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Fighting Techno-Monsters of Empire at Mount Snaw Dun
by John Kendall Hawkins
The "it" is a kind of force that gives rise to technology, something undefined, but inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force. Something hideous they are running from but know they can never escape.
- Robert Pirsig, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Last year, as miserable as it was for most Americans, what with science-illiterate DJ Trump in charge of the national rah-rah during a pandemic killing tens of thousands of citizens who wouldn't live to see America great again, and hands-down-his-pants Rudy Giuliani his spokesperson for the origin of the virus, and the economy tanking, and the George Floyd riots, and the Antifa demonstrations, and the failed impeachment leading some people to just keep drinking from the super-spreader Super Bowl onward, to the MSM peddling Russians meddling in the 2020 presidential election, and Joe Biden being the best we can do for a lesser evil, whistleblower-in-exile, Edward Snowden did pretty well for himself by comparison, settling into Mama Russia.
It looked grim for our Broke-Good spy in October last year, when the US government announced that it would suck up the proceeds of sales from his bestselling 2019 memoir, Permanent Record, for "violating his non-disclosure agreement" with the Intelligence Community. Get it? Though the government said it would not seek to control the book's information or its distribution, they sought and were awarded $5.2 million, arguing that Snowden should not profit from his disclosures.
But dang if he didn't partially get around that by being decently compensated for a book advance and for speaking at virtual conferences, collecting a tidy sum of $1.2 million since going on the lam in 2013. In addition, he gained permanent residency in Russia, impregnated his wife, Lindsay, in late March, and saw his revelations validated when a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last September that the government's mass surveillance program was illegal.
And now in the new year we hear that putsch has come to shove and Lindsay has given birth to the next generation of Snowdens in the form of a bolshy boy named Emoji. Have you ever seen such a smile? I'm thinking Magi, myrrh, a stinky diaper they call frankencense, and Burl Ives singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (Call me suspicious, but I find myself under my white blankets wondering why Snowden was given Crime and Punishment to read at the Moscow airport in 2013 instead of the more appropriate The Idiot (onnacounta the visionary Myshkin's an epileptic -- like Ed). Has the KGB slipped that much since the red-nosed Yeltsin years? Did Snowden ever finish the book? (Most people I used to know never did.))
I was still ruminating on these mysteries when word came through that Snowden was putting out a "new" book, Permanent Record (Young Readers Edition). I don't often review children's book since I went and got traumatized by Louis Fitzhugh's Nobody's Family Is Going To Change, in which a sassy teenaged Black girl castigates her younger, tap-dancing brother with dreams of Broadway, calling him a "f*ggot." Mmm-mmm. Still, last year I found the inner strength to review Kamala Harris's politely-don't-take-no-for-an-answer illustrated homily, Superheroes Are Everywhere. Getting braver, I also reviewed Peter Tosh's Africans, and two books read aloud by Samuel L. Jackson -- the pandemic-driven, Trump-disobedient, Stay the f*ck at Home, and the colic-intolerant (and social services alerter), Go the f*ck to Sleep. Still, I'd read Ed's adult version of his memoir and curiosity kicked the cat, as they say.
For awhile now publisher Macmillan has offered an excerpt of the upcoming book (due out on February 9, 2021), and I read the excerpt and scratched my head, confused, not by the content of the excerpt, but by the de'jàvu feeling that I'd reader-performed this stuff before. (A voice in the back of my head kept moaning, "It's twoo, it's twoo." But that wasn't related to Snowden.) Anyway, it took me some time (say, five minutes), going back and forth between the adult version and its junior, to realize there's no difference. The language, tenor, register, tone and words were all the same. Mostly the same chapters in the same order. Dazed and confused, like the no-longer-curious kicked-in black cat in my path (see above), I began to wonder if there would be any differences between the adult book and the one young Emoji would one day be proffered by his Dad, presumably on a need-to-know basis. What the f*ck is going on, Ed? I wondered.
As soon as I received my reviewer's copy of the junior book last week I immediately dove and delved, and enjoyed the Young Readers Edition. It has all the stuff kids love in a book -- adventure, young love, righteous mom and dad moral homilies, unspeakable mom and dad divorce, science fiction turned dystopian reality, and the author putting the burden of the future on the young reader. I thought of Smokey the Bear's warnings about how only the viewer could prevent forest fires, but that didn't seem possible to rescue anymore. Then I thought of The Terminator, John Connor keeping hope alive, which made me think of franchises, and how you can make a buck -- even off ecocide. How about that? Capitalism as a nearly indestructible cyborg. That's a lot to put on the shoulders of a young Atlas, in a shrugglesome Ayn Rand world.
But that seems to be Snowden's intention. Permanent Record (YRE) is, beyond the sub-title's hero preen (How One Man Exposed the Truth about Government Spying and Digital Security), itself derived from a Randian notion about how one man can make a difference -- kinda: "One man can stop the motor of the world." (Oliver Stone script) Which itself, reminded me of something else frightful and traumatic -- towers coming down in freefall harmony (no, not those ones). Don't hurt me, Edward; I'm already inward enough.
No. I'm all-too-glad for YRE to remind us of Ed's Puritan stock; he derives from one "Priscilla Mullins, who was the only single woman of marriageable age onboard" the Mayflower. (That's a long voyage among pent-up types, milady, to go unflowered.) She married the ship's cooper. And they had a barrel of laughs and kids, soon after the ship hit the rock, who would eventually figure in the Revolutionary War (for the hell of it). We really don't want to know any more. And Ed doesn't force it upon us, as, say, Jimmy Carter did when it was one thing to admit to unBiblical lustin' in the heart and another thang to admit it between the sheets of Playboy magazine. Goddamn!
Ed is happy enough to remind us that he grew up reading Aesop's Fables and Bulfinch's Mythology, and, of course, the tales of King Arthur's court. Of particular interest to him was the story of the "tyrannical" Welsh king Rhitta Gawr, "who refused to accept that the age of his reign had passed and that in the future the world would be ruled by human kings," writes Snowden. Rhitta Gawr had slain all the other kings of the realms, except King Arthur. And when Arthur refused to yield his beard, but instead, outraged at Gawr's "hubris," ventured to Wales and battled Rhitta Gawr on his mountain, Snaw Dun, and slew him, and watched as RG's hair-suit turned white as the driven snow fell.
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