Month: February 2014
From the Archives 2009
For All the Boblings June 2009
Every time a fame-hungry celebrity or pseudo celebrity lands in the news for absolutely nothing at all we all grind our teeth in frustration. With so little to show for it, except for the synergy of blind adoration, it’s difficult to care about them alive, dead, good, bad or in the nude. Last time I said this, it was just before Michael Jackson had died and, whilst in a very general sense it’s always a tragedy when someone dies, in this case, I stand by my flippancy. I’m sure the details surrounding his demise will come out in the next few days and weeks but I doubt it will change anything. It will only cap what history will almost certainly judge to be a truly bizarre story. Especially since at one point or another, MJ managed to fall into all the five categories mentioned above. But the untimely end of the “King of Pop” has gotten me thinking about the concept of Legacy. Tell me, what do you think of when you remember Michael Jackson, Elvis, Bob Hope, and James Dean?
Legacy (noun): something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <legacy of the ancient philosophers>. We often think of the legacy of presidents. Those legacies generally take the form of Mideast peace attempts and/or a presidential library. Sometimes we attempt to establish our legacy through genetic propagation. An idea I’ve always found somewhat curious. Sometimes we like to build. The Romans had their roads and aqueducts, the Greek’s their temples, and Americans have their various towers, commercial empires, media hegemony, or technical and scientific prowess. Perhaps we the legacies we create might be: art, music, poetry, religion, philosophy, science. Our legacies can take many forms.
The high point of Michael Jackson life was probably the release of the album Thriller which continues to be one of the best selling albums of all time. It became a catalyst for Michael’s fame and fortune. Thriller “cemented Jackson’s status as one of the predominant pop stars of the late 20th century.” The album allowed Jackson to meet important people and to do important things. It was also released in 1982, four months before I was born. By the 90s the Jackson story had become a bizarre and scandal ridden flop. His behavior became increasingly erratic, his face… increasingly indescribable. The Michael Jackson I knew was broke, grotesque, and planning a comeback tour if only to pay his mounting debts.
How about Elvis? Do you see him as a breakout musician personifying cool in the 50s in the same way that Jackson did in the 80s? Elvis’s contortions became so popular that “some saw the singer as a sexual pervert and psychologists feared that teenaged girls and boys could easily be ’aroused to sexual indulgence and perversion by certain types of motions…’” Elvis nye single handedly ushered in the age of Rock and Roll, or as it would later become known: Country. That’s happy Elvis. The Elvis that others see is a fat addict slowly becoming a caricature of his former self. The final image of the King is an overdose in his bathroom; his toilet a fitting throne.
Certainly not all legacies are dismal. Bob Hope died at home with his family. He was 100 years old. Allegedly as he lay dying his daughter asked how he wanted to be buried. He replied, “surprise me”. The last 25 years of his life he spent meeting important people and receiving awards for the work he did in the previous 25. It was oddly synchronous with Einstein: Both were men of unparalleled genius who never managed to recapture the glory of youth. It is a good life, the kind of life most people want and when he finally died they ran his name in the paper for a few days.
Then there’s James Dean. James was a man who died when he was 24 after making 3 films and a handful of television appearances. He was another icon for the 50s when cigarettes were still cool, and being aloof and a loner wasn’t creepy. And that’s it. Jimmy never died of cancer, didn’t overdose, didn’t join some weird religion or mouth profanities at random people and minorities, or simply succumb to the humiliating onslaught of age. In his way he was the Jesus of Cool, the Socrates of Style, or the Mozart of rebellion, dead before his humanity disillusioned us. The Legacy that James offers us is the choice between ignominy and obscurity with little in between. Of course there are countless other legacies and one doesn’t have to choose between the four examples I gave. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter.
