Hatred

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We don’t love each other. That’s what this presidential campaign is about, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s not much different from past campaigns, though it feels more extreme. Liberals hate conservatives and conservatives hate liberals. Majorities hate minorities and minorities return the favor. All this is counter-productive because we have real problems it would be nice to solve, but because we hate each other, we won’t.
Some of the problems are exactly because we don’t love each other. If we can’t love the people in our own country, we can’t very well love the rest of the world either, and our lack of love produces its own reaction. 9/11 was horrible enough, but we only understood we had been attacked, not why. We couldn’t understand that the power of our nation and its various representatives had injured many others, even if power and wealth hadn’t by themselves made us a target. I recently read that the so-called War on Terror had killed some 13 million. My initial response is that the number sounds inflated, but I think we can trust that whatever the number it is a grotesquely unbalanced response to an incident that killed some 3,000 people. On some level we know that, and hate Muslims because we know they have reason to hate us.
And not just Muslims. We have mistreated native Americans and blacks since our ancestors arrived here. They don’t have much reason to love us either, and we hate them for having tempted us to victimize them.
Relations between rich and poor are much the same. Hatred and fear are in control. Each would just as soon eliminate the other. Liberals and conservatives the same. Each side hates and fears the elites that exercise and monopolize power. Since each side seeks power, they accurately observe that the other wishes to dictate to them. Which will try to stop first?
We didn’t try to stop with our own country either. We exported violence. We took much of Mexico’s territory away, then relieved the Spanish of the remains of their empire. If we had really believed in democracy we would have let their former colonies be free to pursue their own way, but we retained control of them. We built armed forces to interfere in other countries to take their natural resources. Many nations have little reason to love us.
Of course many nations would have done the same to us, if they could. Just as Christians conquered Europe and the Americas,and colonized much of the rest of the world, Muslims conquered much of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Eventually they were driven from Europe, but some would like to conquer it again. Those who fear Muslims think that’s what all of them want to do. Because that’s what they would like to do themselves.
If nothing else, we ought to be able to agree that fear and hatred produce violence. It seems obvious that the best way to treat others is by the Golden Rule, but instead we generally do violence to anyone we don’t understand. Consider Africa.
In the twelfth century Timbuktoo was far larger and more civilized than London. It had a large library and produced the world’s first encyclopedia. It also produced tremendous amounts of gold. It wasn’t the only large city in Africa. There were others, and a number of civilized nations. But from almost the beginning of the sixteenth century Europeans began kidnapping people and bringing them to the New World to be slaves. That enterprise wrecked Africa, culminating, according to the article I read recently, in the English destroying about a hundred African cities by the end of the nineteenth century. I doubt the English acted alone.
Actually, culminating is the wrong word, as it implies that the process doesn’t continue. I also recently read that millions have died in the Congo almost silently, as far as publicity in the media goes, because minerals there are used in cellphones. Africans now perform grotesque acts like forcing children to be soldiers. Not all of that is our fault, but if our ancestors hadn’t engaged in the slave trade, things might be different there, as elsewhere.
Not that we’ve treated people in our own country much better. Besides the native Americans and blacks, Southerners still hate Northerners, still feeling like a conquered nation, and are cordially hated in return. Few who victimize are willing to acknowledge that they deserve to be hated, and to ask forgiveness. Those of us who enjoy the wealth this nation has generated by taking advantage of others are complicit. We fear to ask the next logical question: how should we make up for what our ancestors did and what representatives of our nation continue to do?
It isn’t impossible for humans to forgive, especially if those who violently took advantage sincerely regret and try to make up for what they did. In Africa in particular, in countries like South Africa and Rwanda, Truth and Reconciliation groups try to undo the bitterness that violence caused. Of course these groups are as subject to corruption as any other human enterprise, but that seems like the sort of thing that best makes sense if we wish to leave a secure world for our children and grandchildren to live in.
Humans aren’t the only ones who can forgive. Nature has been very forgiving, but may be on the verge of allowing us to take the consequences of our behavior. Science tells us that our behavior is interfering with the very processes that keep us alive. We prefer not to believe that. Climate change has become a political football that prevents us from addressing the problems we have. If human responsibility for global warming is false (I happen to believe it’s true) there are plenty of other things we do that are stupid and short-sighted.
