Friday, December 17, 2010

Napoleon's Penis

This morning I checked to see if there had been any newspaper coverage of yesterday’s protest of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in front of the White House. Democracy Now carried a story, including a quote from Mike Prysner, Iraq war veteran and anti-war activist:

Mike Prysner: They’re not going to end the wars. And they’re not going to do it, because it’s not our government. It’s their government. It’s the government of the rich. It’s the government of Wall Street, of the oil giants, of the defense contractors. It’s their government. And the only language that they understand is shutting down business as usual. And that’s what we’re doing here today, and we’re going to continue to do until these wars are over. We’re going to fight until there’s not one more bomb dropped, not one more bullet fired, not one more soldier coming home in a wheelchair, not one more family slaughtered, not one more day of U.S. imperialism.

135 people were arrested, including Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges, Ray McGovern, and FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley. This occurred at the same time that Obama was touting progress in the war in Afghanistan at a press conference yesterday, flanked by Defense Secretary Gates and a very solemn and bitchy looking Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.

Are these people douche bags? Lying, manipulative, power-mongering, psychopathic monsters of deformed humanity? Well, yes. But that should be obvious to anyone with their humanity still intact.

The real heroes, as always, were arrested and hauled off to jail.

George W. Bush was easy to hate. He was loathsome. He mangled the language, he joked about the lying and chicanery he used to defraud the American public and start not just one but two wars which led to the deaths of millions of innocent people, he created a culture of torture, he implemented policies that favored the obscenely rich and made life for the average citizen harder than it’s been since at least the Great Depression, and he made a mockery of our nation's environmental laws and values. He gutted our public school system, engorged our debt to astronomical proportions, spurned science, turned a deaf ear to Cyndy Sheehan's questions about the death of her son, "teared up" like a country western star when he visited grieving parents, and so on. No need to belabor it. That nightmare is over.

But then another began. This one was different. More subtle, more divisive, more lethal.

Obama's campaign presented an image that was virtually Bush’s opposite. Here was a man who was eloquent, poised, charismatic, and noble-minded; a man who was not only impassioned about redressing the abuses of the Bush administration, but eager to go into the world and demonstrate what truly good people we Americans are, and can be. Yet almost immediately, with the choice of his cabinet, and his total reluctance to investigate anyone in the Bush administration for criminality, it became increasingly evident that Obama was not on the side of the American people, but on the side of capitalism and corporate pillage. Here again were the same policies, the same psychopathic greed and deceit, the same chicanery to defraud the public -- progressives especially. The same egregious favoritism displayed for the rich; it is now, thanks to Obama, that the Republicans are realizing their long awaited wet dream of drilling into social security. I still find it hard to dislike Obama. That's how successful his whole image manufacturing campaign has been. It is all fizz and evanescence. Chris Hedges got it right: Obama is nothing more than a brand. If Bush was Mountain Dew, Obama is Dr. Pepper.

And that's what got me thinking about Napoleon’s penis. Yesterday our Lapham Quarterly arrived in the mail. Each quarterly is devoted to a specific theme: this season’s theme is Celebrity. I was flipping its pages when I happened to come to a section called “A Piece Of The Action,” in which certain personal items that once belonged to celebrities are now for sale: Presley’s peacock jumpsuit for $300,000, William Shatner’s kidney stone for $25,000, John Lennon's toilet for $14, 500, Andy Warhol's silver wig for $10,800, and so on. In 1977, Napoleon’s penis sold at a Paris auction for $2,900.

$2,900 for a penis? Hey, if anyone is interested, I have a sweaty running shirt I'm willing to let go for $189.00, this week only. It's my Christmas Special.

Of course, I'm forgetting a key element with this entrepreneurial flourish, namely, I am not a "name." I am not famous. I am neither a general or a rock star. I am not a captain of industry. I have never been in a Hollywood movie. I am a poet. And poets inhabit an obscure asteroid at the outer fringes of our solar system called Solitude.

What is it with these personal items belonging to the mega-famous? Religions preserve the bones of their saints. New Guinea highlanders eat the brains of their enemies. Clearly, there is something totemic about these items. They have power. Magical power. Perhaps, if I owned John Lennon's toilet, shat on John Lennon's toilet, something of John Lennon's spirit would communicate with me. Fill me with song. Imagine.

But Napoleon's penis? What do you do with an emperor's withered old penis? Put it on display in a glazed hutch in the living room? Hang it, like a mobile, from the ceiling? Travel the country and charge people admittance to see it? A little extra, maybe, to touch it? And touch what, exactly?

I’m sure you’ve already formed an image. What I pictured was a normal penis, a little pink implement with the foreskin still on it. But then, just as soon as that image came to my mind, another image formed, a 181 year-old penis. And what would that look like? A wrinkled, desiccated little stem tinted a deep Van Dyke brown; something a bit leathery, perhaps, and like an ancient bean pod? Was it in a jar? A little pink tube preserved in formaldehyde?

I don’t want to belabor the subject too much since so much has already been written about it. An Englishman named Tony Perrottet managed to track it down and discover it in a closet in Inglewood, New Jersey. He has written a book about it, titled Napoleon’s Privates. And yes, the item is in surprisingly good shape considering its age.

The discovery of this penis on the same day as Obama touting what was once Bush’s war, and which is now unquestionably Obama's war, are linked. Both are symbols of power. Both are symbols of impotence. Napoleon lost his empire, and Obama is fast losing the American empire, flushing it down the toilet of imperialism. Everything: infrastructure, public education, Medicare, Social Security, jobs, pensions, homes, everything. Down the toilet.

When Napoleon died, he was living on the island of St. Helena, way, way out in the South Atlantic. This is a tiny island, all by itself, not part of a chain. We are talking total isolation. It is said that Napoleon took up gardening in his twilight years on the island. It is piquant to think that this general’s last days were spent marshaling troops of lily and marigold. Brandishing a trowel instead of a scepter.

As for Obama, I really do not know how much actual power he possesses, or, for that matter, that any president possesses. I was shocked at the scene in Michael Moore’s movie Capitalism: A Love Story, when Donald Regan, then Secretary of the Treasury, leaned forward and told Ronald Reagan to hurry up with his speech. That revealed a great deal. Now we know who’s boss: Moloch. “Moloch the loveless,” as Ginsberg chanted at the end of Howl, “Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”

Moloch whose penis is a microphone in Limbaugh’s mouth.


Mickey O'Connor said...

As you well know John, I have no difficulty in disliking Barack Obama & expressing a profound fury & disgust at this sleazy used car salesman. I have no higher thoughts to add to your ruminations. Simply the idea that awareness , candor & honesty are the most useful weapons against the depredations of these representatives of the hell realm.

Passionate Ornithology said...

thanks john...the last line sums up the article brilliantly. like mr. o'connor, i also have no problem disliking fact, i am opposed to our system of govt and economics. i'm also suspicious of anyone who believes a knight on a white ostrich is going to save us...especially since most of us do not deserve to be saved.

John Olson said...

Things fall apart. The center does not hold. More evidence of our country falling apart, incompetence and decay. I'm at the library. The power in our neighborhood has been off over eight hours. I called City Lights, they could not give an explanation. Just 784 homes in our neighborhood were without power. I think we're going to begin seeing this sort of thing with greater and greater frequency. It was nice, though, to get some responses in agreement to our frustrating situation and disconnect from our government. I thought I was going to get a shit storm of right wing psychobabble and sound bites from Beck & Palin & company. And not a few Obama apologists. I think the latter infuriate me more.