Friday, December 29, 2006

STRAWS IN THE GALE

A piece of the Canadian Arctic’s ice shelf has fallen off. It’s been there since the First Dynasty or even longer. But in the middle of last month it just sorta sighed and broke off and floated out to sea. There’s only about 10% of the ice shelf left that was there in 1910 when Admiral Somebody explored it. They say that the day Hitler declared one of his invasions (Poland, the Low Countries, or the invasion of Russia) much of the German citizenry was taken up with a major [!] soccer match. Perhaps Boss Bush will start the festivities in Eyeran during the Superbowl. The Alpha stream is getting thicker. We are getting a chance to relive Pearl Harbor and be the Good War, no doubt about it. The question is: have we come back now as the Japanese? Ah the hot ironies. We knew nothing; we were only following orders, and – that hugely incisive line from Billy Wilder: “Eet’s troo eye vass in ze SS, bahhhht eye vass only a paaaastry chef!”. Ja. Sure. America stands some chance of being in the position of those worthy Prohibition-era burghers who, caught in a speak-easy, are going for a ride downtown just for being there.

Ralph Atkins, reporting for “The Financial Times” from Frankfurt reports (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/printer_122806E.shtml) that the euro is surpassing the dollar for numbers in circulation. No, this does not mean the euro is the world’s new primary currency of choice. But folks around the world are getting the sense that there is ‘other money’ besides the Yankee dollah. I wonder how many Americans think that one of these days they’ve got to take that trip to the South Pacific and be like Rosano Brazzi or go tooling around the French and Italian Rivieras’ coast roads like … all those other Americans who worked for the big Hollywood studios. Alas, James Bond can’t even have a cigar, and one wonders if the latest Aston even has a lighter.

The educator, Jack Blatherwick, Ph.D., notes (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/122806K.shtml) that teaching children to memorize rote answers to tests in order to pass is basically setting them up to be sitting ducks for a government that will stamp out even the possibility of criticism and dissent. Absolutely. And “teaching answers to standardized tests should not be called education”. Also absolutely. “Standardized tests” permit no dissent “and might be the perfect preparation for a naïve acceptance of fascism.” It’s too true. And the hidden middle there is that the Revolutions of the Identities, under whose stern, impatient auspices Great and Good Things were rammed through the walls of American society, were themselves heading down a less-trodden but still usable path to fascism.

But when he says that children need to be taught “problem-solving”, I’d want to add that they will first need a basis of comparison by which they can – however skeptically and constructively – size up the present in order to devise efficacious repairs. So they will need a database – oy – of knowledge about Western Civ and maybe a tad of philosophy (the part about capital-letter words, at least) and then a current events course, and certainly some geography (it used to be called that, anyway). Of course, all this went by the board decades ago, not least because ‘males’ (dead or alive, and white – pink, actually) were using it to ‘oppress’ everybody else. We’d better dust off that stuff and get it up to the front chop-chop. Self-esteem may help Harry Potter put up a bubble against the Dementors, but out in the theater parking-lot, there is a sterner challenge that may not wait until we’ve finished our popcorn and flossed. Give’em hell, Harry – but we need to do some hands on growing-up too.

“Will our generation be remembered as the most self-centered in history?” Well, first I’d distinguish among generations: the just-arriving-at-consciousness through the getting-ready-to-Go-Beyond is a pretty broad spectrum. And while I don’t particularly cotton to the idea of looking to children or youth or Youth or ‘the young’ for efficacious advice (except in how to program an MP-3) let alone wisdom, I do very much figure that the older one gets, and making allowances for neuro-physical deterioration, it is the job of the older and the old-ing and the old to b) pass on their wisdom and a) keep the circus together so that the young will have a Big Top when it’s their time to get up on the high-wire. This is exactly what is not happening. Not enough of us have been doing our homework all along: climbing up the Ladder of Maturity (or Perfection, or Evolvement, or what have you) so that we sail along on the wave of Time rather than scudding and wallowing half-broadside to it.

American society has a long long way to go before it can figure that by beating up on molester priests it’s done its job and can turn in for the night. Few among us are ready and able to demonstrate that growing-up actually bears demonstrable fruit (and 70-year-olds fathering babies do not impress, nor fit the bill here). No, American society isn’t really set up for oldsters, but then it isn’t looking for wisdom either. For two centuries, there was enough ‘progress’ to be made on the material plane that matters of spirituality could be left to pleasant loons like Emerson and Throreau or Harvard professors like William James or the preacher impresarios going back beyond Billy Sunday to the revival tent.

Progress (so-called) on the material plane may be in short supply afore long. We’re best advised to have a Plan B – we’re seeing what happens when there isn’t one. Plan B would enable us to continue meaningful and efficacious operations on a different plane: we might, say, cultivate an appreciation for and a competence in what had long been called ‘wisdom’, and the idea of the genteel but down-at-the-heels cultured person, constructively engaged in contributing to society, might be just the ticket when the gas or the cash for the big luxury SUV or the umpty-cylinder roadster goes away. You never can tell. Wise virgins, and all that.

