Sunday night. 11:20. Out on the front porch but reporting from a different porch 283 miles to the east and five years back in time, as the virtual Cape Cod vacation continues. Wednesday night. July 14, 2010.
Out on the porch. The coyotes are long gone. The little yapping dogs have settled down. For a while there were no sounds but the brief barking of a couple of teenaged boys debating about how much a particular brand of fireworks was worth as they passed by on their bikes and then the chirping and peeping of what sounded like three different species of birds. Was probably just one species, though, and one bird, a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are the night owls among songbirds which often makes them literally the songbirds among night owls.
Now, coming up on eleven, there is only the pattering of rain in the leaves in the dark in front of me and, from inside the darkened house behind me, the chuckling of Young Ken Mannion reading something funny before he heads up to bed.
Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in winter. Not exactly just down the road but close enough. If all goes well, I’ll be reporting on a walk around here in August. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
That’s not a date stamp on the post. That’s a date I’m looking forward to. Friday, August 7, 2015. That’s the day I’m going in for the procedure that’s supposed to fix up my back. Two shots of steroids straight to the spine. If it goes the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be up and walking normally by that afternoon. Then watch my smoke!
First thing I’m going to do is take a walk in the woods.
Or through the meadow.
Or along the river.
Or over the hills and far away.
Or just around the block.
All my life I’ve been a walker. Not a hiker. Not a stroller. Though I’ve done a fair share of both. I’ve simply gone for walks.
At all times of day. For whatever length of time it takes me to get there and back, wherever there happens to be. Sometimes I walked with a purpose and a specific destination in mind. Sometimes I walked just to see where I’d end up. Often I walked just to walk, to be outside and in motion.
But at all times, wherever I walked, for whatever other purpose I walked to pursue, I walked to think.
It’s been frustrating not being able to get easily from here to there, even when here is the kitchen table and there is the living room. It drives me nuts that I can’t walk to the store for a loaf of bread or down to the library to return a book. It’s depressing and humiliating having to hobble with a cane into the bookstore or the movie theater or the supermarket, wincing every painful step of the way. I keep telling myself how many people have it so much worse. Doesn’t make me dread running an errand any less.
Running an errand! Good one, Lance.
And for over two years now I’ve been convinced that not being able to take walks has been making me stupid and crazy…because for two years I haven’t been able to think.
A lot of what’s called thinking isn’t having thoughts but arranging them, putting some together with others, pulling thoughts that had been together apart, sorting them, storing them, throwing some out. I used to do all that while walking.
I’ve tried to do it while sitting. I can’t. When I sit and try to think, I end up brooding or dreaming. Whichever I do, it’s a piling up of more thoughts that need arranging. The arranging doesn’t happen. Those thoughts remain unarranged. Disarranged. My mind’s a jumble.
It’s a wonder to me that I can teach. I’m told I’ve been doing a good job. I believe it’s my students who are doing the good job. They’re honors students. They think at the drop of a hat. All I have to do is sit there and smile encouragingly and they’re off to the races.
Back when I was young and truly a good teacher, I did all my teaching on my feet. Walking back and forth. You can call it pacing. But I walked at least a mile every class.
It’s even more of a wonder I have been able to write.
I don’t feel like I have been able. Not the way I used to. I know there’s been a significant fall off in the numbers of new posts to the blog. That may be a good thing. I suspect there’s also been a decline in quality, although no one’s been straight-forward enough to say so and many kind readers have assured me it’s not true. But tell you what I am sure of. There’s been an important loss in subject matter.
There haven’t been any reports from my walks which used to be a regular feature of the blog.
So the first post after August 7th is going to be a report from a walk. Might just be a walk around the block. But I’d like it to be here, the Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Which is not too far from here, although a little too far to walk along busy roads or across private property with cows and horses and dogs guarding the paths. Believe it or not, I’ve never been there. I didn’t even know it was there until a couple of years ago when, driving one of Oliver’s friends home after some event at school, we drove past it. A couple of years ago, you’ll note, is when my back gave out.
