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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Camille don't get it.

(Make up your own caption.)

DAVE.5.1-11. Today, Drudge drew everyone's attention to this, as if it actually mattered. Camille Paglia is a smart woman who knows how to turn a phrase in print and snap off a pungent soundbite on camera. In fact, she's as smart and sensible as a true academic intellectual can be. Lest we forget, though, that's a demographic defined by its determination to focus laser-like on areas so narrow that it tends to lose all contact with common sense. Camille's real talent is, in this regard, a knack for sounding sensible when she pops off about all sorts of irrelevancies, including the meaning of Madonna, the various wrong turns of feminism (clocking in at 100 percent by my count), the enlightened lesbian perspective on manhood (she's pro, in some sort of abstract, nostalgic, and thoroughly superior way), and her own views of contemporary politics (brilliant, if she does say so herself).

It's this last category that predominates in the Drudge link. Paglia writing on current events is generally amusing and not much more than that. Her work in this vein vaguely resembles the kind of thing Gertrude Stein might have written about the 1919 World Series, fascinating as a solipsistic hall of mirrors refracting splinters of the real event into a Dali-esque self portrait of the author, but the splinters wouldn't add up to what actually transpired on the field. They'd be useless for any purpose but directing our attention to the personage behind the words. When Camille writes about politics, the only parts that are recognizable are the thudding cliches shared by 90 percent of academic lefties. Her actual positions are banal, but she thinks she can disguise this fact with eccentric riffs, much the way Keith Richards transformed ordinary rock chords into the instantly recognizable persona of the Stones. That's why Stones music is aways somehow about the Stones. Camille's writing is always about Camille.

That's why everyone should get nervous when she decides to write about a military funeral, which she does in her Salon piece. An excerpt:

As I grappled with this impressive phrase (does "homecoming" truly apply to the dead?), I contemplated the striking photo of Manion, handsome and debonair in his battle gear. All of that energy, intelligence, discipline and training extinguished in a moment.

The melody from a classic 1960s song, Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," floated piercingly into my mind. The traditional English folk ballad that is its core consists of a message sent by a dying young man to his "true love" back home whom he will never see again. The festivity of Scarborough Fair represents the joys of life that are fading for him, just as the symbolic herbs of the haunting refrain ("parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme") represent memory as well as nature's fertility, here truncated by early death.

Into this beautiful, elegiac song, Simon and Garfunkel brilliantly inserted a "canticle," interwoven as a countermelody. Out of the pastoral imagery of "deep forest green," gently, almost subliminally rise these powerful lines: "War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions/ Generals order their soldiers to kill/ And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten."

This was an indictment of the contemporary Vietnam War, in which more than 58,000 American soldiers would die. And what did that war actually achieve? It is hard to believe that the generation of the 1960s that now holds power in Washington seems to have learned next to nothing from the disaster of Vietnam, which tore the U.S. apart.

Of course, Simon and Garfunkel never bothered to indict the aftermath of the Vietnam War in which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were killed and imprisoned and millions of Cambodians were slaughtered as the dominoes fell. The obvious truth of her statement "the generation of the 1960s that now holds power in Washington seems to have learned next to nothing from the disaster of Vietnam" is singularly bitter on the tongue because she's so evidently one of the ones who didn't learn the lesson that abandoning the field to totalitarian fanatics results in mass murder on a scale that makes open warfare look like peacekeeping.

As I said, the actual positions that underpin her allusive rhetoric are cliches. But that's not the main reason for quoting this particular run of bilge. I'm thinking of a dead marine lieutenant and wondering how he would react to the sissification of his memory as mere backdrop to a weepy Simon and Garfunkel song about not wanting to die. I'm thinking Camille Paglia doesn't know anything about who marines are -- or about who men used to be before people of her ilk began the great mission of turning all westerners into a single undifferentiated, self-obsessed sex.

