Savage Mules

Dennis Perrin, whether he knows it or not, is in contention with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi in a contest of nuclear indignance–which of the two will assume the mantle of America’s clear-thinking, hyper-independent conscience, left unshouldered since Hunter S. Thompson’s slide into obscurity, and lamentable demise?

Taibbi has the lead. He occupies a chair close to Thompson’s vacant National Affairs Desk, is a fantastic writer, and seems to get off on speaking truth to, and about, whatever power has the misfortune of catching his gaze. His recent fencing match with Erica Jong will suffice as Exhibit A. Jong meant to teach the young malcontent a lesson about what can, and cannot, be said; in response, Tiabbi handed her a piece of her own considerable ass. Consider, also, Taibbi’s furious wood-shedding of The National Review’s Byron York, who, following an exchange on the nature of credit-default swap, would do well to never show his smug face in public, or open his mouth in public discourse, again.

Perrin has numerous disadvantages in his quest for a broader audience and the recognition he deserves. His fans must seek out Before, he blogged under the title Red State Son. Unlike Taibbi, who sits before the camera on Real Time with Bill Maher, Perrin wrote Maher’s jokes. Perrin seems to be more comfortable, at least in his role as political commentator, behind a computer-monitor. Perrin’s politics, while not explicit–there may not be a good label for them, actually–are a blend of disgust, anarcho-syndicalism, and an absurd comedic sensibility.

One envisions him in a bowler hat, at the turn of the 20th century, gleefully tossing little round, black, crackling-fused bombs at industrialists’ motorcades. He may not be sure what follows the revolution, but he’s willing to give it a chance.

Savage Mules, Perrin’s 2008 catalogue of Democratic party misdeeds, fuck-ups and rank hypocrisy, deserves a broad audience, and when that audience comes to the book, Perrin will win the fans he needs to be competitive with Tiabbi.

Mules is an intensely personal, often jarring history of Perrin’s relationship to the narrative driving the Democratic party. It’s a story Perrin doesn’t buy, even though accident & circumstance often puts him among those who do.

“I’ve witnessed this up-close and point-blank for much of my adult life. To many of them, the Democrats are a flawed but inherently decent party whose humane outlook is forever compromised by Republican slander and personal insecurity. Even critical liberal bloggers and columnists hand the Dems a pass on most issues simply because they believe that the mules will eventually Get It Right, if only they can move past conservative lies and intimidation tactics.”

Carter, Jackson, the Democratic Mascot itself, Roosevelt, Truman, MacArthur, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, Humphrey, Nader-Haters, and The Yearly Kos all queue for a clubbing as Perrin, one-by-one, example-by-example, deconstructs the myths with which we surround supposedly well-meaning democrats.

Most of Perrin’s complaints have bases in the bloody preservation of American Imperial establishment and expansion, which, by Perrin’s reckoning, can be shown first at home with Jackson’s genocidal Trail of Tears, and continues unabated, abroad. Perrin’s critique echoes Chomsky’s common-sensical approach to realpolitik: the assumption that America should husband the world’s resources for its benefit, and intervene to protect its “interests” when necessary or expedient, offends Perrin’s radically egalitarian ethos. Further, the notion dwells as monstrously and demonstrably in the heads of mules as it does in pachyderms.

It’s an admirable stance, and one that forces the reader to take a choice–wake up and do something about the Orwellian mad-elephant, or continue in slumber while Empire thrives. It will be a shockingly difficult choice for most readers, and one that most are wholly unprepared to consider. The assumption that America is good, and its Democrats are good stewards, and that American use of force is not just necessary, but an unqualified good, are so taken for granted that they might as well be scrimshawed in ivory.

