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Book Review: Middlemarch

May 3rd, 2017 4 Comments

 

Middlemarch was hailed as a masterpiece when it was published in 1871 (roughly—there is some question as to which criteria to use to determine its date of publication), and it is still considered one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language. No novel becomes an instant classic and holds that status for almost a century-and-a-half without characters succeeding generations can identify with, characters whose hopes and dreams succeeding generations can identify with, characters whose problems and flaws succeeding generations can identify with, and with a plot—or multiple interwoven plots—that grabs succeeding generations. Middlemarch has all those and more.

Time should have been unkind to Middlemarch. George Eliot’s writing is extremely florid by today’s standards, far less accessible than, say, Charles Dickens,’ who died a year before Middlemarch was even published. Many of the issues she wished to discuss are both dated and obscure; I pride myself on knowing something of English history, but I hadn’t a clue why the Reform of Act of 1832 was so hotly debated and fought over.

Having said that, one of the novel’s issues has resurrected itself with a vengeance in today’s world, albeit in different forms. Religious tolerance is even more in danger today than it was then: scroll through any news source and you can find angry, intolerant fools railing against Jews, Muslims, Christianity, varying forms of Christianity, the right of politicians to have or express any faith at all, and religious freedom generally being pitted against secular freedom. Whew. Things were simpler in England in the first half of the nineteenth century, if only due to the benefits of hindsight, but even then, the attitude was that my faith was clearly closer to God than yours, a smugly self-righteous belief that was the only conviction unifying the Church of England, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism.

Many of the conflicts in the novel are extremely dated, and Eliot’s resolutions to those conflicts are themselves dated: Dorothea, the intelligent and highly educated heroine, finally finds joy and fulfillment with a life that would make any intelligent and ambitious wife of today’s world start tearing her hair out in frustration. Women today have much to rightly fight for (or against: consider recent developments at Fox News), but we live in an era when a woman came within a hair of becoming president, and today’s readers may have a hard time coming to grips with ladies who took it for granted that they should be subservient to their husbands and who never even dreamed of such extraordinary freedoms as enfranchisement. So, when you read this (and you should, you really should), you must read it within the context of its time, just as you would with Huckleberry Finn, or Pride and Prejudice, or Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary, or any other novel written to reflect a specific time and specific place. It’s not the details of time and place that make a novel weak or strong. It is the universal and unchanging qualities of the human animal that make us identify so with yesterday’s characters and their struggles precisely because those qualities and those struggles endure.

And, oh boy, does Eliot do a spectacular job of giving us characters to love or hate, characters we recognize instantly even after all this time. She (George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Anne Evans, and it is proof of her talent that most readers haven’t a clue who Mary Anne Evans was, yet everyone knows the name George Eliot) has a wise and perceptive eye for human constants and foibles that make us laugh or cry in recognition. Rosemond Vincy, the narcissistic, vain, selfish, and scheming wife of one of the primary characters, was so well-drawn, so real, so nastily self-absorbed and manipulative, that at one point I had to put the book down because she reminded me too much of someone from my past I prefer to forget. But even Eliot’s most subsidiary characters ring true today. Consider this thumbnail of the unnamed ladies (of a certain social class) in the town of Middlemarch on hearing of behavior they deplore on the part of one of their own:

“‘To be candid,’ in Middlemarch phraseology, meant to use an early opportunity of letting your friends know that you did not take a cheerful view of their capacity, their conduct, or their position; and a robust candor never waited to be asked for its opinion.”

Tell me you don’t recognize that personality type.

And sometimes Eliot’s observations are hysterically funny. We were traveling when I read the following paragraph to my bride, and she laughed so hard I thought she might wake the people in the next room:

“After three months, [her sister Celia’s house] had become rather oppressive: to sit like a model for Saint Catharine looking rapturously at Celia’s baby would not do for many hours in the day, and to remain in that momentous babe’s presence with persistent disregard was a course that could not have been tolerated in a childless sister. Dorothea would have been capable of carrying the baby joyfully for a mile if there had been need, and of loving it more tenderly for that labor; but to an aunt who does not recognize her infant nephew as Buddha, and has nothing to do for him but admire, his behavior is apt to appear monotonous, and the interest of watching of him exhaustible.”

My children were constant sources of delight and amazement even as infants; yours, not so much so.

