Barking Backward

A Blog by Jameson Parker

The Span of Life

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

- Robert Frost

Book Review: At Play in the Fields of the Lord

August 24th, 2016 11 Comments

Old bboks

 

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond posits the theory that Eurasian cultures (meaning Europe plus the whole of the Mediterranean region from the Mesopotamian Basin and the Levant across northern Africa to the Atlantic) were able to conquer so-called primitive cultures in Africa and the Americas not because of any inherent intellectual superiority, but because the accident of geography had given the Eurasians natural travel corridors that exposed them to both the creative ideas and the germs of other societies, providing tools for growth and conquest with the one, and resistance to disease with the other. Diamond’s book was written in 1997, over thirty years after Peter Matthiessen wrote At Play in the Fields of the Lord, yet Matthiessen’s novel anticipated—albeit indirectly—some of Diamond’s theories about cultural destruction, while adding a third in the form of religious dogma, thereby proving that art frequently presages reality.

Very briefly, and crudely, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, presents three entities in conflict. Two are “civilized” American groups, one of mercenaries, one of missionaries, at a remote outpost in the farthest reaches of the Amazonian jungle.

The mercenaries are a duo, a New York Jew and a half-Cheyenne named Lewis Moon (the side of their stolen plane bears the logo, “Wolfie & Moon, Inc., Small Wars & Demolition”) stranded by lack of cash, and willing to earn their way out of the filthy, fly-ridden hell-hole by killing off the third entity, a band of fierce and feared Indians farther upriver. On a reconnaissance flight, trying to locate the tribe they are to kill, they fly over a clearing as the terrified Indians run into the jungle. All but one, who stands his ground and shoots an arrow into the air at the giant noisy bird above him and with that arrow, that courageous, hopeless gesture of defiance, begins the transformation of Lewis Moon.

The other “civilized” group consists of two married couples, members of a fundamentalist Protestant sect determined to save both the souls of the primitive Indians from damnation and their lives from the mercenaries. One man wants to save them by understanding them; the other by making them understand him and his vision of Jesus Christ. Neither succeeds.

Also there is an intelligent, educated, enigmatic Catholic priest who too wants to save the souls of the savages, but with the wisdom and patience of over a thousand years of the Church, he bides his time and watches the others with detachment and amusement.

Of course, no one is saved. But the story lies in the transformation of the pivotal characters. One of the missionaries loses some of his religion, but gains a greater level of humanity; Matthiessen has him lose his last pair of glasses just as he begins to finally and truly “see” in the proper Christian sense of understanding and compassion. The mercenary loses an identity he never really had and gains a truer understanding of himself as he tries to save the little band of Indians who have proven themselves less savage than portrayed. And the Indians… The Indians lose everything.

I hate synopses; they so frequently—as I have just done—reduce the sublime to the ridiculous, but I want you to keep the basics of the plot in mind.

Many, many years ago I knew an artist by the name of Tobias Schneebaum. Toby, deceased now, God bless him, was acclaimed for his art, but also for his penchant for travelling the world and living with disparate and primitive cultures in far-flung places. He was also known for a book he wrote about one of his experiences, where he marched off into the jungles of Peru and lived for—months? years?—with a tribe of cannibals, a book entitled Keep the River on Your Right, so named after the advice given him by a missionary, the last Westerner to see him. Toby was thought dead for a long time, until he finally reemerged from the jungle to write and paint about his experiences with the tribe (including, apparently, sampling their favorite dish, other tribesmen).

It was Toby’s book that inspired me to originally read At Play in the Fields of the Lord. There are parallels, but it is the differences that are most striking. Toby wasn’t interested in killing or converting anyone. His interests were learning about other people, other cultures, other varieties of artistic expression, and—perhaps above all (at least from something he once said to me)—about the differences of light and color in various parts of the world, differences he would capture on canvas when he returned to New York.

The point is that art can bridge the gap between cultures in ways that nothing else can, certainly and especially not religious belief. I suspect music does this more effectively and universally than any other art form, but Toby wrote specifically about using his artistic skill to keep himself alive initially (Amazonian cannibals apparently being not too fussy about the origins of their food source. New York? Hell, we’ll even eat Brooklyn, Queens, Paterson, whatever.) and equally to bridge the language barrier. And in that openness of mind and spirit, in that willingness to bridge cultural gaps by using the universal language of art, Toby most closely resembles Lewis Moon, the half-Cheyenne mercenary who comes first to kill, then to save, and finally, inadvertently, to destroy, embodying all the elements Jared Diamond wrote about in Guns, Germs, and Steel.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord was published in 1965, not so long ago as the world turns, but unfathomable eons ago in terms of today’s technological advancements. Today, Toby’s cannibals and Lewis Moon’s warrior savages both probably have the internet, 4G Wi-Fi, and their own Facebook pages, so from that perspective it is an old-fashioned, dated book. Yet not so. We can learn much from that grumpy old fart next door, if we just stop being judgmental and open our minds and our hearts to different ways of thinking and being, and other cultures, with other ways of seeing the world might be able to save us more than we can save them. Lewis Moon learns a new way of being, the missionaries retreat, and the priest waits, patient, wise, and enduring.

