Yesterday morning the sidewalks around Valley Forge were busy with people out for a walk or a run. The walkers were of all sorts and conditions. Young and old, men and women, boys and girls, families, couples, solitaires, gangs of middle-aged brothers and sisters, posses of little kids, teenagers in love walking hand in hand, teenagers out of love walking with arms folded and solid walls of silence between them. Some were fit and trim walking with the purpose of getting fitter and trimmer. Most seemed to be out for the sake of being out, enjoying the scenery and each other's company.
The runners were of one sort and in perfect condition.
My first thought after the fifth blew by me was that they must represent a demographic fluke brought on by the holiday. I figured they were all the hostesses of this year's feast escaping for some necessary alone time before their day was swallowed up by cooking and entertaining and coincidences of planning and scheduling had forced them all out to the park for their daily run at the same time.
"I'm going out for an hour. You watch the kids and when the timer goes off, take the pie out of the oven and turn it down to three twenty-five and put in the turkey."
But then, after the seventh or eighth ran me off the path---each one giving off an air of simultaneous blindness to my presence and irritation at my getting in their way as if I was an obstacle they sensed rather than saw and they resented having to break stride to avoid tripping over whatever it was that had the temerity to occupy a part of the sidewalk they needed to occupy---it dawned on me that they were all alike in another way besides the fact that they were moving faster than everybody else.
Each and every one was a goddess.
I don't mean goddess as in sex goddess, like Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth. I don't mean any ordinary centerfold or supermodel type of body beautiful.
Think of marble statuary.
Think of a Minerva or a Juno or a Diana, on an altar, within a temple.
As I said, they were all in their thirties. They were all handsome if not beautiful. They were all dressed alike. There were no track pants, no shorts, no baggy sweats. They all wore spandex tights and short, form-fitting jackets or long-sleeved t-shirts, so that their figures and legs were clearly defined down to the smallest muscle and dimple. None of them were greyhound thin. None of them carried an ounce of extra body fat. They were all perfect, like statues.
And like statues the effect of their perfection wasn't erotic in the least. It was cold, forbidding, rebuking.
To look upon one was to be inspired, not to lust or romance, but to duty, sacrifice, and penance. You felt called upon to give up dessert, go back to the gym, roll out of bed in the pre-dawn dark and start running yourself. And all these things you would do in a spirit mixing heroic determination and despair, intensely focused on improving in order to be worthy, already self-loathing and self-condemning because you'd know in your heart you don't have what it takes and will never be worthy of either their perfection or their notice.
Wouldn't matter if you were male or female, when you looked upon one of these goddesses you'd feel what Odysseus' men must have felt when they washed up on Circe's island, that you are not the hero or the heroine of this particular myth and she didn't even have to bother with the magic, you already know you're a mere pig.
All right, I'm romanticizing. But I'm not fantasizing. There are male versions of this type, but none of them were out yesterday morning. Older women run and so do girls, but while I suppose one or two might have been in her late twenties or early forties, it sure looked as if anyone who was under thirty-four or over thirty-eight had stayed home. And runners (like performance bonds) come in all shapes and sizes, not all of them look as though they were carved by Pygmalion on one of his more obsessive days, but all the other sizes and shapes, makes and models weren't running where I was walking.
The hour between eight and nine seemed to have been reserved for female deities in serious training for a new Judgment of Paris.
Just one of those things, I guess.
Back at the parking lot I did see some mortals getting ready to run. Two women and a man. The women were in their thirties and trim and attractive but in more human terms and dimensions, and they weren't wearing spandex. They were in nylon track pants and windbreakers. They were surrounded by kids and the man was helping the kids unload scooters and skateboards from their cars, a minivan and an SUV parked side by side. One of the women was unfolding a stroller, one of those three-wheeled, rocket-nosed strollers for parents who jog. The other woman, a tall blond who kept slapping at her hair to keep it from being blown across her face by the light but steady breeze, stood apart from the group, hollering into a cell phone.
"Where are you?" she demanded of the person on the other end. "Why aren't you here? Amy's here. She made it out with the kids. She even brought the baby. If she can bring the baby, you can bring you! Get over here!"
She was trying to sound jovial and teasing but there was a note of desperation in her voice too, as if the point of their all being out here was the company of the person she was talking to and the day would ruined if she---or he---blew them---her?---off.
There's one disadvantage to being a goddess. Goddesses don't need anybody's company but their own.
One party to the conversation says he's heard that Obama's a voracious reader.
Other parties say they've heard the same thing.
All parties agree they aren't surprised.
All parties also agree they like this about our President-elect.
Party upstairs eavesdropping on the parties downstairs is not surprised. All parties to the conversation downstairs are themselves voracious readers.
Party upstairs thinks about Presidents and their reading habits, at least as much as he knows about them through his own voracious reading of biographies and histories.
Jefferson was a voracious reader. His voracious reading habits helped to bankrupt him and found the Library of Congress.
Truman was a voracious reader. He practically read the Library of Congress.
Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton---voracious readers every one.
Franklin Roosevelt, too.
That infamous back-handed compliment of FDR? "A second-rate intellect but a first-class temperament"? That was said by someone who didn't like Roosevelt.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Might have been true. Grumpy old Supreme Court Justices have a different standard for judging these things though.
All the party upstairs knows is that the library at Hyde Park is beautiful and part of its beauty is that it is a room meant to be used by a lover of books.
Party upstairs, having thought these facts over, nods sagely to himself. Concludes that on the whole it's a good thing to have a President who's a voracious reader.
Then he remembers.
Richard Nixon was a voracious reader.
So was Jimmy Carter.
And John Adams.
Supposedly George W. Bush reads a lot.
Yeah. I know.
But he and the librarian he married must have had something to talk about.
And the party upstairs has known far too many voracious readers who've apparently learned no practical life-lessons from any of the many books they've read or, at least, have never figured out how to apply those lessons.
The party upstairs being at the top of his own list.
Sound judgment and clear-headed reasoning and a habit of skeptical self-reflection do not follow inevitably from a study of the Great Books.
It's possible to read your way through all of Shakespeare and to come out the other end as big a dope as you went in, to memorize whole passages and be able to recite them on cue while you're being as ambitious as Macbeth, as jealous as Othello, as vain and foolish as Lear.
Uncle Merlin owns and runs his own business North of Boston, and like all small businessmen and women these days---hard to think of a guy six foot six as a small businessman---he's not feeling all that cheerful about the economy. He's spent the last few days thinking things over, wondering how we wound up in this mess, and he's come to a few unhappy conclusions. He writes:
Hear the SNAPPING sound all around you?
It’s the sound of wallets and pocket books closing!
Americans aren’t buying and for very good reasons. And no matter what the media reports about Congress’ actions from my poll Americans aren’t buying that either!
We are in the midst of the second biggest SNAFU that the “GreedCats” have brought down on us in 30 years.
I had this friend back in the 80’s, he was in Economic School and in the ‘80s they were filling his head with the stupid notion that Greed was good for the country. He went to work for a “Service Firm” out of college. He told me how wealthy they were all getting doing this contract work for the Commonwealth.
I shot back the he wasn’t getting wealthy at all and neither was his boss. If you have read or in my case skimmed “An Inquiriy into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”; Adam Smith 1776, (7 Books in all) you discern the sentient fact that the wealth of a people can only be generated in 6 ways : Mineral, Energy Production, Agriculture, Population to produce, Land and Abundant natural resources, Means to Transport.
Anything else is just shuffling money around the economy that was already generated by the 6 primary sources.
It is obvious the “GreedCats” have never read “The Wealth of Nations”.
The GreedCats supplanted the notion of “wealth” with “piling up of money”. This was the first great bait and switch which sold off the Quality of America.
The GreedCats also instructed back then that a Company was “worth” more sold off in pieces than it was whole and producing. Take Stanley Tools and sell it off to the highest bidder.
No one at the time ever thought we needed to make things anymore. We all bought our last washing machines in 1976 and have never needed another one since, right?
They need to heed the lessons of Adam Smith and Peter Drucker.
