Monday, May 30, 2005
From Friday, I kept checking Dear Leader's schedule for some kind of Memorial Day info - nada until this morning. I'm sure he'd rather forget about the whole thing, but some onerous demands of office cannot, I guess, be blown off. Though I wonder who would notice if he had blown it all off. Gang of 500? Doubtful, and disgusting. When the criminal waste and lying and corruption and torture and - no doubt - stuff we have still to discover, are revealed and their agents brought to account, the pathos of the sacrifice our men and women in the military have suffered in these years should make us all weep. It's not the Q'ran that's being flushed down a toilet, it's this nation's honor.
Let guilty men remember, their black deeds
Do lean on crutches made of slender reeds.
- John Webster (The White Devil, V.1)
The brothers in the David painting, above, are accepting swords to serve as proxies for their city, Rome - that's why it is a civic virtue painting; only one will survive the conflict, and mourning is inevitable. Can anyone imagine Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld putting themselves, by proxy, on the line in place of the 1600+ soldiers we have already lost in the Iragi mirage? Or, indeed, any of their sycophants and courtiers, standing in for their leaders? Of course not, and those crying loudest for others to sacrifice themselves are least willing to do anything to help soldiers, help Iraqis caught in the crossfire, and most willing to slander relief workers who are doing both. And this has all happened in the roughly four years since that PIECE OF SHIT we call a President was, questionably, elected. Is that the truth, seditious speech, or merely rude? In my current mood, I almost wish the jerks would give me the midnight knock, just to give me full vent. This Memorial Day, the fallen are not just our troops, they are all of us who let this regime continue, without honor, and with endless shame.
Addendum: I have stood before this painting. Its scale is human, and it is as clear as a poster to read - A-B-C -, even if you don't know the narrative on which it is based. Don't let those outthrust arms fool you - they accept the swords, not salute them, and the brothers' bodies are poised between assertion of the oath and trying to stand firm, knowing fate targets them. I would say, by contrast, that our Bushies fear nothing, because for them there are no consequences - someone else will always pay. O - for those days of "moral clarity," not so long ago, and already rubbish!
Thursday, May 26, 2005
What Lance said yesterday about the writing endeavour here reminds me so much of Ron - "I really do think of what I do here as being akin to what a sidewalk artist or musician does." I think that's right; It's lovely to be encouraged, to have readers find you, but it's even better to rediscover (if it was lost) the joy of writing every day, of having to make those critical decisions about when to make a fool of yourself, and when not.
I'm quite content with unpressured bandwidth, thank you very much, but go reward some virtuosity where it counts. Buy those Mannions a pizza!!
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
"Nothing disturbs me more in current intellectual work than contemptuous and peremptory dismissal, which produces a tunnel vision by justifying not paying attention to whole swathes of the intellectual landscape. "That’s not my field" is bad enough, but "those people have nothing of worth or interest to say" is much worse. Ricoeur showed us, again and again, another way of doing our work. His work embodies the conviction that understanding the world is a communal enterprise."
So against the grain right now - deprived of another light, we must take note, remember and do it ourselves.
Monday, May 23, 2005
I'm going to followup on Lance's post on Lucas and Tolkien from the other day, but move beyond naming. As I recall, there's a late appendix in ROTK about Translation that is really a caution that the names - place and personal - we're reading are anglicisms; Bilbo was originally Bilba, for example, and changed because the "-a" ending is, for us, generally feminine. Tell that to a Lithuanian.
But Lance really does zero in on the most compelling characters in LOTR (Gollum apart). The ruling houses of Gondor and Rohan - the Steward Denethor, his sons Boromir and Faramir, and King Theoden and his nephew and niece Eomer and Eowyn - bear the human brunt of Sauron's malice, but it's been poured into their ears in a trickle, and each responds differently.
Saruman is a different case, as he's not really human. Like Gandalf (and, indeed, Sauron himself), Saruman is of an order of immortal servants to the (to use Buffy terms) Powers That Be - like but lesser. Sauron turned Bad early on, and spent his career accumulating power for domination; the skills he employed to embody that power in the rings he made are the same that Saruman, before he was sent over the Sea, studied himself. It wasn't, as Lance originally assumed in his post, that Saruman didn't need the Great Ring - he made quite enough mischief without it, and in the Sauron style - but he knew more about it than the other wizards, or the High Elves, e.g., Elrond and Galadriel, who sat with him in Council, and who deferred to his authority while he lusted and schemed.
And then there are the Palantirs. It's really too bad that it's only in the Extended Ver of the ROTK movie that you get a glimmer of the importance of the seeing stones of Numenor. Glorified crystal balls, there were originally seven, and at the time of the LOTR, Sauron has at least two (including the Master Stone that could see all the others), Saruman has one, and Denethor has one, which he has kept secret. They are controlled by the strength of will of the user, and if you are the more powerful, you can mind-fuck your correspondent. That's what happened to Saruman - he became a conduit for Sauron's malice, feeding his own hubris, and this flowed into the court of Rohan via Wormtongue. Until Gandalf intervened and helped Theoden cast it off, the poison had already threatened Eomer in his resistance to it, and thrown Eowyn into despair. Even after Theoden revives, it drives Eowyn to nearly suicidal heroism.
