Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
One of the easiest adjustments to make as we re-work our psyches to fit the pre- and misconceptions of the New American Oligarchy is the one where we have to re-write history. This has become such a common tactic of the corporate media that it almost goes without saying but it can still come as a surprise when you’re not expecting it.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his party maintain that Washington policy plays a limited role in entrepreneurial success, and is often more of a hindrance than a help.
In pushing that theme this week, though, some of the speakers have left out part of the story.
In a convention floor speech Tuesday night, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin boasted that people rushed into her state in the Great Land Run of 1889 with only their own grit to thank, and no help from the federal government.
“And in 1897, eight years after the land run, a handful of adventurous pioneers risked their own money – not the federal government’s money – to drill Oklahoma’s first oil well, the Nellie Johnstone,” she told conventioneers.
However, Fallin’s characterization omitted major chunks of federal government involvement, including the Dawes Act of 1887 and other measures that forced Indian tribes onto reservations, freeing “open” surplus lands for white settlers. Oil later was found on some of that land. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided the method by which the land was distributed to settlers.
This is known as “history by omission”: not actually a lie, all you need do is leave out the part of the truth you’d rather people didn’t know. Read the rest of this entry »
One thing is certain, that the well-developed, well-integrated personality is the highest product of evolution, the fullest realization we know of in the universe. ~ Julian Huxley, “Transhumanism”
After six thousand years of Western civilization we are finally living in the time when that childish belief can be put to rest once and for all. For we, the humans – especially the American humans – of the 21st century have proved beyond all doubt that the highest product of human evolution – in fact the only product worth cultivation – is a well-developed, well-integrated sense of greed. We now understand that our highest evolutionary function, indeed our only important function as a species, is the making of money. Read the rest of this entry »
A hundred years ago – OK, 89, I rounded it off, so sue me – Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel called Babbitt, the first ever about what our wanna-be-aristocrat upper middle class was really like. It was a hugely successful book, not least because it skewered a smug, self-satisfied, arrogant section of our society that even in 1922 was hated and feared by normal folk for its corruption and thievery. And rightfully so, since these bozos were mainly the ones who created the financial mess that would eventually melt down and give us the Great Depression. Read the rest of this entry »
Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed every year until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.
This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.
Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival
It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.
The truth is somewhat different.
In America, we are reminded, the idea of a Christmas celebration didn’t really take hold until commercial interests recognized its potential and began to sell it like corn flakes.
The growth of Santa as the predominant icon of Christmas in much of the world grew out of the efforts of retail wizards such as John Wanamaker and Rowland Hussey Macy, founders of the modern department store. Much like the early church fathers, Wanamaker and Macy systematically laid claim to a Christmas of their own making in the 19th century.By this point, said Russell W. Belk, a sociologist and anthropologist at York University in Toronto, Christmas had already been through several incarnations — Christians in the United States had initially resisted Christmas because it was seen as tied to the Catholic calendar, but waves of European immigrants brought traditions of Christmas celebrations with them. Still, the idea of giving gifts to relatives was not the norm, especially among English immigrants, where Christmas gifts were primarily seen as acts of benevolence toward servants and slaves.
Business magnates who had once protested that holidays such as Christmas were a drain on the economy spotted the business potential of Christmas and encouraged the idea of gift-giving among family. Where Christmas gifts had once been primarily about charity, advertisers and marketers encouraged the notion that Christmas was primarily a family celebration and stressed the importance of reciprocal gift exchanges for friends and relatives. By the 20th century, American marketing geniuses led by Coca-Cola had seized on the advertising potential of Santa Claus. Although Santa’s ancestors in Europe and Asia had various religious connotations, the modern Santa is an American invention, with growing appeal in Europe and around the world.
“Coca-Cola to some extent owns Christmas,” said Belk. In the 1930s, he added, “they had a painter commissioned to do one painting of Santa Claus every year . . . it seems likely that the red color of Santa’s outfits came from Coca-Cola’s paintings.”
