Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Would The Founding Fathers Think?

I have read or heard laments from people who are upset about current affairs in the USA.  Very often they will ask 'What would the Founding Fathers think?'   Or, it may take this form, 'What would the Founding Fathers say?'
Usually, this complaint takes place at town hall meetings around the nation. We are supposed to believe, upon hearing this question, that the Founding Fathers would be very displeased if they 'could see what's going on in this country today'.
Maybe, maybe not.
We tend to forget that there were differences between those great men.  Some of them desired a strong central government;  others did not.  Some of them desired a central bank;  others did not.  Some of them believed that the people (the masses) should not have too much say;  others believed they should.
We know they would be surprised to see that women and non-landowners can vote;  that slavery is ended;  that senators are elected by the people and not appointed by state legislatures; that there is an income tax.
They would be shocked (I believe) to see that states use lotteries to acquire revenue;  that there is a CIA;  that we have military forces in combat around the world.
The would be saddened to learn (I hope) that we fought a civil war that killed more Americans than any other war we have fought.
Since there were only two hospitals when the nation began, I have no idea what they would think of a comcept called health care reform, or MRI's, or laser surgery, or dental implants, or DNA analysis, or nuclear weapons, or space travel, or television, or cell phones or computers. 
Or GATT, or the UN, or the World Bank, or NATO.
Or globalization, or air, water & ground pollution, or AIDS, or abortion, or test tube babies, or cloning.
This list could go on and on.  The point is that too much has changed for people to hope and believe that all we need to do is return to 1776. 
I believe the Founding Fathers would be as perplexed and troubled as we are.  There was, however, a sanity and dignity about their thinking that we could emulate in our town hall meetings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Prosecuting Our Torturers

Imagine this scenario after World War II:

"These Nuremberg Trials are a distraction.  The War is over.  Let's not look back at the past.  We have a lot of work to do.  Europe needs to be rebuilt.  The Marshall Plan has to be implemented.  Germany needs to be brought back into the community of nations.  There is nothing to gain in prosecuting those officials who committed the crimes they have been charged with."

I know, I know.  The Attorney General's investigation is about charging and prosecuting our own.  That is very different.  Very unsettling.  It means, that no matter what we decide, we as Americans will have to live with the shame of what was done in our name or the shame of not having done anything about it.
Very unsettling.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Drew Barrymore is a Hit! Literary Snobs are not.

Many many years ago, when I was a young man in military service in the Far East, I discovered writers and novels that were unknown to me and (I assume) to my high school English teachers as well.
In a quonset hut library, I found the novels of Thomas Wolfe.  In fact, I thought I had discovered a great but unknown writer until a fellow service member disabused me of that.  Seems the rest of the world had heard about him.
I also read the novels of Frederick Manfred, Vardis Fisher, and Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner.  Another favorite was Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, a connected series of short stories of the interior life of people, most of whom were emotional cripples.  Anderson called them 'grotesques'.
I couldn't wait to return to the states and access the libraries and journals and find out more about these writers.
What a shock to discover that these literary giants were more or less regarded either as serious disappointments, or second rate authors.
Sherwood Anderson had his "limitations".  Manfred, Fisher, and Stegner were "Western" authors and merely "regionalist" in their efforts.  Thomas Wolfe was a "young man's writer" and simply "a phase".
All of this came out of the coterie of literary movers and shakers who gathered their wool on the East Coast, i.e., New York City.
I particularly remember that Sherwood Anderson's stories were characterized as depictions of small town or rural life and that they lacked serious relevance to the modern character of developing post-World War II American society.
I regarded them as universal stories of feeling human beings.  I felt their relevance would last as long as people walked the earth.
And that is what prompts this post.
Last week I saw a movie called "Grey Gardens".  It starred Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as mother and daughter.  They shared the same name: Edith Bouvier Beale.  They were family relatives, cousins, I believe, of Jacqueline Bouvier.  Grey Gardens was the name of the estate in East Hampton, Long Island, New York where the two Beale women lived.
The ghost of Sherwood Anderson walked through this movie as we followed the lives of two women locked in self-deception and personal failure.  They were people of stature and breeding living on a rich estate in the Hamptons, but could very well have been transported to Winesburg, Ohio to play out the tale of their lives.  The movie confirmed my opinion that Anderson's themes were timeless and universal.
Drew Barrymore, by the way, gives one of the most powerful and haunting performances that I have seen in a long long time.  This actress is a national resource.   That more directors and producers aren't finding roles for her to grow in is a stain on their cognitive abilities.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday Landscape

The live oak has a curve in its trunk.. One of the fan palms is leaning badly to the West.  A queen palm is tilted to the south.  Is something playing with my trees?   Is this spiritual deformity?   Was the grass a witness?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Corporation Hell. Keep buying. Shop till you drop.

Mr Bageant says it better than I ever could.  I am much too polite.  But I agree with him 100 per cent.

A Timeless Lesson

"There is one terrible thing in this life, and that is that everybody has their reasons."

Jean Renoir
French film maker

Sunday, August 9, 2009

U A Fanthorpe, Poem for August

August is vacation time.  This poem is for those who remain behind to mind the store.


There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it

Which checks the insurance, and doesn't forget
The milkman;  which remembers to plant bulbs;

which answers letters;  which  knows the way
The money goes;  which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely;  which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork;  insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dry rotten jokes;  remembers
My need for gloss and grouting;  which keeps
my suspect edifice upright in the air,
As Atlas did the sky.

U. A. Fanthorpe
English poet, 1929-2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What is important today?

I haven't been posting lately.  The next-to-last post was too depressing for me to handle, coming as it did after several reports about the increase in suicides among our returning servicemen.
It does no good to hate Bush and Rumsfeld (which I do) nor to have contempt for Congress (which I do).
Nor to wonder why so many Americans driving around with SUPPORT THE TROOPS stuck to the bumper of their cars don't raise a stink about our failure to do so.
Maybe, in our heart of hearts, we know it's a phony slogan.  That our so-called support is like the rope that supports the hanging man.