The story began five generations ago, when a farsighted forbear, Richard Tapper Cadbury, a draper in Birmingham early in the 19th century, sent his youngest son, John, to London to study a new tropical commodity that was attracting interest among the colonial brokers of Mincing Lane: cocoa. Was it something to eat or drink? Richard Tapper saw it pre-eminently as a nutritious non-alcoholic drink in a world that relied on gin to wash away its troubles. Never could my abstemiously inclined forebear have guessed what fortunes were entwined with the humble cocoa bean, although it seemed full of promise: a touch of the exotic.
The book is about the rise of the chocolate candy industry in the United States and, incidentally, growing up with an uncle who was Willy Wonka, sort of.
Me (raising cell phone): Is it ok? Bartender: Go right ahead. Me: Everybody does it, right? Bartender: Of course! Most photographed photograph in northeastern Pennsylvania. Behind the bar at Bar Louis in the Hotel Fauchere. Milford, PA. Eight-thirty or so Saturday night. October 30, 2010.
Last night, after a long, hard day of being seventeen years old, our six foot three inch, one hundred and seventy-five pound seventeen year old collapsed in exhaustion into one of our living room chairs.
A six-foot three inch, one hundred and seventy-five pound seventeen year old collapsing in exhaustion into it would be hard on any piece of furniture. This particular chair has had a six-foot three inch, one hundred and seventy-five pound seventeen year old collapsing into it just about every day since July. Before that it had to handle the exhausted collapse of a not much shorter, not much lighter sixteen year old for a year, and before that…
You get the picture.
The chair has also had to accept the collapses of a not at all small or lightweight younger brother and parents who are not exactly featherweights themselves.
That’s a lot for one, poor chair to take.
Last night it stopped taking it.
The six foot three inch, one hundred and seventy-five pound seventeen year old collapsed and the chair collapsed under him.
Not the whole chair. The pegs holding the sides of the boxframe support together snapped and the bottom dropped out.
I surveyed the wreckage.
Which I shouldn’t have done.
But I forgot who I was and what’s in our basement and cabinets.
Forgetting who I was and what’s down there and in them, I thought I was someone else.
Someone who was going to have to waste his Saturday morning shopping for a new armchair and spending a lot of money he doesn’t really have to spend.
That someone was a very grumpy guy.
This morning I woke up still thinking I was him but as I drank his coffee while standing over the remains of his chair and lamenting that poor sap’s ruined Saturday, things started to come back to me.
That guy I mistook for me is the kind of guy who never has on hand the tools and supplies he needs for a home repair job. That guy apparently doesn’t jump happily at the chance to make a run to the hardware store. That guy had not fixed a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner and replaced the screen on his netbook already this year. That guy doesn’t have an Uncle Merlin he can call to talk him through home repair jobs.
This guy, me, gathered his tools and his supplies, carried the broken frame down to the basement, and called Uncle Merlin.
Uncle Merlin had one quick, excellent piece of advice.
I’d been wondering where best to put reinforcing screws.
But I didn’t have any on hand.
Not only would the braces do the trick but this meant a trip to the hardware store!
I needed to buy some new staples too.
It’s all done now. The blonde is sitting comfortably and apparently securely in the chair clipping coupons ahead of a trip to the grocery store. I keep wandering in to the living room to admire my handiwork and accept compliments. The boys have been warned that there’s to be no more collapsing in exhaustion into any furniture, just sitting down gently and settling in comfortably. Instead of having wasted a morning at some big box furniture store, I got to spend it actually fixing something and chatting with the guys down at the hardware store.
A near perfect Saturday morning.
Only thing that could make it better is a trip to the dump.
Last night the dinnertime conversation turned to the subject of evolution. The question that started the ball rolling was, “Dad, if human beings hadn’t evolved what sort of beings do you think would have taken our place as the intelligent life form on the planet?”
As if I need to tell you, we have two teenaged boys.
We quickly got past talking about dog-people and lizard-people and bird-people---I’m in the bird-people camp. Complex communication skills. Opposable thumbs on early winged bird ancestors. And being able to fly would be really cool---to talking about how evolution has actually worked. Stephen Jay Gould’s name came up along with terms like punctuated equilibrium and contingency.
Sullivan admits to titling the post that because it’s a common question, not that he thinks it’s an intelligent one. He dismisses the question himself as “a dumb one for anyone with even a small grasp of evolution and genetics”.
I don’t think it’s a dumb question, necessarily. I think it’s a naive one. But it depends on who’s asking.
A couple of kids who are trying to imagine how a world full of dog-people or lizard-people or bird-people might have evolved, for instance.
I’m going to leave aside for now the fact that we don’t actually know gayness is genetic. Some biologists think that a gene or a sequence of genes that can be associated with homosexuality may have been identified. What we do know is that most gay people don’t feel they had a choice about their sexual orientation any more than they had a choice concerning their hair color, height, or gender. As soon as they became aware of themselves as having sexual urges they were also aware that those urges were attracting them to members of the same sex.
Which makes sense to me, based on my own experience.
I became aware of myself as having sexual urges at the very moment I became aware of thinking Lois Lane was pretty hot stuff.
I used to wonder how anyone who was straight could believe that some people chose not to be. Besides the sad fact that, as so many gay men and women have pointed out, choosing to be gay is practically suicidal and if they’d had the choice they’d have chosen to avoid the heartbreak, ostracism, loss of the love of parents and friends, and the attendant guilt and self-loathing that comes from believing, despite knowing better, you have become some sort of freak or devil, did these straight people believe they had made a choice themselves?
