Nothing---NOTHING---you think Hillary Clinton has done that’s unethical or criminal or---the worst sin in your eyes---just plain Clintonesque compares to the way every single Republican candidate kowtows to the NRA, an organization of sociopaths, arrested adolescents, weak and impotent middle-aged men compensating for various physical and emotional inadequacies, and narcissistic fantasists who believe their individual right to own any and as many guns they want is more important than the lives of thousands of other people.
And if you don’t see the Republican response to mass shootings like yesterday’s as more proof that the Party has lost its collective minds, then you are either deluding yourself, stupid, out of your own mind, or in some Republican’s pocket in one way or another.
Finally, if you spend today and the rest of the weekend talking only or mainly about Clinton’s email and what it means for her chances to become President, then you are depraved.
You can categorize your own brand of geekitude by whether the title of this post made you think of Herman Melville or Star Trek or both.
Late this afternoon, after we’d set up our chairs and towels on a high spot on the beach at Nauset, I spotted a white-hulled sailboat far out on the horizon. The rest of our gang rushed headlong towards the water to throw themselves into the breaking waves but I stayed put with my binoculars, thinking that a closer look would show me that another Edward Hopper painting had come to life for a moment.
Today happens to be Hopper’s birthday---he’d have been a hundred and eighteen---and it would have been a nice coincidence if it was one of his sailboats hauling by.
But just as I got my sights trained on the boat something black and rounded broke the surface in the foreground. It rose with a splash and disappeared with another toss of white foam and I thought:
Whatever it was broke the water again. And disappeared. I swept the binoculars back and forth and found whatever it was just as it came up another time but I couldn’t hold it in my line of sight. Couldn’t be a whale, I decided, though, not this close in. I thought:
And I tucked the binoculars in their case and the case in our beach bag and sauntered down to the water to think about a swim.
A while later, having thought my way into the fifty-seven degree water up to my waist and having had a wave breaking over my shoulders make up my mind to dive all the way in for me, I was swimming along, contentedly numb to the cold, when I suddenly felt all alone in the water. I looked towards shore and saw lines of people standing along the berm at the high point of the beach, looking intently and pointing out to sea.
By this time I had forgotten my own earlier thought that I’d spotted a whale. I figured these people were watching a return of the seal. But then they seemed a little too rapt. Seals are fun, but they’ve become common enough that they shouldn’t enrapture a whole crowd like this. I thought:
You might recall that some Great Whites have been causing consternation around the Cape lately. Nauset Beach was closed one day last week because a shark swam by. The snack stand now sells t-shirts that say “Let’s Do Lunch” with a cartoon of a grinning shark leaning on the lettering.
But if there are sharks, I said to myself, sensibly, wouldn’t there be screaming? And the lifeguards would be acting concerned and waving for me to get out of the water, wouldn’t they?
I turned around to see what the crowd was looking at and took a wave smack in the mush.
After I came up for air and cleared my eyes and mouth of salt water, I trudged up the beach to our spot and dug the binoculars out of the beach bag.
I got them focused just in time to see a long white flipper lift itself out of the water, wave, slap the water, and disappear.
But Uncle Merlin already had his binoculars out and was sharing them with the blonde and the young men Mannions.
Of course there are whales here. That’s why there are two companies up in Provincetown that make their money taking tourists out on their ships to watch whales.
But the whales have tended to stay farther out to sea. The two times we went on a whale watch, it was an hour and a half cruise out of Provincetown to their preferred feeding grounds on the Stellwagen Bank. Uncle Merlin, who has been spending summers on the Cape far longer than any of the rest of us and can reasonably claim to have grown up on Nauset Beach, can’t remember ever having seen whales along here before.
At first Uncle Merlin doubted these were humpbacks. He’s had more recent and more up close encounters with humpbacks on his Hawaiian vacations the last two years. In the mornings he would take his coffee down to the beach in front of his hotel and watch the humpbacks playing offshore and listen to them sing when he took a swim. These looked smaller than their Hawaiian cousins and their backs looked black. The Hawaiian humpbacks are more bluish gray, he said.
The black backs and the white undersides and their to his eyes relatively smallish size had him thinking, at the blonde’s suggestion, minkes.
But the light’s very different here and perspective plays tricks. What’s blue in the soft morning light off Maui can easily turn black in the late afternoon glare off Cape Cod and judging size at long distance without references points isn’t easy. There were a couple of boats out there, sport fishing boats, thirty and forty footers, that looked awful small to me, toy-sized even, next to those whales. Except I couldn’t be sure they were next to the whales and not much farther out. You’re better off making these calls based on behavior.
To start with, there’s the spouts.
We counted spouts from at least three whales blowing at near the same time. Minke whales’ spouts are too low to be seen at a distance. Humpbacks blow columns of air up to sixteen feet high. That’s what you’re seeing when a whale spouts, by the way, air. They’re not blowing water, they’re exhaling, but the heated air from their lungs condenses when it hits the cooler air outside. Whales expel up to ninety per cent of what’s in their lungs when they breathe out. Humans breathe out a mere fifteen. Other whales, whales larger than humpbacks, blue whales and finbacks, blow higher spouts, but humpbacks blow more often, three to five times in a row, the spouts coming ten to twenty seconds apart.
Like the ones we were watching.
And none of the other whales common in these waters at this time of the year, blue whales, finbacks,right whales, seis, and minkes are as playful as humpbacks.
None of those other whales breach as high as these did.
None lift their tales in that show-offy way.
None leap from the water and turn themselves over to smack the surface as if to see how big a splash they can make.
None raise their flippers as if waving hello and slap the waves, again as if to see how big a splash they can make. None of the others can do it because none of the others have flippers as large. Humpbacks’ flippers can be a third as long as their bodies.
And they look like they’re waving because they are waving. I’ve seen them do it, wave hello to the boat we were on when they first appeared, wave goodbye when they were about to swim off. They wave goodbye with their tails too.
Some people of a more scientific turn of mind might say that what looks like play is actually work, that the humpbacks are doing what they’re doing to scare up fish to eat, but those people wouldn’t include the cetologists aboard the boats we went whale watching on, who watched the whales themselves every day and were convinced the whales knew what the humans aboard the boats came out to see and put on a show to oblige.
And they wouldn’t include Herman Melville who called humpbacks “the most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales.”
I’m sure the whales off Nauset today knew they were being watched.
How they would know I don’t know. I don’t know how far a whale can see. They stuck around for another hour, at least, which I’d guess for a whale isn’t enough time for a quick snack, never mind a full meal, so I have to think the point of the show was the show.
Ok. I don’t have to think it. I like to think we were watching the cetacean equivalent of sidewalk performance art.
Better than a mime, I’ll tell you that.
While we were watching, three women in their early forties, at least two of them sisters, and a passel of their junior high school age daughters and the daughters’ friends, set up their beach chairs and spread out their towels nearby. Naturally they were curious about what everyone was looking at. We loaned them our binoculars.
We didn’t get them back for twenty minutes.
We didn’t mind though. They were having too much fun as they handed our binoculars back and forth and their excitement re-ignited ours.
There happened to be a television camera crew on the beach. They were there to do a story on the snack stand, I learned later. But they went down to the water to try to get some shots of the whales and a crowd formed around them, lots of people, mostly kids, looking to be on TV, and the daughters dashed off to join them.
One of the mothers chased after them, determined, she told us, to drag the camera crew back so they could interview Uncle Merlin. She’d enjoyed his stories about his encounters with humpbacks in Hawaii and thought that the fact that he’d been coming to Nauset all his life and this was the first time he’d ever seen whales here made him just the person the TV people needed to get a comment from for their story.
The other two mothers agreed but they couldn’t tear themselves away.
They told us they’d been thinking they’d go up to Provincetown and go on a whale watch sometime this vacation and now they didn’t have to.
“This is better,” one said. without lowering the binoculars. “Because it’s a surprise. On the boat it might be feel like you’re just going to see them in a zoo. This way, it’s like you bumped into them in the wild.”
Photo of humpback leaping via Wildlife Extra. Photo of humpback flipper by Christopher M. Keane for Earth Magazine.
10:59. 67 degrees, according to Weather.com. Feels cooler. Was on the porch listening to the Red Sox losing to the Astros. Had to move inside. The air conditioners are off but Mrs M closed the windows before going to bed. Temperature’s supposed to drop into the low 50s overnight. I’ve grabbed a sweater. Going back out. Taking a book. It’s 4 to 2 in the top of the 9th. The Red Sox are down to their final out.
