Saturday, October 22, 2005

Of Din and Dialogue

[We all know Pangloss, the eternal optimist, and Martin, the eternal pessimist, whose dialogues are about as conclusive as those of the French and Italian officers debating their civilizations’ mutual one-uppance in “Casablanca.” Word has it Martin and Pangloss are in negotiations with CNN for a Crossfire-like talk show of their own, but they’ve been having trouble agreeing on the carpet fiber in the Green Room. Pangloss and Martin stop by here once in a while, along with their servant Cacambo, who occasionally babysits our kids. Pangloss’s and Martin’s conversation this morning, about Iraq and other Babelings, is transcribed here verbatim.]

Pangloss: The justice! The hand of justice everywhere, and in places where you least expected it.
Martin: What delusions you speak now?
Pangloss: No delusions. Saddam is on trial in Baghdad. Assad’s lion’s roar is down to a  kitty’s whisper in Damascus. The great Rove has the shakes over the countdown to the special prosecutor’s indictments in Washington. Dick Cheney must be running back to his favorite undisclosed locations and George Bush may have to go back to reading his “Pet Goat” to schoolchildren. It looks like justice speaks after all. Even Judith Miller is finally getting tarred and feathered by her own colleagues.
Martin: I see burned and trophied bodies in Afghanistan, murdered defense lawyers in Baghdad, abetted rapists in Darfur, corruption as usual in DC, Times editors who swallowed Miller’s lies two and a half years ago as gullibly as they swallowed the lies of the administration peddling them now scapegoatfucking her to hide their shame. Not to mention another October without the Yankees. And Wilma. And Britney’s baby pictures getting scooped.
Pangloss: You must have stumbled on a lousy batch of crack this morning.
Martin: No, just the usual cup of Juan Valdez doing an Exxon impersonation.
Pangloss: Your oily outlook runneth over.
Martin: What’s the use of trying a mass murderer if murders en masse are taking place outside the courtroom, some of them compliments of the prosecutors’ patrons? At Nuremberg you could at least buy a dozen eggs at the market and make it home before they turned into an omelet with your entrails for fixin’s (other bystanders’ toppings is extra).  
Pangloss: Occasional convulsions are the collateral of the grand plan. You cannot, since you brought up the metaphor, make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Martin: A two-year-old child turned to a bloody pulp in the name of “occasional convulsions” is not a metaphor, nor were my eggs. There’s been nothing “occasional” about the daily massacre of two dozen people in the name of three dozen competing bigotries, the one about “freedom and democracy” among them.
Pangloss: Freedom and democracy—bigotries?
Martin: Sloganeering in any form is the velvety language of bigots.
Pangloss: Your camel-jokeyed stigmatism is narrower than the eye of a needle. Look at the panorama for a change. Just as an earthquake in Lisbon is the expression of a fault-line reverberating half-way across the globe, Saddam’s trial is the pre-shock of many happy quakes to come.
Martin: And many happy auto-da-fés, I imagine, with Shiites and Sunnis doing their blood-soaked call-and-response routine for Te Deums.
Pangloss: Clever wordplays never outshout the truth. The fraternity of tyrannies known as the Arab League is finally being deloused just as Saddam was so perfectly if not exactly symbolically deloused when he was hitched out of his spider hole. It’s a different sort of revolution than we’re used to in our smugly enlightened West, but a revolution nonetheless.
Martin: They can try Saddam until the camels come home. They’re trying a horse that’s been dead and buried for years. He’s been irrelevant since 1991. But just as the Soviets propped up Brezhnev with steroids and camphor for a decade and a half—when has the embalming of a zero-gravity empire been less telling?—the United States has been pumping Saddam with manufactured relevance since the last bomb charred retreating Iraqis on the Highway of Death 14 years ago.
Pangloss: You’re saying what I’m saying: The Arab world’s tyrannies are bankrupt, decaying from within, ready to crumble. Saddam’s trial is the Exterminator’s Job One. They’re already dancing the rumba in Beirut. They’ll be dancing the Macarena in Cairo next.
