April 20, 2012 - April 13, 2012
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I don't know why
relevant today...but it is.
minority? Slave? Or
. I've been blogging
for a long time now, an eternity in Internet terms. Last week I had
reason to cite an early post that dated to pre-Internet times. In the
process I stumbled on a 2003 entry from this blog's precursor site, and
when I finally reread it today I knew I had to post it again here in
2011. I don't know why. I'm counting on you guys to tell me the reason
for my sense of compulsion.
November 18, 2003
The Dinosaur Perspective
This latest entry requires a bit of setup because it began as a
dialogue across the divide between conservatives and liberals. I
discovered, on a "right-wing" website, a link to 'Pussification,' a
deliberately outrageous satirical essay by one Kim du Toit
(kimdutoit.com), who delights in playing the unreconstructed male
chauvinist gun nut. I found the piece funny, sharp and, in the way of
good satire, incisively true in many essentials. Du Toit had also
created a link to an extended dissenting opinion at a website called
Philosoraptor (philosoraptor.blogspot.com). I read this essay as well
and had a mixed reaction to it. The prose resonated with the usual
liberal tone of superiority, and much of the argument marched down the
predictable dogmatic path of secular egalitarian orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, I sensed here and there an intent, an aspiration even, to
be fair and even-handed: Philosoraptor went so far as to allow that du
Toit's argument included elements that in less 'neanderthal' hands
might be worthy of further thought. I also suspected that the attempt
at even-handedness was being undermined by youth, naivete, or both. For
example, he began his argument thus:
"I’m torn about Kim du Toit’s essay
about, as I’ll put it, avoiding his gratuitous crudity, the
wimpification of the Western male. I’m inclined to ignore it, since
it’s unlikely that anyone who found the essay insightful will listen to
anything I have to say about it; but du Toit is full of shit, and that,
combined with the apparent popularity of the essay on the right wing of
the web makes it hard to ignore. I’m torn about it also because… I do
think that the threat of wimpification is worth discussing. That’s why
it’s too bad that du Toit’s essay is such a piece of crap--the
wimpification point gets lost in a torrent of bigotry, falsehoods, and
I thought it laudable that he would consider up front the possibility
that "wimpification is worth discussing." I thought it very X-gen that
he would haughtily shrink from the word "pussification" and then use
the word "shit" in the very next sentence. As he proceeded with his
extended denunciation of anti-feminist reaction, I also found myself
doing a double-take at a few of his assumptions:
"Conservatism is currently the Colossus
of American politics. Extremist conservatives control the Presidency
and both houses of Congress, and conservatives exercise virtually
unchallenged control of the political agenda… Never in my lifetime has
one end of the political spectrum so dominated American public life."
Let's see: the last time one party held the presidency and both houses
of Congress was… 1992? And then there was this:
"Here’s another textbook fallacy (note:
sounds like “phallus,” but means something different. And, although I
know you think that using a phallus makes you smart, using a fallacy
does the opposite.) This fallacy is called the “post hoc fallacy” from
post hoc ergo propter hoc. That’s Latin, which is an old language that
smart people used to use. It means after this, therefore because of
this. See, what you are saying is that government got bad after we
foolishly started treating women as if they were human beings, letting
them vote and suchlike. So, since it happened after women got the vote,
it must have been women’s voting that caused it. Textbook fallacy.
Oops...I meant: textbook fallacy, dumbass. First, government has
probably gotten less intrusive since women got the vote. The government
has, since then, become less likely to interfere with sex acts between
adults, abortion, and contraceptive use. It was, until recently, less
likely to tell us what we could and couldn’t read. But, far more
importantly, the country has become far more just and fair since women
got the vote—think about the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the
early ‘60’s. Since these were passed after women got the vote, should
women get the credit for them? You know, men did have al little
something to do with ‘em. Especially Lyndon Johnson. You should like
Johnson—he’s a little like W. He’s from Texas, and he lied to get us
into a war. But he cared about civil rights, so he's different, too."
Government less intrusive since 1920? (Time out for head scratching.) I
was convinced I was reading the work of a youngster, and so, looking
past the actual subject of his diatribe, I sent Philosoraptor an email
in which I suggested that his perceptions were distorted by ignorance
attributable to his youth. I was somewhat patronizing but not hostile.
I suggested that he suspend his automatic assumption of superiority
over dinosaurs such as Du Toit and (by implication) me.
I promptly received a courteous reply from Philosoraptor. He told me I
was mistaken in my assessment of his youth. He told me he was 40 years
old. (More head scratching.) He shared some particulars of his
background and upbringing. He reemphasized his scorn for du Toit but
conceded he might have been wrong in his assertions about a trend
toward less intrusive government. He also allowed that there were
extremists at both ends of the political spectrum but opined that the
extreme left had been effectively marginalized, while the extreme right
had contrived to capture the center of political debate. He thanked me
Thereupon, I was moved to write the following:
I grant that 40 isn't a kid anymore, and I was initially surprised when
you clocked in at that age, but it has caused me to rediscover an idea
I've considered in the past. I am 50, older than you but only
moderately so in chronological terms. Yet the idea I'll share with you
is that the particular ten years of difference between us amount to a
whole world of experience and perspective that is critically important.
I am not insulting the character of your youth and upbringing. I accept
that they are as you say they are. Why, then, do you still strike me as
naïve? For example, your email statement that the far right is now
taking over the center, while the far left is marginalized sounds to
me, well, ludicrous. Why?
The ten years I have over you takes in the American culture and
politics of the late 1950s, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination
of JFK, the mounting protests against the Vietnam War, the sudden
arrival of drugs, the semi-revolutionary generation gap between
teenagers and parents, SDS, the Black Panthers, the RFK/MLK
assassinations, feminism, Woodstock, Altamont, Kent State, Eugene
McCarthy, George McGovern, and Watergate. Granted, you were also alive
during some of this, but you were not witness to the extraordinary
transformation of the country that happened in this short period of
time, and you cannot know with real emotional conviction the "before"
that gave way to the "after" we have all inherited.
