Sixty-five days from now, the first of 78 million baby boomers begun (sic) to retire. Most Americans who collect Social Security begin to collect it at age 62, which is absurd. We have the public subsidizing increasingly long and comfortable retirement of people for a third to a half of their adult lifetime. Now. That’s why one in four voters in 2004 was over 60 years old. The elderly have the biggest stake in the welfare state, which exists to transfer wealth to them. So this is, politically, a loser.
By comfortable do you mean able to live off something more than cat food and unafraid to turn the heat up in winter?
Or are a steady diet of Little Friskies and a space heater your idea of living the life of Riley and is anyone who expects more than that with help from a government program that they kicked in to for 40 or so years a shiftless cheat and a chisler?
Will is actually worse than Scrooge because Scrooge was content for the social welfare system of his day---workhouses and debtors' prisons---to continue its function and he was even willing to pay taxes to support it. He just wasn't willing to contribute more than the minimum of what he considered his fair share and---this was an even greater evil on his part in Dickens' mind, the root of all his other sins---he refused to imagine how hard life could be on his fellow men and women. Secret, solitary, and self-contained as an oyster, Scrooge made a point of not looking outside his shell.
Will gets outside his shell. He sees what's going on. He can imagine what life is like for other people, and it bothers him, because it's not hard enough.
He's like the gentlemen of the workhouse board who lecture Oliver Twist on his sin of having been born and born poor and his compounding of the sin by becoming an orphan. Men who would just as soon Oliver had never been born, they remind him to be grateful to them for allowing him not to starve to death.
The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men; and
when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse, they found out
at once, what ordinary folks would never have discovered- the poor
people liked it! It was a regular place of public entertainment for the
poorer classes; a tavern where there was nothing to pay; a public
breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all the year round; a brick and
mortar elysium, where it was all play and no work. "Oho!" said the
board, looking very knowing; "we are the fellows to set this to rights;
we'll stop it all, in no time." So, they established the rule, that all
poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody,
not they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a
quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted with the
water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a
corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and
issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and
half a roll on Sundays. They made a great many other wise and humane
regulations, having reference to the ladies, which it is not necessary
to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce poor married people, in
consequence of the great expense of a suit in Doctors' Commons; and,
instead of compelling a man to support his family, as they had
theretofore done, took his family away from him, and made him a
bachelor! There is no saying how many applicants for relief, under
these last two heads, might have started up in all classes of society,
if it had not been coupled with the workhouse; but the board were
long-headed men, and had provided for this difficulty. The relief was
inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened
Will, no doubt, thinks that Social Security makes old age a continual vacation on a Carnival cruise ship and he would agree with the gentlemen of the board that a better and more morally uplifting way to save people from the effects of their own misfortune is to make them frightened of becoming misfortunate.
Faced with a miserable and starved and cold old age, people will get on the stick and get busy getting rich or at least avoiding being poor. If they don't avoid it, if bad luck or bad health or bad decisions by the company you work for or out and out theft of your pension fund by that company's executives leaves you hurting for money into your seventh decade, well, that's your own doing, isn't it, and how dare you expect the public to subsidize your comfortable old age.
How dare you get old, Will says, lecturing the Boomers about to cash their first Social Security checks.
How dare you get old without having gotten rich?
How dare you stop working at an age when the economic system I otherwise cheerlead for unquestioningly has no more use for you?
How dare you keep on living, comfortably, after we have no more use for you, continuing on for decades, comfortably, through illness, increasing weakness, debility, and senescence?
How dare you not have the good sense to just die and decrease the surplus population?
I know, Scrooge's joke. But for Scrooge it is a joke. He uses it to deflect any calls upon his sympathy. He doesn't necessarily mean it.
Which is why Scrooge is given a chance and hope of redemption.
The gentlemen of the board aren't as fortunate. They turn up again in A Christmas Carol, blown about on the wind with the ghosts of all the others like them who in life had refused to use the power they had to help others:
The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took,
the window raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it,
it was wide open. It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When
they were within two paces of each other, Marley's Ghost held up its
hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped.
much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the
hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent
sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and
self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in
the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.
Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in
restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains
like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were
linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to
Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost,
in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle,
who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an
infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere,
for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
This is truly way cool and, assuming Detroit doesn't squash his dream dead or the Europeans or the Japanese don't jump all over the technology and run with it, it gives me hope for the future of American know-how and our can-do spirit, but...
I'm not sure I want to drive on roads filled with Hummers that can go from 0 to 60 in five seconds.
Imagine trying to share the highway with lots of arrogant, selfish, smug, bad and careless drivers rolling up behind you at 70 mph in big ugly unsteerable sedan-eating boxes of metal with more blind spots than a Sherman tank who can also brag self-righteously about being green while yakking on their cell phones.
Late at night, after we Mannion kids were up in bed, but with one of us, me, still awake, this is the voice I often heard playing softly on the stereo downstairs in the living room. Softly, being a relative term, of course, when the voice was Robert Goulet's.
So late last night I'm in the video store, which is sadly becoming my home away from home, looking for a Paul Newman movie to rent, because as Bob Stein reports old age has caught up with Newman, he's not going to be making any more movies, and so I thought it would be a good time to salute the man by watching him in one of his best---I chose The Verdict because Hud wasn't in---and while I was searching I wound up in the same aisle as a couple of college students, guy and a girl, who may or may not have been a couple couple, doesn't matter, what matters is that they were having argument. A friendly argument. More of a debate.
Or Terry Malloy?
Brando's best performance.
The girl said Streetcar. The guy was pushing for On the Waterfront. He even did a passable impersonation of the I coulda been a contendah speech to his support his case.
Personally, I think Waterfront's the better movie, but as far as his acting goes I don't see Brando figuring out how to act in movies until Sayonara. I know some who'd say he didn't get it until Johnny Depp taught him how in Don Juan DeMarco. Wiseguys. But movie stars act with their eyes. Stage actors use their whole bodies, and in his first few movies Brando's all about poses. Paul Newman was always a better movie actor than Brando. Not that that takes all that much away from him. Alec Guinness was a
better movie actor than Laurence Olivier and that's no slight on
Olivier. Brando might have pulled off Somebody Up There Likes Me or The Hustler. It's impossible to imagine him as Butch Cassidy. Or as Hud. Or Cool Hand Luke. Brando never made enough movies to truly learn the craft.
Trivia note: Brando was the producer's first choice over Newman for Butch Cassidy. Jack Lemmon was screenwriter William Goldman's first choice for Butch over Brando. Newman would have played The Sundance Kid.
I kept all this to myself last night. I left them to their debate and drifted out of there with my Newman movie, half-wishing I'd picked up a Brando like The Young Lions or Guys and Dolls as well.
But it did this old fogey's movie-loving heart good to know that there are at least two twenty-somethings out there who think it's important to decide which Marlon Brando movie they're going to watch tonight.
Superintendent blames the decision on pressure from the state to improve test scores.
Yes, because bored, antsy, underexercised kids are in just the right mood to learn short division, conjugate a verb, and concentrate on filling in bubbles on exam forms.
Fortunately, there's pushback, and not just from parents:
Last year the National Parent Teacher
Organization and Cartoon Network partnered to sponsor National Recess
Week and helped parents with letter-writing campaigns.
understand the pressures facing schools, including increased assessment
requirements and lack of funding, said James Martinez, a National PTO
As a compromise, Rescuing Recess
suggests playtime before and after school, and launched an effort to
recruit volunteers to supervise students.
local lawmakers are also responding to parents' calls. New York state
Assembly members last session considered the Healthy Schools Act that
requires schools to have local wellness policies, preferring those that
The act passed both houses in
different forms, but no compromise was sent to the governor.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, is expected to reintroduce the
bill with changes in the coming session.
Unfortunately, this particular school, like too many schools, is in trouble. Lack of money and the relative poverty of the district it serves are probably at the root of the problem. And, thanks to No Child Left Behind, we now live in a country where we don't give schools more money to help them improve, we threaten take away money they already have too little of if they don't use it to improve test scores.
The real trouble with our schools is that, basically, Americans hate school.
We don't think it's really necessary. We like schools and support them to the degree they provide cheap and easy day care and during football and basketball season give us somewhere to go on Friday nights.
We don't understand why it's important to be educated, let alone how to educate ourselves or our children. We even take a certain chauvinistic pride in being a nation of ignoramuses.
