Archive for December, 2014

Culture

December 30, 2014

Putin

The Russians Get There First

Leafing through this month’s Commentary magazine, I came across James Kirchick’s review of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev, a television producer who was attendant to much of the political doings in Russia during the first ten years of this century.  Apparently the thrust of this book is to chart the accomplishments of Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s political general.

Kirchick writes: “He is the “political technologist” responsible for the concept of “sovereign” or “managed” democracy – a post-modern apparatus of fake parties, fake parliaments, and fake dissidents.”  … “The man’s “genius,” Pomerantsev writes, is to “use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny.”  …”Pomerantsev writes, “The Kremlin’s idea is to own all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls.”  The state throws support to transgressive artists while simultaneously funding the Orthodox Church, whose leaders protest those very artists’ exhibitions.”  …”The Russia Pomerantsev paints is a morally corrupt bizarro world that actively discourages integrity of any kind.”

Photo from Google Images

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Culture

December 21, 2014

audience4

The Audience is a Mob

One of my favorite Sammy Glickisms is, “Talent can get you just so far,” he said.  “Then you got to start using your head.”

One of the things I seem to have to keep learning, and re-learning, throughout my life, is that people take themselves seriously.  This isn’t easy, and isn’t easy especially for a writer to do.  No matter what is said about a character inhabiting a writer’s head and taking over control of their pen – we all know who is calling the shots.  Writers may play about with psychosis, but in the end, it’s still their psychosis.   (This might be one reason I’m often amused by the claim that reading fiction broadens one’s horizons.  Fiction, or any work of art for that matter, is probably the most totalitarian thing out there, with perhaps the most limited view of life available – currently in print.)  Writers do with characters as they please.  They do not need to take their characters ‘seriously’.   That is, the characters have no power over them.

 

On the show, “I Love Lucy”, (which is problematic, by the way), Ethel and Fred and Lucy and Ricky all have their flare-ups, their fights and wars.  But, in the end, another portion of their nature appears, goes to work, and resolves the situation amicably.  This is what can happen when people don’t take themselves too seriously – another portion of their personality can go to work.   In real life however, real people take themselves real seriously.  One clash with your real neighbor, and that could be the end of things.  Two clashes, and it’s probably a cold war.  Three, and “we will see you in court”.

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Why do I say all this?

Well, it’s because that as a writer, and especially as a playwright, who with maturation has the opportunity to experience an audience and mull their reactions – you begin to see that you are strung between two poles.  On the one hand is the situation of you as the talent and as the creator, whose delight is to take characters and run them through their paces, place them in situations, raise the stakes, swing for the fences!  No subject is out of bounds.  No outcome is beyond the pale.  No emotion is suppressed.   No remark need go unmade.  All is made up and needn’t be taken seriously.  But what if this did happen?  That is always the question posed.

On the other hand, there is the audience who are very real, and whom each and every one take quite seriously.  You not only have to capture their interest…  that is, change their focus from their own very serious concerns to immersing themselves in your own conceit.  This is damn hard in and of itself.   But you also must be very careful not to press any of their buttons, that is, to challenge their personal ideology – or they will close you out.  You will lose their participation.

Well, Whitman noted “I contain multitudes”.  And Lincoln remarked, “you cannot please all of the people, all of the time”.  So if everyone is a crowd, and you can’t please everyone- where does this leave the poor playwright?

The trick is it seems, is to find something a sizeable crowd either hates or loves to the exception of whatever else transpires, and trumpet that boldly and with a sense of urgency.  It could be that, “Racism is a profound evil.”, or “Poor people deserve respect.” or, “Don’t be a prude.” or any number of the current shibboleths that hold sway over the makeup of the current theater audience.   In other words, you must use every trick and caboodle at your disposal for turning the theater audience into a mob; a nice mob – you don’t want them trashing the place for goodness sakes – but a mob, nevertheless.

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I experienced an excellent demonstration of this.  At the party following a production of my own, a good friend of mine, using the actors cast, put on a roast of a scene in the play, “Saving Harry”.  He took the scene, which involved salesmen at a large metropolitan dealership, and transposed it to hicks in the rural South.  I loved that scene.  It was a favorite of mine.  And I think the audience enjoyed it also.  But their reaction was fairly muted, throughout the production.

Transposed, the same scene was hilarious.  It got a huge reaction!  And I added a lot of the laughter myself.  I enjoyed it very much.  But what it did was to change the audience from individuals who could think and consider – into a broadside against rural hicks, creating a roaring, rolling mob of ridicule.  And I roared myself.  There’s no getting around it.  But it stands in my life as a very firm lesson.  The audience is a mob.