Before the transformation, liberal Democrats were JFK and LBJ. They
differed from conservatives in believing that government should be more
activist in trying to ameliorate inequities in the population. They
wanted bigger government, more federal controls of business, more
federal law in areas such as civil rights. Republicans wanted less of
all these things. Both Democrats and Republicans were united in their
defense of the nation against foreign threats. Democrats wanted,
perhaps, to spend less on defense, not because they wanted to undermine
the military, but because they wanted more to spend on social programs.
It is popular now to regard the "before" era as a repressive,
stultified dark age. For some percentage of the population, every age
is a dark age. In every age, some constituencies suffer more injustices
than others. This does not mean that every age is inherently without
value and virtue. So it is with the "before" I remember that you
In the context of that time, your assertion that the far right has
occupied the center is absurd. What happened in the 1960s was that the
entire nation lurched, or was hijacked, left. What used to be a leftism
so secret that it often accompanied membership in the Communist Party
became the accepted left wing of the Democratic Party, which
re-engineered the party's nominating process so that Democrats strong
on national defense could never again be nominated. The influence of
this part of the Democratic Party combined their reflexive responses to
Vietnam and Watergate into a permanent hostility to the use of American
military power overseas and to the executive branch, especially in
matters of foreign policy and especially when Republicans held office.
In the "before" era, the current posture of the Democratic presidential
candidates toward the president and his foreign policy would have been
unthinkable. Harry Truman faced at least as difficult a situation in
Korea as George Bush does now, with far fewer immediate national
security issues at stake, and while he faced political opposition to
his war policy, he was not accused of lying, cronyism, imperialism,
self-aggrandizement, and fraud. JFK brought us so close to nuclear war
that I can still remember days of direct, continuous cold fear, but in
the aftermath, no one sought to turn his government inside out for the
purpose of ridiculing his decision making and his honesty. I know you
are itching to leap in here with your current events expertise to make
the usual liberal case for why all these charges are true, but bear
with me for a moment. Regardless of what merit you believe your case
holds, what you cannot see is that the whole context in which it is
socially acceptable to hate George Bush with the open venom you (or
your colleagues, if I'm being presumptuous about you) display is a
function of "after" -- after Vietnam, after Watergate. These events
gave the permission for the politics of personal destruction, a kind of
total war that could bring down even the President of the United
States. That's right. It didn't start with Nixon. Or with Clinton. It
started with demonstrators outside the White House in 1966: "Hey, hey,
LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?"
You can argue all you want that it's better now, that the
transformation was justified. I will contend that it wasn't, while
allowing for opposing views. What I insist on is that much that was
good has been lost. My father loathed JFK; during that president's term
in office my father spent almost half his time overseas on business.
And when he was on foreign soil, he refused ever to say a word against
Kennedy or the policy of the U.S. government. Neither did his fellow
Many rank-and-file Republicans were bitterly disappointed that Nixon
refused to contest what appeared to be flagrant voting irregularities
in Mayor Daley's Chicago, which represented the county that gave JFK
Illinois and the election. Nixon refused to turn the presidential
election into a partisan legal battle because of the dangerous
precedent it would set. Before. Politics at both the citizen and
candidate level had some standards of decorum.
Other things have been lost as well, notably quality of life for the
overwhelming majority of Americans. In the 1970s, this country embarked
on the most radical social experiment ever attempted by a human
society, without even allowing itself to recognize that it was an
experiment. I'm referring to feminism. Five thousand years of
accumulated traditions and roles were almost immediately junked. If you
never knew the "before" it's easy to see why all this seems like it
must represent all that is best in humanity -- justice, freedom,
equality, and so on. Yet it also seems that no one is counting the
cost. The divorce rate has skyrocketed, illegitimate births have risen
to astonishing levels, juvenile encounters with drugs, crime, and sex
have moved from virtually nonexistent to epidemic, educational
achievement has plummeted to near ruin, and a new statistic called
"abortions per year" was developed, computed into the millions, and
then banished from the pages of the almanac because we don't like
counting it anymore. Do women at least seem happier to those of us who
remember the "before"? No. They don't seem happier. Their marriages
crumble, the new equality deprives them of the protections they used to
enjoy in the event of divorce, their children are too often
unsupervised, too often kidnapped by their unsupervised peers into
addiction, sexual promiscuity, and premature cynicism. Further, women
feel obligated to pursue careers that turn out to be -- surprise! --
tedious, stressful, wearying, and debasing (whether in the factory or
the boardroom, the "Company's" most universal motive is debasement).
They abandon age-old protections of dress, behavior, and speech, and --
surprise! -- they pay for it with date rape, violent assaults, the need
for abortions, and worse.
And for some of us "before" dinosaurs, these kinds of unintended
consequences aren't even the worst ones. What we failed to take into
account in our unacknowledged experiment was the real socio-political
role the nuclear family played in the culture -- in every culture above
the hunter-gatherer level known to recorded history. The few years a
child has in the home with its mother and father before reaching
serious school age, 6 or 7, is the only time when the goodness latent
in that child can be developed without countervailing influences from
institutional culture. It's a brief window during which parents can
instill curiosity, manners, awareness of right and wrong, the meaning
of responsibility, altruism, and honesty.
We have failed to understand that every organization in which we become
members, all our lives, will exert amoral pressures that benefit the
organization and work, directly or indirectly, to mold the identity of
a person into a shape different from its initial individuality and
humanity. That we have good and virtuous people who are ever proof
against corruption, seduction, and greed is a function of what happens
in those first six or seven years of life.
