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Line of the Morning

Tom Perez, head of the Democratic National Committee, on why Democrats won in a commanding way yesterday:  “People want candidates who are sane.”

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Obfuscation

This morning, while CNN and MSNBC were doing wall-to-wall reporting the arrest of George Pappadopoulos and the charging of Paul Manafort, I switched briefly over to Fox “News.” The first time I checked, they were discussing the NFL and the Houston Texans’ failure to comport themselves as conservatives expected them to do during the national anthem. The second time I peeked, 30 minutes later, the Fox anchors were talking about Puerto Rico.

A couple of hours later, by which time Fox’s spokesmodels had apparently received their instructions from somebody higher up, they launched two narratives: it’s all a lie, and “but what about Hillary and the uranium?” Another, intermittent, theme was that the special prosecutor should be fired.

I want you to know that in order to perform this public service I had to look up Fox on my teevee’s directory, having never had reason to go there before. And no thanks, I don’t plan to visit again any time soon.

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I just finished a marathon re-read of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Some 5000 pages. Whew! I read each of the five novels when they were originally published between 1996 and 2011 but I was working then and so I never had the leisure to read for continuity across the series.

Emerging from the present reread, which took me about three weeks, my overall impression is that ASOIAF is a work of art.

This claim may be controversial in some quarters. But I damned well should know a work of literary art when I see one. I slogged through three degrees in literary studies in order to get permission to do what I really wanted to do, which was to study and teach rhetoric. Given my interest in rhetoric, I am willing to call any writing “art” if it shows me something new or useful about how human beings think, how they act, interact, and react, particularly in difficult situations. It helps if the work is interesting and engaging. (ASOIAF is certainly that–during my marathon reread I sometimes resented having to stop to feed the cat).

Some critics think that Martin is a Romantic, probably because he works within the genre of fantasy. They are wrong. Clearly, he set out to turn the typical tropes of fantasy literature on their heads, but he achieved much more than that. The series is also an extended meditation on human failings, particularly the failures of folks whose good qualities and/or good intentions get in the way of their attempts to do the right thing. Because of this, and because of Martin’s skill, some parts of the work are hard to bear. So much so that at times I had to stop and go for a walk or talk to a neighbor while I got over the pain of losing an endearing character. Martin’s work forces his readers to confront human venality, and because of that it is not always a comfortable read.

The standard tropes of fantasy of course include a hero/heroine who undertakes a journey, suffers and perhaps dies, and returns triumphant, having found the magic thing-a-majig that will fix the woes that have befallen his/her land and people (think Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones). Insofar as there is a hero in ASOIAF, it is probably Jon Snow, an outcast bastard son whose moral failing lies within his stubborn insistence on maintaining his honor. The chivalric notion of honor is so embedded in his thinking that he never tells his comrades why he does the borderline treasonous stuff he does. He comes by this naturally: Jon’s putative father, Ned Stark, is so stubbornly in thrall to honor that he gets himself beheaded and his family is scattered all over Westeros.

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Sean Bean as Ned (on the right) with Kit Harrington as Jon Snow

Fantasies are also populated with creatures–dragons, direwolves and dwarves– who are represented in ASOIAF by Drogon, Ghost, and Tyrion Lannister respectively. Tyrion is a fine example of Martin’s trope/overturnings: born into a wealthy and powerful family, he is glib, smart, well-educated, and resourceful. Standard fantasy also features villains who are ordinarily morally unredeemed until they are killed or are chastened by the hero/heroine (the Joker or Lex Luthor, for example). But while comic book villains are larger than life, Martin’s most repulsive villain, Ramsay Bolton, is an utterly horrible young man who lacks any feeling for other human beings. Theon, his captive, is a more traditional villain insofar as he is merely misled by pride and envy; the unremitting punishment dealt to him by Ramsay reaches far beyond anything that Theon can be said to have earned.

Martin also challenged traditional fantasy when he created a number of wonderful female characters. There is Brienne, the maid who is a powerful warrior, much to the chagrin of the men who want to control her;  Arya, who, after witnessing her father’s beheading, undertakes her own perilous journey through war-torn Westeros and lands across the sea in Bravos, where she studies to become an assassin. Even Cersei (Circe?), who is a villainous queen, shows great courage when she is condemned to humiliating punishment by a fanatical religious fundamentalist.

There is, as Martin might say, much and more to this magnificent series of novels. But I’ll close here with an image that captures the comic spirit of ASOIAF, if not its general tenor.

ruAofLc

 

 

 

Actual Rhetoric

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Bams gave a speech today.

I cried.

Not because it was a bad speech. Of course it wasn’t. Nor was it a sad speech. No, no, as always, Obama’s words were eloquent and uplifting, reminding Americans of our common beliefs and desires, of our mutuality.

Hearing Obama speak, these days, is like stumbling upon a photo of a loved one who is no longer with us. The feeling of loss is almost unbearable.

 

 

On Death

Death is a tough thing to write about. Americans avoid discussing death whenever we can. Because we all want to live to be 100 years old, we take vitamins and medicines said to prolong life. We exercise and eat “right” for the same reason. We make sure our cars  are built with lots of safety features and that all of the smoke alarms are in working order.

