I take the writing I do here seriously. I’m proud of it. Most days. And I think what I turn out qualifies me as a writer. But there will always be a part of me that doesn’t believe it. It’s not that I don’t believe blogging counts as writing. I just don’t think it’s the writing I should be doing. Maybe I’ve been reading too much T.C. Boyle and Thomas McGuane lately. Maybe I’m being haunted by the friendly ghost of Fred Busch. But I can’t help feeling this is the sort of thing I should be writing:
In a basement bar in Cambridge, down an alley, off the Square, R.J. Whittier liked to play chess, work on his dissertation, and drink a brand of beer brewed in Alsace-Lorraine.
The bar was a hang-out for grad students and local literary types who liked it because it offered them seventy-five cent drafts, dollar shots, and a space to read their work. Although it was below street-level, there was nothing cellar-like about the feel of the place. The owners had even refrained from giving it some clever subterranean name. It was warm and snug. A bright maplewood bar ran the length of one wall and a large open fireplace took up the whole of another. The round checker-clothed tables were packed so tightly together that there was barely room to squeeze sideways between them or space to shift a chair. A chess set with white and red pieces floated continually from table to table.
R.J. usually sat in the far corner, under the windows, which were at street level, right under the rafters, so that the shadows of people passing by on the sidewalk trudged endlessly back and forth across the pages of his notebook. R.J.'s dissertation examined Dante's influence on Joyce, and all this melancholy shuffling inspired him. It reminded him of Dante pitying the march of the damned across the sands of Malabolge. The irony of it appealed to him too, as the pages of his notebook were transformed into a blistering desert in hell.
He wrote completely absorbed in his work. He hated to be interrupted or to interrupt himself. If he filled up a notebook, he continued writing on whatever scrap of paper was at hand. This evening he was so wrapped up that when he covered the last page of his yellow legal pad, he didn't bother to hunt up a dry napkin or a matchbook or an old menu—he finished his notes right on the tablecloth. Then a friend, a poet, who wore a vest armored with campaign buttons and pins, sat down with a metallic clatter and the chessboard.
"Choose for white."
The poet had been drinking and was excited about a reading he was going to give later. R.J. dispatched him in eight moves. But he was as single-minded about chess as he was about his work. By the end of the disappointingly short game he'd forgotten what he'd been working on before the poet sat down. Then his watch alarm chimed and, in case he hadn't heard it, one of the waitresses, another friend, stopped by his table to remind him that it was his own private last call, time for him to go to his office and prepare his lecture for his class the next morning.
He swallowed his beer, slipped his notepad and books into his backpack, and took a last anxious look around. His habits of concentration were a mixed blessing and he lived in fear of the day when he would absent-mindedly leave a complete manuscript behind. The poet sat staring glumly at the chessboard, pondering his defeat. The board covered most of the tabletop. R.J.’s eyes swept the table but he saw only that the poet could have saved his queen by interposing a bishop.
Patting his jacket pockets, R.J. found his scarf and beret and put them on. The beret was a gift he had been too shy to give. It would have lain forever in his dresser drawer, wrapped in tissue paper, a souvenir of his cowardice attacking him every time he reached for a change of socks, had not his friend the waitress made him vain about the thinning circle of hair on his crown: One night, bending over his shoulder to pour him a beer, she had counted the freckles on his scalp. R.J. glanced at his chair, stooped a bit to see under the table, and, still not satisfied that he hadn't forgotten anything, shouldered his backpack and headed for the door.
The flight of stairs that led out of the bar was as narrow as a ship's gangplank, without room enough for two people to pass abreast, but the press of the crowd frustrated politeness. Traffic on the stairs did a perpetual stutter-step tango as patrons went up and down laterally, passing cheek to cheek, back to back, chest to shoulder blade. R.J. climbed the stairs one step at a time as the ascending and descending knots of customers danced their woozy ways up and down. He was not impatient with the slow progress because he hardly noticed it. He was busy untangling the hermeneutical threads in the horseflies and wasps of Canto Three. R.J. could dive deep into his own thoughts and swim among them happily for hours. But suddenly the uneasy feeling that he had left something behind hauled him to the surface. He stopped dead, his awareness rising at the very instant Isobel Klein was crushed up against him, and his hand, reaching into his jacket to check for his silver pen and pencil set, was pinned between Isobel’s breasts.
Like dolphins R.J.'s thoughts had to lift their backs every once and a while to breathe. Breaching to come eye to eye with Isobel, they took great gulps of her and heaved out of the sea of self-absorption.
The curls of her hair tickled the underside of his chin as she threw back her head and tried to say hello. But before she could get a word out, the people on the stairs behind her pushed her to move on. R.J. hesitated about chasing after her and in that moment of indecision the crowd caught him and carried him up the stairs and out the door.
He had always had a hard time believing in his own luck. Whenever fortune showed herself more kind than was her custom, it seemed so improbable to him that he dwelled on avoided alternative disasters to the point that imagined catastrophes seemed more real to him than any actual success and happiness struck him as a dream he would awake from shortly. Out in the alley it seemed much more plausible that he had not looked up at the right, lucky instant, had never felt Isobel's breast under his hand, had never heard her call him back. Achingly, he stared back at the doorway as if years and miles and not twelve steps kept them apart.
"Why are you grinning like an idiot?"
R.J. cocked his head, unsure of what direction the voice was calling from.
It’s the opening of a story called “Why Do You Hoard? Why Do You Squander?” I’m not sure when to date it. I wrote it when I was at the Writers Workshop, revised it pretty thoroughly shortly after I left Iowa, then rewrote it from top to bottom in 1992. Whenever it was, re-reading it tonight, it felt like I just left off and I could start right in on a new one, if I had world enough and time. If you’re interested, you can read the rest of it here.
Thank you to everyone coming over from Lawyers, Guns, & Money! I'm overwhelmed!
Saturday. May 30, 2015. New posts below but please read this before scrolling down.
I'm sorry to keep at this. As I've said, things are slowly getting better. Come the middle of June we'll be able to breathe easier. But it's going to be tricky till then and we can still use some help along the way. Mostly it's a matter of taking care of small bills and daily expenses while keeping enough on hand to buy groceries and pay the big stuff. Any little help towards that would be much appreciated.
Thank you once again to all who've donated. Thank you again to everyone for your understanding and patience. And thank you for reading the blog.
For those who prefer not to use PayPal, my snail mail address is PO Box 1197, New Paltz, NY 12561. And I like to get snail mail, so even if you can't swing a donation, please feel free to drop a line or send a post card, anytime, just to say hi. I even write back.