Now, we have enticed mother out of the house, away from her children
(and please don't preach to me about economic necessity: there is
absolutely no need for the exorbitant number of parentless households
we now tolerate), and we have attempted to plug the ugly holes in the
fundament of our culture with -- what else? -- new, more intrusive
institutions of government, which reach deeply into that once private
preserve of the home to monitor the children's welfare and begin the
process of absorbing them into institutional identities at an earlier
age than any society has ever attempted.
Perhaps the change in the children is not sinister or even detectable
if you weren't there before. A close friend of mine has spent the last
six years living in a household with a contemporary American teenager
of good reputation and recognized academic and personal merit. He told
me in a recent letter, "I have no doubt she has been trained so well in
accordance with the accepted standards that if she chanced to become a
junior executive, fresh out of B-school, with the Final Solution
Corporation, she'd have no trouble managing the day-to-day schedules
and operations reports of the divisional crematory. As long as she
didn't have to work too much overtime and could phone in sick pretty
often after an all-nighter with her current boyfriend."
Some of us, including "bigoted idiots" like du Toit, can't help
remembering ladies. They were our mothers and grandmothers, our
friends' mothers and grandmothers, and they had no idea they were
prisoners of a vicious sexist culture. They knew how to smile, how to
make strangers and shy ones feel welcome, they knew how to dress up for
a party, how to dance to ballroom music, how to practice countless
skills that made houses into cheery homes, and we loved them. In every
possible way they exemplified the essential human virtues and mediated
their children's vulnerability through their own. They were playing a
life-and-death role, especially in those first six years, and one that
fathers couldn't play because their role back then was different.
Fathers weren't second-string mommies, always playing catch-up on the
sensitivities not born into men. They were, when all was said and done,
judges -- the ones charged with preparing the children to be strong
against the institutional temptations and corruptions that were coming
after the time of safe haven was over. Their job was not to be taken in
the way mother could be by an artful grin or pleading. Their job was to
say no, to describe the consequences, to levy the punishment so that
the lesson would be learned in the home, not in the dangerous realms of
the outside world.
"Before" there were fathers and mothers. "After" we have "deadbeat
dads" and a plethora of lawyers, doctors, journalists, executives, and
bureaucrats, all with ticking biological clocks and an enduring
confusion about the difference between home and government. If they
can't be in the home, then they want the world as a whole made as safe
as a home. They want more laws, more protections, more services. They
beg the government to come deeper into the home, inside the car, into
the chemistry of their children's brains. Your post hoc ergo propter
hoc analysis is dead wrong. The women's vote has played a pivotal role
in the rise of nanny government precisely because they're always
looking back in the direction of a home that is no longer what it was.
And as I've said, you're perfectly welcome to prefer the "after" to the
"before." It is just that the certitude you display about your
preference for what has been a very recent drastic change is as shallow
as it is rigid. The so-called return of the right-wing has not rolled
back the clock in any material way in any part of the culture. GW Bush
is proposing and signing levels of entitlement spending that would have
made him a leftwing Democrat "before," and in his domestic policies
generally he can only be called conservative by a contemporary leftist.
Your apparent blindness to these contradictions in terms is what makes
you seem naïve. And to some of us, probably, you also seem
presumptuous in your automatic assumptions about the world
reactionaries would like to have back, at least in part.
Doctors made housecalls. People who went out to dinner at nice
restaurants dressed up for the occasion. Fathers were as stern about
the importance of being a "gentleman" as they were about the importance
of being a man. To hit a girl or to swear in public was not just wrong.
It shamed you.
Shame was apparently a function of class oppression, because now there
is no shame. Why did so many of us rightwingers hate Clinton so much?
Because he was obviously no gentleman, and the president should always
be a gentleman (or a lady). Then he proved it and shamed the nation
before the whole world. What did we rightwingers really want to happen
with the Lewinski scandal? What we couldn't ever have. We wanted him to
resign because that would have been the right and gracious thing to do.
A fanciful archaic throwback of a notion? Maybe. But if Clinton had
resigned, then perhaps President Gore might have focused more national
attention on a certain piece of violent Arab street trash and prevented
a few thousand deaths.
Funny how being a gentleman can sometimes also be a pragmatic and
positive act. If Al Gore had been a gentleman like Nixon (!) before
him, he would have disdained to contest the results in Florida. He
would still have won his popular vote victory, despite the electoral
defeat, and he would have been well positioned, even admired, as a
candidate for 2004. (Pause: Compare this scenario with the erratic
hide-and-seek irrelevancy Gore has since become.) Meanwhile Bush might
have been spared the rancor and bile of the Democrats, and the new
"tone" everybody had hoped for might have been achieved. And by the
time foreign policy decisions became so horrendously critical, the
Democrats might have had a respected advisory role to play. Hell, they
might even have played a respectable role. Instead of seething on the
sidelines, characterizing every single presidential decision as a new
low in corrupt right wing power politics. If a few more of our leaders
had behaved like gentlemen, in fact, our foreign policy might be more
successful at this very moment.
"Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?" That's our tone.
It's been our tone ever since. It was the tone of the 1968 Democratic
convention in Chicago. It's the tone of civil rights leaders since the
assassination of Martin Luther King (though it wasn't his tone). It was
the tone of the Watergate scandal. It was the tone of about 2,000
book-length feminist screeds about men and the unfairness of being born
with a uterus. It was the tone of the Reagan haters. It's the tone of
both sides of the abortion debate. It was the tone of the Thomas and
Bork hearings. It was the tone of the impeachment debate. It was the
tone of the 2000 presidential election aftermath. It's the tone now.
And some of us are tired of that tone precisely because we remember the
time before it was there.
