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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

In light of the doomsday scenarios that had been offered on the fate of the sunken Crescent City should a hurricane breach its defences, and in view of just such a horror that started visiting that city three days ago and that is still building even though the remnants of Hurricane Katrina are now whirling themselves to exhaustion hundreds of miles to the north, a lot of people are probably taking recourse to the title of this post.

I think it applies to any big city, not just New Orleans, and that's one of the reasons why I so often took the opportunity to escape the one in which I was born, finally managing to pull off a very lengthy absence.

I wasn't born there, but I have seen lots of New York City, because I had relatives living there, and I especially saw that place in disaster terms. Just before 9/11 I looked at a photo of the hideously unnatural growth with which NYC has overloaded the tiny island of Manhattan, with that madness of skyscrapers, and I shook my head sadly. I had visions, not of two misdirected airliners but of a single earthquake.

One official in or near New Orleans said that what is happening there now is worse than her worst fears. I wonder if, like me, she has been derided all her life for being a worrier and for cooking up and actually experiencing -- in her mind --terrible scenarios that haven't happened yet and most likely "will never happen."

An experience three months after 9/11 that for my wife and I personally dwarfed the horrors of that event, followed by another catastrophe three months farther on, showed me that, no matter what the wiser and more sanguine souls among us say, the things that we fear the most not only can but sometimes do happen, and you don't necessarily have to wait around for them for long, though it may not be till years later that their true magnitudes finally become clear.

The main development, however, that sets in afterward does so quickly enough, and it consists of a big change in one's mindset -- a very quiet and beneficial change, I would say.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Dangers of Humor: Al Franken

Humor is widely regarded as one of the chief ingredients of living that make it such a worthwhile experience. I have my doubts about that. Instead, when its users are careless, it seems to me that humor can be poisonous and even lethal, and that happens far too much.

Though humor is apparently his main vocation, on his weekday morning show on the Sundance Channel, the political satirist Al Franken pretty much stays on that kind of knife edge, and too often, lacking the sureness of any house cat, he loses his balance and flops over into the bubbling, corrosive stuff.

The other day at the beginning of one show, he and his sidekick, Katherine Lanpher, announced that one of their guests would be Accuro, a psychic who had a great record of predicting the winners in recent political contests. Franken appeared to be looking forward to this guest with great anticipation, but Lanpher was skeptical. She wanted to know how he arrived at his predictions, and so did I.

As the hour went on, however, it was a long time before Accuro arrived, and meanwhile Franken showed every sign of becoming increasingly annoyed at a male staffer who seemed indifferent to his boss's concern, and especially at a female staffer, who was summoned to explain in person the psychic's absence. And when Accuro finally did show up, his responses were limited to fending off Lanpher's attacks on his credibility and to Franken's disgust at the psychic's inability to find the building, despite the fact that he was supposedly an infallible knower of the usually unknowable.

It all turned to be a big hoax on the part of Franken and his cohorts.

The next day Franken read a long email from someone who roundly and properly attacked him, though not for having perpetrated the hoax. The writer was clearly still unaware of that, apparently having listened on radio instead of viewing on TV and so hadn't had the advantage that I had had of seeing the scripts they had used. Instead the emailer criticized Franken's bad behavior toward his underlings.

GW Bush is often hit, I assume even by Franken himself, for not having one apologetic molecule in his body. But I wouldn't be surprised if Franken feels that he, too, is blessed with the same infallibility. Neither he nor the normally much more balanced Lanpher were the least bit contrite for the nasty trick that they had played on their audience. Instead they seemed to assume that everyone had been in on the "joke," and they took the email to be actually a testament to their superior acting powers, and so they had nothing but scorn for those who, like me, took their dishonesty to be good gold.

But it's just that kind of trust that I would think that, on a show like theirs, where they are trying to erect a strong structure consisting of certain points of view, usually liberal, they would always be trying to build up, rather than risking it in favor of showing how clever they can be.

