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

Jerry Lewis

August 21st, 2017 6 Comments

 

I met Jerry Lewis on several occasions, but it was a time before I met him that lingers most vividly in the rapid access file.

My youngest daughter was born with muscular dystrophy. For those fortunate enough not to be familiar with this most exquisitely horrible disease, there are many different forms of muscular dystrophy. The term, muscular dystrophy, refers to a wide group of muscle diseases, all of which result in irreversible and progressive weakening and breakdown of muscle tissue over greater or lesser (depending on the form of the disease) periods of time. Some forms present in early childhood, some in adulthood, some are considered fatal, some not, some forms result in severe disability, some in more manageable degrees. There is no cure. It is thought to be inherited, but occasional spontaneous genetic mutations arise, as is the case with my sweet Katherine.

My ex-wife was the first to notice something was wrong. Several times she told me she thought Katherine was having trouble hearing. Each time I would walk into whatever room Katherine was in, stand behind her and say her name. Each time she heard me and so I dismissed my ex-wife’s concerns. I had forgotten that my voice was much deeper than my ex-wife’s, so when she insisted on taking Katherine to a local doctor for tests, I went along more to keep the peace than because I believed anything was wrong.

Pain, as much as joy, is the acid that etches the copper plate of our memories. I remember standing in the room of the little clinic our doctor sent us to down in Lebanon, New Hampshire, not far from where we were living in those distant days. I remember it was a pair of doctors, a man and a woman, who broke the news to us. I remember how my head and ears started buzzing even as I wondered why the words—muscular dystrophy—meant nothing to me.

We drove home, Katherine and my ex-wife and I, my head still buzzing, as I kept thinking, I’ve heard those words before, I’m not an idiot, I should know what they mean, but unable to attach any meaning or significance to them. It wasn’t until we got home and I looked up muscular dystrophy in the Encyclopedia Britannica that the buzzing stopped and the reality set in.

The feeling I was left with was a sensation I can only describe as hollow, as if something had been cut out of me. The loss of a child is perhaps the worst thing that can happen to anyone.  To be told, as we were at the children’s hospital in Boston where we went for further tests (in the back of your mind you believe that if you go to enough doctors, have enough tests, the diagnosis will change, and everything will be right again) that your child may die, or may not, no one knows, leaves you in a state of turmoil as horrible and incomprehensible as death, and yet somehow almost worse, because you try to mitigate your despair with hope.

I used to put the children to bed at night. They would gather in my office and I would read to them, a different story for each child, and then put them in bed. And then, later, I would go into each room and sit and watch them sleep. There is nothing more wonderful than a sleeping child; in sleep, they belong completely to you in a way that they never do awake.

After the diagnosis I would sit and watch Katherine, face like an angel, perfect little mouth open, breath sweet, hair splayed on the pillow, and the reality of her disease would ebb and swell, so that at times I could almost make myself believe there was nothing wrong, that our world would go back to what it had been, and at other times rage would rise up in me, swelling my throat until I thought I might choke, rage at something I could neither kill nor fight nor even change. No one can understand helplessness who has never been unable to help his child.

Those first few days after the diagnosis were completely unreal, and time has kindly wiped many of those memories away, but I do remember my ex-wife reaching out to friends of hers in Los Angeles, calling people, talking endlessly on the phone.

I assume that what happened next was the result of her telling someone who knew someone who knew Jerry Lewis, but one evening, only a few days after the diagnosis, the telephone rang. I was in the kitchen when I picked it up and I knew instantly who it was, before he had even identified himself, the famous voice being as singular and distinctive as his particular style of comedy.

Nor do I even remember now what he said. What remains is the kindness of his voice, the gentle encouragement of his words, and the sense afterward that we weren’t alone.

That gesture, that act of kindness coming from a total stranger, unleashed something in me. After the call, I took Max, my magnificent Chesapeake Bay retriever, out for a walk and for the first time since we got the diagnosis, I wept, though “wept” is a most inadequate word. I howled and roared and raged, distressing my poor friend terribly, causing him to keep bumping up against my legs until at last I could calm myself enough to kneel down and bury my face in his fur.

A year or so later my ex-wife and Katherine and I all appeared on the famous Labor Day telethon, and Mr. Lewis was as gracious and kind as he could be given the constraints of trying to do an exceptionally long and difficult live show.