We pump all kinds of chemicals into the environment. Some of these chemicals leached lead from pipes in Flint, Michigan recently, causing large amounts of lead poisoning. Insecticides don’t poison only insects, but also crops and water. Artificial fertilizers poison water too. So does mining. So does fracking.
Fracking provides an example of our choice between pure water and power literally. Oil and natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing for much less than the kind of oil production common during most of the twentieth century is very convenient in the short term. But it pollutes massive amounts of water and causes earthquakes when the wastewater is injected back into the ground. There were places in the world that were going to run out of water in the 21st century anyway (Los Angeles is probably one, along with the Arab peninsula); we’re making sure it happens more quickly and widely. Fracking is a very bad idea, but it’s too convenient to renounce.
In the Amazon region gold is being mined illegally on a massive scale (it’s gold and diamonds in Africa). Indigenous peoples there get run over and decimated. What is arguably even worse is that the forest is being logged, destroying habitat for many animals and plants there. The forest is a natural resource which, once destroyed, will be gone forever. As we destroy the forest we destroy the trees and plants which filter carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen. Leaving the forest alone could help address the imbalance of CO2 and oxygen which arguably drives climate change. We humans prefer to profit immediately and not concern ourselves with the viability of our planet.
Plastics are a product we hardly even notice, but which are used in almost every product we manufacture. It’s another example of the convenience of oil hydrocarbons, from which it is made, being convenient in the short term, but not in the long. The problem with plastics is that they don’t biodegrade. That means they eventually fill up the landscape and ocean interfering with natural processes and killing plants and animals. Another example of our mistreating our planet. I think we will begin to see that it’s also an example of the mills of God grinding slow, but most exceedingly fine when we have more and more ecological catastrophes. Nature is adaptable and accommodating, but there are limits, and when these are passed we will begin to experience consequences. I would prefer not to experience them. I doubt I have that choice much longer.
It’s a shame we don’t know how to love. We may not live much longer because of that.

Prince

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Of all the prominent people who have died in the last few months, the one that most shocked me was Prince. Not because I was a huge fan, though I always respected his talents and achievements, but because 57 just seemed too young to die. Not as bad as 27, the age at which Jimi Hendrix and several other musicians died in the late sixties, but still too soon. Reading about him shows that he was even more talented than I knew.
Not only was he a great guitarist, but a great drummer and keyboard player too. He and his musician friends got into the habit of constant practice very early, and he seems to have continued that most of his life.
Not only was he a great instrumentalist, but a great songwriter too. According to the Rolling Stone article, he wrote a song a day for many years. No doubt he didn’t just write, but laid down the tracks too, something he was able to do from before he got his first record contract. The article said he would stay up days at a time and not even eat (he never looked fat–this may be part of the reason why), and quoted him as commenting that when the body realizes it’s not going to get anything the sensation of hunger goes away.
Although he could lay tracks down all by himself, he also put together good bands. I remember seeing a concert film built around his Sign of the Times album, which I found pretty impressive. It turns out not to have been an actual concert, though it seems to have been shot mostly live.
Besides being a great artist, he inspired and supported a lot of other artists, mostly musicians, and mostly African-Americans. Nature had generously given him talents most people can only imagine having. He was generous in his turn, giving people time and attention to help them rise to their potential.
He also listened to a variety of music. James Brown every black musician of that time listened to. One person commented that Prince didn’t just listen to Brown’s greatest hits, though, but to his later music too, some of which he rearranged into songs of his own. I wouldn’t have suspected that Joni Mitchell was one of his favorite musicians to listen to, or that Carlos Santana had influenced his guitar playing even more than Jimi Hendrix, if he hadn’t said so. I saw the video of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps (from more than a decade ago, I think) which he performed after Harrison’s death with Tom Petty and Harrison’s son Dhani. The main body of the song is pretty lugubrious, but at the end Prince takes a solo and tears it up. He finishes, tosses the guitar up in the air, and walks away. I was pretty amazed.