In his ceaseless desire to be funny, Franken falls into this trap much more often than does Lanpher, and so he isn't nearly as trustworthy. For instance he likes to present the points of view of adversaries like the Russ guy with a completely straight face and tongue firmly in cheek, and we are supposed to know that those viewpoints are so absurd that they can't be seen in any other way.

But I wonder how many of Franken's viewers and listeners know that. And why should they have to spend so much of their time and effort in sorting out the fool's gold from the good gold on his show?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Silent Iraqi Bloggists

A long while ago I told an online friend, Hr, another elderly person like me, about Riverbend, the mysterious young woman who courageously continues to live and function in or near the heart of the Iraq maelstrom, as she has so vividly reported for several years now in her "Baghdad Burning" weblog. (http://www.riverbendblog.com/)

I didn't hear much about River from Hr. afterward, and I assumed that she read a couple of River's posts and then went on to other things. I was surprised when, a couple of weeks ago, Hr. emailed me, asking with some alarm if I knew why River hadn't posted for a long time. Ironically, that email cracked me out of my own latest and much longer "blogsleep," and ever since I've been fully awake and once more dog-paddling through that fascinating world.

River hasn't posted for close to a month and a half now, and her last report consisted only of three terse sentences, notifying us of the abduction/arrest of another interesting Iraqi webloggist, Khalid, the proprietor of "Tell Me a Secret" [http://secretsinbaghdad.blogspot.com/], and before that River hadn't left us anything to ponder for the preceding two weeks. This means that it has really been two months since she last applied herself to these outside communications.

Because of the frequent shortages of electricity and other drawbacks of living in Baghdad brought on by the Bush attack, River's postings are characterized by large gaps between them. Two weeks is about usual, but six weeks is way out of the ordinary.

To my recollection, her previous most worrisome absence was caused by another abduction, much closer to home, of an inlaw, the husband of her cousin, for which she and her family had to scurry around and come up with some serious ransom money.

So far I have found no mention in other weblogs, Iraqi or American, of Riverbend's situation, and so, as always, we can only speculate and hope for the best.

Times seem to be tough for Iraqi bloggists, and surely it couldn't be any other way. After giving us a long and amazingly thorough account of his ordeal, Khalid himself hasn't posted, for a month. And until a few days ago it had been two weeks since Khalid's brother, Raed Jarrar, of "Raed in the Middle," (http://raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com/) had said anything either.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Bad Right Side

It seems to me that the right side of things is usually the trouble side. I wonder if it's the same for most people. My right foot is often the source of pain, my left very rarely. My right eye is weaker than my left. My hernia was on the right. And then of course there's politics, in which nearly all the abominations and the consequent threats and difficulties of existence stem from what is called, for various reasons that don't occur to me at the moment, the Right.

I was reminded of this by Hurricane Katrina, which, after having already made one damaging pass across Florida, is back over warm waters in the Gulf and steadily strengthening again, before it will take another whack at a much larger chunk of the mainland, and it is becoming a big threat to the fabled city from which my parents came but which I have never visited, New Orleans. And quite often the storms that hit Louisiana continue up this way, to my western part of Virginia, or they send their offspring. A classic case of this was Camille in 1969, which, after having hit the Gulf Coast hard, took special aim at just this one small county hundreds of miles to the north, taking over 100 lives here by filling the mountain coves with 25 inches of rain in one night. And it looks as if Katrina won't be stingy with its rainfall either, in places.

The Weather Channel is at pains to tell us that those in the path of Katrina's right quadrant, on the east side of the furiously whirling saw blade, are in the greatest danger, as in all or at least the great majority of hurricanes.

What is it about the right that makes it the most used and often damaging side? Something as basic as the Earth's rotation?