We think we're better off for relying on our gut instincts and common sense rather than any darn booklarnin'.
Basically, we subscribe to the Jethro Bodine School of Pedagogy. Schools should teach readin', ritin', and cipherin', period, except we don't have Jethro's pride in having made it all the way through the sixth grade.
If we weren't a country of blockheads, someone as willfully ignorant, intellectually incurious, and sneeringly contemptuous of his own privileged educational opportunities as George W. Bush would never be elected to the state legislature let alone the White House. He would not have had half our elite Press Corps, college graduates to a man and woman, expending so much time and energy assuring us back in 2000 that it was better to have a dope like Bush in office than a smartypants like Albert "He sighs too much" Gore running the show. A know-nothing President who relies on his gut is so much better for the nation than one who actually bothers to study and understand the facts and issues at hand.
This same indulgence of our national anti-intellectualism is at work in this Presidential election too.
If you don't think that a lot of the Media's contempt for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards isn't due to the fact that each one is obviously twice as smart as the average Beltway pundit, you haven't been reading your Bob Somerby and Eric Boehlert.
When the Village Elders praise John McCain as a straight shooter, they mean that he's not smart enough to speak in complex sentences made dense with any actual facts and figures affecting his proposed policies.
When they praise Mike Huckabee's folksiness, they mean he's the kind of chummy jackass who's cheerfully wrong about everything he blithers on about at the Sunday Social.
When they praise Rudy Giuliani's toughness, they mean that he will never, ever, ever let an actual intelligent thought get in the way of taking violent action against anyone he deems an enemy.
When the debate over who will lead the nation for the next four years is repeatedly phrased as Which Democrat isn't too much of an egghead, which candidate comes across as "authentic" enough, that is comes across as as big a knucklehead as the average American, then how can we expect the knuckleheads to care, really care, about what goes on in their neighborhood schools?
This is the fact, we are a nation of people who will throw away five hundred dollars on the newest game platform for the kids and never think to buy them a twenty dollar a year subscription to Ranger Rick or take them down to the library for a free library card.
We are a nation of people who are prouder of a kid who comes off the bench once in his or her high school athletic career and score the game winning goal or sink the shot that sends the game into overtime than of one who makes the honor roll four semesters running.
We're a nation of boobs and proud of it. And given the bad example we set for our kids, ten fewer minutes on the playground are not going to turn any schools around.
The school day is already too long.
The school year is too long.
I'm not an advocate for more homework either. Most teachers don't need any more papers to grade and I don't like the idea of adding more stress to the lives of working parents already pressed for time and worn out by their day at work and who probably are as convinced of the good of the extra work as their kids.
On the other hand, what do most families, including mine, do with the time they have in the evenings besides plunk themselves down in front of the TV?
In the long run, we're not going to improve our schools until we improve our attitudes about what schools are for. Politicians, and school officials, and parents, need to stop talking as though the only value of an education is monetary---that is, stop talking about the great job at the end as the be all and end all. Preachers need to stop railing against science from their pulpits. Pundits need to stop assuring us that idiots make good Presidents. We all need to stop buying into the Culture of Sports. Yeah, yeah, I'm glad the Red Sox won the Series. But as that great philosopher and left fielder Manny Ramirez said, it wouldn't have been the end of the world if they'd lost.
In the short run?
My modest proposal?
Want to improve reading and writing scores? Teach students to diagram a sentence, have them memorize and recite poems and speeches, devote sixth grade English class to teaching grammar. Bring back penmanship classes and copy books! Sure, it's all boring and rote but it gets into their heads the structures and sounds and rules of the language.
Then send them out on the playground for an hour to run around and scream to get their frustration out of their systems.
I'm ranting. I'm sorry. I can't help it. It's Monday. I hate school days.
I have a Facebook account. Does this mean I'm supposed to say, "I'm on Facebook?"
Do I ask people, "Are you on Facebook?"
What's the etiquette here?
And what's the right preposition? Should I be asking, "Are you in Facebook?" or "Are you at Facebook?"
Several kindly people I know from blogging have invited me to be their Facebook friend. I accepted, because I need alll the friends I can get. But I don't know what it means to be somebody's friend at/on/in/with Facebook. I don't think I'm a very good Facebook friend.
So far I haven't thrown a single thing at anybody's wall.
