Penguin Books guest author: All the World's a Grave, 9/10

My third post as the Penguin Books guest guthor.  "The End of the World, Maybe."  It looks even better on the Penguin website:

Today is the end of the world, maybe.

I had planned to write a nice little piece about that. Something reflective—a remembrance of all the beautiful women I've seen sitting alone at bus stops. That sort of thing.

It seems worth remembering: the world, the women at bus stops.

For those of you who aren’t paying attention: today, Wednesday, September 10, 2008, scientists are set to collide subatomic particles traveling at the speed of the light. The 7.7 billion dollar experiment—employing a 17-mile long donut shaped Hadron Collider—will duplicate conditions believed to have been present at the big bang. Scientists who object to the plan—Professor Otto Rössler, Dr. Walter Wagner—have mounted international lawsuits seeking to halt the experiment. The two predominant theories of our destruction: instant, via little black holes; or, after a four-year wait, a slow-simmering implosion caused by quasars inside the Earth.

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The thing I especially don't like about the quasars: that would put the end of the world at 2012, which is exactly the year my old friend, Daniel Pinchbeck, touts as the world-ending year. It would be incredibly annoying if he were right, and for that reason alone, pray with me for our salvation.

     What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!

     Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,

     Divert and crack, rend and deracinate!

          —Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida: Act I, scene iii

The stuff of bad science fiction? Dire apocalyptic portents?

Could be. Could be. (Work a half-day!) My new book—All The World's A Grave: A New Play by William Shakespeare—imagines a grim end. The last line in the play—"Take up the bodies"—is the only line I put in there for myself. I'm no actor, but I could deliver those words, I believe. (All the text in the book is taken from Shakespeare; the Shakespeare canon is shattered, and reconstructed into a new tragedy. More at And yet, I still have trouble getting heated up about this end of the world forecast. I'm not predisposed to the Pentecostal premonitions that are reportedly at the seat of Palin's beliefs, or the Psychedelic Shamanism that poofs the Earth for Daniel Pinchbeck.

And neither do I think Sarah Palin is the anti-Christ. I know, I know, that is not really a singing endorsement, but I insist—she would be fun to play ping-pong with. My defense of Palin—that she's not the anti-Christ, that the story about her pregnancy and her daughter is absurd—has met such resistance from the Left that I mourn the rationalism of mankind. Everything has to be so absurdly extreme and divisive. The whole point of being a writer, an independent thinking, creative person not beholden to any religion or creed, is that we can be reasonable—that we can dip into our martini and toss off a few lucid remarks and not be foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalists. This war, I really worry about it. This debt, I worry about that too. And, for Palin's pro-life, bible-thumping "work of God" attitude: that also worries me.

But what worries me most is the intolerance. That the conservatives would be intolerant—as a force of constancy—that makes sense to me. But that the progressives would react to Palin with such ribald antagonism—that strikes me as the end of the argument, the total ceding of the Democrat's campaign. In a war of idiocy, the Republicans will always win.

We should be truthful and airy—and take to our secular fight with a broadness of purpose that harkens to the Kennedys (and to Obama at his best), and to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare loved his villains, and we love his villains—perhaps more than his heroes. If there is any paradigm for the progressive argument (after Jon Stewart), it is William Shakespeare. Big and complicated and honest as the ocean. Why must we be reduced to dirty, putrid puddles by the inanity of politics?

     Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

     Like a Colossus, and we petty men

     Walk under his huge legs and peep about

     To find ourselves dishonorable graves.

     Men at some time are masters of their fates:

     The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

     But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

          —Cassius in Julius Caesar: Act I, scene ii

The Democrats, as the party of change, have to do more than beat the other guy. They have to win the election; they have to convince the country that progress is required, that we have to do something different. The Republicans, as the party of conservatism, have only to convince us that we should be more afraid of change than stagnation. The Republicans don't have to win, they just have to beat the Democrats. They don't have to offer change, modest reform is fine—and in this case, that may be enough. The Democrats have once again made the mistake of thinking the Republicans can't win; well, in a way, they can't, but they can, as usual, beat the Democrats.

Democrats have to do more; a thin campaign and negative accusations won't suffice. Clinton (Bill) talked about change until he convinced us he was serious. He picked up a saxophone and sang stupid songs.  No matter how modest his tastes, his talents, he had creative spirit; he had more than the other guy. The great moments of the Democrat party are those when the American ideal of giving, of caring for beyond oneself—our puling, whining wanting selves—is ignited in the American people. "Ask not what your country can give to you, ask what you can give to your country."

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So, Palin?

Love her, love her, say that you love her.

Democrats are going to have to do something special; they're going to have to reach into the slimy green recesses of the American intestine and extract a shining surprise of humanity. "An epic battle of good verses evil!" Not good enough.

     You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life

     That should be in a Roman you do want,

     Or else you use not. You look pale and gaze

     And put on fear and cast yourself in wonder,

     To see the strange impatience of the heavens:

     But if you would consider the true cause

     Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,

     Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,

     Why old men fool and children calculate,

     Why all these things change from their ordinance

     Their natures and preformed faculties

     To monstrous quality—why, you shall find

     That heaven hath infused them with these spirits,

     To make them instruments of fear and warning

     Unto some monstrous state.

          —Cassius in Julius Caesar: Act I, scene iii