Monthly Archives: January 2016

Since this month is the quarter-century anniversary of the First Gulf War:

In the early summer of 1990, my father taught me how to drive. Franklin County, New York is threaded with semiuninhabited back roads, excellent for the novice driver, and we spent hours practicing, me driving, us talking. Among the things we talked about was the situation then developing in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, was threatening to invade the tiny, oil-rich Emirate of Kuwait. America’s pundit class was talking itself hoarse in debate as to whether or not he had the guts to go through with it.

Yes, he will, I said, with the excitement of an adolescent who thinks they’re onto something. I had read a profile of the man in a recent Reader’s Digest. It had described him as a gambler, akin to Hitler in that way, a man who would keep on taking risks until he was bodily prevented from doing so. To my eye, that seemed perfectly astute.

No, he won’t, my father replied, with the weariness of a man who’s seen too much power politics in his lifetime. He just got off a treasury-draining, army-destroying, eight-year war with Iran. If he’s managed to stay dictator this long, he must have sense enough to know the United States government would never allow him to get away with it. Nothing’s going to happen.

My father was absolutely right. It was absurd of me to think (on the basis of a Reader’s Digest article!) that Saddam Hussein was that foolish. I was indulging my teenage sense of wanting events to be more dramatic than they were. Anyone with an ounce of brains could tell that despite all the saber rattling, the man astute enough to be a dictator for so long would know he was taking an unwinnable risk.

That fact that Saddam Hussein did indeed invade Kuwait is irrelevant.

‘Cause really, what the hell was he thinking? I really do want to know. There was, around 1990, some talk about how the end of the Cold War meant the decline of both superpowers, that the U.S., saddled with strategic overstretch and a massive deficit, was on the fade as much as the U.S.S.R.. I suppose Hussein convinced himself that was true. I know that in the run-up to the First Gulf War, the Iraqi government released a transcript of a conversation between him and American ambassador April Glaspie, during which she appeared to state that the U.S. would stay neutral. Maybe Hussein convinced himself that was true.

Granted, nobody predicted Bush. George Bush was the man America elected because Ronald Reagan couldn’t have a third term. He was one of the last scions of the old WASP ruling class who climbed to power simply because they were used to it. It was difficult to take him seriously. Yet this George Bush and his team put together the greatest accomplishment in American diplomacy since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the most impressive feat of American arms since MacArthur’s breakout from Pusan in 1950.

There was no reason to think any of this coming. It was all ridiculous. History is like that.

This question of Saddam’s intentions in the first war is matched with the question of Bush Jr’s intentions in the second. In both cases, the stated reasons cannot possibly be the whole story. So on what actual ideas were staked the fate of nations and the lives of millions? We don’t get to know. You and I, here in the realm of the common person, only get to live the consequences. We don’t even have the dignity of finding out what we’re being used for.

I’d like to just know. I really want to know.

Though there were some proto-forms, celebrity as we know it began with the careful cultivation of image by the cinema studio system during the 1930s. From there, the idea of celebrity spread to music and a new technology, television. The increase in the amount of media produced led to a proportional increase in the number of celebrities; the new medium of the internet led to a vast surge in known celebrities. In short, the number of celebrities has been increasing rapidly for almost a century now. The rate of increase shows no signs of slowing.

What all this is leading to, eventually, by sheer weight of numbers, is a state where every day some celebrity will die. Whatever the current media are, they will broadcast some version of “Today’s Dead Celebrities,” and the general populace will drop in for their daily dose of melancholy nostalgia. There will be dedicated, constant forums for eulogy. Celebrity death will be expected and anticipated.

I’ve been making this prediction for almost two decades now, and I have to say I think we’re on the verge of seeing it realized. After David Bowie and Alan Rickman passed on, there were a lot of people looking for “the third,” and sure enough Glenn Frey went. But celebrity deaths don’t come in threes, they come in an ever-constant and increasing drip. So I urge some web site (perhaps the Onion AV Club) to jump the gun and start this feature immediately. There is no surer form of clickbait. Today’s Dead Celebrities beckon from beyond the Great Wall.




The dream last night: our family awoke on a bright Saturday morning (in not our real life house). Everyone was happy and yelling. I went downstairs to make breakfast, only to find our 8yrold son playing with his toys in the living room. Which was odd, because I had just seen him upstairs, and could even hear his voice behind me.

I surmised this was a malevolent spirit that had taken his form. I immediately went to the thing, prayed over it, made the sign of the Cross, and ordered it in the name of Jesus Christ to seek the mercy of God and go to Heaven.

At this point, my son came down the stairs. When he saw me talking to his doppelganger, he was understandably upset. I assured him everything was going to be all right.

The thing left–not to Heaven, but out the back door, complaining vociferously all the while. I was happy with the end of the interaction, but uneasy that it had occurred at all.

As we were passing through a rest stop on the Mass Pike on Tuesday my eyes fell on the pair of TVs in the dining area and I found myself explaining them to an imaginary foreigner.

Imaginary foreigner: Why are zere TV screens in ze dining area?
Me: You have to understand: to the American mind, being out of sight of a video screen equates to death.