It's the tone of spoiled kids, boys and girls, who are just plain
pissed at not getting their way, at not having every obstacle removed
from their path by someone else. They should get their way because
they're entitled. And we have made that principle the basis of our
great secular religion, the religion of "after." Never mind the
consequences. Even though the economics is slam-dunk against women in
divorce, never mind that. Fire them up about their freedom to throw the
bum out if he has an affair. Never mind that she, and her kids, will be
paying for his affair forever. And by the way, don't teach the boys
about being a gentleman -- even in courtship and marriage -- because
that's an elitist term, and if we start talking about gentlemen, then
somebody else might be tempted to start talking about ladies, and
everyone knows that women have to be free to do whatever in hell they
want, regardless, damn the consequences, because that's what equality
is all about. And if they want, they can dress like sluts from grade
school on, and talk like sluts from grade school on, and act like sluts
from grade school on, and do all the drugs that any slut might want to
do, and have as many abortions as any slut would want to have,.and
marry the first idiot who asks, and divorce him when he cheats, and
marry the next one, and maybe do some cheating herself, and have a kid,
and divorce the next one, and then set up shop as a bitter single
mother who has it on good authority that all men are no-good bums. Now,
how about all those government programs she'll need to get by as a
single working mother…? And isn't this absolute paradise compared to
the days when women weren't free, and men weren't permitted -- by their
fathers or each other -- to be total, irresponsible slobs?
In fact it's all working so well that we can try another experiment,
and start bringing the boys up to be more like girls, so that they can
dress like sluts from grade school on, and talk like sluts from grade
school on, and act like sluts from grade school on, and do all the
drugs that any slut might want to do, etc etc. After all, the only
difference is that girls have sockets and boys have plugs, and they can
start connecting to one another (and calling each other slut and ho and
bitch) from grade school on, because that's what freedom and self
esteem are all about. And look at all the other progress we get with
this approach: no more toy guns, double the cologne sales, and a
fantastic new growth market in condoms.
Of course it's better. That's how we can be absolutely sure it's okay
to sneer at the idiot Republicans who hearken back to the evil racist
sexist "before," because we all know what they really miss is being
able to use the N-Word on the servants, and commit secret incest with
their daughters, and treat their wives like slaves, blah, blah, blah.
And because we also know that it's very very dangerous to allow
ourselves to consider, for even a moment, that maybe most women were
better suited to the old way, and maybe only a small percentage
actually belong out here in the nasty rough-and-tumble, and maybe our
kids and all our home lives would be better, happier, if we could admit
that the nuclear family is the indispensable foundation stone of an
entire civilization, and that dynamiting it away without a single
forethought might have been a criminally stupid thing to do.
But no. It's always been this way. For everyone 40 and younger. It's
the right way. The conservatives are stupid, bigoted, immoral, and
wrong. "Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today? Not as many as
we're going to kill in the next 50 years…"
Forgive me. Yes, we get heated. That's because we're so stupid. And
wrong. And immoral. Maybe you could bear that in mind, and treat us
dinosaurs with a little kindness. Like a gentleman.
So tell me. Why am I thinking of all this right now?
better half reminds me that the archetype of the women I'm remembering
was Jackie Kennedy, who wasn't typical by any means, but she was
ultimate lady of the time, and she's as much a part of the Camelot
legend as her husband was.
Slave? Or power behind the throne.
Regardless. She was a
If you can, forget the horrifying image of her climbing across the
trunk of the presidential Lincoln trying to retrieve a piece of her
husband's skull. (What the "weaker" sex can do in crisis is flat-out
astonishing.) Forget the historically iconic instruction she gave
John-John to salute his father's casket. Forget the pain of losing a
baby in the full glare of worldwide publicity. Forget her constant
valor, dignity, and
lifelong grace. Remember instead that she
was a good sport about the
political back-and-forth of the day, which used to be something like,
Back when even liberals had a sense of humor. Instead of veins filled
cobra venom. But women with a sense of humor have become like liberals
with a sense of humor: a vanishing, vanishing breed.
I miss them. The ladies, not the liberals. I have one, but one is a very small number.
Monday, January 10, 2011
One definition of
'stupid' is 'dyslexic logic.' A tidal wave
DE ZOUAVES" (SEE COMMENTS)
intended to create the earthquake that causes it. Weak.
. Bad enough that we have another
pointless mass murder by an obvious lunatic. Worse that the so-called
intelligentsia immediately presume to make sense of it as an expression
of the politics of their own political enemies. A senseless act cannot
be forced to make sense because some species of rationality is applied
to it after the fact. The irony is that the most highly educated
liberals would agree with this statement wholeheartedly if the context
were different. For example, if I were discussing the Creationist
interpretation of the Big Bang, they would be cheering me on and
congratulating me for my sagacity and impeccable logic.
But we're not talking about the Big Bang. We're talking about the
bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang in Tucson, Arizona. Which can be
retroactively imbued with all kinds of sense even though the
perpetrator -- who, thanks to MySpace, is abundantly on record with his
'writings' -- has never expressed a sensible thought in his short,
ignorant, drug-addled life. He's simply a living, breathing oxymoron,
with the emphasis on moron.
Ironically, that's where the emphasis should usually be placed when
this term is applicable. Except in the hands of (a handful of truly
talented) poets, an oxymoron is an impossible contradiction: an
illiterate who rails about the illiteracy of others, a fan of Mein
Kampf who lists the Communist Manifesto as one of his favorite books, a
sadly unformed -- even stillborn -- mind that fears the societal
dangers of mind control. This isn't poetry or a metaphorical indictment
of a nation that quarrels sharply about sharp differences in political
philosophy. It's insanity.
The poetic resonances aren't attributable to the event itself or its
perpetrator. They're attributable to the phony wave of meanings imposed
afterwards in order to justify (or somehow leverage) what came before. And the operative literary term isn't oxymoron but irony.