Who is this man really, and is that really a question you can ask about a fictional character?
Far as I’ll ever be concerned, the Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman is as much the Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird as the female lead in the play Will Shakespeare tells Christopher Marlowe he's working on in Shakespeare in Love, “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter,” is Juliet.
Writers routinely set out thinking they're going to write one thing and wind up writing something else.
All novels are palimpsests, but usually only the top layer exists to be read.
To be persnickety, it's a rough draft. A rejected rough draft. The author herself decided long ago it was a false start and, accordingly, she started over, taking a very different tack. We shouldn't have it. It's apparently an accident the draft survived. Publishing it as though it's a whole and complete book is something of a fraud. It might as well have a blue pencil line through every sentence.
Won't be read that way though.
Tell you what mainly concerns me---apart from the question of whether Harper Lee truly consented to publication---is that well-meaning high school teachers all over the country are going to stop teaching To Kill a Mockingbird and start teaching the controversy, so to speak. Their students won't get the pleasure of reading Mockingbird as a story in its own right. They'll be forced to read it as a companion to Watchman, even if they won't be reading Watchman along with it. Of course some of them may be required to read both and I can imagine the exam questions.
Compare and contrast the two Atticus Finches.
Which one do you think is the more true to life?
Since she wrote the racist Atticus first, why do you think she changed his character when she sat down to write To Kill A Mockingbird? What do you think of her decision in terms of what it says about her integrity as a writer? Does it make her less of an artist in your view?
What do you think authors owe to historical and political and social realities?
Sheesh. I'm glad I never had me as a teacher.
The point is that for a great many people, To Kill a Mockingbird is the first "adult" novel they read and loved. For many of that many, it’s the only novel they ever read and loved. I don't think Go Set a Watchman will ruin To Kill a Mockingbird for those who've already taken it to heart. But I worry that a new generation of readers won't get to know it as anything more than another boring homework assignment.
It will be a shame, though, if thousands of adults who love and cherish To Kill a Mockingbird do have it ruined for them by having Go Set a Watchman rewrite it for them and they now see it as merely a prequel to the real story, the one in which the truth can finally be revealed. And going by the online discussion, there are a lot of people who already think that Go Set A Watchman is the true or, at any rate, the truer story and its Atticus is the real Atticus.
As if there is a “real” Atticus.
But the basis for thinking Watchman's the real or more realistic Atticus seems to be that in reality there were more racists in that time and place than there were white liberal heroes and that Go Set A Watchman is told from the adult Scout's point of view and as an adult she is ready to face and reveal the whole truth about her father.
As if To Kill a Mockingbird had been written by a nine year old.
As if adults are better at perceiving and handling the truth.
This, of course, means treating the two books as a series, as if Harper Lee had gotten the jump on John Updike with his Rabbit books or as if she was following in the footsteps of Louisa May Alcott. Maybe she was. I never heard that she was. Like almost everybody else, I hadn't heard that she'd written another novel until this past winter. But I'd have thought that somewhere along the line she'd have discussed her intentions. All I'd ever heard seemed to take it for granted that she was content to have written the one book and happy with it what it was.
If she intended to write a series and Go Set A Watchman isn't the rejected precursor of To Kill A Mockingbird it apparently is and is instead a draft of a a novel in its own right and a continuation of Scout's story, it seems to me that Lee's model would more likely have been Faulkner than Alcott. And if it was, then I suggest using Faulkner as a guide in how to deal with the two Atticus Finches.
All the many McCaslins, Compsons, and Snopeses who parade through Faulkner's stories and novels are variations on themes. Even when one appears to be a character from a previous book he or she will turn out to be a different person in the way a song played in a different key or at a different tempo is not the same song as the last time it was played. The Quentin Compson of Absalom, Absalom! is not quite the same Quentin Compson of The Sound and the Fury. The Temple Drake of Requiem for a Nun is not quite the same Temple Drake of Sanctuary even if you try to take into account how what happens to her in Sanctuary might have changed her. And you don't have to read them as if they are or read their books as if they're volumes in a series. Faulkner used them to tell us different truths about things other than themselves. We're free to prefer one version to another and to re-play that version over and over in our imaginations and never even hum a few bars of the other and just as free to like both either separate or together.
You can always ignore the extra material you don't like.
Star Wars Fans
But here's an important question I haven't seen discussed online : never mind Atticus, is the Jean Louise who's at the center of Go Set a Watchman the same character as the Scout we know and love from To Kill A Mockingbird. Is that young woman the person our Scout would have grown up to be? Is she the "truer" character or is she also a betrayal? It is, after all her story. That is, it's not the story of Atticus' defense of Tom Robinson. It's the story of how Scout grows as she's watching Atticus take on Tom's defense. In dramatic terms, Atticus is the male lead, but he’s the second lead. In literary terms, he is the hero but Scout is the protagonist. And her story, her growth, involves more than her awakening to the evils of bigotry and segregation, important and profound as that is. She learns the evil of prejudice in general, of making judgments before you know who someone is and have heard their story. She learns to hear other’s stories and not treat people as if they’re merely characters in her own. And in her learning of that lesson the central figure is...
Mr Arthur Radley.
Is he in Go Set a Watchman?
Is that theme at work in Go Set a Watchman or any theme from To Kill a Mockingbird? That's what would make the one book a continuation of the other and the two Atticuses and two Jean Louises the same characters.
Finally, and perhaps most important, are either Go Set a Watchman's Atticus or Jean Louise as well-written? Are their stories as well-told? Are they well-written and well-told at all? In other words, is Go Set a Watchman a good book and worth reading for itself and not for its connection, whatever that is, To Kill A Mockingbird?
I probably won't be finding this out for myself. I have no desire to read it, even out of curiosity. And not because I don't want to have To Kill a Mockingbird ruined for me.
I won't be reading it for the same reason I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird since high school.
I remember enjoying reading To Kill A Mockingbird that one and only time I read it, back in ninth grade, and I'm still amazed by how much of it has stuck with me. But the truth is I wasn't much impressed at the time. I'd like to say that, precocious little snot that I was, I'd already moved past it. Flannery O'Connor's dismissed To Kill A Mockingbird as a children’s book. I didn’t know who Flannery O’Connor was (yet) but I had heard her judgment and if by children’s book she meant what are now called young adult novels I’d have agreed. My "grown up" reading had begun in fifth grade with Treasure Island, Moby-Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and the plays of William Shakespeare, and next to those, To Kill a Mockingbird seemed a bit…juvenile.
By the time Mr Subramanian assigned us To Kill A Mockingbird, I'd already started reading or had read books like Great Expectations, Little Big Man, True Grit, Slaughterhouse Five, Pylon and The Reivers,Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad, and Catch-22, along with a number of science fiction novels and mysteries by the likes of Isaac Asimov and Agatha Christie, plus some novels I thought of as very adult that I'd plucked off the New York Times Bestseller lists. I figured that the New York Times, being the paper of choice for highbrows like Pop Mannion, would only allow highbrow literature on its bestseller lists.
Sue me. I was fourteen.
At any rate, reading To Kill a Mockingbird seemed a step backward. Not all the way back to Tom Sawyer and Little Women, but a step between them and Slaughterhouse Five that I'd jumped over.
There was something else, and please don't take this as a disparagement of Harper Lee, of her book, or of your love for either or both.
It's just a statement about where my tastes and interests were taking me at the time.
Somehow I knew that To Kill a Mockingbird was a lesser book in comparison to other books I'd read and that Harper Lee was a lesser writer.
Probably because some adult told me.
Though maybe it was an early informed literary judgment I came to on my own.
But that, in fact, is not why I've never re-read it.
I've never re-read To Kill a Mockingbird because whenever I've wanted to hear the story re-told, I've re-watched the movie.
I'd seen and fallen in love with the film long before I got to high school. I'm hardly alone on this, but to me To Kill A Mockingbirdis the movie. Go Set a Watchman's Atticus Finch doesn't matter to me one way or the other because as far as I'm concerned Atticus Finch is and will always be what Gregory Peck made of him on the screen.
And, as I was more stubborn about these things when I was fourteen, the novel To Kill a Mockingbird was interesting to me only as a very well written novelization of the film. I only cared about its version of Atticus to the degree it brought to mind Gregory Peck's version.