What should I be doing? How can I achieve better living through Facebook?
Here's my other question.
Do you have to have your face on Facebook?
I haven't posted a picture of myself. I have no plans to either. In three years, I've posted only one picture of myself on the blog and it's of me in eighth grade. I'm weaing a very nice suit. But I don't think I'll use that one at Facebook. I'd rather not post my picture. The reason is a mixture of paranoia and vanity. For one thing, I want deniability. I want to be able to tell anyone who stops me on the street or calls me into their office to confront me with the question, "Are you that idiot blowhard Lance Mannion?" nope, must be somebody else.
But the other thing is that in posed pictures I look like I'm trying to sell you insurance.
Except for in the ones where I look like I just got picked up for DUI.
At any rate, I want to say thanks to all of you who've invited me to be your Facebook friend.
I'll try to remember to throw something at your wall sometime.
And if you ever open up to your friends list and do find a picture of me staring out at you, I promise I'm not trying to sell you insurance.
I'm trying to sell you vinyl siding.
Update of the Living Dead: Zombies? Did someone say you can fight zombies on Facebook? Right up my alley. I'm already a world-class zombie fighter. Here I am,in fact, fighting a few zombies at work:
the premise is that you will attempt to find 5 statements, which if you
were to type into google (preferably google.com, but we'll take the
other country specific ones if need be), you'll find that you are
returned with your blog as the number one hit.
Done and done. Mine are:
1. You can't make a policeman take the romantic view 2. The quisling from Connecticut 3. The most unfortunate event (in a series of unfortunate events) 4. David Broder is not a serious person
If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, don't take my word for it. Chew on this. Back in June, when Optimus Prime and his friends hit the cineplexes, I was terrified I'd draw the short straw and wind up being the one who had to take the Mannion boys to see it. The blonde was just as worried on her own behalf. But then Old Mother and Father Blonde stepped in. They volunteered to take the boys. I thought this was above and beyond and tried to talk them into taking them to Ratatouille instead. But you're saving that one for the drive-in on Cape Cod, said Mother Blonde. They won't mind seeing it again, I said. No, said Father Blonde, we'll make the sacrifice. I'll bring my earplugs. We'll survive.
They took them. The survived. They enjoyed it!
It's a good movie, they said.
And they were right. We watched it for family movie night last week. It is a good movie, for what it is, a simple aliens invade the earth and blow things up action-adventure tale.
A lot more fun than Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds, that's for sure. And Shia LaBeouf is a much more bearable action adventure hero than Cruise. Cruise always seems to be trying too hard when he plays an action-adventure hero, as if he thinks he has to prove something. In Transformers, LaBeouf takes a much more relaxed approach to his character, as relaxed as any character can be who's being hunted by giant robots from outer space.
As Sam Witwicky, LaBeouf is good at the derring-do, good with the throwaway quip---he has a great sense of humor---and he's good at playing a character who is, although smart, brave, and desperate enough not to give a damn, still in way over his head and knows it and who is frantically making it up as he goes along. In other words, he shows why he's a fine choice to play the son of Indiana Jones and Marian Ravenwood in the next Indy movie.
He doesn't show why he's one of the best young actors working today. You have to watch The Greatest Game Ever Played to get a sense of what he can do that way.
The question for the future is will Hollywood force on him a career that's a little too much like Harrison Ford's or will he be allowed to become what he seems best suited to become, his generation's Jimmy Stewart, whose shoes he has already walked around in a little bit, sort of.
At any rate, not only is he good, the whole human cast of main characters does a nice job. All the important human characters are interesting and appealing, just enough so that their stories don't get in the way of the plot and the action. That includes Jon Voight as the Secretary of Defense, Josh Duhamel as the Army Special Ops officer who has Sam's back, and John Turturro as a cynical and full of himself government agent who turns out to be the kind of guy you want on your side when the chips are down. This is important because the Transformers themselves are short on charisma.
That's my review. Fun movie, good cast. Nothing deeper than that needs saying. But you know I'm not going to stop there, right?
The movie has a love interest. Of course it does. And she's one of the reasons back in the spring I cringed at the thought of having to go to the movie. I cringed the other night when she first appeared on screen. Her name is Mikaela and she is played by the Playboy Playmate gorgeous and unfortunately surnamed Megan Fox, and when I saw her in the trailers and then again in her early scenes I was dismayed.
