The Night of the Meek

Night of the MeekIt’s Christmas Eve, my friends! And tomorrow would have been Rod Serling’s 89th birthday. And I think that everyone should spend a half-hour and watch the best Christmas television show of all time, the 11th episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone (47th overall), “The Night of the Meek.” It was unfortunately shot on video, so unlike most episode that were shot on film, the quality is bad. But it stars Art Carney and it presents the best idea of Christmas ever.

Forget about Linus’, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” This is the real deal. Let us all get past the notion that this is a religious holiday, because that makes it exclusive, even if you are a believer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not say anything about belief. He actually provides us with a kind of fairy tale, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” He says many other things about the justice that should exist in this unjust world. And that’s what ties us all together: that wish—that desire.

A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek, and a merry Christmas to each and all.

Tonight let us all be Henry Corwin, as seen in this full episode video:

Afterword

Yes, I have written about this before: Bitterness and Sentimentality.

Update (24 December 2013 9:53 pm)

After watching this episode again, I had a few thoughts. First is that the episode was not especially kind to a very typical kind of “Christian charity.” I don’t see any grace in Sister Florence. And the whole, “If you wanna get fed, you’re gonna listen to a sermon” is no kindness. What’s more, when an honest to God miracle happens, all she can think of is criminality. That, I suppose, is understandable. But wouldn’t any decent person—certainly any person with Christian grace—handle the matter in a way other than running to the police?

My second thought is that this episode does go along with what we hear from conservative Christians: that Christmas shouldn’t be about commercialism. “The reason for the season,” and all that. But it doesn’t substitute it with any kind of religious dogma. There is none of that, “We should care about Christmas because it is a celebration of the birth of our savior.” (I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow!) It is a simple message that comes to us from Jesus, but can be found many other places: the meek (“gentle” in my favored New American Standard Bible) matter and are even powerful. I hope we can all agree on that.

And my third thought is that the episode was very pro-booze! Note how in the end, Mr Dundee and Officer Flaherty make friends by getting drunk. And Dundee seems like a human being for the first time. Of course, Henry Corwin doesn’t need to drink anymore. Because he had the wisdom to wish well.

Rewriting Hamlet

Here is a really funny sketch with Hugh Laurie and Rowan Aktinson, “A Small Rewrite.” Laurie plays “Bill” Shakespeare and Aktinson is his editor. I especially like the part about the length. “Act three may be a bit long? In fact, generally I think we got a bit of a length problem… It’s five hours, Bill!” As everyone who knows me well can tell you, I’m not keen on Hamlet. It is absolutely a mess of a play. It goes on way too long. And the best part of the play—Hamlet’s escape from certain death aboard a pirate ship—happens off stage, squeezed somewhere between Act IV, Scene 4 and Act V, Scene 1. Most of Act IV is spent with Ophelia running around crazy. Oh, I’ve got to stop. The play is a mess from beginning to end. The only thing worse is most of his comedies and histories.

But this really is very funny, even, I suspect, if you don’t know Shakespeare or Hamlet.

Supposed “Radical Center” Is Neither

Radical CenterI’ve been reading Michael Lind’s excellent Up From Conservatism. It was published in 1996, so it is quite out of date. But, of course, it isn’t. He describes the far right of that time in a way that explains the fundamental mystery of the Tea Party: why all the libertarian rhetoric, but social conservative action? That is to say, why do Tea Party politicians talk about freedom but legislate about abortion? And why is the Tea Party movement completely okay with that? The reason is that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party has almost no overlap with the social conservative wing. The Tea Party movement is a social conservative movement that the economic conservatives use to gain power. The Tea Party movement today is what the Christian Coalition was in the 1990s.

Lind sees the same problem that I do in American politics, even though it is almost 20 years later: economic liberalism is barely found in either the Democratic or Republican parties. Yet, economic liberalism is hugely popular. He sees it as a transfer from the political world of “machines” and unions to one of “overlords” of left, center, and right varieties. But being rich, they all agree on one thing: “economic policies that benefit the affluent.” And, of course, it is helped enormously by “the gentleman’s agreement within the political-journalistic elite that the difference between ‘left,’ ‘liberal,’ and ‘conservative’ will chiefly turn on matters of social and cultural policy, like abortion and arts funding, rather than bread-and-butter issues.”

He discusses how working class people have been effectively left out of politics that actually affect their lives. On the right, left, and center, there is the old New Deal coalition. These are the people who are socially moderate, but economically liberal. In other words, these are the very people that I am most interested in talking to on this blog. I talk about this all the time. Now, personally, I’m socially liberal too. But I absolutely believe that if we solve our economic problems (primarily inequality), the social problems will take care of themselves. Similarly, no amount of liberalism on social issues will help a great deal as long as we have these enormous economic problems.

Lind calls this group of economic liberals and social moderates the “radical center.” Unfortunately, since that time (including in his later book with Ted Halstead, The Radical Center), the definition has changed. Now what passes for the “radical center” is one of the things that Lind is attacking: the New Democratic movement. That is: conservative Democrats. In fact, it would seem that Thomas Friedman thinks he is a proponent of the “radical center.”