What I lament is the passing of that single, courageous Indian, defiantly shooting his arrow at a monstrous metal bird.

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Hillary’s Promises!

August 22nd, 2016 18 Comments

Hillary Clinton

By golly, you have to admire someone who really will deliver on what she promises!

A couple of readers (people I have banned from both my website and my Facebook page for telling lies, being mindlessly argumentative, and for using profanity, pretty much in that order) accused the NRA of deception. I patiently explained to them that I have consistently checked every fact and controversial statement the NRA made for about twenty years and never once caught them in a lie. But when the NRA accused Hillary of saying on her website that she would make “straw purchases” illegal (i.e. when someone with no criminal record buys a firearm with the intention of giving it to someone with a criminal record that prevents him from purchasing a gun for himself) I knew they must have blundered. I went onto Hillary’s website and clicked onto the gun-violence-prevention tab and this is what I found:

Among other promises, Hillary proudly states that she will: “Keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill by supporting laws that stop domestic abusers from buying and owning guns, making it a federal crime for someone to intentionally buy a gun for a person prohibited from owning one [emphasis mine], and closing the loopholes that allow people suffering from severe mental illness to purchase and own guns. She will also support work to keep military-style weapons off our streets.”

Let’s take a quick veracity check here.

It is already against both state and federal laws for a violent criminal, or any other kind of criminal, to own, purchase, possess, or even touch a firearm, so by golly, Hillary will be able to deliver on that promise.

It is already a federal crime, with multiple laws already in place, for anyone to make a straw purchase, laws that were deliberately ignored and circumvented by Barack Hussein Obama’s Department of Justice during the “Fast and Furious” scandal perpetrated by the ATF in the border states so, by golly, Hillary will be able to deliver on that promise.

It is already a federal crime for anyone adjudicated as mentally ill to purchase a firearm (just take a look at the NICS form 4473, question “f”) so, by golly, Hillary will be able to deliver on that promise.

The only promise she can’t deliver on, even if she enacts the “Australian-style ban” she has advocated elsewhere, would be keeping those dweadful “military-style” weapons off our streets, because virtually every firearm in existence today—rifle, shotgun, or handgun—has military use as its genesis. Hell, your plastic butter knife owes its existence to the Clovis spear point.

But putting that one aside, by golly, Ol’ Hillary will be able to deliver big time! Now if she would just promise to make it against the law to commit murder, why we’ll be all set!

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Book Review: Guns and Violence

August 16th, 2016 13 Comments

Kimber 1911 001 (Small)

 

Books and articles that attack firearms ownership and the Second Amendment are usually clumsy and tedious recitations of often-repeated lies and misinformation, but they are frequently entertaining. For obscure reasons many anti-gun types, who might otherwise be perfectly intelligent and rational people, seem to become completely unhinged when discussing anything to do with guns and/or the Second Amendment, which is entertaining right there. Also, the authors usually haven’t got a clue as to which end of the gun the bullet comes out of, and ignorance can also be very entertaining. A flagrant example would be a breathless report I read many years ago about the actress Sharon Stone’s “fully automatic double-barreled shotgun,” something I would give a lot to see. A more recent example would be the congressman who worked himself into a frenzy on television following the Orlando terrorist attack, stating in horrified tones that an AR15 is capable of shooting four hundred rounds a minute! Ah, no, counselor, nowhere near; go do your homework.

On the other side, books and articles that support firearms ownership and the Second Amendment are frequently clumsy and tedious recitations of well-known facts, and that’s where Joyce Lee Malcolm’s Guns and Violence: The English Experience (Harvard University Press) stands apart.

Joyce Lee Malcolm is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, historian and constitutional scholar, professor of law at George Mason University, former professor of history at Bentley University, fellow of the Royal Historical Society… Frankly, the list of her academic accomplishments and honors is too long to record in full. What Ms. Malcom has done with her book is bring a scholar’s dispassionate objectivity and relentless research to an otherwise emotionally charged subject. Not only has she has done it in a refreshingly clear and well-written manner, but she has explored an area that as far as I know no one else has ever written about: the sad decline and eventual loss of the Merrie Olde paradise that was once possibly the most peaceful nation on earth.

Great Britain was for many years, many centuries, a remarkably peaceful country, the kind of place where what little crime there was rarely involved violence of any kind, and violent crime with a firearm was almost non-existent. Many people in Great Britain went armed every day, and not only was there almost no violent crime whatsoever, and even less armed crime, but an unarmed police force relied on an armed public to help them maintain law and order. In a notable example of how an armed populace is a benefit to society as a whole, in one of the rare gun crimes to occur during that peaceful era (a robbery known as the “Tottenham Outrage;” the fact that the incident was given a name shows you just how infrequent such crimes were), unarmed police officers “borrowed four [handguns] from passersby while other armed citizens fulfilled their legal obligation and joined the chase” [emphasis mine].

