Amidst rising tensions between the United States of America and the recently formed Confederate States of America, Presiding Bishop Justinian Wellenough of the Protestant Episcopal Church offered his services to the rival factions. In telegrams to the two Presidents-elect, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, Bishop Wellenough noted that February 12 was President-elect Lincoln’s birthday. ”What better day to begin a facilitated conversation directed toward establishing a safe space to discuss our differences,” Bishop Wellenough noted. “We must be able to recognize that our disagreements need not divide us. It is the necessity of the Gospel that as Jesus reconciled us to the Father, we must work toward the gracious reconciliation of man with man.”
And I shall, and avoid the next part of Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit. Jackson’s sensibility, never very harmonious with Tolkien’s, has been set free by box office success to run amok. Tolkien’s modest children’s book was little more than a draft or plot summary for Part I. So I shall not contribute to the box office numbers of this round. I won’t be missed, and I don’t need the popcorn.
It is interesting to speculate (and perhaps someone has done this work. If so, and if my reader knows of it, leave a comment) the differing perceptions of those whose first encounter with Tolkien’s work has been through the texts, and those whose first encounter has been through the lens of Jackson’s work. How do movie-first readers perceive the books? What do they find difficult or unsatisfying? What do they find more interesting than the movie version? If our culture is ever more visually dominated, what is lost when text becomes secondary to image? Those who for decades had only the text, were free to create their own images, and change them at will; Jackson’s work collapses the probability function, as it were, crystallizing Legolas into Orlando Bloom. Can that mold be broken? Hm.
Edward Snowden’s backstory makes very little sense, and smells of being a legend. What would George Smiley have done with him? George would certainly have put Connie Sachs to work on Snowden’s deep background, with the remit, probably, of answering the question, “Who turned him?” George himself, I think, would have interviewed the girlfriend – bumbling, indirect, polishing his glasses on his tie, harmless as a sparrow, and would somehow extract the one or two key tidbits. Peter Guillam would be in charge of sort of terrorizing all of Snowden’s acquaintances into cooperation – they wouldn’t be sure with whom they were cooperating, but cooperate they would.
In the non fiction world, I wonder how James Jesus Angleton would have employed his proactive paranoia?
DOMA was never a very good law, nor adequate response to the attack on marriage. Justice Kennedy needn’t have loaded his opinion with so much animus toward Congress, and Justice Scalia was right to be scandalized by that animus, and the majority opinion will be a problem for the future. But as law, DOMA was poor. Prior to DOMA, the rule of thumb for all of us bureaucratic pencil pushers (chorus of right wing boos and hisses) was that a marriage legally contracted in the jurisdiction of origin was legal wherever else the couple might go. This usually meant thinking through the more typical situation of a couple, one or both underage in their home, who cross state lines to marry in a jurisdiction with a lower legal age of consent. And that meant looking at the state law on that sort of subject. It wasn’t hard, though it did get amusingly convoluted from time to time. The situation altered when the SSM movement got off the ground. DOMA was simply not a good response to it, but there wasn’t the political force of will to federalize the matter via a constitutional amendment.
Proposition 8 is a somewhat more challenging matter. In terms of media response, one need only make a simple thought experiment: supposing the good people of California became weary of armed gangs in their cities, and by popular initiative overwhelmingly passed a well-crafted gun control Proposition, one that successfully targeted gangs, illegal gun transactions, and the like, while leaving undisturbed the right of innocent citizens to self defense or hunting or other appropriate use. Let us assume that the elected officials of California loathed this Proposition, refused to enforce it, and actively encouraged litigation to overturn it. After wending its way through the court system, the Supremes state, as they did in Proposition 8, that the rank and file citizenry have no standing to seek enforcement of a validly passed Proposition. The media firestorm would be immediate, though the matter of standing would be identical.
More generally, our culture generally has swallowed a lot of whoppers. The Father of Lies managed to persuade a couple of generations that a child in utero was not human. Once you get that one down, SSM is just dessert.
It also seems that our institutions are failing us, from the once beautiful program of public education through the court system. Right-wingers of a certain type will (not incorrectly, but maybe assuming too much intentionality) refer to “the long march through institutions.” I myself suspect that a great wind is coming, one that will prune away a great many fruitless branches. Here and there you can see the stirring of that wind in the grass and tree tops. We’ll see.
So what do Christians do? Be very fundamental, preach and teach Christ, crucified, risen, and Lord. If Jesus is at the center, the lies wither and vanish.
And, lastly, if we insist on electing scoundrels and incompetents to high office, we must assume that they will act as scoundrels and incompetents. I’ve said before and will say again, that Terry Pratchett’s finest bit of satire may have been when he located the office of the Prime Minister of The Last Continent in jail.