Of which there are almost too many instances to count. The sudden rush
to condemn military metaphors in politics because a military reject who
doesn't know enough about language to discern the difference between 'grammar' and 'diction' picks up a
gun and shoots 20 of his fellow citizens indiscriminately. The equally
sudden rush by Democrats (the people's party, don't forget) to
constrain freedom of political speech because a high-school dropout
incapable of articulate speech of any kind resorted, in his
frustration, to gunfire instead. The instantaneous equation between
this deviant advocate of incoherent, atheistic anarchy and the
predominantly Christian Palin/Tea Party/Constitutionalist faction in American politics
which has just demonstrated the most effective use of grass-roots free
speech in the New Media yet seen in an electoral campaign.
I could go on. But you get the picture. Any conversation which employs
an act of insanity as a basis for political analysis, criticism, or
reform is itself insane. And I fault everyone in the MSM, specifically including
Fox News, for even giving such conversations house room. There's a term
in the law known as "fruit of the poisoned tree." In courts it means
that inferences drawn from illegitimate sources are impermissible as
bases for argument.
Every word you hear about the Tucson shootings that somehow indicts or
questions the rest of us is the fruit of a poisoned tree. Unless you
personally happen to be a psychotic high-school dropout with a history
of irrational/violent eruptions in public places, a grandiloquent MySpace
page that begs for unearned attention, an obscure prejudice against
Jews and all mind-control-oriented
governments that are neither Nazi nor Communist, and own a gun with a
big enough magazine to shoot 20 people at random.
In that case, you should probably pay attention.
Me? I'm just waiting for the ultimately impotent Stupid Wave to
subside. And praying for
the people who were shot and their families. They're the ones who
deserve our thoughts, empathy, and other higher human faculties right
No comment about the above. I just thought of it today (actually,
truthfully, last week
) get it
out of my head or my dreams. The sound quality isn't good, so I'm just gleaming
to a mind we know is still fighting hard to come
back to us. Come back from the snow and cold. No matter how beckoning the beyond might be. We pray...
Friday, January 07, 2011
Ever heard about the first Union
of the Civil War? He was a New York Zouave, like the
ones pictured above.
Elmer Ellsworth was a hero in the North
even before the first shots of the Civil War. Born in Saratoga Springs,
NY, Ellsworth moved to Chicago to study law. It was here that Ellsworth
was introduced to the Zouaves - colorful military units outfitted in
pantalooned uniforms based on those worn by French colonial troops in
Pomp and Puffinstance
Ellsworth formed his own Zouave unit and molded it into a crack drill
In the summer of 1860, Ellsworth and his Zouaves toured the North
performing precision drills before awed audiences in 20 cities. At the
end of the summer, Ellsworth joined Abraham Lincoln's law practice in
Springfield, IL as a law clerk. Impressed with his hard-working,
enthusiastic clerk, Lincoln invited Ellsworth to join his campaign for
president. Following his victory, Lincoln asked Ellsworth to join him
As tensions between the North and South states intensified, Ellsworth
moved to New York City. He formed a Zouave unit made up of volunteers
from among the city's firemen - the New York Fire Zouaves - and became
May 1861 found Ellsworth and his Zouaves stationed in Washington, DC.
On the 23rd of that month the Virginia legislature voted to secede from
the Union. Before the sun rose the next morning, Ellsworth, anxious to
see some action, led his Zouaves across the Potomac River as part of an
eleven-regiment Union invasion of Virginia. Ellsworth's objective was
to secure the port of Alexandria.
The Zouave's landing at Alexandria was uncontested, and they quickly
spread through the town securing important targets such as the
telegraph office and rail station. As Ellsworth led his men through the
streets his eye caught sight of a Confederate flag waving from the top
of the Marshall House Inn. Followed by four of his men, Ellsworth
rushed into the building, ran up its stairs and cut down the offensive
symbol. Descending the stairs, Ellsworth was confronted by the inn's
proprietor, James W. Jackson, armed with a double-barrel shotgun.
Firing at point-blank range, the inn keeper ended the life of the
twenty-four-year-old and conferred upon him the distinction of being
the first Union officer killed in the war. Almost instantaneously,
Jackson was cut down by Ellsworth's men.
There are short, spectacular wars and long, dark, punishing wars. They
both tend to begin the same way, with fanfare, lofty rhetoric, and
grandiose symbolic gestures. Today, nobody remembers that there were
Union troops who wore red pantaloons. Just as nobody remembers that the
first battle of Manassas was treated as a picnic outing by Washington, DC, social elites who camped on a hillside to watch the ceremonial showdown between north and south, with
plovers' eggs and fine wine as accoutrements. The subsequent rout of
Union troops may have been the first indication to those elites that
the unfolding war would be less strutting and cheers than stinking charnel house.
I was not inspired by the idea of reading the Constitution on the floor
of the new congress. I understood the sentiment, but sentiment is,
well, sentiment, not strategy. For me it highlighted the quandary of the
new Republican majority: how do you transform a mix of hardened
survivalist politicians and idealistic Tea Partiers into an effective
Where all the mixed metaphors come into play. The remaining Democrats
in the House of Representatives are clever, experienced politicians.
Combat-proven veterans. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, chewing nails and plotting ambushes. The Republicans are
a Pro-Am crowd. (Think of Pros vs Joes
The Tea Partiers are definitely the Zouaves of the early days of the
Civil War, all puffed up with pride in their red-white-and-blue
pantaloons. They may be accomplished at constitutional drilling, but
they're lambs to the slaughter in congressional trench warfare unless they learn very damn fast that
their mission can't be accomplished with a few symbolic votes and an
air of intransigent patriotic virtue.