Was there are moment in junior high when they said to themselves, “Wow! Todd has such broad shoulders and he’s so big and strong and handsome I just want him to sweep me up into his arms but Susie has a great pair of knockers! Hmm…Shoulders? Knockers? Knockers? Shoulders?”
I’ve since come to understand that a lot of straight people are actually “straight” and they did have that debate with themselves. And they didn’t choose to be straight. They chose not to be gay or, rather, chose not to let anyone else know they were. They made the choice to force themselves to act heterosexual to the point of getting married to members of the opposite sex and having children with them.
“I can’t be gay if I’m somebody’s biological parent. Can I?”
Which offers an answer to the question right there.
In societies where homosexuality is taboo, anyone who wants to preserve his or her place in their society will “choose” to be heterosexual. Babies carrying a parent’s gay genes will get born.
The answer is, in effect, the closet.
It’s Ted Haggard and Larry Craig.
But there are some other untenable assumptions behind the question and any answer that isn’t some form of “the closet.”
One is that all genes are passed along generation to generation directly by people in whom those genes are manifest. Or, to put it simply, that parents with brown eyes will inevitably and only produce brown-eyed offspring.
A corollary to this is the assumption that people don’t carry any more genes than they need to be who and what they are, that brown-eyed people don’t carry any blue-eyed genes.
What’s not being assumed is what is in fact the case, that individuals carry pretty much every variation of human shape and form and style and pass those variations along, even the variations that haven’t shown up in generations, and that this can go on for many more generations before, with seeming inexplicability, a blue-eyed child is born into a family that had produced nothing but brown-eyed sons and daughters for hundreds of years.
Which is to say you don’t have to be gay yourself to pass along the gay gene (if there is such a single thing), just as you don’t have to be red-headed or left-handed and good at hitting baseballs yourself to have a red-headed, left-handed kid who grows up to lead the league in home runs, from which it follows that you don’t have to be straight to pass along the straight gene, and won’t a lot of homophobes be surprised as it becomes more accepted for gay people to marry and start families that openly gay couples who choose to have babies that carry their own genes will produce a generation of biological children that will include the same percentages of gay and straight people as the population at large?
Another untenable assumption behind the question is that people have always been able to choose whether or not to pass along their genes.
Which is just not true. Not for one half the population, at any rate.
To put it bluntly, for most of human history human females did not have much choice in whether or not they would bear children or even in who else’s genes their children would carry.
In many societies today they still don’t have much of a choice.
At any rate, this all boils down to saying that the gay gene or genes haven’t died out because straight people and gay people trying to be straight or forced to be straight in the limited sense of having to bear children have kept passing them along.
But there’s one more assumption, and that’s the one that had me thinking about Stephen Jay Gould.
It’s no use trying to answer the question as if there’s an evolutionary explanation for everything about us.
If you go looking for an evolutionary benefit to the survival of a gay gene, you are assuming that things always evolve to a purpose.
Now, from here on out, keep in mind that I’m not a biologist or a science journalist, and it’s been a long time since I read Ever Since Darwin and I wasn’t able to lay my hands on my packed-away-in-one-of-a-dozen-boxes-in-the-garage copies of it or The Panda's Thumb before sitting down to write this, and I first read them when I was young and naive myself and may be remembering it all wrong even if I understood it all correctly to begin with. This post is an attempt to remind myself what it is I do know and I’m counting on those of you who know better or understand these ideas more fully to correct me.
One of the first things I learned, or think I learned, from reading Gould’s essays is the concept of contingency.
Some things happen because they don’t get in the way of other things happening. They’re accidents without harmful consequences.
If I go to the store to buy a quart of milk and the clerk talks me into buying a lottery ticket that hits, it’s not the case that my buying a quart of milk made me a millionaire.
My becoming a millionaire was contingent upon my needing to buy milk.
Humans as a species hit the lottery when they figured out how to manipulate their world by using tools. They were able to use tools because they had opposable thumbs, but that doesn’t mean they evolved opposable thumbs in order to be able to use tools.
They didn’t have opposable thumbs because they used tools, they used tools because they had opposable thumbs. Tool using and tool making and all the craftsmanship and art and engineering that has followed since are contingent upon us having opposable thumbs.
And, looking at the fossil record, it appears that opposable thumbs themselves aren’t an evolutionary specialization but the record of a failure to specialize. Some early mammals failed to evolve wings or hooves or claws or fins and had to make do with hands.
Not everything about us evolved because it conferred a biological advantage. Some things evolved because there was no disadvantage. Human beings have been able to find a use for or an advantage in contingent features of our overall humanness. That’s what makes us human, the ability to make do, not the feature we’ve made do with.
We didn’t evolve in very specific ways to fit our niche. We don’t have a niche so we didn’t need to. That particular quirk in our make-up may be contingent upon a whole lot of evolutionary advantages or all our other advantages may be contingent upon it. We don’t know because we don’t have the genetic evidence yet.
What we can be fairly confident of is that that quirk meant that our early ancestors didn’t have to be quite so selective about what genes they handed down. A whole lot of things about us could survive without necessarily being among the “fittest.” The whole damn species could survive, has survived, while being obviously not among the “fittest.”
I’m using “fittest” here as most people understand it---or rather misunderstand it---and not as Darwin meant it.