The [Young Directors Program] would be responsible for Diary of a Mad Housewife, American Graffiti, and the John Cassevetes film Minnie and Moskowitz. It also, however, funded Dennis Hopper’s ill-fated film The Last Movie, the tale of a stuntman who goes native while shooting a western on location in South America.
While filming The Last Movie in Peru, Hopper and crew landed knee-deep in some of the world’s finest cocaine and wound up going native themselves. The result was a drug-fueled sojourn that produced forty hours of film that took Hopper a year to edit down to an incomprehensible six-hour mess. Finally cut to a reasonable length, The Last Movie was released in 1971 and disappeared, along with the next decade of Hopper’s directorial career.
I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. The proper term for a Democrat who isn’t liberal enough isn’t Republican. It’s wrong.
A Republican isn't anyone to the left of Elizabeth Warren. A Republican isn't anyone who disagrees with you on this or that point of liberal orthodoxy. A Republican isn't anyone who proposes this particular law or opposes that particular policy. A Republican is someone who believes certain things about the way the country is supposed to work and strives and votes to bring that about, primarily and specifically this:
The country belongs to rich white men and all the benefits of living here should go to them first and foremost. The government's job is to protect and expand their interests, wealth, and power.
A Democrat believes the country belongs to all of us and we all should share in the benefits of living here. All of us includes rich white men. Sorry, it does. The government's job is to protect and expand those benefits. Which doesn't necessarily mean the government has to provide all those benefits itself. A good Democrat can be---should be---is---an enthusiastic champion of private enterprise. There are just some things the government has to do, some things the government is actually better at, and some things it’s better that the government takes care of rather than leave things to the vagaries of the marketplace and the tender mercies of, you know, thieves in nice suits.
It doesn't make a Democrat a Republican if he or she advocates a policy or an approach that Dwight Eisenhower would have approved of. Ike was a liberal Republican. Those don't exist anymore. Calling a Democrat a Republican because of a coincidental agreement with Eisenhower is like calling a Republican a Democrat for an agreement with George Wallace.
I don't like Andrew Cuomo. But my dislike is more personal than political. I think he's arrogant, petty, high-handed, and seemingly deliberately obnoxious. I think he puts what he wants ahead of considerations of what's best for the state and what the Democrats who elected him want. But that's not why I voted against him. It's why it gave me some spiteful satisfaction to vote against him, but I voted against him because I think he's not liberal enough. Not because he's not liberal, mind you. Not liberal enough for me. And I'll say it again. (So soon again already, Lance? Yes, so soon again already.) The proper term for a Democrat who is not liberal enough isn't Republican. It's wrong. And that leads to this. I voted against Andrew because I knew he would win anyway. If there'd been a real chance he'd lose and we'd wind up with a Republican governor, I'd have voted for him with enthusiasm. And not because I’d have seen him as the as the lesser of two evils. Because I like living in a state with a Democratic and liberal governor.
He doesn't stand where I think he should stand on every issue. His solutions to problems aren't always what I think are the best solutions. He's a little too concerned about the care and feeding of millionaires. And he's reflexively hostile to some representatives of Democratic constituencies who ought to be his allies.
To be fair, on that last point, this is New York. Everybody's corrupt here. Everybody. If they're not corrupted by money and power, they're corrupted by vanity and a too stubborn commitment to their political self-interests, and by the way, regarding the latter, don't get me started on Bill de Blasio. But one way or another everybody's corrupt and this makes everybody Cuomo has to deal with an obstacle not just to good and efficient and competent governance but to effective liberal government.
Cuomo has been an effective liberal governor, overall. Mainly in his not letting New York slide in the direction of Mississippi as so many states including formerly relatively liberal states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. In this he's had a lot of help from voters here who are apparently not as spiteful and self-destructive as voters in those other states. But he has not made any moves towards taking us that way---even if he has sometimes resisted taking us the other way, which is in that of an idealized Vermont or Massachusetts---and he has shown no sign he thinks that Mississippi is a good way to go.
He thinks and acts like a liberal and a Democrat in that most everything he does is based on the belief that it's the government's job to protect and expand the benefits of living here for everybody and, yes, again, that does include rich white men. The important point is that it does include everybody.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo visited a state prison Thursday to announce he’s hiring more guards, and to push for a change in how 16- and 17-year-olds are treated in the state prison system.
Governor Cuomo has been pressing the issue known as Raise the Age since his State of the State message in January. It would no longer treat 16- and 17-year-olds accused of violent crimes as adults, and instead house them in special detention centers separate from the adult state prison system. Cuomo, speaking at the Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, south of Albany, says only New York and North Carolina treat the teen offenders as adults. He says it’s wrong to put them in prison with often violent adults.
“This is not going to be a positive experience, and they’re not going to be associating with positive people,” Cuomo said. “In my opinion, it is too early to condemn a 16-year-old to a life without redemption.”
He added something.
Cuomo says it also costs money, because time spent in prison early in life leads to a higher recidivism rate, and more years in state custody, at an average price of $50,000 a year per inmate.
Being a liberal isn't a matter of pure sentiment. It's a matter of pragmatism.
There was also this:
While Assembly Democrats support the governor’s bill Senate Republicans have some disagreements. The measure would also require that 16- and 17-year-olds accused of felonies be dealt with in family court, not criminal court. Some GOP Senators object to that.
I'll bet they do.
We know what color a disproportionate percentage of young men in jail are. We know what conservatives think those teenagers who get in trouble with the law are. We know they think prison's too good for them and where they think they should end up, dead in the street.
When Cuomo starts talking like that, he'll be a Republican.
I still don't like him.
But if he runs for a third time, I may vote for him.
And, yes, you read between the lines correctly. This whole post was really about President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The governor is advocating legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 for many crimes. The move would spare more minors from adult prisons and jails.
Cuomo called on the Senate and Assembly to work out their differences on the issue and decide what level of crime should put teens in family court and which of the more serious offenses should keep them in adult courts and lockups.
"In my opinion, it is too early to condemn a 16-year-old to a life without redemption," Cuomo said. [Read.]
An epidemic of campus sexual assault is spreading across the country and shockingly, New York has more schools being investigated for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints than any other state.
Thousands of college students are affected by sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking each year. But what is often as damaging to victims as the crime itself is the practice by some college officials to try sweep reports of sexual assaults under the rug for fear the publicity will damage their institution's reputation if law enforcement is called to investigate.
Instead, sexual assaults are often inappropriately treated as campus disciplinary problems with minimal consequences for an offender. [Read.]
