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Blog, The Irene Edition, Possibly Part 1

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I say possibly because Irene isn’t supposed to get to this state until about midnight tonight, so I may be speaking prematurely.  It’s about four o’clock on Saturday afternoon, and all we’ve seen up here so far is a few periods of rain, all short but heavy, and a few periods of minor thunder, also short.

Of the people I know in New York–city, that is–about half have taken Bloomberg seriously and evacuated the city, and the other half have decided that the man is delusional and stayed put.  The subways have stopped operating, though, and so have the buses.  So this could be interesting.

Some places, of course, are being genuinely hard hit.  The Outer Banks got pounded, which sometimes seems to me to be what they were designed for. 

Other places are simply assuming that they are going to get pounded.  My older son’s school, which is in Philadelphia, has pushed back Freshman registration from Sunday to Tuesday and the start of classes until later in the week. 

I’ve been spending the day at home trying to get work done and watching DVDs of stuff from the Fifties, I don’t know why.   The last hurricane I remember, personally, having a significant impact on the state of Connecticut was in the late Sixties, or possibly early seventies.  It did no significant damage to the state that I know of.

One of the things I got a chance to watch was a black and white John Wayne movie called Big Jim McLain, a black and white masterpiece in which HUAC agents are the good guys and Communists are trying to infiltrate the labor unions in a Hawaii that is not yet a state.

You probably think I used the term “masterpiece” as sarcasm, but I didn’t, exactly.   There’s an entire genre of movies of this kind from that particular period of film history–black and white, opening with a voice over narration, focussed on a threat to the Republic and proclaiming the cooperation of various government departments.

Wayne produced this one himself, and I think he was entirely sincere–both in his assessment of what actual members of the actual Communist Party were doing at the time, and in his support for HUAC and the anti-Communist hearings.

Richard Condon wrote two wonderful books–The Manchurian Candidate and (I think) Winter Kills–that both had the same premise:  that Joseph McCarthy was himself a Communist plot, the idea being that the whole Red Scare thing was so over the top all it ever did was to make life safe for American Communism.

I think he had a point, although I’ve read enough in the years since I left school to know that the people who were worried about Soviet spying in the US government were not just overreacting. 

Watching this stuff, I always end up feeling that the investigators are asking the wrong questions.  If you’d asked people “have you ever given information to the Soviet government, or to an agent operating here to give to the Soviet government,”  they would have been asking a question it was unambiguously Constitutional to ask, and possibly even giving themselves a chance in Hell of getting the answers they actually needed.

Instead, they seemed to have simply assumed that anybody who had ever belonged to the Communist Party must also have been engaging in espionage.   And, God knows, a lot of them were, but a lot of them weren’t–and they could have learned that much from Whitaker Chambers.

Later in the day, I got out my Perry Mason DVDs, to the extent that it’s been possible to collect them–they’re always my go-to discs for Fifties nostalgia.

Except that I’m not actually nostalgic for the Fifties.  There was a lot I didn’t like in the Fifties, and I wasn’t very happy there.

What I really miss is an odd little collection of things–

I miss that underlying sense that most people are decent and honest, and that somebody who does not believe that to be true is most likely not to be decent and honest himself.

There is, I think, something to this as a reading of human nature.  And that makes me very nervous thinking about how many people seem to be wedded to cynicism these days, including most of law enforcement and social services.

I miss, too, the relaxedness of law enforcement–okay, not the best way to put that.  But we forget that it wasn’t always automatic to cuff and shackle everybody we arrested, including fourteen year olds being hauled in for running away from home. 

We seem to have lost any distinction we ever had between seriously violent criminals and your average jerk you just tried to grab the money in the cash register at the convenience store.

I think I miss, as well, the general not-over-the-topness of the way everybody presented as living.  Perry Mason is a successful lawyer, so he has a Cadillac convertible, and the next guy’s car isn’t so nice–but there’s nothing like the insanity of Cribs or My Super Sweet Sixteen. 

I get tired, sometimes, of living in a world in which the only two modes seem to be either getting hold of as much stuff as you can lay your hands on or posturing around as the latest reincarnation of Ghandi, if not of Christ, based mostly on one’s ability to remember what vocabulary is supposed to be considered virtuous on Tuesday.

Welcome to the Right and the Left as they look to me this morning.

Okay.  This afternoon.  Practically this evening.  Writing syllabi makes my eyes glaze over.

This is, I think, another one of those cases where I imagine things to exist that do not and never have.  I was like that about ‘college’ and what I was supposed to find there.  I think I was like that about “writing,” too, at least as it existed in my favorite fantasy period, the Twenties to Fifties.  Well, maybe the Twenties to Forties.

Even so, it would be a nice place to live if you could live there–a kind of Cavanaugh Street of the mind.

I suppose that, like all the other Cavanaugh Streets of the mind, if you could actually move there–you’d hate it.

Sort of the way I ended up hating Paris.

If I don’t cook dinner, we’re not going to eat any.

So I’d better go.

Written by janeh

August 27th, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Blog, The Irene Edition, Possibly Part 1'

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  1. Yeah. Three cheers for Perry. And for “Ham” Burger, and for Lt Trask. It never seems to have occured to Burger to lean a little on the forensics people to make his case, or on Lt Trask that it might be better if this one never went to court. And it certainly never occured to Perry that it was his job to keep the evidence from the jury so that his obviously guilty client could go free. They were, all of them, officers of the court concerned with facts and reason and establishing the objective truth. As you say, a presumption of good will and a law enforcement that can distinguish between genuine thugs and kids. I think you’ve described why some people find the old “Andy Griffith Show” so attractive.