I live in a community of older people, but I know only two or three who are willing to talk seriously about our imminent demise, beyond making a will and telling the children who gets Aunt Myra’s dishes. On the other hand, conversations about our health, good or bad, abound. (Recommendation:  never ask a person over 65 about his or her doctor). And while there may be brief mentions of the deaths of friends or family memories, the fact of one’s own death is not often a topic of discussion.

Those of us geezers who try to be honest with ourselves, though, acknowledge that death is on our doorstep. Wrestling though the reality of one’s impending death, oddly, can bring a sort of peace. And for those who are in chronic pain, death is actually welcome.

Despite the apparent taboo and the accompanying downer effect, I’m writing about death today because it seems to surround me lately. The Orange Avenger’s sabre-rattling insensitivity to death and suffering is ubiquitously reported on the news;  he appears to have no idea of the terrible damage that even a small atomic weapon can do to the inhabitants of earth. (Somebody ought to put him in a helicopter and fly him over the ruins of Chernobyl, although I don’t know if even that would make a dent in his ignorance).

The horrible event in Las Vegas last weekend forced me to think about the vicious and violent tendencies of human being. How could anyone even contemplate such an action, let alone undertake the planning and logistics required, all the while pretending to be an ordinary guy? Such behavior is depraved. But this perp is not the only person who decided to work out whatever problems plague him by killing as many people as he could. And all of them are helped enormously by the collaborative Party of Death whose members will not even talk about tougher gun legislation. Even Steve Scalise, who was shot while playing second base during baseball practice, is unwilling to drop the party line.

Earlier this week I learned that my niece, who was only 59, died of a brain tumor. Here death seems particularly unfair. Judy was a lovely person who always tried to do what was wanted of her. She was married, had two sons and a grandchild. She took loving care of her older brother, who has cerebral palsy. She was a teacher and an expert seamstress and quilter. Judy lost her parents (my much-loved sister and brother-in-law) during a short span of months in 2014. She took the loss very hard. Ironically, she may have been felled by the same malady that took her Dad, and so now her kids and grand-kids, and those of another brother, must be watchful throughout their own lives.

Death sucks.

Nebraska Women Win Big

59d05bd833b67.image“Well they graduated five talented seniors,” I was thinking last week when I tuned into the Nebraska-Penn State volleyball game. “And Penn State is ranked second while the Huskers are ranked 14th,” I said to the cat. “And they are playing the match in Rec Hall,” I added, remembering the snake pit that place used to be back in the day when it had just been abandoned by the men’s basketball team and still smelled of old tennis shoes.

So my hopes for a win were, well, modest. Then the Huskers took the floor and swept Penn State, three sets to none. Note: this had not been done to Penn State at home for fourteen years!

I opened a can of Sassy’s favorite food.

Then, last Friday night, Nebraska’s women played Minnesota, which team was ranked third in the country. I say “was,” because the Huskers also swept the mighty Gophers. In fact they made it look easy. (The fact that they were playing at home in front of 8400 fans might have helped some). “Hooray!,” I said to a sleeping Sassy.  My joy was tempered, though–I didn’t see how they could pull that off against seventh-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday night. (Who schedules these games anyhow? Three top ten teams in 8 days?  Come on!)

Wisconsin is GOOD. Last night they looked better (to me at least) than Minnesota. They have an outside hitter named Dana Rettke who is six feet eight inches tall.  In other words, she can reach over the net while standing still.

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Needles to say, that’s Rettke on the left. But she is not content, as some tall players are, to rely solely on her height. No, Rettke is a fierce competitor who can place a hard shot in the back corner of the court before you can say “Please don’t do that again!”

Like the nail-biter Nebraska played against Penn State in the semi-finals last year, the Wisconsin game went to five sets. Wisconsin took the first two sets, winning the first easily and the second by a couple of points. Sassy was hiding in a closet at that point.

I’d like to know what Nebraska coach John Cook says to his teams during half-time, because the Huskers came out roaring in the third set, taking it and the fourth with steady play. And then they romped in the fifth–Wisconsin seemed to run out of steam.  Sydney Townsend, a homie from Lincoln, had been instructed to serve the ball high and short, which caused Wisconsin to send floofers back over the net that were easily fielded by Nebraska’s front line.  Game, Set, Match!

Eight days, three wins over top-ten teams.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

 

 

 

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For those of you who are sports-impaired (here’s looking at you, Trep), the gentleman depicted in this photo is LeBron James, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers (a professional basketball team). Mr. James, in addition to being quite large, is very good at what he does. Some commentators, in fact, have hazarded that he is as good, or nearly so, as the fabled Michael Jordan.

In short, Mr. James (also known as “King” James) has some weight to throw around when he chooses to do so. And now he has done just that, taunt-tweeting the guy in the oval office and calling him a bum. The contretemps began when the Steph Curry, another popular player of basketball, refused an invitation to visit the White House even though his team won the national championship this year. The bum then dis-invited Curry, thus making sense to no one but himself:  how do you dis-invite someone who has declined to attend? (May I suggest that the bum is not a careful reader?)