Anyway, that’s the plan, to go out there and take a walk as soon as I can after I’m up and walking. And if taking a walk works on my brain the way the shots are supposed to work on my back, I’ll get my thoughts arranged again. Maybe I’ll even feel somewhat sane again too.
Like I said. Not walking in the woods or in a meadow or along the river or over a hill has been driving me nuts. Which I didn’t need this New York Times article to tell me. Still, it’s always reassuring to have the New York Times tell you you’re right about something.
A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature…
…Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?..
The article, by Gretchen Reynolds, goes on to report an attempt to answer that question. It also has some pertinent things to say about brooding. You can read the whole piece, How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain, at the New York Times.
Another post card and some more notes from the virtual vacation, both from Tuesday morning, July 9, 2007.
Preparing Ocean Lady to go to work.
Busiest place is town at six-thirty in the morning is often the fish pier.
One or two fishing boats getting ready to put out or coming back in with nets full can stir up more noise and activity than you'll encounter on half a city block, and that's not even including the flocking sea gulls whose calls and whole purpose in life were brilliantly summed up by whoever wrote their lines in Finding Nemo: "Mine? Mine? Mine?"
Took my coffee down there this morning and drank it leaning on the rail of the observation deck half a story up from the water and the docks. Unable to see far to the east because of the hot glare of the low sun or to the north where haze hid Pleasant Bay.
Turns out it's a quiet morning. There's only boat tied up at the pier on which there are any signs of life. The Lady Ocean. And from the looks of things she has unloaded her catch and is preparing to finish for the day. But off to my left a man appears from out behind the prow of the Coast Guard patrol boat wading out to a buoy. He unhooks a line and drags a small skiff in. A few minutes later he reappears at the tiller of the skiff, riding standing up.
The man is about 40, with a thick head of graying blond hair and a bulldog chin. He's wearing narrow shades and a weathered pink t-shirt over olive shorts and sand-colored waders. Husky guy with a big gut. He pilots the skiff around the fish pier and over to the dock on the far side where his partner waits with their gear. Red pickup the partner's unloaded backed up onto the dock. Partner looks a few years older, thinner but bald on top, with his own prodigious gut. Gray hair on the sides of his hair cut very close. Wearing a red t-shirt, khaki shorts, same style and sand-colored waders as his friend.
The first man ties up the skiff and climbs onto the dock. Walks---his walk part waddle and part swagger: a swaddle? A wagger?---his stubby arms swinging, over to the pick-up to move it into the lot where---I'm not kidding, I counted---twenty-six other pickups belonging to the fishermen and clammers already out on the water are parked. The second man climbs down into the skiff and starts pulling gear from the dock to him and lowering it into the skiff. Gear includes two big black chests and a channel marker on a long aluminum pole with a four-bladed anchor on the end with a sharp point that makes it look like a combination missile and harpoon, as if designed for hunting whales from a fighter plane. As far as I can see the gear does not include clam rakes or fishing rods. They're probably headed for their boat and I'm guessing they're lobster men about to spend the morning pulling traps, because of the channel marker and the fact there are only two of them. I think a trawler needs a larger crew.
Ok, thanks for sticking with me because here comes the point of this sketch.
Loaded up the men set out in their skiff and it's the skiff itself that is the whole reason I paid such close attention, because it was the ugliest, most beat-up, most unseaworthy-looking craft I've ever seen---rusted, pock-marked, dented and scratched and scraped, fore to aft, and...
It had no prow.
I mean the front end of the skiff was gone, ripped away as if a bite had been taken out of it by Moby Dick!
I don't know how it stayed afloat while tied up. The only reason I could see that it wasn't taking on water as they rode out is that their weight in the stern kept the bow end lifted several inches.
Neither man seemed to be worried. The first man back standing at the tiller and the second man standing just ahead of him, both staring straight out to sea, and looking, and for all I know feeling, proud and determined as whalers of old putting out from their ship into a pod of bowheads, they rode out towards where their lobster boat waited and I lost sight of them in the glare.