Perhaps I am my father’s legacy, which if true, makes him my grandfather’s legacy. How many generations can you count? I count 4 before my ancestors become little more than lines on a page, and a few more after that before they disappear entirely. We are all the fading legacy of a forgotten people. I suppose, how ever much one would wish, it would be foolish to imagine any kind of personal importance. Should art and monuments ever be constructed in my name they will merely serve to aggrandize our culture whilst my name is forgotten. (Anyone care who Mona Lisa really was?) Everyone knows of the pyramids. After all, they still exist and are a famous tourist attraction. They were monuments to the pharaohs who ruled Egypt and were built to ensure their own personal legacy. There are a little over 100 that we know of today; how many can you name? Some historian probably knows, but, again, it doesn’t matter. The essence of the leaders of that superpower is gone, and even their names are gone or fading. What is left, we see, is nothing more than a testament to the Egyptian culture.
There was a guy back then, let’s call him Bob. Bob was your average everyday kind of guy. ‘Bob the Egyptian’ if you like. He wasn’t famous enough to get into Egyptian history, let alone slowly and inevitably forgotten by it. He lived, he died, and if he left any children, they’re dead too and no one really cares. Had he never existed Egypt would have gone along its merry way rising and falling none-the-wiser. But he did exist, and Bob, along with all the other Boblings, got to participate in what once was Egypt. I sincerely hope that that was enough for Bob because that is the meaning of Legacy. As we project our legacy into our future we find our children moving on to something we won’t recognize. As we look back on the legacy of our ancestors we find that we have forgotten who they were. Legacy isn’t falling by the historical wayside. It isn’t monuments and history books. It’s simply participation in the moment; in the very Now. If we are incredibly special then someday perhaps we’ll exist to bore school children forced to memorize the names of a few handful of accomplished people before they’re allowed to go outside to play. Who knows? Maybe Jackson was famous enough that one day he’ll be featured in a chapter on 20th century music in a music appreciation class.
I suppose I’m exaggerating in my title. We’ve had some pretty awful presidents. Johnson comes to mind, Grant, others. So it’s a bit of a stretch to say he’s the worst president ever or even a particularly bad president. But where he was good he was very very good, and where he was bad he was terrible. So while Johnson was a vile and contemptible person, Nixon had obstruction of Justice, Reagan was the only president we’ve ever had that was guilty of treason. It’s a pity he was never brought to trial. If I was North, I’d have thrown Reagan under the bus so fast, but then I’d still be in prison so pick your battles. But Iran-Contra was external it happened to other countries, so I tend not to care as much. And Nixon only screwed up Republicans, I’m not sure that even counts as a crime. Reagan changed something pretty fundamental to the United States and slowly but surely the US has gotten worse. We’ve had our ups and downs and I’m a firm believer in America, I think we’ll eventually right the ship, but most of our troubles had their start right in the early 80s. I blame Reagan.
I’ll tell you why. Because he was the “Great Communicator”. It wasn’t a particular policy objective that did us in, it was something much more insidious. It was a change in attitude. Bush II ran as a compassionate conservative. Imagine a world were it is necessary to point out that your conservationism is a compassionate variety. Why was it necessary? Because Reagan was a compassion-less conservative. He made it cool. He made it popular. Hell, in 1984 he took half the democrats with him. He made it easy to blame groups of people instead of fixing institutional problems. Take our current union antipathy. It got it’s start with Reagan. Millions of people still believe unions are the problem in some nebulous fashion. Nope, but if we can punish unions enough like Reagan did when he was in office things might get better. Sadly they’re not the cause of our problems and attacking them won’t fix them.
Reaganomics certainly had something to do with the economic expansion in the 80s. Although, business cycles, international trade and monetary policies under Volker, and good old fashioned Keynesian stimulus probably had far more to do with it. But the important bit, the really key bit that people need to pay attention to is you can take your marginal income tax from 50 to 25, you can’t take another 25 points off the top. Won’t work and it won’t do anything but we keep trying. Tax cut!!! the solution to every problem. Perhaps this is the fault of incompetent politicians who have seized on one good idea and will never have another so long as they live.
