Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Odd Couple Book Review

I picked up Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance the other day. It's surprisingly accessible--Noam's going for a wider audience than with his linguistic works. Here's a memorable passage:

The target of preventive war must have several characteristics:

1. It must be virtually defenseless.
2. It must be important enough to be worth the trouble.
3. There must be a way to portray it as the ultimate evil and an imminent threat to our survival.

Arguably you could say this about any civilization of any era but it gives you an idea of where the War on Terror might strike next. Iran and North Korea could nuke us so they're out on the first point. Syria and Sudan haven't got enough oil--out on the second. Possibly Congo and Uganda's mineral rights and "obvious terrorist ties" might be on the list.

Chomsky looks back to the Taft and Wilson administrations but obviously spends a good chunk of the book on the last few years. Noting that W has a bust of Winston Churchill on his desk, he relates the following quote from Churchill:

"The power of the executive to cast a man in prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist." (Note: no clause excluding the Patriot Act.)

One of the concepts that I didn't buy and have never accepted in Chomsky's writings is that America acts as a single unit with clear boundaries. I can believe in unserving loyalty to global corporations but I doubt if Cheney is thinking so much "America" as "Halliburton." For all the flag-waving, I can see plenty of upcoming alliances with the bin Laden family (who of course have nothing to do with their black sheep relative) by American businesses for personal, not national, interests.

What's the logical companion for Noam Chomsky? Batman, of course. Actually Batman in a supporting role. Dan Slott's Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is largely superhero-free, but tries to imagine what it would be like caging a boatload of deranged supervillains. The story is told from the point of view of one of the guards, the chief administration, the asylum psychiatrist, and a recently admitted patient.

The patient, Warren White, was the CEO of White World Net and once enjoyed phone conversations such as "Dick, Dick, Dick, don't get your pacemaker in a bunch. Trust me, years from now people'll think "Halliburton" is the guy who made Edward Scissorhands." After White beats "the greatest act of stock fraud in American history" by pleading insanity, the outraged judge gleefully sends him to Arham to bunk with the Joker, Killer Croc, Two-Face, and the rest of the Batfoes.

Sadly for Mr. White, Dr. Jeremiah Arham, the Chief of Staff, lost his life's savings in the scam and allows the lunatics to carve him to pieces. A somewhat sympathetic asylum doctor eventually advises him to "make a super villain team-up...Be Joker's 'Straight Man.' The Ventriloquist's 'Hand Puppet.' Scarecrow's 'Straw Stuffer.' Eventually White is reduced to Two-Face's "Coinboy" but not before dropping the soap in the facility's shower next to the Joker. In a decency-preserving moment, the Clown Prince of Crime merely hands him back the soap and says with disgust, "You know, I think you're the worst person I've ever met."

It gets more gruesome, almost to the point that you wouldn't wish it upon Kenny Boy. Superhero comics are often rightfully dismissed but this one manages to present the world of Batman in an original light.

I have no idea what Noam would think about it.

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