So, here’s the exam question with no right or wrong answer.
Is Atticus Finch like Captain Ahab, Hester Prynne, Natty Bumpo, and Jay Gatsby, iconic but most alive on the pages of the books that contain them, or has he escaped his book like Tom Sawyer and Dorothy and her friends to wander and adventure freely through our collective imaginations?
Or is he a literary character at all?
Isn’t he more like Ethan Edwards, Scarlett O'Hara, and Randle Patrick McMurphy, impossible to imagine apart from the actors who played them in movies that themselves have made the books they're adapted from impossible to imagine apart from those movies?
I know there are fans of Margaret Mitchell who'd disagree about Gone With the Wind, just as surely as I know there are fans of Harper Lee who'd disagree about To Kill a Mockingbird.
But there's no hope for me now. Ethan Edwards looks and sounds like John Wayne, Scarlett O'Hara like Vivian Leigh, and Atticus Finch like Gregory Peck and I don't want that changed. I don't want to hear any other voices saying, I can’t hear any other voices saying:
Some suggested summer reading: In case you don’t feel like reading Go Set a Watchman or re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird or if you have time to read a couple more books, I recommend another novel told from the point of view of a young girl and one about a white lawyer called upon to defend a black man charged with a crime he didn’t commit, Charles Portis’ True Grit and Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner.
Thank you for dropping by and reading the post. If you enjoy what goes on around here and would like to help keep this blog going strong and you can swing it, please consider making a donation. It would come in real handy and be much appreciated.
If you prefer not to use PayPal, my snail mail address is PO Box 1197, New Paltz, NY 12561
Except for the McCain stuff, Trump isn’t saying anything the other Republicans running for President aren’t saying too. He’s just saying it with more force, more wit, more style, and---this is what’s rallying voters and dismaying the political press corps---more overt anger.
The press hates it when real emotion gets expressed.
It makes it harder for them to pretend that politics is just a game and all the players are just playing.
They don’t want to know that anybody truly cares because some of those people who care care that not enough damage is being done to the the social safety net.
They care that the poor aren’t suffering more. They care that working people are making too much and expecting too much. They care that old people who aren’t rich are enjoying comfortable retirements. They care that more brown-skinned immigrants aren’t being deported. They care that the children of those immigrants might get to become citizens. They care that the rich aren’t rich enough. They care that businesses can’t do whatever they want to make more and more money. In short, they are cruel and heartless and selfish villains but they dress nice, have good manners, and pick up the tab at expensive restaurants so it’s better not to think about the fact that they are cruel and heartless and selfish villains if you want to continue to enjoy their company and their largess.
But the Donald makes it clear that the Republican Party is the party of cruel, heartless, and selfish villainy by showing he cares.
And the Republican base want a standard bearer who cares because they care.
I think that in the end the Donald will wear himself out or wear out his welcome. Even though he’s polling higher than any single one of the others, he’s the favorite of less than a quarter of Republican voters. Over the course of the fall, as the primaries, draw closer, the three quarters who don’t want Trump will start to rally around one of the others, probably Jeb, although it won’t matter which.
Whichever one it is will still be saying the same things they’re saying now, which, as I’ve said, are the same things Trump is saying.
They’ll just sound nicer about it.
Unless it’s Walker. He can’t sound nice. He can’t sound anything except mean and snide.
But whether it’s Jeb, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or Scott Walker---none of the other twelve is likely to be in the running, and I’m surprised that’s turning out to be true about Rand Paul---the message will be the same. The message has been the same for generations now, and this is it:
The answer to all domestic problems is to cut taxes on the rich, cut aid to the poor, and put more of the burden on the middle class.
The answer to all foreign problems is war and more war.
The only difference between any of them is in how much more pain they plan to inflict by taking away rights from women, LGBT people, and African Americans and how soon the bombs will start falling.
More from the virtual vacation. Early Saturday morning. July 15, 2006.
As if you can own the view: Oyster Pond. Chatham. Saturday morning. July 15, 2006.
Biked down to the landing on an inlet called the Oyster Pond River and walked along the shore, looking out across metallic blue water at the sunlit backside of Stage Harbor Neck and the old, blind lighthouse there, white as an oil painting against the sky. Beach grass on the neck green as bottle glass in some spots, yellow as wheat in others.
High tide, no beach, just a soggy path along the water's edge. Short cliffs off to my left grown over with bayberry,bearberry,beach plum, and beach heather,and lines of Cape Cod roses like red banners hung vertically from the clifftop. Go to take a picture of the some beached rowboats with the roses in the background and scare angrily chirping barn swallows up out of the blossoms.
Little shorebirds working the blackened seaweed along the path ahead of me. Probably sandpipers, but maybe sanderlings. The sun's behind them, they're mostly in silhouette and they won't let me get close enough to get a good look at them, even through my binoculars.
Dory chugs in and out between the boats anchored in the river, paralleling the shore. Older man at the wheel in the open cockpit, sixty if a day, but trim and fit, wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt both faded from long wear, and a red baseball cap, even more faded, bill backwards. Steers with one hand on the wheel, his other hand shading his eyes as he scans the shore on this side, watching me as if thinking I might be someone he knows, someone he is expecting to meet along here.
Group of five people arrive at the end of the lane down to the beach where my bike lies in the sand. Hard to say if they're together or if their arriving at the same time is just coincidental. I'm too far up to hear them say anything. But I can't see any interaction as they split into three separate groups---no signs of goodbyes being said or plans to meet up later being made.
Two tall college guys in ballcaps and carrying fishing rods and tackle boxes walk away upriver.
A man around my age in shorts, life vest, and stone colored Australian bush hat, the ties tight under his chin, sets down a black and yellow kayak and sets to work preparing it for a trip out into the river.
The last two members of the group are an elderly couple, past seventy, both of them, he round-shouldered and bent a bit, wearing a sun hat with a wide, floppy brim, she more wiry, taller, but with a bit of a stoop too, hatless, her white hair, toussled, unbrushed this morning, looking stiff in the breeze. She's wearing thin wrap around shades. Together they wade out to a skiff anchored fairly close in to shore and load it with tubs and buckets and a pair of clame rakes. She holds the boat by the gunwale to steady it as he climbs in. He unties the line to the buoy and grabs an oar to pole the boat backwards, bringing it close in, practically beaches it so she can get in. As she does, she pushes off with her leg. She sits on the bench in the stern. He takes the oars.
He rows them straight out into the river, aiming at the neck and the clam beds over there. The blond oars flash gold in the sun after each pull.
Fender bender at the street corner up ahead. Nothing serious. A pair of bewildered and sheepish looking drivers stand beside their cars, looking at the kissed bumpers, wondering what to do. A tall, barrel-chested cop in a reflector vest hurries up through the crowd behind me, moving people aside with his hands. Big hands, and a light touch on a shoulder makes an impression.
I manage to get out of his way without his having to make an impression on me, but ahead there's a group of thirty-somethings, two men, three women, walking four abreast, with one of the men trailing slightly behind, blocking the cop's way.
The cop strides up and, seeing a gap between two of the women, angles his way between them, saying to one of the women by way of an excuse me, "Watch your little feet, lady."
The woman, a short brunette in an oversized sweatshirt that looks very new, takes offense at his tone and his choice of words.
"What did he say?" she asks her friends. "Watch your little feet, lady? Is that what he said? Watch your little feet, lady?" She's incensed. "Watch my little feet!" She raises her voice and calls after him, but not really loud enough for him to hear, "You watch your little feet!"
CHATHAM —Harbormaster Stuart Smith has rescued a lot of people over the years.
He’s freed boats from sandbars, towed them to shore when they’ve had mechanical troubles. He’s even towed whales back out to sea.
But he never thought he’d be called on to rescue a shark. It may be a sign of just how much people’s attitudes about great white sharks have changed, but when Smith arrived at the Old Southway inlet Monday afternoon, 40 or so beachgoers were crowded around a 7-foot greatwhite shark and they were pouring water on it.
“Everybody there was trying to save that shark,” Smith marveled.