There's still no sign of a Republican Ulysses Grant, let alone a
Lincoln, and the best we can hope for right now is that John Boehner
is, gulp, George McClellan, the general famous for refusing to fight
who nevertheless succeeded in creating the modern, disciplined,
professional military his country would need to win a very very long
and very very very bloody war.
The Tea Party members of congress aren't going to roll back the Obama
offensive on liberty any more than the Zouaves won an easy early
victory in the War between the States. We will see plenty of them
become quick casualties of the infantry slugfests in Washington.
Importantly, though, we can't lose heart. There will be many letdowns,
defeats, and even some disasters to come. A Gettysburg may make us
doubt our own will to continue. But we have to remember -- even those
of us from the South -- that Sherman did march to the sea, Grant did
take Richmond, and Lincoln did free the slaves. Preserving the union is
not easy, and we will all be or know casualties before the war is won.
quick thank you to 'DorkvsMaximvs,' whose quick response gently corrected an
IP brain fart I wouldn't want to get in the way of the post. I'll
document my error in a day or so.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
The Ghost in the
WAY BACK WHEN
. I was
going to write today about the Republican legislative calendar and the
need for patience. I've been slow getting off the mark in the new year,
and I don't mind admitting that it's largely because of the topic of my
first 2011 post
. I found the experience described there and lightly
responded to unutterably depressing. I didn't contend with my friend
because I recognize impenetrable armor when I see it. For gifted people
to be wrapped in such armor makes me come close to despair. Which is
why my frail resolve to write about politics was torpedoed by an
interesting late comment on that post:
Helkenberg 2011-01-05 10:40:00
Micro: It could be an altogether different reality than anyone has
imagined is beginning to take hold, where concepts such as waste,
inefficiency and small-mindedness are to be replaced with automation,
total information awareness and, of course, total-mindedness. This
would imply that no boomer, indeed no human being whatsoever, is in
charge of any aspect of our daily lives at all, rather the illusion of
personal responsibility is just that, an illusion, and rather than
working toward small personal goals, we are being pulled toward an
inevitable climax over which no person exercises any control
whatsoever. This is not to say that the appearance of incontrovertible
evidence regarding human involvement in health care can be denied, it
is just to say that whether it is accepted or denied is of no
consequence to the inescapable
arrival of a system over which no human exercises any authority.
I look at the continuing expansion of the federal bureaucracy as
evidence that soon the system will be so overwrought with specialized
rules and regulations that it will be more complex than many organisms.
This trend cannot continue indefinitely simply due to the restrictions
placed upon physical memory, which is to say that human minds are just
memory devices that instantiate a particular rule, when it is deemed
necessary by the government, which in this case is the only sentient
life on Earth.
Macro: It would seem that the continuous erosion of the abductive
logical faculties humans have relied upon for the formation of
hypothesis is steadily making the scenario related above more and more
plausible, the conclusion being that humans are to become little more
than cells in an organism we can loosely define as a corporate-state.
This then would lead me to conclude that any sentiments contrary to the formation of the conscious
corporate-state would be bad. Possibly very very bad. Apoptosis
aside, the corporate-state might deem a systematic elimination of those
cells that are "rogue" to be a necessary step in the ongoing process of
health care reform.
And nothing is worth dying for, especially if you are already
immortal. [boldface added]
The term "conscious corporate state" is what snagged my attention.
Shortly before I left corporate consulting in the early 1990s, I had
become convinced that the 'corporate change processes' I was hired to
facilitate were being defeated not by human resistance but by a kind of
organizational consciousness nobody could contend with because they
couldn't even detect its existence. Even though all of us have
encountered it directly in every corporate conference room where
nominal allies suddenly sell out every important principle without ever
acknowledging, even to themselves, what have they done. I wasnt't
thinking of it in terms of groupthink or moral cowardice and
selfishness. I was thinking of it as an active consciousness made of
the pieces it owned of thousands of human brains or, if you will,
organizational brain cells.
I even wrote about it in somewhat guarded terms, nearly
fifteen years ago
. Here's what I said in July 1997:
Movies came up. Patrick and I share an
interest in bad action movies of both the 'A' and 'B' varieties. While
I was giving in to the temptation to see Under Siege II again, he was
falling victim once more to Executive Decision Andrew hadn't seen it,
so we recapped the plot for him. In the telling, it's almost the same
as Under Siege II -- a secret U.S. military technology falls into the
hands of terrorists, threatening the passengers on a train/plane as
well as the residents of Washington, DC. What to do? Send in Steven
Seagal to kill the terrorists, rescue the passengers, and, if there's
time, DC too. The only thing different about Executive Decision is the
twist about killing off Seagal before he can save the day, which means
that bookish Kurt Russell has to do it -- ve-e-e-ery slowly -- with the
help of a brave and beautiful flight attendant. There's a Marx Brothers
quality about the piece, with Russell constantly popping up inside
cupboards and service panels and elevators to ask one more dangerous
favor of the flight attendant before the heavily armed commandos can
make their appearance.
After a good laugh about the special effects in Seagal's death scene,
we returned to a subject Patrick and I have discussed many times before
-- "the possibility that there is a collective meaning to the clicheed
plots used in bad popular entertainment. I once read a theory -- "I
wish I could remember whose -- "that popular culture becomes a kind of
underground railroad for archetypal themes that are being ignored or
censored by highbrow culture. Such themes may appear in a badly
degenerated form, but at the least their most rudimentary essence is
being preserved for the day when the official culture rediscovers their
value. This made enormous sense to me, and I started watching bad
movies in a new way, almost in aggregate, as if they were unconsciously
designed pieces of a puzzle that could indeed be fitted together into a
For example, the Under Siege/Executive Decision plot can be read as a
cartoonish treatment of two themes that are being ignored by
intellectual culture. First, there is
the implicit awareness that the U.S. government is a runaway leviathan,
with no one fully in charge or capable of controlling its appetite for
predation. The terrorists are themselves a by-product of that
predation, having been servants or victims of it or both. Whatever
ambiguities may be present in terms of our expected response have
generally to do with these villains. At times they could be proxies for
us, tough and ruthless enough to break the eggs for a wickedly
delicious omelet we dare not order from the menu. At others they seem
more like the face behind the mask of power, the unabashed willingness
to use the high-tech killer toys that must have sponsored their
creation in the first place. In either case, they display a knife-edged
decisiveness which mocks the gassy committee response of a government
that makes easy choices hard because it must pretend to care equally
about everyone and everything.