One element that runs throughout Middlemarch is the rigid stratification of society in those days. It’s not a theme, so much as it something so taken for granted, even by George Eliot, so much a part and parcel of England in that era, that it is reflected in the novel without comment, and Eliot comments on almost everything and everyone. She shows every different level of society, from laborers to landed gentry, but it isn’t commented on as either good or bad, but just as something that is, something that may possibly always be part of England.

Those of you who watched Downton Abbey remember what a momentous thing it was, especially at the beginning of the series, whenever one of the Crawley family would go downstairs to the kitchen or the wine cellar, causing disruption and chaos amongst the serving classes. Downton Abbey took place almost a hundred years later than Middlemarch, yet nothing had changed. Nor would anything even begin to change until the horrors and wholesale annihilation of an entire generation finally began the decline of the British Empire. And how much change occurred even then? How much remains the same? A friend of mine, Dale Tate, is a custom shotgun maker who lives in northern California. He was born in the rough, working-class neighborhood of Southwark, and got his start in the traditional Dickensian British manner as an apprentice for James Purdey & Sons, makers of fine guns for Queen Victoria, Edward VII, Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburg, the Prince of Wales, countless members of lesser royal houses (sniff, sniff) throughout the continent, as well as Indian princes. But Dale moved to America because he got tired of having his dreams and ambitions dismissed by wealthy men with posh “public school” accents; of being told to go around to the tradesman’s entrance; of being told to eat in the barn after his day’s work as a beater was done, so perhaps things haven’t changed that much after all.

Middlemarch has been criticized for being intentionally didactic. In theory, it is, and in theory, that should be disastrous because Eliot repeatedly steps outside the world and characters she has created to moralize about them, and yet… And yet, somehow it works. It works in part because her observations are so astute and so well expressed that one becomes hooked on them rather than put off: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.” Eliot wants us to see ourselves and our fellow travelers with sympathy and understanding, but she knows too well that none of us see or comprehend nearly as much as we should, and that none of us are God-like enough to do so completely without going mad.

I have no intention of trying to give you an idea of the plot. For one thing, there are at least two major and interweaving plot lines, and two or three (depending on how you count them) subsidiary plot lines, each of which involves multiple ancillary characters. What I will say is that in spite of its old-fashioned and arch literary style, and in spite of its length (at roughly eight hundred pages it counts as one of the longest novels written in the English language), it will leave with you with memories of unforgettable people, some of whom triumph, some of whom do not, but all of whom linger as completely and honestly three-dimensional, as delightful or disgusting, as the people in your life today.

Repeal the First Amendment

April 27th, 2017 14 Comments

 

Ann Coulter has canceled her speech at Berkley because of concerns about violent protests. I am not a fan of Ms. Coulter, based on the few times I have caught her on the news, and because I had no interest in what she might say, I gave the event—or now non-event—little thought. Better minds than mine have weighed in, and late-night comics have had a field day ridiculing leftwing extremists both for their past violent protests of various conservative speakers as well as specifically for this latest manifestation of progressive intolerance.

But her canceling juxtaposed itself with my stumbling across an opinion piece in The New York Times calling for regulation of the First Amendment. To be honest, when I first read it, I thought it was a clever piece of satire. The article was written by a New York University provost (Vice-Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities, and Multiculturalism) by the name of Ulrich Baer, and he writes, among other statements, that: “The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks.”

Uh, excuse me? I thought that was precisely the point of the First amendment.

Mr. Baer goes on to state that, “Universities invite speakers…to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.” Mr. Baer cites two particularly repugnant people, Milos Yiannopoulos and white supremacist Richard Spencer as examples of speakers whose speeches were cancelled or disrupted because their views “invalidate the humanity of some people.”

But Mr. Baer then goes on to specifically praise student protestors and “the activists in Black Lives Matter…for keeping watch over the soul of our Republic,” and that is why I thought at first it was satire. After all, those would be the same protestors who use violence to restrict speech and opinions they do not agree with, sort of the way the Nazi Sturmabteilung did for Adolph Hitler back in the 1920s and ‘30s. Those would be the same Black Lives Matter protestors whose marches included chants calling for the death of law enforcement officers, an activity specifically excluded from the right to freedom of speech (“inciting actions that would harm others” and “threats of violence are outside the First Amendment,” according to the government’s U.S. Courts webpage and multiple other legal sources). I could also make an argument that calling for the death of law enforcement officers is not only illegal, but that it also kind of, sort of, what you might call, invalidates their humanity, but apparently Mr. Baer is selective in his choice of who or which groups should be restricted in their exercise of their First Amendment rights.