I should know this, but I think the Old Southway Inlet is in fact well west of Lighthouse Beach where we usually swim when we’re on the Cape, so even if we were there this year, we probably wouldn’t have seen the rescue. I need a good map---Google isn’t giving me one---but I don’t think it was even there the last time we went swimming at Lighthouse Beach. The sharks have always been there. They come for the seal dinners. But I always assumed they stayed out of the inlets. Too shallow. Too many fishing boats on their way in and out of Pleasant Bay. But, according to Outside magazine, inlets are good places for humans to stay out of because sharks don’t:
If you have the choice, swim in the sound–a body of water protected between two pieces of land–where the lack of waves means sharks are less likely to mistake you for a fish. Conversely, avoid inlets, where the frenetic activity of estuaries meeting the sea both attracts sharks and makes it difficult for them to see and hear clearly.
I’d call the stretch of water off Lighthouse Beach a sound by Outside’s definition, but an oceanographer might say it’s an inlet, so who knows: We could have been swimming with sharks every day. One of the most disturbing passages in a book full of disturbing passages, Juliet Eilperin’sDemon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks, tells how the waters off the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa, are teeming with sharks swimming with the humans:
Between 2005 and 2008, spotters reported 530 white shark sightings off the city’s most popular beaches. This not even a comprehensive count of the number of great whites that movie into and out of False Bay, since scientists have detected many more movements through both aerial spotting and acoustic tagging of individual sharks. Peter Chadwick, who directs the World Wildlife Fund’s Honda Marine Parks Program in South Africa, has seen the animals during his scientific missions: “The great whites are swimming amongst the bathers and the surfers. We see it from the air and everyone’s blissfully unaware, and quite happy.”
In 2005, [Allison Kock, a shark biologist and currently Head Scientist at the Save Our Seas Foundation] placed acoustic tags on seventy-eight great whites circling Seal Island near the city’s shore. Monitors registered a hit every time a tagged shark swam by them, making it easy to determine where the sharks spent their time during different parts of the year. Yet when Kock started downloading the data from the monitors, she couldn’t quite believe it when they revealed they had registered such an immense number of hits. “It was a complete mind blow that over 50 percent of the animals tagged at Seal Island were coming inshore, and they were staying inshore for months,” she says. At the very time that people are going to the beaches off Cape Town, the great whites are headed there as well. It’s the unintended consequence of the conservation measures South Africa has adopted over the past couple of decades. South Africa was the first nation in the world to protect great whites, in 1991, and its protection of Cape fur seals has helped the sharks as well, by providing the animals with additional prey. As the sharks thrive, their numbers are growing.
The paragraph that follows is not reassuring:
Kock’s and Chadwick’s data also underscore a simple point: if great whites deliberately hunted humans, they would be having a field day every summer off the Western Cape, consuming the many surfers, swimmers, and kayakers in their midst. They don’t, but the chances of an accidental shark attack still loom large.
Presumably something similar’s been going on off the coasts of North and South Carolina. Something to consider the next time we’re on Cape Cod.
Long time ago now, but I'm pretty sure it was the impressionist David Frye who introduced me to both the fact of the Reverend Billy Graham's existence and the irony of Graham's fame and success: Graham had made himself rich preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was a joke about Graham's expensive suits that clued me in that Graham was at best a hypocrite. It was probably Frye's impression that damned him as a fraud and a conman in my eyes.
Frye prepared me to not be surprised when my first encounter with the real Billy Graham was as Richard Nixon's favorite preacher and spiritual advisor.
My reaction was, "Well, of course," and from there on I saw Graham only as one among the cast of clowns, knaves, dupes, crooks, sharpers, and greater and lesser villains who surrounded Nixon, a supporting player in the beginning-to-unfold drama of Watergate.
Life is more complicated than you think when you're twelve. Billy Graham was never the demagogue, racist, and hate-monger his son Franklin Graham is. He was hardly progressive in much of his thinking. He’ll have a lot to answer for when he finally gets to heaven, starting with his helping Nixon sell the expansion of the War in Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos. But he made clear his opposition to segregation and apartheid at crucial times. He was friends with Martin Luther King. Nixon wasn’t the only President who befriended him, sought his counsel and his at least tacit endorsement or, at any rate, negotiated to head off his public disapproval. That included John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and, eventually, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But Frye's devastating caricature defined him for me, and I never took him seriously as a man of the cloth, let alone the national religious leader he was. I didn't pay any attention to anything the news reported about his preaching and tuned it out when it happened that one of his Crusades was on the television at my grandparents' when we visited. This was Pop Mannion's parents, and I never figured that out, why they apparently liked Richard Nixon’s favorite preacher. They were both good New Deal Democrats and Catholics. My other grandparents, Mom Mannion’s parents, both Republicans, preferred Bishop Sheen. Grandpa and Grandma Mannion also liked Lawrence Welk even though Grandma Mannion listened to Top 40 rock and roll on her transistor radio and had an admitted crush on Tom Jones.
Hey, it's not unusual.
Anyway, back to Billy Graham.
Like I said, I pretty much ignored him, taking his fraudulence and his hucksterism for granted, and not really aware of exactly what he was preaching. I assumed it was some version of anodyne and easy Christianity that made the faithful of every faith feel good about not being among the real sinners and all they needed to do to get to heaven was show up in church once a week and look down their noses at anyone they could identify as not among the saved.
I took it as a given that, whatever passages he was quoting from the gospels, he wasn't emphasizing the ones about camels and needles eyes and not storing up treasures on earth and selling everything to follow him. I figured Graham wouldn't be brazen enough to call attention to the words of Jesus he was so clearly not living out in his own life.
This was actually something I was thinking about seriously in a different context. As a Catholic, I was wondering about what the bishops thought they were up to. Why did we have "Princes of the Church" living like princes?f
So either it escaped my attention or I just filed it with my other growing concerns about religion as practiced in the United States, but I can't remember knowing that Graham hadn't gotten rich preaching the words of Jesus Christ. He'd gotten rich preaching that it was ok to ignore the words of Christ.
Graham was one of the stars of Christian Libertarianism, a perversion of Christianity that turned it into a religion for the aggrieved rich. As Kevin Kruse lays out in One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Christian Libertarianism arose and walked in the 1940s and 1950s as a counter to Franklin Roosevelt's effective use of Scripture to justify the New Deal.
Contemporary Right Wingers, including just about every Republican running for President, blather about how we should govern ourselves according to biblical principles. Well, so did FDR, although he had in mind things the bible actually said about what we now call social justice, which naturally infuriated the people Roosevelt cheerfully condemned as the malefactors of great wealth. They resented the implications.
If Jesus was on the side of the New Dealers, whose side did that put them on?
Their reaction was to reinvent a Jesus who was on their side. Their Jesus' first commandment wasn't "Love one another" it was "Every man for himself." Christianity wasn't about the practice of charity and mercy. It was a program for getting rich. One of the earliest preachers of this gospel of how to pray and grow rich, James W. Fifeld, a Congregationalist minister to the wealthy in Los Angeles who had already figured out what Graham would quickly figure out---there was more money in ministering to the rich and powerful than to the poor and humble, but not if you told the vain and greedy suckers things like their having as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel did of squeezing through the eye of a needle---even preached that all those things Jesus supposedly said about camels and needles eyes, not storing up treasures on earth, casting bread upon the waters, and whatever you do for the least of his brothers and sisters were likely mistranslations and so could be ignored or at least treated as conveniently symbolic.
[Conservative business leaders enlisted ministers] to make the case that Christianity and capitalism were soul mates. This case had been made before, but in the context of the New Deal it takes on a sharp new political meaning. Essentially they argue that Christianity and capitalism are both systems in which individuals rise and fall according to their own merits. So in Christianity, if you're good you go to heaven, if you're bad you go to hell. In capitalism if you're good you make a profit and you succeed, if you're bad you fail.
The New Deal, they argue, violates this natural order. In fact, they argue that the New Deal and the regulatory state violate the Ten Commandments. It makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God's will, but rather, a form of pagan stateism and is inherently sinful.
Graham signed onto the cause early and preached along the same lines. From One Nation Under God:
In 1954, Graham offered his thoughts on the relationship between Christianity and capitalism in Nation’s Business, the magazine of the US Chamber of Commerce. “We have the suggestion from Scripture itself that faith and business, properly blended, can be a happy, wholesome, and even profitable mixture,” he observed. “Wise men are finding out that the words of the Nazarene: ‘Seek ye first of the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’ were more than the mere rantings of a popular mystic; they embodied a practical, workable philosophy which actually pays off in happiness and peace of mind…Thousands of businessmen have discovered the satisfaction of having God as a working partner.”
