Thursday, May 29, 2014

Famous Last Words

Pope Gregory VII
Gregory VII served as Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church from 1073 to 1085.  In Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, he found his chief rival for leadership over the Christian world. Henry ignored the Papal edicts and earned an excommunication (was cut off from the Holy Sacraments) and, far worse, interdict.  This meant that good Christian subjects of the emperor no longer had a moral duty to obey.  How many times in world history has the most powerful temporal leader subjugated himself as Henry did to Gregory, standing in the snow barefoot outside a castle for three days.

Not that Henry changed his ways, but for Gregory the submission of governmental power to the spiritual made the point clearly enough.  At the end of his life, Norseman raiders drove the Papal government away from Rome.  As he died, Pope Gregory VII lamented:

I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.

Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson C.S.A.

In 1859, Thomas Jackson was a classic campus radical.  Offspring of a western Virginia "fine family" and veteran of the Mexican War, Jackson probably got more slack than most contemporaries.  His eccentricities (later called obsessive compulsive disorder) included a fear of slouching due to the possibility that his organs might get compressed.  Once, told by his superior at Virginia Military Institute to wait outside, he obeyed completely.  Of course the superior forgot Jackson, left by another door, and found the professor still sitting there the next morning.  Jackson angered many by opening classes to teach slave children to read.

The Civil War revealed Jackson's brilliance.  More than most other military minds, he understood the value of maps.  He commissioned the first detailed maps of the Shenandoah Valley and proceeded to own it for two years.  At Chancellorsville, he met death in the form of an accidental bullet from one of his own troops.

Stonewall Jackson left posterity with typically beautiful, typically Christian imagery:

Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

Or just plain "Nero."  Emperor Nero ruled between 37 and 68 Anno Domini, although most of those years may not have seemed like the years of any good lord to most Romans.  Eccentricity turned to despotism as the mad singer imposed his horrible songs and depraved lusts indiscriminately.  After the great fire of Rome, often blamed on Nero himself, the emperor targeted the Christians.  St. Peter died hanging upside down on a cross by Nero's order.

Nero considered himself first and foremost a great singer and few would disagree with him while he held power.  Finally he was condemned as a public enemy and forced to commit suicide, at which point the ever dramatic Nero proclaimed

What an artist is now about to perish!

Lou Costello

One half of the great mid century comedy team Abbott and Costello.  Costello was one of many comics outsized in physique and personality, inspiring future greats like John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley.  Abbott and Costello performed in live acts, movies, and eventually television.  Most remember the duo for their fast paced, complicated, several minute long "Who's On First" routine.   Although both men were staples of American entertainment for decades, neither grew rich.  These, of course, were the days of the 98 percent tax bracket that made Ronald Reagan a Republican.  Both men died broke, the IRS harassing them to their grave.

Costello's last words summed up his public perception and love of life

That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted

President John Adams

It's hard to find a picture of John Adams with even a hint of a smile.  Even as president, Adams seemed to fear showing the world the impish personality shared with his family.  Too often, conflicts over ideals boiled into personal feuds with the sensitive intellect.

History pairs him with the equally sensitive disposition of Thomas Jefferson.  When young Jefferson's Declaration of Independence met the tough editing hand of Adams, the writer sulked back to Monticello for most of the rest of the Revolution.  Building the Republic, at least early on, kindled a deep friendship based on shared abilities and goals.

That is, until the 1790s.  They differed over President Washington, principles of government, and almost everything else.  Adams' victory over Jefferson in the election of 1796, by a soon corrected constitutional flaw, made Adams president and Jefferson his second.  Neither man was ever capable of keeping political rivalry from growing personal.  They soon hated each other.

After Jefferson's two stormy terms of office, tempers cooled.  The two Founding Fathers, seen less as inspiration and more as living relics by the younger generation, did as old men usually did.  They complained about the young.  They reopened a correspondence and a friendship that produced some of the greatest political letters and debates ever put from pen to paper.

They rarely saw each other, but their friendship deepened over time.  On July 4, 1826, Adams lay suffering on his deathbed in his beloved Braintree farmhouse.  As he felt his last moment coming, he sputtered in relief

Thomas Jefferson still survives

Unfortunately Adams was mistaken.  Jefferson died earlier that same day.

Major General John Sedgewick

Sedgewick carries the unfortunate distinction of being the highest ranking Union officer to die on the field of battle in the drive on Richmond. He started his adult professional life as a teacher, but soon went to West Point, following the footsteps of his grandfather, a Revolutionary War general.

Revolutionary War and Civil War officers shared a higher mortality rate than command officers today.  They followed the example of  George Washington who, when necessary, believed in leading his troops from the front.

Frustrated with his units' lines not going exactly where he wanted them to go, he endeavored to instruct them in person.  Warned by his aide to not go to a certain spot due to Confederate snipers, Sedgewick exclaimed

Why, what are you dodging about? They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!

The snipers proved him wrong, putting a bullet through his eye.  He died with the smile on his face that accompanied his underestimation of his enemies' shooting prowess.

Charles George Gordon

Probably the most acclaimed British hero between Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill.  He had already enjoyed military success in China before going to Africa.

In Africa, he led an Egyptian force into Khartoum.  His purpose was to hold it against the army of a self-proclaimed Islamic prophet called the Mahdi.  The Mahdi whipped up anti British sentiment, mostly based on the suppression of the slave trade, and laid siege to Gordon and his Egyptian troops.  While they held out, they waited for a hesitant British government led by William Gladstone for relief.  Eventually help was sent, but too late.

His men lasted until they ran out of food and ammunition, then fought to the death.  Death would have been their fate regardless.  Alan Moorhead in The White Nile described Gordon's end.

