June 15, 2012 - June 8, 2012
Old Folks Day, Part III
shot before we hit the hay at our usual disgustingly early
My granddad, the WWI vet, had a sign in his basement workshop which I somehow remember even though the walls were mostly papered with topless 'Esquire' girls. The sign said, "Too soon old and too late smart."
I loved those Esquire girls, whom my mother laughed off when I asked about them and didn't even tell me not to look, but the sign has stayed with me longer, along with the the murderous trench knife I inherited from him and still keep close to my bed.
Old men know things young men don't. Old men who are bad know that nothing matters but their own ambitions and appetites. Old men who are good know that you have to keep pursuing the same goals all your life, win or lose.
I'm not sure why but we're suddenly getting a lot of George H. W. Bush this week. He's 88. His son Jeb is pontificating about how we need more politicians like dad, who was something like Ronald Reagan.
Uh, No. He wasn't. I like 41. I think he's a good man. But he was nothing like Ronald Reagan. He got himself elected by nerving himself up to a promise he did not keep.
The clip above is quintessential Reagan. But it's not just a rhetorical flourish. It's a fulfillment of a lifetime conviction that never wavered. Here's the proof. This is the speech that launched Reagan's political career. The exact same guy that stood at the Brandenburg Gate three decades later. Why they call it "The Speech."
Who he was, who he remained, and how he prevailed.
Why all the political pundit talk about packaging and imaging and repackaging and reimaging is pure bullshit. Truth is, you always are what you were when you first chose a star in the heavens to follow.
Young men are fooled by adroit star switching. Old men know better. Or they should. If they don't they never had a star in the first place.
I know the stars I've followed. They haven't changed. How about you?
The title? From a poem by John Masefield:
Forget it. You know. It's old folk stuff...
. All weekend the missus was crouched
over her laptop staring at a live feed from a surveillance camera. No,
she hasn't succumbed to internet voyeurism. She was in full-on mother
mode. Let me explain. First, I'll quote the intro of a blog I'll talk
more about later.
Second, I'll quote myself from this year's experience:
Third, the reason for my wife's weekend obsession (and, well, yeah,
mine too.) This is the time when the eyasses (more eloquently termed
"the bobbles" by my better half for the way the chicks' heads move
early on) leave the nest. Which they can only do by flying for the
first time. They don't all go at once. It's a glorious and moving
phenomenon to watch. When their flying feathers start to come in, they
actually look bigger than their parents, maybe the way sleek adults
would look after a tumble cycle in the dryer, things sticking out all
over, baby feathers bulging and clouding the new more purposeful
plumage. They start "winger-cising," startling the camera with spreads
and spans and beats that seem impossible for such infants to have in
them. Three Bobbles. One has to be first. After lots of false starts,
the main event is always sudden. An explosion of wings and then he's
gone. But he doesn't go far. He finds a nearby tree or another building
to attempt his first landing, which is a lot like kids without training
wheels for the first time trying to stop without falling off the bike.
It doesn't always go smoothly.
Meanwhile the parents are monitoring the whole process. They make fewer trips to the nest. They still hunt for food, but not for the nest. They place it where the Bobbles will have to fly to get it. This year, the second Bobble left within a few hours of the first. They both had adventures recorded by the "hawkarazzi" on the ground. Then the vigil began. The vigil the missus and I spent much of our weekend keeping.
The third Bobble had doubts. The chat room which accompanies and records every moment of Bobble life kept referring to this one as "she," and so I will too. She was all alone now. Mama did not come. Dad (known as T2 because he was the hero stepfather) brought her fresh green leaves, which Bobbles like to sit on for some reason, but all the food was across the street, on a city monument. The nest camera kept clicking. She went through every vicissitude of emotion. She stood hopelessly on the leaves, backed up against the window of the Institute. You could see her thinking, "I'm not buying the whole flying thing. Maybe I'll be a new kind of hawk. A sitting and watching and moping hawk. Where is everybody?" Then she'd walk hesitantly toward the middle of the nest and look out across the street for long minutes. She knew the others were out there. Hawks see everything. A brief winger-cise would seem to alarm her. She'd turn her back on the street and stare grimly at the window. "Shit," you could hear her say. "Shit."