I have no idea how many countless millions upon millions of dollars Jerry Lewis raised for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, for “Jerry’s kids,” his kids, but his telethon was considered to be the most effective fund-raising effort in television history. Mr. Lewis also lobbied private donors, sponsors, Congress, and civic organizations, raising more funds, appearing at countless public functions, giving speeches, and reaching out quietly to private individuals, including a distraught family in New Hampshire. He never revealed why he was so single-mindedly devoted to putting an end to muscular dystrophy, and he may not have lived long enough to see a cure, but he accomplished more than any other humanitarian, more than twenty other humanitarians, and he lived long enough to see the discovery of the DNA involved in the process, which is a giant step closer to someday finding the cure. He deserves every accolade, all the accolades, all the honors, all the gratitude, all the love.

I write this as the eclipse is occurring. In a simpler time, a simpler culture, it would be possible to believe the sun is hiding his face in sorrow and respect for Jerry Lewis.

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Trump Blew It

August 16th, 2017 28 Comments

The Trumpster blew it.

The KKK and the Neo-Nazis and any other white supremacy fruit-loops have a perfect right to spout their ignorant, hate-filled rhetoric, no matter how offensive it is to people like you and me—more right, in fact, than the fruit-loops who try to shut them up with violence; there is, after all, something called the First Amendment—but there are no good people there. Good people do not hate Jews or blacks, or indeed any segment of their fellow travelers on this earth. Good people do not espouse or use violence to make their point, so while Trump is perfectly correct in assigning blame on both sides, neither he nor anyone else can defend the indefensible, and the white-supremacy fruit-loops are as indefensible as ISIS or any other totalitarian group of evil-minded morons. Not naming them and condemning them for their evil is as troubling as Obama’s refusal to name radical Islamic terrorism for it’s evil. And even more divisive, because this is America. Trump blew it.

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At the Movies: Dunkirk

August 10th, 2017 12 Comments

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

That famous aphorism is usually attributed to Joseph Stalin, sometimes to Adolf Eichmann, and occasionally to Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front), more rarely to various other people. It makes no difference who said it first; it is one of the most cold-bloodedly trenchant assessments of war (or, in the case of Stalin, the merry butchering of an entire people by a tyrant) ever made. And it is also the perfect encapsulation of everything that is wonderful and everything that is not so wonderful about Dunkirk.

The evacuation, in just three days, of roughly 400,000 British (and French, Belgian, and as well as some Polish and Dutch) forces from the beaches of Dunkirk, where they were trapped between the sea and the invincible might of the German Army, is one of the most unbelievable, magical, miraculous triumphs of will, sacrifice, determination, and above all of courage, in all history. The Royal Navy, augmented by hundreds of private, shallow-draft boats—fishing boats, pleasure yachts, ferries, anything seaworthy—crossed the channel (some of them multiple times) to rescue Allied troops from the extremely shallow beaches around Dunkirk.

Were the Battle of Dunkirk and the battles that led up to it defeats for the Allies? Of course, but Dunkirk was also, in a perverse way, a victory in terms of its positive morale boost for the Allies and its negative morale effect on Hitler. It is axiomatic among all military forces that a single act of courage can inspire an entire army and turn the tide of battle. The courage of the beaten soldiers and their intrepid rescuers—so many of them civilians—at Dunkirk, inspired the British people in ways that probably, ultimately, led to victory, even as it showed Hitler he could not roll over the British as easily as he had over other European democracies and armies. At least, that’s my theory; I have no idea if historians agree with it.

To satisfy both the demands of story-telling and the first part of Stalin’s aphorism, the movie wisely focuses on a single man, played by Fionn Whitehead (playing an architype named Tommy, “Tommies” being British slang for their soldiers in World War Two), whose death would be a tragedy. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t tell us enough about him to make us really care; it would be a far greater tragedy if we knew him more and better, but the only character in the movie who is given any backstory whatsoever is the civilian owner and skipper of a yacht, played by the incomparable Mark Rylance.

As for the last part of the aphorism, the approximately 400,000 thousand other soldiers are only hinted at, admirably hinted at, but never seen in their entirety because, logistically, how could they be shown? So too, the makeshift armada of rescuers (some 800 boats, historically, of all sizes and shapes) is only hinted at, and the result of those diminished representations leaves the casual, historically uneducated viewer with the impression that a few thousand soldiers were rescued by a few score civilians, and that—sadly—diminishes not only the movie, but the historical context and importance of this most valiant and heroic moment in man’s bloody story.

