CAT | Culture
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
One day in the early 1930s, an Oxford don, Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, was grading exam papers, when he was inspired to write on a sheet of blank paper, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
The rest of the story is still unfolding.
J.R.R. Tolkien published “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in September, 1937, with a print run of 1,500 copies, which sold out by December.
Further editions followed, and translations into other languages. In 1938 he received a letter from a publisher in Germany who was producing a translation, asking if his ancestry was “arisch.” (In fact the name is German, though not typical.)
Tolkien answered, “Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”
That probably tells you as much about Tolkien as anything. Witty, learned, upright, honorable, and fearlessly outspoken.
“The Hobbit” was followed by “The Lord of the Rings” and volumes and volumes of Tolkien’s notes and unfinished manuscripts put into some kind of order by his son Christopher after Tolkien’s death in 1973.
In 1977 “The Hobbit” was made into an animated film by Rankin/Bass studios. It wasn’t terrible, but in spite of some high-powered talent it just wasn’t what we’d been waiting for.
Then along came Peter Jackson and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Jackson proved he’s the guy who can do it, so this time around there was no anxiety about “The Hobbit” on film.
Well… maybe a little.
“The Hobbit” is being released as a trilogy at least as long as LOTR. “An Unexpected Journey” will be followed by “The Desolation of Smaug” (2013), and “There and Back Again” (2014).
Jackson filmed both 2D and 3D versions, and used new digital technology with double the frames per second of conventional film. Three-D I can take or leave, but the visual effects did seem somehow more vivid.
So how are they going to stretch one book into a trilogy?
“An Unexpected Journey” didn’t actually seem overlong, even at 2 hours and 50 minutes, even at the midnight premier. And it ended in precisely the right place, right after Bilbo acquires the ring that figures so prominently in LOTR.
The film is faithful to the book, with some additions. Familiar characters from LOTR are retrofitted into “The Hobbit”: Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee). Not to mention a cameo by Frodo (Elijah Wood) and old Bilbo (Ian Holm) that sets the stage for the whole story to be shown as a flashback.
For young Bilbo, Jackson cast British actor Martin Freeman, an inspired choice.
The role of Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), mentioned only a few times in the cannon of Middle Earth, is expanded greatly and equipped with a chariot pulled by rabbits. More non-canonical characters are going to be interpolated into the trilogy such as elf warrior maidens.
What Jackson is doing is basically the same thing Tolkien did to the second edition of the book after he had fleshed out LOTR. Tolkien rewrote just enough of “The Hobbit” to make it a consistent introduction to LOTR. Likewise Jackson is fleshing it out with material from the appendices in LOTR to make it a more of a prequel to the LOTR trilogy.
Now say this very, very softly, but in some ways Jackson has improved on the books.
Lin Carter (1930-1988) a very bad writer but very good editor of fantasy fiction, once incurred the wrath of fandom by pointing out “The Hobbit” and LOTR taken together, is a very good work – with serious flaws.
One of them is that Tolkien couldn’t write female characters worth a damn, and hence potentially fascinating roles are relegated to walk-ons. Odd given the inspiration his mother and his wife gave to his work.
The temptation of elf-queen Galadriel is an important and moving scene, but that’s pretty much it for her in LOTR. Jackson gives her more screen time in “The Hobbit” and a role in events worthy of her stature.
Bilbo is given dialog telling why he’s sticking with Gandalf and the 13 dwarves, though he’d very much like to cut and run home, which shows real nobility of spirit. The kind ordinary English people showed in the dark days of WWII when LOTR was written.
I think Tolkien might have liked it.
Note: Cross-posted from my newspaper blog.
Today is Purim, a Jewish festival celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar in the Hebrew calendar. This year it runs from sunset on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, and ends sunset Thursday, March 8, 2012.
The Purim holy day celebrates the salvation of the Jews of ancient Persia from a plot to annihilate them by Haman, prime minister of King Ahasuerus in the 4th century BC.
The word “Purim” comes from a word meaning “lots,” because Haman picked the day of the massacre by drawing lots.
Haman’s plot was dramatically exposed when Ahasuerus’ new Queen Esther revealed at a feast that she was Jewish. The planned annihilation was canceled, Haman was hanged, and Esther’s cousin Mordechai replaced him as prime minister.
There was once a colorful expression that came from this when hanging was still used as a method of execution, to be “hanged higher than Haman.”
There was a later historical parallel that seems too good to be true, except that it is reasonably well attested to. In the 14th century King Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great) of Poland, the last of the Piast Dynasty, invited Jews from all over Europe to settle in Poland. They eventually constituted about 15 percent of the population before the Holocaust.
Legend has it that Kazimierz had a Jewish mistress he loved greatly, who influenced him for the benefit of her people. Her name was Esterka – or in English, Esther.
Persia is of course, modern day Iran. The name “Iran” means “Aryan” and is a modern invention. I have had Iranian friends who still prefer to call themselves Persians though.
The parallels between the story of Esther and the boasts of the leaders of Iran that they will annihilate the Jews today are not lost on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who earlier this week presented President Obama with a copy of the “Megillah of Esther,” the Purim story.
However there’s an interesting historical factoid that nobody seems to notice, perhaps because we think of the stories in the Bible as myths, rather than history. The King of Persia’s name is recorded in the Book of Esther as Ahasuerus, but when studying history from a more secular point of view we use the Greek rendering of his name, Xerxes.
Xerxes was of course the Persian emperor who led the invasion of Greece that was delayed for a crucial time by the 300 Spartans and their allies at the Battle of Thermopylae, then defeated decisively at the naval battle of Salamis and the land battle at Plataea.