He wasn’t just piously pro-business. He was devoutly anti-union. By Graham's lights, it would seem, Jesus, the carpenter's son, who recruited fishermen as his first and favorite apostles, must have been at least as censorious of union workers as he was of the lawyers and Pharisees, we're just missing the relevant passages from the gospel accounts of the Sermon an the Mount.
Graham’s warm embrace of business contrasted sharply with the cold shoulder he gave organized labor. The Garden of Eden, he told a rally in 1952, was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.” The minister insisted that a truly Christian worker “would not stoop to take unfair advantage” of his employer by ganging up against him in a union. Strikes, in his mind, were inherently selfish and sinful. In 1950, he worried that a “coal strike may paralyze the nation”; two years later, he warned that a looming steel stoppage would hurt American troops fighting in Korea. If workers wanted salvation, they needed to put aside such thoughts and devote themselves to their employers. “The type of revival I’m calling for,” Graham told a Pittsburgh reporter in 1952, “calls for an employee to put in a full eight hours of work.” On Labor Day that same year, he warned that “certain labor leaders would like to outlaw religion, disregard God, the church, and the Bible,” and he suggested that their rank and file were wholly composed of the unchurched. “I believe that organized labor unions are one of the greatest mission fields in America today,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great if, as we celebrate Labor Day, our labor leaders would lead the laboring man in America in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?”
Graham was on the make right from the start. Like Fifeld, he saw where the money was and he set to work right away courting the rich and powerful. One of his intended marks was the President of the United States, Harry Truman. Truman was not any more popular among Christian Libertarians than Roosevelt had been, but Graham was always a smooth operator and recognized the value of having friends on all sides. Graham finagled a White House meeting with Truman.
It didn't go well.
Although Graham was delighted to make new friends in [Congress], he had a bigger target. During the Boston crusade, he told a reporter that his real ambition was “to get President Truman’s ear for thirty minutes, to get a little help.” He peppered the President with letters and telegrams for months but had no luck winning an invitation until House majority leader John McCormack intervened. To Graham’s lasting embarrassment, their July 1950 meeting was an utter disaster. He and his three associates arrived at the Oval Office wearing brightly colored suits, hand-painted silk ties, and new white suede shoes. They looked, Graham remembered with a grimace, like a “traveling vaudeville team.” The president received them politely. A devout but reserved Baptist who was wary of public displays of piety, he held the foursome at a distance. When Graham asked if he could offer a prayer, Truman shrugged and said, “I don’t suppose it could do any harm.” The preacher wrapped his arm around the president, clutching him uncomfortably close. As he called down God’s blessing, an associate punctuated the prayer with cries of “Amen!” and “Tell it!”
After the visit, reporters pressed Graham’s group to divulge details while a row of photographers shouted at them to kneel down for a photo on the White House lawn. To their later regret, they agreed to both requests. In sharing details with the press and posing for the picture, Graham had made a significant, if innocent, mistake. The president now viewed the preacher with suspicion, dismissing him as “one of those counterfeits only interested in “getting his name in the paper.” Feeling used and furious as a result, Truman instructed his staff that Graham would never be welcome again at the White House as long as he was president…
Truman has a lot to answer for himself, but there’s a reason we’re still wild about Harry.
One of the things Graham will have to answer for is a meeting he had with Nixon in which Graham talked about Jews in a very Nixonian way. Graham often broke with other conservative Christian leaders and his outreach to Jews and his many friendships with Jewish leaders was truly ecumenical and not just opportunistically based on the role Israel will supposedly play in bringing about the apocalypse. But there he is on tape sounding very much like Nixon, spiteful, conspiratorial, paranoid, and outright anti-Semitic. The best that can be said in his defense is that as a practiced grifter and sycophant he was reflexively telling his mark what he wanted to hear. Graham doesn’t defend himself and has apologized. Here’s a New York Times story from March of 2002, Billy Graham Responds to Lingering Anger Over 1972 Remarks on Jews.
Photo of middle-aged Billy Graham clutching a bible (top) and photo of younger Graham preaching to a crowd in Trafalgar Square in 1954 (midway down) courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Andrew on the case: Governor Andrew Cuomo looking for clues in the tunnel under the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York convicts David Sweat and Richard Matt used in their escape from the prison on June 6. Photo courtesy of the Governor’s office, via the Times-Union.
They headed north? David Sweat and Richard Matt. Those two cons who broke out of Dannemora at the beginning of The month and managed to elude capture for three weeks until first Matt, on Friday, then Sweat on Sunday, stumbled into the gun sites of surprised lawmen. Matt met better marksmen. He's dead. Sweat's in the hospital. They headed north?
The media and the authorities seem convinced they were headed for the Canadian border.
Up there, the Canadian border is in the middle of the St Lawrence River. They couldn't have been thinking they were going to just stroll across the bridge. So what were they planning to do? Swim?
Steal a boat?
These guys couldn't even steal a car, they were going to steal a boat?
My guess is they didn't know the river was in their way. My guess is they didn't even know they were heading north. They were just lost and wandering aimlessly. If they looked at a map before they made their escape, it was probably to see how far a drive it was south to Albany or New York City where they could get lost in the crowds or find a way to get even further south or go west. The border they wanted to cross was probably Mexico's.
If they looked at a map.
My other guess is that all their planning and forethought went into getting them to the end of the tunnel and into their waiting getaway car. When their ride didn't show, their escape was over.
Odds are everything they needed to get far away---money, a change of clothes, weapons, bus tickets if she wasn't dumb enough to have agreed to drive them herself all the way to wherever they planned to go---was in the car with her. When she chickened out, they were done for.
That's why I didn't follow the story with much attention or interest. I figured either they'd made it to Albany or New York before anyone at the prison noticed they were gone and the next we'd ever hear of them is when they got picked up for another crime or were turned in by someone who recognized them from TV---is America's Most Wanted on anymore?---and that could take months, even years, or a couple of days, depending on their luck and self-control, neither of which these two seem to have had much of before they landed in Dannemora. Or, what seemed more likely, they were lost in the woods and would wander in circles until the authorities tracked them down or, hungry, worn out, cold, and out of ideas and hope, they gave themselves up.
Looks like the latter might have been what was happening, I'm just surprised it took as long as it did.
That it took as long as it did and that they weren't so much captured as caught in a Bizzaro world version of an ambush, in which the pursued throw themselves into the arms of their surprised pursuers with the intention of getting caught or killed, doesn't reflect well on the cops, deputies, and State troopers chasing them.
I'm sure they tried their best. There's a lot of forest to get lost in up there, a lot of trees to hide behind.
But there doesn't seem to have been much drama or adventure in the chase. Nobody came out a hero. No brilliant detective work solved the case. Mostly it went the way most police investigations go, with a lot of time wasted chasing down false leads and following up on what turns out to be bad tips, while waiting for the criminals to make a mistake.
Didn't stop Governor Cuomo from grandstanding though. He was up there in a flash to put himself in front of the cameras and microphones, talking as if the state had survived a natural disaster---Actually, I think he was calmer dealing with Hurricane Sandy. "The nightmare is finally over!" he declared when Sweat was finally captured---rather than as if we'd spent three weeks vaguely anxious one or both of these guys might decide they needed a hostage or rob a bank or go out in a blaze of glory with innocent bystanders in range.
In other words, what we were worrying about is that real life might turn into a movie.
From what I've seen, the media did. The little coverage I saw, mainly on TVs that happened to be on in stores and fast food restaurants I was on my way quickly in and out of, was urgent, breathless, full of agitation and exaggerated concern, with reporters and anchors exchanging the trivial and the matter of course as if laying out the as yet unexplained details of a complicated and baffling mystery.
Behind everything they said, of course, was the movie or ripped from today's headlines TV episode they expected---hoped---would be made based on the story.
In fact, that's really what they were reporting on. Which means they were reporting fiction.
It's only as fiction that the story is at all interesting.
Matt and Sweat aren't interesting as characters or personalities or even as possessors of interesting histories even as criminals and killers. They were interesting on the run only in their potential for violence. They were dangerous but not intelligently dangerous. If they'd hurt anyone, there'd have been no thought to it, no planning, no feeling in it except anger and fear. It would have been reflexive and reactive. There was no story to them. Only plot.