Curiously, its sister planet, the beautiful one with the deadly atmosphere, Venus, rotates in the opposite direction, as do a couple of others, too -- Uranus and Pluto, I think. But which ones got off on the wrong foot -- or the right foot, as the case may be? The majority of the planets, or the minority? And what caused the difference? Did the Intelligent Designer just like to mix up things? These are questions worth pondering while we on a hurricane's right wait as it draws closer.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Hernia Operation

My hernia operation yesterday went so well that instead of being the ordeal that I had expected, it was actually something of a pleasure.

How things have changed over 52 years!

My wife got me up there in time, helped me get settled, and then she went off shopping during the hours when she couldn't be in the same room.

Meanwhile all the hospital people were extremely friendly, especially the nurse, who seemed to have an uncanny knack of reading my mind. She blamed her long experience for her ability to anticipate all my questions and concerns.

It was done at Martha Jefferson, the smaller of the two hospitals in Mr. Jefferson's cool little city, Charlottesville. The other is U.Va or the University of Virginia. C'ville is 45 miles north of my house. There are two other hospitals 25 miles to the south, in Lynchburg, a slightly larger metropolis -- Jerry Falwell's town.

The operating room was quite a scene, appearing to promise lots of drama. It was larger than I expected and daunting to me. With age I have become as squeamish about seeing anything having to do with medical stuff on TV as I was as a child looking at horror stuff in movies.

The people -- and there seemed to be a lot of them -- were wearing non-uniform clothing, and some were standing around quite casually, while others were bustling about though also looking calm enough. And there in the middle stood this huge-looking though actually narrow operating table on which little ol' me would be esconsed.

The surgeon and the anesthesia doctor soon arrived, and meanwhile the crew spread-eagled me on the table, which had extensible arms, and they appeared to be strapping down my arms and legs. The strapping felt like extended blood pressure cuffs, which regularly squeezed and relaxed. I found out later that their purpose was to keep blood clots from forming, which can happen during anesthesia.

I couldn't help it -- I look at a lot of crime and action movies on my satellite dish, and all this spreadeagling and wrapping reminded me of prisoners being strapped down and hooked up before suffering lethal injections.

As the nurse had predicted, the anesthesia doctor told me that he was about to give me a med via my IV that would put me under in five or six seconds, and the next thing I would know I would be awake in the recovery room.

I thought I'd fool him. I vowed to stay conscious five or six seconds longer than that by staring at a shiny purplish-gray disc directly overhead, but he won, and indeed an instant later I was fully awake and feeling surprisingly chipper in the recovery room. and the nearly two-hour operation was all over.

I stayed in there for another hour while watching the employees, who seemed to spend nearly half their time writing things on clipboards. Then I was wheeled into the room where they had first installed me, a comfortable little place though suggestive of a prison cell because of the toilet seat, which stood in plain sight right next to the door.

Eventually, besides my wife and the nurse, the surgeon dropped in for a final word. I asked whether I had done anything during the operation to get in the way, and he said that I had done just what I was supposed to do, which was exactly nothing.

Though the nurse had earlier said that the surgeon liked his patients to stay for two or three hours of observation, he decided that I was doing so well that he released me then and there.

I thanked him for doing an excellent job, and I did the same with the nurse while she wheeled me down to the car. The way I was feeling, it was more than obvious that they had done just that.

In turn the nurse said that I was doing better than most patients after that operation, and it meant that I must have a strong constitution, something that hitherto I had never suspected.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hernia Operation at Hand Today!

Three months ago I visited a close friend and neighbor who had just undergone a hernia operation, and one of the first things that popped from my mouth was that I was surprised that I hadn't had to have one yet. He is around 50; I am more than 20 years older.

Maybe I shouldn't have said that because just a few weeks later a bulge suddenly appeared in exactly the same spot at the top of my groin and slightly to the right. I quickly guessed it to be a hernia and my doctor confirmed that. He referred me to a surgeon who had already done the same operation on him, and the surgeon said that my hernia is a "good-sized" one, and now, in less than 12 hours, I am to go under the knife.