And that is perhaps the greatest weakness of Dunkirk. I am no historian, and my knowledge of World War Two comes as much from my father’s voice—ah, that beloved and greatly missed voice!—as we walked around the many varied battlefields he took me to during the eight years we lived in Europe as it does from books, yet I was ahead of Darleen, who had to keep asking me questions all through the movie. Who? Why? Why not? Where? When? And why again? If the movie had been able to convey the magnitude of danger for Great Britain, it would have mattered less that we have no vested emotional interest in the soldier played by Fionn Whitehead.

(For the record, if those soldiers had been lost, England, that sceptered isle, that royal throne of kings, that other Eden, that happy breed of men, that precious stone set in a silver sea, would have been completely unable to defend itself, and Hitler’s planned invasion would have gone ahead and his armies would have rolled over the last European stronghold of freedom and democracy as easily as they had over all the rest of Europe. As it was, even with the unparalleled triumph of Dunkirk, the British were still nearly helpless. Ever since World War One, the British government had been systematically disarming its citizens, in violation of their own rudimentary Bill of Rights and unwritten constitution, so that their entire civilian population was armed with nothing more than a handful of custom sporting shotguns and even fewer custom sporting rifles to defend their sceptered isle. Thousands and thousands of Americans voluntarily stepped into the breach and donated their beloved hunting rifles so the Brits could defend themselves. Having learned nothing from history, Great Britain is today once more completely disarmed and has a higher rate of violent crime than South Africa’s and twice as high as America’s.)

On the other side of the equation, if the script had given us even as little backstory about Fionn Whitehead as we had for Mark Rylance, we would have been emotionally hooked enough to find the death of that single man a tragedy. Unfortunately, the movie never does either, and the result is that we have neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat to sink our teeth into.

On the plus side, the movie uses special effects and unrelenting sound to convey some of the equally unrelenting violence and horror of war. Young Tommy is on the move constantly in his desperate effort to stay alive, and each new sanctuary turns out to be a more horrible death trap than the last. You can understand all too well the blank, thousand-yard stares of those men who are lucky enough to survive major battles; it is a look the movie captures very well toward the end, when Tommy and some of the other lucky ones find themselves back in England. And I know it is just special effects, but kudos to the director for capturing a small taste of the nightmare of men being burned to death as they drown, the floating fields of oil on the water’s surface bursting into flame and roasting men alive.

To quote the last line of Bridge on the River Kwai: “Madness! Madness!”

But special effects don’t make a movie, and while we know this was a critically important pivotal point in the war, and while we know this was one of the truly transcendent moments of courage and altruism in all of human history, both the majestic triumph and the personal humanity are lost in muddy middle ground between tragedy and statistics.

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John L. Moore on Media

August 7th, 2017 12 Comments

For those of you who still cling, with childlike and childish faith, to the myth of the wisdom and impartiality of what is called the mainstream media (primarily, in this country, such news sources as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and all the many wholly-owned subsidiaries of those entities), please take a moment to read the experience of a far more knowledgeable and worldly man than I.

……………………………………………………….

At 17 years of age, the summer before my senior year in high school, the local paper, the Miles City Star, called and offered me a position as a cub reporter. I helped my family finish cattle work, then went to work in a newsroom of professionals. The city editor, Gordie Spear, was a five-time Montana Sportswriter of the Year award-winner and a former naval aviator who’d been shot down twice while bombing enemy submarines. The publisher, Paul Husted, was the former managing editor of the Denver Post and had gone from private to captain in WWII battlefield commissions.

I worked for the Star for three years then turned down an opportunity to take a job at the Denver Post in order to travel, seek adventure, and eventually, get married. These were tumultuous days for the nation. The US had just withdrawn from Viet Nam and President Richard Nixon had been brought down by a Watergate scandal exposed by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. During this time my new bride, Debra, and I were on the road and I stopped in a Nevada town to inquire about newspaper positions.

“You left newspaper work at the wrong time,” the editor told me. “The J (Journalism) Schools have been flooded with radicals wanting to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.” I knew then that journalism would be changed for ever. The bosses in the newsrooms would not be seasoned WWII veterans, but the very radicals I met while hitchhiking 12,000 miles visiting campuses, communes, and inner-cities.

In 1979 I returned to the family ranch. Some five years later the Star agreed to give me a full-page every Friday for features about Western and agricultural subjects. When the paper’s managing editor left, I was called in to meet his replacement. The new guy was young, maybe early 30s, and had worked on a paper in Iowa. “As an editor I only have two agendas,” he quickly announced to me. “The first one is getting all cattle off public lands.”