What Serge did not yet know was that Goldman had discovered his downloads ---of what appeared to be the code they used for proprietary high-speed stock market trading---just a few days earlier, even though Serge had sent himself the first batch of code months ago. They’d called the FBI in haste and had put McSwain through what amounted to a crash course in high-frequency trading and computer programming. McSwain later conceded that he didn’t seek out independent expert advice to study the code Serge Aleynikov had taken, or seek to find out why he might have taken it. “I relied on statement from Goldman employees,” he said. He had no idea himself of the value of the stolen code (“representatives from Goldman Sachs told me it was worth a lot of money”), or if any of it was actually all that special (“representatives of Goldman Sachs told us there were trade secrets in the code). The agent noted that the Goldman files were on both the personal computer and the thumb drive that he’d taken from Serge at Newark Airport, but he failed to note that the files remained unopened. (If they were so important, why hadn’t Serge looked at them in the month since he’d left Goldman?) The FBI’s investigation before the arrest consisted of Goldman explaining some extremely complicated stuff to McSwain that he admitted he did not fully understand---but trusted that Goldman did. Forty-eight hours after Goldman called the FBI, McSwain arrested Serge. Thus the only Goldman Sachs employee arrested by the FBI in the aftermath of a financial crisis Goldman had done so much to fuel was the employee Goldman asked the FBI to arrest.
It’s not a refutation of a conspiracy theory to call it a conspiracy theory. There are conspiracies. People get together and plot to do things together that they try to keep secret all the time. There are, however, a few things to consider when you’re arguing for your own pet conspiracy theory.
If your conspiracy theory depends on hundreds of people with conflicting interests and doubtful loyalties to each other knowingly telling the same big lie and keeping the secret over the course of years, your conspiracy theory is probably nuts.
If your conspiracy theory confirms everything you already believe or want to believe but don’t have any real proof for believing besides your own convictions and prejudices, you need re-think, everything: the conspiracy theory, what you believe, and your convictions and prejudices.
If your explanation for why no one else accepts your conspiracy theory is another conspiracy theory you should probably consider giving it up right there.
The knitting circle was back at Barnes & Noble tonight. One of their members specializes in little dolls and she made the barista’s Spider-Man assistant. At another table, a bible study group was meeting. Two white men, one in his thirties, the other in his late forties or early fifties, and a black woman in her late fifties. Her hair was pulled back in a loose bun and she wore a black sweater over a red top and an ankle-length blue floral print skirt and sandals. She held her purse on her thigh and kept one arm firmly on top of it as if guarding it from purse snatchers although nothing about her expression or demeanor said she was worried or fretful or suspicious or thinking about anything else but the conversation about which she looked serious but not solemn. The two men wore sport shirts, both light shades of green, though that was probably a coincidence. The older of the two men was leading the discussion. He had a bible open in front of him on the table with large squares of text highlighted in green. Now and then he would raise both hands over the pages and gesture to emphasize a point. The gestures were gentle and graceful, reassuring rather than didactic. He wore glasses with darkened lenses and sometimes took them off and held them professorially by the stems to look down through them and scan for a particular passage to help make his point. His lips were heavy and much darker than his face, more brown than pink, a contrast that didn’t look natural to me. That is it looked to me that something was not right with complexion, and it may not have been. He was completely bald, his scalp too smooth hairless in that way that says chemo not shaving.
The younger man had dark hair. His back was to me so I couldn’t make out much about him. The way he sat was suggestive. He was leaning far over to his left, his elbow on the railing of the breakwall separating the cafe from the rest of the store, as if trying to put distance between himself and the others. It was probably just him making himself comfortable but in a movie or a painting it would have been suggestive of his resistance to what was going on. The discussion was for his benefit. The other man and the woman were instructing him. Might be better to say they were giving him the benefit of their thoughts and experience. They were bringing him to church. I couldn’t hear what was being said although Jesus’ name kept coming up. In a matter of fact way, though, not as an admonition or a halleluiah. They spoke softly, without drama. They were earnest but not insistent, their voices calming, comforting, coaxing, helpful. Loving. Like I said, I couldn’t hear exactly what they said but it all sounded very…Christian.
There can be no honest reporting on American politics unless and until you folks in the political press acknowledge as one what the Republicans are up to.
It's an easy and straight-forward thing to do. You start by taking them at their word. They mean everything they say about shredding the social safety net, ending all entitlements---that includes Social Security and Medicare. Not reforming. Ending---cutting taxes on the rich to next to nothing, deregulating everything but the private behavior of the poor and women of all classes except the rich, outlawing---not restricting, making it a crime---abortion, privatizing every function of government in order to increase the opportunity for rich investors to get richer, and basically handing whatever's left of government services over to the states where they can be controlled by the local rich white male conservative elite.
They tell you and anybody who’ll listen they want to do those things and whenever and wherever they hold power they pass laws that will get those things done.
When they can, they undo things.
The rest of their effort and energy goes into preventing Democrats, all Democrats, but chiefly the one in the White House, from doing anything they deem "liberal".
That would be anything that does the least bit of good for anybody who isn't a member of the rich white male conservative elite, costs the elite money and power, and doesn't serve the elite's main interest which is acquiring more money and more power.
This isn't a revelation. They say this stuff all the time. They promise to do what they are in fact doing on the campaign trail. They introduce and pass legislation whose intended consequences are clearly stated.
You folks in the political press corps are loathe to report this because you're afraid it wouldn’t be “balanced” reporting.
You don't want to be accused of taking the Democrats' side.
But it's only taking the Democrats' side if you think the Republican side is wrong on the face of it. If you think unflinching obstructionism is wrong. If you think taking the country back to where the South was at the turn if the 20th Century is wrong. Republicans don't think any of that is wrong. Why should they complain if you report it? How is it taking sides if you report what one side says is their side of things?
Because it all sounds bad?
It sounds like something most people don't want?
It sounds like it would be bad for people and the country?
Well, if it sounds bad, then maybe it is bad.
That can be determined.
Determining it is called journalism.
And if you determine it's bad, then you should report that.
Balance and objectivity and honesty require you to.
You wouldn't report that a tornado blew through town, leveling whole blocks and leaving hundreds injured, homeless, and dead but some town officials argue that's a good thing.
The Republicans are that tornado.
People live and die because of what politicians do.
The Republicans are doing things that hurt people. They’re doing it on purpose and while stating it as their goal. Hurting people is intrinsic to their politics. It serves their purposes. It serves their interests. It makes them feel good.
Do your jobs.
Oh, you want to but you can't because Hillary won't talk to you? She won't answer your trivial questions about personality and process and ginned up pseudo-scandals and explain why you don't like her?