And this is where Perrin distinguishes himself. Perrin does not come from a beat–he is a free agent, a gunslinger, whose loneliness in the wilderness permits him to take his critique a step further than he might, were he wed to a masthead. He does not report on the process, nor does he take its permanence, or its value, as givens that needn’t be proved by argument. Perrin’s exchange with Max Blumenthal’s aunt, at the YearlyKos gives an illustration:

“Do you like Hillary?” She asked.
“No, not really.”
“Why not?”
“It’s probably best not to go into it here.” I didn’t want to start a conversation about how much I dislike the Dems with someone from the Blumenthal clan, especially right before I was due to speak.
“Well, who do you like?”
“Actually, I’d like to see another system.”
“Well, that’s not gonna happen.”
Not with people like you in the way, I thought to myself.

Perrin’s descriptions of his confusion, humility and ambivalence following September 11th come off as particularly endearing, and provide a nice literary counterbalance to the overall tone of the book, which, despite its being earned, can seem unrelenting, like the rare car alarm that has actually been set off by a thief.

The contest between Taibbi and Perrin–of which neither likely has intention nor knowledge–may take years to resolve, if ever. But so long as Perrin continues roasting sacred animals, and literally kicking high-rolling apparatchiks’ asses, he should count himself, and we also should count him, among our treasures. A rare thing in these times, truth. And a rarer thing is one who will tell it, as he sees it, and challenge those who disbelieve to prove him wrong.

Savage Mules is published by Verso Press. 118 pages.

Sunday Reading for Hi Ohs

I will have some pictures up tomorrow of Ohio, including the road crew in situ, on the road. I can report that nearly every single ad I have seen on tv from McCain has been a negative ad – including some delectably served hate from NRA (check out, if you must). And everything I saw from Obama has been on the issue. Weird, no? And yet, Cookie Roberts can fold her hands and sanctimoniously declare that both sides have been negative. I hate pun-dits.

  • India’s Arjun is what happens when Aladdin grows up (in animation terms). Here is a preview.
  • Tariq Ali’s newest gets reviewed by Muhammad Hanif. He likes it.
  • Nadeem Aslam’s latest, The Wasted Vigil, is reviewed by Lorraine Adams. A lot of people liked his earlier novel, but I couldn’t get into his prose. Doesn’t look-it that it has improved an awful lot.
  • Chetan Bhagat is the John Grisham of India. Or something.
  • Zizek’s political economy needs wider reading.
  • The novel on Aisha is reportedly published.
  • Lastly, History done right.


David Foster Wallace is gone. Deeply shocked. And saddened. Just crushingly sad. 

See him on Charlie Rose interview from 1997.

DFW: You confront your own vanity when you think about going on TV. So I’m — no apologies, but just — that’s an explanation. The — the footnotes in the — there’s a way that — there’s a way, it seems to me, that reality’s fractured right now, at least the reality that I live in. And the difficulty about writing one of those, writing about that reality, is that text is very linear and it’s very unified and you — I, anyway, am constantly on the lookout for ways to fracture the text that aren’t totally disoriented. I mean, you can — you know, you can take the lines and jumble them up and that’s nicely fractured, but nobody — nobody’s going to read it, right? So you’ve got — there’s got to be some interplay between how difficult you make it for the reader and how seductive it is for the reader so the reader’s willing to do it. The end notes were, for me, a useful compromise, although there were a lot more when I delivered the manuscript. And one of the things that the editor did for me was had me pare the end notes down to really the absolutely essential. (@18:53)

Also, this interview with Caleb Crain, on Everything and More: A Compact History of ∏.

Kakutani Appraises. It has been a rainy day.