Sullivan speculates that there might have been an advantage to a culture or a tribe or a family to having members who were not interested in bearing or raising children of their own:
They might help advance a society's education, or become spiritual leaders, or be warriors unaffected by the need to take care of a household.
I can see that.
I know a gay man who because he has no biological offspring of his own has been enlisted by quite a number of his straight friends as an uncle to their children. He is a teacher, a protector, a role-model, and a source of love and care to more children than I am, because he has more time and freedom to spread his love and protection around.
But that doesn’t mean that Uncle Merlin exists as a result of a specific evolutionary purpose.
It’s more likely the case that wise societies knew enough to take advantage of their Uncle Merlins.
We don’t know---yet---how it’s worked itself out on the genetic level. It may be that whatever gay gene there is, if there is a single, separate gene, is contingent upon some other more evolutionarily purposeful gene.
Very simply, the genes that give human beings the ability to make clothing may be sequenced with genes that give them the ability to take pleasure in making those clothes pretty, and if there’s no evolutionary advantage in being able to take that pleasure---and I’m not saying there’s not---there’s there’s no evolutionary disadvantage in it either, for the species or the individual.
Gay genes---gay human beings---may have survived despite the lack of inclination to pass those genes along in the usual fashion because there’s nothing to stop a human being who happens to carry those genes from surviving and thriving…except the interference of other human beings.
All in all, it was an interesting and lively time in the Mannion kitchen last night. I was impressed by how much the guys know already. Means their schools haven’t been falling down on the job of teaching science, for one thing. But I was also pleased at how comfortable they are living in a world that operates according to processes that can be figured out and explained and even directed by human beings, as opposed to one that exists by magic.
But I also couldn’t help shaking my head sadly over the fact that at other kitchen tables across the country similar discussions were taking place except that after the question, “Dad, if human beings hadn’t evolved, what sort of beings do you think would have taken our place as the intelligent life form on the planet?” the course of the conversation was set by the answer, “That would never have happened, son. God created people because he wanted someone to talk to and that’s why he made us in His image.”
And we know where that one is likely to go if the subject turns to the survival of a gay gene.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten linked to by some high profile sites, Memorandum, Crooks and Liars, Vanity Fair (Thanks B. Thanks, Jim) and as usual there’s been a spike in traffic for a couple of days after each one. Which is great. Welcome, new readers!
But by far the greater uptick in traffic is coming from links from email platforms. Almost all of it linking to the Model of a Modern U.S. President video. The traffic has been constant for well over a week. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years blogging.
I’m not sure what’s going on, but I think it’s something other than just lots of people are enjoying the video. When I posted it I suggested that it needed to go viral and I think it has.
I don’t think it’s a result of my suggestion. I think what I’m seeing is a demonstration of how things go viral.
Email is more effective than blogs for passing things along.
I’m sure people on our side know this. It’s how the Right communicates with itself. And it makes sense. Far more people read their own email than read blogs.
You might also have heard that he wants an apology from the woman. He also wants people to know that he had to stomp on her head because he has a back problem that prevented him from bending down to help his fellow thugs hold her down.
Appalling on the face of it, but there’s something else in what he says.
He says that the reason he had to take action against the woman is that the police weren’t. He apparently believes he and his buddies had the right to behave like goons if the cops won’t do the job they, the goons, think needs doing, which in this case was shutting up someone whose views and style of protest they didn’t like.
They’ve granted themselves the authority to decide who gets to exercise their civil rights and who doesn’t and to enforce their decisions with violence.
This op-ed by mild-mannered eugenicist and Social Darwinian Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve or How I Spent My Summer Vacation Proving I’ve Never Read a Thing by Stephen Jay Gould, has gotten a deserved fisking all around the blogosphere but I want to throw in my two cents.
Murray’s thesis, not explicitly stated, but clear enough is that there are such animules as Regular Murkins and these Regular Murkins are more real, more worthy, more anything good you care to list than all other Murkins, and the elitists who look down on the Regular Murkins and sneer do so at their own electoral and cultural peril. The Regular Murkins are tired of being looked down on and sneered at and they’re riled up, so watch it, you white wine drinking, Francophiliac, NPR supporting, liberal Irregular Murkins!
Murray, being a Republican propagandist and supporting the Republican agenda to deny all social services and societal and cultural goods and privileges to any one who doesn’t vote Republican, pretty much defines Regular Murkins in the good old Republican way. Socially conservative white folk living in the small towns and small cities of the Midwest and the South and the more rural and therefore more reliably Republican districts in otherwise Democratic states, excluding New York, California, and Massachusetts because as everyone knows nobody but big-city dwelling white wine swilling elitists live in those states.
Which is to say he defines Regular Murkins as a distinct minority among all Americans.
Far from spending their college years in a meritocratic melting pot, the New Elite spend school with people who are mostly just like them--which might not be so bad, except that so many of them have been ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth and have never been outside the bubble of privilege. Few of them grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live.
“…where more than a third of all Americans still live”?
See, Murray’s problem here is that if more or less of a third of all Americans live in small cities, towns, and rural areas, then more or less two thirds don’t! And---I’m glad to do the math for Murray---one third is significantly less than two thirds.
Murray’s thinking here is that people who grew up in places where the vast majority of Americans live are not authentically Murkin. Most Americans don’t live in America.
There are a few other qualifications for being a real Murkin by Murray’s lights. Watching Oprah, following NASCAR, taking a Carnival cruise, reading Left Behind novels, being an Evangelical Christian or having a friend or relative who is one, not going to college, working in a factory, belonging to the Rotary or the Kiwanis club.