And if that’s not enough historical trivia, does anybody remember Grade B movie actor Richard Egan (1921-1987)?
In 1960 and 1962 Egan made two movies in a row. The first was “Esther and the King,” co-staring Joan Collins, where he played King Ahasuerus/Xerxes. In the second, “The 300 Spartans” he played King Leonidas of Sparta.
It’s still around on DVD in cheap movie bins and well worth the trip down memory lane. Egan had a style of acting that was a tad wooden, but I don’t think they ever got a better performance out of him.
I recommend Sarah Palin’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “How Congress Occupied Wall Street.”
If you want to dismiss Palin as an intellectual lightweight, go ahead. This may after all be basically a book report on something written by one of her staff – but Palin had the sense to first employ the guy, then promote his book.
The staffer is Peter Schweizer, and the book is “Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison.”
And incidentally I can’t think of anything that illustrates the corruption of our media and political culture more than the comparison between how the Tea Party demonstrations were treated, versus the Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, etc.
On the one hand you had huge crowds of largely middle-aged, working, successful, well-educated people, come together to protest the bankrupting of our country by an out-of-control government. They assembled peacefully, left property intact and no trash behind, then went back to their homes and their jobs.
On the other hand you had affluent kids supported by their parents, no jobs – or how else could they afford to camp out in public places for weeks? They vandalized the places they occupied, and the surrounding businesses, and had a significant interpersonal crime rate, disturbed the peace of the neighborhoods, and left the places filthy. Insofar as they had any coherent message at all, they were against “greed” but wanted the government to forgive the massive loans they took out to subsidize years of idleness while acquiring indoctrination miscalled “education” after realizing it left them with no employable skills or even work habits.
The first were vilified as “racists” on no evidence at all, labeled with an obscene name “teabaggers,” and dismissed when they were not simply ignored.
The second were treated with sympathy by the mainstream press, courted by leftist politicians, and taken seriously as a “movement” although there was no evidence of ideological coherence or any broad-based support at all.
Indeed, it seems more than likely any initial sympathy in the areas they occupied has vanished by now.
“What the hell is rolle bolle?” I can almost hear.
Well, this Saturday I went to cover a local festival in Russell, Minnesota (pop. 338.) After the parade I went to the local rolle bolle (pronounced “roley boley”) court to have a look at the game and take some pics.
The game is played with wheels called rolle bolles, which are thick but not very large in diameter, and slightly asymmetric like a wheel worn down on one side. Players make up teams generally of 3-4 players. It’s played outside on a dirt court or sometimes inside. Players take turns rolling the rolle bolles towards pegs set in the ground at opposite ends of the court. The object is to get yours as close as possible to the peg. Technique includes knocking your team mates rolle bolles closer, or the opposing team’s away. The winning team is the first to score eight points.
Because of the asymmetry of the rolle bolle it rolls in a wide curve. This makes things interesting.
I only heard of the game after I moved down here. It’s originally from Belgium and was brought here by immigrants who built a nearby town called Ghent (pop. 370,) which proudly proclaims itself “The Rolle Bolle Capitol of the World.”
That’s actually not hyperbole. Rolle bolle has almost died out in Belgium. Local bowlers who went to Belgium in 1978 looking for bowlers had the devil of a time finding any. They did eventually find some, and did some research on local styles of play.
The Minnesota style was described to me by one grandfather who passed his love of the game on to his grandkids.
“A true rolle bolle bowler plays with a rolle bolle in one hand and a beer in the other,” he said.
Nowadays people will come to the area from odd corners of the U.S., Canada, and yes Belgium to compete when anybody cares to hold a tournament.
At any rate, I was covering the event with my kids because my wife was on a business trip. After some of the players showed my nine-year-old son how to bowl, he pleaded with me for $3 to enter the tournament and I indulged him.
Then I realized I had to leave to cover a rodeo down the road. The organizer told me if I pulled him out now, it would screw up the whole round-robin schedule. They’d seriously made plans to play the tournament with a nine-year-old tyro in the lineup!
“Don’t worry, we’ll look after him,” one player told me.
So off I went down the road with my daughter. When I came back the kid was in seventh heaven. The adult players (there were a few other kids and most bowlers started out at an earlier age than his) were patient, encouraging, and very kind. My son was ecstatic he’d scored two goals.
“Daddy our team won!” was how he greeted me on our return.
The atmosphere was one of warm camaraderie and sportsmanship. Play was remarkably casual, with kids sitting on the low fences at each end, and people wandering across the court and stepping around the rolling disks. Except when a player would warn everybody to get out of the way because he or she intended to roll a fast one. One hard bowl hit the low plank fence and knocked a board right off, rolle bolles aren’t light.
The game is cheap to play, and involve the one-time purchase of a rolle bolle with ought to last a lifetime. All that’s needed is a flat dirt court, or a floor in winter, and a couple of pegs.
You can get very good, but you can start competing right away. Players are enthusiastic and excited about winning, but having a good time seems more important to them.
This to me represents the finest in amateur sports.
Roll that rolle bolle!
My wife rented ‘New Moon’ prepartory to seeing ‘Eclipse’ on her next girl’s night out. She’d seen ‘Twilight’ in the theater and wanted to be up to speed.
I stayed up and watched it because I hadn’t seen any of the movies or read the books and felt I was missing a big piece of popular culture.
Afterwards I sat up for a few more minutes trying to find the words to express my impression of the flick.
“Cheesy melodrama,” that’s it.
At one point my wife pointed out that Bela (when trying to look like her soul is tormented) always seems to looks like she’s about to barf. Then sure enough, Bella got out of her pickup and it looked like she was going to bend over and heave.