With all his accomplishments, there were hints that he wasn’t too happy. Not because he was particularly unfriendly, according to much testimony, since he threw parties and had after-concert jams, but the Rolling Stone article at least insinuated that he also isolated himself, and that he had abandonment issues after his father threw him out of his apartment in his early teens. Perhaps he feared that if he became too close to musicians in his bands he would be hurt if they left. The insinuation became more plausible when I found out he’d been married twice (I don’t think he publicized it much) and that neither had worked out. After the last one the article said that he’d shut down a large portion of the Paisley Park complex he’d built near Minneapolis. He had had a studio which he’d kept staffed so he could record any time he wanted, but he got rid of the staff and operated it himself when he wanted.
His refusal to eat for days at a time signals possible deep unhappiness too. Anorexia is always a serious problem (possibly even more for males), though it also signifies a powerful will, which Prince obviously had. He seems to have channeled his unhappiness into motivating himself to achieve. To his credit, he certainly did that. It sounds as if there are hundreds of hours of tape in his vaults, at least some of which may be released at some point.
Together with all this, came rumors that he was (or had been) addicted to Percocet. Although he apparently had been very against drugs, he’d been introduced to this one after having double hip replacements, the result of dancing in high-heeled shoes, supposedly. Opioid drugs can be temporary cures for psychic as well as physical pain. The possibility of his addiction and unhappiness was amplified when the results of his autopsy were announced: an accidental overdose of Fentanyl.
Fentanyl is another opioid drug. I’m familiar with it from the nursing home I worked in, where it comes usually in patches that are placed on skin and changed every three days. I don’t know if anyone can definitively say that any overdose is “accidental”, except if the overdose is small. I guess this one was.
I just think it’s a shame that someone who accomplished so much should have been unhappy enough to be tempted by a narcotic. But even those who seem most to be positive forces also experience pain, and sometimes it’s really bad pain. Maybe that’s what Prince experienced. I still wish he’d stayed around longer to produce more great music.

NBA Championship

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Please forgive me while I gloat a little while. Last season the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met to decide the NBA title. The Warriors eventually prevailed, but I said at the time I thought they were lucky. Kevin Love, one of the Cavaliers’ better players had been hurt in a previous series and couldn’t play. Kyrie Irving, their other star, was hurt in the first game against the Warriors, and was unable to retur Cleveland played well enough to win the first game of the series (but didn’t), then won the next two. At that point though, the Warriors’ superior depth began wearing the Cavaliers down, and they won the final three games pretty easily. But this season was different.
Yes, the Warriors set a record by winning 73 out of 82 regular season games, mostly with the greatest of ease, but the playoffs were different. Before meeting Cleveland the Oklahoma City Thunder gave them a lot of trouble, jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Golden State came back and won, but they were probably tired entering the Cleveland series. It didn’t show though in the first four games, of which the Warriors won three. I began watching with the fifth game, which is where the series began turning around.
It’s not unusual for teammates to score twenty or more points apiece. Thirty apiece is less common, but by no means unheard of. But forty points apiece IS virtually unheard of. That’s what James and Irving did to Golden State in the fifth game, which was at Golden State. One observer said he thought that Golden State expected to win that game easily, and weren’t able to adjust when they didn’t.
In the sixth game Irving played well, but not as well as the previous game. James was the transcendent star of the game, scoring some time during the second half eighteen straight points when no one else was scoring for Cleveland. Apparently no one could stop him. He also rebounded, fed teammates for baskets, and blocked shots. The block he made in the seventh game may have been more dramatic because the score was tied at 89 and the game was almost over, but I doubt it was any more skillful than several blocks in game six.
I watched the first half of game seven, then had to go to work, so didn’t get to see much of the second half. It wasn’t like previous games, in which the Cavaliers got off to a big lead and won. The game apparently was close just about all the way to the end. Kyrie Irving hit a three to give Cleveland the lead, and that was when LeBron made the block so many people are talking about to preserve the lead. James ended by leading both teams in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks, and maybe steals. Not many players have dominated the way he did in this series.