My mind went blank. What was he doing in Miles City, Montana of all places? Why, as a newspaper editor, did he even think he should have agendas, let alone be brazen enough to announce them? To this day, I do not recall what his second agenda was nor was I able to work with him.

The space between the Nevada editor’s warning and this editor’s arrogance was one decade. In 10 years, journalism — even at a small town local level — had become a tool for activists. Granted, from Thomas Paine to William Randolph Hearst to today, publishers have supported causes, but the consequences of Watergate was a full-scale vocational invasion. I began clipping and filing examples of liberal bias in newsprint journalism. This ranged from a reporter photographing an anti-grazing advocate on an old burn and calling the scene an example of overgrazing, to the subtlety of an Associated Press reporter calling wolf reintroduction supporters “wildlife advocates,” rather than “wolf advocates,” thus painting opponents, like stockmen, as being anti-wildlife. Obvious, too, was reporters had become almost 100% urban in background — kids from farms and ranches might enter agricultural media fields, but there they are simply preaching to the choir. And, a study in the late 1980s revealed that only 8% of the journalists in America regularly attended any house of worship. The newsroom has become secularized and a Judeo-Christian worldview is being extinguished.

An activist, liberal, urban point-of-view now dominates every facet of mainstream media and small town staffs are not exceptions. This past winter Miles City area bull riding phenom, Jess Lockwood, won the PBR event in New York City, pocketed $117,000 in winnings, and rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange. The Billings Gazette, to their credit, took notice, but the Gazette has the rare reporter, Joe Kuzek, who routinely covers rodeo. (I would like to think this policy was sparked by my rodeo coverage while working for its rival, the Great Falls Tribune, but it’s probably a coincidence.) Two days after Lockwood’s win I emailed the Star’s newsroom and asked if any of them knew who the area teenager was who’d just won over 100-grand in New York City. No one did. To their credit, an awakened Star has significantly improved their rodeo coverage since.

My files on liberal bias in newsprint soon became so thick and burdensome I tossed them. Granted, I specialized in collecting urban bias or ignorance toward the rural community, but bias against traditional values are even more common.

Those who’d like to see more traditional storylines may not for three reasons. First, there is little emphasis on simply reporting facts. In the late 1970s print journalists got away from writing leads with the Four Ws — Who, What, Where, When — and became wannabe novelists. Now all stories seem written by Jack London as interpreted by Ernest Hemingway. Reporters insist on interjecting themselves into the story. They can’t seem to help it. Secondly, the question of objective truth. The first of the 12 elements of journalism is “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Since the 1960s, colleges and media have trained us to believe that there are no absolute truths. Truth is subjective. You have your viewpoint and I have mine. Hence, much reporting has come editorial. Thirdly, traditionalists are less active than radicals. When I talk to the average farmer or rancher about the lack of rural or traditional coverage they usually shrug and say, “Oh, I don’t read newspapers or watch much TV anyway.” They’ve simply given up while the Letters to the Editor of mainstream newspapers are dominated by liberal views. The Progressive Left tends to be vocal while the more conservative citizen buries himself in his work and family.

Liberals will never accept that there is a bias in media and that’s understandable. First, they have their agenda to protect, but more importantly, most are too young to remember when there wasn’t a liberal bias in media.

Bias is not indicated simply by how news is covered, but by the news — even “soft” news — that is ignored. Everyone has a story. And many of those stories are darn fascinating. Human interest features are “soft” news, This is where the more subjective, creative journalist should be displaying his wares. But reporters today are desk bound, still limited to “the AP wire” and other streams. Paul Husted engrained in me 45 years ago that the local human interest story was the backbone of a newspaper just as small businesses are the backbone of the nation’s economy.

But, it seems our national spine has weakened, and its posture is bent. And it is bent toward the liberal left.

 

(Miles City area rancher, John L. Moore is one of the most widely published writers in the West. He has authored 10 books including 6 novels; his short fiction and poetry has appeared in literary journals; and his articles have appeared in scores of newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times Magazine to The Western Horseman to Ministries Today.)

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America’s Daughter

August 2nd, 2017 13 Comments

 

Darleen and I were watching an old movie with Fred MacMurray awhile back when she happened to say something that jogged my memory, and I asked her if she had ever worked with MacMurray. To cut to the chase, by the time the conversation was over, I realized I am married to the girl who has had, probably, more fathers than any actress in Hollywood today.