Frankenstein and his monster: Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark (Iron Man), begins to doubt he’s done the right thing in trying to bring about “Peace in our time” by creating the artificial intelligence software Ultron in Iron Man 4. Wait. I’m sorry. I meant Avengers: Age of Ultron.
There’s a very simple story at the center of Avengers: Age of Ultron. A very simple and very old and very true story. The story of an idealistic but vain scientist who, seeking to conquer death, creates a monster in his own likeness whose monstrosity lies in its---his---being at the same time more than human, less than human, and all too human. The monster escapes his creator’s control and runs wild, revealing himself to be not a conquering of death but a bringer of it. But the real horror is in his having a mind of his own and desires of his own that mirror his creator’s. The creator is forced to look in that mirror and see himself for what he is, a monster of vanity and ego, who has unleashed his own evil and set it loose upon the world. It’s a story, then, about how what we take pride in as being the best in ourselves can turn out to be the very worst.
This re-telling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Tony Stark as Doctor Frankenstein and Ultron as his monster---Did you think I meant Bruce Banner and the Hulk?---might be easy to lose track of in the noise and confusion of the overlong and repetitive battle scenes amidst crumbling cities, the irrelevant inclusion an underwritten subplot that amounts to little more than a set of teaser-trailers for the Not-Coming-To-A-Theater-Near-You-Until-November 2017 Thor: Ragnarok, the clumsy attempt to work in the Hulk and Black Widow movies that will never be made, and the overly-insisted upon group angst about whether or not the Avengers will ever be a true team---a question I thought got asked and satisfactorily answered in the first Avengers. When Age of Utron hit the theaters back in May, the whole movie and not just the Frankenstein story got a little lost for many fans in online arguments over whether or not director Joss Whedon had betrayed Black Widow as a character by making her sad about not being able to have babies and whether or not that’s actually what was making Black Widow sad and then by fan outrage when Whedon closed down his Twitter account in what they took as his response to their complaints and criticisms, followed by a further debate over whether or not that was in fact the reason he’d done it and, if it was, did he have the right to shut fans out that way. [Editor’s note: I revised this paragraph a bit after input from longtime reader and blogging comrade Gary Farber. See his comment.]
But I think the problem---which is probably only a problem for me---is caused by Age of Ultron’s having been mistitled as an Avengers movie and not as what it is.
Iron Man 4.
But then I don’t think Marvel Studios really has an Avengers series unfolding. They have two parallel stories of individual heroes that are on their way to merging in a dual tragedy. Steve Rogers’ and Tony Stark’s---Captain America’s and Iron Man’s.
Before I get into that…
Marvel has been either lucky or brilliant in the casting of its leads and supporting players in most of its productions, which now include Agent Carter,Daredevil, and Ant-Man, all three of which feature excellent leads and supporting players. (The less said about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the better.) I’m particularly (and sentimentally) impressed by Chris Evans as Captain America. I think he’s done a wonderful job of putting the lessons of Christopher Reeve’s Superman to work in playing a hero too good to true and making his goodness believable, likeable, sympathetic, attractive, and---the truly super feat---fun. But Robert Downey Jr is still the best of the lot. Evans is good in Age of Ultron and James Spader is better, stealing most of the showwith his amazing voice work as Ultron, but Downey is never blown off the screen---except when Iron Man is literally blown off the screen, which happens a lot, maybe too much. Like I said, the battle scenes get repetitive, but never mind. Spader has great fun with his monologs, making well-written lines sound like brilliant ones and brilliant ones sound like Shakespeare. (I think I’d better explain that below.) But Downey matches him easily, filling his every sentence with an essential Tony Stark-ness. Which is to say, that just about whatever he says, no matter how witty, charming, and smart is tinged with competitiveness, ego, jealousy, selfishness, and…insecurity.
A good example is in an apparent throw-away moment, Cobie Smulders as former S.H.I.E.L.D agent Maria Hill---who, unfortunately, is turning out to be the Avengers’ Girl Friday instead of Agent Coulson’s replacement as Nick Fury’s Right Hand and heir apparent---addresses Stark as “boss” and he immediately corrects her.
