Sunday
Nov242013

A Room in Philadelphia 

My memory of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is understandably foggy. I was a couple of days short of two years old when he died. What I remember is my mother crying, my father grim and silent, and the funeral on television. We watched it on our black and white console TV. The one clear image in my mind is the coffin on the horse drawn caisson; the wagon wheels and the dark box. I didn’t know what it was, that the body of a man was in there, but in my infantile way I understood that it was a Big Thing and a Sad Thing. Only much later did I realize that the hopes of millions of people rolled away in that box. Years after that came the understanding of the mixed and nuanced legacy of that man.

Still, it is my ur-memory of sadness and loss. Given my preoccupation with politics, it is a good one to have. The outrage of that murder goes beyond the death of an individual. It was a vicious blow to the core of the nation.

A couple of years ago I visited Philadelphia. I went to some of the usual tourist stops, including Independence Hall. I went into a room on the end of the building, the old Senate chamber. The National Park ranger there told us of some of the history that occurred in that room. The most striking thing for me was this: In 1796, George Washington and John Adams were in that room for Adams to be sworn in as the second president of the United States. The ranger pointed out that when Adams took the oath, it was the first time in recorded history that the executive power in a nation state was transferred without violence or inheritance. No invasion, no assassination, no coercion, no king, queen or prince. Just a Virginia farmer handing over power to a Massachusetts lawyer. And so it has gone, despite Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy.

This is why the politically charged gun brandishing we witness these days makes me mad as hell. A certain group of conservatives refers darkly to “Second Amendment solutions.” Fuck those guys. They are idiots, in the original Greek sense of the term – those who don’t pay attention to politics. The peaceful transition of power, as corrupt as it has become, is as important to our well-being as water and food.

Ask the average Libyan about the use of firearms in politics, or a Somali or Yemeni. Ask anywhere in the world where a group of armed men has decided that the election results weren’t to their liking. The results are predictably chaotic, terrifying, and lethal. The armed are ultimately as vulnerable as the unarmed. Hobbes had the perfect words for it:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This is what we now call a failed state.

I disliked Ronald Reagan. He was a spiteful, small minded, delusional ignoramus with an aw-shucks persona so polished he fooled even himself. His sole advantage was that he was a second rate actor in the political world of fourth rate actors. His brand of emotional fantasy politics, undergirded with the coded racism that now informs the Tea Party, was the beginning of the post Buckley v Valeo ruination of American politics. Nevertheless, when he was shot I was mightily pissed off. I don’t like it when anyone is shot, but the shooting of an elected official is a denial of rights of the entire nation. It was a shooting of the basic civil rights of each of us. I didn’t like Reagan or his policies, but the fact that he gained and occupied the office through the flawed, yet peaceful methodology of election linked us all to him.

There are any number of theories about who shot Kennedy and why. We’ll probably never know. Those facts are less important to me than the legacy of his death. After JFK (and RFK and MLK) everyone in public life looks over their shoulders. The October Surprise of 1980 and the judicial coup of 2000 were technically effective, but they lacked the edge of fear. Despite all the surveillance and protection afforded the President, he, like the rest of us, depends on the good will of his fellow citizens. At the very least, he depends on the unwillingness of angry men to take that last step.

Maybe that’s the root of it, the thing that makes the Oklahoma City bombing loom larger in my mind than the attacks of September 11th. Timothy McVeigh was supposed to be one of us. We can sustain an attack from outside. We can face that together. An attack from the inside makes us doubt the good will of our neighbors. Disappointed losers pollute our politics with violent symbolism and the dehumanization of the other. A lunatic fringe denies the legitimacy of the President. Certain factions refuse the possibility of political compromise. The legacy of a handshake in a room in Philadelphia is under threat.

Thursday
Nov142013

Caught up in the personality war 

My last couple of posts have gained some currency online. Sadly, they have been taken up by a few right wing blogs as a stick with which to beat Rachel Maddow. She had done a piece on the obvious plagiarism of Rand Paul, and his defenders had pointed to my piece (A Remarkable Coincidence) as evidence of hypocrisy.

First, my piece about Maddow was not an accusation of plagiarism, despite the deadly serious quotation from Tom Lehrer. Second, or perhaps first, I really do not give a damn either way. I like the activities of Rachel Maddow and dislike the activities of Rand Paul, but I do not know either of them personally and do not consider their footnoting practices important in the least.