I grew up in a small town and from what I have seen, this is correct: the members of Rotary and Kiwanis clubs tend to be fairly well-off and college-educated, small businessmen, etc. as opposed to blue-collar workers.
Doug’s post also includes some numbers Murray didn’t bother to gather for himself:
“Murray’s imaginary U.S.A.Time and again, this essay describes as “mainstream” or “quintessentially American” things that the vast majority of Americans don’t do: living in a small town (80% of Americans don’t), reading Harlequin romances (85% don’t), watching The Price Is Right or Oprah (more than 90% don’t), belonging to Rotary or Kiwanis (99+% belong to neither.)”
Which leads to a natural conclusion:
“It isn’t just “elites” who don’t do these things; the average person doesn’t do them. (Nor follow NASCAR.) They’re not even majority behaviors among the groups where they’re more prevalent: the rural-and-small-town, the poorly educated, the old. So Murray’s quarrel is actually with the REAL mainstream America, is it not?”
That’s what it sounds like, and that’s what it is in effect, but what Murray is trying to do Other-fy what he calls the New Elite who are implicitly smart, successful people who don’t happen to vote Republican.
As Andrew Sullivan points out, it’s the old Nixonian gambit of inciting middle class resentment towards people you suspect might be better than you or of at least having an easier and happier time of it than you are.
Murray defines his New Elite in a way that makes these elitists sound like as many Republicans I know as Democrats, upper middle class children of the suburbs with good college educations working in offices located in big cities and the exurban rings around them.
But he gives his Republican readers an out. They can fail to recognize themselves as members of the New Elite by falling for Murray’s appeal to a false egalitarianism. Republican elitists may not watch Oprah or read any Left Behind novels, they may take expensive vacations to fancy places, but they know better than to openly sneer at people who watch Oprah and read Left Behind novels and take whatever vacations they can manage in Orlando theme parks or aboard Carnival cruise ships.
Democrats and liberals sneer at these things, of course. (At Oprah? Really?) How do we know they sneer? Because we say they do. It’s a fairly consistent Right Wing habit of mind, treating an accusation you make because it flatters your vanity as though it’s an objective fact the people you accuse openly admit to.
Ok, not just Right Wingers are guilty of that one. That’s a weakness of human nature.
What it gets down to is that Murray is flattering the vanity of a vital block of Republican voters who are no more regular in their Americanness than any other Americans. In the same way Right Wingers got to feel like soldiers and Marines during the early days of the War in Iraq by talking up blood and death in the name of those doing the actual fighting and bleeding and dying, upper-class, college-educated, suburban and city-dwelling elitists whose ambitions for themselves and their children is to be members of the New Elite Murray appears to hold in contempt, can feel like salt of the earth working folk just by claiming sympathy with a thoroughly romanticized and safely distant class of real Murkins.
But I want to get back to this idea that real, regular Americans are only to be found in small towns and small cities in the South and Midwest and Republican-voting rural areas elsewhere.
This isn’t Murray’s invention. It’s the central tenant of Know-Nothingism in America.
“Real Americans, the only Americans whose votes and opinions and interests count are the Americans who are most like me. The ones who live where I live and live and think as I live and think!”
It’s the core belief of the Tea Party who are endlessly whining about how they’ve been shut out of the governing of their own country because they got outvoted in the last couple of national elections.
They won’t stop whining about it after Tuesday either. They feel shut out no matter how many elections they win because the very existence of people who are not like them and don’t want to be like them and are still happy and successful drives them insane with jealous rage.
This jealous rage extends to their religion.
Real Americans live where they live. Real Christians go to their churches.
Brooklyn was known as the "The City of Churches." And now, a century after its incorporation into New York City, it can still be called The Borough of Churches. Of course, I think, any of the boroughs comprising NYC can be called that. Between large stone edifices, smaller clap-board buildings, and store front using congregations, I think this city is awash with special, spirit filled spaces: Christian of all stripes, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and everything in between. Take a walk in any neighborhood and you find these spirit homes. This place compares very well to any little Southern berg for its spirit-filled people…
I get mad that places like NYC get portrayed as being not religious or not sufficiently religious compared to other areas, and this includes most of the Northeast and other so-called liberal areas. People are religious, period, in their own ways. It annoys me to no end that so many RTCs (as Fred Clark calls them) believe they have a lock on spirituality or religiousity.
Yeah, but most of those churches are Catholic and what do Jews and Muslims know about God anyway?
Besides, they’re New Yorkers, and we know what they’re like.
Woody, a Brooklyn native, said it:
Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.
Like I said, Murray didn’t invent this idea. And it’s not just a self-flattering delusion of the Right. Elitist media types have been pushing it for decades. Real Americans are white, Christian, Republicans living in the Midwest and the South.
Might as well be France.
And “Y’all” is a more American way to talk than “Youse guys.”
Today was the 40th anniversary of the first appearance of a cartoon called Bull Tales in the Yale Daily News.
It [began] with a character so sparsely drawn he barely exists, though you are intrigued immediately by the American football helmet he is wearing while sitting in an armchair.
He is joined by a scraggy-haired young man with a pencil for a nose and the letter O to represent his glasses. This is Michael Doonesbury and the helmeted football player is his new college roommate, BD. Little did their creator Garry Trudeau know when he sketched out that first awkward encounter between them, published on 26 October 1970, that he had just made comic history. Nor did he have any idea that he was embarking on a journey that would stretch into the indefinite future and that those scratchy beginnings would turn into a chronicle of modern times.