The fact that this hadn’t dawned on me before tells you how much we discuss The Business, but counting Fred MacMurray, Darleen has had seven famous on-screen fathers, most of whom she charmingly and lovingly drove nuts on-screen, much as she does her husband today off-screen.

Fred MacMurray was her dad in a two-hour movie of the week, intended as a pilot for a series, called The Chadwick Family, and she caused him plenty of stress and distress in that movie.

Henry Fonda was her father in a television series called The Smith Family, that ran for thirty-nine episodes, where he had to deal with challenges from a girl who was growing up faster than he could cope with.

David Niven played her extremely harried father (I know exactly how he felt) in The Impossible Years, where the poor man had to deal with both Darleen and an equally troublesome Cristina Ferrare.

Robert Young was her father in two movies of the week called All My Darling Daughters and All My Darling Daughters Anniversary, Darleen giving that poor man fits in both movies.

Karl Malden had it slightly easier in The Streets of San Francisco because she had grown up considerably, but she kept getting kidnapped or threatened or in jeopardy somehow, so poor Karl Malden had his hands full.

Glenn Ford was her father in Once an Eagle, where Sam Elliot had taken on much of the responsibility for her as her husband. He and I should commiserate sometime.

And in an excellent but short-lived (it was ahead of its time) series called Miss Winslow and Son, the son being out-of-wedlock, Elliot Reid played her somewhat shocked father, but the situation unfortunately shocked viewers of that day too much for the series to continue.

All of these men had a taste of how much trouble she can be, but having lasted twenty-five years with her, I feel I am the one who really deserves an award. Or possibly canonization. Or maybe both.

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Kudos to Kimber

July 21st, 2017 17 Comments

Let’s give credit where credit is due.

I have a Kimber CDP in .45 caliber. (The 1911 on the gun rug in the lower left of the photo above.) It has a full-length guide rod and no barrel bushing, which means when you disassemble it, you have to use a little tool (basically a paperclip bent into an L-shape) to hold the recoil spring back.

With me so far?

Other than the pain-in-the-neck factor of having to use a little tool (Murphy’s Law #3: if you need a tool to do anything, you won’t have when you need it) everything is fine so far. The problem comes when you have to disassemble the guide-rod-recoil-spring-recoil-spring-cap unit into its three component pieces. Kimber recommends only doing this about every 800-rounds, but if you’re a clean freak, as I am, you tend to get a little anal-compulsive about doing things thoroughly.

Soooooo, when I came back from the range, I decided to clean this particular firearm thoroughly. Unfortunately, I have arthritis in my hands, and between the shooting at the range and the weather and possibly the alignment of the stars, my hands were hurting that day. It takes a certain amount of physical strength to hold the spring back as you release the little tool without letting anything slip, because if you let anything slip, the odds of your ever finding the recoil spring, the recoil spring cap, or the guide rod are slim to none and Slim left town.

I had a stroke of genius. I put gun rags on either side of my machinist’s vice to protect the metal, clamped the unit into the vice, and promptly turned it one turn too many, torqueing the whole damned thing.

I took the whole (disassembled) gun to my local gun store where I was told I would have to replace the three pieces of the unit, and since everything about Kimber firearms is proprietary, that meant calling Kimber.

Now, let’s review the bidding: Shooter decides to disassemble and clean a part that doesn’t need cleaning; Shooter gets frustrated and irritable because his hands are hurting; Shooter gets bright idea that wasn’t very bright after all and destroys an integral unit of the gun that didn’t need disassembly and cleaning in the first place; Shooter calls Kimber and when the young man answers the phone in the parts department, Shooter tells the young man honestly and forthrightly that he (the Shooter) is a moron who did and astoundingly moronic thing that didn’t need doing and shouldn’t have been done anyway.

And this is where the story gets interesting, because the young man on the phone in Kimber’s parts department restrained his impulse to laugh, said he would put the parts in the mail that afternoon, and then announced there would be no charge. No parts fee. No shipping fee. No stupidity fee. Absolutely free and gratis.

Kudos and a grateful tip of the hat to Kimber Manufacturing. (https://www.kimberamerica.com)

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At Last!

July 14th, 2017 15 Comments

At Last!