Martin: And the mambo in Mecca, I suppose? Your nose for rot-colored glasses has never been more useful. I don’t dispute the tyrannies’ bankruptcies. I dispute your Good-Housekeeping-Seal-of-Approval method of cleaning house. Destroying a house in order to save it may foment a revolution, but not the kind you can set ballroom tunes to. Islam’s fascist brigades don’t give a shit about Saddam’s trial. He was on Al-Qaeda’s most wanted list too, you forget. So is Syria’s winterized lion. So is the House of Saud for that matter. By putting Saddam on trial we’re doing Osama’s bidding for him. We’re his executors. That’s the supreme irony of this trial, of this whole war. To the fanatics, it is a gift that keeps giving. It reminds me of those television commercials that ran briefly after 9/11, those idiotic ones that said when you buy drugs, you’re funding terrorism. Actually, you're likelier to be funding terrorism when you fill up your gas tank, considering the density of petrodollars that end up in in the House of Saud’s pockets, briefly, (and the intensity of joint and oh, so official Saudi-American denials of so much sluishiness) before the Wahhabite mafia extorts it from them to keep the terror at bay a little longer (when both Mafia and Saudi princes aren't too busy ejaculating with hypocrisies in the skanky recesses of Parisian boulevards). Your eighborhood gas pumps might as well be honest about the breakdown: federal, state, local and Wahhabite taxes.
Pangloss: Sure, by that calculus the money Pol-Pot once used to buy Kodak film for his infamous photo archives makes Kodak an accomplice in the killing fields. It’s not that conveniently complicated. The buck stops where the buck is transacted. Right now the buck stops in Baghdad at Saddam’s trial. Would you have rather seen him and his sons stay in power?
Martin: Speaking of conveniently uncomplicated choices. But actually, have him stay and let rot devour him from within, yes,  as you so joyfully believe is happening all over the Arab world. Instead here we are fertilizing a whole new generation of tyrants and fanatics with cordite proudly made in Edina, Minn., and absolutely, positively delivered by McDonnell Douglas’s and Lockheed ("We Never Forget Who We're Working For") Martin's Wal-Mart-like network of efficient routing agents.
Pangloss: Your idealism is touching, but there are no clean wars. None of this would have happened without the invasion. The invasion was the Arab world’s Normandy. Sure it’s been ugly. So was Normandy, where, need I remind you, two thousand four hundred GIs died on Omaha Beach alone in the first hours, which makes the 2,000 deaths in Iraq not such a bad show for two and a half years’ work. But after Normandy came, well, Nuremberg, except we’re doing it much more cheaply in Iraq.
Martin: Spoken like a true Wal-Mart shopper for democracy: Even lives at a low price. Always.
Pangloss: Would you rather keep filling mass graves until your knights-in-shining-armor-from-within rode in to save them, who knows when?
Martin: I would rather your happy premise spoke less Oxford English and more Baghdad Arabic, or any Arabic for that matter. Maybe then you’d hear the gibberish in your gloss.
Pangloss: You speak of deferring to the Arab Street, but you’re only deferring to its gutters, and drowning western ideals with you. I refuse to concede that we have nothing to give the East when we’re all in this to make the best of all possible worlds.
Martin: Give them jeans. Give them triple-decker burgers. Give them high-platform shoes and Lindsay Lohan’s lowbrow pops. Give them the French Quarter’s whores for that matter. They’re desperate for work and dicks more interesting than realtors’. Those are universal currencies anyone is happy to deal in from Vancouver to Sanzhou. Just spare them the effluents of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute
and the creepy-crawly nuggets of hubris dribbling out of whatever’s left of the Bush politbureau.

Pangloss: I’ll be sure to let Thomas Jefferson know you disapprove of human rights exports.
Martin: He’ll be sure to let you know that “With nations, as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties; and history bears witness to the fact that a just nation is taken on its word, when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others.” Our word, right now, is as good as our morals, cher Martin.
Pangloss: A quote is no substitute for reality.
Martin: Reality is no excuse for irrigating folly.
Pangloss: Your pessimism is underwhelming.
Martin: Your optimism has overshot its blanks.
Pangloss: I hear Cacambo calling us to lunch.
Martin: Finally, some grilled cheese I can sink my teeth into.

[An alternative version of the dialogue appears in the Oct. 25 editions of the Daytona Beach News-Journal]