It is 2:30 in the morning. I've had nothing to eat or drink for four hours, and things will have to stay that way until after the operation, which will be around noon.

I look forward to this imminent experience in the hospital with interest yet also with apprehension. The last and only other time I had a full-fledged operation was in 1953, and I had to stay in the hospital for two months. I could have put this hernia operation off for a while, by wearing a truss. At no time has this bulge hurt or felt unpleasant. But I had heard and read things about a very threatening possibility called "strangulation." My tolerance for having things hanging over me has dropped sharply in recent times, and I am too adept at hosting spectres in my head.

I will be lucky to have my excellent wife of 40 years to drive me up to Charlottesville and back and to look out for me. I understand from the neighbor I mentioned and from another who is only 20 yet needed the same operation at nearly the same time, as if there's a hernia epidemic going around, that the first day you don't feel much because you're so heavily sedated but that the second is pretty tough, and so are the several others to come, though in decreasing severity.

I will have my own experience to add quite quickly.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Cambodia Effect

Unlike many whose opinions I respect, I opposed the GWBush bombing and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. I had more company in likewise objecting, even more strongly, to his invasion two years later of Iraq. I thought it would be a good thing if holes were suddenly to open under the regimes in both those countries, so that the Taliban and Saddam could drop into them, never to be heard from again, but I didn't think invasions by the U.S. military were the way to go.

Now, two more years farther on, in the case of Iraq it looks as if those objections were fully justified, and I still don't regret my attitude about Afghanistan either.

I've coined names for two of my reasons for my trepidations about the Bush bellicosity in these situations, both named after previous U.S. experiences in similarly small countries on the other side of Asia. They are "the Cambodia Effect" and "the Vietnam Effect."

Before Nixon and Kissinger decided that it would be a good idea to extend the fighting into Cambodia while keeping their efforts a secret, things had been quiet in that country, even if the Vietcong did use some of the trails in its border areas. But the sudden strafings, bombings, and forays by American forces stepped up the level of violence there almost overnight, and just a short while later we saw unfolding one of the worst chapters in the 20th century, the Pol Pot genocide.

I feared that, like the introduction of a terrible disease, some sort of dire catastrophe would similarly befall the Afghanistan people should Bush inject American fighters in there. I thought that that would just lead to large numbers of people being deprived of the right to live out their normal life spans and also it would involve a huge destruction of property and facilities -- things that the Afghanis certainly didn't need, after a generation of being heavily scourged not only by the Russians but also by their own infighting.

Also I didn't think a thirst for revenge justified inflicting death and destruction on many segments of the Afghan population that had nothing to do with 9/11, and that if it was just the Taliban that the Bush forces were after, it was a little late in the day and large numbers of non-Taliban would suffer as well. And so they did and still are, and today the shadows still hang as much as they ever did over that unfortunate and already most wrecked of countries.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Quick Withdrawal From Iraq

Yesterday my ISP, Netzero, ran an AP story about remarks that GW Bush gave to reporters that day or the one before. I was drawn to the story because of the title that Netzero used, something to the effect that a quick withdrawal from Iraq would weaken the U.S.

I read the story closely, looking for the reasoning behind that statement, but I couldn't find the slightest mention of such. Instead there was a lot of info about Cindy Sheehan and other things.

Why was such an explanation not given? Was it because the reporters were too uninterested or too incompetent or too cowed to ask? Or was it because, if someone did ask, Bush just avoided any amplification?

I see no way that such a withdrawal could weaken the U.S. I'm not even sure that, in this country, it would be widely noticed. I think that one reason why the American public has gone along with the atrocity of the Bush invasion and occupation this long is that they regard events in Iraq as just another overseas sideshow that doesn't affect the great majority of them directly. As casualty figures go, the nearly 2,000 American military who have died, plus the 15,000 injured, are not staggering, compared to many past, real wars. And the gigantic Iraqi casualty figures are not known and even if known wouldn't matter, because, seeing the Iraqis as the enemy and dark-skinned to boot, that public doesn't consider them to be people.