And therein lies the puerile nonsense inherent in Mr. Baer’s views: who is the lucky individual who gets to decide which person or group is so offensive that their views “invalidate the humanity of some people?” I suspect Mr. Baer and Richard Spencer have pretty disparate points of view, but is Mr. Baer, like the pigs in Animal Farm, a little more equal than Mr. Spencer?

I put far more faith in Mel Brooks’ response when he was criticized for a writing a movie that showed Nazis singing and dancing and even presented a stoned-out Adolph Hitler as a primary character. Brooks wisely commented that the best way to take power away from evil men was to ridicule them. With that in mind, Mr. Baer deserves at least as much ridicule as Mr. Spencer or the Black Lives Matter movement or even a certain German dictator who had equally little regard for freedom of expression. Who would have imagined Nazism and progressive lunacy would both need comedians to expose their idiotic extremism?

Easter Eyases

April 15th, 2017 5 Comments

About a week ago, perhaps two, I first saw a large nest at the top of a very tall oak a few hundred yards away. I was on the side of a hill, which put me at the same elevation as the nest, but it was so much a part of the tree, made out of large twigs from the self-same tree—an oak that has clumps of mistletoe in it—that I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if it hadn’t been for movement. I got my binoculars and saw Mrs. Red-tail’s head sticking up, and while at that distance even ten-power binoculars couldn’t get me close enough to say for certain, I can guess that she had very much the same resigned and long-suffering look of all mothers who are approaching end of term and very much ready for the next phase of events. I made a note to keep an eye open for the next phase. It has now occurred.

I went out with the binoculars yesterday and could see two downy white heads sticking up above the nest while mom (or dad; I couldn’t tell the difference at that distance and might not be able to tell the difference unless I had one on each shoulder; females are larger) sat on a nearby branch doing guard duty.

And guard duty is very much a critical constant. Ravens and, I assume, other birds of prey, possibly even other red-tails, are an unending threat, as too, I suppose, would be any raccoon ambitious enough to climb that high. Fifteen or twenty years ago I was out walking with one of my dogs when I witnessed a raven make a very ill-advised and badly-timed attempt to raid a red-tail’s nest. How the raven thought he was going to get away with it, or how he was myopic enough not to have noticed mom sitting on the nest, I can’t say, but I actually saw the damn fool descend, feet first, as if he planned to sit on the nest himself. The next moment he wanted very much to be anywhere except where he was, because mom had grabbed one of his legs in her beak and for the space of almost a minute I was treated to the spectacle of one of the most intelligent birds on earth behaving like a moron, frantically and stupidly flapping his wings in an effort to get away, and screaming his fool head off. Of course, if a red-tail grabbed my leg in its beak, I’d probably scream my head off too, but it certainly didn’t show the raven off to best advantage.

Baby hawks and falcons are called eyas, the plural being eyases or possibly eyasses. The Oxford Unabridged tells me the word comes from the Latin and is one of numerous words that originally had a “n” in front, a “n” that got dropped, much as adder used to be “nadder,” and apron used to be “napron.” To be honest, I only know the word, eyases, from Hamlet, because Rosencrantz uses it to describe child actors in the scene where he and Guildenstern tell Hamlet the players are coming to Elsinore. Otherwise I would have been content to call them baby hawks. Since Shakespeare spells the plural with one “s,” that’s good enough for me, and don’t bother telling me Shakespeare’s spelling is suspect at best, and frequently attributable to someone else entirely. The Yale Shakespeare has him spelling it that way, Shakespeare’s good enough for me, and that’s that.

They are cute little beggars. As I watched them, dad (or possibly mom) came home with groceries and was immediately greeted with open beaks. It was impossible to tell, at that distance, precisely what the groceries had once been, but the odds are good it was either a gopher, a very small ground squirrel, or a chipmunk, but I’m basing that solely on size. Whatever it might have been, I watched for a while as mom (or dad) tore off junks and thrust them into waiting beaks.

Feeding one’s children is always a lot of work, for every species that actually devotes some care to its offspring, including humans, but baby red-tails must count as some of the most demanding. They grow very quickly: within six weeks they are ready to leave the nest, which seems like an exceptionally rapid rate of growth for a bird that can live to be twenty-five years old in the wild, and that much growth in six weeks requires a lot of fuel.