But it’s not bad cheesy melodrama. I didn’t hate myself for wasting precious hours of my remaining lifespan, nor foresee the End of Civilization as We Know It in the popularity of the series. If anything, I curse myself for not sitting down at the computer and turning out some drivel of like kind to free my family from financial worries.
Still, as a jackleg anthropologist and amateur folklorist, it bothers me a little that the vampire myth has been so, so… well for lack of a better word, domesticated.
When I was a kid I went to see the misnamed ‘Brides of Dracula’ (the Count is not in the flick, the vampire is one Baron Mienster) with Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing.
I think I spent half the movie in the lobby cowering by the popcorn machine.
The Twilight series is all about teen angst and finding True Love. I appreciate there is a longing for masculine chivalry expressed therein. The desire for a male who experiences the volcanic lusts of hormone-driven teenagers, but nonetheless disciplines himself our of respect for his inamorata.
And of course, the conflation of sex and death is very Freudian. (“I believe in sex and death. The difference is, after death you’re not nauseous.” – Woody Allen. Sorry.)
The trend of “sexy Dracula” started with Frank Langela’s 1979 version I think. With Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, not too shabby. I remember seeing young girls leaving the theater, and you could just tell they’d willingly roll down their turtlenecks for him.
Langella had the huevos to reinterpret some of Bela Lugosi’s classic lines: “I never drink – wine,” and, “There are worse things than death.” Langella delivered them without the pause and sardonic smile in the first, or the slow, heavy intonation in the second.” I.e. he didn’t overact.
Fred Saberhagen started the Dracula-as-misunderstood-good-guy genre in ‘The Dracula Tapes’ and sequels two years before Anne Rice published ‘Interview with the Vampire.’
Saberhagen was harmless fun. Dracula explaining that “sadistic psychopath” Van Helsing was killing Lucy Westenra attempting to cure her of vampirism, by giving her transfusions – a full four years before Landsteiner discovered blood types, is a hoot!
And now that you mention it, making Lucy’s fiancee cut her head off is definitely sick, sick, sick.
Then he made Dracula Sherlock Holmes’ uncle or cousin or something, pointing out the startling similarities in their appearance as recounted by Bram Stoker and Conan Doyle. Double hoot!
Anne Rice’s work is sinister enough that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she rose from the grave to prey upon the living.
Rice very perceptively observed, “The serial killer is the vampire of the modern world.”
The bitch then sold us to the serial killers. Over and over she makes the victims long to be murdered. Major creepy. The last Rice vampire book I read made me curse, “I could have bought a decent Dean Koontz thriller instead!”
(Which reminds me, I’ve got to dust off my literary comparison of Rice and Koontz’s views of evil.)
But back to traditional folklore – a vampire is not Rice’s “dark, Byronic figure” but an animated corpse! It’s not at all certain it’s really the person who died in that body. Many traditions suggest it’s a demon who possesses and reanimates the corpse.
And they’ve got halitosis to boot!
A decent read that stays within the evil vampire genre is F. Paul Wilson’s ‘Midnight Mass.’
Wilson builds upon Richard Matheson’s notion (in ‘I am Legend’) of vampirism as a plague that threatens to overwhelm the earth. Wilson though, keeps vampires at least semi-suprenatural: cross and holy water allergy, etc.
Matheson might have originated the notion of vampirisim as a virus, later used in the Blade movie series. I have no idea if the theory that vampire legends were inspired by rabies victims came before or after his novel.
The best euhemerized vampire story I’ve ever encountered is George R.R. Martin’s ‘Fevre Dream.’ Martin (whose other accomplishments include creating the cult series ‘Beauty and the Beast’) combines vampires with a Mississippi river boat story!
That was actually foreshadowed by Lon Chaney’s southern-gothic ‘Son of Dracula’ set in the swamps of the Deep South.
Martin’s vampires are entirely natural phenomena. They are another species which prey upon humans. Once a month or thereabouts, they must have human blood, but can subsist on normal food all the rest of the time. They are extremely long-lived and allergic to sunlight, but crosses, garlic, mirrors, running water, etc are just superstition.
And, you can’t become a vampire. Vampires are born to vampire mothers and fathers just like any other species.
The novel concerns a vampire hero who has invented a substitute for human blood that can free vampires from their need to murder humans. Recommended.
For those who like to keep supernaturalism in the genre, I’d recommend John Steakley’s ‘Vampire$.” This was made a not-bad-but-not-great movie, ‘John Carpenter’s Vampires.’ There was a sequel, ‘Vampires – Los Muertos,’ which he didn’t write.
Steakley commented that a last-minute budget slash made them rewrite the movie with much of his dialog and none of his plot.
I heard Steakley read from the book at a NOSFA (Norman Oklahoma Science Fiction Association) meeting, and it was electrifying. I’ve been unable to find out what’s happened to him. The IMDB lists him as an actor in a movie called ‘Playing Dead’ in 2000.
Aside from one other SF book ‘Armor,’ I haven’t seen a thing by him, which is a pity – he gave us some of the best advice for aspiring writers I’ve ever heard.
So what’s it all mean? Stay tuned.
“For every hundred men who can design a utopia on paper, you’ll find maybe three who can run a chicken farm.”
When Thomas Sowell passes from this vale of tears (Not soon I hope! But he is in his high 70s.) Victor Davis Hanson will have my vote as the wisest man in public life in America.
First, look here.
Conservatives are in a “I told you so mood” – as the 2008 talk-radio bombast about Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright, “redistributive” spread the wealth, European socialism, etc., well, turned out not to be 2009 bombast at all.