This will probably take some air out of the corrosive illusion that to exert oneself so as to be seen as having-been-done-wrong-unto is not really a good day’s work, and certainly won’t ground either a career or a meaningful life. Nor contribute to the well-being of an increasingly straitened society. Such was not the spirit that built the West, as they used to say in the long-ago that is now coming back. Let’s face it: we’ll need to become a bit more like pioneers if we’re going to keep our society together. I do not say this as someone who longs for a return to macho idiocies, but I do say it as one who hopes that the now-spent and stultifying detritus of the old Revolutions having been transcended, the Republic can be freed up to face the stern future that is heading right for It. Adulthood, not simply ‘Manhood’, will be much required. There are consequences to be faced for the binges of the Revolutions and of the Bushes. We were there, even if we were only pastry chefs or had gone to the stadium. And We are The People. Not Capra’s mushy sentimental Maw-‘n-her-boys people, nor Whitman’s kinda manic and histrionic people, but Lincoln’s People. Movies with Fonda (Henry) and Stewart (the postwar incarnation) might be the very thing – go ye to the dealers and buy some. And pay close attention.

But the doctor’s conceit – however well-intentioned and respectful of our self-esteem – to the effect that we are a “peace-loving” populace has to be stopped right in its tracks. This country has made itself through armed violence, and while I don’t condone violence, I insist that we have to accept what we’ve done before we can ever learn to do things better. (Bishop Limbaugh might inveigh that an insistence on Peace and Truth is a recipe for American defeat. But the man’s not altogether well – if news reports are to be believed – and, charitably, maybe it’s something else that’s doing the talking.). We have sown a lot of wind in our time, and there will be some reaping to be faced. If we don’t accept what we as a nation have done, and been doing, then it will be that much easier for us to slide into the delusion that the world and life are unfair. Actually, such reaping might be taken as proof of the existence of God, and such an experience can never be fundamentally bad. Now we’ll get to do Redemption the Kathlik way, through real suffering maturely metabolized, and not just through some manic, histrionic Look-at-me show down by the river.

And in breaking news, the Duke prosecutor – the prosecutor! – is up on ethics charges before his state’s Bar Association. As opined previously on this site, the sex-offense Script that spawned the Iraq War script is starting to run into the unspinnable reality of its own consequences just as the war it spawned has been doing for a while now.

The poor guy was just following out the role of prosecutor in the Script: He actually said it all when he defended himself by saying “I was trying to reassure the community, to encourage people with information to come forward”.

These phrases are now as loaded but as readable as any of the old Soviet-era phrases, the mere utterance of which told the alert citizen exactly what was going on behind the curtain and just how much danger he (or she) was in.

“Trying to reassure the community”: in our modern American reality this translates out to I wanted to bang the bell and let folks know I was on the job and that we’ve got another one coming on stage shortly – come on down early and bring your outrage.

“To encourage people with information to come forward”: the kicker here is “information”. In our modern American reality, such “information” may be an unsupported memory, a repressed memory, an impossible-to-confirm scenario, or – what the hey? – an undigested bit of beef. Encouraging people to come forward with this sort of stuff, when – as it is now generally well-known – courts and judges are bound by new Rules and practice to accept without any undue questioning just about any statement short of ‘Martians’ that is declared to them, and are hesitant to incur wrath of the public (which has just been advised through ‘reassurance’ that there’s doin’s afoot down at the courthouse) … this is the equivalent of throwing chum in the water when you’ve seen a shark fin.

But of course, it serves – in best Soviet style – the purpose of providing such a welter of attention-grabbing and emotion-grabbing variables that the thinness of the actual initial facts is forgotten. But in the best tradition of the theatre, the trial will go on. And the Cause will be served.

The consequences of this long indulgence, of this long period of playing with Soviet-style matches are only just dawning on us. But like many other consequences we shall have to face in the coming year, we shall have to collect ourselves, brace ourselves to our duty, and face them. I can’t help remembering Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”: it was not only the thought held conceptually in the lyrics, but that ominous counter-tone playing along just under the melody. Scared to go out on the big stage? Come on, the troops we sent to Iraq have been out on it for quite a while. We owe it to them.

Meanwhile, poor prosecutor Nifong is finding out what happens to a man who was running around the musical chairs a little too vigorously to notice that the band was starting to slow down. And when the devil turns round on him, what will protect him, the laws being all flat? (Bless you, Robert Bolt). The laws, the very spirit of Law, is much flattened in our modern American reality. Due process, rules of evidence, statutes of limitation … all much flatter. What will protect him now? But there is good news: what has turned round on him is not the devil, but Truth (mutually reinforced, I’m going to imagine, by Justice). So, this is a good thing. He may disagree, but we are reminded of what Harry Truman is reported to have said some time after he earned his famous nickname: I never gave anyone hell – I just told them the truth and they THOUGHT it was hell. Come back to us, Harry – we’re ready to do our homework now.

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