The woman who was supposed to be their getaway driver, their supervisor in the prison tailor shop, has more of a story, but it's a sad one. She'll be more interesting as a character if it turns out she was actually the mastermind behind the escape, if she planned it as part of a larger plan to murder her husband, which has been suggested. At the moment it's not certain her husband's murder was really her idea or if it was part of the scheme at all and not just a thought that crossed her mind or something she and Matt and Sweat idly speculated about. She may have been deluding herself in some way about Sweat and Matt---she may have been in love with Matt. That sounds like fiction but it could have happened. Matt may have been more interesting than I thought. I think it’s more likely she was a victim of her own imagination and, depending how vivid her imagination was and how completely it took her over, that could have made her an interesting as a character who was a character in her own fiction.
And as a matter of fact, that's pretty much what happens with the lead female character in T.C. Boyle's novel The Harder They Come. She falls in love with a paranoid schizophrenic whom she's convinced herself is a heroic Right Wing revolutionary and guerrilla.
More likely she's simply someone desperate to escape an unhappy marriage and the story there is in how unhappy the marriage was and what made it so, which means the story is either sad or really sad.
TV news and newspaper reporters don't like to tell truly sad stories unless they can tack on a happy ending. They prefer pathetic ones because it's less disturbing for viewers and readers to feel sorry than to experience real sorrow on a stranger's behalf.
What I'm getting at isn't that it's wrong for the media to treat the story as a movie. I don't think that can be helped. We think in stories and we communicate with each other by telling stories. As Joan Didion said, We tell ourselves stories in order to live. Naturally we try to tell ourselves and each other good stories and we reflexively edit the stories we tell to make them good stories. And most people's ideas for what makes a good story come from movies and television. The trouble isn't that the reporters are making a movie in their heads. It's that they're making a bad one.
Or, at any rate, a clichéd one.
But I also think they're making the wrong one or, rather, the wrong sort of one.
This isn't an adventure tale. It's not a thriller. It's a caper movie. But a comic caper. A caper gone awry in dark ways but still a comedy. It's a comedy about incompetence, official, criminal, and personal. It's a comedy about the various ways vanity warps personality---the cast of characters includes several vain politicians, including, of course, a vain, puffed up, and easily ruffled control-freak of governor.
Now, even though it's a comedy, it can still contain thrills, danger, intrigue, and suspense. It can include violence and death. There's even room for a sad marriage. Great comedy includes tragedy. So if this story gets turned into a movie I'd want it directed by either one of the McDonagh Brothers and be along the lines of In Bruges or The Guard. And of course it's right up the Coen Brothers' alley.
But since neither of them is around anymore to write it, I volunteer...no, not T.C Boyle. He'd be a good choice, but he's busy, and like I said above, he's just done something similar.
No, I'm volunteering me.
Are you paying attention, editors and agents?
Because here's another thing.
What the story needs that's missing is sex.
Between truly sexy and romantic characters.
And, as luck would have it, I can provide those from personal experience.
First of all, I'm familiar with the area from many family vacations in the Adirondacks and from having gone to college for two years way up thataway.
And while I was there friends of mine who were theater majors were part of a program at Dannemora that taught acting to prisoners. They used to go over to the prison once a month and lead workshops. And they developed rapport even something like friendships with a few of the prisoners. I'm thinking that there can be a third con in on the escape. A character who is smarter, cagier, and more sympathetic than the characters based on Matt and Sweat, although at least as mean and dangerous. He'd also have wit and charm and some physical attractiveness. And he would get farther away. All the way to the college town where he'd look up the students he'd befriended---or more accurately seduced---and convince them he was out on parole. They'd then help hide him without knowing that's what they were doing. The kicker is that he would get into the college life and become a big man on campus.
So, what do you say, editors and agents? Worth an advance? I don't need a big one. Just enough to get by on for the next six months or so and to cover my expenses while I go up north to re-explore the terrain and visit the friends I'm still in contact with who took part in the program and get their stories.
And there’s a bonus: late 70s nostalgia!
Think of the great soundtrack the movie will have when we sell the rights!
Rick Santorum, who, like I was saying the other day, I 'm convinced got into the Presidential race just to prove my point about what the Republicans are up to, has had a few things of his own to say to the Pope lately, mostly along the lines of the Pope doesn't know what he's talking about and should shut up.
On June 16, Pope Francis is expected to release an encyclical letter on the environment, the Catholic Church’s strongest statement to date on the moral issues associated with climate change. It’s a move that has environmentalists very excited — and one GOP presidential nominee less than thrilled.
During an interview with a Philadelphia radio station on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum — a devout Catholic — said that while he loves Pope Francis, he thinks the Pope should leave discussions about climate change to scientists.
“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” Santorum told radio host Dom Giordano. “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”
You might think that for Santorum, a supposedly devout Catholic, listening to the Pope along with the scientists, even ahead of the scientists, would be a requirement, what with the whole papal infallibility thing. There's a loophole in that. The Pope has to say he's being infallible on any given issue in order for what he says to be taken as infallible. Still, he is the Pope.
But Catholic conservatives have shown themselves to be just as self-satisfyingly selective as any other cafeteria Catholics. For instance, their pro-life stance ignores the Church's teachings on war and the death penalty. And they are positively heretical on the subject of poverty---it's not particularly pro-life to leave people to starve or freeze or swelter to death in their homes and on the streets---to the point of believing that Jesus himself preached a gospel of spite and malice toward the poor and the sick and the downtrodden and his first commandment wasn't “Love one another” but “Every man for himself.”
They've also been less than attentive to those passages in the gospels dealing with needles' eyes, not storing up treasures on earth, and selling everything to follow him.
Jesus, it turns out, intended us to pray and grow rich.
So they pick and choose as they push their trays down the line towards heaven, preferring to concentrate on the teachings that let them judge others while not having to change or restrain their own behavior.
Those would be the other people having fun having sex parts.
Of course, I'm not one to cast stones. Even when I was a devout Catholic back in my altar boying days, I hedged and fudged, and I never took any Pope's or bishop's or priest's or nun's word for things as the last word. There's a long tradition of loyal dissent within the Church and questioning and doubt have always been encouraged. Sure, we had the Inquisition, but we've had the Jesuits too, not to mention the Franciscans. (It's not been lost on sensitive and thoughtful Catholics that we have a Jesuit Pope who took the name of the Church's greatest but mildest-mannered subversive and rebel.) On top of that, I'm an American before I'm a Catholic, and I mean culturally. To the degree this is a Christian country, it's a Protestant one, and so my religious upbringing is suffused with Protestantism. That means I've inherited a tradition of consulting my own conscience and listening to it ahead of any preacher or priest.
So, I can't fault Santorum for listening to his own inner Protestant, if that's what he's doing. He's as free to disagree with the Pope as I allow myself to be. The difference between us is that I don't go around making a show of being more Catholic than thou and I'm not running for public office on the promise to turn the dictates of my conscience into laws everybody else has to obey regardless of what their consciences tell them.
But to get back to the subject, which is what Santorum said.
The Pope should leave science to the scientists.
A lot of folks have had fun pointing out that by education and training the Pope is a scientist.
Following Santorum's logic, the Pope should listen to himself and what he's saying to himself is “My training as a scientist teaches me that my fellow scientists are right and we've got to do something about climate change and save the planet.”
In effect, then, the Pope is saying what Santorum says we should do, listen to the scientists.
And, following his own logic, Santorum should listen to the Pope and listen to the scientists.
But Santorum is actually against listening to the scientists. However devout a Catholic he professes to be, he is an even more devout Republican, and the Republicans' first commandment on climate change is Thou shalt not pay any attention to the scientists because they're wrong!
Santorum has seemingly talked himself into trouble here by putting himself in the position of contradicting himself. It should be worse for him as a devout Catholic because in telling the Pope to leave science to the scientists he also told him to stick to matters of theology and morality, but as ThinkProgress’ Natasha Geiling points out:
The Catholic Church has long framed climate change as a moral issue, noting that its potential impacts — rising sea level, more frequent extreme weather events, and natural resource scarcity — disproportionately impact poor and developing nations.
The Church has always put its position on caring for the environment in explicitly moral terms.
The Church puts its positions on everything in explicitly moral terms.
That’s what makes it the Church.
Santorum knows that.
At least, he ought to know it.
Which makes what he said either nonsense or something more than a self-contradiction---an out and out attempt to deceive voters about what the Pope is doing.
In short, a lie.
And a lie for political gain.
Some Catholics would put that in moral terms and call it a sin.
But the question is, as it is with every stupid and deceitful thing any Republican says, does he know what he's saying?