In an NPR interview Peter Drucker said a company’s most important asset is its Customer because that is where the money comes from. And what he meant was the money comes year after year in a stream, not at the end of the last and final quarter before the sale.
Fast Forward 30 years to the newest SNAFU.
Last nite Brian Williams reported, with not too much of a touch scolding tone, that “Consumers” were shutting their wallets. Especially damaging at the opening of the latest “Christmas Consuming Season”. Worst possible of all scenarios.
Worst for who I ask? The GreedCats at the top of all these piles of money that are dwindling everyday?
The new bait and switch today is we are all called “Consumers”! When I was a kid we were called either : “Wage Earners”, or “Salaried Professionals” or “CUSTOMERS”!
Even Congress calls us CONSUMERS not Citizens. No, we are only called Citizens when they are out vote hunting.
Bait and switch is the same tactic WalMart pulled off when they supplanted “Quality” for “VALUE” in the minds of “Consumers” their favorite mantra. “Buy Overseas junk for “Value”.”
You start calling yourself a “consumer” then you start acting like one. That is an inescapable human behavior folks. WalMart and the GreedCats already know this.
They need to heed the lessons of Peter Drucker. Customers who earn real wages support your business not stockholders.
So everyone wants us to CONSUME especially NOW and Congress and the Media can’t figure out why we aren’t since all the credit markets are “back to normal”.
That I find humorous. Here the Federal Government allows the GreedCats free reign to ruin the economy with their expert ignorance about “The Wealth of Nations” and what real Wealth is and how to generate that.
AND on the other hand they tell us that to save the Country they are doing us all a favor dolling out Billions which we as good CONSUMERS have to pay for. We pay REAL money that 90% of us EARNED last year and Congress spends fake money they never EARNED. That’s why it is so easy to spend in big piles.
So the Media Pundits and Congress and, now thank God, the Credit Markets are confused about why we CONSUMERS aren’t spending. Well wake up GreedCats here is your weekly lesson from Uncle Merlin:
Americans it is estimated will have to pay out of pocket $7,000 each for the bailout. EACH!
Now, NO ONE is drawing the real picture that the “CONSUMER” sees.
NEXT YEAR, Dick or Jane average Consumer will have to not only pay the Bailout but also TAXES on Income so each of us is looking at not just $7,000 for the Bailout but on average $7,000 in income tax plus the bailout. Which translates to $14,000 yanked out of our wallets when Mr.Congress comes around next year for taxes. NO ONE is drawing that connection EXCEPT the Customers of America who have to really earn that money.
Would you be spending anything in this climate?? My wallet is slammed shut. I’m told I voted for all of this so that makes me responsible somehow. Can anyone tell me how? And the experts can’t figure out why our wallets are closed for business.
Americans are answering with their wallets.
Remember that incident called the Revolutionary War, it started over taxes on Tea. Again in 1776 and “Wealth of Nations” in 1776, a vary good year!
The GreedCats used to say in the 1970’s that the consumer market was bottomless.
What a way to look at your Customers. Nice relationship!
Well just maybe the GreedCats through their fumbling ignorance have finally taught the “Consumers” how it all really operates.
Take a look at the fall of gas & oil over the last 3 months. “Consumers” have cut back and found that they can cut back, so they are cutting back even more and by magic the prices have not only fallen, they have Crashed. Why because Consumers have slammed their wallets shut.
Think about this artificiality: It took roughly over 100 years for gas to go from 0.05/gallon to $1.85/gallon but only 6 months to go from $1.85 to $4.35/gallon. And this without any major energy crisis, World War or collapse in supply. Now by magic in another 3 months Consumers shut their wallets and gas is back to $1.99/gallon, the price at my local Mobil yesterday.
‘Consumers” should wake up and realize just how powerful a position you are now in today. As a Customer, You have the “GreedCats” by the “bxxx”- Tails. Become a Customer again! You have the REAL money Congress wants. Dole it out “s l o w l y”!
If they want to be Pundits then as Customers make them heed the lessons of Peter Drucker and Adam Smith.
And I need to go read all 7 books of Wealth of Nations!
Once, on Cheers, after listening to Woody tell another weird story about his crazy and grotesquely unlucky relatives back in Hanover, Indiana, Norm declared with a passion that was far beyond any had ever mustered before for anything except beer and a Little Wally burger, "Someday, before I die, I've got to visit that town!"
You almost believe that curiosity is going to lift Norm off his bar stool and carry him to the Hoosier State just to see what sort of Bizarro World Woody hails from.
PARIS (AFP) – It's taken more than a century, but Einstein's celebrated formula e=mc2 has finally been corroborated, thanks to a heroic computational effort by French, German and Hungarian physicists.
I can follow the story and I think I understand what was done and why it means what it means, although if you want to explain it in more detail or in a better way, I'd appreciate it.
My question is, why did I think e=mc2 had already been proved? Was there a famous experiment that almost proved it? Am I thinking of something else? For instance, am I thinking that Michaelson-Morley proved more than was proved or was intended to be proved?
What did Michaelson-Morley prove and where were you when I was taking Dr Sundberg's physics final anyway?
For extra credit, explain the physics behind this:
Notes from a walk I took when I was still young, vital, and healthy---a week ago today.
Bird count: Blue Jays 25; Woodpeckers 1; all other species 0.
That was just between the house and the opening of the bike trail. The woodpecker wasn't one of the usual suspects. Flickers, downies, and hairy woodpeckers don't have that much blushing red on the backs of their heads. They wear their blazes like kerchiefs not hoods. Probably a red-bellied woodpecker. Couldn't get a look. It was very high up in this tree and kept itself in silhouette as I angled around trying for a better view.
No mistaking the blue jays though. None of them cared whether or not I was watching them. In fact, many of them seemed determined that I get a good look and they took up perches at close range. Low branches, fence posts, leaf litter not more than a half dozen yards ahead of me, I swear some would have landed on my shoulder if they happened to get tired while I was in convenient roosting reach. According to the guide books, this is their social time of year. Family groups mix with family groups to form loosely-knit but gregarious flocks sharing territories and food supplies. Many of the jays carried acorns in their beaks, which is also in line with the guide books.
I reported back in June that the town had cleared the section of the bike trail running south from here. That part of the trail has since been paved. A section running north has been cleared as well. I went north today.
I hear there's snow in parts of Ohio and Michigan and things are hellacious in Los Angeles, but when I started out on my walk the weather here was awfully pleasant for mid-November in Upstate New York. This part of the trail is still unpaved and it hadn't dried out from the rain over the weekend. But it wasn't wet. Freezing temperatures overnight took care of that. The gravel crunched underfoot with the pleasant sound of breaking ice, the puddles in the ruts in the trail had rough skins of brown ice over them.
A week ago, Jennifer, alerted by her painter's eye, noted the sudden switch in nature's moods that marks the change from October to November out in her part of Illinois. October, in spirit and in light and color, hung around past its stated end on the calendar and then, in the blink of an eye...
The majority of our trees stayed green forever this fall. There were a few that changed on scheduled, but so many were full and green and showed no signs of giving up the ghost. Same for the flowers and the warmth. Yes, the days were noticeably shorter and the angle of the sun was drastically different, but somehow it seemed like October would go on forever even as we flipped the calendar over to November.
And then it happened. The rest of the leaves all got on board, the flowers yielded to the frost and November grabbed hold of the earth and my soul. I looked out the other day and the sky was an unmistakable periwinkle that only November can bring. I looked at it and thought, it's just a blustery, moody sky. What is it that makes it look so purple in November?? Ah yes, it's the contrast to all of the blazing gold leaves that haven't fallen yet. The loud leaves are amping up the purple that might otherwise be mistaken for gray. It's pretty in its own somber way and while it's nice to look at, something about it reminds me it's time to turn back in... time to gather up my attention to a life that will be lived mostly inside for the next number of months. Even though we are moving into one of the more social seasons, this time of year also seems like the most introverted. Nature is pulling back in and so do I. The action will go on behind the scenes and we'll be showered with artificial light as opposed to the bright light of day.