Red-tails are technically considered migratory birds (at least, they are protected by the Migratory Bird Act) but throughout virtually all of the lower forty-eight states they tend to live in one area year-round, and that one area encompasses almost every kind of habitat we have in America, as long as there is some open area for hunting and as long as there are some high perching spots for nesting, so you can find red-tails in heavily forested areas, in open prairies, in the mountains, and in the deserts of the Southwest.

They also have a wide range of plumage, including a melanistic variation which I have seen in my neck of the woods. By melanistic I mean very, very dark brown, almost black, and almost completely devoid of any markings. It took me a long time to realize what I was seeing when that particular bird appeared near our ranch, but regardless of coloration, they are breath-takingly beautiful and I get a thrill every time I see one sailing majestically along or taking his ease in a tree. Or sitting on a nest with babies in Easter week.

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

The Windhover, To Christ Our Lord, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

At the Movies: The Best Years of Our Lives

April 9th, 2017 3 Comments

 

I’m reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It is considered to be one of the greatest novels in the English language, but what drew me to it was a comment ascribed to V.S. Pritchett (I think) who called it “unsurpassed in its depiction of human nature.” I take exception to that. Think of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, William Trevor, Tolstoy, Roddy Doyle, Julian Barnes… Oh, I could go on at length, naming authors ancient and modern, alive and dead, classic and casual, whose books have characters that so epitomize aspects of humanity that those characters’ very names have become bywords for real and enduring qualities of human nature, both good and bad.

But it was that description, “unsurpassed in its depiction of human nature,” that came back to me as I watched The Best Years of Our Lives the other night, because that movie is, if not unsurpassed, certainly up there at the top of the heap in its depiction of human nature. It is rich, complex, tragic, funny, multi-layered, compelling, but above all very real, real in its humanity, real in its understanding of the difficulties soldiers faced returning to civilian life following the horrors of World War Two, real in their hopes and dreams and disappointments, real too in each one’s final tenuous and ambiguous triumph over his own personal adversity.

Ambiguous? So, is there a happy ending or not? Yes, there is, to the same extent that you can say The Graduate has a happy ending: Dustin Hoffman gets the girl and they escape on a bus, but the final shot of Hoffman and Katharine Ross shows both of them beginning to comprehend the uncertainty of their choices, and the fragility of their future. So too in The Best Years of Our Lives, when Dana Andrews takes Theresa Wright in his arms at the end and kisses her rapturous face, a part of you thrills for them, but you also hear Andrews lay out succinctly and brutally just how difficult their life together is going to be.

I think movie-making may be the single most vulnerable art of all precisely because it is such a collaborative effort. Writing, directing, acting, cinematography, sound mixing, editing, lighting, art direction, set decoration, props, make-up, all these and more have to come together perfectly, and any weakness in any one of them can tweak the whole production enough to reduce potential greatness to mediocrity. (If you should doubt me, I will cite as an example a 1950’s-era mystery I tried to watch recently that had such stark and garish lighting, as if every Manhattan apartment was lit by Klieg lights, that I turned the thing off.) But it all starts with the script, and in this case Richard Sherwood’s script is simply perfect. He won an Academy Award for it, and the movie also raked in awards for William Wyler (directing), Fredric March (best actor), Harold Russell (best supporting actor), best film editing (Daniel Mandell), best score (Hugo Friedhofer), and then topped it all off by winning best picture.

In addition to Andrews, March, Wright, and Russell, the film also stars Myrna Loy, about whom Jimmy Stewart once said: “There ought to be a law against any man who doesn’t want to marry Myrna Loy.” That pretty much tells you all you need to know about her personally, and it shines through in her acting.

But what gives the film its humanity is the very real, three-dimensional depth of all the characters. There are no heroes here away from the battlefields and jungles, beyond the extraordinary heroism shown by practically all of the Greatest Generation, nor are there any villains. The only “bad” person (played by Virginia Mayo) is bad only to the extent that she is vain and vapid, shallow and narcissistic, and people like that are on every street corner; in fact, who among us has not been all those things at one time or another? The good guys and gals make stupid mistakes that are little better than the deliberate selfishness of Virginia Mayo and all of them have to live with the consequences of those mistakes.