The industrial revolution was indirectly responsible for the gradual erosion of the traditional right of British citizens to keep and bear arms. The sudden explosion of wealth among the nouveau riche owners of new industries, from coal mines to factories, came at the expense of large numbers of workers who were paid barely living wages to labor in subhuman conditions, and even larger numbers of displaced countrymen who had no work at any salary under any conditions and who congregated in urban areas.

But it is a little too glib and easy to place the blame solely on the inventive fruits and greed of gifted entrepreneurs, and the resentment of the starving poor. Ms. Malcolm does not follow the following thread (it is not germane to her study), but the loss of rights in Great Britain actually had its genesis in the French Revolution.

The Royal Family, specifically the Prince Regent who eventually became George IV, set a standard for egregious, preposterous, wasteful, and ostentatious hedonism and spending that was imitated by wealthy peers who were in turn aped by well-to-do landed gentry and well-heeled middle classes in a nauseating display of trickledown extravagance. To achieve this, they cultivated an attitude of indifferent disdain for the plight of their less fortunate countrymen, a disdain that evolved quickly into fear whenever the desperate and desperately poor gathered to protest their poverty. As J. B. Priestley pointed out in The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, the excesses of the French Revolution were still vivid in the minds of those who imagined their wealth and breeding made them somehow so superior to the lower classes that not even sympathy had to be extended, let alone a reasonable working wage. The poor wanted to eat; the rich, remembering the guillotines so recently put to good use in France, wanted to maintain both the status quo and their powdered heads on their pampered shoulders. The stage was set.

Every now and then the poor would gather together or march upon various cities, usually London, to voice their unreasonable desire to eat, and here is a singularly shameful period in the history of a great Empire that is filled with shameful periods and shameful episodes. One of the regular practices of the government at this time—and other times, so many others, both before and since—was to plant undercover agents whose role was to act as provocateurs, either starting fights and violence or whipping the crowds that had gathered for peaceful petition into enough of a frenzy to give government forces an excuse to go in and brutally suppress them. An excellent example of this would be the atrocity known as Peterloo that occurred in 1819, when regular troops (the 15th Hussars), local Yeomanry (equivalent to our National Guard), and constables attacked an unarmed crowd and killed at least eleven people and severely wounded an estimated six hundred, many of them women and children, who had gathered in Manchester to listen to orators tell them they had a right to food. So much, however, for the right of the people to petition their government.

The government justified their savagery by claiming the crowds were armed and dangerous (they were neither), the privileged and well-to-do members of the press dutifully reported what the government told them, the really wealthy read what the press reported and then, trembling in fear, demanded the government do something—something!—to protect them. What easier than to pass meaningless laws to solve a problem that did not exist?

Does all that sound familiar, gentle reader?

Governments have been lying to and manipulating the press for as long as both governments and the press have existed and the process continues unabated to this day in every country civilized enough to have a press that requires manipulation in place of direct intimidation. What is striking about the English example Ms. Malcolm has chronicled is that until the last decade or so, the English press seems never to have bothered to question even the most preposterous claims and outright lies spewed forth by generation after generation of British leaders. Instead, the press dutifully reported the lies as facts and duped generation after generation of readers.

Ms. Malcolm is masterfully objective and non-judgmental; the only ax-grinding she indulges in is an obsession with truth and honesty. You can almost hear her disdain as she chronicles the constant, repetitive dishonesty and manipulation of the British government: [The Secretary of State for the Home Office, Sir David Maxwell…] “…Fyfe was closely questioned about his contention that violent crime had risen sharply. Just two weeks earlier the government had defeated an effort to reinstate corporal punishment for some types of violent crimes by insisting that crime rates were declining.”

If that reminds you of the kind of contradictory gobbledygook you read or hear on the news every day, it’s because lying has always been and always will be a way of life for politicians.

Where Ms. Malcolm’s research is most revealing is in her assessment of the effects of Great Britain’s draconian confiscation and total ban of firearms. For over a century the myth of peaceful Olde England has been carefully perpetuated by a dishonest government (forgive the tautology) and a press eager to collude, even as both shrieked for more and more laws to prevent crimes that were not being committed. Finally, about ten years ago, The London Daily Telegraph (I believe) at last rose to the occasion and broke a story about the Home Office and the police consistently underreporting incidents of violent crime, and almost a decade later broke another story showing that even the government’s admission of an increase in violent crime was itself underreported. What Ms. Malcolm’s research showed was: “in 1904, before passage of gun restrictions, there were only 4 armed robberies a year in London. By 1991 this had increased 400 times, to 1,600 cases. From 1989 through 1996, armed crime increased by 500 percent at the very time the number of firearms certificate holders decreased by 20 percent.” The Home Office’s admission shows the situation has gotten markedly worse since then.

