Car Shows and Father’s Days

No touching Impalas unless your [sic] in the nude!!It was Father’s Day today, and so I spend part of it with my father. And we spent it as we usually do, over at the Father’s Day car show that they have here in Santa Rosa. My father — like many men of his generation — is very interested in cars. He has restored a 1950 Buick. It’s the car with a grill that looks like it is going to eat you. Personally, I’m not that fond of it. I’m not that fond of any cars. They are just noisy, smelling things that create no sense of romance in me.

My disinterest is not a generational thing. I know a lot of people my age who have much the same feelings about more modern technologies like computers and phones. I also don’t care about these things. It’s not that I feel above people who are into these things. I have my own fascinations, as regular readers of this website will know. For example, if there were a puppet exhibit every year, I’d definitely go. Or a conference on Don Quixote, I’d look forward to it every year. But let’s face it: these car folks are not “my people.” I mean, good God, they spend tens of thousands of dollars restoring old cars!

What I noticed about myself as we walked along is that I’m attracted to colors. “Oh, there’s a pretty car!” And all that means is that it’s red or orange or some shades of green. And I kind of like little boxy cars from the 1950s and 1960s. But mostly, I look at the convertibles and think, “What a death trap! Why isn’t there a roll bar on that?!” My father’s 1950 Buick had to have seat belts added because they didn’t come with the car. Of course, even if you don’t die in a collision, you might die from the CO emitted by the inefficient combustion.

But at one point, I came upon this late 1950s Chevrolet Impala that sums up car shows to me. In the back seat was a sign instructing people, “No Touching.” I understand. People spend a lot of money on these things. Then again, it isn’t like they are Modigliani paintings. They are old devices that have been cleaned up good. What’s the point of having them if you can’t, you know, use them. But the other aspect is the coarse — and implicitly sexist — joke: only nude people in that car!

The kicker is that it has a grammar error, “No touching Impalas unless your [sic] in the nude!!” Again, I’m not placing myself above these people. They are just different. They care about cars and I care about at least getting the grammar right on a professionally printed sign. It’s a clash of cultures. Clearly, I think mine is superior or I wouldn’t have it. But I know that isn’t an objective truth. And regardless, what’s most important is to spend a little time with dad, even though he would surely see me as some kind of space alien if he weren’t so used to me by now.

The Malleability of “Terrorism”

Glenn GreenwaldThe examples proving the utter malleability of the term “terrorism” are far too numerous to chronicle here. But over the past decade alone, it’s been used by Western political and media figures to condemn Muslims who used violence against an invading and occupying force in Afghanistan, against others who raised funds to help Iraqis fight against an invading and occupying military in their country, and for others who attack soldiers in an army that is fighting many wars. In other words, any violence by Muslims against the West is inherently “terrorism,” even if targeted only at soldiers at war and/or designed to resist invasion and occupation.

By stark contrast, no violence by the West against Muslims can possibly be “terrorism,” no matter how brutal, inhumane or indiscriminately civilian-killing. The US can call its invasion of Baghdad “Shock and Awe” as a classic declaration of terrorism intent, or fly killer drones permanently over terrorized villages and cities, or engage in generation-lasting atrocities in Fallujah, or arm and fund Israeli and Saudi destruction of helpless civilian populations, and none of that, of course, can possibly be called “terrorism.” It just has the wrong perpetrators and the wrong victims.

—Glenn Greenwald
Refusal to Call Charleston Shootings “Terrorism” Again Shows It’s a Meaningless Propaganda Term

The Bizarre Make Up of “Us” and “Them”

Lost Millions of Homes

Perhaps I am stuck in the middle of the 20th century in terms of intellectual thought. But when I look at the great big world, I see most people involved in the process of defining themselves. In its most pernicious form, it is the good “us” versus the bad “them.” But even when it is not done for such negative purposes, it is extremely wasteful. And what’s more, those who have power in a society can easily use this natural tendency to get people behind policies that are quite bad. This is what I see going on in Europe with regard to Greece. Especially in Germany, the prevailing narrative is that the Greek people are corrupt and lazy and if only they acted more like the Germans (By invading Poland?) everything would be okay.

Last week, Simon Wren-Lewis call bunk to all this, The Eurozone’s Cover-Up Over Greece. Over the last five years, the Eurozone has given an enormous amount of money that was nominally for Greece in exchange for austerity policies. But all that money did was hold off default. The money didn’t go to Greece but rather its creditors. If Greece had simply been left to default on its debt in 2010, it would have suffered under roughly the same austerity because it wouldn’t have been able to borrow money. The only difference would be that the banks who had lent money to Greece would have lost it.

The Greek bailout was not a bailout of the country at all, but rather the (mostly) German bankers. I’ve never been able to get my head around this disconnect. After the financial crisis of 2008, everywhere you looked, people were pointing fingers at borrowers. Here in the US it was homeowners who couldn’t afford their mortgages; in southern Europe, it was governments (actually just Greece) who borrowed more than they should have. But anyone who has ever even tried to get a bank loan knows that this is not how it works. The banks are supposed to be the adults who only give out loans to worthy borrowers.

But somehow, the idea that it takes two to tango, has been lost in this discussion. And it is worse than that because we expect borrowers to want more money than they can afford. So it’s pretty amazing that €42 billion have been given away to bankers who were clearly reckless, yet they are never mentioned. They are seen as good and pure — taken advantage of by the evil Greek government, which should have known that it couldn’t afford the loans it was taking.