He had led Cleveland to the finals once before, but they simply didn’t have the talent then to compete. He then decided to go to Miami, a decision I didn’t care for, but could understand. He knew what kind of level he was playing on, and wanted to win championships. He won two out of four times there, and evidently learned what it takes for a team to win on the NBA level, seeing both what succeeded and what failed. His return to Cleveland took me by surprise, though.
Some commentators pointed out that his return gave him a lot of power, which is unusual for any athlete, even a professional, to have. That was true, but I think he actually wanted to bring a championship to Cleveland, since he had grown up in that part of Ohio. When he got there Irving was already there (and was probably one of the reasons that persuaded James to return), but there wasn’t a great deal of other talent. More was obtained his first year back, as Cleveland traded its first round pick to get Kevin Love, and management went out and got several role players who contributed. The first season they ran into bad luck, but this year they succeeded.
I remember the last time a Cleveland sports team won a championship. It was in 1964 and I was fifteen. There have been several agonizing near misses since then. At least once the Browns almost won a playoff game, but John Elway took the Denver Bronchoes on a long drive to win. The Cavaliers came close to beating the Chicago Bulls, but Michael Jordan kept that from happening with a basket as time ran out. And the Cleveland Indians went to the World Series twice and lost twice, the second time in extra innings. Their drought wasn’t as long as the Boston Red Sox before 2004 or that of the Chicago Cubs. The difference is that NO Cleveland team won for 52 years. In Boston the Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots all won. In Chicago the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox all won. The current edition of the Cleveland Browns has never won (the previous team went to Baltimore and became the Ravens), the Indians haven’t won since 1948, and the Cavaliers had never won before this season. Up until the 1960s Cleveland was a pretty important city, but it has become less important since the steel mills left. So having a championship team is a nice thing for the city. It may not contribute anything of economic substance, but it definitely makes Clevelanders (including those of us who are transplants) feel better.
Will the Cavaliers or any other Cleveland team win another championship any time soon? Probably not immediately, but it’s not impossible. The Indians are currently leading their division, but that doesn’t mean they’re a real contender yet. The Browns seem to be lost, so I wouldn’t expect much from them. But while it’s unusual for any team to repeat, I wouldn’t necessarily count the Cavaliers out of the running the next few years. LeBron James is still at his magesterial best, and probably will be for a few more years. He may decide not to stay with the Cavaliers, but I hope he decides that Cleveland is home. He’s now won three championships (although in seven tries), and I’m sure would like to win at least one or two more. Cleveland may not be his best bet for doing that, but it’s not impossible that they’ll stay good for several more seasons. At least I hope so.

Balance

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Magic (not sleight of hand) is a nice subject for fantasy novels. Is it anything more than fantasy? Humans have believed in it for a very long time, and it might be argued that magic was the beginning of science: a way to look at the world and make use of its energies.
Magic and religion are closely related. One of my high school teachers said that magic was a way to compel spiritual powers to do what you wanted, rather than just asking. This was certainly true of the pagan religions of the Middle East, Greece, and Rome, all of which had started out as fertility religions. Ancient people were very concerned with fertility so their crops would grow and and they would have plenty of children.
Dion Fortune was a member of a magic organization, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was founded in England in the second half of the 19th century, and included a couple of well-known writers, Algernon Blackwood and W.B. Yeats. Fortune’s membership was later, but she was a pretty good writer herself. She wrote several novels about various situations in which the characters practice magic. Should we take her depiction of it literally? Anyone interested will have to decide for themselves, but I think that may just have been what she intended.
Fertility religion is magic on a fairly crude, though organized level. It includes sacrifice, often of humans to begin with, subsequently of animals, to please the gods, who were seen as being capricious and not caring about humans. Pleasing them was a survival technique. Natural disasters were nothing to laugh about.
Fertility religions also included sex, which was closely associated with crops growing well. In Greece (as well as other places) the Sacred King impregnated the Goddess (impersonated by her priestess) to ensure the land’s fertility. Sometimes all adults in the community joined in too.