He stood at the top of the stairs of the palace that served as his headquarters.  As the mob rushed towards him, swords drawn, Gordon calmly turned his back.

Without a word, Gordon met his grizzly fate.

Deincentivizing Mass Murder

Conor Friedersdorf  at The Atlantic may not have a sure fire way to stop mass murders.  But his idea may erode the perverse allure that it has for those who do it.

Traditional serial killers differ from mass murderers in one sense.  Serial killers work in the dark over time.  The media and nation knew their deeds, but not their name.  When finally caught, they turn out to be much more pathetic than the anonymous image imagined.  Mass murderers in the new century prefer to go out, as the song says, in a blaze of glory.  One vast and violent act so that their name may be written across the sky (or the internet.)  They expect to be defined by their ghastly acts and violent death.

The latest killer mistakenly thought this was not cruel and cowardly, but being an "alpha male."

Friedersdorf proposes that the media impose a self-discipline on itself that it has already done in other fields.  Outlets do not publish the names of rape victims, for instance.  They also stopped releasing manifestos from the Unabomber during his domestic terrorism rampage.  Sporting event coverage always turns its cameras away from streakers.  So why not refuse to release the names or manifestos of mass murderers.

In fact, these killers could be called narcissism terrorists.  They have an agenda, to put their name on the historical record through death and mayhem.  Perceived imbalance in society, namely that no one pays attention to them, drives their actions.  Expectation of attention motivates them.

So why not just stop going on and on about them; deny them their posthumous place in the sun.

Friedersdorf does not propose to make information a "state secret."  Just keep their attention seeking drivel and their names out of the media, at least for a while.  Hopefully, this would undercut their absurd motivations for visiting such cruelty on their fellow man.

Conservatives Winning On Key Social Issues, Partly Thanks to MTV?

While social conservatives face a looming time of decision on whether or not to continue fighting gay marriage, they can claim victories on other fronts.

The Washington Times reports that teen birthrates and abortions have plummeted to lows not seen in decades. Birthrates among teens fell 10 percent just in the past two years.  Statistics indicate that teens are also having record low numbers of abortions (since legalization.)  While many do use contraceptives, studies also show that teens are waiting longer to have sex, and even then doing it less often.

According to the Washington Post, studies indicate that over 5 percent of the drop in teen conceptions come from the impact of shows like MTV's "Teen Mom."  Far from glamorizing early parenthood, the shows have shown the difficult side of raising children when too young.

Lower abortion rates show that teens are also less willing to consider abortion as birth control.  Those same shows most likely have an impact on the perception of abortion being not a clinical procedure so much as the death of a child.

These numbers do show victories for social conservatives in important fields.  Advocates must remember, however, that part of the success came not from "thou shalt not" approaches, but generally respectful portrayals of individuals taking responsibility for unwise choices.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

So Judd Apatow Kills People Now?

A disturbed 22 year old son of Hollywood privilege went and killed two sorority women after stabbing his roommates. So naturally, a Washington Post film critic blames Seth Rogen?

The gunman in his manifesto described his inability to get the girl and  proclaimed his intent to go out as a "true alpha male."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post film critic, blamed "outsized frat boy fantasies like Neighbors."  The Judd Apatow directed film starring Seth Rogen features a 30 something year old couple.  Rogen plays an undermature, kind of dumpy looking guy married to a beautiful woman.

Hornaday must assume that such men never "get the girl" and claims that such "fantasies" frustrate men in the real world.  It is actually the case that many men, regardless of looks, have some sort of charm and promise of providing for a family someday.  Even without dashing looks, they still get the girl.

Insanity often is a strong barrier against meeting a nice girl.

Another odd part of Hornaday's analysis lies in her assumption that "alpha males" are represented in these movies.  Apatow movies boil over with admitted and unadmitted insecurities.  Like them or not, they portray individuals dealing wit and overcoming insecurities in a demanding world.  Alpha males are the best produced by the military, also CEOs, Peyton Mannings, John Walls, and other men in control, capable, respected, disciplined, and decent. When not perfect, they find ways to confidently achieve whatever it is they have set as a goal.   Apatow characters reach their goals, but stumble and bumble their way to them.  Their charm lies in their perseverance, despite the fact that in many ways all men are not created equal.

Hornaday's use of the word fantasy is perplexing.  Hollywood markets fantasy.  Why on earth would people go to the movies to see exactly what they see in real life?  The crime gets solved, the polis gets re-established, the wrong is set right.  And yes, the hero gets the girl.

Society's problem, not unnoticed, lies in the fact that much of the country has simply abandoned the idea of teaching boys how to be boys.  One author explained that schools now treat boys like "defective girls."  Traditionally, boys were expected to be rougher around the edges, more fidgety, more prone to fistfights and quick reconciliations, less able to handle sitting still for long periods.  Boys have got to be boys, we used to say.

Boys now get taught that their behavior is bad, that playing war is anti-social (even though boys have done this for millenia), that they need pills to make them behave.  Boys need to learn discipline, but they also need more outlets for the pent up energy most of them have growing up.  And the problem gets progressively worse.  In fact, if you didn't want a boy, no worries, you can send him to re-education camp.

From day one, males need to learn responsibility, discipline, responsibility, work ethic, leadership, responsibility, how to defend themselves, responsibility, and how to treat women.  They also need to learn that, starting at age 18, they need to start putting away childish things.  This means getting a job, helping to provide for your family whether you intended to start one or not, making commitments and meeting them.

Hollywood is not to blame for boys not knowing how to be boys, not when young people watch fewer movies than ever.  Schools, experts, and parents are to blame for not recognizing that boys are different.