Cry me a river.
Every Republican running for President is promising to hurt people.
Every one of them is promising to take health insurance away from millions of people which means taking away their health care. It means leaving them to get sick, lose their jobs, go bankrupt, lose their homes, lose their lives! People die from not being able to go to the doctor or buy medicine.
Every one of them is promising to one way or another limit and take away women's rights to control their own bodies, health, economic lives, autonomy, and personal agency. Every one is promising to do all they can to prevent and undo marriage equality and find ways to let bigots discriminate legally.
Every one of them is promising to kick as many brown people out of the country as they can match jackboots to backsides and keep out twice as many more.
Every one of them is promising to take more benefits and aid away from the poor and unfortunate and increase the burdens of not having been born rich or remained lucky while increasing the benefits of already benefiting from having more money than God.
Every one of them is promising to end Medicare and Social Security. Again, yes, they are. Look at their plans for "saving" and "reforming" both. They all boil down to making sure neither will exist in any truly useful or helpful form for anyone now under 50 when they need them.
Every Republican is promising to do nothing about climate change which means letting the parts of the country that aren't going to dry up and burn and blow away drown under rising seas.
Every one of them is promising to do what he or she can to take us back into war in the Middle East, against ISIS, Iran, Syria, Islamofascists everywhere, or any combination of the above. Every one, that is, except Rand Paul, who is actually promising nothing about what he'll do about the Middle East as President. He's just making vaguely anti-war noises. The rest of them are clear: they’re looking forward to making a lot of people over there dead.
Basically, all of them are promising to do from the White House what Republicans are doing and trying to do in Congress and the state legislatures.
And every one is lying about what they're promising, adding to whatever destructive promise they make that they're not really saying what it sounds like they're saying, they don't really intend what it sounds like they’re intending, and even if they do what they're promising to do, by some miracle the opposite will actually happen. The poor will get rich. Social Security will be saved. Health insurance will become affordable for all and even the poorest of us will be able to buy gold plated policies.
The climate will heal itself. Individual liberty will expand. Peace will reign on earth.
Political reporters: You have no guaranteed “role.” That’s a fiction you and your colleagues created to keep the game the same every four years so you don’t have to go to school on how to be useful and powerful in the election system as it evolves. The fiction works if you can get the right people to believe it, but when they clearly don’t care about your “role in the process” how are you going to make ’em care? Got a plan for that?
Updated to tell you what I already told you. Every Republican running for President is promising to hurt people: Rick Santorum got into the race yesterday, apparently just to prove my point. One surprise. Santorum supports raising the minimum wage. As for everything else…
Came across this this afternoon while I was reading Mark Harris’ generally excellent chronicle of the adventures of a group famous Hollywood directors who put aside their moviemaking careers to enlist and go film World War II, Five Came Back:
In early 1944, after two years of war, the studios, which had become ever more deeply entangled with Washington, began, first gently and then forcefully, to reclaim their autonomy and to reassert themselves as servants of popular taste rather than of the national interest. In the months after Pearl Harbor, they had been quick to meet the government’s request for pictures about battlefield bravery and home-front sacrifice. But more and more, American moviegoers were turning away from war pictures and toward other genres for entertainment---musicals, comedies, religious epics like The Song of Bernadette, historical biographies like Madame Curie---or to pictures that exploited the war not as their primary subject but as a backdrop, at once topical and exotic, for foreign adventure or intrigue. In March 1944, the Best Picture Oscar went to Casablanca, in which the war was used to provide atmosphere and raise the stakes for romance. Some in the industry expressed surprise that a mere piece of genre entertainment could sweep past films that were thought to be either more hard-hitting or more high-minded, but the win for Casablanca reflected changing tastes both within the movie business and outside it; films that dealt directly with the realities of combat or global politics went home empty-handed, and were increasingly being ignored by audiences as well.
Don’t think I’ve ever thought of Casablanca this way. Using the war as “backdrop…for foreign adventure or intrigue” and to provide “atmosphere and raise the stakes for romance”? I know no one involved in making the movie thought they were making a “high-minded” masterpiece. But Casablanca is about more than whether or not Rick and Ilsa will get back together and I’d have thought that would have been clear to everyone involved and to audiences.
The question is will Rick save his soul by doing what needs to be done to help save the world from the Nazis.
“I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Ilsa also has put what’s right ahead of her personal happiness, although for her it’s not clear those two things are actually separate.
“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
Aw, you don’t want to sit here while I type quotes at you. Click on the photo to watch the scene.
The other movies Casablanca beat out for Best Picture that year included The Song of Bernadette and Madame Curie, but also The More the Merrier, which did use the war as a backdrop for romance and comedy, and The Human Comedy, a high-minded story about home-front sacrifice with a screenplay by William Saroyan. At the time of the Oscar ceremony Saroyan was overseas working with George Stevens, the Oscar-nominated director of The More the Merrier, filming the war in Europe as members of the Army Signal Corps, the both of them preparing to take cameras ashore at Normandy in June.
Of all the news feeds in all the Facebook pages in all the world, he has to comment on mine: Posted the link to this post on Facebook where an SU colleague, Andrew W. Cohen, left this comment:
As screenwriter Julius Epstein observed, "Casablanca," featured "more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there's nothing better." Which is another way of saying that Nazism made all the tired genre conventions of melodrama entirely fitting and powerful. Strasser really is evil. Laszlo really is good. And Rick and Elsa have truly difficult choices.
I’m shocked, shocked, that I forgot to include this first go-round: In case you missed it, here’s the link to my post from a little while back on how I showed Casablanca to my students, none of whom had seen it before: “You must remember this…”
Not really smart enough and don't really know enough high finance, the stock market, fiber optics, and computers to understand what's going on in Michael Lewis' Flash Boys but I sure feel smart reading it.
Reading along I’ll plow through passages that have me nodding along knowingly, causing me to say to myself things like, “So that’s how that works!” and “Ah, I see!” and “Well, of course!”, and then when I stop for the time being and put them book aside to think about what I’ve just read, I’ll realize I can’t explain any of it to myself. I knew it and then I didn’t know it anymore.
For instance, I felt smart reading this.
Apart from taking some large sum of money out of the market, and without taking risk or adding something of use to that market, Scalpers Inc. Had other, less intended consequences. Scalpers Inc. inserted itself into the middle of the stock market not just as an unnecessary middleman but as a middleman with incentives to introduce dysfunction into the stock market.
Scalpers Inc. is an invented company Lewis created to help illustrate how the scammers fleeced investors. That part I understand. The rest, not so much. I can't tell you now exactly how this incentivized dysfunction works to enable the front-running scams of the unscrupulous high-frequency traders gaming the system the main characters of Flash Boys are aiming to thwart.