The magic portrayed in Fortune’s novels is on a more sophisticated level. They too speak of sexuality, but more as one of the fundamental principles of life. In Moon Magic the narrator claims to be much older than she appears, and to have been the veteran of many lives. She is a priestess of Isis, and sees her mission as to bring new and positive things to human life, and she does so through ceremonial magic performed with a man who, though an outstanding doctor, has had a stunted emotional life. Their activities are healing for him, and leave him ready to seek a deeper marriage than he’d had with his dead wife.
Another novel has a character with great vitality and magical ability, but little conscience, who hires a “secretary” whom he actually uses as a medium so he can observe magical techniques which others in the magical organization refuse to teach him. Fortune characterizes this as black magic, as he’s using his abilities strictly for his own benefit.
But he begins to care for the girl he’s been using, and it seems that they have had many previous lives in which they’ve formed a bond. He has always been inclined to black magic. She has never. He has intellect but not heart. She has heart but little intellect. Each needs the other for balance.
Balance is always tricky. The ancient Greeks said, Nothing too much, as well as, Know thyself. Neither is easy.
Part of balance, I think, is to be aware there is a limit to what any of us know. This point seems obscure to ideologues. Materialists seem to believe there is nothing but what our sense perceive, which means no God and no magic. A wider and deeper perspective suggests there may be materials we’re not aware of, and forces too.
One tenet of organized Christianity (other religions too, but Christianity is the one I’m familiar with) is that there’s a correct way to believe. But there are many flavors of Christianity, often with conflicting beliefs. Bart D. Ehrman, a scholar who writes about Christianity and the Bible, points out that we now know there were many flavors of Christianity in ancient times too, with even more wildly different beliefs. So what the Fundamentalists are actually saying is that you and I are supposed to believe what they tell us to believe, and that they will impose their beliefs on the rest of us if they can.
For many of us this is an unsatisfactory sort of religion. One aspect of paganism in the Greek and Roman part of the ancient world was that it was tolerant, for the most part. Some didn’t like Jews. Greeks slaughtered Jewish citizens of Alexandria at one point, but usually accommodation was made. Since the early Christians, like the Jews, refused to worship the Greek or Roman gods, they were considered atheists, and sometimes persecuted. Not nearly as much as the pagans were later persecuted by Christians, though, once Christianity became the official religion of Rome.
Pagan religions in the region around the Mediterranean sea were pretty similar, which was noted by the Greeks and Romans, who saw correspondences between the gods and goddesses of various areas conquered. That made it easy for the conquered people to worship Greek and Roman gods because they were really the same as the locals, just with different names. Jews and Christians were stiff-necked about that, earning them the reputation of being unpatriotic.
But, as with any religion, popular beliefs were not the same as for those who really understood the religion. A religion with any validity must reflect the structure of reality, and the Greek and Roman pantheons embodied male and female, a very fundamental basis of this world.
Fortune’s fiction is based on the interaction between male and female, and she has different situations in the novels. As noted above, one has the male as intellectually dominant, but needing the emotions of the female to balance him and to keep him from being entirely self-serving.
Another novel features an ex-soldier down on his luck who is called on to help a young woman being preyed on by a black magician. The woman is more sophisticated than the man, but less stable. The two again balance each other.
Two other novels concern a woman who considers herself a priestess of Isis, having long ago been such a priestess in Egypt. Moon Magic, mentioned above, has her on a mission to bring more balance into human life in general, in terms of marriage and sexuality. For this, she needs a man to cooperate with her, and finds one in the doctor. They don’t actually have sex themselves; what they’re trying to accomplish is more subtle and difficult to understand than that, more to do with the difference but equality between the two genders, and the actual roles each can play, which are only superficially stereotypical. The Sea Priestess is very similar in aim and structure, the main difference being that it’s told from the male point of view, while Moon Magic has a female narrator.
Such books won’t be interesting to everyone. You would have to be open to the idea of real magic existing, and that the Christian view of things, while not untrue, doesn’t contain all truth. One can believe in a variety of spiritual powers as various manifestations of one god, rather than limiting God and considering any other spiritual power as being demonic. Fortune calls Isis Veiled the manifestation of nature. Isis Unveiled is thus the spiritual version of nature. Isis needs Osiris, just as he needs her. Reality depends on the cooperation of the two basic forces, rather than one trying to take power over the other.