Both of these people, as public figures, and in his case as a legislator, are symptoms of something greater. They are not prime causes. They are products of a corporatized society, playing out their assigned roles within defined boundaries. Attacking either of them is like attacking a piece of a jigsaw puzzle for fitting into that puzzle.

Human beings are obsessed with status. By status I mean both placement in a hierarchy and membership in a group. (Read Professor Collins on this) We are also focused on personalities and stories. We love heroes and villains and satisfying plot lines. We love to have our expectations met. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do us any good in politics.

Casting politics as Maddow versus Paul, or Mitch McConnell versus Harry Reid, or any pairing you’d like, is just a tribal sideshow. Likewise the demonizing or deifying of any political figure.

It is structures that we are up against. It is law and the creatures of law. Law and the social constructs it creates do not satisfy us emotionally the way a rip-snorting tribal battle might, but again, that personality pissing contest is a sideshow. By creatures of law I mean corporations. They were created as a means to concentrate the power of individuals into one focused effort. They evolved into a means to focus the wealth of a number of individuals in order to extract more value from the physical and social environment. They further evolved into a kind of reverse parasite, where the parasite is bigger than the hosts.

An effective parasite alters the behavior of its hosts. Consider the bacteria Toxoplasmia Gondii, which lives in the guts of cats and mice. Infected mice become less frightened by the smell of cats, thus hastening their progress into the digestive systems of their fellow host. There is a tiny fluke that infects ants, and also lives in the digestive tracts of cows. When it infects an ant, that ant compulsively climbs to the top of a grass stem and waits, making it more likely to become food for bovines. We get infected with corporate memes such as “free markets,” “free trade,” and the myth of meritocracy. Fossil fuel companies sow doubt about climate change and health insurance companies propagandize against European style health care systems. Corporate media focuses on horse race coverage of elections, celebrity trivia, and personality politics. Most of America climbs to the top of the grass stalk and waits.

 Corporations have become genetically recursive. That is, they have gained the enviable superhuman capability of altering their own DNA in real time. Law is their DNA. Law gives birth to corporations, defines their shape, and regulates their functions. They have a much simpler time of it than actual genetic researchers because the meaning of each segment is explicit and the method for changing it is straightforward.

Their basic methodology has two interlocking parts with reinforcing feedback. One is making sure that mostly corporation-minded candidates get into office. I’ve written about this before: The candidate in a congressional primary who spends the most money wins, about 97% of the time. Most of the money comes in big chunks from millionaires and billionaires, the privileged remoras clinging to the corporate sharks. Ergo, any candidate with opinions offensive to corporations has a very small chance of making it to the general election. We, the voters, get an imaginary choice between two prescreened candidates.

The second technique is what Noam Chomsky called the manufacture of consent. The corporate media allow a vigorous debate within carefully defined limits. Again, we get an imaginary choice. An example that comes to mind is the debate in Congress about the proper interest rate for student loans. 6.8%? 3.4%? Or, thinking oh so radically, the prime rate that banks get? Nobody was allowed to mainstream the idea that we’d be more prosperous in the long run if we copied some European countries: simply pay for the higher education of any young person with enough brains and drive to do it. (Hint: Debt ridden graduates are a corporate two-fer. They pay interest to banks and make docile employees.)

So, Toxoplasmia Corporatii creates a cohort of people who accept corporate policy and fear anti-corporate policy, and then selects among them via campaign finance law to promote the most parasite friendly individuals. Those politicians make the law even friendlier to corporations and give them greater power to filter the electoral process. Those politicians also change the law to make media consolidation easier and dissent more dangerous. The electorate gets bombarded with even more corporate memes, candidates become more slavish, and the cycle spirals downward.

So I do not give a flip about what Rachel Maddow said about Rand Paul or vice versa. Rand Paul got elected by the same system that produced Barack Obama, which also spat out G. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The same electoral methods gave us Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Bachmann. We are encouraged to debate the differences between them, but never the similarities. There are a host of assumptions that underlie all their rhetoric, so much in the background, so submerged that they are never questioned in the mainstream of debate. Questioning them puts someone out on the fringe, makes them not serious. I’m not talking about ding dong conspiracy theories. There are fundamental questions about our economy, our budgeting priorities, our military, and our place in the world that never get airplay.

The work pressure is slacking off on your Minor Heretic. I’ll try to post more regularly this winter. More on this subject soon.