It doesn’t actually. “Santa Claus” is from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas – Sinterklaas – and the color red was always associated with the Greek St Nicholas who is the source of the icon. (More about him later.) Coke’s artists merely appropriated an image already made famous by Thomas Nast in the 1870′s and 80′s, an action that is fairly symbolic of how the holiday actually developed.
Myth #2: That Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday
The trappings of Christmas are almost entirely pagan in origin. Christmas trees, the lights on both trees and homes, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus, the exchange of gifts – all of it was born in pagan solstice festivals beginning, as far as we can tell, long before Christ’s time. In the context of the solstice, it all makes perfect sense. In a Christian context, they simply don’t belong. What does Christ, a product of the Judean desert, have to do with pine trees, after all? Nothing.
- Christmas trees – Probably born in Germany or the Nordic countries, the ritual symbolism of the solstice evergreen was just that: it was ever green. Unlike the deciduous trees that dominated the forests of northern Europe whose leaves died and fell away as winter began, fir trees remained green all year round. They were the perfect representation in pagan societies for the persistence of life and the fertility of the earth on which those societies depended. Druids (the real ones, not the pale, bogus artifices we know today) worshipped trees, evergreens in particular, because they believed they were the earthly incarnations of spirits and/or gods. Evergreens were believed either to be or to be the homes of spirits who controlled the sun and had the power to bring it back and renew the earth for another year. The custom of bringing a tree inside, almost certainly German, probably began as a form of pagan tree-worship.
- Lights – As the days shortened and the sun threatened to disappear, the long nights became a source of real fear, not just because folk believed it might vanish but because they believed that evil spirits lurked in the dark, and the longer the nights were, the more chance there was that these monsters would wreak havoc on their villages. The solution, of course, was a Festival of Light held, naturally, on the one day of the year that had the least of it. There were torch parades and candles were kept burning all night. When the trees came inside, so did the candles, and by the Victorian era the candles had become attached to the branches of the tree.
- Wreaths – Common to many cultures, wreaths were either worn, as in Rome, or displayed as signs of either special favor or protection from evil. Long before trees were brought into the house, wreaths were attached to doorposts, connecting the magic of the evergreen to individual homes.
- Caroling – Noise has long been believed by many peoples to scare away evil spirits. In China they beat drums and gongs, in Europe they sang. The origin of this particular custom (called “wassailing” in Britain) is lost to history but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it was a natural addition to all the other anti-evil charms employed by our ancestors. So is dancing, of course, so it isn’t surprising that the two were combined. In fact, the original meaning of the word was “circle dance” and was most likely an integral part of the midwinter ritual. We don’t do the dancing part much any more, and it’s too bad.
- Santa Claus – Unlike the rest of our Christmas traditions, Santa Claus does have some slight connection to Christianity. Born to wealthy and devout Christian parents in Patara, then a province of Greece, St Nicholas is supposed to have taken the words of Christ to heart and given away the whole of his large inheritance to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick. Though he was never ordained, his reputation for piety was such that he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Persecuted and imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, he returned to Myra after his release and died there on December 6, 343. For many years after that, the anniversary of his death was celebrated as “St Nicholas Day”.Co-incidence? Sort of. The fact that he died in December only a few days before Saturnalia (the Roman midwinter festival) connected him quite naturally to what became Christmas when the Catholic Church appropriated midwinter festivals for a celebration of the birth of Christ. After centuries of trying unsuccessfully to stamp out these primarily pagan rituals, the geniuses in the Church came up with a brilliant idea: if they couldn’t be stopped, they could certainly be swallowed up – assimilated by the Church and given a Catholic context. This was to prove a valuable and almost universally successful tactic in the centuries to come.St Nicholas Day melded rather naturally into the solstice festivals and it wasn’t long before St Nick and Christmas were inseparable. In many parts of Europe, Dec 6 is still celebrated as both.It should be noted that the St Nick we know is neither Greek nor terribly Christian. He’s Dutch. Sort of….