Sky here isn't periwinkle, but then there's very little gold left in the trees to make the contrast and amp up the purple. Below the blue sky the landscape I walked through was all gray and black and brown and tan and faded blond, except for the bright red of the berries remaining on the sumacs...
...and the sapphire blue blacks and clean cotton sheet white bellies of the jays.
Plenty of them in here too, verifying the guide books, doing their social and gregarious thing, visiting relatives, making plans for Thanksgiving, catching up. Saw one of them do something I don't remember ever observing any other bird, except a hawk, do on the wing before, consciously make decisions about which way he wanted to fly. He was loafing his way towards me, doing the aerial equivalent of a leisurely stroll, flapping his wings lazily and only as often as he needed in order to keep himself aloft and moving forward, and he turned his head this way and that as he flew, making slight alterations in his course quite clearly based on something he'd spotted up ahead, as if on the lookout for familiar landmarks to navigate by, as if thinking, "What did Aunt Martha say again? Bear left at the third stump past the chokecherry, bank right again fifteen degrees when the pond shaped like an acorn comes into view..."
Probably all birds do this, but they're flying too high and too fast for me to see it for what it is. Hawks, being large, dramatic, bold, and not at all shy about what they're up to, are obvious about it. And you know exactly what they're thinking.
Speaking of hawks, although the blue jays outnumbered other species along the trail by about 5 to 1, those other species included more of variety than was represented by the lone redbellied woodpecker back in town. The path is edged in on both sides by trees and shrubs, thickly enough that at some points it feels as though you're walking through dense woods. But what's really on either side of you are acres of abandoned farm land that has not been reclaimed by trees yet. It's all wide-open meadows and fields, ideal hunting ground for hawks, and towards the end of the this part of the trail I came to a stretch bare of cover on one side and on that one side were several acres of tall, dry, blond grass over which five red-tailed hawks looped and sailed, screaming out loudly to one another.
Stirred up a prayer meeting of mourning doves meditating in the leaf litter, had to stop to let a gang of red-breasted nuthatches cross the path at nose level---they landed on the bare branches of a small hawthorn and eyed me truculently. their rust-colored, not actually red, chests puffed out, pointing their long, hard-looking black beaks at me, as if to let me know that small and pretty were not synonyms for meek and harmless---and startled a little flock of juncos into acting out the part of the junco in Robert Frost's poem The Woodpile:
A small bird flew before me. He was careful To put a tree between us when he lighted, And say no word to tell me who he was Who was so foolish as to think what he thought. He thought that I was after him for a feather-- The white one in his tail; like one who takes Everything said as personal to himself. One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
If it was a group audition, they would all be perfectly cast in the part.
The dark-eyed juncos are my friends. We've already had numerous hard freezes here in the Piedmont of Virginia and they have favorably sharpened my memory of my native upstate New York at this time of year. I first met the dark-eyed juncos in the spring of 2005 while carrying a pack along the spine of the Blue Ridge on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Their gentle chirps and white-blazed tail feathers became familiar and welcome companions, especially on days when I was very nearly a beaten man. It was when I was the most hurting and drained, weakened and dimmed, that my spirit was at its lowest ebb, that I was open enough and my mind quiet enough to appreciate those birds. In turn, at times like those, the birds seemed to sense my beat down condition and were less likely to skitter away at my approach, but instead would hop along the trail just feet ahead of me. Over time, as I learned to walk in the woods, I also learned to see more than just the juncos, which was exactly why I had come to the woods in the first place. In the winter, at least down here, the dark-eyed juncos come down from the high country some miles to the west and mob the thistle seed in the feeders. I'm glad to see them, these friends of mine. In summer we feed hummingbirds; in the winter, it's the dark eyed juncos, down from the mountains for a snack.
For a while I was followed by a pair of downy woodpeckers, a male and a female. The male was less stand-offish than the female and a bit of a show-off. His best trick was to go after a bug on the end of a thin woody vine dangling from a locust tree. He lit on the tip of the vine and hung there, the vine swinging under his weight and the force of his pecking, like a kid playing Tarzan.
Mammals were represented along the trail by only two of their classification, me and a squirrel.
This stretch of the trail runs about two miles along what was once the bed of a railroad to New York City. Came across only this sign that trains ever passed this way. Looks like a gravestone, doesn't it? Tomb of the unknown signalman.
It's made of wood with rusty iron truss work behind to hold it up. Don't know what the 25 means. It looks as if it was added long-after the marker itself went into the ground. Trains stopped running in the late 1940s.
It's an illusion allowed by distance and accidents of development and neglect that I could make this walk imagining that I was looking at a landscape not all that different from one John Burroughs might have seen a hundred years ago had he wandered this way, and he might have, for all I know, he lived not too far from here and liked to wander. But the trail dumped me out smack dab in the 21st Century, on a road at the edge of the grounds of a state prison where I got beeped at by a passing SUV whose driver I presumed recognized me, the beep being a quick friendly beep and not a get out to the road, you moron honk.
The sky had clouded up since I'd started out and a strong, decidely Novemberish wind had begun to blow. The wind bit right through me as soon as I was out of the shelter of the trees along the path. I'd set out in the fall and walked through the season into the onset of winter. Long way to walk in one morning.
Thought about turning around and heading back along the way I'd just come, but I was suddenly feeling lonely. The wind was blowing from the west, but I turned into it and followed the road a quarter of mile or so until it forked. There I turned sharply to the south and followed the river back into town, sheltered again from the wind by trees and comforted by the smell of woodsmoke from the chimneys of the houses along the way.
Ornithologically related:Raven Rana has spent some time lately watching birds slightly more impressive than woodpeckers, juncos, and blue jays---sandhill cranes. And she has video!
Meteorologically related:Chris Clarke reports on what November looks and feels like in his part of the Mojave---gray.
Now it really was dawn, the cusp of the day that belonged to no one except the seagulls in Morpork docks, the tide that rolled in up the river, and a warm turnwise wind that added a smell of spring to the complex odor of the city.
Death sat on a bollard, looking out to sea. He had decided to stop being drunk. It made his head ache.
He'd tried fishing, dancing, gambling and drink, allegedly four of life's greatest pleasures, and wasn't sure that he saw the point. Food he was happy with---Death liked a good meal as much as anyone else. He couldn't think of any other pleasures of the flesh or, rather, he could, but they were, well, fleshy, and he couldn't see how it would be possible to go about them without some major bodily restructuring, which he wasn't going to contemplate. Besides, humans seemed to leave off doing them as they got older, so presumably they couldn't be that attractive.
Death began to feel that he wouldn't understand people as long as he lived.
If you spend all day Tuesday taking care of a sick kid, helping him to the bathroom, holding a bucket for him when he can't make it there, and cleaning up when he misses the toilet and the bucket, the odds are that no matter how careful you are and how thoroughly you wash up afterwards, the odds are still excellent that one sneaky germ is going to get through and sometime on Wednesday somebody's going to have to hold the bucket for you.
The Mannions have been struck down one by one. I'm on the mend but sleep is still a more appealing option than anything else.
I hope to be back up and blogging by tomorrow. Meantime, this is a good time to explore the blog rolls and to visit the Mannionville Gazette's Favorite Blog of the Day:
I'm sure union-busting is a big part of the Congressional Republicans' hostility to a bail-out of the auto industry. And some of it is just a general "Not my constituents, so what do I care?" assholery. And some of---ok, a lot of it---is the reflexive Screw you for not being rich of their tribe. And there might even be a few who are motivated by honest Free Market conservative principles.
But I can't help thinking that in their hearts a lot of them are looking at the possibility of tens of thousands of people in Michigan losing their jobs and then their homes and seeing the opportunity to do to Detroit what Katrina allowed them to try to do to New Orleans, empty the city of Democrats.
Jokes going to be on them when a million other people around the country, many of them Republicans, many of them their own constituents, lose their jobs along with the UAW workers.
When Chris Dodd and Evan Bayh and Ken Salazar and the rest were congratulating their pal Joe on his getting to keep his gavel and his pride, did they ask him which Republican he'll be supporting for President in 2012?
