Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Last week my colleague Ward Sutton drew a picture of George Bush sweating and stammering at his podium, trying, too late, to make nice with the Democrats and frantically backpedaling on his six years of demonizing them. I myself drew George hiding in a tree sulking about the mean voters. (There have also been some high-level but frustratingly unattributed rumors circulating that Bush is drinking "again"—see this column in the New Statesman for details: http://www.newstatesman.com/200611130015 ) I think we can be forgiven a little mean-spirited smugness in the aftermath of the election, but we ought not to let ourselves believe that anything is going to change. Sometimes things are funny because they’re true; other times they’re just funny. Lots of people in the national media—political analysts, not humorists--are imagining that the Bush administration must be cowed by the election results, and that the new realities of the political landscape are going to dictate a more conciliatory attitude.
What country have these people been living in for the last six years? Do they remember how Bush was going to be "a uniter, not a divider," or how his administration was going to have to "tack to the center" after they lost the popular vote in 2000? Why is anyone still be attributing conventional motives or political strategy to this administration? They do not play by the rules. They’re less like a governing body than a cult holed up in a desert compound waiting for the apocalypse. They don’t care about consensus or compromise, about "reaching out to the other side," or even about the stated will of the electorate. Bush dismissed the half of the country that opposed the invasion of Iraq as a "focus group," and has routinely suggested that anyone who opposes his policies is a coward, a fool, or a traitor. The new realities of the political landscape don’t dictate shit to him and his people; they have never been, nor are they now, members of "the reality-based community." Reality is for perfessors. The Bush administration creates their own reality, one corpse at a time. They are digging a mass grave they call History.
It is worth bearing in mind, disturbing though it is to consider, that Bush is still the Commander-in-Chief, and no one on earth can tell him what to do in Iraq. If he wants to keep the troops there until the end of his presidency—which is what he’s said he intends to do—they will stay there, and keep dying every day. And he’ll attack Iran, too, if he wants to. (See Chris Hedges’s slightly hysterical but not easily dismissable article at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/200601009_bushs_nuclear_apocalypse/.) I know what you’re thinking: "No way. Come on. He couldn’t possibly do that now. Not after what’s happened in Iraq. The American people would never support it." Even I think this way sometimes. But let us never forget this one very simple lesson, one we keep learning over and over again: George Bush doesn’t give a shit what the American people think. He never learns from experience and he never listens to anybody who disagrees with him. He thinks of this as being "strong" and "unwavering." He would nuke Tehran without losing any sleep over it if his invisible friend Jesus told him to.
This Week’s Artist’s Statement
All of the first three panels are true science stories of the last week. The last one, alas, is not, but admit it---you believed it might be for a minute, didn’t you? Sure you did. Why not? When you’re a Creationist*, your findings aren’t hampered by boring old data—only by your faith! I heard Christopher Hitchens speak on H.L. Mencken Day at the Enoch Pratt library a couple months ago, and he touched on the subject of the Scopes trial and current-day Creationism. He pointed out that the Creationists’ greatest victory so far was successfully getting the legitimate scientific world and the media to use their new marketing term, "Intelligent Design." "Don’t ever say that," he urged us. We here at The Pain will heed his admonition on this matter, at least.
Notice how Creationism is only ever treated seriously in news stories about the political controversy surrounding evolution, never in actual science stories. When this week’s science articles about astronomers’ precisely measuring the rate of acceleration of the universe’s expansion through observations of supernovæ mentioned that the universe began its acceleration about 6.3 billion years ago, no bothered to include the disclaimer, "unless, as Creationists argue, the universe is only six thousand years old, in which case the acceleration is calculated to have begun in 1956." In the story about the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome it was mentioned that the evolutionary lineages of Neanderthals split from that of humans about half a million years ago, and that they share between 99.5 and 99.9% of their DNA with us, with no discussion of the hypothesis that they were, perhaps, the descendants of Cain. This is because science reporters, displaying the blatant secular bias endemic to the liberal media, only ever talk to scientists, and not glossolaliac dingbats and busybodies on small-town school boards. Science stories are just for grownups, so they don’t need to pay lip service to Santa Claus and his eight reindeer. As it happens, there was an interesting article in the Times this week about a scientific conference on the subject of religion, where positions ranged from hardliners arguing for its eradication to moderates pleading for tolerance: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/21/science/21belief.html?hp&ex=1164171600&en=c9d90379fc77bab2&ei=5094&partner=homepage
I feel bad for the Neanderthals. They had their own thing going in Europe for hundreds of thousands of years until the invading hordes of hateful hairless little homo sapiens showed up and overran the place like relentless waves of gentrifying yuppies buying up a blue-collar neighborhood, turning South Baltimore into Federal Hill, driving up real estate prices and property taxes, bringing with them pestilence and coffee houses, eliminating pitchers at the local bars. Gradually the Neanderthals were driven westward across Europe until they were holed up in western Spain and Portugal, where they died out about 28,000 years ago. Nobody knows exactly what happened to them; some scientists speculate that they may have interbred with human beings, and looking around the supermarket in Cecil County I can see evidence of this. We won’t know for certain until the genomic analysis is complete. But I have my own theory, based on what little I know of more recent human history. I think the same thing happened to them that happened to the American Indians and Tasmanians when Europeans showed up. We exterminated them. We’re a race of rapacious murderers, a killer species like sharks or ebola. Hard to know how much we’d owe them in reparations at this point. Maybe Europe. On the other hand I probably shouldn’t get all P.C. and sensitive about the plight of the marginalized Neanderthal, since if my ancestors hadn’t wiped them out I’d be living in Africa now, where there are leopards.
