Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.

I know a few people here likes Dorothy Parker and would enjoy something like this. Just imagine a bottle of Dorothy Parker Gin. Enjoy.

Annjrippin's Blog

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Knowing that I am a big fan of the writer, a very dear friend of mine gave me a bottle of Dorothy Parker gin.  The gin is the sort of alcohol-rich distillation that would make the average sailor wince, but the bottle was wonderful with a picture of Mrs Parker printed on the inside and a little biography on the back:

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It was too good to throw away, and so I decided to make it into a lamp.  I bought the stick-in bulb fitting and more or less forgot about it, as it took us so long to get through the ‘navy strength’ gin.  When the bottle was finally empty, I started to think about a shade.  For some reason I decided that a lampshade with some of Mrs Parker’s quotes would be just the thing, so I bought a kit which promised to be very easy to make up…

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Pretense, Magic and Make Believe

He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody’s question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady’s foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body

—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

So you may have been watching the Senate of the state where a few us live wondering what we have been complaining about. Senators stated their opinions, for and against the bill, then they voted. It passed. The Governor signed it into law a few hours later. We would love to have a national legislature such as that instead of this mess where a minority party can block everything in one house and other one has nothing but crazy people in charge.

You will have to just accept the fact that what was telecast last night was the Pretend Senate and not the actual one. Debates on the floor of either house of the New York Legislature happen about as often as their basketball teams win championships. Virtually every issue is decided by what we call “three men in the room”, the Governor, the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader.

This time around, the Senate Majority Leader was threatened if he even allowed the bill recognizing same sex marriages even to come to the floor. So he did what any courageous leader would do under the circumstances: He demanded that his entire “conference” (that’s Albany talk for a caucus of one party’s members of a house of the legislature) vote on whether to bring the bill to the entire Senate for a vote. Sort of reminds you of Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Sal Giunta, doesn’t it?

Your faithful blogger is not gay, and somewhat obliquely has confessed to sins about the issue, belatedly recognizing that things that are deeply upsetting to other people are no less significant just because they have no direct bearing on one’s own life. What happened last night was what should have happened. And it is a great thing; a wonderful achievement accomplished despite some of the most vile “debates” in and outside our state capitol. (Orthodox Jews claiming to be the exclusive authority as to who is, or is not, a Jew based on whether one agrees with them fall into a subcategory of vile which only a few of us see, though vile it is.)

As it happens, a refugee from the gross affront to representative democracy known as the New York Legislature, a very decent, and quite intelligent man named Dan Feldman who earnestness and seriousness meant very little in such a place, and finally left when it became clear that he could accomplish little more there, has written a book largely defending the place, while pointing to its deficiencies. There is much to quibble about in its pages, just as some of his political positions can be the subject of legitimate disagreement, but more often than not he hits the spots right on.

The scariest parts of his observations of a legislative process that descended into the mud well before the federal Congress followed suit come toward the very end of his book when talks about things which happen which simply put people in abject fear

When a spate of such incidents comes to the attention of the public, government must respond in some official way in order to avoid jeopardizing its legitimacy.

A page or so later, he observes that

Participants in a representative democracy need hope to continue to feel bound to the political institutions of their country. They do not have to win every time, or even most of the time. But they do need to see that government can and will act. This keeps them engaged

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And that is what this is all about, isn’t it? Yet, in the face of massive unemployment, our national legislature can conjure about no solution, and, in the face of almost universal academic agreement that the government must put as much money as possible into the economy, demands, instead, massive cuts.

And the very same people who lectured us about loyalty requiring that we support a president who believes that we need to go to war, now tell us that this President has to be resisted and that he cannot take the country to war, only Congress can. No kidding.

Afghanistan, these posts have argued, presents no simple answers and certainly not one to be decided by chowderheads voting on the issue: the same people who thought that a war in Iraq was the same as a war against Al Qaeda, who thought it important to re-elect President G.W. Bush to protect the country during a war he began by massive lying to the nation and the world.

And quoting Dan Feldman one more time,

It’s not that voters are stupid. Rather, they cannot be expected to follow the issues, or the candidates’ credentials, with the care and attention that political professionals devote to them. Further, they respond emotionally, as humans must. They want reassurance, inspiration, pride, confidence, and maybe a little entertainment. Supplying those needs must be a higher priority for a successful electoral politician—most of the time, anyway—than presenting an accurate portrayal of the complexity of the issues of the day.