For the record, current independent tracking of world-wide crime generally, on a per capita basis, puts Great Britain in fourth place, ahead of South Africa (!) and well ahead of the United States, which came in a paltry twenty-second. For violent crime exclusively, according Great Britain’s Daily Mail, the United Kingdom is the most violent country in Europe, with a violent crime rate of 2,034 per 100,000 residents, compared with a rate of 466 per 100,000 for the United States. So much for disarming the law-abiding citizen. So much for peaceful Olde England.

How Great Britain compares to the United States is accentuated by the respective histories of the two countries. Great Britain had no violent crime but was afraid it might occur; their government took away the right of the people to keep and bear arms to defend themselves and violent crime became epidemic. America had violent crime (though, interestingly enough, nowhere near as much as most people imagine), but also had a Second Amendment that prevented the government from taking away the people’s right to self-defense. Today, America’s violent crime rate is lower than it was three decades ago, and the vast percent of the crime it does have is accounted for exclusively by major metropolitan centers with draconian and illegal gun laws, with Chicago, Washington, DC, and Baltimore topping the list.

Two of those cities have had Democratic mayors and governments for over fifty years; Washington, DC has never had a Republican mayor. All three of those Democratically-led cities scream that their violent crime rates are the fault of surrounding states with lax gun laws, but one has to ask why the surrounding states with the lax gun laws don’t also have stratospheric crime rates.

If you have the slightest interest in the truth about gun ownership and violent crime, read Guns and Violence.

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The Best There Is, the Best There Ever Was

August 6th, 2016 25 Comments

James Earl Jones

 

I got suspended from college during my sophomore year. Memory dims and warps over time, especially when pretty well dimmed by beer and vodka to begin with, but it all had to do with the girl’s dorm, some attractive young ladies in scanty clothing, a child’s plastic bathing pool on the roof, the aforementioned beer and vodka, and a wild, desperate leap from a second- or third-story window in an effort to avoid the tender mercies of the dread majesty of the law. I think I’ve got that right.

It was a year’s suspension, and since I had torn the meniscus in my knee by jumping out that window, the first order of business was knee surgery. I was recuperating in a Washington, DC hospital when I read that the Arena Stage was casting extras for the world premiere of a play called The Great White Hope, by Howard Sackler. I had already decided I wasn’t fit for much of anything other than acting, so the day I was released from the hospital I drove myself down to the Arena Stage, leaned my crutches up against the outside of the building, and walked in as casually as I could to inquire about auditioning. I was a day too late, but they asked if I knew how to run a follow-spot. I wasn’t entirely sure what a follow-spot was (it’s a spotlight that follows the movement of an actor on the stage) but I allowed as how I’d been running follow-spots most of my life. Was I afraid of heights? Hell, no. Could I climb up a ladder and across a metal grid to get to the catwalk? Piece of cake! Would they like to see me do it right now?

Mercifully, they didn’t require me to do that at the moment, and by the time they needed me for rehearsals I had healed enough that I could climb the ladder and across the metal grid without too much pain, but with a lot of fear. I’ve always been afraid of heights.

And so it was that I sat up on a metal catwalk night after night for eight weeks, watching some of the greatest talent this country has ever produced, in one of the most iconic and rightly awarded plays in American history—the Pulitzer, the Tony, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, three Drama Desk awards, (and later, after the movie was released) a Golden Globe, two Academy Award nominations… The list goes on. Think of watching James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Lou Gilbert, Robert Prosky, Robert Foxworth, others I can no longer remember, night after night. My copy of the play, The Great White Hope, is a commercial one, not a Samuel French edition, and Bantam Books cheaped out by not including an original cast list, so I have may missed some actors or added some who were in other plays I worked on as a stage hand. Memory dims and warps…

But it was James Earl Jones who swept me off my feet. Since then, as a paying audience member, I have seen him in two other plays (Of Mice and Men and Fences) and if the ushers hadn’t run me out I’d probably still be sitting in one of those theaters, bawling. He’s that good. I have seen him and heard him—that voice, that magnificent voice, the way you would expect God Himself to sound—in movies and on television. I’d walk a mile in tight shoes just to watch him read from the yellow pages.

To watch him and the incomparable Jane Alexander—and the others—night after night, always brilliant, always moving, always real and in the moment regardless of any external distractions, was a transcendent, inspiring experience.

The Arena Stage is what is called a theater-in-the-round. Technically, that means the audience sits in a 360-degree circle around a circular stage, but in the case of the Arena, it means a 360-degree square around a square stage. Each of the four corners has a tunnel through which the actors can get on and off stage. (The tunnels are called “vomitoriums,” a Latin word with a double meaning left over from the days of the Roman amphitheaters. The double meaning is because while the tunnels originally were called vomitoriums because actors could spew in or out of the arena, today the word is also an ironic tip of the hat to stage fright.) Because The Great White Hope is such a massive production (approximately twenty separate locales requiring twenty separate sets, and a cast of about thirty-five, not counting extras in crowd scenes), the director, Ed Sherin, and the set designer came up with an ingenious method of wheeling platforms in and out with just enough furniture and just enough props to suggest a set to the audience. The actors would start a scene on the little platforms, but then move around the rest of the stage as needed.