Drugs are the problem! Classic 1980s belief. They’re so much of a threat that we need to declare a war on them. The 30 year war has been a disaster on all levels. Not only for us, but it’s actually destabilized half a dozen South and Central American states. Score one for the Gipper.
Got a foreign policy issue? a quick bombing run will fix it. Ludicrous by today’s standards but we’ve been trying to follow his example ever since.
Immigration! Actually Reagan was a good guy here, though he’s been excoriated ever since by conservatives. Oh well, there’s no pleasing everyone.
Poor People are the problem! Give a man a fish and he won’t care about fishing but will hound you to the end of your days stealing all your fish. Wrong. IT’s so bad we even have our own War on Poverty. Technically that’s LBJ’s creation, but Reagan did his best to martial troops for the other side. The infamous Welfare Queen myth comes directly from Reagan. From Reagan we derive our overt hostility towards the poor. They are diseased, they are infectious, they are crazy, they are uncurable. The only thing you can do to the poor is give money to the rich and hopefully they’ll know what to do with it.
Reagan took the “enlightenment” out of “enlightened self-interest”. He turned “conservative” into “selfish” and it never had to be that way. He made selfishness desirable. American. The plight of the poor is not a hopeless one. And in fact once we ignore the mythology that Reagan and those close to him created, we find that not only are the poor able to be helped, it’s cost effective to do so. Post Reagan compassion has become a Liberal virtue, and what we have found is that it is a most cost effective one. Reagan made the government the enemy when it is not. He inspired generations of people to treat the government with contempt and hostility. There’s a place for limited government values. But Reagan made it the only value a politician could embrace. It was dangerous and stupid. Ever since then we’ve been sliding into decay, becoming more poor, more angry, more hostile, more decisive.
You’ve probably read this statement or one similar to it at your place of employment: “[This organization] prohibits discrimination against and harassment of any employee or any applicant for employment because of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, gender, or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.”
I find this statement comforting. After all, we are all covered in there somewhere. You might say to yourself, “lets see, I have an age, gender, and even a nation of origin. Yup! I’m covered”. Personally, as a heterosexual white male Protestant, I don’t really have a lot to worry about in the whole “oppression” bit. Ill do the oppressing thank you very much, but other people not as privileged as me DO have to worry about discrimination. In fact, anti-discrimination laws have been on the books since 1964 and we can all see what a wonderful job they’ve done at preventing discriminated against, well, NON white-Anglo-Saxon Protestants. But in so much as these laws will prevent some bigoted person from from discriminating against WASP men they are a horrific infringement on the rights of my employers to be total jerks if they wish to be.
Not only does the constitution protect the rights of people to be ignorant and offensive, but there’s a specific clause that is almost a mandate for it. Your first amendment right, broadly speaking, to believe any damnable thing you like. Now I fully support a person’s right to believe that a gay person is an abomination on society, going straight to hell, and will bring upon the US the wrath of God before he does so. I even support your right to say so out loud, print it in the press, protest along those lines and in general work to make the world a little more stupid and evil. However I do not believe you have the constitutional authority to harm people through your bigotry.
“I’m not harming people, they can go to the gay-friendly bakery across the street” True. If it was as simple making a single cake, then walking across the street would be more than sufficient and, in practice, this probably the most likely outcome. But there are a couple of reasons why we shouldn’t let it pass. First is it does tangible harm to the community not only in the specific instance but more generally too. If you can’t see it or recognize it then I applaud your being a member of a privileged group that hasn’t suffered this kind of hatred on a continual basis.
The second reason goes back to the Civil Rights Act where congress decided and the Courts agreed that the government has the right to regulate these kinds of business relationships. It’s in everyone’s best interest if minorities can buy and sell like everyone else. Not to mention minority groups have a protected right to conduct business in and about their town which will become exceedingly difficult with pro-discrimination laws in place and pressure from anti-LGBT groups.