Do you hear much talk about Iraq among your family, your friends, or out in public?

In their desperation to head off even talk of a withdrawal, some right-wingers speak of an enormous rift among Americans, and they speak of a war ensuing here, should such a removal take place.

That's the sort of claptrap that such forces spout, in the hope that others are too trifling to examine and so to see through it, and in that respect they are probably right.

It's of a piece with that thing that Bush used to like to say, to the effect that the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon threatened our freedom. In the several years since, I have never seen any explanation from him or anyone else on how 9/11 threatened the freedom of this huge, endlessly distracted, enormously varied, and unruly nation.

Maybe even Bush's people recognized the absurdity of that statement, despite its utility in his public statements, and they furnished justification through crocks like the Patriot Act -- apparently not noticing how that took off of Osama Bin Laden the onus of being the direct depriver of our freedoms .

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Another Helicopter Report

Not knowing anything about those things, I had thought that that one time would do it for the spraying from the air next door, but the next day, at 6:30 on Sunday evening, the raucous machine took another shot at the job, and then a third time early Monday morning.

During the Sunday dumpings I took a little trek through the narrow, separating strip of woods to take a closer look -- and I was astounded.

After they had clearcut those 12 or so adjoining acres this past spring, they had left behind a field with nothing in it but stubble. But it's been an unusually wet summer, and now the field was packed with a uniform, solid growth of all sorts of weeds taller than me, and my thoughts borrowed Roy Scheider's great line from the movie "Jaws."

They're going to need a bigger boat!

I assume that under all that luxuriant growth the rows of 10-inch high pine seedlings are already planted, though now they must be cowering. A neighbor had some of his land cleared at the same time by the same man, and they planted the pines in February. But his land is going to be sprayed later, by hand.

Spraying by helicopter must be expensive, and I wonder how efficient it is. I don't see how it can be, but what do I know?

Anyway, I like experiments, and I'm treating this as one, set up especially for me. I hope I can keep a close eye on it, but, as with blogging, other things tend to divert me and before I know it--

Meanwhile I'm not going to be shocked and astonished if this bombing from the air with invisible poison droplets turns out as comprehensively as they planned. Technology can do some amazing things these days.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Afternoons and Days

Edith Wharton (1862-1937), the famous writer of matters having to do with the affluent, is quoted in the interesting catalog of the Forest Farm Nursery as saying that her two favorite words in the English language are "summer afternoon."

That sounds great, but I doubt that many people south of the Mason-Dixon line would agree, on days like the recent ones here in Virginia.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that in recent years something radical has happened to the relationship between the Sun and the Earth, bringing them closer together and causing the Sun to be so much hotter and brighter that to be out in its direct light has become a real trial. Maybe that is a sign that all is not right with our atmosphere, as if more than the ozone hole is enlarging or thinning out, and anybody who doubts that global warming is on the move has simply been cuddling up with air-conditioners too long.

Still I'm not going to disagree with Miss Wharton too strongly, in light of what Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Turner was an old guy whom I would give lifts to whenever I saw him waiting for Divine Providence at the side of the road. I haven't seen him in years and I hope he is still around. I wanted to paint a portrait of him and, unable to draw things directly from memory, I carried a camera in my truck but never got a chance to use it. The painting would have been of his head and upper torso, with him clutching his Good Book tightly to his heart.

I liked Mr. Turner. I thought he was the picture of soulfulness. He was extremely devout, and he was never slow to reveal that to each and everyone. He was also very talkative. In fact I thought that in loquacity he was unlikely ever to meet his match, but then, one day in a gas station, I happened to be present when just that took place. The other guy wasn't a bit nonplused to find himself up against a man who was in exactly the same bag, and so, for a while, complete strangers to each other yet as if collaborating in a magnificent, sustained pingpong volley, they swatted personal philosophies back and forth with the greatest of gusto.