I've been getting a lot of requests to put what are essentially free ads on my webpage.
To friends and colleagues and blogging compadres who have books and other work to promote, this note is not directed at you.
Dear PR Persons:
Just a friendly reminder to you folks working PR for movies, books, speaking engagements, etc. etc. etc, who have contacted me and in a doing me a favor sort of way offered me the opportunity to link to your websites and products:
THIS IS WHY I SELL ADS!!!!!!
Look at the top of the left hand sidebar. Just follow the link. All you need to know is there. BlogAds are cheap and people do click on them.
I'd also be happy to work out a deal for text ads so you can reach my many readers who follow the adventures of Lance Mannion on their RSS feeds.
If you think my blog, or any blog, has a big enough audience you want to reach, then it's worth the $25 bucks a week it'd cost to reach them.
If you don't think my readers are worth $25 bucks, then you don't really want them and you must think I'm pretty small potatoes, so why are you bothering?
Best thing that's happened to me in a long time: I got a new cell phone.
Show you how pathetic I am: I'm thrilled with my new cell phone. Positively giddy with joy.
I've been playing around with it for days. Taking pictures. Sending pictures. Sending pictures with sound! Texting. Driving friends and family nuts.
And it's not even an iPhone.
It's just a basic phone. In fact, about the only way it's a real improvement over my old cell is that I can call people from my house.
We live in what was once a dead zone. We don't have The Network. Our carrier didn't have any towers near by. When we moved here I called up customer service and asked about this. They offered to put a tower on our property. They would pay rent. Then they I told them where our property was and how much acreage we had out back.
They prefer not to put towers in suburban backyards. But if I bought a farm that had any hills, they said, I should call them back.
So for five years I've managed without cell phone service at home. Which was fine, since the reason I got a cell phone in the first place was to be reachable when I wasn't home. And all I had to do to be reachable was drive ten minutes away from here in any direction. I did that a lot anyway. So my cell phone service suited my needs, no problem, except for when I was home and on the phone---on the land line---when somebody else wanted to talk to me. They had to talk to voice mail.
This annoyed some people who seemed to think that if I had a working cell phone I'd have answered it while I was on the land line instead of letting their call go to my cell phone's voice mail.
Hi Mom! Hey, Uncle Merlin!
Recently our carrier made a deal with other carriers to leach off of their towers. But I had to have a phone that was 850 mhz capable. So that's what I have now.
Like I said, I'm thrilled.
But now people are asking me if we're going to dump our land line.
They ask this as if it's the logical and intelligent thing to do.
I've looked into this.
Right now we have a very minimal cell phone bill. We pay next to nothing for local service. Our long distance service is over the internet and is very cheap. If we were to take out the land line, drop the long distance, and rely on the cell for all our calls, local and long distance, we'd start racking up overage charges in about a week.
In order to avoid that I'd have to upgrade our cell service. The plan that would best work for us would cost us thirty dollars more a month than we pay for the current plan, the land line, and the long distance.
Keep in mind that this is to cover just the blonde and I and that blonde has her own cell provided by her company so we don't have to figure her work-related calls into our needs. The Mannion guys still manage their social lives face to face. It won't be long though before the phone starts ringing three and four times a night and the call's for one of them.
I assume when that day comes they will each need their own cell phones.
Here's what I'm getting at.
What do families of four and five and more pay for cell phone service every month? What do college students pay for their cell service every month and why do their parents put up with it?
And how come we don't find this ridiculous?
Don't get me wrong. I'm an early adapter by nature. I would love to have an iPhone. At the least. And I'm sure that one day land lines will be obsolete and cell phone service will cost next to nothing.
But that day seems a long way off.
Right now it seems as though we've talked ourselves into paying for a luxury by telling ourselves it's a necessity.
You know, like we needed SUVs because we were doing all that hauling over unpaved roads and up snow-covered mountainsides?
People are supposedly cutting back on all their expenditures. Not going out to dinner as much, giving up going to the movies.
Are they texting less frequently?
Are they waiting until they see their friends in the cafeteria to make plans for tonight instead of flipping open the cell phone as soon as they step out of class?
Are they waiting until they get home before they tell their spouses what they bought at the supermarket?
Are they waiting until they can get to their computers to check the ball scores and read Lance Mannion?
Not the whole article. And not the argument that cell phones have become the Swiss Army Knife of communication technology. Stuff like this:
Hands up who still has a home land line with a telephone attached? Now,
keep your arm in the air if you ever make calls on it. We don't see
Um, besides mine?
Depends on where the author's asking the question. Apparently it's not around any workplace in America.
They don't use land lines at Wired?
Now this, from the section in which the author imagines the day when cell phones have sent lap tops the way of Beta Max, analog TV, and rotary dials:
It will take some time, but it's easy to imagine the cellphone
completely replacing the laptop for mobile use. Sure, we might keep one
at home for work, but the cellphone already does most of what our
notebooks do. We can listen to music, play movies and use the internet.
One day, those big old, battery-sucking computers will be an amusing
Ok. Most of those open laptops in the cafe at Barnes and Noble and at Starbucks not running spreadsheets or Adobe Acrobat. But some of them are. As are the ones in airports and the ones on conference tables and the ones on the laps of engineers, scientists, doctors and nurses, lawyers, journalists, Army logistics officers, salesmen and women, techies and designers on movie sets and backstage at rock concerts, students, cops, contractors, farmers, you name the profession, crouching in whatever corner of a workplace or jobsite where they can get a wireless signal, relative peace and quiet, and enough shade that the glare off the screen isn't too blinding.
Two things are missing from this article.
An actual concept of how work works.
And any sense that the world includes people over the age of 22 with a real job and a family.
Now I've gone and made myself feel like a cranky old coot.
Hey, you kids get off of my lawn!
Excuse me. I'm going to cheer myself up by making a few phone calls.
Regular commenter here and photoblogging role-model, SF Mike, went out to Civic Center Plaza Saturday to cover the rally against Prop Hate and brought back a beaut of a photo-essay.
Mike's post includes a bunch more great photos, a very sad story, and a hopeful one. Pay special attention to the two pictures near the end---they're of some key issues in the debate the Prop Haters would prefer to ignore.
Oy vey. Too soon. Too soon. These wreaths seem to have a forlorn and shamefaced look about them, don't you think, as though they know they're intruding, like mice who have been surprised in a cupboard and understand completely why the cook is reaching for the rolling pin. Somebody bought one though. Just before I took this picture. No Indian corn on their door come Thanksgiving. Outside the supermarket. This afternoon. Sunday. November 16, 2008. Only thirty-eight shopping days left till Christmas.
The tough new Bond Girl here isn't a Bond Girl. She's the leading lady of Quantum of Solace, Olga Kurylenko.
All the women in the Bond movies are not Bond Girls.
If that was the case, then Diana Rigg was a Bond Girl and any debate over who was the sexiest Bond Girl ends right there with the mention of her name.
But calling Diana Rigg a Bond Girl is so absurdly reductive that the concept becomes meaningless. It's like calling the Empire State Building an apartment complex or the Mississippi River farm water run-off.
Bond Girls are eye candy, pure and simple. Their role in a Bond film is to get naked, as naked as a PG-13 rating allows anyway, get laid, and then get dead. They manage all three tasks efficiently by the single method of setting out to get Bond killed. Either they are bait dangled by his would-be assassins or they are would-be assassins themselves.
Of course, Bond's reputation as a super-stud would be laughable if the only women he had sex with were women who let themselves be "seduced" in order to betray him.
So there's often another type of Bond Girl in the movies, a non-player in the spy game Bond scoops up on the fly and drops as soon as duty calls him back to work. Her job is to get naked, get laid, and get out of the way as quickly as possible. Most of these Bond Girl's appear very early in a movie, like the doctor who "treats" Bond's busted shoulder in The World Is Not Enough or the stewardess with the long, long zipper down the back of her dress Bond undresses with his magnetized watch at the beginning of Live and Let Die, and their purpose is to show that at least some women who sleep with Bond do it because they like him and like sex and that Bond himself likes sex too and doesn't sleep with women only because Queen and Country require him to.