- The giving of gifts, stockings over the fireplace, and coming down the chimney– Both of these customs arose not in Europe but – are you ready for this? – here. In America. In New York, in fact.
After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the origin of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas; that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving’s work was regarded as the “first notable work of imagination in the New World.”The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, “Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”
So Washington Irving invented the Santa Claus we know more or less out of whole cloth, relying on legends (as he often did) and embellishing until the original story was barely recognizable. Irving entirely ignored the religious connotation of the title “saint” and any overt connection to religion, let alone to Christ. His St Nick was already 95% secular, a cultural symbol closer to solstice celebrations than Christian ones.
The total secularization of St Nicholas, morphing him into the Santa Claus we know, was accomplished by only two men: Clement Moore (probably) and Thomas Nast. Moore is generally credited with writing A Visit from St Nicholas(“‘Twas the night before Christmas/and all through the house….” – you know it) for his children in 1822. It forever identified St Nick with the roly-poly, “jolly old elf” of Irving’s story and pretty much divorced him from any possible religious significance. Fifty years later, what Moore had done with words, Nast did with pictures. His cartoons of Santa Claus formed our visual image of the old guy once and for all. Following Irving and Moore, Nast’s Santa is no more a religious figure than, say, Uncle Sam.
Of all the traditions we associate with Christmas, only three are overtly religious: the Nativity Scene, the angel on top of the tree, and going to church. Many Christian churches have the former and most Christians do the latter on Christmas even if they never go the rest of the year. By my count, that makes Christmas roughly 87% secular whether Bill O’Reilly likes it or not.
One of the things I’ve learned here in the South is why our country – run mostly by Southerners for the past couple of decades (if you count George W as a Texan and Texas as part of the South rather than the West, which is a close call) – is a flaming mess. Apart from the concentration on moolah as the only acceptable criterion of character or success, the chief ingredient of Southern leadership, as in all other areas of Southern life, is a belief that nothing actually has to be good as long as it looks as if it is.
I’ve had a few short-term jobs in construction over the last year or so and this Southern propensity for replacing quality with an illusion of quality shows up very clearly there. It is practically a law that, for example, if you can rebuild a staircase in 3 days but jerryrig it so it will stand for another year in a day, you don’t rebuild; you support it, paint over it, hide the temporary fix, and then everybody pretends it’s as good as new because it looks as though it is. That’s what paint and spackle are for.
But the most significant use of image is, of course, personal. If you dress in a way that suggests you are a successful and financially astute businessman, you can be a rip-off artist extraordinaire, a cheat, a thief and a con-man, and nobody will ever question what you claim as your bona fides. If you dress “like a tramp”, clearly that’s what you are. It is expected here, in a squirt of naivete hardly explainable in the 21st century, that whatever you look like you are, you are. It is as if the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, never made it further South than Philly.
You wouldn’t think Iranian President Ahmadinejad and batshit-crazy wingnut blogger Pam “Atlas Juggs” Geller would have anything in common, would you? She hates his guts and he thinks she’s a lunatic. She wants him assassinated and he wants her eviscerated. But you’d be wrong. They’re both Holocaust Deniers. Which is weird because Geller is, like, Jewish.
You know, there is a sort of resemblabce here. They both look like they’ve been injecting way too much botox, Pammy in her forehead and Prez A in his nose. Co-incidence?
And oh yeah, as long as we’re discussing La Juggs, she thinks passing the healthcare “reform” bill on Xmas Eve is blasphemy!!!! (You have to imagine a deep bass voice through an echo chamber on that last word.) I might agree. I tend to suspect that Christ would NEVER want his name associated with a bill that shamelessly molests innocent people. (Via Norwegianity)
Oscar Wilde said that a cynic was someone who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. The dictionary says a cynic is someone “who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view”. Those are both pretty negative definitions. Yet there’s another aspect of cynicism, a positive one, that rarely gets any press: a cynic is someone who assumes that anyone who tries to sell him a pig in a poke is a crook.