“He’s the boss,” he says, meaning Captain America, “I just pay for everything, design everything, make everyone look cooler.”
It’s beautifully delivered but a great deal of its beauty is that it contains all those qualities I mentioned: wit, charm, smarts, competitiveness, ego, jealousy, selfishness, and self-doubt.
Downey makes it plain that Stark accepts Cap as the team’s leader and knows that that’s how it ought be but also that he also help feeling that he could be the leader and can’t help letting Hill know that too and know why and know why she should be impressed with him, as if she wouldn’t be already and would be more if she didn’t also know what an overgrown brat he can be, a fact he knows and has come to dislike about himself but which he can’t seem to correct.
These qualities, with the emphasis on the wit, charm, and ego, have defined Downey's characterization of Tony Stark since the first Iron Man. And that characterization is thematic. Running through all three Iron Man movies and now both Avengers movies is the question Who is Tony Stark and what does he want? and all those qualities mixing up together make that a hard question to answer.
The first Iron Man ends with Tony announcing “I am Iron Man.” But that turns out to be a problematic statement because while it's true in the most obvious way, it's also a declaration that he’s a superhero and Iron Man 2 calls that into question. In fact, in Iron Man 2, Nick Fury decides Tony's not a superhero, or at least not up to being one of Earth's mightiest heroes, and although he doesn't kick him off the Avengers project, he demotes him, from hero to technical support. Tony earns a second chance, but in the first Avengers he has to prove he deserved it, that he is a hero and not, as Cap accuses him of being, just a big ego operating a suit of armor that does all the real work. Tony proves it---to the team, but apparently not to himself. That's what Iron Man 3 is about. Tony becoming a hero in his own eyes.
Now we find out that there's a problem with that.
Tony developed a real hero's heart. He did not lose any of his vanity. He did not learn, like Cap did long ago, humility.
It's not enough for him to be a hero. He has to be the hero.
Which brings me to the other part of the answer to who is Tony Stark and what does he want?
He's Howard Stark's son and he wants what he cannot have. His dead father's approval.
Specifically, he's the son of a brilliant and successful father who was, Tony feels, aloof, overly demanding, overly critical, and whom he has in significant ways surpassed. All his life he has been in a competition he can't win for a reward he can't have. Howard Stark wouldn't acknowledge his son's genius while he was alive and now he's not around to applaud his success and achievements---and admit he’s been bested. Add to this that Tony has given himself the mission of making up for his own and Howard's mistakes and sins, something that comes back to haunt him and the other Avengers in Age of Ultron, in the persons of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
If all that sounds neurotic and even juvenile, it's mitigated by Tony's having nobler ambitions. He sincerely wants to fix everything and save everybody.
Like I said, he wants to be a hero.
Unfortunately, like I also said, vanity is still a problem.
Tony wants to be the one who saves everybody and fixes everything.
He wants to be the hero.
He says he built Ultron so that the Avengers won't be needed anymore. But he does it in the belief that he doesn't need the other Avengers to help him. (He enlists Bruce Banner but pretty much relegates him to the role of Igor.) Basically, he believes that the world already doesn't need the Avengers. It just needs him.
In an argument with Cap, Tony defends what he was attempting to do in creating Ultron, prevent war forever or, as he says, thinking he’s being cute and ironic, bringing about “peace in our time.” Cap won’t buy it. “Every time someone tries to stop a war before it starts,” he snaps. “Innocent people die. Every time.” A line that might inspire anti-war liberals with Iraq in mind to cheer, but which is really kind of a strange thing for a veteran of World War II to say. Wouldn't it have been a good thing if Hitler could have been stopped before? (Leaving aside the question of whether he actually could have been stopped.) But there's an answer, which Stark doesn't give, because this is an action-adventure movie not a novel by Tolstoy and there isn't time or space for philosophic and historical debates. Innocent people die in wars, many innocent people, so isn't trying worth it anyway, if only on the chance that maybe only fewer innocent people will die?