Great, I thought, another movie in which a nice guy geek pines after and then wins the heart of the school princess.
This is an old, old story, as old as Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk, the story of the poor boy who through luck, pluck, and decency wins the hand of a lady-fair far beyond his initial reach or apparent deserving.
In the old stories the boy did this by changing. He became a hero and a prince through his great deeds.
In its current version (see the movies of Judd Apatow and his imitators and most TV shows that revolve around teenage love and lust), it's the princess who changes. She learns to see that the poor boy is deserving in and of himself. Nice guy geeks just make better lovers.
At first glance, this is what I expected to happen in Transformers.
But it turns out that with Sam and Mikaela there's more than meets the eye.
Sam is not a nice guy geek. He is a smart, resourceful, competent young man who, because he is still so very young, hasn't figured out yet how best to present himself to the world. This makes him awkward, but it doesn't make him any less smart, resourceful, or competent. This is all to say that he is already something of a hero and a prince and when he's looking around for his princess and his eye and heart settle on Mikaela he has reasons not to expect her response to be, In your dreams!
He's not dreaming, and because he's not Sam and Mikaela's little love story (which I should point out is never given so much attention that it gets in the way of the main plot; the action never stops just so they can smooch) is not a nice guy geek's daydream.
This has a lot to due with Sam's being played by Shia LaBeouf. But it's also there in the script. Somebody, probably director Michael Bay, since he's something of a control freak, decided that there wasn't time for Sam to be a human version of a Transformer, a beat-up 1974 Camaro who reveals his secret identity as a weapon of destruction when the bad guys attack. He needed to be a young hero from the start.
But there's even more to it than that, because of what the concept requires Mikaela to be.
Every important human character, including Sam's goofy parents, plays a role in helping Sam and Optimus Prime defeat Megatron, including Mikaela. Which means she's not there just to admire Sam. She's got work of her own to do, work she's able to do because she turns out not to be the princess I took her for.
She's first seen hanging with the popular crowd at her and Sam's high school, but she's not really one of them. Sam is what he is already. She's the one with the secret identity. She's the transformer.
Mikaela, it turns out, is a working class kid whose incredible good looks allow her to pass as a princess. But once the action gets going and her hair gets mussed and her make-up runs, she starts to look like what she is, one of those slightly hard-edged working class girls whose beauty is a mixed blessing---it gives them advantages that allow them to rise in the world, but only in certain and limited directions, and it often brings them the wrong kind of attention.
Among the popular kids, especially the boys, Mikaela is only granted membership as long as she's content to be a beautiful trophy.
This is in fact how Sam first sees her and it's why she doesn't like him right away. She knows why he wants her, it's the same reason her jock boyfriend wants her, as a prize. The difference is that Sam can't give her what the popular kids are giving her, a disguise to wear.
Mikaela isn't just a scullery maid passing as a princess. She's the daughter of a criminal. Her father's a car thief who used to take her along when he went out to steal cars, and when he got caught, she got caught. She's a convicted thief herself.
This means that her and Sam's story isn't a re-telling of Aladdin. It's a re-telling of Cinderella.
Mikaela doesn't prove she's a natural born princess by leaving behind a glass slipper, though. She proves it by driving a big honking tow truck right into the thick of the last battle with Megatron and helping to save the day.
She's able to do this because her car thief dad taught her everything he knows about cars. How to break into them, how to start them without a key, how to strip them down, how to fix them, and how to drive them very fast.
She's a motorhead, and since Sam is something of a motorhead himself, she's a girl after his own heart.
And it's only as her past is revealed to him and he's forced to see her as herself and not as projection of his own vanity that they can actually begin to like each other.
(It's a sign of what a well-crafted movie this is that they do this while missiles are flying and giant alien robots are trying to kill them and the action never misses a beat while they're at it.)
At the end of the day, then, Sam and Mikaela come together because they have things in common.
This isn't a big deal within the movie itself. It's just one of a number of intelligent decisions the filmmakers made. It's a big deal, though, when you put Transformers into a line-up of other movies and TV shows in which the nice guy geek wins the princess is the story of the love story.