I have made no secret of my admiration for my old friend, Gerald McRaney, and his acting ability. He has worked steadily ever since he first came to Hollywood (not long after Cecil B. DeMille filmed The Squaw Man in a barn near the Cahuenga Pass and started the film industry as we know it today) and has a body of work that is almost unparalleled. If you look at his page on IMDb, your thumb will get tired scrolling down through his credits, and he richly deserves his reputation as one of the best in the industry. And at last the industry has recognized his talent: he has been nominated for an Emmy for his work as Dr. K. on the NBC series This Is Us.

Kudos to a talented man and good friend!

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Hate Your Neighbor

July 10th, 2017 12 Comments

By all means, hate your neighbor. Please, feel absolutely free to do so.

Let’s pretend your new next-door neighbors are Muslims. You don’t know them all that well, perhaps you’re even suspicious of them at first, but gradually, over weeks and months and years, you begin to get a sense of them as just, well, neighbors, neighbors who happen to be Muslims. The mother never goes out without a headscarf, even when she hurries to your house to tell you your dog is loose and running toward the highway, or that your son just went ass over teakettle on his bicycle. The father smiles through his beard when he rings your doorbell and hands you a piece of mail that got mixed in with his, and he makes a comment about the expected snowfall. On the fourth of July, you all stand out in your respective backyards oohing and aahing at the fireworks display, and when it’s over there’s that sense of shared pleasure in a moment, shared pride in your community, your country. Your daughter and their daughter play together regularly, and their little girl is a frequent visitor in your house. The father gives you a can of Fix-a-Flat when you come out one day and find your rear tire is low, and when you take a new can over to pay him back, he waves it off as unnecessary. Perhaps you don’t watch the Super Bowl together, but they are good neighbors.

And then one day the government announces it is going to summarily execute all Muslims. Not arrest, not deport, not round them up and incarcerate them, as FDR did with the American citizens of Japanese descent. Just…execute.

It would take one of those rare and sick individuals with a severely psychotic anti-social personality not to rise up in horror, but perhaps, for other reasons, you won’t.

When Hitler started working his way to power on (among other things) a wave of anti-Semitic feeling, he carefully spent years making sure the press, his press, and his minister of propaganda, demonized all Jews. Not only were all the economic ills of Germany blamed on Jews (instead of the mentally negligible and megalomaniacal Kaiser who had led Germany into World War One and so destroyed his own country), but the blood libel about ritually sacrificing Christian children to make matzos (a libel that had its genesis several centuries before the birth of Christ, making it even more ridiculously offensive) was resurrected, discussed openly in newspapers as if it were a matter of course not even to be doubted, let alone argued.

It was, as the world knows all too well, an effective technique, but it required the collusion of the press. And more, it required the active and willing participation of the press, because as Saul Alinsky taught in Rules for Radicals, “He who controls the language controls the masses.” Or, to put it another way, as Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, taught, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

And those two simple statements bring us to what we laughingly refer to today as journalism.

In order to make the average, normal, healthy human being rise up and kill his neighbor, or sit back passively as his neighbor is slaughtered by others, there has to be a process of demonization that convinces the masses that the selected group, whatever group it is that has been selected to be the enemy, is evil. This is what Hitler did with the Jews. (It is also what Hitler’s actions ultimately and unintentionally did for the Nazi’s, actions that were in fact so atrocious they caused first Great Britain and eventually the United States to oppose him.)

But if the selected group is not evil (and has not committed any atrocities) the process must be started more slowly by first dehumanizing the selected group. To dehumanize you must first portray the group’s beliefs or religion or ethnic practices or skin color, or some other quality that is integral to them as a whole, as being wrong, unhealthy, bad for everyone who is not a member of that group, perhaps even evil. And how do you do that? Easily enough if you control the language. You claim the moral high ground.

Claiming the moral high ground for your ideology equals dehumanizing all who disagree with you, which will eventually lead to demonizing all who disagree with you. “It’s the right thing to do,” was used by Obama to dehumanize everyone who disagreed with him. (If they disagree with me, they, the others, must want to do the wrong thing, the evil thing, which makes them, ipso facto, wrong and evil.) It was used that way in a clunkingly awkward moment in Star Wars: the Force Awakens when the hero (played by John Boyega) takes off his helmet and reveals he is not a robot (as I had assumed all clone troopers were), but a human, and since he is covered with the blood of a fellow clone trooper, we immediately realize, hey, these guys are actually humans in white outfits, not robots, which makes their destruction a little less abstract, a little less impersonal, a little less entertaining. To assuage any qualms the viewers might have about the wholesale slaughter of living, breathing, sentient entities—and by way of homage to Obama—the hero solemnly tells the pilot he has just rescued he has done so because, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Oh, okay. Now it’s alright to mow down clone troopers en masse.