Something similar happens in Gondor, but with echoes of that kingdom's own Numenorean roots. Sauron, whose temptations of the Numenorean kings destroyed that analogue of Atlantis, goes to work on Denethor. Shows (selective) of overwhelming strength, hints of usurpation by some false King in Exile (Denethor is only a Steward, recall, at the foot of an empty throne), suspicions of rival advisors (i.e., Gandalf) - these undermine Denethor's noble entitlement and feed his expectations of doom. They also poison his relationship to his sons, driving him to favor Boromir for his martial strength and to devalue Faramir for his better judgment. The LOTR movies are especially good on Boromir (whose fall, I think, dominates the FOTR installment - yay for Sean Bean!), and, in the ROTK Extended, shows the brothers together (with uncanny resemblances). Without knowing just how much Denethor has been worn down, however, he seems more petulant and arbitrary a father and ruler than he was in the book, and his suicide hasn't quite the pathos of the original. Great, horrible exit, though!
Finally, LOTR is about the transfer of Middle-Earth to the dominion of Men, and the last withdrawal of direct contact from its creators and guardians. We know from the preface of FOTR that hobbits, if they survive at all, would wisely avoid contact with us Big People, clomping about the hedgerows. God only knows what they'd think about blood sports (wasn't a Took ancestor of Bilbo's the only one big enough to ride a horse?). It's not inappropriate, therefore, that these secondary human characters, in their relative complexity - their greyness between Light and Dark - come forward, especially in the movies. I don't see anything comparable in the SW mythos - Episode II was broadcast tonight and explanations of who's good and who's bad sound more like wonky position papers. It's notable that what Gandalf calls forth from Theoden, to save him from death-in-life, is his own free will reborn - it makes heroes of them both. Would we had a present analogue like that.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Thursday, May 19, 2005
In a city far, far away from where I am now, I, too, watched what is now known as Episode IV with pleasure on its first weekend. I was old enough to know it was derivative, and from what, but I loved the polish, the tech, the excess of scale (which I found funny). I wasn't plugged in at the same level that the kids in the audience were, though - they were amped even before the first fanfare, and they were bouncing off the walls when we all left the theater. It was cool. This could be for them, I thought, what Tolkien had been for me, alone, in my room, the beginning of a long romance.
I was especially grateful for Alec Guinness being in there - he embodied the backstory, the hint of history and its gravity that the rest of the actors (and the rest of the script) were too lightweight to sustain. As I recall, George Lucas was lucky he was able to make it at all, and if it hadn't become an historic monster hit, we wouldn't have the saga of Obi-Wan, after death and before, winding up as we speak.
My favorite of the Six (and I will have to wait on the DVD of Episode III, friends - I'm busy keeping someone alive here) is, of course, No. V, "Empire...". Irvin Kershner gave some body to those lightweight kids, and he knew how to pace lines and where the beats should be. The writing wasn't appreciably better than the first movie (with the possible exception of Yoda, and his very special - now legendary - syntax), but it was full of feelings the first had skirted. This is the one that should have been titled "A New Hope."
Whatever happened to Lando? Who can count the reasons - stupidity, tech, budget, Ewoks, A New Insularity, maybe a hack at the helm? - fuck, I don't know. My enthusiasm died with ROTJ - and I have not been disappointed, subsequently, with a revival. Even with the advantages of DVD, I had to borrow in to find some key dialogue in Episode 1 - those damned midichlorians (or midi-chlorians, or, as another Google hit puts it, "Comics Ate My Brain") - and poor Liam Neeson still had to rush over them. His nobility is preserved in his contract to get killed off.
So, while I shall look forward to the DVD of Epsiode III, I don't have much invested in it. Readers will note that I quizzed out as Boba Fett, below, and I'm still not quite sure who he is (I blame the chaos of Episode II). It seems wrong, but maybe you can ask my sister - she has at times thought me a sociopath.
Speaking of Socios, I am amazed at the weight this space fantasy-romance is now expected to bear. Stephanie Zacharek gives a clear-eyed review (it's a MOVIE) in Salon, and Echidne at Atrios jumps all over her for the most passing implication that it's even possible for both Left and Right to oversimplify (E's quote is in paragraph 4 of a 13-paragraph piece) - god, read the rest of it! As SZ says toward the end:
"So is Palpatine supposed to be George W. Bush? It appears so, because he's ruthless, unappealing and arrogant. He's a cartoon baddie, like Ming the Merciless, or Mumbles, or the Penguin -- all of these are very bad men, just like that bad old George W. If Lucas really knew what he was doing, he'd have given us a character who believed with all his heart, as George W. surely does, that he's on God's side. That would have made for a truly creepy and treacherous villain."