It’s that aspect that we might consider re-energizing in America after 30 years of being conned, manipulated, lied to, and asked to swallow mountains of shit they told us was chocolate pudding. We have lived through an era in which the worst one could say about a person was that s/he was negative, pessimistic, untrusting, and had no “faith” in his/her leaders; that that lack of faith meant s/he hated America and was at the very least a terrorist cheerleader who wanted to see America go down the tubes because how could s/he doubt that everything s/he was told was true unless s/he was a faithless, pessimistic doom-monger? Everything was the best in the best of all possible worlds and anybody who didn’t believe that was a) a worthless liberal/Commie simp and b) a TRAITOR.
Only it turns out we weren’t. It turns out that even the most cynical of us nevertheless underestimated the greed, mendacity, arrogance, and cruelty of the leaders we were expected to put absolute faith in, were supposed to trust with our country and our lives. It turns out that expecting what we considered to be the worst possible outcomes, we missed the mark by a mile-and-a-half. Skepticism wasn’t enough. We should have been much more than skeptical. We should have been cynical. As much distrust as we had, we should have had more. It was justified.
Also known as “innocence” or “prolonged ignorance”, it is often encased in infantilism.
Shortly after the First World War, John Dos Passos declared in his seminal novel 1919 “the death of innocence in America”. It became a catchphrase, the summation of America’s sudden blasted knowledge of a world – Europe – from which it had always considered itself safely distant. The world had shrunk, Dos Passos was saying, and the USA had finally been drawn into it. We were part of a global reality whether we liked it or not. American men, after all, had died fighting a war that had started in Europe over European beligerences.
Needless to say, Dos Passos’ declaration of the death was premature and greatly exaggerated. It may have been clear to him and to the rest of that post-war generation of writers and political thinkers that the nation could no longer afford the luxury of the isolationism we had practiced with relief since the War of 1812, but as a people it turned out we had no intention of religuishing the useless but comforting ignorance that allowed us to escape responsibility for anything that happened on the world stage.
“Innocence”, either the loss of or the retaining of, became a major theme of the Roaring 20′s. Rather than embrace our new knowledge, we turned our backs on it and…played. From the self-involved if indistinct longing of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby for easy pickings and no regrets to the open admiration of Capone and the Wild West he made of the Chicago streets as if the consequences could be shrugged off as easily as a viewing of a Hollywood gangster film, we clung to our native “innocence” as if it were armor plating against adulthood. We shrugged off responsibility, if anything, much more casually than our attachment to films and their stars. We shut our eyes and turned up our noses whenever “serious people” warned that Wall Street was having us on and the whole thing was going to come crashing down. When it finally did, we felt hurt, betrayed, as if a parental promise of an endless playtime had been reneged on without reason. We pouted.
I just read Plato’s Republic for the first time and it just zipped by – 400 pgs in 2 days. Maybe because it was a good translation or maybe because most of the ideas supporting Plato’s “ideal state” turned out to be so childish that I didn’t have to spend much time thinking about them. I covered most of them in junior high, at which time I located and identified the serious flaws in concepts like domination by the state, forced unity, a single definition of Good, and a concept of Truth that didn’t actually include any.
The Republic suffers from all of these and a good deal more, and I suppose his critics (starting with Aristotle) have probably done a much better job than I could delineating and then deconstructing them. The truth is that I found the book mildly amusing (except for Book 7, Chap 2, which introduces a couple of concepts that were to be the basis of philosophical thinking for the next 2500 yrs) in the same way one might chuckle at a memory of the paper he wrote in 9th grade Social Studies supporting Barry Goldwater for President because “maybe an atomic war is just what we need to clean the slate and start fresh.” That’s how you think when you’re 14.