It’s a technique that has been employed throughout all of history: dehumanize first, then demonize.

Consider the controversy a month or so ago involving The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Another Missouri newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, published an op-ed piece by a purported journalist and professor emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism named George Kennedy. The article, entitled, The NRA’s influence is a danger to us all [sic: no caps], compares the NRA to ISIS. There are statistical inaccuracies and falsehoods I won’t bother to enumerate, but the thrust of Mr. Kennedy’s article is that more Americans are killed by other Americans wielding guns than are killed by Islamic jihadist terrorists, and that because the NRA supports the Second Amendment, and because the NRA pressures politicians to uphold their oath of office and support the entire Constitution, which happens to include the Second Amendment, that makes the NRA more dangerous than ISIS. First you dehumanize, then you demonize.

It’s Mr. Kennedy’s sick opinion and since he writes a weekly column for the Columbia Missourian, they have a right to print any opinion piece they want, if that’s their ideological belief. It is fundamentally dishonest, because it places the responsibility for America’s murder rate on guns and the NRA, rather than on drugs and gangs, but that’s not the point. Mr. Kennedy has the right to express any dishonest and hateful view he wants. What he does not have is the right to demonize well over five million of his fellow Americans simply because they hold a different point of view.

And this is where the story gets interesting. A conservative woman, Stacy Washington, wrote a column in another paper to which she was a contributor, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which she blasted Mr. Kennedy’s assertions on a variety of levels, factual and ideological. Her column was promptly suspended by the Post-Dispatch, and the column was removed from the paper’s online site. The reason for the suspension and removal given by the Post-Dispatch is that Ms. Washington had failed to disclose that she is a supporter of the NRA; not a paid employee or—to use the Post-Dispatch’s word—a “shill” for them (“shill” implies secrecy and clandestine actions, and Ms. Washington has never made a secret of her support for the NRA), but just a supporter.

So what you have here is a professor who quotes a biased, factually incorrect anti-gun organization (“Gun Violence Archive”) who is allowed to not only express his opinion, but also to demonize America’s oldest gun-rights organization and its members by comparing them unfavorably to an extreme “religious” organization that believes in killing anyone who does accept their beliefs, that beheads men, burns them alive in cages, throws gays from rooftops, believes rape is perfectly fine and sanctioned by their prophet, teaches supporters online how to make bombs, slaughters countless thousands of men, women, and children, sells children as sex slaves, crucifies children who don’t wish to join them, and commits more inventive and nauseating tortures than I’m willing to chronicle. That’s considered acceptable by the press.

But if a conservative objects to the demonizing of a pro-Second Amendment organization that supports the Constitution, and that has done more to promote gun safety and to reduce accidental gun deaths than the federal government and all anti-gun organizations put together, that kind of opinion is immediately silenced.

The message sent clearly by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is that the First Amendment is only applicable to people who think the way the Post-Dispatch wants them to think (“control the language”), and demonizing your neighbor—in ways that would get them put out of business if they had said such things about Muslims—is perfectly acceptable if your neighbor is a member of the NRA. After all, it’s the right thing to do.

The next time you watch the news or read a newspaper demonizing the NRA and its well over five-million members (I am one), or the roughly 100-million gun owners in this country (I am one), remember that unless you live in a progressive enclave like San Francisco or New York City, where guns are effectively banned, Second Amendment and the Heller decision be damned, you probably have an NRA member or a gun owner living next door to you, and we deserve better than to be compared to ISIS barbarians.

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Hizzoner Bill de Blasio

July 7th, 2017 11 Comments

For those of you who are law enforcement officers, or who have family members who are law enforcement officers, or who know law enforcement officers, or who have ever been helped by a law enforcement officer, please never forget this:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had one of his officers—a young black, female officer and mother of three named Miosotis Familia—murdered just two days ago, decided to skip a swearing-in ceremony for 524 new NYPD recruits so he could go to Hamburg, Germany and join protesters, rioters, and anarchists opposed to both America and capitalism at the G-20 Summit.

That tells you all you will ever need to know about Bill de Blasio.