It's telling a generation of young men who apparently need telling that they shouldn't be flattering themselves that they deserve to be loved by princesses just because they're such nice guys. It's telling them that when it comes to girls there is more than meets the eye and they should look around for people with whom they share interests. It's telling them that there has to be more than meets the eye about themselves. Nobody is going to love you because you "deserve" to be loved.
When the story's over and Sam and Mikaela are alone together they will have things to talk about. Unlike the run of the mill nice guy geek wins the cheerleader story, Sam and Mikaela will have more to do together than sit around and admire what a nice guy the nice guy geek has turned out to be.
They will have real things to say to each other, like, "Sweety pie, hand me that three inch bit."
Credit where credit is due update: In the comments, SAP reminds me that blog roll favorite, John Rogers, of Kung Fu Monkey, worked on the screenplay, so unless John himself comes along to tell me otherwise, I'm just going to assume that all the stuff I liked about the story is his doing.
Your turn: What's your favorite action-adventure movie?
First, I'm a Mets fan. But for four years I lived within a mile or so of this place, at a time when you could just walk up to the ticket window any Saturday afternoon and buy seat in the bleachers. The Sox are my other team.
They're Sheila O'Malley's team, too. Sheila took this picture. She was at Fenway for one of the games of the Sox-Yankees series there in mid-September. Sox won it, 10-1. Sheila has kept a diary for a long time and she's posted an excerpt from when she was 13. Another visit to Fenway. October 1, 1983. Yaz's second to last game.
When the Red Sox were up, you could just feel the anticipation. Just
waiting for Yaz. He was up 5th. But everyone went hysterical whenever
anyone made a hit. I got so worked up!
Then - oh God - when Yaz was on deck - all these camera flashes went
off - everywhere across the Park - blinding! All I could do was just
stare at Yaz warming up. He is such a hero to me. I swear that nobody
was watching the actual game. They were just watching him.
Then - when he was up - and he started for the plate - I can't explain it.
Or - yes, I can. [Hahahahaha I knew you could]
All of Fenway Park immediately stood up and cheered and cheered and
cheered - I was leaping, waving my arms, SCREAMING. This went on for
about five minutes. Or longer. Really! No one got tired, no one could
Yaz just stood there with his bat - and stood there - as the whole
Park went NUTS - and after a while, he turned to us, and tipped his hat.
Oh my God, it was so beautiful the way he did it.
We all went bonkers!
Me and Brendan were screaming and waving, Jean was crying - then Yaz tipped his hat again - It was positively wonderful.
John McCain has been running like a madman for President for closing on a decade now.
But Hillary Clinton is ambitious.
Mitt Romney's entire campaign pretty much depends on Right Wing Republicans believing him when he says that the whole four years he was governor of their state he was lying to the people of Massachusetts.
But Hillary Clinton is inauthentic.
Rudy Giuliani openly courts anti-immigration racists, takes phone calls from his wife in the middle of speeches to show what a loving husband a serial adulterer can be, runs from conservative group to conservative group promising that despite his somewhat liberal record as mayor of New York City he'll be the kind of President Right Wing authoritarians will be proud to call their own, and punctuates every other sentence with the words Nine and Eleven.
In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can't be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a "residual rationality," he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history's greatest mass murderers.
The four year old and I sitting in the front seat of the car, watching a digger tear up a patch of the parking lot outside B&N, while the toddler naps in back. Side window on power shovel’s cab broken, a jagged X in the glass, corner to corner, with spider web of surface cracks radiating from the crux of the X. Power shovel swings a small, pushable power roller hanging from its arm by a chain into the trench. Worker who takes over the roller is in blue overalls, chest to toe caked in dried and fresh mud, a fortyish woman with long blond ponytail hanging out from under her hard hat. She follows the swing of the power shovel’s arm, calling out directions.
The power shovel has dug out of the ground a long-buried tree trunk. The dirt piles have a wild, natural look to my imagination (as opposed to dirt piles at other construction sites that look like what they are, detritus, fill, very tame looking dirt). This is the real stuff of this part of town, what was here before, before the town, before the canal, before white people, not before the Onondagas but without them, they didn't come out here because what was out here was swamp and weeds. The dirt is organic, alive by virtue of being dead, the negative implying and bringing to the mind's eye, the positive, the living tree.