I can, however, understand it as a way of describing what the Republicans have been up to in Washington for the last six and a half years. And probably I’m understanding it in light of having read this:
In a parliamentary system, legislative majorities govern, and those majorities are accountable for the results. Voters know who is governing and how to reward and punish. Our political system instead combines increasingly well-organized, parliamentary-style parties with a division of governmental powers. That dispersal of authority simultaneously makes governing difficult and accountability murky. It also creates opportunities for a party that is willing to cripple the governing process to gain power. And over the past generation, a radicalizing GOP has done precisely that, making American politics ever more dysfunctional while largely avoiding accountability for its actions.
Indeed, the most distinctive and damaging feature of Republicans’ right turn is that they have steadily ramped up the scale, intensity, and sophistication of their attacks on government and the party most closely associated with it.
Indeed, the most distinctive and damaging feature of Republicans’ right turn is that they have steadily ramped up the scale, intensity, and sophistication of their attacks on government and the party most closely associated with it. The legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls these tactics “constitutional hardball.” From between-census redistricting to open attempts at Democratic vote suppression, from repeated budget shutdowns to hostage-taking over the debt ceiling, from the routine use of the filibuster to block legislation and nominations to open attempts to cripple executive bodies already authorized by law, the GOP has become, in the apt words of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, “an insurgent outlier in American politics”—a party willing to tear down governance to gain larger majorities in government.
Appropriately for a party increasingly geared not to governing but to making governance impossible, the two leaders of this transformation were not in the White House but in Congress: Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. Gingrich liked to describe himself as a “transformative figure”—and he was. His political genius was to sense that if voter anxieties and anger could be directed at government and the majority party that ostensibly ran it, power would come. Achieving this goal required simultaneously ratcheting up dysfunction and disgust while more sharply distinguishing the GOP as the anti-government party.
So, yes, basically, Republican politicians have incentives to introduce dysfunction into the political system.
April 9, 2015. Elevn p.m. On the road home from Syracuse.
Matt Zoller Seitz visited our Wired Critics class this afternoon and as you can guess he had a lot to say. But before I let him say anything I had something I wanted to say to the class, along with something to show them: a scene from the original Star Wars.
It was the scene of Luke rushing home to the moisture farm to find that stormtroopers have killed his aunt and uncle and left their burned bodies on the doorstep. The scene's modeled on a scene from The Searchers, John Ford's great Western starring John Wayne as the vengeance obsessed Confederate Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards: Ethan and his adoptive nephew Martin return to the family's burning ranch and find that a Comanche raiding party has slaughtered Ethan's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, and carried off his nieces.
Here are the clips.
From The Searchers:
And Star Wars:
Reason I showed it was that last week we watched The Searchers. My students knew from their reading of Glenn Frankel's book The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend that the movie has had a considerable influence on succeeding generations of filmmakers and I wanted them to see that influence at work in a movie they all knew well.
The students were all revved up to hear Matt talk about Wes Anderson. For the course, they've read his book The Wes Anderson Collection and watched---re-watched most of them, some for the third and fourth time---The Grand Budapest Hotel. But of course Matt had some things to say himself about The Searchers and its influence and he rattled off a long list of films that referenced, quoted, paid homage to, and out stole from The Searchers, including one I hadn't thought of in that light before, Taxi Driver.
Matt pointed out that Travis Bickle's self-appointed mission to rescue the twelve year old prostitute Iris from a life of sexual degradation mirrors Ethan Edwards' quest to rescue his niece Debbie from what he sees as her defilement by the Comanches, the difference being that Travis believes Iris can be restored to a life of purity and Ethan believes Debbie is ruined forever and better off dead.
You want to get picky about it, that scene is not from the original Star Wars. It's from the DVD version of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the one put out in 2007 that George Lucas monkeyed around with and had Han shooting first. One of the scenes beside the shootout with Greedo he monkeyed around with was this one. He made the skeletons more vivid and gruesome.
I pointed out that in The Searchers we're not shown the bodies. Ford leaves the horror for our imaginations to conjure up. The look on John Wayne's face when he approaches the shed is enough to tell us we don't want to see what he knows he's going to find in there. Now, there are two things to consider when thinking about how much better and affecting the scene in The Searchers is.
One is that Lucas probably didn't feel he had the time to devote to his scene. He had to get across what happened and Luke's grief and horror in a hurry in order to get on with telling his action-adventure story, while Ford's story is about Ethan's grief and horror and the hate and desire for revenge that follow.
The other is that Ford couldn't show the bodies. Not in a realistic way. The times wouldn’t allow it. But the point is that there's a lesson for aspiring filmmakers and student critics in that. It's wonderful how much Ford and other directors of his era managed to do because of what they couldn't do. Reticence and restraint are artistic virtues. Indirection and suggestion can often accomplish more than the most detailed and lifelike cgi.
I quoted W.C. Fields on a key to comedy that can be applied to most any art: Whenever you feel the need to do more, do less.
Matt had something to say about that too.
The reason filmmakers of Lucas' generation, particularly in their early movies, did more was that they could do it. The times didn’t just allow it. They reveled in it. More and more graphic violence, more swearing, nudity, explicit sex. The filmmakers were testing limits and finding that there weren't many. In the process, though, they overdid. That's why there's a messiness, sense of self-indulgence, superfluity, and an apparent lack of discipline in their movies that I said I think dates their movies.
I don't mean dates as in marks them as having been made at a certain time. I mean makes them look dated.
Matt is more forgiving and tolerant of that aspect of 1970s filmmaking than I am, but he did bring up a movie that exemplifies the giving in to the temptation to excess---just for starters, the bad guys shove the hero's hand down a garbage disposal--- Rolling Thunder, which had a screenplay by Paul Schrader who also wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver. Rolling Thunder features more obvious and extended borrowings from The Searchers. That doesn't help make it a great movie. In fact, I was surprised Matt remembered it or had even seen it. I only remember it because it played at the movie theater where I was working.
But Matt sees everything and remembers everything and he can talk about it all in depth, with wit, with energy and enthusiasm in a way that can carry away a seminar room full of curious honors students with great, gaping holes in their knowledge of movies and cinematic and cultural history. Which is what happened in class today. It was Matt's show and I turned things over to him and right away he and the students moved on to talking about all sorts of things and not only or even mainly things concerning Wes Anderson.