The only person for whom the house was in any way special was Arthur Dent, and that was only because it happened to be the one he lived in. He had lived in it for about three years, ever since he had moved out of London because it made him nervous and irritable. ---from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses have lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure… from The Hobbit: or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien.
“Nothing ever happens to me.”---Doctor John Watson.
Got a big kick out of Sherlock on PBS' Mystery! Sunday night and got another big kick out of it last night when I watched it again online. I’ll be writing about it, but right now I just want to mention how much I particularly enjoyed Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Watson.
I’ve always been happy to see youthful, intelligent, active, determined, and even dangerous Watsons, even before Jude Law got into the act. It’s the plodding, middle-aged Watsons I’ve always had to adjust to. Robert Duvall and James Mason were fine in their ways. But the only way I was able to accept the change from David Burke to Edward Hardwicke was to tell myself that Watson had been worn down by grief, care, and boredom during the three years he thought Holmes was dead. Conan Doyle’s stories seem very clear on this. Watson is a young, romantic adventurer and the only reason many of the refined lady clients Holmes is rude to stick around to continue to confide in him is they’re intrigued and charmed by Watson.
Watson needs to be young and active because Holmes is younger and more active and an older man just couldn’t keep up.
Before Jude Law met Robert Downey Jr, Ian Hart played a youngish and slightly raffish Watson to twodifferent properly youngish Sherlock Holmes.
So I wasn’t surprised to see an active, determined, and dangerous Watson. What took a little getting used to was seeing an active, determined, and dangerous Martin Freeman.
As the melancholy and passive-aggressive Tim on the British original of The Office and then as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, his biggest movie role to date (a bigger one’s on the way, and that’s where this post is actually headed), Freeman made a strong play to have his picture put in the dictionary as the illustration for the definition of diffident.
Activity, determination, and danger were present in those characters mainly as qualities Tim and Arthur hated themselves for lacking. Both men were moved to whatever degree of boldness they could manage by their love for smarter, braver, more active women who you had to suspect were attracted to them because they reminded them of puppies they’d loved when they were little girls.
Jude Law’s Watson has it well over Freeman’s Watson in the departments of activity, dangerousness, and charm. mainly because he exists in a Guy Ritchie universe---and because he’s played by Jude Law---but Freeman’s Arthur Dent is a lot farther away from Freeman’s Watson than Freeman’s Watson is from Jude Law.
So Freeman’s Arthur Dent did not prepare me for his Watson.
Think about it. How hobbit-like is it when you’re whizzing back and forth across the universe, bouncing through space and time, solving the secret of life, the universe, and everything, to have as the primary thought occupying your mind, “Where can I get a good cup of tea?”
Actually, Arthur and hobbits grew out of the same caricature of the non-London-dwelling, British middle-class. Dents and Bagginses are homebodies, live and let live sorts, who prefer the company of a small circle of friends and relatives, happy just to be warm, well-fed, and comfortable in their own homes, without any wish to go adventuring.
Arthur and Bilbo are yanked out their doors and set on their respective roads to adventure by forces beyond their control and that they never suspected existed.
The comparisons end there, except in identifying similarities in their roles as the main characters in archetypal heroes’ journeys, and those depend on which version of Arthur Dent we’re talking about, the Arthur of the books, the Arthur of the radio shows, the Arthur of the television mini-series, or the Arthur of the movie. Douglas Adams was constantly tinkering with his own story. Basically, however, Arthur and Bilbo are alike in learning that they have talents, skills, resources, and virtues they never knew they had because their previous quiet and boring lives didn’t require them.
Neither one completes the hero’s journey in unmitigated triumph. Bilbo’s task is left for Frodo to finish and it takes him three more books to finish it in.
But those similarities are the result of plot points, not character.
The difference between Arthur Dent and Bilbo Baggins is that although Arthur is like a Baggins, Bilbo isn’t. Not deep down. He has too much Took in him.
As I was saying, the mother of this hobbit---Bilbo Baggins, that is---was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river that ran at the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go go and have adventures. They discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer.
The uncontrollable force that yanks Bilbo out the door and sets him on the road to adventure is his own pride. He’s infuriated and roused to action when the dwarfs scoff that he’s up to the job Gandalf’s recommended him for.
There’s no Took in Arthur Dent. He’s pure Dent, through and through. Mr Prosser, the civil servant in charge of bulldozing Arthur’s house for a bypass, is tormented by memories of fire, violence, and blood he’s inherited from his distant ancestor Genghis Khan, but apparently Dents have spent millennia dreaming of tea.
When the situation demands it, Arthur is capable of acting heroically or at least bravely. But usually he deals with the situation by trying to reason with it or with whatever sentient being that’s brought the situation about and dragged Arthur into it.
Arthur’s typical line of argument is that since he, Arthur, has no business being where he is, does not want to be where he is, and is only where he is because of a galactic-sized mistake, he, Arthur, and the situation have no basis for engagement and they should part company immediately with he, Arthur, allowed to continue on his way unharmed and unbothered to find his way home. Which of course is part of the problem. Arthur can’t go home. His home and the planet where his home was have been obliterated to make way for an interstellar bypass.
Arthur never quite gets his head around the fact that the Earth has been destroyed. So he never adapts. He often makes do but he never resigns himself to things as they are. He persists in acting as if, if he walks far enough and in the right direction, he will eventually walk home. Which, in the books, he more or less does.