Again, no time or space in the movie or in a movie review even on this blog. But quickly. Stark's mistake is that he has already had this debate with himself and made decisions by himself, leaving everybody else out of it. He has assumed knowledge, wisdom, responsibilities, and power that Cap, a conventionally religious man of his bygone time, would probably say belong to God.
Like I said. Frankenstein.
This is where the stories of Iron Man and Captain America begin to converge in a way that, for me, turns the Avengers saga into a side story. The real story, now, is leading into the next Captain America movie, Civil War.
Of course I don't know what's coming. But this is what I see being set up. Tony Stark is going to bring about what he says he created Ultron to do, put an end to the Avengers.
To put it in mythological terms, he's going to bring about the breaking of the Round Table.
In my review of the first Avengers, The Romance of Tony Stark, I said that if you see the Avengers as having parallels to the stories of King Arthur and his knights, Tony is Lancelot. Not in personality but in the potential role of tragic traitor. He and Lancelot share the same tragic flaw, a willingness to put their own desires above what they know to be right. In Lancelot's case, it's his love for Guinevere that undoes him. In Tony's, it's his need to be the hero.
In my review, I said that I didn't see Captain America as King Arthur. But Winter Soldier changed my mind about that.
S.H.I.E.L.D. turned out to have been based on the premise that “Might Makes Right.” Cap doesn’t just believe like King Arthur in “Might for Right.” He believes that Right Makes Might. His ambition isn’t just to make the world safe. It’s to make it right.
He dreams of Camelot.
With this in mind, you can guess which scene in Age of Ultron I got the most kick out of: the scene at the party celebrating the Avengers' defeat of the last remnants of Hydra. The guys---Clint (Hawkeye) Tony, Rhodie ( who, thankfully, has given up calling himself the Iron Patriot and gone back to being War Machine), and Steve Rogers---take turns trying to lift Thor's hammer. Of course, they can't try as they might. As we know, only he---or she. I've been following what's going on in the comic books.---who is worthy can wield the hammer. The guys know this and they don't really expect to succeed. But they've had a few and they are guys, after all. They're showing off. But once they get going, Tony's competitive juices start flowing. He becomes determined to lift the hammer.
It's not to prove he's worthy. He doesn't take that part seriously. (Downey tosses off a couple of great one-liners on the subject of how he will treat his subjects when he takes Thor's place as ruler of Asgard, and, again, the lines are witty and charming but tinged with vanity. He's in effect telling Thor he's not impressed with his being a god and hero-king.) What he wants to show is that lifting the hammer doesn't prove anything except that you've mastered the trick of lifting it. And he's convinced there's a trick and equally convinced that if there is he's the one who can figure it out. That's his main job as an Avenger.
But when it's Cap's turn, we see Steve approach the task with a bit of reluctance. He's doing it mainly to be a good sport. But he gives it his all and...
The hammer moves.
To Thor's shock and consternation---Chris Hemsworth does a terrific double-take here.---and to Steve's own, well, fright. He gives it one more mighty tug but his heart isn't in it and, as we know from The First Avenger, it's his heart that gives him his strength. The super soldier serum only worked on him because he had a good heart. Then he gives up and the implication is that he does because he doesn't want to know.
Not that he isn't worthy. He already knows he's worthy. That's what makes him Captain America. He doesn't want to know he's worthier. He doesn't like being as worthy as he is. He’s weighed down by the responsibilities and filled with self-doubt. He doesn't like what being worthy has made him. Sad and alone, out of time and out of place. A misfit. A freak. A monster, in fact. In yet anther Frankenstein story, one he explicitly tells about himself in this movie, the kindly Dr Erskine who invented the super-soldier serum is Frankenstein and he, Captain America, is the Creature.
Chris Evans, working with some beautifully understated dialog, makes Cap almost as witty and charming as Downey's Tony Stark, but he gives Cap a kind of reverse vanity. While just about everything Downey as Stark says is a form of boasting, just about everything Evans' Cap says is self-deprecation.