I'd probably have let it go at that, without remark, because it's become almost impossible to make the case to today's hermaphroditic idiots that 18-year-old men have not always been automatic "sacrifices" when they died in wars. Frequently -- given who they were (and are) -- the inborn daring and recklessness that make for good marines and soldiers would have expressed itself spontaneously in other ways, some honorable, some disreputable, some that might have brought fame and fortune, some that might have resulted in absurd and absurdly premature deaths.

That's not completely a tragedy. It's who guys are. Or were. And evidently, some still are, because they're doing the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But to venture to say so by reference to memory and anecdote provokes an immediate backlash founded in the contemporary rewriting of even recent history as reactionary fantasy.

But this time I found something that's not fantasy. It's rock solid evidence. Go to Iowahawk and read his brief history of  Turbonique Inc. It's infinitely more entertaining than anything in Camille's long ego-dump, and it's true. I'm only going to give you a taste because I want you to go to his site, read his whole post, and study his documentary and physical evidence. What's the setup?

Once upon a time in the postwar, before the advent of EPA and OSHA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission and weenies in bike helmets and multilingual warning stickers on stepladders, crazy people walked this earth. Good, fun-loving Americans who knew that "instructions" were something you threw in the trash along with the empty Falstaff bottles. A halcyon era filled with manly men who savored the wholesome virtues of a rugged game of un-seatbelted automotive chicken.

Where did they all go? Perhaps it was the feminization of culture, or the rise of litigation, or the cumulative toll of various maimings. All I know is that entire industries were once devoted to sating their demand: tether lawn mowers. Home blowtorches and 110 electric welders... But there is one name that stands alone at the apex of the daredevilry supply industry: the Turbonique Company of Orlando, Florida....

Its products represented the zenith of no-compromise, crazyass crazy. Recall Acme, that enigmatic mail order purveyor of catapults and jet skates to cartoon coyotes? Pikers, compared to Turbonique.

Iowahawk goes on the describe the company's "low-end" products, the lowest of which doubled the horsepower of V-8 engines with a bolt-on part. He provides product literature and photos. Then he gets to the real meat and potatoes:

Okay, so rocket superchargers and drag axles are all well and good, but what if you really needed undiluted, industrial-grade insane? You'd be in luck, because also Turbonique provided microturbo thrust engines. Not rocket powered superchargers, or rocket powered axles, but rocket-powered rockets - pure thrust engines for horizontal speed...

Most of us have, at one time or another, heard the urban legend about the friend of a friend of a friend who stole a JATO motor from an Air Force base, strapped it on an Impala and ran it into a cliff side at 300 mph. If you've ever wondered where that story originally came from, here you go.

There's even more craziness than that, including 1000 horsepower rockets attached to go-karts, and pictures of same. Then the sad part:

Those days are long gone. Turbonique seems to have ceased operation around 1969. Original Turbonique equipment is extremely difficult to find, in part due to their extreme heavy duty use, and possibly because of deliberate destruction to avoid liability judgments.

Interesting about the year of Turbonique's death, isn't it? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

What Camille and all the other girls, male and female, who presume to write about young men at war can never possibly understand is that what they do involves far more than dying and breaking their mothers's hearts. They also work and compete and seek the limits of their own courage and skill for the sheer thrill of doing what lesser folk can't. They have no need for the pity of the ants who have the nerve to look down at them and see boys rather than heroes in rough draft, engaged in a powerful process of creating themselves as men. Not men as feminists have perverted the term, but as their fathers and grandfathers and forefathers would have defined it. That's not a process that can ever be completed without risks, big ones, to life and limb and character and soul. And believe it or not, there's always some fun involved. Fun as pure and huge as the potentially deadly costs.

Battlefields are one place to engage in that process. There are many others. But all of them entail contact with pursuits and experiences the self-proclaimed seers of our intelligentsia would call insane. How could it be otherwise? Simon and Garfunkel never wrote a song about looking death in the eye and spitting in his face.

By the way, Iowahawk has a Turbonique supercharger, all parts complete. He's looking for the right vehicle to install it on. When he gets it up to speed, maybe Camille would like to go for the first real ride of her life







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