I knew that would be how it would go. It's why I invited Matt in. So I was pleased. A good time was had by all. But a part of me kept hoping the discussion would circle back to The Searchers and was hard at work concocting ways that would do that. There were some questions I wanted to ask my students, questions I didn't have a chance to ask them last week because the movie took up most of our class time and won't get to ask them next week because we're not meeting as a class. They've got individual appointments with me to discuss their upcoming final essays. Week after that is our last class meeting and the whole time will be devoted to their filling out course evaluations and our watching Bringing Up Baby and having pizza.
What I'd like to ask them is: What did they make of John Wayne? Not just in the role of Ethan Edwards but as an actor? And what did they make of The Searchers? Did they see it as a movie or did they see it as a Western? Did they know what a Western looked like?
I know from the discussions we have had that they know who John Wayne was and are at least conversant with what's behind his status as a movie and cultural icon. But none of them could remember ever having seen even one of his films. And while all of them were pretty sure they'd seen some classic Westerns on TV when they were kids, the only Westerns any of them were sure they'd seen and could not just name but discuss in any detail were True Grit---the Coen Brothers' version---Django Unchained---I didn't dare get into it---The Lone Ranger, and Rango.
Rango is a good Western, in case you haven't seen it, in the way Galaxy Quest is a good Star Trek movie and Young Frankenstein's a great Frankenstein movie.
And of course you have to wonder how they would have seen any other Westerns. Most of their "old" movie watching is what streams on Netflix and Netflix is woefully lacking in pre-1980s classics of any kind. And the only good Westerns I can think of from the last 30 years are Silverado,Tombstone,Unforgiven,Wild Bill, 3:10 to Yuma, the Coens' True Grit, and a little-known, little-seen unpolished gem starring Pierce Bronson and Liam Neeson called Seraphim Falls.
The best Westerns of the last thirty-odd years were all on television: Lonesome Dove, The Streets of Laredo, Deadwood, and Justified, which doesn't bother to hide the fact it's a Western with cars and cell phones. My students haven't seen any of them.
They're familiar with the tropes and clichés and recognize them when they see them in non-Western movies and TV shows, but I wonder if they truly know what they're seeing.
What imagery and memories are conjured up?
What would that be like?
Seeing The Searchers for the first time without that stuff cluttering up your imagination?
Did they even see it as a Western? Did it strike them as a any period piece might? And how about John Wayne? What was it like to see him for the first time as the great movie actor and star he was without having to look past all the prejudice, biases, politics, gossip, and jokes that got in the way when I was their age?
Is it even possible to see The Searchers and Wayne as Ethan Edwards this way?
Ford knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn't making an anti-Western or a revisionist one. He was making what he considered an essential one. The Searchers is a crash course in the Western both as a genre and as the story of the America's idea of itself at the middle of the 20th Century. He had to do that in order to question both the genre and the idea. And he knew what he was doing casting Wayne as Ethan instead of his other favorite leading man, Henry Fonda. Fonda might have been too good in the part. He might have made Ethan too much himself---that is Ethan's self---and given us too few traces of Fonda the good guy's good guy. In short, Fonda's Ethan might have been too straight-forwardly and obviously an anti-hero, like his Colonel Owen Thursday in Ford's Fort Apache.
But with Wayne Ford could do something more daring and subversive. He could use Wayne himself to suggest that there was always something dark at the heart of Wayne's type of Western hero, which is to say at the heart of all Western heroes and so at the heart of America's sense of itself as a heroic nation. With Wayne in the part, Ford could make Ethan a hero while suggesting that a hero could also be a villain at the same time.
Anyway, the only way I can get my students' to answer my questions is to make them write about it, and they've already got enough to write about over the three and a half weeks that remain in the semester, starting with what single, specific thing Matt's visit got them really thinking. I'm looking forward to reading their answers to that. Be interesting to see what they each focused on. Lots to chose from. I filled up a dozen pages of my own notebook.
But I guess I just gave you my answer if I was a student in my own class.
Lots of assigned reading to go with this post. You have to work hard to get an A in this blog.
Tuesday. May 26, 2015. New posts below but please read this before scrolling down.
I'm sorry to have to keep this up. As I've said, things are slowly getting better. Come the middle of June we'll be able to breathe a lot easier. But it's going to be tricky till then and we can still use some help along the way. Mostly a matter of taking care of small bills and daily expenses so we have enough on hand to pay the big stuff. Today, for example, it's the co-pays on all 5 of my prescriptions which have all run out at once. Comes to about $35.
Thanks once again to all who've donated to the fundraising drive. And once again, please forgive me for keeping this up. I'm the world's luckiest blogger in having so many loyal and generous readers.
It's easy to be socially liberal but fiscally conservative if what you mean by it is "I'm in favor of myself, my family, and my friends being able to enjoy certain rights, freedoms, privileges, and benefits that come from living in an enlightened and tolerant democratic nation and of our being able to pursue our individual dreams of happiness in our own chosen ways, and I'm happy to let others have all that and be able to do that as long as they pay their own way and don't ask me to chip in any of my tax money to help them out."
Which is, of course, what most people who describe themselves as social liberals but fiscal conservatives mean.
If you come from the right background and belong to the right class and live in the right place and travel in the right circles, being socially liberal means living exactly as you're already living. And it doesn't cost you anything.
People calling themselves social liberals but fiscal conservatives want credit for being open-minded but hard-headed. “I'm enlightened, I'm tolerant, but I'm no sap. I know the piper has to be paid.”
But how liberal is it to want your wife to have her law career but not care that thousands of other women are working three minimum wage jobs to put food on their families' tables? How liberal is it to want your daughter to have access to an abortion but don't care the millions of other people's children can't see a doctor for a regular checkup? How liberal is it if you want your son to be able to marry his partner but don't care if millions of other young men can't afford to have families of their own because they can't find decent jobs, because they couldn't go to college or even finish high school because their neighborhood schools were disasters? How liberal is it if you don't mind what color the professionals living next door in your pretty and safe suburban neighborhood of McMansions are if you don't care that the neighborhoods where millions of people of color are forced by poverty, bad luck, and racism to live are falling apart?
That's not open-minded, that's self-centeredness. It's not hard-headedness, it's hard-heartedness. Socially liberal but fiscally conservative is meant to be a boast of paired virtues.But that's not what it is. It's a confession of a double vice.