I pine for the days when people were more class conscious. I blame mass media. If it wasn’t for the constant assault of “respectable” news outlets repeating lies about poor deceived bankers, people would see things more clearly. Remember the founding of the Tea Party: millionaire Rick Santelli surrounded by other millionaires on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, ranting about a law designed to help homeowners. And millions of middle class Americans — most of whom were too old to have been caught up in the housing bubble — jumped on board. There was instant common cause between the bankers and middle class homeowners who just had the good luck of being born at a better time. Or in Germany, there are working stiffs who align with the poor bankers. “Us” and “them” have been sliced and diced by the power elite for the benefit of themselves, so they will never be held accountable and so the money will keep moving from the poor to them.

The Emotional World of Sherlock Holmes

The Private Life of Sherlock HolmesWith the death of Christopher Lee, I highlighted his performance in, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Last night I watched the film again. It made me reflect on why I so like the film. At one time, I was down right obsessive about it. It’s a fine film, but that was not the reason I watched it over and over. I think I like it so much because it deals with Holmes’ inner life — the emotions that exist underneath that seemingly impenetrable exterior of rationality.

Basically, Private Life is a love story. Holmes falls in love — and hard. But you would never know it from his reactions. There are two ways to see Holmes’ reaction to Gabrielle. It could be that he simply sees in her his equal. And indeed, in her way, she is that. But this strikes me as the least interesting way to look at it. Also: it isn’t justified by the rest of the film. From the moment Gabrielle shows up, Holmes wants to get rid of her. He seems afraid of the feelings that she arouses in him. What’s more, he is clearly attracted to her long before he realizes that she is his equal.

The other way to see Holmes’ reaction to Gabrielle — or indeed Madame Petrova — is that he falls easily in love. He clings desperately to his rationality as a defense against his emotions, which he has no control over. It is not surprising, however, that I would see the character in this way because this is rather like myself. I think there are a lot of people like that who try to be rational and in control because they know that they are actually old softies who want nothing more than to browse Cute Overload and lie in bed with a special someone watching It Happened One Night.

The film also strongly implies that Holmes is a man who really wants to escape the harsh realities of this world. Early on in the film, Watson badgers him about his drug use, “I strongly disapprove of this insidious habit of yours.” Holmes responds, “I only resort to narcotics when I’m suffering from acute boredom.” But we learn at the end of the film that this is at best a partial truth. When he learns of a great tragedy — one that wounds him emotionally — he goes right for “the needle.” And in that case, Watson — perhaps for the first time — does not protest — perhaps finally understanding that we all have weaknesses that we manage as best we can.

In general, I don’t like the character of Sherlock Holmes. He’s quite arrogant and judgmental. In the books and stories, he is presented almost as a demigod. We don’t get much insight into him as a man. And the films — which have done as much to flesh out the character as the original material (especially regarding Mycroft and Moriarty) — have gone right along with that. This is why I’ve always liked the comedic reversal in Without a Clue; since Holmes is so thoroughly disagreeable a character, why not make him a buffoon? But The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes humanizes the character without destroying the legend. And that is why it is probably the best rending of Sherlock Holmes, and certainly my favorite.

Morning Music: Dusty Springfield

Dusty in MemphisJohn Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins were a songwriting team in the late 1960s. Sadly, I don’t know much about them. John Hurley released three albums in the early 1970s. The two are known primarily for two songs that have been widely covered: “Love of the Common People” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” The former song was a big hit for Paul Young in 1982, but it was first recorded by Hurley off his first album, Sings About People.

In early 1968, Hurley and Wilkins were shopping around “Son of a Preacher Man.” They tried to get Aretha Franklin to record it, but she wasn’t interested. Dusty Springfield did not make that mistake. It was released late in 1968, and then the following year on her album, Dusty in Memphis. The song became an international hit — reaching number 10 in the United States.

Anniversary Post: Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner… and Killen

Edgar Ray KillenHas it been just ten years since homicidal bigot Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of planning the murders of the civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner on 21 June 1964 — exactly 41 years earlier? At the time of the murders, the state of Mississippi wasn’t too interested in prosecuting the murderers. But eventually, the federal government arrested and tried 18 men. There were 7 convictions, 8 acquittals, and three hung juries. Killen was one of the men in the last group. The jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. The lone holdout said she could not convict a preacher. Killen was a part-time minister. For some reason, he was not retried. It sounds like a slam dunk to me.

Jumping ahead a couple of decades, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell looked into those killings. Working with an Illinois high school teacher and three of his students, they put together a case against Killen and publicized it — pressuring the state to reopen the case, which it did on 6 January 2005, with three charges of murder. On 21 June 2005, the jury found Mitchell guilty of three counts of manslaughter. He was given 20 years for each count.

He was 80 years old when he was convicted. And he turned 90 last January at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. In general, I feel sorry for old people who did terrible things when they were younger. But it was clear that even before his incarceration, he was just as much a hate filled bigot as he had ever been. In fact, if he had grown as a human being, it is very possible that he wouldn’t have been tried and convicted. Regardless, I actually find it a irritating that he’s still alive. It doesn’t seem right.

But we mark this day 51 years ago when Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were murdered, and we celebrate this day 10 years ago when a very small amount of justice was done about it.