Sunday Reading for Speed Racers

I watched Iron Man a few weeks ago in Copenhagen. It is a pretty boring movie – except for fans of Robert Downey Jr. – but it is worth watching for professional reasons alone. Let me explain, briefly. The movie that most brilliantly captured the particular brand of American Orientalism was 1994’s True Lies. Can anyone doubt the inspiration of Crimson Jihad? The Middle Eastern terrorists have the perfect mixture of rage, muscles and the technical ineptitude (By technical, I mean both mechanical skills as well as planning and execution skills) that defines America’s particular Other. I mean, seriously, the camcorder scene is pure genius. Now, since those heady days of True Lies, we have had some changes. 24, when it emerged in November 2001, went with eastern European bad guys. Reality being what it is. It wasn’t until 24’s season 6, in 2007, that the True Lies storyline finally re-entered popular American culture. In fact, the fear of nuclear weapon was fulfilled. My one complaint about season 6 was that when, post 2001, they finally went back to the days of True Lies – they denied these terrorists the “mastermind” status.1 The capacity to think and plan and invent – ie, Reason – is an Enlightenment lag, after all. Iron Man continues the good work of 24, so that even as there is linguistic diversity in these cave dwellers in Afghanistan2, they remain bumbling, sniveling and completely helpless in the face of American technical super-knowledge.

In related news, the Wachowski Brothers have finally matched the joy and exhilaration of 1999’s The Matrix in Speed Racer – a classic. Unlike the universally acclaimed Iron Man, Speed Racer has received harsh drubbing by the critics. Watch them eat crow in the coming years.

  • I have travelled a lot recently and also read a lot of articles3. Among them, J. Y. Wong’s British Annexation of Sind in 1843: An Economic Perspective, 1997. I was reminded of it when CM friend Rohit Chopra, send in Salil Tripathi’s interview with Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh has a new book out tracing the role of Opium in the colonial economy. Ghosh’s claim – “Modern India was built on a drug” – seems provocative. I would push Ghosh back on his understanding of “Modern India” – sure Parsee and Sindhi merchants benefitted enormously from the Opium trade but does that really constitute a greater influx of money to “domestic” India? Still, I think that the native networks – of trade, knowledge, expertise etc. – deserve a lot more scrutiny than historians have given them. And even though I didn’t enjoy Ghosh’s last two books, I am looking forward to reading this one. Those interested in this issue will want to look at this chart from Wong: The Place of Opium in India’s Total Gross Revenue, 1821-58. Also see Sheela Reddy’s interview with Ghosh in Outlook India.
  • Google’s Friend Connect is worth a closer look for a number of reasons – some even academic. While we are on the subject of Google, this is a likely future around the world.
  • Joseph’s O’Neill’s Netherlands looks very promising.
  • Alberto Manguel edited one of the best compilations of fantastic literature ever – Black Water, which needs to be back in print. I didn’t know much about him, though, but his ruminations on his library is a fascinating document.

    “There is a story by Julio Cortázar, “House Taken Over,” in which a brother and sister are forced to move from room to room as something unnamed occupies, inch by inch, their entire house, eventually forcing them out into the street. I foresee a day in which my books, like that anonymous invader, will complete their gradual conquest. I will then be banished to the garden, but knowing the way of books, I fear that even that seemingly safe place may not be entirely beyond my library’s hungry ambition.”

    I love that story.

  • Finally, I leave you with Tony Judt. “Since 1989, he proposes, public intellectuals have mattered less and less. What’s more, it is still generally and complacently assumed that America “won” the cold war in that monumental year.”
    1. The iranian/arab terrorists in season 6 were sweat-soaked, grungy, bumbling Arabs but mere henchmen []
    2. so close to reality! []
    3. Since Jan 1, 2008: Chicago – Baltimore, MD – Chicago – Greenville, SC – Chicago – Columbus, OH – Chicago – Boston, MA – Chicago – Toronto, QC – Chicago – Dubai, UAE – Karachi, PK – Lahore, PK – Dubai, UAE – Chicago – Amsterdam, NL – Berlin, DE – Copenhagen, DK – Berlin, DE – Chicago. And next week, off to SF. And yes, I was randomly selected for further screening at every single airport entry listed above. In these travels, I read Naipul’s A Bend in the River, Melville’s Moby Dick, Bellow’s Ravelstein, Jalal’s Partisans of Allah, Sharar’s Guzishta Lucknow, Beiner’sRemembering the Year of the French, Steedman’s Dust, Sebald’s The Emigrants, McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangos, and a couple of issues of Wired and lots of NYers. []