Guthrie and Bergman

Woody GuthrieOn this day back in 1743, the great Russian poet Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin was born. But what do I know? I don’t read Russian. The inventor of the theory of the Aryan master race, Arthur de Gobineau was born in 1816. Who would have thought that a Frenchman would give the Nazis their philosophical start? I hate to bring it up on Bastille Day. On the other hand, I think it is important for modern day conservatives to remember: Gobineau is what it is to be a conservative.

Special message to conservatives: This is what history will think of you. I know you all don’t see it now. But your belief in “equality of opportunity,” which even if it weren’t a myth, will eventually be seen for what it is: a form of intellectual aristocracy. You won’t say it, but you really do believe the race would be better if these “inferior” people just died out. And guess what? Over time, we’re going to need as much genetic diversity as possible. Because what is really valuable (or at least highly prized) now is very specific to this time and place. It will not always be so. But I don’t think that is what you should be thinking about. You should be thinking about what bigots you will ultimately be seen to be.

The writer Owen Wister was born in 1860. He pretty much invented the modern western. What is most interesting about his work is that it shows that even at the beginning the western was fundamentally about protecting the property of the rich. It wasn’t then and pretty much isn’t now about the rugged individualist, except in as much as that rugged individual can help protect the profits of the rich. The painter Gustav Klimt was born in 1862. He was a really interesting artist, but I just don’t find him that compelling.

The great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was born in 1918. It was very hard to not give him the day. I don’t think he is unerring in his brilliance. But his films are always interesting and often great. It may be a cliche, but The Seventh Seal is one of the truly great films. And I am especially fond of Scenes from a Marriage. But sometimes, he’s really a bit too much as in Cries and Whispers. Since you really can’t appreciate Bergman in a short snippet, here is a parody of him that is delicious fun:

Okay! Here is probably the most famous scene from the beginning of The Seventh Seal. There are no subtitles. For those who haven’t seen it (And why is that?) Death has come for the knight. But the knight convinces him to delay his death until they finish a chess game. When choosing colors, Death picks black and then notes, “Appropriate, don’t you you think?”

Actor Harry Dean Stanton is 87 today. He’s interesting because he’s looked old for such a long time, he doesn’t look too bad now. Blockbuster film producer Joel Silver is 61. Comedian Jane Lynch is 53. And David Mitchell is 39. Here he is with Robert Webb lampooning the unequal crime fighting duo as we saw recently in Marvel’s the Avengers:

The day, however, belongs to the great folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie who was born on this day in 1912. Here he is doing “Hard Travelin'” which sounds very much like it could be on the first Bob Dylan album.

Happy birthday Woody Guthrie!

Happy Bastille Day!

Bastille DaySo It’s Bastille Day. Although it isn’t technically a celebration of the storming of the Bastille, I still think of it that way. And thus it is the perfect holiday from my standpoint. First, it involves the people attacking the aristocracy. And regardless of what Edmund Burke thought, that’s generally a good thing. Second, it isn’t an American holiday so I don’t have to deal with a disruption to my mail and library access.

The official purpose of Bastille Day is to celebrate Fete de la Federation. I know what you’re thinking, “The what’s it?” This was a feast held exactly one year after the storming of the Bastille to celebrate the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. But it didn’t last long. France had, what you might call, growing pains. But once constitutional democracy was finally established in France, it held on, unlike in other countries like, I don’t know, America.

Francois Hollande has been a bit of a disappointment as the president of France. But most of his problems stem from being stuck with the shared European currency. Here in America, we elected Barack Obama and a Democratic majority in the House and a super-majority in the Senate. Combine this with the fact that Obama really was a very conservative guy and you have a prescription for the federal government really getting some stuff done—not just with his own caucus but with the Republicans as well. But instead, getting anything done was very difficult. Add to that, what did get done was excessively watered down. If that kind of thing happened in France, the people would storm the Bastille.

Over the years, I’ve come to think that the idea of the rugged American is just a myth. The true American is a guy who kills himself just to get by, but still loves the inherited wealthy because he’s too stupid to realize that his father is not George Romney. I’ve long dreamed that the middle class in this country would eventually push back against a government by, for, and of the rich. But now I think as long as the government isn’t actively doing drone attacks on the suburbs, they’ll be just fine. Not that it matters; by that point the entire middle class will consist of one family in Queens.

So let us celebrate a country were the government really has to be concerned that the people will rise up if conditions get bad enough. I’m feeling kind of depressed that Americans only ever revolted in defense of chattel slavery. And many still think they ought to revolt over that—even if they don’t put it that way.

Vive la France!