I don’t recall any specific moments when we see him reacting to Cap’s modesty, but it probably drives Tony nuts.
Here's where it gets messy.
Like it hasn't already, Lance?
If a big part of who Tony Stark is is Howard Stark’s son, then in his eyes Steve Rogers would naturally be something of a stand-in for his father.
That’s how Tony first came to know of him, as his father’s good friend and war buddy. He grew up listening to his father talk admiringly about Cap and from that he learned to resent him. Doesn't matter what Howard said or how often he said it, what Tony heard was an incessant criticism: Why can't you be more like him?
In other words, Tony would have grown up thinking of Captain America as the son his father wished he had instead of him.
It's no wonder that when he meets him in the flesh, Tony's filled with jealousy and an intense spirit of rivalry that would be hard to overcome even as the two became good friends.
Which they have. With not a whole lot of interaction, Downey and Evans make it clear Tony and Steve like each other, have fun together, and rely on each other. The spirit of rivalry never goes away, though, and it's felt on both sides, because more than they are friends, they are, spiritually, brothers.
We all know how things tend to go between brothers in literature. (And in movies. If you want to push it---and I'm always ready to push these things---there are parallels between Steve and Tony and Thor and Loki.) Steve, even though he's younger---discounting the seventy odd years he was frozen in the ice---is in temperament and in effect the older brother, as well as the favorite son.
All right, maybe all that's too mythological. But superheroes are often said to be our new myths---mostly it's said by fans of the comic books and the artists who make their livings creating them. If it's true, however, it's only when they've escaped the comics and other mass media where they have their origins and enter the collective unconscious to the point that they resonate with the very many people who don't read comic books, play video games, or watch the TV shows and go to the movies. That's happened with Superman and Batman. You can geek out for days debating which others have achieved Superman and Batman's mythological status.
Obviously, for me, Captain America is part of my personal mythologies.
But if these stories were truly myths, they would have endings. And the endings would all be the same. The heroes die. That actually happens to the mythological Thor.
It can't happen to the comic book heroes.
Well, it does all the time. But I mean they die and stay dead. They don't, as Cap advises in Age of Ultron, walk it off.
Their stories have an end which no stories told about them can go past. As far as I know that's only happened to Barry Allen's Flash.
Don’t tell me…
At any rate, there’s too much money riding on the popular heroes’ immunity to mortality.
Now, the heroes of the movies can die and stay dead. And that could happen in the Avengers saga. If the twinned stories of Iron Man and Captain America are truly myths, Civil War will be a tragedy that ends with the breaking of the Round Table, Lancelot's self-imposed banishment, and the death of Arthur.
It could happen. It doesn't appear to be in the offing. Avengers 3 and 4: Infinity War I and II are in the works. The intriguing thing is that as things stand Downey won't be in them. I haven't heard for sure about Evans. He may not be. That doesn't mean Iron Man and Captain America won't be.
There's precedent for recasting.
Look out! Here comes the pesky Spider-Man!
But to get down to it at last, this is why I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron as Iron Man 4 and why, as far as I was concerned, after the scene with Thor’s hammers all the Avengers except Iron Man and Cap could have disappeared from the movie until the inevitable climactic battle. Thor, for all intents and purposes, does.
Like I said, mostly what he does between the hammer scene and the final battle is show up in interpolated teasers for Thor: Ragnarok.
As for that final battle, and all the big battles, I could have done without them too. For one thing, the cgi work is too detailed. Watching all those buildings crumble into dust, all I was thinking was “Who’s going to clean up that mess?” (Note to stickler fans: I know who’s going to clean up that mess. The point is I was focused on the mess.) But mainly, what I wanted and what I think the story needed was a final confrontation between Iron Man and Ultron, and, even better than a good fight, a good scene between them like the one between Tony and Loki in the first Avengers.
As for watching a good fight, it’s interesting that the one good one between Ultron and an Avenger is between him and Captain America. I took that as symbolic.
