gizmo while his addled pater sits, hands held out in front of him like busted claws, and shaking ever so slightly. Magically, the computer brain behind the t.v. starts locking on to a series of stations, stopping suddenly at the History Channel. Onscreen, Stukas dive and Panzer Mk. 3s cut channels through late summer fields while the narrator bellows "German planes and tanks pour over the border..." Ozzy leans back, wraps a tattooed arm around his boy and pulls him close, the two of them retreating into a happy moment in the midst of moving day chaos.

I nearly died laughing, but I was, at the same time, unbelievably ... touched. This could be me in a few years, minus a few tattoos and - hopefully - plus a few more working synapses. God willing. You're a good man, Ozzy. (finished 09:08pm | 05.09.02)

Robert Ward, Virgin Trails buy it

IT'S FINALLY OUT! A couple of summers ago, I travelled with Robert "los Bob" Ward through north and central Spain, and I can say that, among the man's other virtues, he's an impeccable travel companion. His book will let you share the experience of travelling with "los Bob", along the pilgrimage routes of Europe. A really amazing read.

Dennis Bock, The Ash Garden buy it

Another book by a friend. A novel about the bomb, among other things. It's still there, hanging over everything, despite every attempt to pretend that, along with the wall, if just went away ten years ago.

Martin Parr, Boring Postcards USA buy it

Exactly what the title describes, and my favorite "art book" in a couple of years. A perfect coffee table book, for very small coffee tables.

Daniel Yergin & Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights buy it

A "big picture" book, about the last century of economic history. Told as a conflict of economic faiths - Keynes vs. Hayek, Galbraith vs. Friedman, "planning" vs. "market". The basis of a really excellent PBS series, and one of the most entertaining books of its type in years.

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