This is admirable, but it’s not heroic.
Bilbo, on the other hand, has no trouble adapting to life on the road to adventure.
He does a fair share of complaining and wishing he was back in the Shire, safe, warm, and well-fed in his hole at Bag’s End. But in his encounters with the trolls, with Golem, with the goblins, the spiders, the elves, and finally with Smaug, he’s active, resourceful, determined, and even dangerous. He quickly gets down to the business of saving day as if he was born to be a hero. Which, as Gandalf knew, he was.
And that brings me back to Freeman as Watson.
If his turn as Arthur Dent prepared me to see him as a hobbit---he even looks like a hobbit---now his Watson has prepared me to see him as a hero.
When we meet Watson in the first episode, A Study in Pink, he’s home from the war in Afghanistan and apparently wishing he’d never left for that particular adventure. But he soon shows that Mrs Hudson is wrong, he’s not the sit at home type. As one shadowy character says, correctly, “You are not haunted by the war, Dr Watson. You miss it.” This Watson is an adventurer by nature.
He may look like a Baggins. But there’s a lot of Took in him.
As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and carry a sword instead of a walking stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Then suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up…and he thought of plundering dragons…
The song that wakes up the Took in Watson and calls him to adventure has only one line, slightly rewritten for the series, and I’ll quote the original:
Quick trivia question. What was the only one of the Basil Rathbone Holmes movies that was set in Victorian England?
(Trivial update: I’m holding off publishing some comments on this one to give more folks a chance to answer the question. But actor212 and crayolathief reminded me that there are actually two Rathbones set in period. Only one of those, however, is a faithful adaptation of an original Doyle story and it’s the only one out of all the Rathbone movies that is.)
Lance Mannion and Mrs Blonde Mannion will be attending a dinner-dance to benefit the local public library this evening. The dance has a 1930s theme and guests are encouraged to dress in period attire.
Mrs Mannion wishes to announce that Mr Mannion will not be wearing a ratty old sport coat, worn out gaberdines, and beat up fedora and will definitely not be going from table to table doing his Humphrey Bogart impersonation and saying, “Can you help a fellow American down on his luck?”
I was rooting for the Rangers, mainly because my sister and her family live near Arlington and I think it would be swell if they get to go to a World Series game, but also because I just naturally root against he Yankees.
Naturally, hell. I enjoy rooting against the Yankees.
I don’t hate the Yankees, even though I’m a Mets fan and a Red Sox fan. I’ve never seen any cause for resentment in the fact that the Yankees have been consistently great and the Mets have been less consistently much less than great. And I became a Red Sox fan---that is my vague sympathies based on hero-worshipping Carl Yastrzemski when I was a kid solidified---when I was in college in Boston and the first games I went to at Fenway were games in which Yaz was closing in on his 3000th hit, and by that time both the Sox and the Yanks were well settled into what would turn out to be for both teams long periods of mediocrity. Much longer for the Yankees than for the Sox.
Sure, New York won the division the first two years I was a regular in the Fenway bleachers while Boston was lucky to finish ahead of Toronto and Cleveland. But it seemed ridiculous to blame the Yankees for Bob Stanley blowing saves against the Blue Jays and the Yankees lost the playoffs to the Royals and then the World Series against the Dodgers and in the process were already looking like a franchise that would not make a reappearance in the post-season for the next fourteen years.
For a short time, the rivalry came down to a debate over who was the better hitter, Mattingly or Boggs, and then suddenly the debate was over who was the better pitcher, Roger Clemens or Doc Gooden. It was 1986 and the Yankees weren’t worth the trouble of hating even if I could be bothered to notice them.
Come 1995 and I had watched both the Mets and the Red Sox rise and fall without the Yankees much mattering in any way, and now it was Don Mattingly’s last shot at a World Series ring and who could begrudge him that?
Besides, that Mariners-Yankees division series saved baseball.
Then the Yankees hired Joe Torre and put together a real team of happy warriors, instead of a collection of disgruntled mercenaries, and that’s when they became fun to root against.
It’s not fun to root against a team you hate and want to see crushed because it makes it hard to love it when they play good baseball, and I’m a baseball fan first, a team booster second. You know how you know when you’re a baseball fan? When you’re on your way somewhere and you happen to pass a ballpark where a little league game or a pickup game’s going on and you don’t know anybody on either team and you stop to watch.
There’s no crying in baseball. But there should be no hating either, because how can you hate a perfect throw or perfect pitch or a perfect at-bat? Hating’s for football. Football’s all about crushing the opponent. Baseball’s all about rooting for the miraculous to happen and then sitting back in awe and wonder with a big grin on your face when it does. And what does it matter then who brought the miraculous to pass? That ball, flying up into the night sky like that, and then carrying, carrying, carrying into the lights? Wasn’t that one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen?
Being a baseball fan is rooting to see perfection, but rooting against the Yankees, for me, is also about rooting against perfection too.
I want them to be good, I need them to be good, among the best there ever was, the best there ever will be, so that when they come up short I can say, “Sure you’re good. But nobody’s that good.”
I suppose it’s a way of forgiving myself for falling so far short of perfect all the time.
So, while I rooted for the Twins, I was glad when the Yankees won because it meant I could root against them against the Rangers. I was hoping to be able to root against them for at least one more game.
I thought that’s what I was hoping for, at any rate.
But when A-Rod struck out looking and I finished saying smugly to myself, “Sure you’re good. But nobody’s that good,” I suddenly felt disappointed.