Tuesday
Oct152013

A Remarkable Coincidence 

“Plagiarize,

Let no one else's work evade your eyes,

Remember why the good lord made your eyes,

So don't shade your eyes,

But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -

Only be sure always to call it please 'research'.”

From the song Lobachevsky by Tom Lehrer

 

A friend of mine emailed me a link to a short video from the Rachel Maddow Show. He had just read my previous piece on the debt crisis, entitled “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.” Several days after I posted, Maddow and Co. had created a little skit about the debt crisis using an obscure metaphor from the days of whaling: the so-called “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.”

I have to admit that they took the metaphor somewhere I did not, focusing on the axe available to cut the line between the boat and the whale. It’s all about the judgment of the captain and the crew. I focused on the whale as a combination of the wounded insurance industry and the wounded conservative worldview.

Still, a remarkable coincidence.

Thursday
Oct032013

Nantucket Sleigh Ride 

Back in the days when whale oil filled the lamps of Americans, men went out in ships to hunt the leviathan. From those ships they set out in small boats to harpoon their quarry, which sometimes did not go quietly into that good night. A dying whale might expend its last strength in a burst of speed, taking the men in the small boat on what was known as a Nantucket Sleigh Ride.

We are in such a position now, as a nation, experiencing this partial, strategically minimized government shutdown. I say strategically minimized because the air traffic controllers and the border patrol are still on the job. A real, complete shutdown wouldn’t last a day. The metaphorical whale in question is not the government itself. It is partly the health insurance industry and partly the whole corpus of thought that identifies government as “the problem.”

It’s not surprising that the health insurance industry and its minions in congress would want to cause chaos and exert anarchic leverage on the day that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opens its doors. Despite the fact that we are being funneled into the toothy maw of the industry itself, the rules of mastication and digestion have been significantly altered. Insurance companies must pay out at least 80% of premiums for actual medical care. Compare that to pre-ACA payout rates as low as 50%. Insurance companies can no longer cherry pick their customers for health. Their offerings have to be standardized, which reduces their ability to bamboozle, hornswoggle, or to put it less picturesquely, cheat their customers. And so on. It changes their position from one of near monopsony (monopoly of the few) to a regulated monopsony.

Aside from the obvious financial benefits to us and deficits to them, it opens a conceptual door. That is that health care works better with more government intervention. It is but a short step from that to some kind of national health care plan, eliminating the need for private health insurance entirely. We could emulate our Canadian and European friends, cutting our expenses in half and improving our outcomes. No profit in that.

That open conceptual door leads to another, namely that government is good. A corollary of this is that bad government is not a result of some inherent flaw in the very concept of government, but a result of corrupt private influence. There is a cadre of politicians, journalists, pundits, and political activists who have made lucrative careers out of bashing the very concept of an active government. A passive and cooperative government is an appealing prospect for their corporate sponsors.

A successful implementation of the ACA is a major harpoon into the corporate blubber. Hence the panicked thrashing about.

The corporate forces have missed something, though. They sponsored and promoted a group of magically thinking ideologues called the Tea Party. The Tea Partiers exhibit a worldview that can be contained in a Dixie-cup; xenophobic, selfish, short-sighted, unscientific, and misinformed. These anti-government fundamentalists have faithfully pounded away at our government’s ability to raise money and provide services. Therein lies the problem for their corporate sponsors. Corporations are creatures of law. They are created by government fiat, protected by government courts and law enforcement, and subsidized by government. They rely on government services, governmentally administered markets, and government contracts. When the anti-government ideologues get their way, the corporate world starts falling apart. Freedom from regulation is only pleasant when those around you are still constrained.

It’s blowback, much the same as what our government got from backing the Afghani mujihadeen. Once you train them and equip them they don’t stop when they have finished off your enemies. The investment/business wing of the GOP is realizing that the crazy wing, doing the bidding of the health insurance industry, won’t stop blowing things up when they are supposed to. It’s a little late for that realization.

The thing that the corporate elite can’t and won’t allow themselves to realize is that they need an effective, active government as much as ordinary people do. They need someone to save them from themselves. That fundamental contradiction is being brought to the forefront of politics, and that is one jagged and rusty harpoon.

Hang on tight!

Tuesday
Sep032013

Shooting an Elephant

A famous essay that happens to be about President Obama and his proposal to bomb Syria.

Shooting an Elephant

By George Orwell

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of "must" is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, child! Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant – I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary – and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery – and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick – one never does when a shot goes home – but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time – it might have been five seconds, I dare say – he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open – I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.