Let’s face it: it’s a terrible term. Wikipedia defines it as, “The ‘radical’ in the term refers to a willingness on the part of most radical centrists to call for fundamental reform of institutions. The ‘centrism’ refers to a belief that genuine solutions require realism and pragmatism, not just idealism and emotion.” That’s the kind of definition that could literally fit anyone. I definitely see myself as promoting radical changes to the system that are entirely based upon policy solutions that are known to work. So okay, include me with everyone else.

But there is a problem here. In Up From Conservatism, Lind talks about the “radical center” as being FDR people: economically liberal, socially moderate. Where is that now? It seems the term now is mostly used by people who think that Clinton was the greatest president ever. And he wasn’t. Not even close. He was rather lucky with a big assist from Alan Greenspan’s iconoclastic monetary ideas. (In general, I don’t like him; but he was right that 5% unemployment is not “full employment”; he kept the party going and he was right.) As I’m arguing in my latest book project, the way to push back against the radical right is not with some mushy centrism that concedes the most important policy issues. There is no radical left to speak of. And we don’t really need one. But we do need a real economic left to push back against the conservative economic juggernaut that that is American politics.

I don’t know what you call that, but it isn’t the “radical center.”

Here’s Looking at You, Michael Curtiz

Michael CurtizOn this day in 1761, the great astronomer Jean-Louis Pons was born. Born into a poor family, he became a caretaker at the Marseille observatory. But he gradually learned the field—mostly on his own—and began making observations himself. He seems to have had something of a photographic memory for star fields. As a result of this ability and much work, he discovered 37 comets—more than anyone else in history. Oh, how I long for late 18th century France when there was equality of opportunity!

Another great scientist, James Prescott Joule was born in 1818. He is known, of course, for the conservation of energy. Or more precisely: he showed that heat and mechanical work are equivalent forms of energy. What is most remarkable about him (to me) is that the reason he was able to do all of his very precise experimental work was that he was a master brewer, from a brewing family. And Joule’s Brewery is still in existence! Beer and Physics. You know, that sounds like a hell of an idea for a blog!

The great American writer and film director Nicholas Meyer is 68 today. He wrote the best-selling novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which I haven’t read nor have I seen the movie. But he is best known for directing the two best Star Trek films: The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country. Since then, he hasn’t done much directing. He thinks of himself primarily as a writer, I think. And rightly so.

Other birthdays: the Dutch Golden Age master Wilhelm Marstrand (1810); one of the greatest chess players of all time, Emanuel Lasker (1868); illustrator Johnny Gruelle (1880); American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881); engineer and nutball, Howard Hughes (1905); journalist I F Stone (1907); Helvetica typeface creator, Max Miedinger (1910); actor Ava Gardner (1922); choreographer Robert Joffrey (1930); and singer-songwriter Ricky Martin (42).

The day, however, belongs to the great film director Michael Curtiz who was born in 1886. He is best known for directing Casablanca. To this day, I do not know why the film works so well. Yes, it’s very funny. Yes, it has some of our favorite actors. And yes, it’s great anti-Nazi propaganda from a time when most people didn’t know their full villainy. But there are all kinds of things in the film that normally I would hate. I think Ilsa behaves very poorly at the beginning, not giving Rick any space to be angry when he is clearly way over the legal limit. And then she acts like she’s a schoolgirl. Rich is too clean as the antihero and Laszlo is just too perfect generally. Yet somehow, it is still one of my favorite films.

But Curtiz didn’t just direct Casablanca. I won’t list all the great films he directed. But two that stand out to me are the Errol Flynn films Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. He also did musicals like Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Jazz Singer. He could do anything and that is why, I think, he is not usually mentioned as one of the great directors. But I would argue that he understood the medium perfectly. He was the Martin Scorsese of his era. And I think eventually, film historians will come to see that.

Happy birthday Michael Curtiz!

Smart People Are Dicks

A beefy looking, shirtless, tattooed guy named Anthony(; on twitter sent out the following image:

Only Smart People Would Get This

I mention that he looks a bit like a bruiser because most of the stuff he tweets out is really sweet. For example, he tweeted out this picture that actually made me cry. So I like to think of him as Rocky: tough looking but with a heart of gold. I hope he has found his Adrian.

So okay, sweet guy. But I really don’t like images like this one. For one thing, I’m not big on the whole idea of intelligence. But more important, the image is meant to make some people feel stupid and some people feel smart. What to do? Well, I don’t have a heart of gold. So I tweeted out:

Get it? If you were smart you would! No. Actually, I was just rubbing their noses in the fact that ostentatious self-importance is not appealing. I doubt that many of the almost 700 people who retweeted it even knows what an orthogonal transformation is. But that says absolutely nothing about their value or intelligence, whatever that may be.

Afterword

Those “puzzles” are not consistent. The 2s and the 3s are okay. But if you performed the same transformation on the 7s, you would not get a triangle. You would get a figure that included a triangle, but that’s the most you could say. The 7s would also require a horizontal transformation. I’m sure that Kurt Godel would not have known what to make of that stupid image!