One night, one of the stage hands had placed a chair too close to the edge of the platform, and when James Earl Jones sat down, the chair’s back legs slipped off the platform and sent him sprawling onto the stage. Without missing a beat, he subtly played the rest of the scene as if he were drunk (which was appropriate for that particular scene) and the actor playing his trainer picked up on it and followed his lead. It was a brilliant and inspired way to deal with an accident.

But the unforeseen that had to be dealt with on multiple, on many occasions was the reaction of the black audiences. The Great White Hope chronicles the rise and fall of a fictional boxer based on the real boxer Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world. While the play deals with various societal issues, racism is one of the primary themes that runs through it, and black audiences in 1967 were not accustomed to seeing their problems and their persecution portrayed so graphically onstage. The result was frequent verbal commentary from the audience.

As a sheltered piece of Wonder Bread brought up in the confines of “proper” behavior, I was shocked the first time this happened, and I think at first it even caught James Earl Jones off-guard, but after a night or two, he began to take it in stride and incorporate it into his own performance, responding just enough to acknowledge the comments without encouraging them. A laugh here, a “That’s right!” there, sometimes just a hand raised or a slight change of movement as he roamed that stage like one of the big cats, powerful, unpredictable, dangerous, vital and vibrant with more life force than you might imagine any man could have. It really was one of the most extraordinary performances I have ever had the pleasure of watching, and he richly deserved every award he won or was nominated for.

I screwed my courage to sticking place one night before or after a performance, and asked him if the verbal interjections from the black audiences distracted him. To his endless credit, instead of dismissing me as the ignorant and pampered white kid I was, he took the question seriously.

“No, no. That’s just the way they react. Different people react in different ways and my job is to always make sure they have something real and right to react to.”

I so idolized James Earl Jones, and was in such awe of his extraordinary talent, that I lost a year or two of my acting life trying to pretend I was him, the single worst mistake an actor can make. Hell, it was hard enough for me to train myself into being a decent Jameson Parker; I was a lousy James Earl Jones. But that’s how much I thought of his talent; it’s how much I still think of his talent.

So not long after Simon & Simon had ended, when my agent asked if I would be interested in doing a guest role on a series starring James Earl Jones, it was the culmination of a dream that had begun on a catwalk in Washington, DC a quarter of a century before.

The show was called Pros and Cons, and was a sort of—what? A spin-off? A morphing? An evolution? An adaptation?—of a series that had been called Gabriel’s Fire. In its new incarnation it starred both James Earl Jones and the late, great Dick Crenna, whom I knew slightly from celebrity shooting events, and I couldn’t wait to begin.

Life so rarely lives up to our best dreams and fantasies. We all tend to make the same stupid mistake of confusing the person and the artist, and the history of Hollywood is jam-packed with tales of how despicable or alcoholic or unprofessional or mean or mingy or whatever this coruscating star or that incandescent starlet were.

Not so James Earl Jones and Dick Crenna. Both were as kind and delightful as they were gifted. Dick Crenna was not only one of the most talented men ever to set foot on a sound stage, but he was also one of the funniest men I have ever known, with a lightning fast sense of the absurd, and James Earl Jones (on a sound stage anyway) was one of the easiest men in the world to corpse. (I’m not sure if that word is used in America, but on the British stage, it means “to cause to laugh at an inappropriate time,” and certain actors are known for being easy marks to make laugh on stage [think Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show], while others [the late, great, incredibly sexy Joan Greenwood, for example] have the reputation of being completely unflappable no matter what their fellow actors do to them.)

The result was that I have little memory of anything about the show, and nothing but fond memories about that week of work. I know I played a sleazy private detective, and since I have always loved playing bad guys, I was in my element. The only scene I actually remember is one where Dick and James Earl Jones handcuff me to the hand-rail in an elevator, but I have the sense, a vague sense, not a memory, that I did some of my best work in that single episode. This is not a self-aggrandizing statement on my part, but rather a reflection on the extraordinary talent I was privileged to work with: just as tennis players talk about their ability rising to meet the level of their competition, so too can great actors bring out the best in mediocre ones. Of course, it always possible that sense of mine is completely off the mark and that I wasn’t very good. I don’t know. I never got to see the episode.

But my main memory, the one that springs to mind now whenever I hear James Earl Jones’ name, or see his face, or hear his voice, is of him laughing. Dear kind, generous, mischievous Dick Crenna would come out with something—a word, a one-liner, a look, anything—and poor James Earl Jones would go off into fits of anything from giggles to roaring gales of laughter. And when he laughed, he laughed with his whole body, that huge frame shaking with a delight so contagious that the crew, normally professionally somber and contained, would join in and production would grind to a halt until we could all pull ourselves together. It was a magical week.