Thirdly if you discriminate against a gay person on the basis of your religion, you can discriminate against any person, for any reason, at any time. All of those anti discrimination laws I mentioned at the beginning, gone. Because injustice, even a small injustice like rude and bigoted wedding photographers, is like an infection. It spreads and the bigger it is the harder it is to wipe out. The easier it is to promote hatred and intolerance the more of it well get. Now it’s a wedding cake, tomorrow it’s firing an employee or denying them medical care, housing, transportation, or just the tacit acceptance of violence against minority groups. If you think I’m being alarmist and slippery-slopish then you have completely failed to understand the plight of minority groups. These things do happen to them. It’s not a question of just going next door to the gay-friendly bakery it’s protecting everyone’s right to live and do business in their communities.
Other people’s rights aren’t infringed. A business is can not practice a religion. A business has no constitutional rights. You being forced to interact with others is not a violation of your freedom to worship. This country used to have laws that promoted religious discrimination. If you were Jewish or Irish or the wrong “-ism” you could be forcibly ejected from certain neighborhoods and economic opportunities do we want to back to that? Mandatory church services at work? religious based discrimination? Because that’s what is at stake with these laws.
We are all bound together. There is no separating us. There is no us or them. Bigotry is nothing more than an elaborate form of self-harm. I love you and will do everything I can to prevent you from harming yourself and others.
Poll time. My first poll ever. It’s very exciting. Here I am blogging away never really knowing what all my readers are wanting to hear about. Not that it matters really, it’s my blog, if you didn’t come here to hear my thoughts on things then why for heaven’s sake did you come? Still, being curious and in the spirit of trying new things I’m publishing a Poll. Hurrah! What have you liked? Disliked? Hated? Wish to see changed? Tell me in the comment section
I hear a lot of vaguely conspiratorial grumbling about why third party candidates don’t do well. Especially from my libertarian friends but it honestly doesn’t surprise me. If you follow politics closely and I mean really closely or maybe volunteer with a campaign for a while it isn’t surprising and it certainly isn’t the result of dark shadowy forces. We don’t live in a world were wearing a few buttons and handing out bumper stickers will get you elected. It requires a fairly sophisticated level of organization especially if your trying for high office. This is a good thing. The world is complicated enough that if you can’t organize a sophisticated campaign your not sophisticated enough to run for office.
Consider the so-called media bias for Obama and against Palin. There’s not a deep personal-political agenda on behalf of “the media”. Sure there are some networks that have an ax to grind but they’re largely balanced by ideological opposites. But Obama’s rise to stardom wasn’t because of accident or media bias. It was skill. He rarely got off message, he was never unprepared, he treated the journalists like professionals, his aides and staff were also on message. Maybe it sounds easy to you. It doesn’t to me. I tend to be ascerbic and sarcastic much of the time. If I had people following me everywhere I went recording everything I said at some point I’m going to say something to offend someone, or be stupid in some way. Very much like that clip of Biden berating that one dude for asking about his record as a law student. It’s absolutely no surprise that he ended up as #2. You contrast that with all the absurd and ridiculous things Palin said. You can’t blame the media for the buffoonery that Palin brought for the media on an almost daily basis and just in case you think it’s all those “liberals” with all their “gotcha” questions (that Palin thinks there are such a thing as Gotcha questions is part of the problems) if you watched her own reality show she was still running her own little loony toons. Try as she might she cant blame the “lamestream” media for her own screw ups. For example, she was given the softest of softball questions in the Curic interview and she completely missed it. Lie! Tell the truth! Say anything, pull a random newspaper out of the air. If your really clever pick something cute or local. Any newspaper would have done. New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Post Intelligencier, WSJ, Boston Globe, Forbes, one of those new fangled news aggregators, the New York Post (eeww) the Wasilla Gazette or something anything and then Katie would have looked foolish for asking such a silly question. (Me, I’d have gone with the National Geographic or Nature. I would have lost the election but Nerds would be mine forever)
You can go far whining about how awful you think the other guys is but your still a loser. You still lack a plan for the future or a way to connect with America. Obama had soaring lofty ideals about how to make the world a better place. Republicans had “drill baby drill”. Of course they lost the election. Romney had “I’m a wealthy elitist whose exactly like Obama but I’m going to be completely opposite as President” and he lost the election. Going into 2014 GOPs will be on the message “we hate Obama”. It’ll probably work too if the GOP candidates can run a professional campaign and keep from fatally sabotaging each other. But they still lack a message and their still whiny losers whose best electoral qualities are nothing more than to tap into petty dissatisfaction. The blame game has been around forever let’s see how well the GOP can play it this year
And where will third party candidates be? Spouting vague conspiracies and a confused message. Struggling to be heard above the din and handing out bumper stickers.