Republican DREAM Act Ruse

Dream ActLast Thursday, The Hill reported that the House Republicans are putting together some kind of DREAM Act like bill. It is coming directly from Eric Cantor’s office, although his spokeswoman says it is in the early stages of development. There are a few things to say about this—none of them good. First, it probably is just a ruse—nothing but a panicked effort to push back on all the bad press the Republican Party is getting for killing the immigration bill. Second, it is very weak tea—an attempt to do as little as the party possibly can. But I think there is a third option that is far more likely: bait and oppose.

Not surprisingly, The Hill is treating it like it is a real and important proposal. How long can the Republicans continue to be dishonest brokers in Congress before everyone admits what is obvious? The article itself is highly respectful of Cantor’s rhetoric about reaching out to the immigrant community. What’s more, further down in the article, much is made of all the Republicans who discussed the need for something like the DREAM Act during last week’s closed door meeting. What’s more, it reported that there is a “growing recognition” that something needs to be done to deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are treating this reporting like it is the weak tea option:

Democrats said the move was a welcome sign from Republicans who have been reluctant to provide any legal status to illegal immigrants. But they said it is not enough.

That’s pretty clear. It isn’t even a proposal. It is just leaked information that indicates that the Republicans have just started working on a proposal. So to say that it is not enough is an enormous understatement.

What I think is really going on is another bait and oppose. We saw this with the years of discussion about healthcare reform. The Democrats wanted real reform (some kind of single payer system) and the Republicans countered with their supposed free market plan. When the Democrats accepted the “free market” plan, the Republicans dropped it like a hot skillet. The same thing is going on here. The Republicans are offering a terrible alternative to comprehensive immigration reform. And if the Democrats are stupid enough to accept the deal, the Republicans will drop it like—Oh, I don’t know: a hot skillet?—and claim that it is, “Amnesty! Amnesty, I tell you!”

Will the Democrats fall for this again? Maybe. After all, despite the cries of socialism providing ten years of Republican gerrymandered success, the Democrats got their “free market” healthcare reform. They might be able to get their DREAM Act too. Of course, if they do, it will go along with militarizing the boarder and other nasty additions—all to get Republicans votes that won’t materialize. It won’t be what the people want, but that’s democracy. Am I right?!

George Zimmerman Was Never the Issue

George ZimmermanNow that George Zimmerman has been acquitted of culpability in the death of Trayvon Martin, I think I should provide my thoughts. Most notable, of course, is all the rioting that went on last night. I tell you: that black community! What a bunch of uppity people! Oh, that’s right. There were no riots. That was just in the minds of bigots like Bill O’Reilly. Here’s a typical bigot tweet from Robert Stacy McCain, “If #Zimmerman is acquitted, black people will riot. If #Zimmerman is convicted, white people will grab a beer, change the channel to ESPN.” Those people riot but we just chill. And notice that it is black people who want Zimmerman convicted and white people who want him acquitted. It is all about race. (What I find interesting is that McCain is a “mainstream” conservative, yet he isn’t embarrassed; he hasn’t deleted his tweet.)

The verdict does not come as a big surprise. I figure the incident went down more or less like the defense said. Zimmerman was following Martin. Eventually, Martin noticed. At that point, Zimmerman might have even turned around. Martin might have approached Zimmerman. Or not. Regardless, I suspect that Martin said something like, “Why are you following me?” This quickly escalated from words to pushing to an all out fight. Martin was beating Zimmerman in the fight. So Zimmerman pulled his gun and killed Martin.

Even before the trial, it was clear that the problem was not especially Zimmerman but the evil law that allowed him to walk around with a gun and kill anyone any time he felt “threatened.” I wrote about how bizarre it all is:

By that interpretation of this confusing law, one could use a very simple process to murder any number of people. Go up to a guy in a bar; really get in his face; tell him that his wife or mother is a whore; when he punches you, pull out a gun and shoot him in the face. If this is what this law allows, it is an evil law.

There is some talk that there will be a federal civil rights trial. That seems unlikely. But a civil trial probably will happen. I do hope not. I am totally against these double jeopardy loophole trials. Again, the issue is the law, not that Zimmerman managed to use the law to his advantage.

As far as the verdict goes, I feel much the same as I did after the O. J. Simpson trial: Zimmerman is clearly guilty but I don’t think the jury was wrong to acquit. The question is where we go from here. Will this cause Florida and other states to reconsider their “stand your ground” laws? I am extremely cynical when it comes to gun laws. I suspect that this case will not create the slightest push for reform. It is much more likely that people will continue to use these laws to knowingly get away with murder. I very much hope that I’m wrong.


Despite the fact that Zimmerman seems to have no gift for public speaking, I’m sure we will quickly see him on the lecture circuit. He will be in high demand at pro-gun as well as general conservative events. The trial tarnished his image to some extent. In order to get him off, his defense team had to paint him as a bumbling fool. But I don’t think that’s a big deal. Most people will remember him as the courageous white man who stood up to the scary black man. I’m sure Zimmerman could get $5,000 per show. It will annoy me greatly to see that. But mark my words.