Pazuzu and the Evil Use of Uncertainty

PazuzuLast week, I wrote, The Exorcist Is Too Serious But Still Enjoyable. There is one aspect of the film that is my favorite, and I just want to take a moment to highlight it. Father Damien Karras has just met with Regan, who looks like a monster and is totally taken over by the demon Pazuzu, who claims to be the Devil himself. And it is fun to watch Pazuzu mess with Karras’ head. The priest’s mother has just died, so Pazuzu says, “You’re mother’s in here with us, Karras. Would you like to leave a message? I’ll see that she gets it.”

This freaks out Karras, but he thinks he’s being played. So he says, “If that’s true, then you must know my mother’s maiden name. What is it?” Pazuzu could just answer the question. He knows, after all, who Karras is without being told. But his game is to not confirm anything. He knows that Karras is questioning his faith, so the last thing Pazuzu wants to do is provide confirmation. So Pazuzu vomits green slime all over him instead.

That’s all pretty standard. It gets far more interesting later when the exorcism proper starts. Pazuzu causes a bedside table drawer to open suddenly. Karras asks Pazuzu to do it again, but of course he won’t. “In time,” he says. But then, he starts speaking in Latin, “Mirabile dictu, don’t you agree?” That means, “Amazing to see.” Karras replies, “You speak Latin?” Pazuzu says, “Ego te absolvo.” You can probably guess that one, “I absolve you.”

Karras asks, “Quod nomen mihi est?” He’s asking the demon’s name. But again, Pazuzu will have none of it. He starts speaking French. He answers, “Bonjour.” Karras repeats the question — probing whether Pazuzu (who Karras is not convinced is real) actually knows Latin or just a couple of phrases. Pazuzu responds with more French, “La plume de ma tante.” This is a phrase used to teach French grammar — it means, “My aunt’s quill pen.” So it’s all nonsense — creepy nonsense — but nonsense nonetheless.

To finish the whole thing off, Karras dowses Pazuzu with what he claims is holy water. Pazuzu goes crazy. But this too is another feint. It makes Karras think that Pazuzu isn’t real and it is just Regan in some kind of psychotic state. The evidence of possession is overwhelming, but Pazuzu keeps encouraging Karras’ doubt.

This is what makes Pazuzu such an interesting adversary. It’s fairly easy to be a hero if you know that a hero is required. What normally stops us is uncertainty. In this regard, Pazuzu’s ultimate mistake at the end of the film is to possess Karras, because at that moment, all doubt is gone. The path forward is clear.

Trump, Sanders, and a Neil Young Song

Neil YoungDonald Trump announced his run for the presidency last week. I am of the opinion that we should take him just as seriously as any of the other Republican presidential candidates. The only thing that he lacks is actual experience, which is also true of many of the Republicans running. He’s a deeply unserious person. But I don’t see how that sets him apart from the others. The Republican Party has decided to abandon any notion of leadership and to simply pander to its crazy (elite created) base. Trump is as good on that score as anyone else.

Donald TrumpBut there has been a bit of a dust up about the announcement. You see, Trump used Neil Young’s song, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Neil Young didn’t like that. His management spokesmen said, “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America.” Two things here. First, aren’t Canadians great? Second, isn’t Neil Young great? Of course he would support Bernie Sanders. That’s because all right thinking people support Bernie Sanders because he’s a good guy with good policies that vast majorities of Americans support — if only they could get past labels and listen.

It’s interesting that Trump would pick “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The song is very much like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”: it is highly critical of the United States but people have picked it up as a great patriotic anthem because they only know the refrain. The song was originally released in 1989 — the first year of George HW Bush’s presidency. And it has rather direct lyrics like: “We got a thousand points of light; For the homeless man; We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand.” And note: the elder Bush was almost unimaginably more reasonable than the current crop of Republicans.

After Neil Young complained about the use of his song by Trump, the campaign responded, “Through a license agreement with ASCAP, Mr Trump’s campaign paid for and obtained the legal right to use Neil Young’s recording of ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ at today’s event.” And I’m sure that’s right. Young has an estimated net worth of $65 million. You don’t accumulate that kind of cash without being a whore. And in the modern world, whores don’t get to choose who they put out for. This is not a criticism of Young; we are all whores; that is what capitalism does to people.

Bernie SandersBut the whole thing is such a great example of Donald Trump’s campaign. What is it that qualifies him to run for office? He’s rich. He can buy credibility just as easily as he can buy Neil Young’s song and pretend that it means the opposite of what it does. But it also speaks to Trump in the wider sense of Republican politicians. They are all so incredibly unhip, but they think they can trick the rest of us by talking about the NASCAR owners they know or surrounding themselves with music that you know they don’t listen to when they are alone.

The hippest person now running for president is the guy who doesn’t even try: Bernie Sanders. Because nothing is as hip as knowing who you are. Of course, that doesn’t stop Sanders from being an excellent politician. After the whole Trump-Young brouhaha, he used it to his advantage, “Bernie Sanders took down Donald Trump and took back ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ by using the song with Neil Young’s permission at his rally in Denver.” And there was this juicy bit of reportage:

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are complete opposites. Bernie Sanders is running a campaign that is about giving voice and power back to the people. Trump is running because he is, “really, really rich.” Bernie Sanders is generating overflow crowds for each of his rallies. Donald Trump had to pay actors to come to his rally and cheer for him. Bernie Sanders is a serious public servant who has spent decades fighting for ordinary Americans. Donald Trump is a reality TV buffoon who is most famous for saying “You’re fired.”

