Monday, November 24, 2014

The anti-small town and cynically confused "Bridges of Madison County"

I finished the book "Bridges of Madison County", after having picked it up for $1 about six weeks or so ago, putting it down and deciding yesterday to finish it. I liked it in the beginning and up to the early part of the passionate affair, and thought maybe there was something more enriching to this book than critics and supporters identified. I had, for example, liked the references Waller makes to various artists and historical events, and the manner in which he describes a photographer's process of turning photos into art.

However, by the time I finished the book, I found most people (apart from one or two Amazon critics) had missed the utter meanness and cynicism behind this book. It is first a cruel sort of attack on small town America. The book's narration reeks of resentment of the people who live there, through the lens of the female character, and also the narrator's incessant harping about the citizens' response to the photographer showing up to take photos of its bridges on the basis of his "long hair." One may compare Waller's drive-by novella poorly against Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street," which is far more kind and balanced with respect to small town America than the usual banter about that book so often implies. Second, the book makes Francesca into a heroine when she has chosen poorly and obviously punished her family with an eccentric distance after her passionate four day affair with Robert Kincaid, the photographer who blows in and out of town on his National Geographic assignment to photograph the bridges in the small towns of Iowa. Third, the author uses lush language of passionate and abiding love for two people who were themselves unable to understand that each had merely turned the other into an archetype and then withdrew after the torrid four day affair from any further attempt at human compassion for the rest of their lives. Francesca never gave her husband a chance to help their relationship and assumed that her husband's plaintive lament on his deathbed about not satisfying her was that he must have found the hidden manilla envelope that disclosed the affair, as opposed to her consistent and heartless withdrawal from him and the family following the affair. For Kincaid, Francesca represented the ideal of home and hearth that he studiously avoided in his world travels and he turned her into the Madonna-Whore that such men of the world claim however inarticulately is their ideal. Neither lead character ever seems to contemplate that if she had gone off with him, her ignorance of photography and her tiring of a wanderlust which she showed little true enthusiasm for would have exposed that theirs was a short term lustful affair, not a basis for a sustained long term relationship.

For women across the nation who were so taken with this book, it occurs to me that we men should be far more sensitive to women's romantic desires because this book is about a psychic pain women may have when they are artistic and are married to non-artistic men, and women who live in smaller communities who desire what they perceive to be a more exciting urban lifestyle. What is further troubling to me is the confusion in the narrator that may be deliberate between short term lust and longer term loving relationships. This confusion, which again may be deliberate and hence cynical, reminded me of Philip Roth's inability as a narrator to realize that his lead character in "Goodbye Columbus" was a jerk, not a hip guy at all (I say this in discussing what Roth thought when he wrote it, not what he may have subsequently learned in later years, particularly after Claire Bloom schooled him about his misogyny). Waller's book is again not worthy of the term "novel" but at best is a disjointed novella that gives glimpses of events, and even then, reveals the writer is unable to or does not want his readers to recognize what is in fact occurring in what he attempts to describe.

I had picked up the book, after avoiding it for years, because I was and remain so taken with the score for the Broadway version of the book and later film, which score was written by a person I consider a most exciting and creative mind in Broadway today, Jason Robert Brown. His explaining his love for the story and desire to write the songs for the play had led me to think, well, I had better give the book a chance, and as I said, my initial view of the first fifty or so pages was very positive. It is just, as I kept reading, I began to sense something wrong, and by the end, I was frankly appalled. One may still see Brown's explanation of what drew him to the book, but I realized my deep middle aged sensibility, and having observed many other marriages including my own, allowed me to see something more than Brown's youthful and artists' perspective was able to comprehend in what the also older Waller was missing and may in fact have been exploiting.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kareem shoots and scores...

See here, from Jacobin Magazine, which apparently Kareem is a subscriber. Yes, the college ballplayers are the serfs and raw materials as Mario Savio also recognized in general.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Third Industrial Revolution: Cyborg feedback loops...

Or something like that.

Sue Halpern explains at the NY Review of Books what is happening, what is maybe going to happen and why Jeremy Rifkin may not be right when he says "capitalism" goes away. Halpern does not appear to be as familiar with Rifkin as I am. I recall Rifkin being hopeful over thirty years ago in "Algeny" that capitalism would go away with the rise of the computer age, yet capitalism just goes on its way and capitalists just keep getting more powerful.* Capitalism in practice is always far different than the folks who tend to gravitate toward Economics as a major or vocation tend to assume. One so tires of most economists' boxed-in theories and their "reasonable person" assumptions. Actually existing capitalism almost always comes with State intervention, whether it was tariff policies from the start of our Republic or the subsidies that continue for corporations today, lower tax rates for capital gains, a host of other credits, subsidies and exemptions in the tax code, and of course the law of torts and contracts so carefully calibrated to protect capitalist interests. And of course, the laws that protect trade secrets and other intellectual property are ever present protectors of the wealthiest sections of our society.

Halpern is one of the best reviewers at the NYRB these days and is always insightful. She is in this review as well. I loved this last paragraph of her review:

So here comes the Internet’s Third Wave. In its wake jobs will disappear, work will morph, and a lot of money will be made by the companies, consultants, and investment banks that saw it coming. Privacy will disappear, too, and our intimate spaces will become advertising platforms—last December Google sent a letter to the SEC explaining how it might run ads on home appliances—and we may be too busy trying to get our toaster to communicate with our bathroom scale to notice. Technology, which allows us to augment and extend our native capabilities, tends to evolve haphazardly, and the future that is imagined for it—good or bad—is almost always historical, which is to say, naive.