Moderates and independents sigh, “I can’t believe this is happening to me; he seemed just like Clinton with all that balanced budget talk, balanced energy policy, and mainstream help-the-little-guy talk. What happened to the Barack we trusted?” David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and Christopher Buckley no longer talk of the knowledge of the great books, of a first class mind and temperament, and a detached calm and sense of competence.
Liberals wonder, “Why is the coolest guy around suddenly flubbing every opportunity to get our agenda passed?” The hard-left laments, “This guy is a triangulator who gave us a nibble, then pulled away the bone.”
His supporters counter, “See, he is a pragmatist and centrist who alienates the extremes.” No, no, no – he alienates them, but now the middle as well. What keeps his approval ratings in the forties is only the idea that the American people cannot quite yet accept a failed presidency after a mere 12 months – one that they had invested such hopes in after the poll crashing of Bush’s final two years.
The finger-pointing and blame-gaming begin since no one can properly address the real and only problem: Barack Obama has had no previous identity or independent ideology. By osmosis (rather than by careful study or life-long experience) he absorbed the trendy left-wing cant that variously manifested itself wherever he traveled, from the Occidental lounge dorm to the Ivy League salon groupthink to Chicago organizing to Rev. Wright’s pulpit to the liberal caucuses of the U.S. Senate. For a while, it was all as easy as sonorously thundering “hope and change.” He never before had to articulate his leftism in any real detail, defend it, debate it, or analyze it.
But now as his polls dip, we hear instead gripes over tactics, not the essence of the problem – the absence of an identity confidently and honestly expressed.
I could continue ad nauseam, but you get the picture. So why does Obama serially tell untruths, mislead, and do the opposite of what he promises?
Here are four brief reasons. They are complementary, rather than mutually exclusive.
1) He does this because he can. Obama, from college at Occidental to Chicago organizing, has never been called to account. He was always assured that his charm, his ancestry, or his rhetoric alone mattered, while his record, actions, and accomplishments were mere footnotes. He channels our hopes and dreams and need not traffic in reality. We, the people, like the media, have tingly legs and believe the president is “some god,” and therefore need not question the charismatic face on the screen.
2) Obama is a reflection of an era of liberal academic postmodernism. There are no absolute facts; truth is only an illusion in the eye of the beholder. Reality instead is relative, and predicated on the basis of power. Ergo, what others say is true is simply a reflection of their race/class/gender/religion/cultural privileges. Speaking “truth” to power means simply opposing those who, you deem, have more advantages than you and yours.
3) Obama is a neo-socialist who believes the ends of social justice justify most means necessary to achieve them. As a philosopher-king who knows what is best for ignorant lesser folk, who can’t possibly appreciate all the ways in which he works and suffers on our behalf (Cf. Michelle’s “deigns to run”), Obama reluctantly must employ Platonic “noble lies” to achieve the common good: OK, we don’t understand ObamaCare and therefore fear it and the way it is packaged and sold; but once it is forced down our throat, we will come to love – what is good for us.
4) Obama is a narcissist, who believes that his reality is our reality, that his rules are our rules. If the king, the autocrat, the heart-throb, the prophet, or the messiah says something is true, then facts and reality adjust accordingly. Facts and corrections are boring. And if confronted with contrary evidence, the self-infatuated simply smiles with the assurance that the problem is others’, not his.
And it is, sort of.
Now I’ll add something. I think this is a right-on assessment, because I believe I understand a bit about Obama’s outlook.
And the reason I understand, is I can recall a time when some of that could have described me and people I grew up with – in my teens and twenties perhaps. (Not the socialism though. I was never that much of an idiot. And post-modernism wasn’t so specifically formulated when I was a youth.)
Accomplishments? I don’t gotta show you no steenking accomplishments. I’m really smart!
I grew out of it – eventually. And not without cost to be sure.
And here’s something everybody seems to be missing, for reasons one might attribute to that elusive bogeyman, “unconsious racism.”
Forget his complexion, Obama is a preppie. I don’t believe he’s ever spent a day in a public school in his life. He is the child of privilege through and through, with the same sense of entitlement you find in kids with names like Rockerfeller, Harriman, DuPont and Kennedy.
During that largely innocuous speech to America’s schoolchildren he carefully implied that he grew up the disadvantaged son of a single mother. He didn’t quite say he was poor growing up, but he sure didn’t go out of his way to mention his mother’s PhD or that the grandmother who largely raised him was a bank executive.
Then he kind of slipped and said Michelle “didn’t have much either.”
Michelle father was a Chicago workingman who didn’t have a college degree, but had a decent well-paid job in public utilities, and was an influential Democratic ward heeler as well. An awful lot of folks have done worse.
They were both affirmative-actioned through the Ivy League – and why not? The very wealthy have been doing it for their own not-overly-brilliant or too-lazy offspring for generations.
And, I don’t think they are atypical of this generation of college grads at all. This is what the 60s generation of academics has wrought. A generation of men and women who can build a utopia overnight – just don’t ask them for details.
Or to run a chicken farm.
Note: A slightly different version of this appeared as the weekend editorial in the paper..
I’m watching the demonstrations in Iran with the oddest feeling I’ve seen this movie before. In fact, I think I was an extra in a street scene.
In late 1996 I was living in Sofia, Bulgaria, and working at the Institute for Foreign Languages as an English teacher. It was interesting work, my students were a delight to teach, and the country was very beautiful.
Unfortunately, the work was rewarding only in the spiritual sense. I was getting paid in the local currency, Bulgarian leva, which was inflating at the rate of about 10 percent a day. My last payday amounted to $40 for the month, which became $36 dollars by the end of the day without me spending any of it.