The kind and wonderful Dick Crenna is dead now. James Earl Jones is eight-five, but still working. He has made a rightly deserved fortune, he has won everything there is to win, he has the respect of thousands of co-workers and countless millions of fans. And he still looms, larger than life, in the memory of a wild and eager young boy who watched him, mesmerized, from a catwalk.

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Who Are You Going to Believe, Me, Or Your Lying Eyes?

August 1st, 2016 33 Comments

Hillary Clinton

 

In one of his movies (Marriage Italian Style? Divorce Italian Style? Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow? Casanova 70? I don’t remember now.) there is a scene where Marcello Mastroianni gets caught by his wife in bed, in flagrante delicto, in the saddle with a pretty young thing.

The wife, needless to say, reacts badly. Mastroianni reacts by very calmly, serenely, putting on his clothes as he mildly and gently denies that there is any girl in his bed. What girl, he inquires? What are you talking about, my dear? As his wife becomes more and more hysterical, pointing at the somewhat flummoxed naked girl in the bed, Mastroianni becomes more and more solicitous. What are you saying? There is no one there. Are you not feeling well, my darling? He keeps this up until he is fully dressed and then he graciously, soothingly escorts his—by now—gibbering wife out of the room and out into the street.

It’s an absolute comic tour de force of bland denial of reality, of the kind of obfuscation of the patently obvious that could only occur in an Italian comedy. Or on a Fox News interview of Hillary Clinton.

What I found most amazing about that incredible, mind-boggling interview was that Chris Wallace (who is almost as tough as his dad) more or less let her get away with it. He never once laughed in her face, or called her a pathological liar. He did keep trying to point out some of her more egregiously blatant whoppers by playing the video clips of her saying or doing the very thing she was lying about at the moment, but Hillary, like a far less charming, less amusing Marcello Mastroianni, simply denied everything. It was in its own way—on the Shady Lady’s part—a tour de force of ballsy outrageousness.

Mastroianni won two Cannes Film Festival Awards and two Academy Award nominations over the span of his lengthy and distinguished career. Hillary won four Pinocchios, the Washington Post Fact Checker’s highest rating for incredible, gaudy, high-flying, over-the-top whoppers.

In retrospect, looking back over the last eight years, I’m very grateful to Barack Hussein Obama and his entire administration, the Shady Lady not least among them, for finally breaking me of my naïve and childlike faith in the integrity and benign goodwill of our elected officials. Oh, sure, I knew there were rotten apples among them. I knew even the best among them lied occasionally. I knew that from time to time even some of the best played fast and loose with the concepts of right and wrong. But I really did once believe that essentially, at core, most of the men and women who went to Washington did so with good intentions and that most of them really did try to do the right thing most of the time.

Not anymore. There’s not one lying son—or daughter—of a bitch among them who is worth the powder it would take to blow him or her up.

 

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Thought Police

July 30th, 2016 16 Comments

4074690

 

My bride called me into the living room this morning to watch something Lou Dobbs was planning to discuss about liberal bias among the internet giants Google, Facebook, and Apple. In fact, when that segment came on, the only company discussed was Google, which was accused of using an algorithm that would somehow negatively influence Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by limiting access to his website, or perhaps to stories about him, or somehow impede his getting his message out. Or something. The little I heard Lou Dobbs discuss with his pundits was fuzzy at best.

I went onto Lou Dobbs’ official Fox News page, but there was nothing there about this particular topic, but… But I think it is unwise to ignore seemingly meaningless coincidences.

Several months ago there was a story floating around about liberal bias at Facebook and employees there using algorithms to suppress trending news items that reflected badly on liberal views and actions, while inserting stories they (the Facebook employees) felt deserved attention. Frankly, I paid little attention to it, but a young man whom I love very much works for Facebook and I questioned him about it.

He is, as the young usually are and should be, very liberal himself, but he denied any such formal liberal bias as part of Facebook’s official policy, while admitting that it is an enormous company and sometimes individuals might allow their personal views to influence some of the choices they made professionally.

Then came the curious case of the Bookworm Room. The Bookworm Room is a conservative blog (http://www.bookwormroom.com/) that I follow as time and magazine deadlines allow. The lady who writes it is a lawyer, highly intelligent, and even more conservative than I, and that’s saying something. She wrote a blog explaining what fascism is (http://www.bookwormroom.com/2016/07/23/dear-elites-no-trump-is-not-a-fascist-but-hillary-probably-is/), something I would have thought needed no explanation at all to anyone who had ever taken a high school world history class. She specifically took a New Yorker writer by the name of Adam Gopnik to task for calling Trump a fascist. I no longer read The New Yorker, so I have no idea if Mr. Gopnik really is ignorant, or if, like so many progressive liberals these days, he simply operates on the principle that words mean whatever the hell he wants them to mean, so that black is white and up is down and for God’s sake don’t confuse him with facts.