Why do I take the time to remark on all this?  It’s all just theater, right?

Well, as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage…”

Photos from Google Images

Culture

December 17, 2014

amish beards2

My Amish Beard

 When I reached sixty-five, and I began working out of my home office, I gradually stopped shaving.  Shaving is a bother.  It adds another task to the day.  And once you have failed to shave for a few days, (okay, a week or so), your beard becomes like a lawn which has outgrown the mower.  The shafts of the grass get long and tough.  And you need the weed whacker.  The razor no longer cuts it.  Snipers are a rough tool.  And electric devices either bog down in the thick hairs or begin tugging and yanking.

My beard trimmer bogged down.  So I tried the new razor I bought.  I began with the moustache, but quit after the work bogged down too.   All of which left me looking like a Mennonite.

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Now I’ve always felt this was such an odd way to wear a beard, that the people who did so must be quite odd themselves.  But, really, I feel about the same.  And though the wife calls me Enoch, from time to time, she likes it!  She never liked being poked by my moustache hairs.  She says she always enjoyed the shape of my mouth.

And these beards are handy in wintery Ohio as a pair of mittens, when on my walks.  So I did a little research.

Apparently, the first Amish were persecuted in old Germany by the military types whose fashion then was to wear elaborate mustaches.  So the Amish declared themselves by refusing to grow mustaches.   The carry-over of this habit continues to this day.  In addition, the beard is allowed to grow longer once a man marries.  Hmmmm…  I’m married.

amish beards1

Photos from Google Images

The Short Version / Reviews

December 8, 2014

Newsboy

“Read All About It!”

(The Growth of Government)

 Crisis and Leviathan

Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs

 The growth of the private sector is rather magical.  You simply enforce property rights and a few other nurturing legal traditions, and commerce grows.  It’s rather like planting seeds in the proper soil and providing them with sun and water.  The miracle of economic growth occurs, and with it, the rise in individual income and comforts.

There is nothing magical about the growth of government.  It happens because certain people enforce it, and many more persons either allow or agree to it.  Most governments began as what nowadays would be seen as criminal enterprises.

The nature of the private sector is rather splendid and wonderful, both because of its natural quality and diversity – and because of its complexity that passes our understanding.

The complex, brutal, many times exasperating nature of government, on the other hand, can be byzantine, but it rarely appears wonderful, except in its self-limitations.  For example, with our own system of “checks and balances”, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the wonder of humility has been introduced to government.  A twig of humanity has been grafted onto an otherwise powerful, unfeeling enterprise, which, from time to time, casts its entire monolithic pre-eminence in a noble light.  (Picture the glowing Dome of Congress.)  Other citizenry have found other ways to ‘humble’ their governments.  But, for the most part, “shock and awe” and raw power, the barrel of a gun – and not wonder – are the glistening aspects of most government.

Because the private sector grows from a natural action, whose nature passes our complete understanding – when it fails, when the economy fails us, we believers are left with little but our faith to sustain us.  When the seeds of enterprise we have planted grow and wither, there are many factors we can look at, and remedies we can try… but mostly we must have faith that the seeds still contain life and the plants can be saved.  And that the miracle which passes our understanding will blossom again.

Believers in government, however, need no faith.  In fact, they often disparage faith.  Believers in government are natural atheists and pragmatists.  They are “show me the money”, people.  And when a crisis occurs, the government offers to “show people the money”.  It’s rather like looking for your keys outside the tent, rather than inside where you lost them – because the light outside is better.

The theme of Higg’s book is that what happens when a crisis occurs depends upon the prevailing ideology of the times; that is whether we will hew to a faith in our natural occurring systems, and the value creating miracle of the private sector – or whether we have more faith in governmental directives, whose nature would seem more rational and apparent, and who can print money at will.

In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs traces the evolving nature of our national ideology, and the crisis’s which have formed it.  And what he has shown, is that in times of crisis, action tends to be valued over faith by the populace.   These crises’s stimulate governmental action which manifest as governmental expansion, which, assuming that the crisis is surpassed and the nation survives, creates a change in ideology.  This changed ideology, which is more comfortable with a larger government, insures that the governmental expansion which occurred, never shrinks to pre-crisis size but solidifies as real growth.  And, over time, and successive crisis, our faith in the natural guiding order of the private sector shrinks in comparison with our comfort in governmental solutions.  And just as a plant grows exponentially, the government grows as each succeeding crisis provides it with the ideological support to do so.  Of course, much of this growth depends upon concealed costs and fiat (printed) money.  And from there comes a sobering foreboding.