The good intentions of individuals
within the government -- and even within the military -- are
represented, but these are shown to be impotent under the weight of the
obese monstrosity the government has become. Note that this is not a
liberal view -- it expressly undermines the notion that serious
problems can be solved politically by caring legislators. When elected
politicians make an appearance, they are depicted as selfish, stupid,
and hypocritical fools who are themselves destined to become victims --
the U.S. Senator on the plane in Executive Decision gets killed trying
to make personal political hay out of the hijacking.
Overlaid on this theme is the
archetype of the hero, which has been banished from serious literature
for most of this century. He is preserved in the movies as a
caricature -- racing from one impossibly dangerous situation to another
with near-miraculous impunity. Almost
invariably he is depicted as a loner, a rule breaker, a man natively at
odds with authority. The caption seems to be that we need exactly this
kind of hero, although the odds against his success are incredibly
There are, of course, endless variations of this particular plot
combination -- the Rambo movies add the image of the hero as a
specifically targeted victim of the U.S. leviathan, although he
nevertheless saves the day -- a comic book Christ figure. John
Carpenter's Snake Plisskin flicks, Escape from New York and Escape from
L.A., cloak the same basic formula in confused political innuendo but
offer the same image of the persecuted hero who must be induced to
rescue a mindlessly authoritarian political system. In fact, Escape
from L.A. ends with Snake Plisskin pulling the plug on all of
technological civilization, upping the ante to a level worthy of the
Una-Bomber. The Die Hard movies downplay the complicity of the
leviathan in the crisis being addressed, but go out of their way to
depict the bullying impotence of federal law enforcement organizations
and, to a lesser degree, their state and municipal counterparts.
Scores of cheaper, slapped-together movies that make their appearance
on late-night cable also give us this same story again and again and
again. One could argue that the David and Goliath theme obviously makes
for a good story, but the appeal to the American public may very well
include the subliminal awareness that there is something fundamentally
true about the premise which does not quite come across in the analyses
offered by journalists, pundits, and politicians.
Is this plot significant or meaningful? Hard to tell, I grant, but
contrast it with the westerns of a generation or two ago. The hero is
present -- still a loner and a rule breaker -- but even he is grateful
when the cavalry arrives, and when the government makes mistakes and
causes problems in an old western, it is still not presented as any
kind of impersonal intractable ogre.
There's another stereotypical movie plot that I believe may be groping
toward a concealed and very real problem in the American culture. This
is the 'Cyborg' theme, which has been worked and reworked in probably
hundreds of different ways--ranging from such critically acclaimed
efforts as Blade Runner, RoboCop, and Terminator to junky ripoffs like
The Demolitionist (female RoboCop), American Cyborg, Johnny Mnemonic,
and, most recently, Screamers. What's interesting to me about these is
that they have been interpreted by critics as addressing a deep-seated
human fear. I suspect, however, that the fear being addressed goes
considerably deeper than the one usually cited.
The standard explanation is that we're afraid of the advances in
genetics and computer technology which may one day soon blur the line
between human being and machine. Thus, we are given the plight of
RoboCop, a human being turned into a microprocessor-controlled cyborg
by a ruthlessly exploitative corporation. Can his humanity survive the
deliberate technological attempt to destroy it? In much the same vein,
we are given Johnny Mnemonic, most of whose memory has been erased to
permit his brain to be used as a mass storage device for computer data.
Can he regain his life and his humanity even as he saves the rest of
mankind from the paralyzing AIDS-reminiscent disease caused by
overexposure to information technology? In much the same vein. we are
given the near-perfect 'replicants' of Blade Runner, who inspire pathos
with their desire to be human even though they are artificially created
pieces of organic machinery. What will be the difference in the future
between humanity and technology? Interestingly, there is also a later
release of Blade Runner, captioned 'the director's cut,' in which the
hero, a professional killer of replicants, is shown to be--quite
possibly--a replicant himself.
Reinforcing this 'fear of technology' theme is the strain of movies
inspired by Terminator, in which the cyborg is decidedly more powerful
and predatory than any human being. The standard plot shows the
pathetic inadequacy of flesh and blood beings burdened by conscience
and other baggage when the creature after them is exquisitely designed
and programmed to eradicate them. Hints of this are also to be found in
the movies already cited. Johnny Mnemonic features a Terminator-like
religious(?) cyborg, and the hero of Blade Runner is really no match
for the replicant 'superman' played by Rutger Hauer. Completing the
circle, Terminator II offers us a killer cyborg acquiring humanity in
the process of protecting a 12-year-old human boy.
And so, the reviewers would have it, we're afraid of the possibility of
corporate abuses of technology that will become dangerous to us both
physically and mentally. They'll create artificial beings to control
us, and they'll replace pieces of our bodies to the point where our
original identity may be imperiled. It's an interpretation that's
plausible enough, as far as it goes. But what if it doesn't go far
Yes, there's an obvious entertainment value in science fiction and its
designer-future images. And, yes, people may find sufficient appeal in
the prospect of some 2lst century cyborg threat to make hits of such
fare. But these movies are just as popular as the Under Siege/Executive
Decision genre, which suggests to me that there may be a much more
immediate fear embedded in them that hasn't been brought to light.