Whichever type she is, a Bond Girl's screen time is usually extremely limited, unless as the would-be assassin-type she is also a favorite of the chief villain, in which case she hangs around for a while doing things that will make us cheer her inevitable and extremely violent death, and consequently the women playing them are not called upon to act, merely to pose, and that's why they're almost always models and not actresses, and also why for almost all of them their next and usually last professional gig is not another movie but a Playboy photo-spread.
So here's a rule of thumb. If the woman in question is played by someone you'd heard of before and have heard of since, she's not a Bond Girl.
The two significant exceptions are Kim Bassinger and Grace Jones.
What she may be is another type regularly featured in the Bond movies, the damsel in distress Bond almost invariably fails to come to the rescue of in time. They are women who actually fall for Bond and then make the mistake of trying to help him or of wandering back into the room at a catastrophically inconvenient moment. Sometimes they are spies themselves, often enemy agents who have changed sides out of love for their James, but sometimes they are civilians who wind up as collateral damage. Lana Wood in Diamonds Are Forever ("Hi! I'm Plenty!" "Of course you are."), Teri Hatcher in Tomorrow Never Dies, and Caterino Murino in Casino Royale all die because they accidentally get between Bond and the bad guys.
It's easy to see how a casual observer might mistake the unfortunate damsels in distress for Bond Girls because they also tend to get naked, get laid, and get dead in short order. But what distinguishes them from Bond Girls is that they are always played by actual actresses and, probably for that reason, they are sexier, livelier, and more vivacious than not just the Bond Girls but very often the leading ladies.
It's because of the movies' wildly uneven treatment of their leading ladies that things get confusing.
In most of the films, the leading lady has a professional reason for teaming up with Bond on his latest mission. She may not be a spy herself, but her work or some knowledge she's acquired has drawn her into the spy game. So she has a job to do apart from tagging along after Bond and waiting for him to get her naked, get her laid, and get her dead or out of the way. And because she has an actual function in the plot she has to be able to do things. She has to be what the producers of Quantum of Solace are claiming as firsts for their leading lady, independent, tough, intelligent, resourceful, and on a mission of her own. Bond's leading ladies have been kicking ass on missions of their own since Honey Ryder tucked her knife into the belt of her white bikini.
What confuses the issue is that a few of the leading ladies have been damsels in distress---Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die, Britt Ekland in The Man With the Golden Gun---many of them have been sexier and more voluptuous than the entire harem of Bond Girls---Ursula Andress in Dr No, Jill St John in Diamonds Are Forever, Carey Lowell in License to Kill, Halle Berry in Die Another Day---and, unfortunately, too many of them, especially during the Roger Moore years, have been played by talentless models---Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me, Lois Chiles in Moonraker, Maud Adams in The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy, Tanya Roberts in A View to A Kill---or European starlets whose ability to act is hard to judge because of their struggles to speak English---Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only, Izabella Scorupco in Goldeneye, and, it sounds like, Olga Kurylenko in Quantum of Solace. I'll let you know. I'm taking the blonde to see it tomorrow night for her birthday. Really, she wants to go.
Then there's the fact that at least three of Bond's leading ladies have been very talented actresses playing actually interesting characters---Eva Green in Casino Royale, Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, whose character has the distinction of having the most egregiously sexist name in the whole series of films. Give yourself a minute. You'll think of it.
Lana Wood's Plenty O'Toole runs a close second.
Now, after all this, you'll probably find it hard to believe that I've always thought that Bond's women---the Bond Girls, the distressed damsels, and the leading ladies---and his relationships with them were the least interesting aspect of the Bond franchise. I can imagine how much fun it might have been in the early '60s, when society was still in the guilty morning after phase of the Sexual Revolution to be presented with the idea, beautifully illustrated, that lovely and frolicsome young women could like taking their clothes off and would be happy to do it without expecting a ring or even a phone call afterwards, but the whole idea that Bond was that irresistible began to seem ridiculous and even creepy during Roger Moore's tenure and by the time Pierce Brosnan took over it had become as perfunctory and sour as appearances by Q. By Brosnan's last appearance, the movies themselves were even making fun of it and Bond. In Die Another Day, Jinx and Miranda Frost are running the show, Bond is their plaything, and if the filmmakers had had any guts they'd have both gotten out of the movie alive and without Bond's laying as much as double-entendre on them.
Casino Royale could only deal with Bond's rampant libido in the context of tragedy.
The flak for Quantum of Solace quoted in the Reuters article talks as though he believes his movie's heroine represents a great leap forward for women in the movies. But it doesn't matter if your character can do everything and anything a man can do if her real purpose in the film is to be gorgeous. Sounds to me as though Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale was more of a feminist role model, even if her main purpose was to be gorgeous and the love interest, because Lynd's job in the film wasn't to be a Bond with tits, it was to be a person with real work to do. Spies like Bond don't exist. Government agents who are really glorified accountants like Lynd do.
But the Bond films actually took their one real stride towards enlightment with Brosnan's first apearance as Bond because it was accompanied by Judi Dench's first appearance as M.
Dench's M isn't interesting because she's a woman in the role of grown-up authority figure usually played by a man. She's interesting because she is a woman. A particular woman who happens to have this job. Dench gives her feelings that a male M probably wouldn't have. Bernard Lee's M disliked Bond, but his dislike arose from a bureaucrat's frustration with an asset that refused to be controlled. Dench's M dislikes 007 the secret agent for the same reason. But she despises James Bond the man for a woman's reason. She knows his tricks from of old.
Her M is aware that Bond is attractive. She is attracted. Not to the Bond in front of her. To a Bond in her past.
I like to think that "James Bond" is a name and an identity MI-6 assigns to every agent it licenses to kill under the code name 007. This is a joke in the first Casino Royale movie, the spoof starring David Niven as the original James Bond. Of course I have no idea if Dench has this in mind but the way she plays her scenes with Brosnan and then especially with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale it's as if when M was a very young agent she made a mistake with the Bond of the day, which might have been excusable because she was barely more than a girl and that Bond was Sean Connery after all. But then when she was older and supposedly wiser she went and made the same mistake again with the next Bond in her life, Roger Moore. If he met up with her in the field or around the ministry, Timothy Dalton probably paid a hell of a price for whatever Connery and Moore did to her. By the time she's in charge, though, and Brosnan's Bond shows up her feelings have cooled but she knows what a cad and a bounder she has on her hands.
I think this sense of M's having a past with if not any actual Bonds then with someone very Bond-like really comes out in the scene in Casino Royale when she comes home to find that this newest Bond has learned her true identity and broken into her apartment. There is a memory fueling M's feelings of violation and outrage and, after he leaves, inspiring her expression of amazed admiration.
She's been through this before and it was terrifying...
Like I said, we're going to Quantum of Solace tomorrow, so I'll find out then if Kurylenko is the dullest leading lady in Bond's existence. I doubt it. She'd have to be incredibly bad to come anywhere near the level of mind-numbing awfulness Tanya Roberts achieved in A View to a Kill.
A View to a Kill owns the triple distinctions of having the worst performance by any actress in any role in any Bond film, being the worst Bond film of all time, and featuring the most bizarre Bond Girl ever cast.
What happened to Grace Jones anyway? Is she still working or has she returned to Beetlegeuse to report on her explorations of Planet Earth?
This slideshow from Yahoo mixes up Bond Girls, Damsels in Distress, and Leading Ladies but for some reason I don't mind it at all.
Updated with an appreciation of an old Bond because we didn't make it to see the old one last night: We'll try again next weekend. Meanwhile, in the comments here, D.R. Scott, of D.R Scott's Pop Culture, left this appreciation of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that includes a stirring defense of George Lazenby as the second-best Bond:
On Her Majesty's Secret Service was a curious anomaly in a number of ways, I think.