But beside that, whatever it is socially or fiscally, politically it's meaningless. People who describe themselves that way tend to vote Republican and the Republican Party these days is anything but socially liberal. Just the opposite. It is actively and aggressively at work trying to reverse all socially liberal advances of the last 50 years. Meanwhile its economic agenda isn't even conservative. It isn't designed to save taxpayers money. It doesn't save them money. It saves corporations and the very rich tax money. But the rest of us pay more to make up for their savings and not just in increased taxes. It costs us in services and benefits. It costs us in increased prices (which are really hidden taxes) for things like drivers licenses and entrance fees at national parks. It costs us more for health care and college tuition and heating our homes and driving our cars. Spending doesn't go down. The bills are paid in different ways. Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn't fiscally conservative. It's a Ponzi scheme.
More to the point, the intent of the Republicans' economic policies isn't just to direct more money into the pockets of the rich. It is to take money and with it the power to control our own lives and pursue our own individual dreams of happiness away from the rest of us.
Both their social and economic agendas are intended to make this a socially illiberal nation.
You can't be socially liberal and fiscally conservative if you vote Republican. You can only be socially illiberal and fiscally hypocritical and unjust.
Over at Salon, Greta Christina puts it this way. You can't be socially liberal and fiscally conservative because fiscal conservatism is in practice destructive of a liberal society.
You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.
As I said in yesterday’s post, “It’s On Me”: How a free bag of bagels can expand and enrich the world, I now have a reason to go to Saugerties where I haven’t been except to pass through on my way somewhere else since July 2011. And then I didn’t spend much time in town. Instead I made my way down to where Esopus Creek empties into the Hudson River and went exploring out by the lighthouse there.
This is a view from the lighthouse keeper’s front porch. Well, it would be if there still was a lighthouse keeper. What there is is an innkeeper. It’s a bed and breakfast now.
By the way, following up on the previous post, bagels were on the house this morning or on the manager of the bakery department at the supermarket. I don't know exactly how those might be the same thing, if the bakery manager can just flat out comp items and it shows up on the store's overall ledgers (r whatever the term is for whatever software has replaced actual ledgers) as a routine cost of doing a day's business that no accountants (or sentience-mimicking algorithms) flag unless there's an unusual number if them or if she has a department budget to take care of that she has to adhere to. I didn't think to ask. I was too busy enjoying the new fact that I did learn about the grocery business.
The supermarket doesn't make its own bagels.
This information came as a surprise to me. The store bakes and prepares so much on the premises that I'd just taken it for granted the bagels were made there along with the cookies, cakes, pies, donuts, and bread. I didn't just wander in from the 19th Century. I knew a lot of what's baked in the store's ovens isn't prepared there. I just assumed the bagel shaped pieces of frozen dough arrived on the same trucks. This is why I was talking to the bakery manager to begin with.
I was mad there were no bagels ready to buy.
The cases were well-stocked with donuts, muffins, croissants, sweet rolls, and sticky buns. But the tiers of racks that normally display bagels displayed nothing but yesterday's crumbs.
What gives? I said to myself as I stared in dismay and the bagel-less void. And, by the way, I do still say What gives and not What the F---? Sometimes, if I'm really provoked I'll say What the hell? It's not that I learned to watch my language from Cap ---except that I probably did learn it from Cap as much as from my mother and the nuns---it's that I save my serious cursing and swearing for driving and home repair. And also by the way? I can say things like What gives in a way and with a look that can make you feel like you just got a four minute dressing down from a Marine Corps drill instructor. Which is why I really try to be careful when I'm out in public and faced with a calamity like a supermarket bakery that's out of bagels at seven thirty on a Saturday morning, only thirty minutes after the doors opened.
So I was careful when I went over and said to the teenager working behind the counter (where I could see trays of donut and bun shaped dough but no bagel shaped dough stacked on rolling carts ready to go in the oven) "Pardon me, miss, but what gives?"
Or words to that effect.
"Our delivery's late," she said brightly but apologetically.
"Yes. They're coming from Saugerties?"
Saugerties is about forty-five minutes north up the Thruway from here.
This news almost elicited a What the hell?
"You don't make them here?" Another by the way, staring at the items waiting for the oven and past them into what I was now noticing was a rather small workspace with no large vats to boil bagels and donuts in or much counter space on which to roll out dough and as far as I could see no pie plates, cake pans, or muffin tins, I was beginning to feel as if I had wandered in from the 19th Century and was rather stupid about the way the world works in 2015.
"You make your bagels in Saugerties?" By you I meant the supermarket chain. I was now thinking the chain had a flagship store with a real and really big bakery where goods for all the other stores in the chain were prepared. The counter girl knew what I meant.
"We don't. We get them from Lox of Bagels." She seemed to take it for granted that of course I'd heard of Lox of Bagels and would be impressed by the news. And she anticipated my next question. "They make the bagels for all our stores. I don't know what's going on. They're usually here by now." I was about to ask if she knew if the truck was on its way and if I should bother waiting but she was ahead of me again "I'm surprised they haven't called. We have other bagels though."
She waved a clear plastic gloved hand at a display table behind me. My heart sank. I didn't want factory made bagels. I wanted bagels fresh from Lox of Bagels now that I knew there was such a place as Lox of Bagels.
Technically, bagels from Lox of Bagels are factory made. Lox of Bagels would have to operate a factory to supply all the places I've now learned from looking at their website they supply in addition to the stores in this chain. But you know what I mean.
Turned out, the "other bagels" looked like day old bagels bagged for sale by the half dozen. It was as I was discovering this that the bakery manager appeared to ask if she could help. She must have been within earshot because she knew my problem without my having to explain. She confirmed that these other bagels were from Lox of Bagels and without my even thinking of it she offered to comp a bag. "They're on me," she said.
I was grateful of course and said so but, I added, thinking, I might not take her up on the offer and either wait around for the delivery, or try someplace else---there's an actual bagel shop out of range of our house but not too far from the supermarket so I was halfway there---the trouble was the bagels were bagged according to kind and we Mannions each likes a different kind.
Oh, we can take care of that, she said cheerfully, and after finding out what four kinds of bagels we liked best, she took a bag of each over to the counter and told the girl how to rebag them and then to write “It's On Me” on a blank price sticker. And that's what she did and that's how I got my free bagels.
This might seem like a long, pointless story and what do you car that I saved five bucks on breakfast? But as those of you who put up with me regularly I've always got a point or several points, it just takes me a while to get around to them.
The point here is this. I got far more than free bagels out of this trip to the store.
I got my world expanded and enriched.
First, a couple of quick, practical lessons.
Lesson One is for smart shoppers: always ask. Ask politely and with a smile but as if you expect a helpful answer for which you are already grateful. And keep in mind that the person your asking is almost certainly not responsible for the problem and has little or no power to solve it for you. Also keep in mind the commandment Try not to make anybody's day worse than it probably already is.
