Two Happy Pet Rescues

Reckless the Dog with Chuck and Elicia JamesI am not one to claim that catastrophe is “opportunity!” Bad things happen and they suck. But that shouldn’t stop us from relishing inspiring stories that come out of catastrophe. And so it won’t stop me from related two stories of wonderful pet rescues. Being kind to pets is probably the only thing we all agree on. For example, even Nazis were nice to pets. They put “undesirables” to death but they saved their pets. At least, I assume they did. It doesn’t matter how evil you are, you still take care of pets. Or so I want to believe. Jesus! This is getting depressing. Let’s get onto the stories!

Chuck and Elicia James are a nice young couple who live in New Jersey with their three children. After Hurricane Sandy, their dog Reckless escaped from their backyard. They looked and looked, but they could not find him. Of course, they were somewhat limited. Because of the damage to their home, they’ve been living in a hotel since then—for 18 months! Well, their eldest daughter’s tenth birthday is coming up so they went to the local SPCA looking for a new dog. And the first dog they were shown was… Reckless! You can read all about it at New York, Dog Lost in Hurricane Sandy Miraculously Reunited With Owners 18 Months Later.

Chuck James said, “The dog was licking us to death, he was jumping three feet in the air. He was home. He knew the ordeal was over.” Of course, they are still a family of five living in a hotel room. But clearly New Jersey is stronger than the storm. But that means a whole lot more for Reckless and the whole James family than it does for Chris Christie and his family.

In a story totally unrelated to Hurricane Sandy but related in regards to the fact that it is about a catastrophe and a pet, we move across the border to Crown Heights, Brooklyn where, Two Garages Collapse after Retention Wall Fails. It was a big crash, but no humans were around to be harmed or even trapped. But such was not the luck for the Felis silvestris catus community. An unidentified cat was caught beneath the debris. Fortunately, the Fire Department, City of New York was on the job. They spotted the cat and released it. One of the firemen tried to carry the cat to safety, but clearly, the cat was better able to navigate the rubble than mere humans. Watch the video:

So a little good news to get you through the weekend!

H/T (dog): JoyfulA
H/T (cat): Digby

The Facts About the Reagan Presidency

Tear Down This MythA more factual synopsis of the Reagan presidency might read like this: that Reagan was a transformative figure in American history, but his real revolution was one of public relations-meets-politics and not one of policy. He combined his small-town heartland upbringing with a skill for storytelling that was honed on the back lots of Hollywood into a personal narrative that resonated with a majority of voters, but only after it tapped into something darker, which was white middle-class resentment of 1960s unrest. His story arc did become more optimistic and peaked at just the right moment, when Americans were tired of the “malaise” of the Jimmy Carter years and wanted someone who promised to make the nation feel good about itself again. But his positive legacy as president today hangs on events that most historians say were to some great measure out of his control: an economic recovery that was inevitable, especially when world oil prices returned to normal levels, and an end to the Cold War that was more driven by internal events in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe than Americans want to acknowledge. His 1981 tax cut was followed quickly by tax hikes that you rarely hear about, and Reagan’s real lasting achievement on that front was slashing marginal rates for the wealthy—even as rising payroll taxes socked the working class. His promise to shrink government was uttered so often that many acolytes believe it really happened, but in fact Reagan expanded the federal payroll, added a new cabinet post, and created a huge debt that ultimately tripped up his handpicked successor, George H W Bush. What he did shrink was government regulation and oversight, which critics have linked to a series of unfortunate events from the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s to the subprime mortgage crisis of the late 2000s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 helped paper over some less noble moments in foreign policy, from trading arms for Middle East hostages to an embarrassing retreat from his muddled engagement in Lebanon to unpopular adventurism in Center America. The Iran-Contra scandal that stemmed from those policies not only weakened Reagan’s presidency when it happened, but it arguably undermined the respect for future presidents for the Constitution because he essentially got away with it. Over the course of eight years, the president that some want to enshrine on Mount Rushmore rated just barely above average for modern presidents in public popularity. He left on a high note—but only after two years of shifting his policy back to the center, seeking peace with the Soviets rather than confrontation, reaching a balanced new tax deal with Democrats, and naming a moderate justice to the Supreme Court. It was not the Reaganism invoked by today’s conservatives.

—Will Bunch
Tear Down This Myth

Terry Eagleton’s Across the Pond

Across the PondI am a big fan of Terry Eagleton’s books, so I was quite excited to read his newest book, Across the Pond. It is subtitled, “An Englishman’s view of America.” It is a subject that he has a special expertise in, given that his wife and pretty much his children are Americans. So it should come as no surprise that he has a fondness for we colonists. But he’s also quite clear about our foibles. And he is very entertaining in talking about them.

The overriding attitude that Eagleton takes is that Britain is superior to America, but only because you can’t get a decent cut of tea in the latter. This sits rather well with me, because I feel very much out of place here in the land of coffee. Tea is my drink of choice, yet Starbucks seems determined to destroy any of the extremely poor teas they stock. Can an entire civilization be judged on its handling of tea? I think so and apparently so does Eagleton.

On a more serious level (Taking nothing away from tea!) he discusses how freedom works in the United States. Here, thanks to the First Amendment, we have more explicit freedoms. For example, I’ve written at least one book that would not be legal in the United Kingdom. But as a result of this greater explicit freedom, there is far more social pressure on people to behave. Now libertarians and the like would claim this is a good thing because it isn’t the government telling you what to do. This is something I’ve never understood: freedom is freedom. It doesn’t really matter how it comes about. If the masses are serfs because of the government or just because corporations have so much power, it hardly matters.