As the scandals and outrages multiply, President Obama’s fanboys and girls seem to be having trouble remembering that the President emerged from a petty, mean, vindictive, and vicious political kleptocracy from which he never did a single thing to differentiate himself. When a scandal erupts, the man in charge feigns ignorance and outrage; if pushed, if he’s a Daley, he might start sputtering and spitting in his outrage. His outrage at being questioned and held responsible, that is. That has entertainment value, at least. The scandalous appointee, unless actually indicted and convicted, usually resigns into temporary obscurity, only to emerge into some lucrative but less visible appointment later. SO THERE IS NOTHING SURPRISING HERE.
A few years back, when a (ed: opinion coming) deservedly obscure but vaultingly ambitious Illinois State Senator named Obama decided to run for the U. S. Senate, the Chicago news media cleared the way for him, first in the Democratic primary election, disposing of the front runner, a rich lefty named Blair Hull, whose ex-wife had accused him of being violent. Then they disposed of the Republican, another rich guy this time from the right, named Jack Ryan, because his ex wife, a minor actress renowned for, mmm, her architecture, accused him of taking her to scandalous Paris clubs while they were married. The accusations were made after their divorce, in a custody proceeding. In the Hull and Ryan cases, the litigation was supposedly sealed, and somehow leaked and then released. Which simply means that in Illinois, ain’t nothin’ sealed. The Chicago news media, first the Fun Times and then the Tribunal, got ahold of the scandals and used them to bludgeon Blair Hull and Jack Ryan out of the campaigns. For all I know, both Hull and Ryan are horrible tentacled monsters from the Dungeon Dimensions. Or not. It doesn’t matter. The media used the allegations, not any substance behind them, to create a scandal and smooth their favored candidate’s way. Smoothed it all the way to the White House, they did.
Thing is, of course, that divorcing and divorced people lie about each other. The more that’s at stake, the more they lie.
Now, advocacy is part of journalism. Always has been, always will be. Good reporters and opinionators transcend their advocacy at least a little, but it’s there and should be. The Tribune was founded in part to be an abolitionist platform. It became infamous (at least if you are a progressive) for the crusades of it’s long-time publisher, Robert McCormick, a lavishly opinionated man:
McCormick carried on crusades against gangsters and racketeers, prohibition and prohibitionists, local, state, and national politicians, Wall Street, the East and Easterners, Democrats, the New Deal and the Fair Deal, liberal Republicans, the League of Nations, the World Court, the United Nations, British imperialism, socialism, and communism. Besides Roosevelt, his chief targets included Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson and Illinois Governor Len Small. Some of McCormick’s personal crusades were seen as quixotic (such as his attempts to reform spelling of the English language) and were parodied in political cartoons in rival Frank Knox’s Chicago Daily News. Knox’s political cartoonists, including Cecil Jensen, derided McCormick as “Colonel McCosmic”, a “pompous, paunchy, didactic individual with a bristling mustache and superlative ego.”
In the current, on-line version of the Tribune, a caricature of the Colonel is used as a semi-humorous avatar of the company. He would not have approved.
So it it happens that the Brothers Koch purchase the eight newspapers of the Tribune Company, it will be an example of Dame Fortuna’s wheel rotating. The current Tribune is a rather sad, drab, and boring place. Whatever will they do with it?
Since Friday’s horror at Sandy Hook, I’ve been often enough overcome by tears, as I am sure a lot of us have been. No one who has cared for a small child is not in some way wounded by this howling evil. Parents and grandparents everywhere share to some small extent in the bottomless grief of the parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, of the Innocents of Sandy Hook.
When these things happen, the heart cries for action. What is to be done? Can’t we prevent these massacres?
First of all, far and away first of all, no plan or program that does not account for the brokenness of each and every human being has the least chance of mitigating or ending the danger. Our culture doesn’t like to deal with this essential, truly essential, fact very much, but there it is, and the evidence for it is everywhere.
The fantasy of the Institutional Radical Progressive (no, not Liberal, they love neither Liberty nor open discussion, but are dictatorial and censorious) is that human brokenness can be solved with legislation and regulation, so they propose greater or lesser increases in the control over firearms. To which, the smart alec (but entirely on point) reply is, “The War on Drugs is going well, isn’t it? Can’t get illegal drugs anywhere. Bravo, well done, what next?” As long as there is a market for them, any prohibited object will find its way to those who want them, and, quite possibly, in even more lethal forms. Prohibition only moves problems around. Sometimes things need to be prohibited, but our historical evidence is that prohibition is rarely successful.
On the other hand, Second Amendment purists have to come to grips with the ‘force-multiplying’ effect of guns. Without guns, Adam Lanza might still have killed his mother, and that would have been a horrible family tragedy. Knives, staircases, bricks, swimming pools, frying pans, bottles, household cleaners, and quite a lot of ordinary tools, can be quite lethal if one is of sufficiently murderous intent. But it would have been a family tragedy only, not a national one. It was the combination of his madness and some weapons that has made it a national horror. I myself wouldn’t mind seeing a massive tariff on large capacity magazines, and restrictions on certain types of ammunition, knowing that those would not eliminate but maybe reduce their availability. Beyond that, I suspect that only cooperation between knowledgeable and reasonable gun owners and law enforcement and security specialists will come up with effective proposals. And that I’ll leave to them: with my vision, I might be able to hit the broad side of a barn. With a shotgun. From close range. Firearms are not my world.