Finally when it came time for one of them to leave, the second, unknown guy, regretful at the parting, said, "Have a good day."

Mr. Turner's reply can be really appreciated only by the old and the wise, and it relates to Miss Wharton's remark.

"Every day is a good day, brother!" he said.

Of course he got the strongest possible "Amen!" from the other "deacon," and it struck me as a great way for them to end that session in the impromptu Exxon Baptist Church.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dogs and Helicopters

Though the weather was great, yesterday was a bad day to be outside because for an hour or two someone was flying very close in a helicopter, back and forth to one side of my property.

Just as in the case of dogs, I have little use for helicopters.

Both can have one or two good purposes -- guiding the blind and rescuing people in collapsed buildings and in the Alps in the case of dogs, and rescuing people and ferrying the sick in the case of helicopters. But dogs otherwise are destructive, they trespass profusely, they defecate indiscriminately, and they bite people, while helicopters too often are used to deal death and destruction from the air and for violating privacy, as in the case of the marijuana hunters. That latter makes me jumpy as I've heard that they especially target properties that have unusual-looking, obviously owner-built houses, and my house definitely comes under that category, plus I have a small greenhouse. So every time a helicopter flies close, I fear having to face next an army of cold-faced legally sanctioned thugs invading my property with drawn guns and trampling all over my garden with hopes of increasing their box score.

Fortunately, however, a forestry man was kind enough to come by a few weeks ago and warn me that they would be spraying a closely adjoining property. Formerly a nice woods, it had been clearcut this year, leaving just a narrow strip of trees between the resulting empty field and my driveway. The spraying was to kill all the hardwood sprouts so that the subsequent saplings wouldn't compete with the pines that would be planted next, for commercial harvesting 15 or 20 years from now.

It is common practice around here to buy a wooded property and then to help pay for it by cutting off all the interesting mixed species trees and replanting with a singularly uninteresting monoculture of pines.

The helicopter flew just a few hundred feet away, and I thought of hammerhead sharks because I glimpsed a long pipe affixed to it laterally, from which the chemicals were sprayed. But I don't really know to what part of the helicopter the pipe was attached. I couldn't see the helicopter clearly because of the separating trees, and, while normally the curious type, I had no interest in looking closer. I couldn't see or smell the spray but I stayed indoors anyway, while hoping that not too much of it drifted over on my hardwoods, which I am planning never to cut, except selectively for firewood ...for as long as I am able, and those days are clearly numbered.

This terror from the sky made me think of the main bad feature that for me links dogs and helicopters. They both create enormous amounts of totally unnecessary noise pollution.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Those Who Were Already Here

Somewhere -- it may have been in the very interesting documentary "Ford Taxi" -- a Palestinian says that before the establishment of Israel, the Zionists urging Jews elsewhere to migrate to the Holy Land gave the strong impression that the area was totally unpopulated, with no present-day occupants ready to resist.

Suddenly in that remark I thought I saw why such a strong affinity with Israel exists on the part of so many U.S. citizens, over and above the admiration for Jews and their many great achievements, and over and above the huge and natural sympathy for them because of the numerous debased German actions in the 1930's and '40's.

Prior to this I had been thinking that the support of the Israelis accompanied by the contrasting strong disdain for the Palestinians was best expressed by the epithet "sand niggers," as often applied to Arabs. I theorized that the Palestinians are analogous in many American minds with the frequently disdained descendants (I am one) of the slaves brought over from Africa. But I now think that the analogy is much better made between the Palestinians and the original inhabitants of the Americas.

After World War 2 Jewish immigrants from many places arrived in Palestine, only to discover that they had been misled, and there were in fact many thousands of Arabs already occupying the former British protectorate in and around Jerusalem. These Arabs inconveniently held titles to the lands that supposedly were just waiting to be claimed and exploited by the immigrants.