The battles themselves are well staged. I’m sure Whedon had other things on his mind but they play like he was saying to Man of Steel’s director Zack Snyder, “This is how you do it.” Whedon keeps the focus on his characters as characters---that is, they are always being themselves as they run, jump, dodge, duck, fly, and fight. He doesn’t just use them as avatars in a video game. And he makes sure that we see that most of their efforts go into saving people. We see and feel that there are actual human lives in jeopardy and that it matters if even one person in the crowd dies.
And as for the characters…
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch aren't given much to do. He's cocky and she's angsty. As the movie goes along, he gets cockier, she gets angstier. But pretty much they're here to save on time spent on exposition in the next Avengers movies.
I'm glad Whedon let Paul Bettany, who's been doing charming work as the voice of Jarvis, Stark's computer sidekick since the first Iron Man, appear as another new Avenger, the Vision. He's a little too much of a vision for my taste, but he's a needed calming, civilizing, and distancing presence. It's a relief to have a character who has some perspective and who can think clearly about what is happening and what the Avengers ought to be up to. I don't expect that sanity to last. This is, after all, the Marvel cinematic universe.
Even though I didn't need to see them in this movie---as opposed to in those movies of their own that will never get made---it was good to see Jeremy Renner do more than take aim convincingly while cracking wise, Mark Ruffalo do something other than wrestle with his rage, although he still does a fair share of that, and Scarlett Johansson show yet another side of Black Widow, even if that side is that of the good-hearted bad girl who, to paraphrase Valerie Perrine as a variation of the type in Superman, doesn't get to get it on with the good guys.
Chris Hemsworth’s underused, again. Whedon gives a supporting female character a line that lets us know that he knows which of the Avengers most female fans---and gay male ones, I presume---want to see the most of and then doesn’t give it to them. Instead, proud and unabashed dork that he is, he lingers on Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and makes him the focus of the longing female gaze. Ruffalo’s good, of course, but he’s nowhere near as pretty as Hemsworth and Banner is, after all, a dork. Hemsworth, though, makes do with what’s given and it’s important to notice that most of his best work is silent. He’s a natural comic actor and all he needs is his eyes.
Spader, as everyone acknowledges, is the stand-out star. When I said he turns his dialog into Shakespeare, I didn’t mean flowery or poetic. I meant that he makes the words alive to the character saying them. Ultron’s listening to himself. Choosing the words carefully. Writing his own script. Writing himself into being. Hamlet does this. Falstaff does this. Iago and Rosalind do it. Ultron knows himself to be performing. He’s literally making himself up as he goes. And not only is he creating himself in his own eyes, he’s forcing others to think of him as he thinks of himself.
I probably need to come back and rewrite that.
That’s it. Time to wrap this up. But one more scene before the credits roll.
Whedon has been given a lot of credit for shaping the Avengers saga and giving the movies their tone and spirit. But I think what he deserves the real credit for is recognizing what was already going on, accepting it, liking it, and running with it. The first and most credit, I think, should go to Jon Favreau, and I was happy to his name show up in the credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron as an executive producer.
It was Favreau, as the director of the first Iron Man, who set the tone and gave the series its spirit and sensibility. And the best thing he did to do that was fight to get Robert Downey Jr cast as Tony Stark.
Avengers: Age of Ultron, written and directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Don Cheadle, James Spader, and Samuel L. Jackson. Rated PG-13. Still in some theaters.
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.
Mrs M's on the bus to New York City. I'm in my office already---on the front porch. We've been texting each other. NO! Not those kinds of texts! I was telling her about the hummingbird that just came to visit. She was telling me about the Wodehouse novel she's reading while her fellow commuters are hunched over their smart phones. We're a nice old married couple. We don't sext.
Although once upon a time...
Sometimes I make myself laugh and sometimes I cringe and sometimes I just sigh in relief thinking about what if cell phones and texting had been around when we were young.