Movies personify abstractions. They
have to because film is a visual medium. The villainous CEO stands in
for the anonymous greed of Corporate America. The conniving, amoral CIA
executive stands in for the vast, intrusive intelligence bureaucracy.
And so on. Why is it therefore the case that the title characters of
Terminator, RoboCop, and Johnny Mnemonic must be taken literally, as
specific human-machine combinations that could be implemented to our
detriment? What if they are also stand-ins?
I believe they are. What's more, I believe that computer technology is
also functioning in these movies as a kind of stand-in. The fear being
recorded in these movies is a genuine and well-founded fear of
essentially the same leviathan depicted in the Under Siege/ Executive
Decision genre. The cyborgs are a way
of putting a face on the vast faceless system which presses harder on
us every day. In Terminator, we are given the nightmare vision
of a war between technology--i.e., the system--and humanity, which we
humans can win only by turning back the clock and undoing what has
already been done. In other words, the war is well underway and we are
In RoboCop and Johnny Mnemonic, we're given symbolic representations of
what we are becoming, nominal human beings who have been invaded,
incorporated into an inhuman scheme that is turning us into robots. At
some deep level, we feel that this is already happening and that we may
already have lost our souls to it. Hence the odd circumstance of two
Blade Runners--the first giving us a human being in conflict with an
impenetrable power structure that annihilates its own creations, the
second revealing that the human being was lost before he even realized
there was a conflict.
There's an additional possibility in here. What if these movies, with their cinematic
requirement to personify every abstraction, have accidentally captured
the deepest fear of all? That this vast overarching system has acquired
its own consciousness and knows full well what it is doing. That we are
being deliberately transformed, by an authentically superhuman power,
into automaton slaves of the system. That the Terminator is here
and is stalking us.
Yes, I know. It's all idiotic. Couldn't be. We talked about it anyway,
and then I went home. [boldface added]
Idiotic. So I'm posting this and then I'm going home for the night.
Tomorrow is supposed to be another day.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
The real story.
They hate women. The Nanny State is pure guilt.
I told you I got streaming Netflix as an early Christmas
present. Mrs. CP thought it would inspire me somehow. What do women
know? As it turns out, everything. Why I haven't been paying much
attention to domestic political developments. I've been too busy
watching British TV shows on Netflix. They do
have the best shows by far. As
of this moment, I'm surfeited with the superiority of such series as Touch of Frost, Wire in the Blood
, Waking the Dead
, and a truly
landmark trilogy called Red Riding
writing is extraordinary, the acting superb. And unlike the old
BBC, the production values range from competitive with American shows
All of which leaves me in a quandary. You have a nation that is clearly
imploding on itself, day by day and month by month, yet its dramatic
output remains the best in the world by far. Their writers are better.
Their actors are better. And not by just a little. They're a lot
better than we are. The
tempting answer is the old Greek-Roman thing -- the Greeks were
cultured while the Romans were, uh, er, dominant somehow. But I have a
different theory in this case. One that might actually shed some light
rather than muddy the waters.
Some of you aren't going to like this theory. Bear with me. I'm not
arguing politics. I'm pursuing human nature. I think what we're looking
at is the biggest disconnect ever between the soul of a people and its
contemporary cultural assumptions. The result is absolutely stupendous
irony that is nevertheless revealing and potentially healing, if people
weren't so determined to be blind.
A case in point. American TV shows love the premise of unresolved
sexual tension between a male and female lead. In American hands, the
result is invariably irritating and strained to the point of making
intelligent viewers want to vomit. (You Bones
and Warehouse 13
fans know who you
are...You're morons.) The Brits can get away with it. For two reasons.
First, their idea of a TV series is a lot shorter than American
producers insist on. And, second, everyone in Britain is actually severely repressed, regardless of deep-down sexual preference. And they're all impotent or frigid. Nobody in Britain has had sex in a generation. But they think about sex a lot. Artificial insemination is the national pastime. Along with Manchester United soccer.
When you watch enough Brit TV shows, you realize that emotionally,
every female is actually male, with tits she'll show you (desultorily) if you ask. It's
just that the women are dumber somehow. Because the U.K. is the single
most masculine culture on earth. Why their writing is better than
everyone else's, for example. But when you watch their dramas, it turns
out that all the women are really men. And increasingly, all the
authority figures are women who are, uh, men. Which is why their female
dramatic characters are still interesting even when they're not
beauties and why there are still always parts for Helen Mirren and all
the other non-beautiful, naturally aging female actors who get the best
parts in even Hollywood movies.
Except that Britain is dying. Day by day and month by month. How comes
it? This is how. The Brits have become the ultimate nanny state because
they hate their own masculinity and are looking for women who are no
longer women to save them.
Ya know, they never were
women. All Brit women turn into men as they age. Even Mrs. Peel. Their
voices get deeper, they get more frank and technical about sex. Their
increasing sophistication about life and the tea lines in their faces
makes you dread the possibility of accidentally seeing their breasts.
It might hurt somehow, that contrast between stern authoritarian face
and smooth bosom. Some of them were never women in the first place.
Just Brits with vaginas. "Cheerio. Saddle up. Afterwards we can trim
Something about empire. Something about Rome. About now, the Brits are
trying to save themselves from what they believe is excessive
masculinity. Hence, the nanny state. I'm thinking the problem is
exactly the reverse. A nation without women. And therefore no blood,
fertility, or reason for living. Fitzgerald said something about
"making love to dry loins." How many hundreds of years can one nation
survive on such a diet?
In the meantime, the rest of us get great writing, and the women actors
get to be all the man they always wanted to be.