But power is so important to us that men try to take women captive, and are intimidated by strong ones. Women also try to captivate men, so they will be physically protected. When there is nothing more to relationship than this, the two sexes live in poverty. Sexuality is a tremendously powerful force, and it’s hard to understand to what extent and in what way it is involved in love. Because it is so powerful we fear and try to control it. Discipline is certainly needed to protect men, women, and especially children, but suppression and over-indulgence are two sides of a very nasty coin. Sex must not be overemphasized, but at the same time given room to be free in.
Balance is Dion Fortune’s primary message, as is true of all wisdom.

Transgender People and Restrooms

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There’s a lot of fuss about the recently passed North Carolina law to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match their original biological gender. I have my suspicions as to why, but could be wrong. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
The objection to allowing transgender people use any bathroom they please seems to be that they might be sexual predators looking to mistreat women and girls. Such a thing is probably possible, but is there any history of it having happened? So far I haven’t heard of any.
I read an article earlier tonight saying there seem to be more teens interested in changing gender than there used to be. The article did include a teen who said that there had always been people who wanted to change, but hadn’t felt safe in saying so. That particular desire is alien to me. I always felt that my sexual orientation matched my gender, and never felt any urge to change it. That makes me wonder just why people do feel uncomfortable with the gender they were born with. Is that discomfort something that came about during their childhoods, or is it something they were born with? Would any of them be able to definitively say? Or is there a way to prove it?
My opinion, for whatever it is worth, is that the North Carolina law is an encouragement for people to discriminate against LGBT people, especially since it bans localities from legislating anti-discrimination ordinances. My guess is this is because many people equate transgender people with homosexuals, and many people still fear and hate homosexuals, whom they also equate with pedophiles.
One excuse for that is that the Old Testament calls homosexuality an abomination. It also calls eating shellfish an abomination, as well as pork, and (I’m told) more often than homosexuality, but that apparently makes no difference to those who hate the practice. Their dislike is visceral rather than rational.
My personal feeling about homosexuality is the assumption I came to early in my teens: I never felt I had any choice about my sexual orientation, so I assumed that those attracted to people of their own sex also had little or none. If this is the case, then what my meditation teacher said is valid: Our sexuality is given, and our choice is to deal with it more or less honorably.
There are, of course, bisexuals, which means they do have some degree of choice. Transgender people also have clearly made choices, if surgery and/or hormone therapy are involved. Why exactly do people wish to make such choices?
Camille Paglia, in her book, Sexual Personae, analyzes the work of a number of great writers who seem to have identified with the sex opposite to theirs. This seems, in many cases, to have caused them great distress. I suggest that transgender people must have great discomfort with their original gender to go to so much trouble to change it.
There seems to have been, at about the time that Christianity began, a general anti-sexual feeling, and idea that sexuality itself was evil. The Gnostics, at least some of whom were Christian, believed (at least some of them) that this world was in itself evil, and that one ought to try to escape it to the world of spirit. Sexuality they thought to be one of the things that kept people attached to this world. One friend summarized for me his opinion about the effects of abstention on the early Christians: it made them mean. There are those who currently claim to be Christian who might also be considered mean.
So dislike of transgender and homosexual people may be a sort of shorthand for dislike of sex in general, and a willingness to persecute anyone who engages in sex in ways that some disapprove of. It doesn’t take into account how gay or transgender people may feel, but finds them to be suitable targets for hatred. Hatred may be exactly the political point of this law.
One friend in North Carolina makes the point that transgender people have probably been using restrooms for the gender they’ve acquired for years without anyone even noticing. To force them to use restrooms intended for their original gender might well expose them to assault. People who hate will assault whomever they hate. So will perverts, and I don’t want ANYONE to be more vulnerable: women, children, or transgender people.

The Scarcity of Humor

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Humor is difficult to do well. There are many comedies that are lame, downright stupid. I howl with laughter when I watch A Night at the Opera by the Marx Brothers, but it’s the only movie of theirs I really like. The others are unfocused: great bits, but incoherent.