Eagleton distinguishes between this American “you have rights but you aren’t supposed to use them” and the more formally restricted English system. What it means is that Americans are for a kind of theoretical freedom, where the British are for practical freedom:

The British dislike authority not because they are opposed to the state on principle, but because they want to be left alone to breed pigeons or attend classes in flower arranging. They do not want to be free of regulation so that they can aspire, rise through the ranks or accumulate profit, but so that they can putter about as they please. They are not so much individualist as idiosyncratic. Their resentment of those in charge is less politically militant than passive aggressive. It is part the the “free-born Englishman” syndrome, which is less strident and self-conscious than the “free American” complex.

I doubt that many people would disagree with this contrast. And this does get to perhaps my biggest problem with America: the greatest good is money. That’s such a thin notion of good. After all, regardless of what we do in life, the best we can hope for is that at the age of 95, we are able to putter around the garden. But the issue is bigger than that. It isn’t that money isn’t a perfectly fine obsession. It is that in America, money is considered the only acceptable obsession.

This gets at the very central characteristic of modern American politics. The great political divide is between idealism and realism. The problem with this is that now this divide exists almost entirely along partisan lines. The Republicans have an ideology and are not at all interested in the practical consequences of it. The Democrats have no ideology and are only interested in the practical consequences of policy. This is a terrible state of affairs. It leads to conservatism that is immune to facts and liberalism that is rudderless. It also leads to two political parties that effectively speak different languages. The result of this is that the Democrats have been pulled inexorably to the ideological edge along with the Republicans, skewing our politics far to the right of what the vast majority of Americans actually want.

Eagleton gets at this problem:

Whereas Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes, the United States multiplies options. No restaurant in Britain would ask you how you liked your fried eggs, any more than they would ask you what exotic national costume you would like your waiter to be dressed in. Choice in the States is a paramount value. “I’ve made my choices” is a common American phrase, meaning among other things that one is the author of one’s own existence rather than ignominiously shaped by circumstance. Life is a self-authoring narrative in which, unlike Oedipus or Anna Karenina, you get to decide what happens to you. It is therefore all the more surprising that there is so little political choice in the country. In fact, the United States is a one-party state. There is the Democratic capitalist party and the Republican capitalist party. The diversity of political options hardly rivals the variety of candy bars.

Put another way: America is a fraud. We are a country where everyone can have their eggs prepared just the way they like them but who have no real choice when it comes to important things like who is going to make your laws or who is going to determine whether you can pay your bills.

I should be clear, though. This is my take on the issues that Eagleton discusses. He is much more positive about it. And he is also well aware that there are many Yankees like me who find life in America an uncomfortable experience. In “The Outgoing Spirit” chapter, he applies Milan Kundera’s idea of the angelic and demonic views of the world:

The opposite of the angelic for Kundera, predictably enough, is the demonic, by which he means the language of the cynical and nihilistic, one with too little meaning rather than (like the angelic) one stuffed with sonorous cliches. There is enough demonic discourse in the States to suit anyone’s taste, but the fact remains that the official rhetoric of the country (which, on should stress, is far from the discourse of everyday life) is too pious, elevated, hand-on-heart and histrionic for us jaded Europeans. A dash of the demonic would do it no harm. The demonic can be found in the edgy, abrasive, sardonic speech of New York Jews, which is much closer to the Irish than it is to the Midwest. When they hear angelic American speech—”this great country of ours,” “let freedom ring forth,” and the like—most Europeans simply stare at their shoes and wait for it to stop, as some people do whenever Schoenberg comes on the radio. Many Americans, to be fair, find this kind of language just as excruciating.

And that should give you a good idea of where Eagleton is coming from. Just the same, as I read Across the Pond, I was struck by just how much of a real American I am. Despite myself, I really do have a “can do” attitude. And I am rather more positive than I would like to be. And in his conclusion to the book, I think he sums up both America and me, though I do wish he were wrong:

The good news about the citizens of this kindly, violent, bigoted, generous-spirited nation is that if ever the planet is plunged into nuclear war, they will be the first to crawl over the edge of the crater, dust themselves down, and proceed to build a new world. The bad news is that they will probably have started the war.

Terry Engleton certainly does understand America!

Clear Eyed Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo MachiavelliOn this day in 1469, the great political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli was born. I’ve been amazed over a very long time that a lot of people seem to be under the impression that he was some kind of bad guy like Vlad the Impaler. I’ve always found The Prince to be the work of a wise older man just explaining how the world works. We tend to think of the recent history of the British monarchy where power (such as it is) flows peacefully from father to son. But in Machiavelli’s time, a monarch was much more likely to be someone who stole the throne. It is the first important contribution to realpolitik.

There is most likely another side to The Prince. Machiavelli was an important government official in the Florentine republic up into his forties. Even though he had much success after that (most notably as a comedic playwright), he saw those earlier times as the best of his life. The Prince was likely intended as an implicit argument in favor of republicanism. So maybe it is all of us who are the cynical ones and to him it was obvious that he was lampooning the monarchy by showing the best case for the latter.

What Machiavelli brings to my mind is the duty of citizenship. Here in America, we mostly think our republic is something that we are entitled to. It simply is and we get the benefits of it. But that’s not true. It is something we constantly have to fight for. And if we don’t, it will devolve into an oligarchy, as it pretty much has. As Chris Hedges discussed in Death of the Liberal Class, it used to be that the upper classes (minus the rich) paid for their privilege by managing the state and not letting the oligarchs take over. But they have really fallen down on the job and now have almost no more power than the lower classes. Now our only hope is that all the citizens will bind together and use their democratic power, although even if that happened (doubtful), I’m not sure the oligarchs would allow it. Things haven’t changed much since Machiavelli was writing. He sees America today as clearly as he saw Medici Florence then.

Happy birthday Niccolo Machiavelli!