Higgs also notes that an ideology is a creation of its time.  Just as a plant cannot shrink back into a smaller plant or a seed, neither can an ideology ever become what it once was.  There is no going back to the yesteryears.

Crisis and the Leviathan is an engrossing, step by step, factual, sobering account, of why our government has gotten to the size it is, and why we are where we are as a nation – and he offers a rather dismal outlook, for anyone who values individual freedoms and the joy of personal enterprise.

Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating tour through history as situations are seen through the differing ideological lenses of history, as black becomes white and white, black – and laws are taken to mean just the opposite of what they appear to have said, when written.  You can almost hear the street paper boy shouting, as if hawking some lurid murder, “Read all about it!”

Picture from Google Images

What’s Happening in Obscurity?

December 2, 2014

Kid hunter

Deeper Into the Woods

 

 People like to decorate back here.  But they can be a little slow to take things down.  A porch one half block north of us is currently displaying the American flag, a hanging corpse, and eves hung with Christmas lights – plus a wreath and bells.

My son wanted our home decorated better than his friend’s (different home) up the street, and to have a ‘lighting ceremony’ to celebrate it.  So we scheduled it to be on the evening of Black Friday, and got to work with lights and extension ladder.

Once the relations had all arrived and had their drinks, we marched them back outside into the cold and dark to witness.  As they stood muttering through shivers, I laid the intellectual foundation of the event with a short speech about the historical sources of our current lighting ceremony; from the first candle-lit German Christmas trees, to Queen Victoria’s embrace of the tradition, to the lighting of the first electrified Christmas tree in a ceremony at the Grover Cleveland White House in 1895.  From there we touched on the “Grand Illumination”, in which whole towns would participate in a lighting ceremony – first begun in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1935.  All of which led eventually to lighting ceremonies, throughout the country, including fireworks and parades, and the eventual term, “turning on the lights” (I said, with a bit of flourish.) –  and with the tradition of fireworks added – …which is believed to have been descended from the custom of putting lights in the windows to celebrate an armistice, or a disaster.

Our designated ‘Grand Illuminator’ was my father in law.  Once I had adequately roughed in the intellectual foundation of our event, he flicked the switch, (with the help of my son) and POW!  …almost daylight.

All sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, while waiting for the inflatable dachshund on the porch roof to fill – just finishing the last verse as our Great Weenie fully engorged!  to a great hue and cry!   Then we all went inside to watch a Griswold Christmas.

But enough of that.  All of this is a lead-in to my being kicked out of my wife’s bed for snoring last Sunday night, and sleeping in my son’s, who was not there, due to his sleeping over that night at his friend’s.

“Why do you think you can sleep over on a school night?”  I had asked him earlier.

“Because Monday is a holiday.”

I couldn’t think of any holiday that fell on December 1st.

“What do you mean a holiday?”

“It’s a school holiday!”

“You didn’t have enough of a vacation with 4 days off?  They had to add an extra one?”  I huffed.  I wasn’t swallowing this easily.

“It’s the opening day of hunting season.”

“?”

Apparently everyone takes off the first day of hunting season around here.  Over 450,000 hunters will enter the woods.  And over 75,000 deer will be carted out, say the newspapers.

As it so happens, I had been talking about hunting earlier with a relation that wasn’t long married, had a ‘teething’ baby, just moved into a new home whose walls they were trying to get painted first, plus a part-time job shepherding cancer patients to their labwork through the outside wintry cold, while her new husband had just spent the last month hunting.

“They all have a piece of land you can’t live on, and you couldn’t farm, hours away, where they go.  And he has these cameras planted all through the woods, and he pours over the recordings.  He knows everywhere they go.  And he has every deer named, and has picked out just the one he wants to kill.  But, he hasn’t killed him yet.”

She nodded grimly over the steering wheel at the lit nighttime highway ahead.

“I told him, just kill one!”  She sighed.

“But is has to be THAT one.”

 

Later at the dinner I related all this to his father.

“Yeah,” he said, not at all astonished, but a little tired of the thing.  “He’s been trying to get that one for the last four years.”

 

All of which brings me back to the story of sleeping in my son’s room.  He leaves his drapes open and at the tick of 5 – all of the outside icicle lights clicked on…  …POW!!!

I awoke.

And as I watched, a huge dachshund slowly enlarged, filling the window.

 

Photo from Google Images

Postscript:  This just in!  Apparently they got THAT one: their buck, a record 162 on the Big Buck rating.  But it was an uncle, rather than her husband who shot it.


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