That’s less true of more recent movies. Those I’ve watched (I don’t claim to have watched a large percentage) are often simply dumb ideas pursued at great length. TV comedies have to be more focused than that. I don’t mind watching bits and pieces of them when at work, but they aren’t the sort of thing I’d care to spend much time on. I’ve had periods of watching a lot of TV, and I can take it, but also leave it.
Recently I reread an early favorite for the first time in decades: Leave It to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse. It reminded me just how much and why I liked it.
Wodehouse was about 42 when it was published. He had been writing for a living for quite awhile, and was pretty close to the top of his game in this novel. Psmith, the main character, had been a character in earlier stories featuring him and a friend when attending a public school (what we would call a private school) in England. I think the story is also the first appearance of the Earl of Emsworth and Blandings Castle, both of whom would appear again, if not quite as felicitously.
The story is not, of course, about anything profound. It’s partly a love story, but more about various people trying to steal a valuable necklace to finance their plans, some more nefarious than others. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot in which the Earl (extremely vague about everything except his gardens and his prize pig) interacts with his sister (who intimidates him), his son (not excessively bright, but less vague), a visiting poet (the visit arranged by his sister, in which the Earl could hardly be less interested) whom he manages to alienate, and Psmith who, observing that the poet has absented himself, replaces him, thus advancing the plot.
Psmith actually reminds me of a longtime friend (whom I don’t think I had met when I first read this) who also enjoys talking at length and having fun with whatever life throws at him. I don’t think Psmith makes a later appearance in the Wodehouse canon, probably because he’s both independent and competent. Jeeves is also competent, but he makes a pair with Bertie Wooster.
Psmith’s habit of talking at great length (he seems to delight in informing newly met people that the P is silent) is disconcerting for those with whom he has conversation. We meet him just at the point when he has decided he will not work among fish, as his uncle wants him to do, and will take any job that might plausibly be congenial. He doesn’t keep his situation secret, and the coincidence of meeting the Earl advances the plot because the Earl’s son has asked him to steal his aunt’s (the Earl’s sister’s) necklace. On the same day we also meet Psmith’s love interest, a woman friend of his school friend’s wife, who has coincidentally been hired to catalogue the castle library. As Psmith is impersonating a poet, we also meet an actual poet who is also a thief. Does this convey Wodehouse’s opinion of writers who see themselves as on a higher plane than he? This is not impossible.
The necklace eventually does get stolen, but then disappears. The exceedingly intelligent and efficient secretary to the Earl (who the Earl dislikes) sleeplessly considers where it might be, gets locked out of the castle, and is unable to wake anyone to let him back in in the middle of the night. He then has an inspiration about how to get attention, as all Nature seems to say to him, “Say it with flower pots.”
That’s just the most memorable line. There are many of them scattered throughout the book. I found myself chuckling if not howling with laughter every couple of minutes. As far as I’m concerned, Wodehouse never achieved that height again (another person would probably have a different favorite), though he had a tremendous output: between ninety and a hundred novels, more or less.
He seems to have had a pretty sunny personality too. During World War II he was detained by the Germans for awhile, and people in England seem to have thought he was writing German propaganda since he was so cheerful about it, which may explain why he moved to America.
I don’t know exactly why I find so few things funny–REALLY funny, at least. Some things are amusing, but many that aim at comedy fall short even of amusing. Maybe if I looked for comedy and comedians I would find more that I really liked, but I think I’d find more that weren’t even amusing. Maybe I’m just too demanding, but I think it’s very difficult to be really funny, especially in a sustained kind of way. I don’t expect to find many really funny things, and I haven’t. There are things that make me chuckle, and there are things that are peculiar, but really very few that delight me.
I’m grateful for the existence of P.G. Wodehouse and the Marx Brothers, though.

Trump Voters

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Kevin D. Williamson made a splash with a column he published in the National Review in which he had little good to say about voters who like Donald Trump. He said they come from dysfunctional white communities around the country, some of which are found in New York State, some in Appalachia, and some in west Texas, and that nobody has failed these communities: they have failed themselves by alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, and should simply die. My immediate guess was that he was some young privileged person contemptuous of any social class below his. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In fact, according to some of the columns of his I browsed, he comes from western Texas himself, which leads me to believe that his contempt isn’t the ignorant kind, but born of rather close acquaintance. It comes across as very personal.