Given that the three males (Andrews, March, and Russell) are all thrown back into normal, everyday, middle American, big town/small city life after four years of unparalleled hell and horror, it is small wonder that they make bad choices and stupid mistakes. Given that the women who love them (Wright, Loy, Mayo, Cathy O’Donnell) have no training or experience to prepare them for helping or even dealing with their wounded men, it is small wonder they make bad choices and stupid mistakes. Not as many as their men, but they too stumble and fall. Being women, they all—with the exception of Mayo—pick themselves up more quickly and gracefully than their men. Loy’s character in particular epitomizes the wisdom and patience we all wish all women had all the time, yet she also has just enough humorous annoyance to make her maternal paradigm as believable as she is engaging. It is a remarkable performance, and it should have earned her an award. The scene where she tells her daughter of all the times she and Fredric March had to struggle to keep their marriage intact could be a masterclass in the very best kind of acting, where all the pain and all the tears are only subtly hinted at, resonating beneath the surface of the calm and beautiful face. It’s human nature at its best.

The other parallel I could make to Middlemarch (and I’m only comparing it because of the accidental juxtaposition of taking a break from the book to watch the movie) is that each of the returning soldiers in The Best Years of Our Lives represents a different socio-economic level, just as each of the primary characters in Middlemarch represents a different level of England’s rigidly stratified society. The problems Andrews, March, and Russell have to deal with are the same in terms of wounds, physical or psychological, but greatly different in terms of the reaction and support of their families and loved ones.

One last note: watch for Hoagy Carmichael’s compelling turn as Uncle Butch, the owner of the bar where the three soldiers congregate to lick their wounds and drown their pains. He radiates the same kind of quiet strength and wisdom that Myrna Loy does, asking the right questions at the right time, giving the right direction at the right time, without ever being overbearing, all of it while playing the piano and listening, listening, listening. Listening, after all, is the actor’s most important job.

Africa and Golden Joys

April 5th, 2017 22 Comments

I received an email here, on this website, offering me an unparalleled opportunity. I post it here, unabridged and uncorrected, with my responses in italic font.

 

From Sandra Elizabeth David

Abidjan. Cote d’Ivoire,

West Africa.

 

Hello Dearest.

I always respond favorably to endearments, especially from unknown women.

I deep it a respect and humble submission, I beg to state the following few lines for your kind consideration, I hope you will spare some of your valuable minutes to read the following appeal with sympathetic mind. I must confess that it is with great hopes, joy and enthusiasm that I write you this email which I know and believe by faith that it must surely find you in good condition of health.

Well, thank you, Sandra Elizabeth. We oldsters just love yammering on about our health, and guys like me who used to be pretty athletic really love going on at length about what tough SOB’s we are. So, after three years of various issues and surgeries to fix said issues—all of them caused by a horse wreck that you can read about right here on my website under the heading, “Fistfuls of Balloons”—I’m at last doing pretty well health-wise. Heart pumps, bowels churn, kidneys distill, and following pretty extensive spinal surgery that left me with the bottom four inches of my spine made out of titanium, I’m even back to walking my dogs and trying to regain some muscle in the gym. By golly, Sandra Elizabeth, if and when you come stateside, I’ll have to show you some of my scars. I probably have more than anyone in your neck of the woods who doesn’t actually still participate in ritual scarification, if they still do that sort of thing in your country.

My name is Sandra Elizabeth I am the only child of my late parents Chief. David Joseph. My father was a highly reputable business magnet who operated in the capital of Ivory Coast during his days.

You can probably forget the part about ritual scarification: I doubt highly reputable business magnets do that sort of thing, being too busy snapping together when their ends touch, or getting stuck to pieces of metal all over the place. By the way, I’ve forgotten what the capitol of the Ivory Coast is. Do tell. Would that be Abidjan?

It is sad to say that he passed away mysteriously in France during one of his business trips abroad through his sudden death was linked or rather suspected to have been masterminded by an uncle of mine who travelled with him at that time. But God knows the truth! My mother died when I was just 6yrs old, and since then my father took me so special.

Wow. That’s a shame, Sandra Elizabeth. You sound sort of like a female version of Hamlet. Not the part about your mom, of course, Hamlet’s mom being alive and well in the play, as I’m sure you remember, but evil uncles and dead dads just litter the stage in “Hamlet.”