Is that clear enough? Look, I'm rubbed raw by everything that's going down - Bolton, that idiot Frist, scapegoating Newsweek for fury and death in foreign lands (who suddenly turned policy responsibility over to Newsweek, btw?). I like Echidne very much, but this is getting too close to a Rumsfeldian "watch what you say/do" thing to make me get my boarding pass.
Geez, I haven't even addressed all that JRRT lore. Next time. I would also like to bring up another presumptive Tory, Anthony Powell. Watch, please.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
What is Your World View? (corrected...hopefully)
created with QuizFarm.com
Lots of stuff going on today - Galloway I am waiting to see at greater length, perhaps on a C-SPAN feed.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Man, superb post from Digby (with excellent sourcing at Balkin). This stuff has been preying on me lately, as I see it play out in my own family. My parents are, variously, susceptible to the blandishments of right-wing populism and religious wingnuttery - there have been momentous social changes in the course their lives, and it makes them nervous, I suppose. Yet they are stubbornly resistant to really embracing ideologues - they just cannot go all the way. One of their great gifts to me as a kid (and I was a very oddball kid) was the reassurance that there was no virtue in conformity, and that it was more important to live by your own lights than to snuff them for the sake of comfort. And I wanted to be comfortable, many times, even desperately - I just loved my freedom of interests more. That was OK with my Mom and Dad.
So, it's a bit mystifying to me how touchy they've become. Dad was a professional labor relations negotiator, and knows how to conceal his cards (sometimes I think I have to counter with the tarot or something....), but Faux has certainly gotten under his skin. He's also retired and his circle gets smaller and smaller every year, and he likes his semi-solitude - I have no agenda with him, and don't want to waste the time we have with each other trying to fix the world (nor does he have any desire to really fix me). But the e-mails get lively, and I can see nearly every one of the sore spots created by the constant hammering of right-wing populism. As Digby quotes him, Balkin also addresses the failings of progressivism:
"What is more difficult for many academics to recognize is that progressivism has its own distinctive dangers and defects. Unfortunately, these tend to be less visible from within a progressivist sensibility. They include elitism, paternalism, authoritarianism, naivete, excessive and misplaced respect for the "best and brightest," isolation from the concerns of ordinary people, an inflated sense of superiority over ordinary people, disdain for popular values, fear of popular rule, confusion of factual and moral expertise, and meritocratic hubris."
Hear you, dude. My Dad needs to hear more analysis like that. Modesty and a little self-examination could dispel some of these myths about liberuls (that is, making our faults our defining characteristics), but caving - as Kerry did earlier this week on the gay marriage issue - is not going to do it. So far, my money is on Harry Reid - I think he could even turn Dad around.
Susie needs a boost, and deserves one (remember that Koufax?) Her situation is all too personally familiar. Needn't be much - power in numbers, folks.
Friday, May 13, 2005
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Reality bites Michael Medved, and he seems not to like it.....pointer from TPM.
I know - hard to tell, but limited writing time has been devoted the last few days to answering a relative who watches too much Faux News. It's instructive; the brain is a convoluted landscape, and man does that shit get impacted, and it's important not to scrape away too hard or feelings might be hurt. Family!
Saturday, May 07, 2005
And as being deprived of suffrage is still within living memory of citizens of this country, I am amazed at the scope - and intensity - of responses to the Runaway Bride story this last week. The facts of the case are trivial, the madness of the media coverage is not - recalls to me the great parody headline 'SLEEP CLAIMS JACKIE!" - yeah, Jackie O was out like a light for one-third of every day!! Shock, awe, and Nancy Grace going hyperthyroid on us all. If only there was some real analogue to Slim Whitman that would explode their alien brains, I'd pipe it out my window to restore local sanity.
The ordinary rites of passage are becoming so inflated, so freighted, with anxiety right now that we may need (but should reject) a Department of Homeland Insecurity. Lindsay, bless her, reasserts the privacy and particularity of weddings (my own sister's was very particular!). Lance addressed the fears of the fearful - straight men who have to demonize gay men because - hmm - they might be set upon and ass-fucked? Roving gangs of predatory fags - I'd like to see that, and I might even sign up - but it's a fantasy. I can assert that coming out (if you are gay) affirms your masculinity like nothing else - it's the closet that makes you a sissy.
Benjamin DeMott has a fine piece on another cleavage - jocks and non-jocks - in the 5/12 NYRB (free on-line, too). He's been clear-eyed on our national will to sweep class, race, and status under the rug for a very long time. How he can continue to spear the complacent received postures and prejudices of his peers, and yet remain hopeful, is virtue itself.
Monday, May 02, 2005
However, it is now May, and the picture below is from the Cluny Museum in Paris - the Medieval one - and the set of tapestries, on a deep green ground overgrown with flowers, illustrating the pleasures of courtly life, is a favorite of mine. They are not overwhelmingly large, and you can get quite close in their modest room (the rest of which displays fragile and beautiful textiles). Just scenes of hunting and picnics and promenades (and bathing, of course) - civilized pleasures, and no excuses for them.