He’s not some kid either. He has some fifteen years of experience in journalism, and his writing shows it. It’s vigorous and vivid. Whether one agrees with him or not, he seems to be a considerable personality. His beliefs are not lukewarm. I don’t particularly agree with him, but can’t simply ignore what he has to say.
One of his suggestions is that if one’s community offers no opportunity, the best option is to move away. I wonder if this might not set off the kind of migration we see from Hispanic America and Syria, but maybe it’s good advice. There certainly are areas (and probably more than just the ones he mentioned) where opportunity doesn’t seem to reside. I don’t suppose Mr. Williamson is entirely wrong in blaming the individuals of those communities, but I’m not sure he’s entirely right either. Opportunities for the untalented and uneducated don’t abound anywhere. Making a pilgrimage to a place where there are good jobs doesn’t guarantee you’ll get one.
Detroit is a large example of the sort of community he’s talking about. A population of 1.8 million in 1950, he says, has declined to well under a million since then, and many people have, as he recommends, voted with their feet. Those who are left aren’t in good shape.
The reason, in his analysis, is that too much of the money Detroit had sixty or so years ago was invested in the wrong things: large pensions and money that union leaders skimmed were some of those. Failure to invest in the future was the primary sin, though. It never occurred to a lot of political and industrial leaders that parts of the world ruined in World War II would eventually rebuild and begin competing with our country’s industries. Detroit auto makers, meanwhile, were building the large luxury cars they liked best to sell, allowing foreign manufacturers whose cars were smaller and more efficient, to take that part of the market away from them.
Then the effect of flight from the city kicked in: there was debt all over, and a drastically smaller tax base to pay for it. Public services became almost nonexistent. Few, he says, of the population are high school graduates. What industry is going to invest in Detroit, when there are so few who could plausibly become competent workers?
Sloth and corruption no doubt played their parts in this mess, as well as in many smaller cities and towns. I’m not so sure that’s the whole story, though.
Some of Detroit’s factories moved to Mexico. Was it because Mexicans are better educated than Detroit natives? That may well be true, but I doubt it was the decisive reason. I suspect (without knowing for certain) that it was possible for automakers to pay Mexican workers lower wages, and that they didn’t need to be as concerned about pollution there. That’s the liberal narrative, as the conservative one is to blame workers and government bureaucracy. I suspect both may have a measure of truth.
Industrialists tend more often to be conservative than liberal. Their dislike of unions has historically been visceral–they used to eagerly injure and sometimes kill workers with the temerity to strike for higher wages or better working conditions–and they haven’t been any more eager to regulate the pollution of their industries. Many of the factories that used to pollute so badly are gone to other regions or countries now. With them have gone many of the jobs that young people could use to start out in the workforce or be able to make into a career that could support themselves and their families.
There was a time when a person could begin their working career with one company and stay with that company until retirement. Not any more. Some companies don’t last that long. Others move from one area to another for one reason or another. The usual reason is the bottom line. If moving will save them money, they’re going to do it, and not worry about the effect on anyone else. Profit is every corporation’s main concern. Less of a concern seems to be how profit is obtained.
For-profit prisons and predatory lenders are two examples of industries that claim to serve the community, but mainly serve themselves. If, as Republicans say they wish, we slash regulations, we’ll have more such industries being even more predatory. And if we can’t depend on industries to be ethical enough to refrain from moving overseas, we’ll have to ask government to prevent it. Unless it’s preferable for the strong to prey on the weak.
Social Darwinism favors predators. Many conservatives claim to be Christians. Does their behavior show it?
Maybe Trump’s supporters are moral failures who deserve no consideration. Maybe they have no right to be angry. I wonder if there aren’t a lot of other people in America who are angry this year, though. Maybe the people angry with the liberal elite have now become angry with the conservative elite too. The contempt which is so personal for Mr. Williamson may be less personal with bigger names in the conservative movement, but I have the feeling that a lot of people may vote for Trump, a lot of whom have been voting Republican most of their lives, and don’t feel they’ve gotten much out of it, exactly because they’re tired of being objects of contempt.