No more rooting against perfection this season.
The Rangers are good, the Phillies are good, the Giants are sort of good, I guess. But none of them are that good.
By the way, I don’t have a Boston accent, but Yaz’s first name is pronounced Cahl.
Republicans are pretty up front about their hatred of big government.
It’s an old story. They want to drown it in a bathtub.
What they don’t like to talk about is why when they’ve had the chance to small-town the federal government, under Reagan, under Newt, under W., all of whom could claim mandates to start running the hot water in the tub, they didn’t do it and in fact did the opposite. The federal government, the payrolls, the debt, the deficits, grew under Reagan and Bush. Newt’s only move to rein things in was to try to impeach Bill Clinton who was actually engaged in reining things in.
They don’t seem to ever get asked why they haven’t offered any serious proposals to cut spending and shrink the government over the last two years either. They’ve been noisy about voting against any new spending by the Democrats. But that’s easy enough for them to do, considering they knew that most of what they ostensibly opposed was going to pass anyway.
Frankly, I think they were all a bit shocked when some of the spending measures they opposed didn’t pass because conservative Democrats wouldn’t get on board or President Snowe lost her nerve or Scott Brown couldn’t remember which of his two constituencies he was supposed to be serving that week, the Right Wingers who will primary him in 2012 if he doesn’t toe the line or the Democratic majority of Massachusetts voters who didn’t send him to the Senate in the first place and aren’t going to leave him there if he turns out to represent the GOP leadership more faithfully than he represents the Commonwealth.
The Republicans wanted their hands on that money. They just didn’t want to give the President credit for it.
That’s why they love the stimulus but can’t say so. Lots of federal bucks have flowed into their districts, but they can’t admit they’re glad or that it’s a good thing because that helps the President and the Democrats in the polls.
They don’t hate big government. They hate it that they’re not running it.
When Democrats and Liberals run the government, they tend to make decisions that are not necessarily in the best financial interests of the banksters and stockbrokers and corporate CEOs and the other greedy rich bastards who are the real Republican base, the Tea Party be damned.
Democrats and Liberals don’t always seem to keep in mind that the point of government, big or small, is to make rich people richer.
It’s been lost in all the shouting, but the bailout of Wall Street as originally proposed by a Republican President backed up by Republican Senators and Congressmen and their Presidential candidate and his running mate was a no-strings attached gift to the banksters.
If the Republicans had had their way, the banksters could have used the whole wad to give themselves even bigger bonuses and we would not be getting any of the money paid back.
Republicans like big government when they’re in charge because they can shovel all that money the Feds collect into the bank accounts of their friends, cronies, and corporate bosses.
That’s why they’ve never seriously tried to get rid of the Departments of Education and Energy, and why they’re not going to try if they take over the House this fall. There’s money to be made there, in the form of patronage jobs and contracts and rewritten regulations that help businesses rake in the dough.
That’s why earmarks are not going to disappear. In fact, they’ll likely increase, under a different, focus group-tested name, of course. We may---or at least those of us who live in their districts---get more direct stimulus money under the Republicans than the Democrats have been able to dish out, because they won’t oppose themselves and because they don’t care if all the money flowing into their districts is borrowed from China or if the projects they’ve earmarked for themselves will ever get paid for.
They won’t make a serious attempt to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act either. The parts of it they really hate, the parts that tell insurance companies they actually have to insure people and pay their medical bills when they get sick as they’re contractually obligated to, are far too popular, while the unpopular part of the Act, the government subsidized mandate, is the part they like, because it does what they believe big government exists to do, shovels money into the hands of their corporate friends and cronies.
The only big government program that’s endangered by a Republican victory in November is Social Security, and when it comes to that, some Republicans are motivated by the nebulous principle that individuals know better how to invest their money than do government bureaucrats, some are motivated by the same magical thinking that governs all their fuzzy thinking about economics---left to its own devices, totally free of government meddling, the invisible hand of the marketplace will make us all millionaires---and some are motivated by cultural memory, having inherited their grandfathers’ eighty year old grudge against Franklin Roosevelt. But most are motivated by avarice.
There’s all this money lying around that is not going straight into the pockets of their Wall Street pals and cronies.
They can’t stand it that they can’t get their mitts on it right away.
Privatization means: “GIVE US YOUR MONEY!”
No, Republicans love big government, even more than Democrats do.
Democrats are made somewhat ambivalent about it because they worry about how it’s all going to get paid for.
Republicans never worry about that. Either a Democratic President will come along to figure it all out and make himself unpopular in the process or the magic of the free market will make everything better.
At no point will they make themselves the least bit unpopular by seriously proposing cuts in spending or raising taxes.
So, it’s all good.
Conservatives, though, the principled small government types, don’t seem to see this. They think that their Republican friends have just lost sight of their conservative principles.
It hasn’t sunk in on them after 30 years that Republicans like big government because it can be made to serve the interests of Big Business.
And the reason, I think, that it hasn’t sunk in is that conservatives are blind to the existence of Big Business.
Conservatives---and keep in mind I’m talking about the small government types, not social conservatives, and not the reactionaries the Media allows to call themselves conservatives---small government conservatives think we can have a small government because in their minds we are still a small country of small towns, small farms, small locally owned businesses.
Conservatives think we’re still living in the 19th Century.