I mean, does Santorum or any of them listen to themselves and think about what the words they're using mean?
My blanket answer to that is no. They don't. They don't listen to the words they use as words, only to the sounds they put into the words. Words as words long ago ceased to matter to Right Wingers. Words are only useful to them as sounds for expressing their feelings. This is how they can lie and contradict themselves without compunction or shame. The feelings the words give sound to are honest and never change. It's how they’re able to say two things within the same sentence that cancel each other out and then step back smirking smugly as if they've just made an irrefutable argument even a Vulcan couldn't poke holes in.
Usually the feelings the words are giving sound to are angry ones or hateful ones or fearful ones. But often they are vain ones. Vain not as in futile but as in self-flattering and prideful or, you know, as in the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins.
That's what Santorum is engaging in and enticing voters to engage in too. The feeling at work is the need to feel smart. That's what's behind that favorite Republican catchphrase, I'm not a scientist. It's heard by the faithful as an expression of contempt for the supposedly smart and an assurance that we regular folk are the truly smart ones.
Ultimately, it's a method for replacing thought with noise. It's a way not to have to think. And it's a tool for demagogues to deflect the mob from thinking.
I don't know if Santorum really knows what he's doing. I don't know if he's a skillful demagogue or simply an instinctive and well-practiced one. He's never struck me as particularly bright, even for a Right Winger. My suspicion is that he learned early to use words for their sounds and has picked up a larger vocabulary of useful words and phrases than the average yahoo stump speakers have at their command, enough to make him sound smart to himself and he's satisfied with that.
It doesn't matter what's going on inside his head because he's not the problem, just another walking expression of it.
The problem is that the Republican Party is a party that succeeds by elevating emotion over thought. Its leaders manipulate feelings and work to short-circuit thought in order to win over voters and gain and maintain power. The problem is that the Republican Party has become a threat to democracy by becoming a party of demagogues, charlatans, liars, hypocrites, grifters, sideshow hucksters and carnival barkers hustling the all too willing suckers into smirking, self-satisfied ignorance and self-deception, all, ultimately, with the aim of making a buck---for themselves and for the greedy rich men who run the show.
To make a moral issue of it, the Republican position on climate change weaves together the cardinal sins of the three sects of the party: corporatist greed---The hell with the planet! We demand our profits now---Right Wing Christian vanity---God made this world with ME and MY needs in mind.---and Tea Party anger and spite---No dirty hippies, uppity women, or lazy and thieving You Know Whos get to tell me what to do! It compounds them with sloth---Nothing we need to do about it, the problem will fix itself if God himself doesn't get around to it---and gluttony---So I might as well continue to guzzle gas and waste energy and not only maintain but increase my self-indulgent, fossil fuel-burning dependent lifestyle. And it tops it off with envy that expresses itself in the form of contempt for the learned, expert, intelligent, and competent---I’m no scientist, but I don’t need to be, and who says they’re so smart anyway?
I haven't figured out how, but lust must figure in it some way.
Republicans are nothing if not thorough in their hypocrisy.
Thank you to everybody who donated to Mrs M's travel fund! You really helped us out! Mrs M says thank you too. So does her boss. And her reporting staff. Probably the bus driver too, along with her fellow commuters. She's very popular. That's always been the case. People just like her. More important, you'll be glad to know she's enjoying the new job. She also enjoys the commute. It's not the grind she was worried it would be and the buses are nice. Her only complaint is she can't get a reliable WiFi connection. But she's getting a lot of reading done, so there's that. Anyway, thank you all again!
Payday's Friday, which is good because we're scraping bottom. Fortunately, the only big expense we have immediately is Mrs M's bus tickets. She has to buy them in books of ten. Costs about $80. If you'd like to help Mrs Mr get into the City and back, and you can swing it, please consider making a small donation. 10 donations of $8 would be ideal, but whatever you can manage would come in handy and be much appreciated.
Thanks to everyone who's donated. Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding and for sticking with the blog.
A bluebird? I asked doubtfully when he called in from his home north of Boston to report this latest avian adventure. Not a blue jay?
He was indignant.
No, not a blue jay. He knows what a blue jay looks like. A bluebird.
As in bluebird of happiness?
As in bluebird!
An Eastern Bluebird?
The Eastern Bluebird is the state bird of New York but they can be found all over the Northeast. I’ve spotted more in Pennsylvania than I have here. Can’t recall ever seeing one in Massachusetts but that’s just a matter of luck. They’re there. They just don’t spend much time in suburban neighborhoods. They like the woods and open fields. And orchards. Uncle Merlin doesn’t have an orchard.
It was blue. It was a bird. What else could it be?
Could be Bluebird then. Little blue bird with a white front and a red bib?
No. All blue.
Bright blue? Dark blue? Purpley blue?
What good are you then?
Question I ask myself every day.
What if I send you a picture?
You took one?
He's very bold.
He's still there?
I can't chase him out. He acts like he owns the place.
Does he? I was developing a suspicion. And he's blue?
Yes, he's still blue.
Blue, not gray?
I think I can tell the difference between blue and gray.
Because in a certain light, catbirds can look blue. Blue-ish. Kind of gun metal blue.
This one's definitely blue and he's not making catbird sounds.
Send the picture.
Ah ha, I said.
Ah ha what?
Know what that is?
You're supposed to tell me.
But it's blue.
Like I said. Trick of the light. Anyway, it looks gray in the picture.
There was a short silence during which I surmised he was studying the picture himself, deciding the bird did indeed look gray, and figuring out how not to admit I might be right that it was a catbird.
It's not meowing like a catbird.
They have other calls and they can be quiet. They’re thoughtful birds. Know how you can really tell it's a catbird though, besides the black cap, the shape of the bill, and the shape and length of the tail?
What you described. He's acting like he owns the place. That's how they are. They think we're trespassing. The ones living in our holly bushes routinely come sit on the porch railing when I'm out there and glare at me, like they're waiting for me to take the hint. How did he get in the house?
Art let him in.
Art the Wonder Dog?
Art opened the door for him, invited him in?
No. He couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted to be in or out so I left the porch door open for him and the bird flew in past him as he was standing in the doorway, half in and half out.
I see. It's Art's fault you left the door open.
What was I supposed to do, keep hopping up to run to the door every time he whined? Of course it was his fault. He knows it too. That's why he's hiding.
Under the porch. He won't come back in because he knows he's in trouble.
So you have a bird who won't go out and a dog who won't come in.
Life is one fresh hell after another, isn't it?
Goodbye. Gotta go. My mother 's calling.
Half hour later he called back.
The bluebird's gone.
Whatever. He let me pick him up and carry him outside.
I'm surprised. They can be bold but I never saw one that bold. Was he hurt?
He didn't appear to be. He flew right off when I set him down in the backyard.
Probably went to tell his friends about his visit. Make sure you keep the door closed or you'll have a whole family moving in.
Art come back in?
No. He's still under the porch. And I have to go to work. Evil little dog.
Another half hour went by before he called again.
You at work?
Still waiting for Art?
He came back in finally?
I might have been mistaken about where he was.
Oh? What makes you think that?
Well, I got tired of waiting for him so I went upstairs to start getting ready to go.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Courtruled on Thursday that President Obama’s health care law allows the federal government to provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance, a sweeping vindication that endorsed the larger purpose of Mr. Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
The 6-to-3 ruling means that it is all but certain that the Affordable Care Act will survive after Mr. Obama leaves office in 2017. For the second time in three years, the law survived an encounter with theSupreme Court. But the court’s tone was different this time. The first decision, in 2012, was fractured and grudging, while Thursday’s ruling was more assertive.
“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a united six-justice majority.
I'm choked up over this. I know what it means for people. We're ok now, but last year the ACA saved our family.
I probably won't be here to see it, but I predict that in twenty or thirty years, if there's still a Republican Party, Republicans will be claiming the ACA as their own because of Romneycare and Kennedy and Roberts. They'll also be trying to claim President Obama, the way they try to claim JFK and MLK.
But the Republicans could have had a piece of this now. All it would have taken was for McConnell and Boehner to have released a handful of their members to vote for it. Well, that and the current Republicans being actual conservatives with the interests of the country at heart and not a pack of spiteful ideologues hellbent on increasing their power by exploiting the anger and fear of the Right Wing yahoos who have become the GOP base.
The ACA is, after all, a conservative law.
It's also a very liberal one, but I'll get back to that.