Lesson Two is for businesses that depend on live human beings doing business with them. Human beings like dealing with other human beings. Good live human being employees aren't just a cost to be controlled, they are a resource and an actual part of what you're selling which is not just a product, it's a service and a social good as well as a material one---you are providing society with things that help keep it going. Feeling part of that is what makes customers loyal. Buying your product should feel like taking part in that. This makes good human employees worth keeping around And worth paying well. The bakery manager and the counter girl earned their pay by keeping me from walking out of the store grumbling---and possibly never coming back, at least not for bagels, because I can't stand the thought of that disappointment occurring randomly any Saturday morning the Mannions are hungry for bagels---and if I had walked out I'd have done so without the can of coffee and the cream cheese I was also there to buy.
Now, the way my world has been expanded and enriched.
I now know about Lox of Bagels.
This puts Saugerties on my personal map and makes it part of my neighborhood.
Lox of Bagels is a restaurant as well as a factory. Forty miles is normally a little far to go for a bagel and a cup of coffee and up until now Saugerties has not been a regular visit. I've passed through the village a number of times but I I think I've gone there twice for its own sake in the coming up on twelve years we've lived here. But I pass by it frequently on the way to and from Syracuse and I now intend to make Lox of Bagels one of my breakfast stops.
They have WiFi!
I’m always impressed by that. Maybe I did just wander in from the 19th Century.
Something more I got out of my dealings with the bakery manager and the countergirl. The pleasure of the company of two live and cheerful and helpful human beings. Three, actually. There's also the cashier to consider. To get my free bagels I had to take them to a cashier to ring up (or not ring up but enter in the system some way). If I'd had to pay for them then when I got to the register and saw the long line I'd have probably used the self checkout. So along with gaining some useful knowledge---about where I live and shop but also about Tom and Brad and Kim and Margaret Thatcher---I got to enjoy the pleasure of the cashier's company too.
And that's one of the reasons we're all here, isn't, one of the goods we do for each other---give each other company?
Something else could have happened today. I could have gotten out of the supermarket without meaningful contact with any live human beings. The store is even set up for that to happen. If the truck from Lox of Bagels had been on-time and the case was stocked with bagels, I’d have just gone in, picked out two plains, a sesame, and a cinnamon raisin and bagged them for myself, taken them to the self-checkout because of the long lines resulting from the store not wanting to incur the cost of paying the second cashier they needed for an hour of work---that’s what the self-checkouts are for---and been done and out the door with no live human being knowing or caring I was there and no need for me to acknowledge or care there were other live human beings around me.
This is the way more and more businesses are trying to make the world work.
Early morning bagel run. Turns out the supermarket has only one cashier on duty between seven and eight Saturday mornings because, today’s one cashier told me when I finally got to the register, it’s usually very slow at this time. Hardly any traffic, she said. Today was not usual. So I had a lot of time to read the covers of the tabloids and gossip magazines. Did you know Brad is a secret bisexual? And Scott’s slept with Kim’s sisters? And Tom isn’t Suri’s real father? That last one’s Hollywood’s biggest scandal ever.
Wasn’t all gossip and scandal though. This month’s issue of LIFE is devoted to “100 Women Who Changed the World”. The photos on the cover weren’t of all one hundred but included Princess Diana, Oprah, Malala Yousafzai , Eleanor Roosevelt, Mo’ne Davis, Gloria Steinham, Anne Frank, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher, Babe Didrikson, and Mary. Yes, that Mary.
One of those women is not like the others.
Leaving aside the strange case of Mother Teresa, on whom the jury is still out, all but that one made or has made or is making the world a better, nicer, more hopeful and more humane place to live.
Margaret Thatcher did her best to make it a nastier place.
Along with Ronald Reagan, Thatcher helped convince a generation of young men that the measure of toughness and strong leadership is how cruel you can be to the weak and powerless.
That generation is now in charge in Great Britain and the United States.
Goldfinch making a dash in its bobbing-flighted way from the neighbor's feeder to a spruce tree on the other side of the yard catches the sunlight just right as it crosses out of the shadows and its feathers flash a brilliant crayon yellow.
I'm not sure what Rand Paul himself thinks he was up to with with his filibuster that wasn't really a filibuster but I can't help feeling he was up to no good. This is my default position when it comes to Rand Paul. Even when he seems to be doing good he's up to no good.
This is based on my basic dislike of the man. He's not a good guy. He's the enemy of women, of gay people, of immigrants, and of the disabled. And by the way and I can't stress this enough, Fuck you, Rand Paul.
But it's also based on my antipathy to what is called with a complete disregard for the language and the meaning of words and the ultimate effect of the thing itself Libertarianism.
What I believe Rand Paul doesn't like about the Patriot Act generally and the NSA's bulk collection of phone records data particularly is that white guys like him are getting spied on. It's of a piece with his belief that straight white men should be bound by no rules, no obligations, responsibilities, duties, or even ordinary common courtesies except those few by which they deign to bind themselves by voluntarily out of “enlightened” self-interest and the goodness of their hard little hearts. As for those, the fewer the better and even expecting that of them is tyranny.
This is especially true when the rules, obligations, responsibilities, duties, and courtesies get in the way of their making and keeping a buck or having a good time spending those bucks however they wish.
This is why he's a hero to the Tea Party types with their Don't Tread On Me Gadsden flags and You're Not Entitled to My Paycheck bumper stickers and Keep the Government Out of My Medicare placards and Take Our Country Back rallying cries and their whiny, resentful, fundamentally adolescent attitude: "This is my country, I'm free to do and say whatever I like. You're not the boss of me!" They think they'll be included in the Libertarian Utopia.
They need to read Atlas Shrugged.
The world belongs to the makers, the real makers, the ones who make gobs and gobs of money, the owners and bosses of the big corporations and the bankers and Wall Street Vandals and Visigoths, and there are very few of them relative to the rest of us. They're the ones who get to live by their own rules and they're the ones who get to set the rules for the rest of us parasites. And the rules are harsh and strictly enforced even if they’re not set by the government. The owners and bosses keep us in line by threatening to take away our paychecks and leave us to starve. That's the force and the point behind John Galt's strike. We'd starve if they decided it wasn't worth it to them to let us eat. So we should shut up, stop complaining, keep our heads down and work, work, work to make them rich, abjectly grateful for whatever pay and benefits they feel obligated, responsible, duty-bound, or self-interestedly inclined to bestow.
In other words, we are at their mercy.
This is what I believe Rand Paul's filibuster was intended to help bring about because it was intended help get him elected President. It was a campaign ad. And this is why I can never stand with Rand. Even when he seems to be doing good, he's up to no good.