In my opinion, Diana Rigg was more than just the best "Bond" girl in the series. Besides being intelligent, strong-minded and elegant, Rigg was the only woman that Bond truly respected. When he fell in love with her, you believed it because you understood the reason why. (Unfortunately, it was that same strength of character that kept Rigg from being a bigger star than she was. Hollywood had no idea what to do with a woman who refused to objectify herself.)
It's also why the conclusion was so shattering emotionally. As you wrote, Rigg wasn't a prop to be tossed aside casually, and you knew that for a cold-blooded secret agent who killed people for a living, this was a tragedy that would follow him for the rest of his life. None of the subsequent Bond movies would ever come close to humanizing the 007 character.
But the other reason this particular Bond movie worked so well was George Lazenby, a gifted actor who had the bad luck to follow Sean Connery. In retrospect, although the producer's decision was vilified at the time, I thought the decision to cast Lazenby was an inspired one. Lazenby was a ruggedly handsome man who carried himself with a sly confidence, and was able to artfully negotiate that precarious balance between knowing how to kill a man if he had to while ordering the proper bottle of wine. Connery and Lazenby were men, not callow pretty boys carrying a fake Walther PPK. It's why the relationship he had with Rigg felt like a love story starring two adults as opposed to an zit-faced adolesscent practicing corny pick up lines he studied from his daddy's "Playboy".
In comparison, Roger Moore, however, was a fraud who should have played James Bond's butler. But then, it was easier for Moore to ease into Bond's Aston Martin because of all the flak Lazenby took. If the films stayed with Lazenby, I think the series would have been more mature and realistic. Instead, once Moore was firmly in place, the movies began their downward spiral into terminal silliness.
Every time I watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the words "might have been" keep echoing in my head.
There are some Facebook Friends you feel fairly comfortable superpoking.
There are some Facebook Friends you would never feel right superpoking in a million years.
There are some Facebook Friends you think might enjoy a good superpoking but you're really not sure, you'd feel kind of awkward about it if you tried, so you're just going to wait to see if they'll superpoke you first.
And there are some Facebook Friends you'd like to send a really flirty superpoke but you know all your other Facebook Friends and all their Facebook Friends can see who you've been superpoking and it's already bad enough that they know you've been throwing zombies and Sarah Palins and sheep around, you don't want them to see you work what yo mama gave ya, so you either send them a very weak have a beer with superpoke or you don't superpoke them at all and pretend to update your virtual bookshelf instead.
And there's no way you can superpoke anyone or think about superpoking or talk about it without feeling like you mean something else entirely, which was probably the point when the evil minds behind Facebook came up with the idea.
During the Impeachment Follies of 1998, unasked and unbidden, Joe Lieberman went out onto the floor of the United States Senate to tell the world that he thought that President Bill Clinton had done something naughty.
Very, very, very naughty.
No one in the Democratic Party wanted him to do this. No one in the Democratic Party was happy he did this.
Republicans were happy.
All by himself Joe Lieberman had given their attempted coup by impeachment a gloss of bipartisan respectability.
A lot of Insider Media Types were happy.
Joe Lieberman had given them permission to treat a silly affair between a middle-aged man and much younger woman as a matter of national importance. They could write about oral sex, masturbation, thongs, and dances with cigars as if they were missiles in Cuba or burglars in Democratic Party Headquarters or tanks in Tiananmen Square. They could obsess over a star-struck young woman in a red beret as if she were a leader of a foreign superpower. The could sniff and sneer and fret and fume and as if a President's adultery was the most appalling and nation-threatening act ever committed in an office where Richard Nixon once worked. What's more, Lieberman's smug little sermon gave them the excuse to continue doing what they'd been doing all along, covering Bill Clinton as if he was guilty of anything and everything his enemies accused him of, because he was that kind of man. The kind of man who disgusted Joe Lieberman. If he'd let a pretty young woman give him head, he was capable of all kinds of sleaziness. They've never been able to give this up. After eight years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, they still get more worked up over Bill and Monica than they do over the War in Iraq.
This was Joe Lieberman's gift to them and it's no wonder they thank him for it every chance they get, fawning over him, defending him, excusing him, treating him as one of the great statesmen and profiles in courage of our time.
Nothing good for the country came of that speech. Nothing good could have come of it. But that wasn't the point.
The point was to let all the world know what a moral and principled and decent man Joe Lieberman was.
Joe Lieberman was so moral, so principled, and so decent that he just had to stride out onto the Senate floor and condemn the President of the United States for being a naughty boy. It didn't matter a bit to Joe Lieberman that the President was the leader of his own party. Naughty was naughty and a stand-up guy like Joe Lieberman just had to stand up and say so.
I've written a bunch of times that I think John McCain is the vainest man to have run for President in my lifetime.
I keep forgetting that the Quisling from Connecticut ran for the job once too.
Joe Lieberman should be booted from the Democratic Caucus, not just stripped of his chairmanship. Whatever's the Party equivalent of having the buttons cut off his uniform, his epaulets torn off, and his sword broken in two is what he deserves to have done to him. Just for his support of John McCain.
McCain is his friend. He probably believed whole-heartedly that McCain would have been the better President, the more fool him. But the principled thing to do was not to go out and campaign for him. The principled thing to do would have been to quit the Democratic caucus, change his registration to Republican, and then go out and campaign for him. The truly principled thing to do would have been to resign from the Senate, because he had promised the voters in Connecticut that although re-elected as an Independent he would continue to act as a good and loyal Democrat. But I guess lying about having sex with a woman who is not your wife is worse than lying about your plans to screw your constituents.
If principle did require him to endorse his friend for President, it didn't require him to speak at the Republican Convention and denounce his supposed Party. Principle didn't require him to go out on the stump and slander and smear the his supposed Party's nominee. Principle didn't require him to campaign for down-ticket Republican candidates and actively work against his supposed party keeping and extending its majority so that it could more effectively pursue its goals, the goals that were supposedly Joe Lieberman's goals too, if he was a principled member of the Democratic Party.
Principle wasn't motivating Joe Lieberman.
He wanted to be John McCain's Vice-President, a job which, if he'd been nominated for it and if the McCain-Lieberman ticket had won the election, would have required him to put his heart and energy into thwarting the Democratic Party's attempts to achieve its goals at every opportunity.
But that's a job he'd been practicing for for years.
In the showdown over some of President Bush's more egregious court appointments in the spring of 2005, Lieberman went behind Harry Reid's back to help broker a "compromise" that saved the right to filibuster for Senate Democrats, as long as they promised never to use that right, at the low, low cost to the country of two more Right Wing idealogogues and Republican partisans on the Supreme Court and two more on other Federal benches. Why? Who asked him? What was gained?
Joe Lieberman's reputation as the principled bipartisan centrist got another wax job from the Media, that's what, that's why. And who asked him? The same who that asks him to do anything. Joe Lieberman.
Joe Lieberman does whatever Joe Lieberman wants him to do for the sole benefit of Joe Lieberman.
Look at his supposedly principled support of the War in Iraq, the supposedly one issue on which he parts ways with his fellow Democrats.
Did principle have to drive him to literally kiss up to George Bush? Did principle force him to become Bush's apologist not just on continuing the war but on his handling of it and all that entailed, including torture and punching holes in the Constitution?
Lieberman ran for the nomination for the honor of trying to take the Presidency away from George W. Bush. You'd think that would mean that he thought Bush wasn't the right person for the job? And I guess he did, except that apparently he finished the thought thus: Because I am more right for it.
Once it became impossible for Joe Lieberman to succeed George Bush, Bush became right enough that Lieberman thought it would be just swell to become Bush's Secretary of Defense, a job he clearly drooled over, which is why he went above and beyond (or beneath and behind) the call of duty in all his sucking up to Bush.
Lieberman's apologists are saying let bygones be bygones. But bygones aren't gone by if the man hasn't changed and you can't let bygones be bygones all on your own. The other guy has to agree to let them be too, and Lieberman's vanity doesn't allow him to. He holds grudges. The other Democratic Senators may not. They might be willing to forgive him for everything. (Glenn Greenwald is pretty sure they will.) But he won't forgive them. He'll remember, and he'll get his own back.