Defenders of the ACA, trying to bring around red state and red district voters, the few intelligent and well-intentioned Republican governors considering setting up exchanges and accepting the Medicaid money, and the political press corps locked into their narrative that both parties have been captured by their extremists and the only solution is for Democrats and the President to compromise more, have frequently resorted to calling the ACA a Republican plan.
Actually, so have liberal critics, but of course being critics they've meant it as a criticism.
This is making too much of its having among its models the Heritage Foundation's plan and Romneycare. Republicans weren't fooled. Romneycare is the law of the land in the People's Republic of Massachusetts. It was passed by the overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature of that bluest of the blue states. Mitt Romney signed it but that was one of the things Republican voters had against him. Putting his name on it was like signing a surrender document.
They recognized Romneycare and Obamacare as essentially liberal because they knew it would do what they most hate liberalism for doing: helping poor people obtain what they can't afford on their own.
They didn't recognize either's essentially conservative aspects because although the call themselves conservative they aren't conservative and don't know what it means to be conservative.
Of course the most obviously conservative aspect of the ACA is that it preserves the private health insurance industry and even increases its profitability. This is probably what lefty critics hate most about it. But to me that isn't what makes it conservative. I'm a liberal Democrat not a leftist and I don't mind if private businesses make money off a government project as long as the public good is being well and honestly served. In fact, I think its often for the best since it cuts down on the number of bureaucrats putting their oars in.
I think many on the left forget that most of their ideal solutions to the nation's ills require massive expansions of government bureaucracies. I don't like or trust bureaucrats no matter which party hires them.
As far as I'm concerned then, there's nothing particularly not liberal about the fact that private insurance companies get to go about their business (as long as the government's watching them like hawks). At the time it was passed, during the darkest days of the Great Recession, it was even in an important way more liberal than the preferred liberal alternatives, immediate implementation of single payer and Medicare for all, because besides not requiring an even larger expansion of the federal bureaucracy, it didn't take away thousands and thousands of people's jobs all at once and destroy the economies of several cities.
But, to me, what's essentially conservative about the ACA is what I don't see as essentially not liberal. It doesn't solve the problem---problems---with the American health care system by tearing everything down and rebuilding it from scratch.
Thing is, they used to be other things as well, one of which was capable of admitting there are some problems needing to be fixed that the government not only has the responsibility to fix but whose fixing the government is in the best position to direct and manage.
Once upon a time, conservatives preferred to leave things up to private individuals but they didn't operate from a religious faith that all government involvement was the devil at work.
It gets more basic than this. Once upon a time conservatives could admit that there were problems that needed fixing even when those weren't immediately problems for themselves. They cared that other people were struggling.
They were charitable.
They were also pragmatic.
They understood that problems for others, if left to get worse, will, in one way or another, become problems for all of us.
There were serious problems with our health care system. Still are. One of them Republicans not only admit but have harped on. Ever and steeply rising costs.
The preferred conservative solution, let the market correct itself, was part of the problem. The market was correcting in the way it most often does---by sucking up all the money available and emptying it into the wallets those with their hands on the vacuum hose. Conservatives should be able to see this isn't just unfortunate for individuals. It's ultimately destructive of free enterprise. Less apocalyptically, it is expensive and increasingly inefficient as those who have it all grow increasingly adverse to risk and innovation because things are working to their advantage just fine.
Of course the bigger problem was that millions of people could not afford to see a doctor.
Conservatives should have been able to see that fixing that problem was not simply a matter of charity. It was costing them and the whole country in social capital as well as in dollars. Even if your gold-plated insurance covered your kids completely, it didn't insure them against having to sit in classrooms with other people's sneezing and coughing kids. Conservatives should have been able to see that it's a benefit to society to have all its children healthy and energetic enough to pay attention in school and learn.
Conservatives should also have been able to see that it's a benefit to businesses to have a healthy and happy and contented workforce who see themselves as having a real stake in the success of the businesses they work for. It's better to have employees who are working energetically for something rather than just working out of the fear they will lose everything.
Conservatives should have been able to see that the ACA tackled those problems in a way conservatives should approve of, through leaving most of the insurance industry alone to continue to make gobs and gobs of money, by minimizing the expansion of the federal bureaucracy, by giving lots of freedom to the states to design their own exchanges and set up needed new bureaucratic offices, and encouraging individuals to take an active responsibility for their own health care and requiring everyone to have "skin in the game."
Most important and conservative of all---and also most liberal---it left medical decisions to be made by patients and their doctors to the same degree those decisions were left between them before. While issuing dark warnings about the government intruding between patients and doctors, Republicans have refused to deal with the fact that as things were,there were always invisible third parties in the examination rooms. Representatives from private insurers had a say over whether or not patients would have certain tests, be prescribed certain medicines, undergo an operation, or receive any treatment at all. Sarah Palin's death panels were already at work in that there were people whose Christmas bonuses depended on their denying coverage for procedures to people who thought being able to have those procedures was why they paid for insurance. That hasn't exactly changed, but it's still the case that government bureaucrats aren't entering into medical decisions with any more intrusiveness than the representatives of the private insurers. But there is something else that comes along with this that conservatives should approve of. Stricter cost controls figuring in the decisions.
Conservatives should have been able to see all that, and many probably did. Trouble is there aren't all that many conservatives left and the ones there are have had no say in the Republican reaction to the ACA because the Republican Party is not a conservative party. It is, I say again, a party of Right Wing reactionary ideologues who do not have the national interest at heart, let alone anything like a concern the common good.
Today's Supreme Court decision was a victory for the President, of course. But that's almost beside the point. As many have pointed out, it's a victory for millions of sick Americans who could have lost their insurance. It's also a victory for millions of healthy Americans who now don't have to worry that if they get sick, they'll go broke too.
But, on top of everything, it's a victory for the ideals that we're all in this together, that no one gets left behind, and, as Dr Vonnegut says, that we're here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is.
Once upon a time, it was ok for conservatives to hold those ideals too. They didn't like to admit they did. They could be grumpy about it. Skeptical. Stubborn and slow to act. And often resentful. But they could admit it and be moved to do something about it.
Traveling home this afternoon from our visit with Old Mother and Old Father Blonde, we took a break for lunch at a rest stop in Jersey and joined a throng of Americans on vacation parade, all dressed for summer and comfortable travel. Not a pretty sight.
I decided to do my bit to beautify America by taking to Twitter, because the power of social media solves all things.
Note to aging American men, I typed, It's been at least 15 yrs since the t-shirt and gym shorts looked good on you and it didn't look that good back then.
I was mostly justly ignored.
But one of my followers took issue.
Dude, he typed in admonishment, Other humans do not exist to make your world look nice.
I just love being called dude.
I almost typed back, Note to aging American men. Calling other guys dude is the verbal equivalent of t-shirts and gym shorts.
And ball caps worn backwards.
I was in a mood.
You couldn't tell?
But I was nice. All I typed back was Since when? and left it at that. I had to. It was time to get back on the road.
But I thought about it the rest of the way and have been thinking about it since we got in. And know what I've decided
That's exactly what other people exist for.
It's what I exist for for them. It's what we're here for to do for each other. Make our worlds look nice.
And sound nice and feel nice.
Of course I mean something more serious and life-improving and life-affirming than not calling attention to our knobby knees and pot bellies.
The ambulatory scenery at turnpike rest stops might look nicer if thirty-, forty-, and fifty-something men didn't dress like sixteen year old boys on their way to an outdoor rock concert. But then all manner and levels of mischief, mayhem, and outright evil has been perpetrated by men who dressed like grownups.
Nixon and his henchmen wore nice suits.
I mean we're here to make life less miserable for each other in whatever ways large and small we can manage. We're here to make the place nicer.
We should be aware and careful of our effect on others. To a degree---the very least degree---this means taking care of our appearance and minding our manners. It means doing our best not to be offensive. It means going out of our way not to cause offense, even accidentally. It means taking others---strangers---into consideration. Considering their feelings. Remembering that they have feelings. It means remembering what Dickens says Scrooge had forgotten and needed to be reminded of, that we’re all fellow passengers to the grave and not separate races of creatures bound on other journeys.
It means being considerate. Being polite. Being...nice.
There is no heaven. The best we can hope for is little moments of heaven on earth and for most people too much of the time moments here are one hell after another.
We're here to lessen that hell.
It's far from enough to be " nice" but being nice is the least we can do and often that's all we can do.