    For me, “the Fifties” actually ended somewhere around 1964–between STARSHIP TROOPERS and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND for SF fans, with the first two seasons of STAR TREK as the end, television lagging a bit. (Third Season TREK was definitely a Sixties show.) The Fifties DVDs are mostly old John Ford westerns and war movies, but I do have CAPTAIN GALLANT and SGT BILKO around.

    Personally, I’d have said I was OK in the Fifties, and the Sixties were when things fell apart. I understand the critique of the Fifties–but I think they did too. They expected improvements and were arguing mostly over pace and means. I look at today’s politics, and I think there is a huge disagreement over what sort of nation we should be trying to create. I’m also not convinced that some of the desired futures are even possible–and if politically one demands the impossible, the actual results can be pretty ugly.

    Lots of imaginary places are fun to live in. I have shelves of them. But you want to be very careful when they have the same name as real places that you don’t confuse the two.

    robert_piepenbrink

    27 Aug 11 at 6:57 pm

  2. I don’t really remember the fifties – I was born about halfway through, but I remember little of that period of my life!

    I’ve always thought that the fifties lasted into the sixties in my rather odd hometown, but I could be wrong.

    When I’m in a certain mood, there’s nothing I like better than a nice, decent detective. He doesn’t suffer from angst or alcoholism, he isn’t tackling really bizarre serial killers or having to shoot people to do his job. He just does what he can, decently. There’s a British TV series based on some old books by Leslie Thomas (I think?) featuring ‘Dangerous’ Davies, so called because he’s the least dangerous man on the job. But he solves the mystery, plodding along doing his best to do the right thing by the victim, his alcoholic boss, the mocking layabouts he works with, his crazy wife, his best friend the unemployable ‘philosopher’. Wycliffe is another such fictional person.

    Nowadays we seem to want people to be all the same – total saints or total villains – not just decent sorts trying to do as well as they can.

    In a brief digression – a prominent Canadian politician just died, and even considering his popularity and long career, the level of public mourning has been extraordinary. He even had a state funeral, a very unusual honour for a non-PM or former PM, and I spent the afternoon watching it with my mother. I’m not sure what I think of it. Although there were family eulogies and one by a minister, the whole thing seemed more like a political rally than a funeral. On the other hand, he WAS a politician, and certainly the event was beautifully designed to commemorate the important parts of his life.

    I think the odd impact it made on me is just a reflection of my personal culture, so to speak. I’m accustomed to formal religious ceremonies for funerals. If you want to sing along with the old rock songs and dance, you do it at the wake.

    My mother, who you’d think has the same cultural background as I do, is no help at all since she doesn’t think any kind of funeral or memorial service is necessary or appropriate.

    Cheryl

    27 Aug 11 at 7:43 pm

  3. Ah, the Fifties, fabulous or not so much depending on your biasses. I was born in 1940 and was either at high school during the fifties or going through a whole range of other not-so-fabulous character-forming experiences like flunking out of University and other humbling, if not actually humiliating, things like getting the maggots out of fly-blown sheep. But I agree with Jane that people, both private citizens and public servants at all levels, seemed much nicer then. I say seemed advisedly because, in retrospect, people and “things” were nowhere as nice as they seemed – just more out of sight than they are today or, like overt genuine racism, so much part of the landscape as to pass unnoticed by the majority.

    I’m currently reading “Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking” by Christopher Snowdon, which is a real eye-opener. If you haven’t read it already, Jane, you will be pleased to know that it pretty much confirms and restates (with exhaustively documented authorities) the arguments you put on the subject in RAM back in the day, and then some.

    The book describes the development of anti-smoking advocacy through the centuries to the point where, in the 20th century, it pretty much created the template for all modern noble-cause activism. And, notwithstanding the temperance movements in days of yore, which the anti-smoking zealots initially imitated, it is the zeitgeist created by such extremist activism in the Oughties that contrasts so dramatically with that of the Fifties. Briefly stated, fifties society – at least in the west – was a far less authoritarian society than we live in today, and that notwithstanding the Cold War.

    Mique

    27 Aug 11 at 9:12 pm

  4. Okay, I just got back from the bookstore where I went to get a copy of WORD 2010 FOR DUMMIES (found it, by the way), and while I was perusing the new arrivals, I came across THE GOOD SCHOOL: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve (Peg Tyre; Henry Holt & Co.; New York; 2010).

    I opened it at random, and the author was talking about how children learn to read. She gives not only the history of different theories and methods of reading instruction, but continues by showing what modern research (last 60 years or so) has discovered about how children learn to read.

    The book has liberal footnotes (fortunately all at the end of the book in an appendix)citing chapter and verse of sources, plus there is an index.

    The book covers more aspects (other than just reading instruction) about about what makes some schools good and what makes some schools bad.

    I shall read the book and report on it to you all.

    Charlou

    27 Aug 11 at 10:08 pm

  5. Ah, the blog is back! The state and local governments seem to have learned a lesson from New Orleans.

    I was in university and grad school from 1955 to 1965 and was much too busy learning Physics to get involved in politics. Also I did not have a TV (no subtitles). I do agree that law enforcement seemed more relaxed in those days.Or perhaps it was the lack of 24 hour news channels!

    For another view of the 50s, try http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson082811.html which is political and conservative.

    jd

    29 Aug 11 at 2:13 pm

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