And even if he doesn't turn on the Democrats, again, out of spite and for revenge, at some point in the very near future Joe Lieberman will have to choose between what's good for Joe Lieberman and what's good for the Democratic Party.
What history shows is that what's often best for Joe Lieberman is sticking it to the Party.
Updated to take Alaska into account: The hopeful news out of Alaska---as of right this minute, 6:38 PM EST, Democratic challenger Mark Begich is ahead of Republican Senator Ted Stevens in the recount---added to the weirdness in Minnesota and the tantalizing prospect of the the run-off in Georgia makes it harder instead of easier to tell Joe Lieberman to take a leap. The Democrats have a chance of getting awfully close to that magic 60 and the closer they come the more they need Joe Lieberman's vote. If you know you're going to fall short by four votes anyway, it doesn't matter if you fall short by five. But if it looks like you're going to fall short by only one or two...
I'm not impressed by Harry Reid's assurances that Lieberman is really a loyal Democrat at heart and more reliable than some other nominally Democratic Senators he could name, although he didn't. Name them, that is. Lieberman has a knack for bucking the Party in times of crisis and the Media loves him for it and he loves to be loved by the Media. But at the moment Lieberman needs the Democrats more than they need him and maybe he's more frightened of irrelevancy than he is in love with his own image as Mr Bipartisan.
On the one hand, as much as I'd enjoy watching Lieberman beg for crumbs off the Republicans' table, like lina, I'd rather win on health care. On the other hand, if things are close it's too easy to imagine Lieberman getting it into his head that he's just the guy to "reach across the aisle" and broker a "compromise" deal that's actually a surrender or at least taking to the bobbleshows and op-ed pages to scold his fellow Democrats from being stubbornly partisan, sabotaging everything in the process.
"I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned, or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker's convenience. Which'll it be?"
"I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man."
"Fill your hands you son of a bitch!"
The best take on the shoot-out at high noon from a fun movie adapted from a great book
But what this scene from True Grit really is is an acknowledgement that westerns are our continuation of the stories begun with the sword being pulled from the stone. Westerns are chivalrous tales of knights-errant on quests or hero-kings arising to save the people from oppression and restore order and peace and justice.
In this scene, Rooster Cogburn is literally a knight on horseback. In the long shots he might as well be Beaumains confronting the Black Knight and his minions or Launcelot tilting against all comers beneath the castle of Shallot. In close up, of course, he doesn't look anything like a knight in shining armor---until he twirls his rifle, which he does with the panache of a knight of the Round Table drawing his sword. But that's the joke that drives the story. Mattie Ross has come looking for a Launcelot to go after her father's killer and instead she gets Rooster Cogburn.
On the face of things this is a reiteration of the classic theme, Don't judge a book by its cover. Heroes are as heroes do. And this is the lesson Mattie herself thinks she learns.
"No grit? Rooster Cogburn? Not much!"
But Mattie doesn't know she's living out the shadow of a myth.
Rooster isn't a hero. Not until she makes him into one. His drinking and swearing and bad manners and less than noble ideas about how he ought to go about doing his job as a deputy marshal are the least of his unheroic qualities. He has an unsavory past and his commitment to the law is purely mercenary and opportunistic. He has some of the qualities of a knight, grit, mainly, and there may have been times in his life when he's been a knight. But while knights are heroic by nature, they aren't necessarily heroes. The Black Knight is a knight. A knight doesn't become a hero until he has a heroic cause to serve.
Although she doesn't know it, Mattie herself is that cause.
The key scene in both the novel and the movie isn't Rooster's joust with Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang. It's the ride Rooster makes to get Mattie to the doctor afterwards.
That's when he completes the task she's set him for him and which by sheer force of will, her own grit, she's kept him at, becoming her worthy lieutenant.
Don't mind me. I'm just trying to decompress from the election.
At any rate, to answer my own question, Can a bold-talking one-eyed fat man be a hero king: No. At least, not in this story. But he can become a hero, if he's lucky enough to meet a Mattie Ross.
That answer would seem to put Mattie in the role of hero-queen, wouldn't it?
She isn't, though. Not quite.
In a comment on Friday's post, Dave MB asked, "Hmm... in _True Grit_ Glen Campbell is a free-lance, but how do you classify John Wayne and Kim Darby?"
I'm glad you asked, Dave MB. And funny that you should, because I was thinking about True Grit when I wrote that post.
You're right about Campbell's character, the Texas Ranger, being the free-lance.
And I've pretty much said what I think Rooster is.
Maddie, however, is an somewhat ambiguous position.
First off, there is no hero-king in True Grit. Mattie's hero-king, her father, is dead. Which would make her the princess. But what is a princess or a prince but a ruler in training?
Maddie, at the start, is a version of the squire. She's the apprentice.
She's also at the start in the same boat as Rooster. She has no hero-king to serve.
This is where a lot of epics and westerns and action-adventures begin. There is no king. Chaos reigns. The story is about how a hero or band of heroes defeat Chaos and bring about the return of the king.
The king, by the way, doesn't have to be literally a king or even literally a character. In a more democratic age, the "king" is an ideal. "He" is the ordered and peaceful and just society that the heroes preserve and protect.
The hero, then, doesn't have to be a king or a queen. The hero can be, and often is, a lieutenant who is waiting for the king's return or who has gone on ahead to act in the king's stead or he can be a free-lance who has been prevailed upon to do the job. In this story, the hero is a surrogate for the king or queen and he neither wants or expects to continue to be in charge once his job is done. Robin Hood is a surrogate for King Richard. All the knights of the Round Table---except Launcelot, Galahad, and Percival---are surrogate Arthurs. Arthur himself is a surrogate for the real once and future king, You Know Who. And I'm still convinced that was the path the new Batman movies were headed on, with Batman, the free-lance on his way to becoming a lieutenant, unaware of it but acting as a surrogate for Superman.
Most westerns are stories about lieutenants (any movie with a lawman as the hero) or free-lances ("Come back, Shane! Shane! Come back!") who are called by duty or forced by circumstances to take on the job of the hero-king, but who ride off into the sunset, usually more figuratively than literally, once that job is done.
Just talking through my hat here, but I'll bet that if you did a comprehensive survey of movies and literature you'll find far more stories about lieutenants and free-lances than about hero-kings and queens.
And for the record, I'm not trying to make the case that every story is a tale of a hero-king or a hero-king's surrogate or that every main character falls neatly into one of these archetypal roles.
But I'll also bet that if you did that survey you also find that there are lots and lots and lots of stories about apprentices who in the course of learning whatever they need to learn bring about the conditions necessary for the return of the hero-king.
This is the first tale of King Arthur. It's the story of Luke Skywalker. It's the story Anakin Skywalker failed to live out.
The apprentice is always young, usually a young teen and very often a child. She---and now it's just as accurate to use feminine pronouns, because the apprentice is quite regularly a girl, because she:---doesn't have to be a knight in training or the heir of a hero-king or queen. Her apprenticeship can be in a vocation that doesn't require her to wield a sword or a gun. She's learning something far more important and powerful than warcraft and statecraft. She's acquiring knowledge.
In many of these stories, the apprentice is a sorcerer's apprentice.
The most popular hero in contemporary literature is a sorcerer's apprentice who just finished up his training and his hero's journey.
In the end Harry Potter doesn't become the hero-king he seemed on the road to becoming in the first books. He finishes as lieutenant in service to a system instead of to a an actual hero-king or queen. (Actually, he finishes as a minor government functionary, but I'd rather not dwell on the banalities in the last chapter of Deathly Hallows.) That's because Harry is the product of a democratic age and an egalitarian-minded author and he has helped bring about a world in which a hero-king isn't needed. But considering the direction J.K. Rowling took him, even if Harry had been set down into a world more like Middle Earth than like late 20th Century Great Britain, he'd have refused a crown in the end. He identifies too much with Dumbledore and Tom Riddle and having seen how they were tempted he's become his own greatest doubter. He's also seen his own father, a more natural hero-king than Harry himself, abuse his own power over lesser wizards like Snape and that's caused Harry to wonder if perhaps if he hadn't met and married Lily, if he hadn't been surprised and murdered by Voldemort, James Potter might have met with some temptations he wouldn't have been able to resist.