Before the death of my father, he called me and informed me that he has the sum of Three Million, Six Hundred thousand Euro. (€3,600,000.00) he deposited in a private Bank here in Abidjan Cote D’Ivoire.. He told me that he deposited the money in my name, and also gave me all the necessary legal documents regarding to this deposit with the Bank,

Cool! You’re all set, girl! Even in these troubled and uncertain inflationary times, 3,600,000.00 Euros ain’t to be sneezed at. You know, it’s just amazing how many young people just like yourself are the only children of wealthy Chiefs back in your part of Africa. When I say, “your part,” I’m speaking of course in general and broad—geographically speaking—terms, since most of them used to be in Nigeria, but if you take “your part” to mean West Africa generally, you really can’t swing a dead cat there without hitting a wealthy young orphan.

I am just 22 years old and a university undergraduate and really don’t know what to do. Now I want an honest and GOD fearing partner overseas who I can transfer this money with his assistance and after the transaction I will come and reside permanently in your country till such a time that it will be convenient for me to return back home if I so desire. This is because I have suffered a lot of setbacks as a result of incessant political crisis here in Ivory Coast.

Of course you do! When I was a 22-year-old university undergraduate, I too was dumb enough to reach out to total strangers in my search for an honest and God-fearing partner. And I’ll bet you do indeed have a lot of incessant political crises back there in the Ivory Coast, what with evil uncles running around all over the place and all. The problem is the “reside permanently” in my country part. See, we have a new president, Donald J. Trump, and he is making difficult for people to immigrate into the United States, even innocent young 22-year-olds with 3,600,000.00 Euros. (By the way, what business was your dad engaged in that earned him so much moola? I ask because writing doesn’t pay the way it used to, and I’m thinking of maybe dipping into some kind of business venture, anything to put beans and rice on the kitchen table. That’s a joke, Sandra Elizabeth. I’m really hoping to put some fat, juicy sirloins on the table, along with a bottle or two of a really good Zinfandel, since I’m an all-American kind of honest and God-fearing type.)  

The death of my father actually brought sorrow to my life. I also want to invest the fund under your care because I am ignorant of business world. I am in a sincere desire of your humble assistance in these regards. Your suggestions and ideas will be highly regarded. What percentage of the total amount in question will you take after the fund has being transferred to your account and I come over to meet you?

Well, I just bet the death of your father brought sorrow to your life! You’d be an unnatural kind of daughter if it didn’t, a sort of Goneril or Regen (to switch Shakespearean tragedies), and I’m sure an innocent and wealthy young girl such as yourself couldn’t possibly be a grasping, conniving, grifter trying to scam old fogies like me. The problem is that this old fogey is also pretty ignorant of the business world, and any assistance I gave you would, by definition, be very humble indeed. I doubt my suggestions and ideas would be highly regarded, even by a girl as young and innocent and wealthy as you are. As to what percentage of 3,600,000.00 Euros I would take, I would have say that’s an awfully tempting offer, almost irresistible, and I can resist anything except temptation. But since my business acumen is so feeble, indeed practically non-existent, I would have to give that percentage thing some thought. Though, 100% sounds awfully good to me.

Please, consider this and get back to me as soon as possible. Immediately I confirm your willingness, I will send to you my Picture and also inform you more details involved in this matter.

I just can’t hardly wait to see your picture! But the internet is so impersonal, and on-line photographs are so easily photo-shopped, so why don’t you send a hard copy—and the details you mentioned—to me at:

Jameson Parker

c/o FBI: Internet Fraud Division

11000 Wilshire Blvd.

Suite 1700

Los Angeles, CA 90024

 

Kind Regards,

All kinds of regards to you too, Sandra Elizabeth

Sandra Elizabeth David

Doin’ that Executive Rag!

March 26th, 2017 5 Comments

 

Here is the wording of US Code 1182 (entitled “Inadmissible Aliens”) section “f” (Suspension of Entry or Imposition of Restrictions by President):

“Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

I am not a lawyer, but that certainly seems pretty unequivocal to me. You may disagree with the law, but you can’t argue that Donald Trump was trying to circumvent existing law, unlike his predecessor, whose 2014 executive order on immigration was, by his own frequent admission, unlawful and unconstitutional.