Some of the letters we wrote to each other back when I was in grad school in Iowa and she was working as a reporter in Miami are pretty steamy.
Sometimes signs like this have to be taken as invitations.
Took the back roads home again this morning after dropping Mrs M off at the bus depot and drove past this place sinking into the weeds and wildflowers and disappearing behind the scrubs. Not much to look at except something inside caught my eye and I had to stop, turn around, and investigate.
Not sure if I should call it a small barn or a large shed. Probably shed. Doesn't look as though it was ever a home or shelter for livestock. Likely been doing what it's doing since it was built God knows how many years ago, housing farm equipment. There were two very old, rusted out, partially disassembled tractors parked inside.
But when I looked in as I was driving past this morning, I saw it was full of ghosts.
A man and a teenage boy working on one of the tractors, two more men with long handled mallets pounding into place a new log post to prop up the sagging ceiling over the second tractor, and half a dozen children of various ages watching, the two oldest boys looking as if they were waiting to be called on to help.
It was a scene that could have come to life straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And very likely it had. Pieces of it, at any rate, details, the play of light, the colors.
Obviously, nothing had come to life. I had conjured it all up out of my imagination. But for the briefest of moment it looked alive.
This happens routinely. I'll take a quick look at a place and see it as it once was, alive and busy with people long dead who worked, played, did business, or gathered there to meet, pray, hear news, make love, or fight and die. I sometimes call this seeing ghosts, but there's usually there's nothing scary or haunting in it. It's more like I'm looking back into time as if that can be done like looking into space with a telescope, which, of course, is a way of looking back in time. If we had a powerful enough telescope we could observe what they were doing on Kepler 452b fourteen-hundred years ago.
I don't usually see that far back. A hundred years at most. Usually, it's a lot less. A matter of decades. Often, not even that. I regularly see last week.
But not always my last week.
Or not wholly.
Of course, like I said, what I'm seeing is the work of my imagination, inspired by the solid fact of something present in the present, splicing together a movie in my head out of bits and pieces of memory, details and scenes from movies and TV shows, photographs, paintings, past imagined movies in my head themselves put together from bits and pieces of memory, along with actual memories.
It's possible that what I saw in the shed this morning I saw somewhere at some time for real. Or I saw something very like it and my imagination adapted it to the present circumstances. The next-door neighbors of one of my grade school friends had a two-story garage that was more like a barn than like what I thought of as garage-like. It wasn't a big concrete-floored box in which to park cars and bikes and store patio furniture and toys. It was a workplace, well-stocked with tools and hardware and useful odds and ends. Sometimes when I was visiting, my friend and I would wander over to watch the boy next door's father tinker on one of the many projects he always had going. He didn't rebuild any tractors that I recall, but he did work on cars. So the scene I saw this morning could have happened, more or less as I saw it, substituting a car for the tractor, and one of the boys watching and hoping to be called on to help could have been me.
Unless I meet up again with my friend, with whom I long ago lost touch, and it turns out he has pictures or home movies, I'll never know.
This is why you should never rely on your memory. Even if you are in the habit of cultivating it, keeping it fresh and well-sorted and continually at work---and most people aren't. They let it take care of itself, become overgrown, go to seed, or run wild, or neglect it so that it withers and dies---much of what we think we're remembering we're making up on the spot.
This us why, too, the most untrustworthy politicians aren't the ones who lie flat out about verifiable truths but the ones who tell the truth as they believe it to be based on what they remember from their childhoods and youth.
The biggest lies in politics are the ones that begin with some form of the phrase "Back in my day..."
That's all there is to this story. There were clues in the shed that people had been at work in there in the not too distant past, but all the life there was about the place was outside.
Some woods begin not far behind the shed. The clearing around it was bright with Queen Ann's Lace and early golden rod. Across the road in back of me, chickens, hunted and pecked in the grass in the yard of a still quiet house, several hens and two roosters giving each other the side-eye as they strutted wing blade to wing blade. Few cars passed and all that broke the silence was the competitive crowing of the roosters.
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.
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.
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.
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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.