Einstein came up with the "cosmological constant," which was basically a fudge factor to keep the universe from changing or evolving, because this idea gave Einstein the three-A.M. horrors. But when the Hubble redshift conclusively demonstrated that the universe was in fact expanding, Einstein reluctantly chucked it. Except now it turns out that he was accidentally right, because there is this other force that counters gravitation called Dark Energy, which prevents the universe from falling back in on itself and collapsing and instead is causing it to expand ever faster. I’ll tell you what—Dark Energy creeps me the fuck out. "Dark energy makes us nervous," one physicist admitted this week. We know it exists, but nobody has any idea what it is, except that it exerts a repulsive force and we suspect it may be related to Dark Matter. Nobody knows what Dark Matter is, either, except that it comprises 73 percent of the matter in the universe. Did you get that? We live in a universe where nobody knows that 73 percent of it is—not unlike living on Earth before anybody had any notion what lay underneath the surface of the water. It’s invisible. Unknown. And what else is invisible and unknown? That’s right: ha’ants. Spooks! The Dead. Remember in A Wrinkle in Time when the Happy Medium shows the kids a valiant star that commits suicide rather than be extinguished by that amorphous and malevolent blackness that wants to engulf the entire cosmos? This is what I’m thinking. Whatever Dark Matter may be, mark my words: it is up to no good. We probably shouldn’t even be looking into this question too closely. Remember what Nietzsche said about the abyss? Yeah. Perhaps best to confine our inquiries in outer space to exploring Europa and Titan and the other homey little moons of the solar system and leave that shit, like, unexamined. As some guy in every science fiction movie ever made once said, there are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.
The red wine study is the least sciencey of the lot. "Health news" has always seemed pretty fluffy and dubious to me, each new study seeming to contradict the last, and all of them announcing some amazing new finding that will Let You Live Longer! Of course this is mostly the fault of health news reporters, not the researchers themselves. We are so terrified of death in this country we’ll eat up any bullshit claim to extend longevity. No wonder it was so easy for one terrorist attack to turn us all into blubbering fascists, eager to forfeit our birthright as free citizens, clamoring for the blood of innocents in revenge, or maybe just as a symbolic sacrifice. One of science’s most solidly reliable findings, one that’s been consistently corroborated by 100% of the available data, is: you are going to die. Go ahead and drink all the red wine you want--it’s good stuff--but don’t expect to live forever.
Allosaurus actually did have little horns on its head. This is not why I cast it as the Devil, however. It is because the allosaur has always been a favorite dinosaur of mine ever since I had a plastic model kit of one when I was a child. It was every bit as cool as Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Note: Several readers have recently pointed out that various characters in my cartoons—the Catholic schoolgirl in "Contributions of the World’s Religions, Pt. I," Donald Rumsfeld in last week’s—look like me. If this is true, which I do not concede, it is because I cannot draw Catholic schoolgirls or Donald Rumsfeld. My own face is apparently my default face. I mistakenly believe that everybody looks like me, or ought to, and so if I am unsure how to draw someone and don’t have a distinctive model to work from my characters end up looking like myself. I can assure you, however, that this is not attributable to any subconscious projection onto/identification with/desire to be a Catholic schoolgirl or Donald Rumsfeld.