Both Trump and Obama, just like all other politicians, lie with impunity, with frequency, and with no conscience whatsoever. The only difference between Trump’s lies and Obama’s lies is that Obama spoke smoothly and eloquently, lying so gracefully that he frequently sounded believable even when it was self-evident he was lying. Poor Donald Trump trips over his own tongue at his best, and at his worst sounds like his own incoherent tweets. The problem for President Trump is the very thing that worked to President Obama’s advantage: namely a post-literate society where only a tiny handful of nutcases (self included) have bothered to read the Constitution, or ever bother to do any fact-checking on their own.

The one thing all Americans should beware is any politician who takes an illegal action and justifies it by saying, “it was the right thing to do,” because the day may come when a politician will simply rescind one of your rights because he believed “it was the right thing to do.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt shamefully issued executive order 9066 which stripped the rights of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens of Japanese descent and put them all in internment camps. (Less well known is that 9066 also applied to Americans of German descent, over 11,000 of them, and to Americans of Italian descent, a little under 2000 of them.) It was touted as “the right thing to do.”

In spite of the hysterical hand-wringing by the media, Trump’s order applies only to people who are not residents of the United States (and therefore are not being stripped of any rights because they don’t have any Constitutional rights in their countries, let alone American Constitutional rights), and is a temporary ban (ninety days), so I personally don’t have a problem with it. But my personal opinion is of no consequence. Nor is yours, gentle reader. Nor is Donald Trump’s. Nor, even, is the personal opinion of some judge in Hawaii. All that counts is the law, and the law does not encompass anyone’s personal opinion.

Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order to prevent millions of illegal aliens from being deported was overturned by the courts because the courts ultimately agreed with Obama that it was illegal and unconstitutional, in spite of his insistence it was “the right thing to do.” And that is the point. Donald Trump’s travel ban may or may not be “the right thing to do,” but “the right thing to do” inevitably devolves down into nothing more than personal opinion, whether Franklin D. Roosevelt’s or Barack Obama’s or Donald Trump’s. Or yours or mine.

The only thing that stands between the citizen and the concentration camp—or the killing fields—is the law, and when the law is ignored, or twisted, and citizens remain silent, or worse complicit because it suits their temporary sense of safety or convenience, or their sense of morality (‘it’s the right thing to do”), Manzanar will spring up in one country, Dachau in another.

Dancing with the Dead Update

March 23rd, 2017 11 Comments

For all you young whippersnappers out there (I’m referring to all of you under 108) who like to use electronic devices, my publisher has informed me that Dancing with the Dead is now available from BearManor Media as an e-book, here: (http://selz.co/Vy5b2VSsG). I understand the convenience of these devices, but I’m afraid this ancient Luddite will never see any form of electronic device that feels as good in my hands, or smells as good, as an old-fashioned, three-dimensional, paper-and-binding book. But the e-book is out there, and I do hope you enjoy Dancing with the Dead in whatever medium you choose to read it.

Spring Is Sprung

March 20th, 2017 12 Comments

 

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide

 

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

 

And since to look at things in bloom,

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

 

A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman

 

My father used to send me poems when I was away at school or college, and this—along with pretty near everything else A. E. Housman wrote—was one of his favorites. It is one of mine, too. It resonated when I first read it, precariously typed and with frequent corrections made in my father’s singular, elegant, elongated handwriting, and it resonates with me still.

California is a monochromatic state, not given to the lush greenness or seasonal riot of color we associate with eastern states or European countries. Its nickname, the Golden state, is a reference to the fortuitous discovery made at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, but it is also a tip of the hat to the ubiquitous golden grasses that cover every inch of the place, save the Mojave desert and the golf courses of metastasizing urban areas, from the Oregon line to the Mexican border.

But this year, after the coldest and wettest winter in (insert the number quoted by your favorite news source) years, an abrupt week of sun and warm temperatures has turned my part of the world into an Impressionist painting. The first shy blush of green on the cottonwoods, grass as rich and dark green as Ireland, jonquils, hyacinth, forsythia, and a riot of fruit trees, fruit-bearing and flowering only, in every lovely color, with great patches yet to come on the mountainsides that will eventually be poppies and lupine, all of it evoking the rituals and ceremonies and traditions of Easter and the world awakening. The deer are all blowing their coats and look decidedly shabby. The redwing blackbirds have returned, and on a nearby lake I saw a cinnamon teal. He might have been lollygagging there all winter long, but it pleases me to imagine him resting on his northward migration, another harbinger of long summer days to come.