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Book Review: The Sense of an Ending

July 6th, 2017

I recently read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (Vintage International, 2012), and when I finished it, I did something I have never done before: I immediately turned back to the first page and started over again. I didn’t do this because I so greatly enjoyed the book, exactly. It’s not exactly an enjoyable book, at least not in the sense that some old favorite is enjoyable, the kind of old favorite you read over and over again like comfort food, escaping reality for a few hours to return to a world as familiar as reality, but a lot more pleasant and comfortable. It’s not that kind of book.

Instead, it is intensely compelling and disturbing, a thought-provoking book that demands you reflect on your own life, your own past, your own memories.

The book is divided into two parts. That’s the kind of meaningless piece of information that normally alerts the reader of a review that the reviewer has nothing meaningful to say, but it is important here because the first part is a more or less straight forward account of a sequence of events in the narrator’s youth as he remembers them. The second part, almost twice as long as the first, is the narrator’s attempt to unravel the skein of memory and to reconcile reality both with memory and with what Faulkner once called “the irrevocable might-have-been.” And therein lies the book’s genius.

Memory is tenuous and all too unreliable, sometimes even recent memory. It is the secular reason why I don’t believe in the death penalty (I also have religious objections): it is all too easy for memory to deceive us, to trick us into believing A when it was really B all along. I was once involved in a criminal police investigation and asked to give certain information. When it came to describing the suspect’s car, I answered with great certainty that it was brand new and bright red. I remember the blank looks on officers’ faces. The suspect’s car was brand new and bright blue. I had seen it, I had seen it clearly. I had even stood looking at it for several minutes, but because it was a new model, magazines were filled with ads, and television commercials ran on every network, showing bright red models and memory had conflated the two in my mind.

In the same way, one of the key points in The Sense of an Ending hinges on a letter which the narrator remembers one way in Part One, but which we—and he—discover in Part Two to have been very different than his memory would have it. (The phrasing of that sentence should give you a clue to what the reality was.)

The letter is pivotal because the narrator believes it to have set off a sequence of events he deeply regrets, and he is forced to reexamine his own story of himself. And that is what Barnes is asking us to do, to determine if the history of our lives is accurate, or if we have made convenient cuts and edits, or perhaps added a few cunning and subtle embellishments over the years, to diminish this painful reality here or that uncomfortable truth over there. We all long to be a little better than we are, and the stories of our lives, the stories we tell ourselves and others, reflect that longing, consciously or unconsciously.

In Atonement, Ian McEwan’s central character wants desperately to undo something she did as a child, something she too deeply regrets, and that novel ends with recognition of the futility of trying to change the past. We do terrible things, sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, and we must learn to live with the consequences of those mistakes. Julian Barnes is also writing about living with consequences, about living with ourselves as we really are, and his narrator, like the narrator of Atonement, finally accepts that. But unlike the narrator of Atonement, Barnes’ narrator does not deliberately create a lie to satisfy his longing, unless you consider pushing the past aside—storing it in an unused closet of the mind—a kind of lie. Instead, his encounter with the reality of the past is thrust upon him and he must slowly come to grips with what really was, some of which may have been partially his own doing, some of which was not.

As long as I’m comparing the two novels, I find Ian McEwan’s writing to be much more emotionally engaging than Julian Barnes’. I read somewhere once that Barnes’ brother is a philosopher, and I can readily believe it because that kind of detached, cerebral quality permeates everything I have read by Barnes, including The Sense of an Ending. That is not to be construed as praise: I find the absence of emotional engagement and sensory detail off-putting, though I have no way of knowing if that is intentional on the author’s part or not. As my friend Dan Bronson (Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody) likes to say about writing (quoting Herman Melville’s letter to Nathaniel Hawthorn discussing writing): “I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head! I had rather be a fool with a heart than Jupiter Olympus with his head.” Atonement is packed with such empathetic characters, including the little girl who ruins the lives around her, that you ache for them all. The Sense of an Ending has characters whose personalities are so reserved as to make them almost unknowable, and whose motivations and emotions we never fully understand, while the narrator, Tony, is completely emotionless in a frightfully British, stiff upper lip sort of way, so that at the end, when a bombshell is set off in what he thinks he understands about his life and actions and the memories of those two things, he simply ruminates on the advantages of thin chips (French fries) over fat ones. That’s not the best way to stir emotions in a reader either.

And yet… I have never before read a book straight through twice in a row, so clearly something in me was engaged, perhaps not by my heartstrings, but engaged nonetheless.

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