Thursday, April 28, 2011


As a number of tornadoes ravage the South and a radio show I listen to broadcasts from Georgia, expressing fear that they will converge on it, I couldn’t help but think of Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

"Do as thou wilt, he still wasn't born in Mahagonny."Trump,
subject to a copycat tornado in New Hampshire. 
Yesterday President Obama released his long-form birth certificate to quell the birther typhoons. One wonders how that'll work given an earlier CBS News/New York Times poll concluding that 45% of Republicans believe the President was born outside of the U.S. Shortly after, to all appearances a typhoon struck Trump’s hair (above) while he reveled in his “victory” at having forced the President’s hand. Meanwhile the Fukushima Daiichi complex is more radioactive than at any time prior, Rep. Paul Ryan fled hostile protestors at a town hall meeting who oppose his scrap n’ salvage budget bill, and an executive VP of the US Chamber of Commerce said “to quote what they say every day in Libya, ‘all options are on the table’” if would-be federal contractors are forced to disclose political donations when they go a-begging in DC. And of course, there’s the ongoing Libyan war: Senators (Graham, McCain and Lieberman) are recommending “regime change” assassination, and the brass are using predator drones so they can almost kill civilians less often. There may be omissions because I gleaned all this on the fly, while working my three jobs from late morning til dawn. The very last moorings of Yanqui civility, indeed of civilization, seem to be straining. 

In the scene from Mahagonny where the typhoons approach, Jimmy (a lumberjack on holiday from his Alaska choppery) is getting restive because the town is too quiet – Mahagonny is founded on the business of drunken fun, whores, gambling, and loafing. It’s full of ne’er-do-wells, grifters and drifters, and the crooks who run it try to regulate everything with signposts and censure because they have a weird utopian streak. There isn’t enough tension there for the cadre running it to profit, so they’re panicking about finances and people leaving just when a drunken Jimmy makes his great speech that people should do as they please, not live under the gang’s laws. This speech takes place as a tornado threatens to strike the town, and people in desperation seem receptive to Jimmy’s theory that we should do our worst in this world, that nature can’t outstrip our violence as “the most frightening force is Man.”

The tornado/typhoon just misses Mahagonny, but strikes elsewhere and kills the federal agents looking for the gangsters who run the town. They, and the idlers being milked in Mahagonny, interpret this as the universe’s approval of their new “do as thou wilt” philosophy. All launch on a new and bloody course of open, unregulated self-satisfaction that’s ultimately disastrous for the whole provisional community, which is a smelting pot anyway – of fools’ gold.

In his last State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of our “Sputnik Moment.” I rather think this is our Mahagonny Moment, just before the final movement of the symphony our founders wrote – which opens with a haunting passage from the winds and brass.

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