Apparently that particular blog was so well received by her readers that the proprietress of the Bookworm Room decided to “boost” that post on her Facebook page. For those of you who, like me, are new to the wonders of the internet generally and Facebook specifically, that means that for three dollars you can essentially advertise a particular post on your Facebook page and drive more traffic to your website. I’ve never done it, but I may give it a try when my next book comes out. What I won’t do is try to “boost” any of my conservative blogs, because apparently Facebook’s advertising policies preclude conservative thought. You can read what happened here:  http://www.bookwormroom.com/2016/07/25/facebook-refused-to-let-me-promote-my-post-explaining-what-fascism-really-is/

My interest in all this is that so much of the mainstream press and virtually all of our government already indulges in Orwellian (think 1984) “Newspeak,” repeating lies and pablum in a slightly more subtle version of the North Korean “Dear Leader” broadcasts that run twenty-fours a day in that paradise. Since it is impossible to trust what our elected officials say without verifying it from some other independent source, or to believe the spin the major print and television outlets present as news, the internet becomes a forum where (sometimes, with a lot of digging and a lot of confirmation) the truth can be found, and alternative opinions can be expressed. (If you think I’m a radical, right-wing extremist in a tinfoil hat, I would suggest you think back over how any number of events were treated, at least initially, by the current administration, politicians, and major news outlets. Consider Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the Ferguson shooting, the IRS scandal, the Associated Press scandal and the related James Rosen scandal, Eric Holder’s perjury in front of Congress, Solyndra, Harry Reid… Do you want me to go on? Don’t trust me: do your homework.) But if the major heavyweights of the internet are going to start controlling what people say—which by definition means also what they think—we’re in even worse shape than I thought we were.

I don’t normally post links to other people’s blogs, but I’m doing so in this one because, to quote one of the ultimate progressive left-wing politicians of our time, former President Bill Clinton: “If people won’t let you speak, it’s because they’re afraid of the truth.”

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Ah, Youth!

July 24th, 2016 16 Comments

Bobcat 018 (Small)

I’ve been writing almost exclusively about books and politics and Second Amendment issues lately and much of that is due to the aftereffects of the horse wreck, my not being able to do some of the things I used to do outside.

One of the things I used to do that I do not miss in the slightest is weed whacking the critical areas around the property that must be cleared in case of fire. Fire is an ever-present danger in these mountains, and clearing one’s property is required by both law and common sense. Behind our house the hill rises steeply and weed whacking is limited by natural obstacles: a property boundary fence here, boulders there, a sudden rise in incline in this area, more boulders in that area, a natural cut, trees… You get the picture. The men I hired to do what I used to do followed pretty much the same boundaries I would have followed: above that area the weeds are dangerously thick this year; below it, everything is cut down to the dirt.

So I was standing with my back to the window, talking to my bride, when she suddenly yelped and pointed out at the hill. For a moment, what I thought I saw was one of our ridiculously overly-domesticated and overly-pampered indoor-only cats trotting across the cleared area. Then I realized it was a bobcat kitten. (Not the bobcat in the photo above; that one is a fully grown bobcat, with attitude, and in a bad mood.)

Not a kitten exactly, as much as barely an adolescent, a very young bobcat hovering in that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood. He had probably only within the last week been kicked out of the house for talking back to his mother and he was now boldly exploring his world with no thought to either danger or his next meal. There are ground squirrels galore in the boulders back there—I have been shooting them with monotonous regularly, but every time you kill one, twenty more come to the funeral—but no bobcat ever caught a ground squirrel by trotting blithely along in the open.

We watched him trot up at an angle to the base of one of the groups of boulders where he threw himself down on his back in a dusty spot and wriggled as hard and as thoroughly as he could. I know what he was doing was taking a dust bath to discourage fleas, but something about the way he did it, the youthful energy, the joie de vivre, the quality of making even a necessary toilette something of a game, made my wife and me both laugh. And when he got up, he didn’t just “get up;” he bounced up, shook himself vigorously, and vanished into the long weeds above.

That youthful exuberance reminded me of a boy I knew half a century ago, a boy whose boundless energy and sheer joy of living in his own healthy body used to make both his parents alternately laugh and tear out their hair. Unlike Mama Bobcat, they were patient and forbearing enough not to throw me out on my own.

I wish that young bobcat well.

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Golden Days, Black Hearts

July 15th, 2016 18 Comments

French flag

 

France was my father’s favorite country. I think it was in part because he had studied in Paris as a very young man (footloose and fancy free in his “Paris twenties”), in part because he had bicycled through much of France at that time (instead of studying), in part because he loved the language (even though he spoke it atrociously), in part because of the food, the wine, the architecture, the landscape, the whole ball of wax. He loved France.

Many of our vacations during the years we lived in Germany were spent driving around France, particularly southern France, the itinerary based on which cathedrals and museums my parents wished to see, and which five star restaurants my father wished to dine at. Because he was a civil servant living on a civil servant’s salary, and because the exquisite dinners took so much of his very limited budget, we stayed at the tackiest, cheapest little hotels we could find and ate picnics during the day, usually on sun-drenched hillsides, occasionally crouched in the little car as an icy rain blew sideways on us, but they were all golden days when he was there.