On top of that, government offices would not accept their own country’s currency for fees and permits.
About that time, I heard that a friend of mine, Tomas Krsmanovic, a Serbian dissident, was being leaned on by the secret police. After communicating with a dissident-support network I worked with, I decided to relocate to Belgrade, on the theory that if I lived in Tomas’ lap, the thugocracy wouldn’t want to murder him in front of a foreign witness.
What was happening in former Yugoslavia were demonstrations in the capital, Belgrade, and many other cities around the country, to protest electoral fraud attempted by the government of Slobodan Milošević after the 1996 local elections.
Before I left, I marched with the people of Sofia down the yellow brick road (I’m NOT kidding) past the government offices, in a protest that brought down the last communist/coalition government.
A British traveller told me, “You ought to head to Albania, you’re on a roll!”
Within 24 hours I was in Belgrade in the middle of their demonstrations.
My friend helped me find jobs at two language schools and a room to rent (payment in Deutchmarks.) The lawyer of one school helped me get work and residence permits in order. (She was, by the way, a lovely young woman who bore, with reasonably good humor, the name Biljana Dracula.)
The demonstrations in Belgrade went on for 96 days and nights from November 1996 to February 1997, when Slobodan Milošević recognized the opposition victories.
Every night an estimated 17 percent of the city’s population (about 1,182,000 though it was hard to tell with war refugees and constant in-migration from the countryside) were on the streets marching, singing and making as much noise as they could during “pandemonium half-hour” when the official government news was broadcast. People not on the streets made noise from their apartment windows and balconies. Construction of homemade noisemakers was a thriving cottage industry.
I marched with students, working people, elegant ladies with furs, and little, old Babushkas beating on metal soup bowls. I couldn’t help it, the demonstrations were impossible to avoid. After work I just took the first demonstration heading home.
The government lined the streets with heavily armed paramilitaries recruited from Bosnian Serb refugees who had no connection with the local people – because the army announced they would not leave their barracks or fire on civilians.
The president’s wife, Mira Markovic or “the Red Queen,” made no secret she wanted the paramilitaries to fire on the demonstrators, but ultimately couldn’t find anyone willing to give the order. The order went down as far as it could go, to a vice-police chief who refused even after they had his son beaten up.
Finally, they had to cave in to the demands of the protesters, and the regime’s days were numbered. In revenge, they had the vice-chief murdered with machine guns Chicago-style, in a pizzeria not far from my work.
Milosevic had to resign from the presidency of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2000 and ultimately died in prison while on trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity.
That’s how tyrannies fall, and that’s what we should watch for in Iran. Whether the demonstrators win this round or not, my gut tells me this is the death rattle of a dying regime.
Maybe later than sooner – this regime may indeed be willing to shoot down demonstrators by the hundreds. But if it does, it’ll never be able to pretend legitimacy again, and our diplomatic president will have a really hard time explaining how his silver tongue will fix everything.
“What seems human, is human.”
- Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Linebarger)
Battlestar Galactica concluded in a two-and-a-quarter hour special last night, and it wasn’t bad at all.
I actually feared they might have painted themselves into a corner they couldn’t get out of, and might have to use the stock ending of incompetent writers, “And they all got run over by a truck.”
They found Earth – our Earth, not the radioactive ruin they ended last season on. And it was the distant past.
This was the ending I suspected they’d use. There were after all, only three possibilities: find Earth in our past, present or future. Last season appeared to settle on the future, but then they announced another 10 episodes, and I did notice that they didn’t show the continental outlines of the globe on that “Earth”…
Their decision not to rebuild a civilization right away, but scatter across the globe and ultimately mix with and mentor the primitive humans they found here was a bit of a surprise. One might have expected them to build cities with the limited technology they could sustain (38,000 survivors don’t have enough collective skills between them to run a civilization as advanced as ours) and become the gods of antiquity: Hera, Athena, etc.
Not everybody got a happy ending, not everybody survived, but thank Gods Helo, Athena and their little girl Hera came out OK! I don’t think I could have stood a tragic outcome for them. There’s only so much a man can take after all.
(Have I got something personal invested in the welfare of this mixed-marriage family? Maybe.)
Laura Roslin got a peaceful death with the man who loved her at her side, after performing heroicly in Galactica’s last battle. Adama didn’t crash the aircraft he was flying her around to see their beautiful new home, as I expected. Instead he landed at a nice spot, built a cairn for his woman, and planned to build the cabin they wanted to spend their last years in beside it.
Boomer redeemed herself before her twin/clone Athena blew her away. One can’t help suspect Athena might have forgiven her for kidnapping her child (she did bring her back after all) if Boomer hadn’t frakked her husband while she was tied up in the closet…
Chief, perennial screwup, managed to destroy the chance for a Cylon-Human bargain at the end – which may not have been a bad thing. The choice was made for a human race that continues and evolves by natural reproduction and the turnover of generations, rather than eternal ressurection of a few standard types.
He wound up with neither of the women he’d loved. He killed the Cylon reincarnation of his ancient fiancee on “Earth” when he realized she’d killed his wife Callie.
Chief (whose name “Galen” is Celtic) went off to be a hermit in the mountains on a cold island off the northern continent.
My wife said, “The immortal Highlander!”
If Boomer had lived, would he have forgiven her? Could he have?
That’s one of those good questions that have no final answers.
Surprisingly, Saul and Ellen got to live happily ever after. She was unfaithful quite a lot, and he did poison her, but I guess love conquers all.
I was unclear about the Six who miscarried with Saul’s child. Was that Caprica Six?
More surprisingly, Baltar and Caprica Six seem to have redeemed themselves. Surprising because they were after all, between them responsible for the 12 colonies coming out on the losing side of the war that killed most of the human race.
The Galactica got the honorable send off she deserved.
Not all the loose ends were tied up, and that’s how it should be. Only trivial questions have final answers.
How’d Kara Thrace come back?
God, evidently. She and Lee Adama didn’t get together after all. She went poof, gone. Maybe joined Sam on the “other side.”
God it seems, can send a risen savior back in a fighter-spacecraft.
Who was the Six that haunted Baltar?
Apparantly some kind of angel or higher power. And at the very end, it turned out Baltar had an angelic doppelganger as well.
And then it ended now, and in 21st century New York. Baltar-angel and Six-angel debating whether mankind will screw it up again, like on Kobol, “Earth,” and Caprica, or not.
“And don’t call him God, you know he doesn’t like that silly name…”
The specific screwup is developing artificial intelligence and then treating it badly enough to make it turn on mankind. I think we can treat that as a dramatic device. The reality could be that, or any number of other possible screwups.
(Have you read the controversy about the Large Hadron Collider? There is a school of thought that holds the earth could be destroyed by a lab accident. As in a lab accident within the next year.)
There are holes you could drive trucks through of course. This is drama, not history.
Are they just turning a bunch of city folks who’ve spent the last 5-7 years in artificial environments loose in the wilderness with no survival skills? How about a little reliance on the tech they’ve got left while they teach their kids flint knapping and such.
If they’ve scattered all over the world already, how did Hera become mitochondrial Eve to the whole human race?
If a bunch settle in Tanzania, how come it was the white and Asian people?
Baltar is going back to his roots as a farmer. But this is 150,000 years ago, and agriculture was invented only about 10,000 years ago.
Maybe it didn’t work.
But there’s room to keep exploring.
Caprica, a prequel-series just might be OK. Knowing how it ends is usually the kiss of death for drama, but the brief teaser we saw looks promising.
And, there is going to be a two-hour made for TV movie about the final war – from the Cylon point of view.
That took balls!
Earlier in the series it was made plain there were scattered survivors in parts of the 12 colonies. Places in the mountains and areas not radioactive. In time the radiation will subside and without the bad cylons hunting them, the survivors can spread across the ruined worlds again.
Do we have kin out there still?
And who’s this God guy?
God, as in God, or could this hint at a modification of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
The corollary would seem to be: Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from (a) god.
Well whoever He is, thank Him for this thought-provoking and entertaining series. Only He knows how seldom the industry manages to put the two together successfully!
There has been a bit of Net buzz lately over Kay Hymowitz’s two articles about the marriage and dating scene, published this year in City Journal.
Hymowitz first looked at the scene from the point view of women’s complaints in the Winter 2008 issue, Child-Man in the Promised Land.
“Now meet the twenty-first-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face—and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?
Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones—high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers—happily—in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. Decades in unfolding, this limbo may not seem like news to many, but in fact it is to the early twenty-first century what adolescence was to the early twentieth: a momentous sociological development of profound economic and cultural import. Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence.”
Then evidently she received a deluge of mail from angry, resentful men, and had another look – from the point of view of twenty-something men, in the Autumn, 2008 issue, Love in the Time of Darwinism.
“It would be easy enough to hold up some of the callow ranting that the piece inspired as proof positive of the child-man’s existence. But the truth is that my correspondents’ objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM (Single Young Male) is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.
Here’s Jeff from Middleburg, Florida: “I am not going to hitch my wagon to a woman . . . who is more into her abs, thighs, triceps, and plastic surgery. A woman who seems to have forgotten that she did graduate high school and that it’s time to act accordingly.” Jeff, meet another of my respondents, Alex: “Maybe we turn to video games not because we are trying to run away from the responsibilities of a ‘grown-up life’ but because they are a better companion than some disease-ridden bar tramp who is only after money and a free ride.” Care for one more? This is from Dean in California: “Men are finally waking up to the ever-present fact that traditional marriage, or a committed relationship, with its accompanying socially imposed requirements of being wallets with legs for women, is an empty and meaningless drudgery.” You can find the same themes posted throughout websites like AmericanWomenSuck, NoMarriage, MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), and Eternal Bachelor (“Give modern women the husband they deserve. None”).“
I have to say, I think it’s admirable of Hymowitz to turn around and consider that there is, after all, another side to the problem.
Perhaps I’m not well-qualified to speak to this issue. For one, I haven’t dated an American woman in about twenty years. For another, I’ve been married for eight years – a new personal best in relationship longevity for me.
When I was last single in America, my experience was not good. I wrote in a previous post, ‘Have some free relationship advice’.
I’m a survivor of two really bad long-term relationships. I won’t go into the details because, 1) they’re really not relevant, and 2) in spite of the Oprah-age, let-it-all-hang-out culture we live in, I think it’s vulgar. Suffice it to say, together they consumed a total of ten years of my life and had repercussions that echo to this day.
It wasn’t until the end of the second disaster (nice word that, it means “evil star”), that I realized I had made the same mistake as the first. The first was excusable, I was young and new to the serious relationship scene. The second time, I thought I’d hooked up with a partner who was different in every way from the first – physically, intellectually and personality-wise.
What I realized too late was that they had both had something in common that overrode all their basic differences – they were unhappy people.
I have had no personal contact with either of these former partners for many years. I have heard of them though, and the evidence would seem to indicate they are both still unhappy people. (One is married with two grown children and still cruises bars, less and less successfully as she ages. The other had divorced husband number five when I last heard of her. That game isn’t going to get easier as she approaches 60 either.)
Slightly better were relationships with single mothers raising children with zero help from the fathers, financial or otherwise. Yes they wanted a meal ticket, but at least showed evidence of being willing to show gratitude for it.
In that whole period of my life, the best relationship I had before I left for Poland was a purely utilitarian one. I was working on finishing my Master’s, she was in the middle of a divorce and neither of us had time for complications. We were introduced by mutual friends, and used to meet for conversation and physical release, no strings attached.
Understand, I liked her just fine, she was good company. And she probably liked me too. But we walked away without a backward glance, in spite of some good times together. I remember her quite fondly, but I probably think of her least often – and I suspect the same is true of her.
It would be easy for a man to blame this on American women – and some do. (See: http://www.americanwomensuck.com/)
I recently had a conversation with a friend in Texas who is getting his doctorate in Mathematics, so his income prospects are pretty good. He’s good-looking, well-travelled, cultured – and single.
He told me, “If a woman expresses an interest, about half the time I’ve found she’s setting you up for humiliation.”
If I’d had time though, there are a couple of women I could have introduced him to. Both in their 30s, intelligent, great personalities (I’ve known both of them since they were kids), real lookers – and single.
I could even have introduced him to another academic (not American), who is highly intelligent and goddam gorgeous. You’d think she’d have to beat off potential suitors with a club.
I’ve never seen her at a social function with a date.
What the heck is going on?
Well, women are delaying marriage for career reasons. This is actually not new, Thomas Sowell pointed out that this was actually more common in the early 20th century than it became in the 1950s – so perhaps this is the upswing of another one of those cycle things.
And yet something is different this time around. A woman may have married later back then, but she was expected to arrive without the baggage of kids with no father in sight (unless she was a respectable widow), and any sexual history was supposed to be discretely buried.
Some conservatives blame the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation.
Well, the Sexual Revolution deserves a re-thinking for sure. Birth control, and antibiotics, delivered us (for a while at least) from our biology – but not from our nature.
“Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of ‘naturalness,’ ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.” - Wendell Berry
People who sleep together regularly, tend to fall in love, get possessive, sexually jealous and all that old-fashioned stuff. Unless they are emotionally retarded, or deliberately, by a conscious act of will, shut off a part of themselves from their partners.
(Or unless they are sleeping with someone they are at least adequately attracted to – and don’t like. And believe me, there is something enormously liberating about that -in a thoroughly soul-corrupting sort of way.)
And what we kept running into was, young girls who become sexually active, on a level below rational thought, want to get pregnant. It’s one of those basic biological drives that extreme environmentalists (like Marxists) don’t want to believe in.
Can there be any other explanation for the combination of readily available, effective birth control and the skyrocketing rate of out-of-wedlock births?
For nearly two generations, newly-discovered antibiotics could handle nearly all common STDs. Then our vacation from history was over with, first herpes – then AIDS. In essence, we were thrown back to our grandparents’ world of incurable STDs. AIDS, was the new syphilis.
Women’s lib started as a righteous demand for women to be let into the work force and judged on their competence like anyone else, and for men to stop patronizing them.
Watch some of those TV commercials from the ’50s and early ’60s if you don’t think that last was a valid complaint. They are absolutely cringe-making in the patronizing attitudes towards women they display.
Then it got hijacked by lunatics. Now whatever it’s about, it’s not equality. The Larry Summers affair at Harvard demonstrates that with certainty. Women on colleges across the country demanded the right to punish a man – not even for an opinion, but for a tentative speculation based on a demonstrable truth. For Thoughtcrime in fact.
But who started this? Anthropologist Lionel Tiger (what a wonderful name!) speculated that Women’s Lib was a response to men abandoning their responsibilities of support for partners and children. Which for women is scary enough to drive them pretty crazy.
My generation’s contribution to Men’s Lib, “Like wow, this fatherhood trip isn’t my thing. See ya.”
Tiger speculated the implicit message of Women’s Lib was, “If you won’t support us, then give us your damn jobs!”
I could speculate forever, but won’t here, yet. I’m getting too far from what I’m really sure of.
I will venture one guess, two things are different from previous times of great social change.
One is that while previous codes of morality and behavior may have been harsh, they were at least based on a generally good understanding of what human nature is, and formulated rules accordingly to control the excesses of behavior that we are prone to by nature.
They didn’t know about evolutionary biology, back in Old Testament times, but they had what I call a “pre-scientific intuition” of its consequences.
In these times, the lingering legacy of the extreme environmentalist position has it that there is no fixed human nature, or that “human nature is infinitely plastic” (Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who really ought to know better) and can be molded to whatever form we desire.
The other piece of philosophical lunacy is that there is no fixed reality and that truth can always be redefined contextually.
The consequences of this are far-reaching and show up in unexpected places. One of which I suspect may be the youth suicide rate. The notion that there is no place to plant your feet is terrifying for young people.
What all this adds up to is, here and now, it’s a bad time for lovers.
Note: Either before of after you read this post, try this one by Victor Davis Hanson on the subject of elitism: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson092808.html
I like to think one will enrich the other.
Some years back, a young friend of mine, the son of one of my oldest friends, asked me to coffee for some advice.
Seems he had this decision to make, he’d just graduated from Oklahoma University with a degree in business and had two offers. One was to go to work in the oil industry for a man who’d been his mentor during college. The other was to go to Harvard for an MBA.
The first thing I said was, “Why the hell are you asking me? You know I’m not a business person.”
“Well yes, but I value your opinion.”
So I took a deep breath and said, “OK, but if you screw up your mother’s going to kill me. My opinion is, beyond a certain minimum you have to have to establish credibility, more experience is almost always better than more formal education.”
He took my advice. My mother was horrified.
“You didn’t tell him to go to Harvard?” she practically screamed.
So he went to work for his mentor. In time (very short time at that,) dissatisfied with American business culture, he founded his own natural gas distribution company, known for being very innovative as I understand. Since then he’s been in lots of different things, founded several companies, made lots of money and gained a reputation as a bold, risk-taking entrepreneur.
Not long ago I visited him and reminded him of our conversation.
He replied, “Hell yes! I don’t even let anybody with an MBA east of the Mississippi in my office. I tell them, ‘Get our of here! You’re losing me money just standing there.’”
Digress for a joke. This is one they tell at MIT, I’m told.
Q: “What does a graduate of the Harvard School of Business do?”
A: “He goes home, inherits his father’s business, and hires someone from the MIT School of Business to run it for him.”
It’s no secret we’ve got a lot of Ivy Leaguers in the top echelons of government, and they tend to lean Left, to say the least.
“But how can that be?” I hear someone ask. “Ivy Leaguers tend to be snobby and aristocratic, and the Left is the enemy of privilege and aristocracy, and for the little guy.”
Yes, no, and no. More later.
There’s been a lot of talk on the Left lately, much of concerning the appeal of Sarah Palin, decrying an atmosphere of “anti-intellectualism” on the Right and in middle-America in general, largely based on expressions of scorn for “Ivy League populism.”
After all, aren’t the Ivy League the best schools in the country?
Well aren’t they?
Not having been priviledged to go to one, I don’t know from personal experience. Having known a fair number of Ivy League graduates, I have to say, maybe but…
I am somewhat more familiar with the support system of the Ivy League, though my experience is way old. I refer to the network of prep schools, the Ivy League of high schools that are the feeder schools for the university-level IL.
-Though generally a very rigorous education, there have always been provisions for legacies, the not-especially-bright sons of the wealthy, to graduate from these schools with either a “gentleman’s C” or a curriculum of “gut” courses.
Note that Brooke Shields (not just a pretty model/actress, but daughter of socialites connected with Italian nobility at not too great remove) graduated from Princeton, evidently without ever taking a course in history, science or math.
You can’t gut your way through the two American schools that really are for Real Genius* only: MIT and CalTech.
-The Ivy League has taken up affirmative action with a vengeance. Of course, this means they’ve had their pick of minorities from among the schools vying for them and can afford to maintain standards to some degree. But there is evidence that they have done their share of lowering admission standards and watered down courses for the sake of “diversity.”
Why should we be surprised they do it on a large scale for diversity’s sake when they’ve been doing it on a smaller scale for snobbery’s sake for generations?
Look up Michelle Obama’s Princeton senior thesis on the web. No it hasn’t been “surpressed,” no such luck. I’ve downloaded it myself.
What it is, is a collection of rambling incoherencies, atrocious syntax and occasional gramatical lapses worthy of a cow college freshman.
I’m truly sorry if that seems harsh, but it actually helps understand why this woman could be so pissed-off at America. Princeton wasn’t helping her be the best she could be – it was patronizing her.
I’d be pissed-off too.
-But they can hire the best minds in academia, and you can study with them!
Can you? How often?
Thomas Sowell pointed out that the Ivy League may hire the biggest guns in academia – but you might never see them as an undergrad.
The big guys are expected to enrich the reputation of the institution with research and publishing. You’ll see their grad students in class.
-The intangibles: the ethos of the Ivy League schools was modeled on the English university system, designed for the education of a ruling class. It was anti-democratic to be sure, but the notion was that with privilege comes duties and responsibilities.
Elder sons of the English aristocracy were expected to conserve and protect family fortunes. And though we mostly hear of their excesses and failures, by and large they did a fairly good job for a fairly long time.
Younger sons with smaller competences were expected to man the ranks of the officer corps, ministry and civil service, paying for their privilege by doing the low-paid but essential work of holding a civilization together.
How many Ivy Leaguers enter the military these days? John Kerry publicly proclaimed military service was for losers. Nowadays an Ivy League education is all about “social justice.”
So here’s my theory and the point of all this: what passes for the aristocracy of America has hollowed out, the state of the Ivy League is both a symptom and a major contributor.
An aristocracy can last as long as it’s willing to do it’s own fighting and enough of its own work to understand the connection between work, wealth and what protects that wealth.
Now look at the disconnect between the IL and the military.
Look at the disconnect between the degree curricula of an immense number of higher education majors, and anything having to with production of wealth.
Look at the Leftward slant of the IL, and let me pose a question.
Who is the Left really rebelling against? Is it the upper class?
They are the freakin’ upper class!
They’re rebelling against the middle class, from whose ranks historically came those who’ve risen to replace upper classes that grow rotten at the center.
But what about types like Obama and the Ivy League minority recruits?
So how does a rotten upper class rebel against a large and vigorous middle class?
By going to the disaffected minorities for recruits. The bright among them are invited into the upper class, bypassing the traditional route through the middle, so they don’t pick up annoying middle-class egalitarian values along the way.
Those left behind, and those who have dropped into the lower class**, the “lumpen” elements, are a large potential army of foot soldiers. (See the BBC documentary on soccer hooligans in Britain, more later.)
We’ll return to this later, I’d like to hear from some of you.
*”Real Genius” is an early Val Kilmer vehicle, a wonderful movie about a school obviously modeled on CalTech.
**See Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer.” One of the crucial sources of recruits for a mass movement is the newly poor, the memory of whose former status “is a fire in the blood.”