And so we watched. And watched. And watched. At times she nerved herself up to go stand at the edge overlooking the street. The wings would spread. Then, in the staccato rhythm of a video made by only fairly rapid still photos, we'd see pedestrians pass by on the sidewalk below. She looked at them. "People. That's a long way down." This always changed her mind. Eventually she always wound up huddled in the corner that had the leaves, looking lonely and lost.
It took her, I don't know, 36 hours or more to follow the second of her siblings into the air. That happened yesterday morning when my wife couldn't be watching, of course. All three of them are now out there, still having adventures. Sometimes they walk into the street and the hawkarazzi have to run after them, stopping cars to keep them from getting run over. It's all so very new to them.
I could probably have saved you reading this by directing you sooner to this extraordinary blog, which has recorded everything I've just described, in journal fashion as it happened and illustrated by some truly great photography. Do yourselves a favor and read and view the whole blog. It's an astounding and beautiful slice of wild life in the big city.
Happy ending? Did I captivate you with "The Crisis of the Third Bobble"?
No. That's not the story. Not the crisis.
The crisis is this. Tonight at 5:45 pm, President Obama is arriving at the Franklin Institute for some remarks, a fundraiser, whatever.
All those SUVs barging into the Bobbles' street. Who could or would
stop them from running down a confused and frightened baby hawk? We
stop construction projects and oil drilling in the name of snail
darters and democrat owls. Why can't we get an injunction against a
needless presidential photo-op to save a few young raptors?
You tell me.
I'm worried. That's the crisis. Call me an environmentalist wacko if you want. But somehow these Bobbles have become my Bobbles, and I don't want the president to kill them.
Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.
Any hope of that
conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his
attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate. The left
took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end,
though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during
the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least
in the short term.
His statement of the "underlying question" is fraudulent, unquestioningly in line with lefty spin. The question was not contraception per se, which is both relatively cheap and covered by a great many group and corporate health plans with no objections from the right wing. The question in the Fluke case was that as a student at an historically Jesuit Catholic university she was demanding free contraception via the force of government, which is a violation of the constitutional right to free religious expression. (As a law student she clearly had no idea what she was doing, being just a dumb victim woman of the male hierarchy... in a law school whose first job after graduation would net her $100K a year. Poor baby. Or, as Bill Maher would have it, idiot twat.) For Almond to state otherwise is dishonest, politically opportunistic, and simplistic to a degree that belies his ostentatious new commitment to rational discussion.
But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.
Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.
Even programs that seek to inject some levity into our rancorous political theater run on the same noxious fuel. What would “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” be without the fulminations of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing hysterics?
So why do I do this?
The first and most damning reason is that some part of me truly enjoys resenting conservatives. I know I shouldn’t, that I should strive for equanimity. But secretly I feel the same helplessness and rage that animates the extreme right wing of this country. I see a world dangerously out of balance — morally, economically, ecologically — and my natural impulse is to blame those figures who, in my view, embody the decadent ignorance of the age. They become convenient scapegoats.
Rather than taking up the banner and the burden of the causes I believe in, or questioning my own consumptive habits, I’ve come to rely on private moments of indignation for moral vindication. I fume at the iniquity of Pundit A and laugh at the hypocrisy of Candidate B and feel absolved — without ever having left my couch. It’s a closed system of scorn and self-congratulation.He's drawn like a moth to a flame by people who are talking about real stuff. His rationale for listening is different, though. They're all just dumber than he is. How he can hear bone simple truths and frustrations again and again and again without realizing that his own complicating impotencies are not superior but debilitating and silencing. He has no real rebuttals but his own conviction of superiority.
But what’s really happening when I scoff at Sarah Palin’s latest tweet amounts to a mimetic indulgence: I’m bleeding the world of nuance, surrendering to the seduction of binary thinking.
This last measure, I realize, hasn’t worked for President Obama. But he’s up against a cohort of politicians underwritten by special interests. We citizens can’t use that excuse. We all have the same basic interests: to provide for our families, to worship as we see fit, to pursue happiness. We live in a country of unimaginable abundance. It shouldn’t be so hard to find common ground.
. Five books and a movie. Something to do while you
grapple so fetchingly with existential despair.
Call it an investment in waking up.