Of course, the forecast calls for cold and snow next week, but it is lovely as long as it lasts, and what more can a man ask?

The Artisans: Joe Smithson

March 18th, 2017 5 Comments

 

If I were going to make an argument about which man-made item most closely approaches perfection when it comes to the integration between man and tool, I would be torn between a handmade musical instrument and a custom firearm. Both can be mass produced and will achieve admirable results in a competent owner’s hands, but when handmade, either is capable of transcending its basic function. Think of a Stradivarius. Think of what Eric Clapton can do with a great guitar, or what Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix could do.

I’m certainly not going to compare music to hunting, but that same integration, where the tool becomes an extension of its owner’s will, is also applicable to fine, custom-made firearms.

 

Joe Smithson is one of the preeminent custom rifle makers in the world today. He is a graduate of Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, the school renowned for the gunsmithing program started in 1947 by P.O. Ackley of Ackley Improved cartridges fame. Smithson was able to study under some of the best gunsmiths in America, and went right from college to an apprenticeship with the legendary Jerry Fisher. Then he opened his own shop in Farmington, NM, before ultimately moving up to Provo, Utah where he now turns out works of functional art in wood and steel.

 

These are the kinds of rifles that are reminiscent of the guns the legendary and intrepid explorers of Africa and India carried, only those men would have been unable even to imagine the degrees of perfection and the technological advances that have come since those long-ago days.

Take a look at some of Joe’s masterpieces at http://www.smithson-gunmaker.com/

Fake News

March 12th, 2017 19 Comments

Why should I, why should you, believe any news report you read, see, or hear? From anywhere? It makes no difference whether it’s the New York Times or any other left-wing news source, or whether it’s Fox News or any other right-wing news source, or whether it’s any online source that purports to be a news source. They are all driven by bias, dishonesty, ignorance, or all three.

Taking a break yesterday (Saturday, March 11) I decided to catch up on the world’s turning and clicked on Fox News. It was about eleven-thirty on the west coast, which would make it about two-thirty back east, so I believe the host was Julie Banderas, but don’t hold me to that. I don’t watch enough news during the middle of the day to be able to identify any of the so-called reporters. In any case, what caught my attention was that, during an interview about the attempts to repeal or repair Obamacare, the host suddenly switched topics, and with indignation flashing out from under her false eyelashes, demanded to get her guest’s opinion about Trump’s overturning of the Obama executive action requiring the Social Security Administration to turn over to the National Instant Criminal Background Check the names of anyone receiving benefits who required help managing his or her affairs. The way the reporter phrased the question, however, was (basically) as follows: “What do you think of Donald Trump allowing the mentally ill to have guns?” (That’s a paraphrase, but it’s pretty close.) The guest declined to answer.

Obama did indeed sell that executive action as keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but consider that the ACLU, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Arc of the United States (an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), the Association of Mature American Citizens, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council on Disability, the Nation Council of Independent Living, the… Oh, let’s just say an extremely lengthy alphabet soup of organizations which, yes, also included the NRA and Safari Club International, all opposed Obama’s overreaching measure and urged it be thrown out.

I could go through that executive action from soup to nuts and show you precisely why it was an embarrassingly bad measure on many levels, even by the embarrassing standards of an anti-gun president who distinguished himself with numerous embarrassingly bad excesses of authority, but the bottom line is that it required nameless bureaucrats in the Social Security Administration, which is already overworked and severely underfunded, to make determinations about the mental health of senior citizens without any of said bureaucrats having any medical credentials or psychiatric expertise, and without any consideration of due process, without even a face-to-face meeting. It would have helped perpetuate false stereotypes, false assumptions about a correlation between financial acuity and mental illness, and made a mockery of both the second and fourth Amendments, but an ignorant or dishonest newscaster couldn’t be bothered to do her homework and simply accused Donald Trump of making it easier for the mentally ill to get their hands on guns. So when you hear this moronic meme perpetuated—and you will, gentle reader, you will—please remember that regardless of your personal feelings about firearms, we have a Constitution and we have laws, and remember too that no so-called journalist who declines to do even the most rudimentary investigative homework is worth watching. Also, tell me when you last heard of the ACLU, the AAPD, a host of other civil rights organizations, including the NRA, and much of the medical community, all joining hands to overturn an executive action?

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