I can remember only a very few exceptions to the cheap-pension rule and one of those was our visit to Nice. Perhaps there were no cheap pensions available, perhaps for other reasons, but if memory serves we stayed at the world-class Hotel Negresco, with its soaring ceilings and grand staircase, and its ornate, over-the-top exterior, like a wedding cake designed by a mad pastry chef.

When the news broke about the latest Islamic terrorist attack, I recognized immediately the tree-lined boulevard, the Promenade des Anglais. I remember walking along that boulevard with my parents on a blistering day, and stopping at a little outdoor café to drink bottled water, and to see that same boulevard littered with dead bodies sickened me.

My bride just came into my office a few minutes ago, spitting with anger. Some French politician, she didn’t know who, apparently said that France must learn to live with terrorism. I wonder if the French soldiers who fought and died so gallantly in World War One would agree with that. I wonder if the courageous men and women, and children too, of the French resistance during World War Two would agree with that. I only know that I, as a more primitive and less refined man, can think of other, less accommodating reactions, and my heart bleeds for France and for any country that has leaders who could be so anemic in the face of evil. I know of some others.

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Dallas Memorial Service

July 12th, 2016 21 Comments

Barack Obama

 

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…

President Barack Hussein Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…

For the first five minutes of his speech he rightly and gracefully praised the rare and shining courage of the Dallas police officers, both those who were murdered and those who risked their lives to save civilians who were marching in a Black Lives Matter protest against the police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana. But it should have ended right there, as a brief eulogy, instead of droning on in yet another lecture to the American people on how he thinks the world should be.

President Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…

The Dallas Police Department has been praised as being one of the most advanced and innovative departments of any major metropolitan area in the country, and the President himself acknowledged that, but he should have stopped there. This was a memorial service for five dead officers from that rightly lauded department, not a place to criticize. But beyond Dallas, in general terms, name a police department anywhere in this country that does not use screening protocols to weed potential racists out of the applicant pool. Name a police department in this country that does not have protocols and practices at the supervisory level specifically intended to identify such biases. Whatever the truth of the shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, whatever the causes—fear, inadequate training, faulty communication, faulty judgement, officers who were perhaps too high strung or under too much stress, racial bias, whatever—this was not the place for that conversation.

President Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…

The President rightly stated that we ask too much of our police, expecting them to be social workers, parents, teachers, drug counselors. But he should have stopped right there instead of disingenuously allocating blame on society at large for the poor schools, festering poverty, lack of employment opportunity, and resultant violent crime in inner-city neighborhoods that police must then try to control. The cities with the highest rates of poverty, poor schools, lack of employment, and violent crime are the President’s home town of Chicago way up at the top of the list, followed by Baltimore, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New Orleans, all cities with Democratic mayors and Democratic controlled governments, so I would be happy to have a debate with the President about what might work to ameliorate poverty, poor schooling, lack of employment opportunity, and violent crime, but this was a memorial for five murdered police officers, and not the place for that conversation.

President Obama came so close. He spoke so eloquently, but…

But he can’t help himself. Like a card shark drawing your attention to the king in one hand so you miss the ace he is palming in the other, he had to say: “We flood communities with so many guns that it’s easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.”

Ah, Barack, Barack, Barack. You simply cannot tell the truth, can you? You claim to have taught Constitutional law and you are the President of the United States, so you are supposed to have a working knowledge of the laws of the land, the same laws you have sworn to uphold, and yet you lie every time you open your mouth about guns, and if you have to lie, it vitiates whatever validity or authority or integrity you might once have had. Federal law 18 U.S.C. subsection 922(b)(1), (c)(1) states, as you well know:

(b) It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or deliver—

(1)

any firearm or ammunition to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than eighteen years of age, and, if the firearm, or ammunition is other than a shotgun or rifle, or ammunition for a shotgun or rifle, to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than twenty-one years of age.

But you just couldn’t stop yourself from lying yet again to advance your own, dreamy utopian progressive agenda. It doesn’t matter, because even if you had been able to bring yourself to tell the truth, this would not have been the place for that conversation. You came so close.

O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason…

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Dallas Shooting

July 9th, 2016 16 Comments

Runaway

 

I received a message from someone taking me to task (very mildly) for not weighing in on the unspeakable shootings in Dallas. But what can I say? What is there for anyone to say? I can no more wrap my head around that kind of evil than I can comprehend the equally unspeakable evil of ISIS. Evil exists and there is no point trying to understand or explain or justify—as if one could!—or in any way reduce it to a level comprehensible by normal people. Remove it from the gene pool (that’s been done, thank God) and if you’re in a position to do so, do whatever can be done for the victims and their families. And no matter where you live in America, wave to your local law enforcement officers when you see them driving by. If you encounter officers on the street, take a moment to thank them for their very real and very courageous service to us all. Let them know they are appreciated and supported and depended on. Let them know they are a glad and reassuring presence in our midst.

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