Luck and circumstance make us as different from who we might have been as cats are from dogs and birds are from bugs. There must be a point in paying attention to what goes on. My father’s fame falls into the one-in-a-zillion category. Had I told someone after my first series of breaks that I might go to Harvard Medical School, they would have upped my meds and cancelled my dayroom privileges.—Mark Vonnegut.
The psychotic state is a destructive process. A fire can’t burn that brightly without melting circuits. Making allowances for individual tolerances and intensity and duration of the breaks, complete functional recovery becomes increasingly unlikely much beyond eight or nine breaks. Fixed delusions, fears, loss of flexibility, loss of concrete thinking, and low stress tolerance make relationships, jobs, and family next to impossible and then impossible. The biggest risk factor in determining whether or not you have a nineteenth psychotic episode is having had the eighteenth.---Mark Vonnegut, again.
When I was ten I told my mother I wanted to kill myself. I was failing at school and sports and fighting every day and studying poisons. My mother told me that bright young idealistic people like myself were going to save the world. It was a successful play for time. Before I killed myself I should at least join forces with all the other suicidal ten year olds and give saving the world a try.---And one more time.
Parts Eight, Nine, and Ten of my series of broken-up posts, Small-towning the government, didn’t get written today. They’ll get written tomorrow. I interrupted myself to start reading a book that arrived in the morning mail.
Guess who wrote it.
Dr Mark Vonnegut is novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s son. The book is called Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So . Vonnegut, the doctor, is a pediatrician. He has a history of being other doctors’ patient. Those other doctors were psychiatrists. Vonnegut, the doctor, has struggled all his adult life with a mental illness that was first diagnosed as schizophrenia but now is seen to be enough like bipolar disorder to be called bipolar disorder except that Vonnegut doesn’t like to call it that because it’s not, quite.
Vonnegut suffered four psychotic breaks. Three in his early twenties, one in his late thirties, when he thought he was long past having to worry about another break. Now in his early sixties, twenty-five years since his last break, he never feels safely and securely and permanently sane.
Break number four, in 1985, came as a complete surprise and taught me once and for all that what I think is and isn’t going to happen doesn’t count for much. My friends and family and psychiatrist all think I’m doing well and won’t go crazy again, and I appreciate their optimism.
I spent the afternoon reading it. I’m going to go back to reading it when I’m done with this post. I’ll let you know if I like it all the way through as much as I’ve liked what I’ve read so far, which is a lot.
Introverts almost never cause me trouble and are usually much better at what they do than extroverts. Extroverts are too busy slapping one another on the back, team building, and making fun of introverts to get much done. Extroverts are amazed and baffled by how much introverts get done and assume they, the extroverts, are somehow actually responsible.---Mark Vonnegut, once more, with feeling.
Sadly, tragically, the last thirty or more years have shown that the multi-nationals and too big to fail banks have the resources, the will, and the ambition to buy up the Federal government and that there are plenty of politicians, mainly Republicans but also a critical number of Democrats, willing to sell it to them and at a discount too.
Business owners have always been adept at taking over local governments often simply by being the people who can most afford to devote the time to serving on the town and school boards.
And money has a way of buying respect and deference from people who ought to be storming your mansion with barrels of tar and sacks of feathers.
And anyone who objected too strongly to having their life made miserable by the owners they worked for or the shopkeepers they bought from could find themselves not only out of a job in a hurry but feared and despised by their friends and neighbors as troublemakers who might infect the whole town with their bad luck.
The only recourse for them would be to appeal to the next level of government up.
If the town board had been co-opted or corrupted, you could go to the county. If the county couldn’t or wouldn’t help, you went to the state. And if the state failed to help, you called on the feds.
Jefferson and the other founders saw this as one of the best rationales for a strong, centralized, national government, although they differed with each other about how strong.
A minority that felt itself oppressed by a local majority could aspire to become part of a different and more powerful majority by reaching out to sympathetic fellow citizens in other states.
Which is to say Jefferson and the others set up the mechanism by which the Civil Rights Movement succeeded.
But in a less grand and heroic but more usual way, people who objected to local businesses dumping their trash in their backyards, with the blessing or at least the acquiescence of the town board, could call in the state environmental protection agency or go right to the Federal EPA.
And, by the way, I’m getting to why Republicans want to drown the government in a bathtub. I’m just still dealing with the conservative belief in small government on principle.
To get back to where I started above. It was tricky enough when most people worked and shopped where they lived and the business owners and bosses were their friends and neighbors.
Money governed their lives and the people who controlled the money were their governors.
But nowadays few of us work where we live. The companies and concerns that we work for aren’t locally owned, often not even in the sense of being owned by other Americans. Our real bosses don’t live down the street or across town. They live thousands and thousands of miles away.
And the big box stores and the chain restaurants and mega-malls where we shop aren’t run by our friends and neighbors. Often they don’t even employ them. We deal with strangers and, not unusually, with a new set of strangers each and every time we go into a place to do business.
The money that governs our lives is greater by orders of magnitude, making the influence of the people who control it that much more powerful and insidious and threatening, because the people who control it and therefore the day to day running of our lives don’t have to answer to us as their friends and neighbors or to local governments which are without the resources or the reach to fight back on our behalf.
Imagine what the people of Louisiana and Mississippi could expect from BP if they had to depend on their local governments to get them redress.
The giant multi-nationals and too big to fail banks that control the money that governs our lives don’t have to worry about mayors and boards of selectmen. They can and do buy whole state legislatures.
The only governing body with the resources and the reach to fight back is the Federal Government. We need a Federal Government at least as strong as the big corporations to stand a chance.