Similarly, a few centuries ago, numerous tribes were were found living all over the vast lands that the newly arrived European "settlers" in the Americas saw as really belonging to themselves. Never mind that, while, save for a wandering Viking or two, none of the rude ancestors of these colonists had imagined that such lands even existed, the ancestors of those who were already present had been roving over the two continents for thousands of years. And while those European ancestors had been busy despoiling their part of one hemisphere, the Chippewa and so forth had been the best kind of stewards of the other hemisphere, by avoiding overpopulation and by living on the land with the lightest of touches.

Just as there can be no thought in the U.S. of returning much of that land to the tribes, so there is little if any acceptance in Israel of the "right of return" for Palestinians. The strong arm creates the moral imperative.

With the European nations having shed their colonies in Asia and Africa by the boatload following World War 2, this situation of the continuing indigenees seems to be still alive only in the Americas and Israel, and in spite of everything the ghosts of those original inhabitants still strongly inhabit the American mind, despite the payoff of more than 200 gambling casinos. That may best explain why the U.S. stands virtually alone as Israel's supporter and protector, seeing as how the moral capital that had been afforded to the Israelis because of the Nazis seems to have largely evaporated elsewhere.

The American Hate List

Not so long ago the KKK and other far right forces demonized mainly three groups: Catholics, Jews, and Rainbows (I use that instead of the deeply inaccurate term "blacks.") Around the time that John F. Kennedy became President, Catholics were dropped from that hate list, and more recently Jews, too, seem to have become acceptable, maybe because they are seen as preserving the integrity of the Holy Land.

But the Past has been such that, if I were Jewish, I would have trouble trusting the Future.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Central Fact or Two

One of the central facts of my life is that I have now reached the early stages of advanced age. (Some would say, though, that I am mincing words here and that, at 74, I am actually deep into old age. But everything is relative, and there are lots of people much older than I am, and there is every prospect that the generations now coming of various ages will keep walking across the planet for much longer periods still.)

There are so many interesting aspects to gaining some decades that I could easily devote much of this weblog to it, but I resist doing that. First of all, age (and its inveterate companion, the inexorably approaching figure of Death) isn't the central fact in my life, though that is just what I said when I first started mentally composing this post. My wife is very much another central point, and so is our child, the only one we had, the son that chose not to reach old age, and actually I am fortunate in that many things line up and await their shots at dominating my thoughts and thus being central facts in my life.

One of those is even the continuing Republican political dominance.

One might think that odd, since I am no admirer of that party, and because I don't figure to be around should their activities succeed, as I am fearing, in dragging this country up to and then over the brink and down into the same black pit of totalitarianism that engulfed other equally civilized countries -- Italy, Japan, and especially Germany -- soon after I was born.

But I keep thinking what a great pity that would be, considering the huge number of good aspects of the U.S. And who would be there to pull it back out of the pit to reach a respectable state of nationhood again, even by the instrument of terrible war, as the Allies did with the Axis in the 1940's? The European Union? China? Not likely, with nuclear weapons around. So would the U.S. collapse into being simply a large, disjointed village instead, a mere vestige of history similar to other great empires and ravaging nations of the past -- Athens, Rome, Turkey, England, Mongolia?

Interesting questions! And how's that for a big digression? But I never promised to stay on topic here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Solitary Freedom

Recently I saw a movie in which one of the characters lamented that all the really cool stuff that most of us accomplish is done when there is no one else around to see it.

I know all about that.

I'm certain that many think it, but so far no one has yet told me, "Life has passed you by."

With only their values in sight, I would have to say that they have a point. Still, because that world so often suggests to me a set of intermeshing hamster wheels, I would always have to make this impudent response: "Yes, but on its way to where?"

So far I have been unable to imagine a sensible comeback to that.

Spinoza is said to have said that the best quality of life can only be had by remaining unseen, or something to that effect.

