The first book on my list, which I finished this morning, was Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night. It's the story of an American who becomes a propagadist in Nazi Germany, sending coded messages for the allies through his anti-semetic radio broadcasts. But he does his cover job too well, inspiring rank-and-file National Socialists, propping up their rationalizations, earning a prestigious place for himself in that society... He absolves most of his Nazi friends of real guilt, saying that they forgot the difference between fantasy and reality, but finds himself guilty of crimes against himself, because he always knew when he was lying. And he has something to say about how societies come to celebrate death. In the book, Hitler sends him a note after reading his translation of the Gettysburg Address: "Some parts of this almost made me weep. All northern peoples are one in their deep feelings for soldiers. It is perhaps our greatest bond." And later, back in America, someone tells him the flags and the closed shops are for Veterans' Day. He says, "This used to be a day in honor of the dead of World War One, but the living couldn't keep their grubby hands off of it, wanted the glory of the dead for themselves. So typical, so typical. Any time anything of real dignity appears in this country, it's torn to shreds and thrown to the mob."
It was in that light that I watched this segment from the Daily Show. In case you don't have Media Player 9 ('cause the Daily Show is now an all-Microsoft shop) here's the beginning:
When Abraham Lincoln was shot, it took an entire century to come up with the Presidents' Day mattress sale. But these days we move a little quicker. So quickly we've already turned the tragedy of Sept. 11 into a holiday: Patriot Day. Hallmark has already gotten into the spirit, creating E-cards like this one. It's all part of America's stages of grief. Denial, anger, depression, acceptance, and finally exploitation."
Patriotic roses, "A tower to celebrate America" of brownies and cookies, discount cottage rentals for the Sept 11th weekend, National Collector's Mint coins plated with silver recovered from ground zero, and Valor the Eagle, whose tag says he was "born on September Eleventh."
Meanwhile (also via the Daily Show) Donald Rumsfeld has forgotten Osama Bin Laden's name. Here are some excerpts from the DoD's transcript of his remarks to the National Press Club: "The leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, Massoud, lay dead, his murder ordered by Saddam Hussein -- by Osama bin Laden, Taliban's co- conspirator." And then: "Saddam Hussein (sic), if he's alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we've not seen him on a video since 2001. Now he's got to be busy. Why is he busy? It's because of the pressure that's being put on him."
And things are even worse in Russia. In the aftermath of the "bloody outcome of the Beslan school siege," President Putin is asking for constitutional changes. "Curiously, however, the Russian leader's proposals focused largely on electoral changes. Putin said he would propose legislation abolishing the election of local governors by popular vote. Instead they would be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislatures. He said the change was needed to streamline and strengthen the executive branch to better combat terror. Putin also asked for a revision of the method by which Russians elect their parliament. The entire 450 seats would be chosen from candidates on party lists." (from the CNN coverage)
But not all the news is bad news. Kansas City may be getting a new sports arena. Why do I care? Because Kansas City still feels like my home town, and I'm still angry about what's happened to it. White flight, an infinitely expanding suburban ring where the wealthy people go to be among their own kind, protected from mere mortals. And the city itself dies by degrees. Small businesses can't compete with the chain stores on the outskirts, and anybody who can't afford to live in the new McMansions has a hard time finding a job, and no chance at all if they can't commute out by car. What's left is a place with a hollow heart, all suburbs and no substance. There's no city left in Kansas City. So yay for downtown renewal! Even better, it turns out it's the home to lots of sports architecture firms, who want to collaborate, to make the building a kind of advertisement for the hometown industry. But they have competition, from a group that includes the infamous Frank Gehry, designer of the Experience Music Project and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, both of which I got to see during construction, and visit almost as soon as they opened. I basically hate the EMP and love the Pritzker Pavilion (because what works for a band shell does not work for a museum. And because the EMP is partially painted pink.) I'm interested to see what he would come up with for poor old KC.
And then there's this obituary which I somehow find more encouraging than depressing, and the stunts pulled by the Fathers-4-Justice, in particular the Batman who climbed Buckhingham Palace. The Tribune had a great photo of him leaning imperturbably on a ledge, meeting the eye of a security man with an expression that said, "So what? I'm Batman." Neither Thomasz nor I could find it online, unfortunately.
Oh -- and since I mentioned Vonnegut at the beginning? You know that "Sunscreen Speech" that he supposedly gave? It was really by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, of course, and in a column this week she answered the question, "What kind of sunscreen?" Apparently she recommends PreSun SPF 30.
The next books on my list are the complete works of Lemony Snicket. My sister wants me to read as many of the books as I can while I'm home. I think these will suit my current mood very well.