#Sochiproblems is more of an embarrassment for American than for Russia
The above article has been drifting through the social networks lately and it deserves comment. At first blush, the author is correct to point out the shallow pettiness of Americans expressing their unsubtle schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is by it’s very nature petty, but the author is treating the Sochi Olympics like any other Olympics when it most certainly is not.
The Olympics are hosted in countries around the world and nowhere is the host city really “ready” for the Olympics. “Readiness” isn’t the issue. If you told the world that accommodations would be sparse and primitive people would have flocked to them anyway. They would have called it “camping” or some such nonsense and enjoyed it. It’s not about the accommodations. In so much as I feel sorry that Russians have to live in Russia, we’re talking about a state that exists as a deeply dysfunctional kelptcracy and has managed to hold on to enough influence in the world to actively make the world a worse place, all the while touting its inherent awesomeness. The problem is the hubris of demanding attention on the world stage while gleefully violating civil rights, curtailing freedoms, and abetting war crimes and genocide around the world. Russia is using the Sochi Olympics as a show case for it’s power and sophistication at home and abroad, and it took mere minutes of real scrutiny to pierce the facade.
There’s nothing wrong for an American to point out the poisonous tap water, but there is for a Russian. It’s fun and games for everyone else but not in Putin’s Russia. For decades, Putin has been tightening control over the press, social media, and the internet. Honest reporting about glitches in Sochi are not tolerated by the Putin’s regime. How can they be when Sochi is, at the moment, a symbol for Russian prowess. Russia is running as fast as Putin can take her into a new dark age and no one in Russia seems to mind. Even if free, honest, and fair elections were held tomorrow do you seriously think that Putin would lose? That’s the bitch about democracy, even (and sometimes especially) autocratic dictators tend to be very popular.
So the pettiness has a point. If Russia is going to use the Olympics as a symbol of it’s might and glory, the rest of the world is going to point out the flaws, the failings, and horrors. I have no idea what will provoke change in Russia, but I know that change won’t come if we ignore problems, especially symbolic problems. #sochiproblems may be petty, but it’s a necessary pettiness.
While looking for a pancake recipe I found the final version of my written vows. I know for a fact that I was too emotional to really do them justice on our wedding. Since, neither of us remember what the other said, we’ll just pretend the speech came out like this.
I’ve spent the last 6 months thinking about what I would say at this moment. I had a Shakespearean Hamlet thing going for a while about the nature of choices, but it didn’t really seem wedding appropriate. I had a little thing about the socio-historical context of wedding vows, but that was boring even for me. I had some cutsie romantic stuff for a while but I really hated that one. I went to some basic promises but they were generally utilitarian in nature. As in I promise to talk things out and negotiate major life decisions and so on. Besides I’ve already made my promises to you. After all, if my love and fidelity were in any kind of doubt we wouldn’t be here. And most recently I had some very flattering and complementary things to say about you and why I loved you. But then I realized that since the hooting of monkeys became human speech, all our best poets and philosophers have tried to describe the ineffable human experience without a a great deal of success. This moment has thrown in sharp relief all those things that are ineffable, inexplicable, and indescribable in a very intimate and horribly public fashion (look at audience). So here it is. This is my promise. I vow to explore with you the strange and wonderful moments of the human experience. OF OUR experience. All the moments great and small unique or banal. That together we’ll explore the whole of creation.