Yup. My only quibble is that Sue Halpern should read Harry Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital" to see that while technology does evolve haphazardly, how technology is appropriated and used is often subject to social forces where the economic elite will have great influence. Still, when reading what she said about work disappearing, work morphing and money made by the usual suspects, one nods and says, as Walter Cronkite did on his news reading show, That's the way it is...and likely will be. For the lucky ones. The rest will be impoverished and, as a result of that impoverishment, we are as likely to see a new Fascist political order as anything Rifkin is imagining and hoping. Or as Bette Davis memorably said...

* "Algeny" was also a book Stephen Jay Gould rightly blasted for Rifkin's anti-Darwinian take, which Rifkin wrote just a few years before advances in genetic research began proving Darwin's theory in ways Darwin did not anticipate in his own time. See: Gould's discussion of Rifkin's book in "An Urchin in the Storm" book of essays for Gould's rip into Rifkin, though I never saw if Rifkin responded in any way.


Sunday, November 02, 2014

An article to make a liberal Zionist's head hurt...

I read this article from Omri Boehm at The Boston Review and my head hurt. If anything, he proved why it is ridiculous for the Israeli Supreme Court to deny that someone be Israeli and insist that the word for the citizen of Israel be "Jewish."

Our nation's refusal to establish a State religion looks better and better in this world where other nations, including Israel and those European nations which literally subsidize churches, temples and mosques, intertwine the State and organized religions.

Israel's Supreme Court has perhaps inadvertently given ammunition to those who want separate but equal with respect to the Arabs living largely peacefully inside the Green Line of Israel. As former Minister Livni said the other day about the demand from nationalist Jewish settlers for "separate" busses for Arabs and Jews in the West Bank, this begins to give credence to those who scream "apartheid" against the State of Israel.

As I think about the Boehm article, I realize that so much theoretical nonsense had to go into writing that article all because Israel demands a State religion. One merely has to change our First Amendment to our Constitution and say, okay, we'll set up our public schools to enshrine Christianity. I doubt many secular, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Mormon families would feel comfortable in American public schools under that scenario.

Israel's Supreme Court was in grave error in not recognizing Israeli as a nationality inside Israel. There are many Arabs living well and decently in Israel who would have found dignity, solace and even pride in being able to place "Israeli" on their passports.

If I am wrong here, I am welcoming to those who are more familiar with the Israeli Supreme Court opinion and their opinions of the article in The Boston Review. But again I find it deeply troubling as an American citizen who adheres and supports the word and spirit behind the First Amendment.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Every law has its abuses, some far worse than others. Here's one...

Right to Life Amendments. Personal rights for fetuses from the moment of conception. Sounds fair, right? Well, maybe not.

The Founders turned out to be wise to not speak of fetuses in the Constitution having rights over pregnant women. We also know that, at the time of the Constitution being drafted and then ratified, a woman's right to an abortion was understood from the common law to be allowed at least through quickening and, in practical terms, even thereafter--as very few criminal prosecutions of women occurred for having later term abortions.

Also, the Framers of the 14th Amendment were wise to talk about persons being "born or naturalized," with the word "naturalized" meaning someone who arrives at the country to become a citizen, thereby presumably already "born."

Here then is a nice and simply worded article from a sociologist who shows how we move into a Margaret Atwood dystopic novel when we pass laws that say a fetus is a "person" and try to exult a fetus' rights to "equal" a pregnant woman. Someone wins and someone loses power, and such laws give more power to the fetus over the pregnant woman. And that abuse of power for the fetus will even require forced surgeries to remove the fetus regardless of the consequences to the pregnant woman--an irony since abortion itself is a surgery.

This is why I support abortion rights. It starts and ends with female autonomy having to predominate. From a public policy standpoint, I will not tell a woman nor should we allow a government to tell a woman, except in the most compelling or unusual circumstances, to carry a baby to term or otherwise submit to a surgery to remove a baby over her rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It is just wrong to do so. I also support, again from a public policy standpoint, the original formulation, based upon practical medical advice at the time, set forth in Roe v. Wade in 1973, that a woman's life or health must be the paramount consideration. I won't say fetuses have no rights, just that pregnant women have predominant rights.

I hope these so-called "personhood" amendment proposals fail in North Dakota, Colorado and possibly elsewhere.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jay Michaelson on the true anti-Israel faction

Jay Michaelson, a self-proclaimed "dove," says if we want to to play the card "Who is anti-Israel?" among those who are merely dovish and hawkish Zionists, then the dovish Zionists may wish to fight back and call the hawks the greater danger to Israel's security and existence. I have voiced similar opinions in the past several years. See here, here and here, for example.

What I say now is: Good for Jay. Jay does not really believe AIPAC is anti-Israel as he recognizes pluralistic political philosophy. Instead, what he believes is that we American Jews especially have to stop making the subject of Israel an ideological pseudo-religious dispute that posits a good and an evil side. We who believe in the basic idea of Zionism should communicate on a level that asks what is the best, most practical public policy for the US, Israel and the Palestinians.

Too bad there are so few voices like Jay Michaelson's to make this point stick. But his commentary helps us begin to think about these matters in a more fair and intelligent way.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Steve King, what makes you think this is heaven?

Steve King (R-Iowa) says he does not expect to meet gays in heaven.

I can see it now. Steve King eventually dies and ends up in a place that seems perfect. He looks around, asks around and finds no gays or even lesbians. He finds a male butler, however, and asks him if there are any gays or lesbians around and the butler, played by Sebastian Cabot, says "No, sir, there are not." Steve sighs happily and says, "See? I told people when I was alive that there were no gays in heaven!" Then the butler laughs and says, "Mr. King, what makes you think this is heaven?"

Hat tip to Rod Serling. In the Twilight Zone.