I can see it. I guess. I didn't see it while we were reading the books. Probably didn't see it because Rowling forgot to put it in.
But she forgot to put a lot of stuff into the books that's supposed to be there and she put a lot of stuff in them that she promptly forgot about later just to cover holes in her plots made by the stuff she forgot to put in in the first place.
But if Ray Bradbury can decide fifty-odd years later that his most famous book isn't about censorship, Rowling can decide within a few months of publishing her last Harry Potter novel that one of her main characters had an intense homosexual love affair when he was in prep school.
Oh, you didn't realize the whole young Dumbledore and Grindelwald subplot was a retelling ofA Separate Peace? Me neither.
I thought it was the story of Dumbledore's temptation to go over to the dark side. I didn't pay much attention to Grindelwald himself because he's not much of a character. He's an attitude, and it's the attitude that Dumbledore is shown to be rejecting, not the young man.
I also thought---think---it's the story that explains why Harry is the greater hero than Dumbledore. Like Aragorn and Luke Skywalker, Harry is never seriously tempted by power. That's because he has something the young Dumbledore did not, the example of Dumbedore himself. Dumbledore faced and overcame that temptation for both of them.
Again, this reduces Grindelwald to an abstraction and a plot device, neither of which things in a story are ever very interesting in and of themselves.
But Rowling now says Grindelwald was the great love of Dumbledore's life.
That would be a romantic and tragic story, but it's not one that Rowling wrote.
Maybe she plans to. Maybe she's going to do what Tolkien did with Middle Earth and write her own Silmarillion that will give us the entire mythology behind the Potter books.
As it stands though, the only way you would "know" Dumbledore is gay, based on what Rowling actually wrote, is if you "know" that the default setting on all intense friendships between adolescent boys is homosexual.
Which raises some questions about Ron and Harry and, possibly, about Harry and Draco Malfoy.
I know I've often treated the Potter books as if they bore as much analysis as the works of Charles Dickens, but really this is too much subtext for what are essentially adventure tales for children.
Still, I kind of like it that Dumbledore is gay. Mainly because having an out and out gay character (sorry about the pun) as one of the heroes may put an end to all the Lupin is gay because he's a werewolf nonsense.
Now it may be that as a werewolf Lupin is in the same position that gay people have often found themselves in, forced to hide their true natures from their employers and colleagues. But the fact is that in the world of Harry Potter there are werewolves and they are dangerous and Lupin isa werewolf. There is a very good reason why if they found out even the most tolerant and understanding parents wouldn't want him teaching their children.
If you want to read Lupin's lycanthropy as a metaphor for homosexuality, that's your business, but it's not a metaphor that goes very far in a direction gay people should like---homosexuality as a deadly and contagious disease, homosexuals as predators barely in control of their urges?---and that's all it is, a metaphor, and it's your metaphor, not the books'. In the books, being a werewolf is not a metaphorical condition. In this particular case, it is Lupin's tragic flaw, just as carelessness is Sirius Black's, and arrogance was James Potter's---or might have been had he not fallen in love with Lily.
There is a reason the wizarding world needs Harry Potter to come along and save it from Tom Riddle and it's that the heroes of the previous generation weren't up to the job.
The story of the first war against Voldemort hasn't been written yet either, so there's no way of knowing, but it does seem that if James, Sirius, Lupin, and Lily were all as gifted and brave as they're portrayed, that the four of them working alongside Dumbledore and aurors of the likes of Mad-eye Moody should have been a match for Riddle and his Death Eaters.
That the weren't suggests that they had flaws that weakened them. Lupin's was, and continues to be in the present war, the debilitating effects of his being a werewolf.
Maybe they were up to the job. I'm still not clear on it. My impression is that the forces of darkness were in retreat by the time Voldemort found the Potters and it was only thanks to the perfidy of Peter Pettigrew that Voldemort came as close to winning as he did.
What is clear in The Prisoner of Azkaban is that Lupin's lycanthropy came close to destroying him. It was something terrible about himself he needed to be saved from by the intervention of his friends, which again is not exactly a flattering metaphor for being gay.
And if being a werewolf is not meant to be taken "literally" but "figuratively" (this is, as if within an imaginary work it's not to be seen as what it appears to be but as standing for something real outside the work) then it is the only allegorical aspect of the whole series, unless you think it's all an allegory.