Another difference is that Bernie Sanders doesn’t need the song. But he has a right to it that extends past Trump’s right to license it.

The Perpetual Conservative Delusion Machine

Rand PaulJonathan Chait called my attention to something I had missed in Rand Paul’s new flat tax proposal that I discussed yesterday, Again With the Flat Tax! But as Chait pointed out, one of Paul’s reasons for his flat tax is to save us from the nefarious IRS, “We now know that the IRS, through political hacks like former IRS official Lois Lerner, routinely abused its auditing power to build an enemies list and harass anyone who might be adversarial to President Obama’s policies.” Chait responded that, first, a flat tax wouldn’t change the IRS’s ability to do this. And second, what Paul is saying is absolute nonsense: it never happened.

On the first point, this goes along with all this “Abolish the IRS” nonsense. People really think that if we have a flat tax or some other conservative wet dream, then there would be no need for a tax collector. There have been tax collectors since the beginning of civilization. But according to Rand Paul and company, if we just lower taxes enough, everyone will be glad to pay them. We know this isn’t true because throughout my entire lifetime, taxes on the rich have gone down and down and down. Yet the rich complain more about the taxes they pay now than they ever did. If they were required to pay no taxes at all, the rich would complain that they aren’t being given money because of all the “job creation” they do.

But I’m really struck by the fact that Rand Paul is using this tired old story about the IRS going after Obama’s enemies. There was never any indication of this. Even at the time. The idea that the IRS was going after conservative groups was simply the creation of the right wing echo chamber. Even since Nixon, Republicans have been desperately searching for a Democrat who has an “enemies list.” This is the conservative way: whatever they do must be done on the other side. Sadly, most of the media go right along with this — effectively enabling the bad behavior by the Republicans.

Sadly, I have little doubt that Rand Paul actually believes this nonsense. That’s the whole point of the right wing echo chamber: you never have to hear anything that disturbs you. So why doesn’t the left wing have a similarly sealed echo chamber? It is usually claimed this is because liberals are, well, liberal: they like to get a lot of different opinions. I don’t think that’s really it. I think the problem is that in the modern conservative movement, the ideas are so bad that the only way that they can be maintained by Rand Paul and company is for no counter arguments to ever be heard. How else do you continue on thinking that if only we give yet another tax break to millionaires then our economy will get a “steroid injection”?

But count on this: NBC News will not be reporting that Rand Paul is using patently false claims to justify his new tax scheme. No, it will all just be ignored. Because if there is one thing that the mainstream media know, it is that the Democrats must be doing the exact same thing. They just haven’t found it yet. But don’t worry: if they ever do, they will report on that!

Morning Music: Sony & Cher

I Got You BabeOn Sunday, I was with my dad at a car show. And during it, I heard the old Sonny & Cher song, “I Got You Babe.” I grew up knowing the song. My parents always liked it. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know it, which makes sense given that it was released when I was one years old. But hearing it on Sunday was like hearing it fresh — for the first time. And it really is an awful song.

The melody is repetitious and the transition from verse to chorus is clunky. Without the vocal harmony, the chorus is almost repulsive: the same three notes repeated over and over. Sony’s voice is weak and the song rarely uses Cher’s few strengths. And the production is plodding with by far the most annoying use of an oboe ever. And to top it off, the lyrics are juvenile — slightly less mature than The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

Forget “(You’re) Having My Baby” and “A Horse With No Name” and “Muskrat Love.” “I Got You Babe” is a major contender for the worst song of all time. Even Justin Bieber’s “Baby” is better than it. Think about that.

Anniversary Post: War

War BattlefieldOn this day last year, the last of Syria’s chemical weapons were shipped out for destruction. Also, on this day in 1180, the Genpei War started in Japan. Also, on this day in 1758, the British beat the French at Krefeld. Also, on this day in 1940, Hitler came to Paris to celebrate the fall of France. I could literally go on and on and on. In fact, today isn’t a particularly great day for war. But every day is a great day for war!

As I do these anniversary posts, I stay away from wars. But I am inundated by them. Humans really are vile. There is always someone going to war with someone else. They all have their reasons but ultimately, they are all land grabs — whether for resources or tax revenues or just some king who wants more people to pretend that he is a god. Whatever.

What amazes me is that nothing has changed. As we went to war this most recent time in Iraq, I was struck by how gullible people were. They seem totally clueless. Why don’t people realize that the people of Nazi Germany were also given plausible sounding justifications for invading Poland? Leaders don’t go before their people and say, “I’m evil so I’m starting a war!” No, they say things like, “We don’t want the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Remember that Saddam Hussein didn’t think the US was really going to invade Iraq for a very good reason: it didn’t make any sense. Certainly all the justifications for that war were bunk.

So wars go on. And on. And on. And now the United States is constantly at war. War itself has lost its meaning for us. War is just where we are going to concentrate our attacks. But we have good reasons to support this state of things. We are all so very, very afraid. But it isn’t the “terrorists” who are making us afraid. It is our leaders. And that’s been true since at least the Neolithic period — over 12,000 years ago.

So happy anniversary war: it’s your anniversary every day!