We must be cautious about how folks use tragedy. Quite near my home is an east-west arterial street, not the most heavily travelled (that one is another half mile north), but busy enough. It’s a divided street, with shops and homes and a couple of schools. The speed limit was 30 mph for years, 20 in the school zones. In my experience, these are reasonable limits, most of the time. Of course people go faster: that’s what people do. Of course they text while driving, or drive while furiously angry with their girlfriend, or their boss, or because they just didn’t give themselves enough time to get to work. That’s what people do.
Earlier this year, there was a tragedy when a 9 year old boy on a bicycle was killed when a driver turning from one of the north-south streets struck a van, then the boy riding the sidewalk. The agitation for a reduced speed limit on the arterial street began at once, and was successful – the limit is now 25 mph, and there is talk of a stoplight near one of the schools.
However, a different kind of speed killed the boy. The driver who initiated the sequence was high as a kite on marijuana and amphetamines, and that this was not her first offense for DUI. She may well have been driving too fast (though on the side street, not the arterial), but she should not have been driving a car in the first place. The remedy enacted by the town will do precisely nothing to address the cause of the tragedy. We live in Cook County, after all, where the chairman of the County Board discourages “minor” arrests for marijuana possession. Law abiding citizens will slow down; folks who ignore speed limits and “yield right of way” signs, or drive while intoxicated, will continue to do so, and our courts will continue to tolerate such drivers.
The demands of our broken hearts make us easily misled. Beware those who seize on a tragedy to drive an agenda of their own.
When political conservatives lose elections, they get all despondent, think that no one loves them, and they wonder if they have to change their message. When political radicals lose elections, they start thinking about how to win the next one – or in some rare cases or places, steal it. They do not change their goals. In last weeks election, should anyone have bothered to notice, we all saw the influence of the Chicago Method. Identify your voters well in advance and make sure they get to the poll. The Chicago Machine has always been very good at knowing who would vote the straight ticket and why, and making sure they would vote. Sure, they stole votes when they had to. But what Axe and Obama brought off last week was a matter of identifying their core voters at the precinct level and getting them to the poll. The Romney folks did a poor job of that where it counted. Watching his campaign was a lot like watching Northwestern football this year: finding a way to lose it in the fourth quarter. Sometimes at the last second. This wasn’t about ideology, nor did a national endorsement of the President’s policies (whatever they are) occur. Conservatives should be talking the nitty gritty of building up local organizations and finding and persuading voters at the local level. Because that’s how you win elections.
Yesterday’s election was, I think, illuminating in all sorts of ways, and I’ll be muttering (mostly to myself, I fear) about them intermittently.
Briefly, and for starters, the President lost around 10 million of his supporters from 4 years ago. This is fairly unprecedented; reelected presidents usually gain in the popular total, not lose. One has to go back to Franklin Roosevelt’s third term to find the same result, and his third term was controversial even among his supporters. Mitt Romney managed to lose votes in comparison with John McCain, though not nearly to the same degree. However, he failed to generate any enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. At first look, it seems likely that those who lost their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama simply stayed home.
I worked in Federal employment for 29 ½ years, finally taking an early out offer of the sort that the government made then – essentially allowed to retire 6 months early. Certainly no bonus was involved. The idea was that I would work at some writing, give my wife more time to do her job teaching engineers and premeds, and maybe do some research – and have a parent at home most of the time as our daughter entered high school. It didn’t quite work out that way, but that’s besides the point. Nor, for that matter, did I set out to be a bureaucrat – back in the long ago, doors to other careers slammed shut, sometimes by my folly, sometimes by other folks, sometimes because of the times. Water, bridge.
Federal employment had drawbacks and advantages, much as do other fields. It’s a bit amusing these days to read from some self-defined ‘conservatives’ vituperation heaped on public sector workers that is really quite like the vituperation that self-defined ‘progressives’ apply to “capitalists.’ Neither of it is very realistic. But in those years, I was ashamed of working for Uncle precisely once:
This application of wholly unnecessary police power upon someone who wished only to live in freedom was far decency the boundaries of decency. One can, I suppose, debate the Clinton Administration’s policy in re Elian: what appalled me was the application of force. It still does.
Now this event revived that sense of indecency:
As time passes, and it becomes ever more clear that the Administration knew from the outset that the attack on the American Consulate was a planned terrorist attack, the effort to scapegoat anyone however much a mope he might be is ever more appalling. As evidence accumulates, it becomes ever more obvious that something happened that is unprecedented in my experience – Americans were left to die when help was possible and (relatively) immediately available. But while the growing body of evidence has its own fascination, the sheer, deliberate, deceitful effort to direct attention away from the real causes and toward someone entirely irrelevant, is appalling. And indecent.
This was, keep in mind, a President who came in to office promising to do things differently.