Life, of course, not to mention politics, are a little more complicated than that and even Plato recognized it when he insisted at the end of the book that he never expected to see his Republic in the real world. Still, that he thought a state run by a complicated procedure that married uncomfortable opposites – the “ideal” Republic is part autocratic/militarist dictatorship, part democratic free-for-all, and part elitist aristocracy run by “philosopher kings” who turn out to be characterized by dispositions and beliefs exactly similar to, well, Plato’s – would actually work if someone would just give it a chance is so adorably clueless that I had a pleasant few hours imagining the horrible results of philosopher-rule.
Andrew Wyeth was the first real artist I found for myself. I had Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Rafael, and the like thrust on me either at school or at home (my father disliked art but thought a “rounded education” meant I ought at least to be able to recognize a renowned masterpiece when I saw one) but Wyeth I found for myself when an English teacher made a passing reference to “Christina’s World” as a painting done by an artist who lived part of the year in Maine. I lived in New Hampshire, as un- if not anti-artistic a state as exists. Mississippi thinks more of artists than New Hampshire and Maine where they were considered flakes, bums, drug addicts, and wastrels dodging a decent day’s work. The idea that one of these despised ones had actually chosen to live surrounded by the people who despised him was fascinating. I went to the local library and looked him up.
There was a full-color, two-page repro of “Christina’s World” in an art book and I spread it in front of me on the empty library table and stared at it for a long time. I think I must have been expecting a Norman Rockwell-ish sentimentality but there was nothing sentimental about Christina. A cripple, she made her way around her run-down farm and dilapidated house by pulling herself along with her hands, her useless legs dragging behind her.
She was 55 at the time, an aging recluse who stubbornly refused any kind of aid, glorying in her pain and privation as if it somehow proved her worth. The picture Wyeth painted was generally considered to show her courage, determination, and independence. It doesn’t really, at least it doesn’t show those things any more than it shows her overweaning pride, her satisfaction in playing victim, or her vicious puritanical streak. All it shows is, as the picture title says, her world – as much of her hardscrabble farm as her strong if scrawny arms could get her across and then back to her house again in a single day.
It is – and was then - an extraordinary picture to me precisely because it looked unflinchingly at Christine yet made no judgments about her or her world except for the most important one: how limited they were. Christine’s world was the world of her farm, a world to which she was content to be chained, modern contrivances like wheelchairs be damned. It is the bleak, restricted world of people who live bleak and restricted lives and don’t see any point to changing them. Many assumed Wyeth admired them, but if so why aren’t they fleshed out, their joys lit next door to their fears, their hopes as much a part of the picture as their despair?
This arrived in the mail.
You too can intimidate, embarrass, or humiliate your friends into voting for Obama by pre-blaming them for a McC win. Just click “Customize This Video for Your Friends” and fill out the form. You can send it to dozens of shirkers li8ke me and nmake them feel really bad. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
The front page story – top dead center – of the Savannah Morning News wasn’t about Troy Davis’ stay of execution but about how disappointed Officer MacPhail’s family are that the execution has been put off.
Tuesday’s last-minute stay of execution for murder convict Troy Anthony Davis has left the victim’s family disheartened but still hopeful justice will be served.
“It hurt, honestly,” said Mark Allen MacPhail Jr. “It’s a big disappointment.”
I can understand why they’d want it to be over after all this but don’t they even want to make sure it’s the right guy before they fry him?
The thirst for revenge – on anybody, doesn’t matter who – is the reason the law was developed as an objective force rather than a nemesis. The hopelessly misguided (or deliberately obstructionist and vindictive) movement to make the families of crime victims “part of the process” has injected an element of revenge into our judicial process that is poisoning criminal law. It is less and less about justice than it is about getting back at somebody for a wound.
Frontier justice is attractive in the movies but only because they’re NOT REAL. In the actual world, it’s the next thing to vigilantism and shouldn’t be encouraged.