I don't think so, but that's my interpretation. I think Rowling herself has dismissed allegorical readings of her world. She means the magic to be magic. But it now appears she's given herself permission to write and re-write her books outside their covers.
Which brings me to the real question here, which isn't whether or not Dumbledore is gay, but whether or not he is just because his author says he is.
If an artist paints a picture that everybody sees as a bowl of green apples but then after the painting is hung in a museum she comes along to tell us that it's actually a bowl of pears, does that make it a bowl of pears or does that make it a bad painting?
What if the artist says, Yes, it's a bowl of apples, but one of those apples is rotten, it's just that the rotten part is hidden behind one of the other apples, does that make it a painting of a rotten apple?
What if she says there's also a peach in the bowl, but it's underneath the apples?
If something isn't there on the canvas, then it's not there, is it?
But what if it isn't on the canvas in itself, but is there in effect?
The painting of the apples may include a bad apple. although not one in the bowl, if there's also a boy holding his stomach and grimacing, but how do we know that it was a bad apple that gave the boy a stomach ache?
What if the painter writes a letter, twenty years after painting the picture, claiming that the boy had actually been punched in the stomach by another boy who stole his apple?
If a thing isn't on the canvas, how can it be there?
If something isn't in the book an author wrote, can she put it in afterwards without actually going back and rewriting the book?
And if she does that, isn't it a whole new book?
Same question goes for movies now that studios are in the habit of releasing as "the director's cut" on DVD. Which is the real Apocalypse Now? The movie that was released thirty years ago or Apocalypse Redux?
If Shakespeare's spirit were doomed to walk the earth and could a tale unfold that for the last few centuries we've been completely missing the point of Hamlet, the melancholy Dane's dying of a brain tumor and the ghost and all his suspicions about his uncle and mother are symptoms of his disease, would that mean that in all future Hamlets the Prince should be made-up to look as though he's undergoing chemo?
Or, since we are scholars like Horatio, might we be within our rights to question it and demand to know, "Just where in the text did you bother to tell us that fact, Bill?"
What if Shakespeare's ghost told us that Hamlet was gay?
That might give actors playing Hamlet and Ophelia, Gertrude and Claudius something new and interesting to work with (although I'm sure there have already been productions that made Hamlet's homosexuality a subtext), but I'm not sure what it would actually add to what we see on stage since like Hamlet's presumed heterosexuality his being gay would seem to beside the point at the moment, unless like Olivier you believe he really does want to sleep with his mother and that's his main motivation. It's always seemed to me though that Prince has more important things on his mind than whether or not and how and by whom he's going to get laid.
Where in the books is Dumbledore shown to be gay?
Rowling may have intended Dumbledore to be a gay character, but his gayness does not seem to have mattered to her when she has him onstage. The one scene in which he's shown with Grindelwald (shown as in "show don't tell"), is not a love scene; it's the scene in which one of them kills Dumbledore's sister. Their great duel is summarized and if there was any left-over sexual tension between them when they faced off, Rowling didn't put it in the summary.
So here's the second part of my question:
What does Dumbledore's being gay add to the books as books?
Not what does it do for your appreciation of the books? Not what good might it do for gay adolescents struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
What does it mean artistically?
That sounds like an exam question. Part One: Using only evidence from the texts, show that Dumbledore is queer. Part Two: Show how Dumbledore's sexuality is important to the themes/narrative.
And that brings me to my last question, another two-parter.
Do the Harry Potter books support this much critical attention and if they do why are they worth it?
Mike the Mad Biologist has a theory about the debasement of our political discourse and the persistent success of media clowns like Rush Limbaugh. To understand it, Mike says, all you need to do is listen to morning radio, as he was forced to do recently at the gym:
On the day the feed went down, the club played a 'music' station. I haven't listened to morning 'music' radio in several years. During an hour-long period, it played three songs. The other fifty minutes were talk radio and commercials, and the commercials were the bearable part. The 'witty' banter was so incredibly stupid, such that an interview with Richard Branson about ballooning and his latest Boston business venture (essentially, a gushy infomercial) seemed downright intellectual. Several people complained, including me, and there were a lot more shaking their heads at the stupidity (I find this encouraging). But here's the real problem with that airhead crap: