CAT | Culture
Just the other day I had a Facebook exchange with a friend.
This was an exchange of the kind which reminds me of (journalist) Frank Meyer’s observation, “We find comfort among those we agree with, growth among those we disagree with.”
The fact is, sometimes I spend entirely too much time with people I agree with. And of the people I don’t agree with, a lot of them don’t argue very well. It’s just not very challenging to discuss disagreements with somebody whose contentions begin and end with, “I just feel…”
When you disagree with someone who can support their position well, it challenges your brain, makes you define and refine what you believe and why you believe it.
The Facebook format forces you to do it in tiny bites, which is frustrating but also sharpens your ability to write succinctly.
In this case the point of disagreement came down to the hot button issue of our day, race.
He believes there is a cabal of white supremacists attempting to gin up racial hatred, because they are fearful of coming demographic shifts which will result in whites becoming a numerical minority around the middle of the century.
I think this is absurd, that white supremacy is the obsession of a tiny minority of pathetic losers.
In my humble opinion racial divisions are being ginned up because a voting society can always be dominated by a coalition of minorities. (There is allegedly a mathematical proof of this.) Therefore it is in the interest of at least one party to hinder the assimilation of minorities, foster divisions in society and nourish a sense of grievance.
But after signing off it occurred to me that it may not matter who is right or wrong, if we lose sight of what it means to be an American.
I don’t care what the racial/ethnic makeup of America becomes, so long as we remain American in the only way that counts.
There have been lots of nations which retained their culture but changed their look. The Mongols in the time of Ghengis Khan were not Asians but a Turkic people among whom red hair and grey eyes were fairly common. That changed after the conquest of China when every Mongol warrior brought home a Chinese concubine or ten.
Several North and South American Indian tribes and bands have become more phenotypically white or black due to intermarriage. Gypsies I’ve known in Northern Europe look distinctly different from their cousins in Romania and Bulgaria. Ashkenazic Jews often look far more European than their Sephardic brethren. Examples multiply.
I do believe that fears of demographic shifts are not groundless. I will state here and now that I used to be an open-borders libertarian. I rethought that position after conversations with people in the Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
These postage stamp-sized countries have always lived with the knowledge that a hiccup of history could wipe their nation out – forever. Who now remembers the Lusitanians? Or that the Prussians were originally a Slavic people whose land and very name was taken by the Germanic people who wiped them out?
For the Baltic peoples, a “demographic shift” means their countries become Russian, and they become a historical footnote.
But America is too big for that to happen, isn’t it?
Furthermore, America has always been a mixture of peoples. Samuel Johnson described Americans disdainfully as a bastard race of Scots, Irish, Germans and Indians. Why should any more mixing make a difference?
(After the Revolution perhaps Dr. Johnson had time to reflect that though it’s the purebreds that win the dog shows, it’s the mutts that win the fights.)
It shouldn’t matter – unless we lose sight of what makes us all Americans.
America is almost unique among nations in that our identity as a people is not defined by ancestry, but by our relationship to a set of ideas embodied in a canon of political literature.
The only other examples that come to mind are the Jews and their relationship to Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Teaching), and the Icelanders and their Sagas, historical literature about the founding of their nation.
The American canon is ill-defined but certainly includes the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense by Tom Paine, the Constitution, and The Federalist (a kind of operating manual for the Constitution). I’d say the bookends might be John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government on one end, and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses of Abraham Lincoln on the other.
I would include Cato’s Letters by Trenchard and Gordon, a whole lot of pamphlets that circulated on both sides of the Atlantic in the 50 years prior to the Revolution, and the anti-Federalist papers as well.
Much of the Hebrew canon is made up of discussion and debate about the proper relationship of men to God and men to men in society. The American canon is a debate about the relationship of men to each other in political society.
In the American canon many historical threads come together. Echos of the Irish Brehon law that “a man is better than his birth.” The Native American notion that one may become a member of the tribe by adoption as much as birth. And the Hebrew tradition that a man can demand an accounting for his treatment by his sovereign – or even his God.
This is what being an American means to me, and if we lose this we – and humanity, lose everything.
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.
Note: Cross-posted at the Marshal Independent.
You know what makes me feel old sometimes?
No, it’s not aches and pains. I’ve spent enough of my life doing manual labor outdoors to know that’s just life.
It’s not being unfamiliar with the latest pop cultural icons, music, fashion, etc. (And just who the heck is Justin Bieber and why do people hate him?)
It’s the feeling that time is running out to get all my reading done.
It hit me again today when I saw a passing reference to French philosopher Jacques Ellul. I’ve heard of him, but I’ve never read anything by him. Turns out he had some interesting things to say about… well actually about a lot of things. But I’ll probably never get around to it.
I should have read a lot more of the canon of western civilization: Aristotle’s “Politics,” more of Plato’s dialogs, Boethius’ “The Consolations of Philosophy,” Thomas Aquinas, etc.
Then there’s the stuff I have read, and ought to re-read because it’s deep and once is not enough: Aristotle’s “Rhetoric,” Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (oh, and get around to “The Discourses” while you’re at it,) “The Federalist,” the list goes on.
How about fiction? I’ve never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War, perhaps only half-jokingly. There’s still a lot of Mark Twain I’ve never read. And maybe I ought to give Charles Dickens and Jane Austin another try. I could never get into either of them but people whose taste I respect speak well of them.
And there’s the stuff I think is probably faddish nonsense, such as the Deconstructionists, that I ought to read anyway 1) just to be sure it’s really that bad, and 2) to be able to explain why it is.
And that’s only English. I wish I were comfortable enough in the couple of languages I can get around in to read their literature more fluently. I’ve just got tantalizing bits beautiful Polish poetry from their national poet Adam Mickiewicz (“Litwo, oczyzna moja, ty jestest jak zdrovia…”) and fragments of Spanish (“Al rey, la hacienda y la vida se ha de dar. Pero el honor es el patrimonio del alma – y el alma solo es de Dios.”)*
Once it was expected for high school graduates to have at least a reading knowledge of Latin or Greek. Did you know that Harry Truman, the last president who didn’t have a college degree, used to read Homer in the original – just for fun?
Have all of us who love to read had that fantasy – the one where you are unjustly sentenced to lengthy imprisonment in solitary confinement, but with all the books you want? Away from kids, work, and just being too tired at the end of the day?
Nowadays I’d want to update that fantasy to include a DVD player, cable TV absolutely not allowed, and a collection of classic movies.
I’m not old, at least I don’t feel old, but I’m past the half-way mark. There’s less time ahead than there was behind. And what’s really starting to bother me is not fear of death, but the fear I won’t get my reading done.
* Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) From the Invocation to the epic poem “Pan Tadeusz. “Lithuania, my Fatherland, you are like health. Only he who has lost you knows how much you must be valued.”
Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681) El alcalde de Zalamea. “Estates and life are the gift of the king. But honor is the patrimony of the soul, and the soul belongs only to God.”
“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!