True enough, but invective, and irresponsibility, while entertaining, does nothing to even make a dent in the problems we face. Polls show unhappiness with the President and even support for Republican control of Congress, even while Republicans see it useful to allow the federal government to default on its debts. Doesn’t seem reassuring or inspirational, does it?

Ayn Rand – The Sociopathic Hero of the Republican Party

Much has been written about the current republican budget put forth by the likes of Paul Ryan and his committee. Straight from the texts of Ayn Rand. A self involved, self centered sociopathic personality that bears a strange resemblance to such historical figures as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Most people today probably do not remember very well her unapologetic diatribes against anyone who she deemed less that her self. Her personal philosophy – if you can call it that – was one of extreme megalomania. Continue reading “Ayn Rand – The Sociopathic Hero of the Republican Party”

Of Nature v. Nurture and the One Ring

More and more, I hear President Obama’s memorial address in Tucson as a wake-up call to take responsibility for ourselves in civic and personal life—a call worth heeding by all of us, starting with particular attention to the words and deeds of that person in the mirror.

Like everyone else, I have room in the arena of political debate for improvement. So I intend to watch my words more carefully, especially words designed to wound rather than heal. I can think of a few of my posts that I would repudiate today for their unvarnished anger and vitriol, particularly a post wherein I called Juan Williams a “bootlicker” to Fox News for reasons I believed justified at the time. I see now I could have made my argument without being so disagreeable. For purposes of keeping myself honest, I won’t remove these posts from the historical record here. They must stand as a reminder to myself, if no one else, of how we all can be tempted by righteous anger to use words badly, carelessly, improperly and yes, even brutally, just to make our points. Just to make my points.

Today, I watched three very instructive Sunday morning programs on the major broadcast networks. All were appropriately somber and serious discussions of the massacre in Tucson. “Meet the Press” dealt in a soul-searching but civil way with societal intervention for violently deranged individuals, the limits of gun access and the responsibilities that go with partisanship. “Face the Nation” was also along these lines.

The best of the programs today was “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour, who stepped things up several notches by hosting a town hall meeting with Tucson residents and those hailed as heroes at the scene of the tragic carnage. I learned more about the American spirit in that hour than I have learned in many hours similarly spent in the wake of other tragedies. I saw how the impulse to help, to comfort and to sacrifice ourselves for others comes surprisingly naturally to most of us. And I saw how surprisingly cheap it came to Jared Loughner to sacrifice the lives of others as offerings to his demons.

We are left with weighty issues to consider. Guns rights versus gun safety. Patient rights versus societal rights. The individual versus government. Political power versus political restraint. Jared Loughner’s derangement versus society’s encouragement. These are conflicts we should debate as Americans, not as polarized enemies.

Somehow this morning, watching the last of the three programs, it occurred to me that all of the assertions about the lessons of Tucson boil down to the very oldest argument of Nature versus Nurture—that is, how our actions are a product of our innate beings versus a product of our environments and upbringings. My understanding is that, generally speaking, the jury is still out.

So what are we to make of the gunman’s role and ours? There is no bright red arrow that points from either the Left or the Right to the Safeway parking lot. No arrow of culpability and none of absolution. No sign of actions predestined by others and no indication that we can safely use words to impugn the character of our political opponents, our fellow Americans.

Evil is a mystery that neither science nor religion have fully explained, though its origin has been studied by scholars of both disciplines. Whether it is a neural spark or demonic influence, what ignites our fury to such appalling ends remains to us mythic, like the One Ring of Tolkien’s fabled Middle Earth. As a prism for understanding the mass murder of six people and the wounding of many more last week in Tucson, Tolkien’s tale of the One Ring (or Eden’s apple, if you prefer) teaches us that at its dark heart, evil is the absolute corruption of absolute power, a weapon none of us can use safely. That lesson was beyond Jared Loughner, who intended to kill as many people as he could in a fleeting spree of forbidden power over life and death. It is not beyond those of us in politics or media who teeter like Gollum on the edge of our soapboxes, tempted to wield the power of words at any cost.

*Cross-posted at Tripper John’s Big Tent