But he was Jewish in a 17th Century Holland that was subject to regular fits of Christian hysteria. And he wasn't all that unnoticed, since he was a great thinker and that achieved for him a fame that has lasted for going on to four centuries.

I am intrigued by the much purer fate that awaits the much humbler sorts such as myself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

"American Gun" -- A Tumble into Fraudulence

My brother-in-law had a colleague in the U.S. Park Police who one night, mistaking her for an intruder, shot and killed his beloved child, his teenage daughter. He had grounded her but she had gone out on a date anyway, and on arriving back home she had come into the darkened house through a window.

This happened long ago, yet ever since, regularly I think of this incident. Those particular circumstances make it the all-time worst tragedy that I have ever heard of or that indeed is even conceivable to me when it comes to all the horrible things that can befall parents.

The one question that has kept hitting me over and over is how this man was able to live with that most hideous of tragedies. I couldn't see how it was possible.

The makers of the James Coburn 2002 vehicle, "American Gun," based their movie on an almost identical incident, and I can see how, in doing so, they would think that they had a big problem. They probably thought that, though ordinarily it would trump all other considerations, exploring how the badly stricken father managed to cope with what he had done offered too narrow a dramatic range to have much entertainment value. It would have made the movie too dark and dreary.

So they hit on the expedient of making the viewer believe through nearly the whole of the film that the daughter was killed by robbers in a shopping mall parking lot. They never gave the viewer any reason to suspect that something else was actually the case. Not till near the very end does the film reveal the true circumstances and identity of the daughter's actual killer -- the father himself, Coburn's character.

I guess this could be called "clever" plotting, and if viewers like me feel badly defrauded by that device, the makers could think that at least that would not happen till there wouldn't be enough time left for it to matter much, and so what if that would destroy all repeat viewing? Meanwhile in this way they could ignore the ramifications of parents shooting at shadows, and the bulk of the movie could be safely framed in what, had the real circumstances been known from the start, would have been seen as totally trivial, just as, following the real life shooting that I mentioned, not once did the gun that the man used ever take up any of my thoughts. Not ever!

This film, however, mainly shows how the Coburn character goes about uncovering the past history of the employed gun. That history turns out to be tragic, though in today's world, how the movie makers could have thought that that would be surprising or enlightening for anyone isn't clear.

The only attempt to explain the father's questionable quickness to fire down his stairs at an unidentified target consists of flashbacks to one of his experiences in World War II. His slowness to shoot a very young German soldier gave that boy time to kill the father's best buddy.

Thus the movie's message seems to be that the father, years later, is in no way to be held accountable for his ultimate misdeed.

His lines clearly express that attitude. When the Coburn character is asked why he is so interested in the history of that gun, he never says, "This gun was used to kill my daughter." Instead he always says, "This gun killed my daughter."

Therefore he himself is not to be held responsible for having stolen the gun in the first place, if only from the purse of his wayward granddaughter, or for picking the gun up later or for aiming it directly at his child, the mother of that granddaughter, or for pulling the trigger. The American gun itself did all that.

I'm not a supporter of the gun lobby, and I know that precision in speaking is not an outstanding trait of movies, but I thought that those lines only subtracted all the more from the integrity of this film.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Gospels as Manacles

It seems certain that humans would have evolved much faster if at every turn they hadn't been held back by the scamology and hocus-pocus of holy men. By "evolved" I mean having progressed to the stage of accomplishing so many wonderful technical feats, especially in the fields of communication, travel, and medicine. Because people are still so addicted to outright horrors like warfare, genocide, and slavery, in slightly modified forms, where their behavior and tendencies are concerned they have barely progressed at all.

In light of the fight that has recently heated up again, with the long ago discredited concept of "creationism" having been given a recent boost through the use of a new name, "intelligent design," scientists are fortunate that their fields escaped the fetters and the moldiness of books written two thousand years ago and rigidly adhered to ever since. In their guides for behavior most humans haven't been so lucky.