Harry really doesn't have to worry about himself because he had an advantage that James didn't. It's the same advantage Arthur had. The same that Luke had over his father. Harry was raised by adults who taught him humility.
On the other hand, I wouldn't trust the almost slavishly worshipful Ginny to have the same effect on Harry as Lily had on James. Maybe Harry spends a lot of his time at Ron and Hermione's.
At any rate, to get back to True Grit. Mattie is an apprentice. I'm not sure what she learns how to be or that it matters all that much. True Grit isn't a myth, after all. It's a comic novel. At the end of the book we're given a glimpse of Mattie in late middle-age. She has become something of a queen of all she surveys. She's the richest woman in town, an empire-builder. But this seems to be a result of her grit and her common sense and her lawyer's investment advice rather than a symbol of her learned wisdom or her nobility. Mattie is the the teller of her own tale and she's not the kind who brags. But she's also not inclined to leave out the facts, even ones that are flattering to herself, and she doesn't give any hint that she thinks she's particularly noble or even wise and benevolent. She's just who she is. A banker.
Rooster, by the way, isn't able to continue his knightly ways after he and Mattie part company.
In the end maybe the point of the myth is that there are no heroes or heroines. There are only people who sometimes get lucky enough to attach themselves to a cause that makes them heroic for a time.
Continuing my strange fascination with the old TV series, Naked City, last night I watched an episode in which David Wayne guest-starred as a stock broker who was living not one, not two, not three, not four, but five separate lives. Five, that he admitted to, at any rate. In addition to his life as a stock broker named Herbert Konish, he was a Dr George Ripple, an Episcopalian priest who ran a homeless shelter, a poet who published under the name Byron Jack, a farmer on Staten Island named R.W. Emerson, and a ping-pong champion who called himself Streamer. The cops accidentally stumble upon his multiple identities and, being cops, assume he wouldn't have concocted them unless he had an angle. Under one or more of these identities, they're sure, he's got to be running some kind of scam.
They're flabbergasted, and frustrated, when it turns out that Herbert Konish, Dr Ripple, Byron Jack, R.W. Emerson, and Streamer are, for all intents and purposes, on the up and up. Konish buys and sells stocks, Ripple helps the homeless, Jack writes poetry, Emerson grows vegetables, and Streamer beats all comers at ping pong fair and square, and that's it. The man is, as Lieutenant Mike Parker is grumpily forced to admit, "Four or five honest, law-abiding citizens."
The most they can book him on is impersonating a clergyman, but they're so flummoxed and embarrassed by their own suspicious natures and reflexive misanthropy that they just drop it and cut him loose, without even requiring him to promise to at least defrock Dr Ripple.
The cops, especially Adam Flint, the young detective who's the hero of the series, are also a bit in awe of the guy. They admire his energy and his acting talent, but they're mostly impressed by his organizational genius. They're amazed that he's been able to keep all these identities alive and productive without one impinging on the other. Nobody who knows him in one of these identities knows or even suspects that he's living another life as someone else, let alone as four someone elses.
How he does it intrigues the cops. Why he does it, though, fascinates Flint. Since none of the "men" is doing anything illegal or to be ashamed of, in fact they're all high-achievers with accomplishments worth boasting of, why keep them all secret and separate? They're all really Herbert Konish, so why shouldn't Herbert Konish get credit for all they've done?
Konish says it's because Konish couldn't have done all those things. One man can only put his heart into one thing at time if he's going to do it well. If Konish tried to do everything that Ripple, Jack, Emerson, and Streamer did, in addition to being a successful stock broker, he'd have had to do them as hobbies. He'd have been a stock broker who wrote poetry on the side, or who volunteered to help out at the shelter once in a while, or a weekend farmer. No, all those lives required that the men living them gave them each their full attention. Konish had managed to divide not just his time but himself so that whenever he took on an identity that identity got his full attention. He was heart and soul a poet when he was Jack, heart and soul a farmer when he was Emerson, heart and soul a priest when he was Ripple, and so on. And in this way he was able to pack five lifetimes into one.
The point of the episode---and most episodes of Naked City have a point, it's a rather didactic show in a well-meaning, fashionably late 1950s liberal way---is that most of us, when we're young, have several talents and many interests that could lead us in a variety of directions in life, but the constraints of time and convention require us to settle upon one talent to hone and a single interest to pursue as a career and the result is that we cut away and leave behind important and interesting facets of ourselves. Konish, thanks to an abundance of energy and a possibly fractured personality, was able to avoid having to limit himself and his happiness in that way. Flint is a little jealous and this is where we find out something interesting about Flint's past.
Once upon a time he dreamed of being an professor of literature.
This doesn't come entirely out of the blue. Flint's meant to be something of an intellectual and even a bohemian. He reads a lot and he dates an actress who is something of an intellectual herself---as the creation of writers she's an actress who is in love with the theatre as a poetic and literary art. She's not having much luck breaking through as an actress, but she seems on her way to becoming a director. At any rate, Flint has always seemed like the type who became a cop because he couldn't afford to go to law school right out of college. Turns out that he wrote his senior thesis on Emily Dickinson and he can still recite her poems from memory.
Paul Burke, the actor who played Flint, does a nice job with "I'm nobody? Who are you?" But it also seemed to me he captured something familiar. Flint doesn't just love Emily Dickinson's poetry. He is, or was, in love with Emily Dickinson.
I can't tell you how many poets and English majors I've known who were smitten with Dickinson. Women and men. Gay and straight. For a while back in grad school I thought it was a requirement. You had to prove you had a crush on Dickinson to get admitted into a poetry workshop, and boy was I glad I didn't have any desire to become a poet because I'd have been rejected flat out.
Emily Dickinson is one of the last figures from American literature I can imagine rowing in Eden with.
Not that I spend a lot of time fantasizing about figures from American literature.
Probably this is a failure of imagination on my part. I can't get past the conventional image of Dickinson as the neurosthenic sprite in the white dress hiding in the shadows and refusing to sit in the same room with people she's having a conversation with.
Trolling around the intertubes tonight I stumbled upon an essay in Slate by Christopher Benfey. The essay's titled "Emily Dickinson's secret lover" and it includes this passage:
Emily Dickinson in this constellation is forever the lovelorn spinster, pining away in her father's mansion on Main Street in Amherst, Mass. We assume that the grand passion behind her poems ("Wild nights—Wild nights! Were I with thee") must have had a commensurate inspiration, whether imaginary, superhuman, or divine. Evidence that Dickinson's love life was fairly ordinary, with ordinary temptations and disappointments, doesn't quite fit the bill. Her exile on Main Street has seemed a necessary part of the Dickinson myth, so necessary, indeed, that contrary information—which happens to have been piling up lately—has often been discounted or ignored.
For example, when Mabel Loomis Todd, the vivacious and talented wife of Amherst College astronomer David Todd, was invited to play the piano for Dickinson and her younger sister, Lavinia, in September of 1882, she received a startling warning from their sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, next door. The Dickinson spinster sisters, Sue informed her, "have not, either of them, any idea of morality." Sue added darkly, "I went in there one day, and in the drawing room I found Emily reclining in the arms of a man."
I'm not expecting that this image of Emily Dickinson having not any idea of morality is going to cause her to start starring in my dreams or change my opinions about her poetry, which by the way are mostly appreciative but more like my appreciation for bible verses than like my appreciation for the poetry of Robert Frost or Elizabeth Bishop---a poem of hers will spring to mind like a prayer, while the others I reach for as explanations.
And I'm not saying that now that I know Emily Dickinson might not have been as ethereal a creature as her popular image I understand why those poets and English lit majors had a thing for her.
I'm not expecting or saying anything. I'm just typing. It's time for me to stop.
Adam Flint's other favorite poet is T.S. Eliot.
His favorite playwrights are Arthur Miller and William Inge.
Which shows how times change. All the cops I know read Wallace Stevens and prefer Ionesco and Brecht.